BLOCK 15 | John Henry Clough’s Warehouse

In 1858, John Henry Clough’s wool warehouse was regarded as a work of art when it was erected in Collins Street west

Today the site of the old wool warehouse is split in half by 530 Collins and 520 Collins, in fact, the main entrance to Clough’s wool warehouse was where the two buildings now meet. The history of the site is extremely interesting but too vast for one blog post. I will, however, mention the highlights in a summarised form.

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530 Collins is on the left, 520 Collins is on the right. The main entrance to Clough’s Warehouse used to be where the two buildings meet © 32 Blocks

Allotment 2, Block 15, was purchased by Septimus Campbell on 13 September 1838, for £159.12. He was originally from Sydney, settled in the Goulburn Valley in 1838, and helped establish the Mangalore sheep run. Back in 1838, the block was close to the Yarra River, the main artery in the town for the despatch and receiving of goods. Septimus must have been aware of the fact that this locale would soon play host to the first commercial shipping wharf in Melbourne.

It is possible that Allotment 2 remained a vacant site until the 1850s goldrush. The proximity to the bustling wharf and the demand for buildings associated with the storage and sale of merchandise was a catalyst for the construction of large warehouses in the area. In 1857,  J. H. Clough submitted a building application for a brick and stone store in Collins Street West. The builder on the application was none other than David Mitchell, Dame Nellie Melba’s father.

In October 1858, The Age newspaper gave Clough and Company’s new warehouse a glowing report:

Among the many striking architectural features that meet the eye in every quarter of the city, we have been particularly struck with the extensive wool warehouse lately erected in Collins Street west by Messrs. J. H. Clough and Company, wool-brokers of this city; and whether its facade be regarded as a work of art, or its interior considered with respect to its great capacity and convenience for storage, together with the completeness of its internal arrangements, it stands second to none in Melbourne … the intention of the spirited proprietors to crown the central portion with an allegorical piece of sculpture, introducing into the composition the shepherd, his dog and sheep. The panels underneath the one-pair windows have the ram’s head sculptured in considerable relief upon them … The professional gentleman employed was Mr. F. M. White; and the contractor, Mr. David Mitchel‘.

Clough’s Wool Warehouse, Collins Street West. Publisher: Edgar Ray, October 25, 1862 c/o The State Library of Victoria

Late 1865, J. H. Clough sold his business and premises to the London and Australian Agency Corporation, wool-brokers and general agents. He remained as Managing Director of the company until ca. 1871, removed to 161 Collins Street West, near the NE-corner of Spencer and Collins Streets, and traded there as J H Clough and Company.

It is worth noting that Mr Henry Ghinn, the general manager of the London and Australian Agency, designed the Sydney public library, erected the Cape Otway lighthouse and was also the first engineer to report on the improvement of Melbourne’s harbour. By early 1874 the London and Australian Agency Corporation was liquidated and the former Clough warehouse was sold to the Bank of Victoria.

Clough and Company returned to their old warehouse ca.1876, leasing it from the Bank of Victoria, and remained there until the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company Ltd. occupied the building ca.1880. For approximately a year in 1885, the Synott Brothers used the warehouse until it was purchased by R MacCracken’s City Brewery, refurbished and probably used for their bottling department from ca.1887 to ca.1889.

The Union Mortgage and Agency Company of Australia were lessees from ca.1890 to Ca.1898. The Co-operative Wool and Producing Company Ltd leased the warehouse from ca.1899 to ca.1900 and R MacCracken, aka City Brewery, was again using the premises for bottling operations until 1906. In May 1907, McCracken’s and five other brewing firms were merged into Carlton and United Breweries Ltd.

The famous stationers and paper merchants, Andrew Jack and Company, renovated and moved into the former bottling plant in ca. 1906, but, on the afternoon of 27 December 1915, the historic bluestone building was destroyed by an immense fire:

During the closing hours of yesterday afternoon, the greatest fire which Melbourne has suffered for many years broke out in the building occupied by Andrew Jack, Dyson and Co., 510 Collins to 516 Collins street, and after gutting these premises, spread over into the top floors of the Aberdeen Buildings on the corner of Collins Street and King Street, doing an immense amount of damage and keeping the whole force of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade employed almost until dark, though the fire was under control long before that … When the brigade took the three-storey building of Andrew Jack, Dyson and Co., in hand, it was seen that with its inflammable contents (it is a printing house) there was no hope of saving it. The flame was spouting from the windows of every storey and roaring up from the roof. Almost as the brigade unlimbered for action, the roof fell in with a crash like a salvo of artillery. Smaller crashes told of the fall of ceilings and girders, bent double, and glowing red with the heat of the great furnace … ‘ The Argus, Tuesday, 28 December 1915.

From then on the site was mostly used as a parking lot. William Howard Smith and Sons, steamship owners and coal merchants – a firm dating as far back as 1854 – erected their new headquarters ca.1939 on the western half of the site [ part-site of 530 Collins Street ], and the other half remained as a car-park:

Distinctive features will be many in the new building now being erected at 522 Collins Street for Howard Smith Ltd. Planned by the office of Harry A. Norris; architects, of Swanston Street, the building will feature a handsome facade having a base of green terra cotta, and above brick construction in which alternate courses will be in narrow heeler. Elliptical section sandstone buttress running for most of the height of the facade will be capped with seahorses.The Herald, Wednesday, 16 August 1939.

In 1973, 520 Collins Street was built on the eastern half of the site [ in turn also demolishing Baden-Powell House ], and 530 Collins replaced Howard Smith and Sons’ beautiful headquarters in 1991. I would like to think that the warehouse would still be standing today if there was no fire, but alas, all I have now is my imagination. Standing in the tiny forecourt of 520 Collins Street, I can smell the fruity scent of beer, I can touch the bales of wool waiting to be carried into the store, I can hear the rhythmic clicking of the printing presses and I can see the beautifully attired ladies of the 1940s heading into the travel bureau to book their cruise on either the Ormiston, Orungal or Canberra.

Facade detail of 520 Collins Street, Melbourne © 32 Blocks
Facade detail of 520 Collins Street, Melbourne © 32 Blocks
Block 15 © 32 Blocks