The grandeur of Spring St, early autumn 1899

The wealth and extravagance of the 1880s, the era of Marvellous Melbourne, was long gone when this photograph was taken, but it is still evident in the two main buildings you see here – the Grand Hotel on the left and the Princess Theatre on the right.

The ornate Princess Theatre that dominates this streetscape gives no sense of the terrible fate that overtook Victorian society in the 1890s. The collapse of the banks and the suffering that followed overwhelmed almost every aspect of life. It is said that a third of Melbourne’s population was unemployed during this decade and many had nowhere to live.

This photograph from the Royal Historical Society’s extensive images collection was taken at the very end of the 1890s as people found work again and there was a renewed sense of optimism. The prospect of Australia becoming a nation brought with it a sense of anticipation and about 18 months after this image was taken, Federation celebrations were held throughout the country, especially in Melbourne, which at that time was the seat of the federal government.

You can read more of Cheryl Griffin’s riff on Spring Street here in CBD News