BLOCK 3 | Sir William John Clarke Dies

BLOCK 3 | On this day, 15 May 1897, Sir William John Clarke died from a heart attack at the Union Club Hotel.

The Age, Monday, 17 May 1897:

Sir William Clarke. Startling sudden Death. The career of the deceased Baronet.

The profound sensation was caused throughout the city on Saturday when it became known that Sir William Clarke, one of the best-known men in Victoria, had expired suddenly in Collins Street. It appears that the Baronet left his home in East Melbourne about 9.30 in the morning, and seemed to be then in his usual health and spirits. He walked through the Treasury Gardens to Spring Street, where he took a Collins Street tram. Arriving at the corner of Market Street, shortly after 10 o’clock, he alighted, and it was then noticed that something was the matter, as he reeled and fell to the ground.

On some gentlemen going to his assistance, they found Sir William unconscious and hardly able to breathe. The helpless form was at once removed into the Union Club Hotel, and though Mr. Charles Ryan was immediately summoned. Sir William was beyond medical skill, and before the Doctor arrived he expired.

The deceased was not a man of robust health. For many years he has suffered from heart troubles, which were complicated by kidney disease. A few weeks ago he was somewhat seriously unwell, but the trouble passed off, and during last week he seemed quite restored,

So much had he improved that he was able to attend the amateur performance of Lelamine at the Princess’s Theatre on Thursday, and he was strong enough to repeat the visit on the night before his death. 

Lady Clarke has been the recipient of condolences from all parts of the Colony, and the terrible suddenness of the Baronet’s death has elicited widespread sympathy. Sir William was not a popular man in the sense that a leading politician is popular; but his great wealth, which he spent with the most open-handed liberality, made him a distinguished figure in Colonial life, and charitable and philanthropic organisations will miss the gifts which he was want to bestow with a lavish hand.

Sir William John Clarke
Sir William John Clarke, Baronet, LLD. Painted by T. Flintoff, 1885. Image courtesy of The State Library of Victoria.


William John Clarke was born in Tasmania in 1831 and in 1850 crossed to Victoria, having experience on his father’s properties in both Victoria and Tasmania, and in 1862 settled permanently in Victoria. On the death of his father, he found himself with a very large income, much of which he began to use for the benefit of the state.

His largest gifts were £10 000 for the building fund of St Paul’s Cathedral and £7 000 for Trinity College, Melbourne University. He was elected a member of the Legislative Council for the Southern Province in 1878. He was the patron of many Agricultural Societies and did much to improve the breed of cattle in Victoria.

Before the establishment of the Victorian Department of Agriculture, he provided a laboratory for R. W. E. McIver and paid him to lecture on agricultural chemistry in farming centres. In 1886 he was a member of the Victorian Commission to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, and in the same year, Cambridge gave him the Honorary Degree of LL.D.

He was well-known also as a Freemason and became Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria. He was created a Baronet in December 1882. William John Clarke died suddenly at The Union Club Hotel, SE corner of William and Market Streets, Block 3.

Union Club Hotel 1926
Union Club Hotel, cnr. Collins and Market Streets, Melbourne. Photographer: Sutcliffe and Akers. 14 Apr. 1926. Image courtesy of The State Library of Victoria.


Block 3 is Melbourne’s oldest Block and the birthplace of the City. John Pascoe Fawkner, one of the City’s Founding Father’s,  built his second Hotel near the SE corner of Collins and Market Streets in 1838. The City’s first Newspaper – The Melbourne Advertiser – was also published here and Mr. Fawkner had a timber yard on the corner before the first Melbourne Club was built.

When the Melbourne Club moved to bigger digs, the building became The Old Club House Family Hotel in 1846 [ aka The Shakespeare Hotel ]. By 1862 the building was pulled down and a new building accommodated The Union Club. In 1868 The Union Club Hotel opened. In 1931 The AMP Society built their Melbourne HQ on the site of The Union Club Hotel at 419 to 429 Collins Street and it is thankfully still standing.

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