Guided tour: South Melbourne in 1905: retail and commerce


The Municipality of Emerald Hill was formed in 1855 and in 1883 the name was changed to South Melbourne.

Clarendon Street has been the main commercial street in South Melbourne from the early days of Emerald Hill (prior to 1855). Providing goods and services to the surrounding areas.

Directory listings from 1861 indicated that grocers’ shops and boot and shoe dealers far outnumbered the other trades. Emerald Hill had between 24 and 28 grocers during the 1860s, while numbers of bootmakers almost doubled to 27.

Prior to the availability of household refrigeration, consumables were shopped for daily. Grocers provided an outlet for nearby farmers in places like Melton and Gippsland. Butcher shops sold fresh meat processed in local council owned abattoirs. Bakers and dairies had greater freedom of location with daily delivery rounds. Milk was sold from 75 different premises in South Melbourne and produced by thirty-six local dairies who kept cows in city parkland pastures.

By 1905 Clarendon Street had become a developed commercial centre and the central point for banking, auction houses and property dealers, furniture and household goods, drapers, bootmakers, newsagents, grocers, butchers, dairy produce, and hotels.

Numerous businesses in the street have been continuously operating under changing proprietors since the 1860s: The Golden Gate Hotel, the Clarendon Hotel and the Limerick Arms Hotel. Retailers such as Mitchell and McCabe and Imes Pharmacy have occupied changing addresses along Clarendon Street. Mitchell McCabe since 1901 and Imes Pharmacy since 1869.

What's On

Join Kay Rowan, Port Phillip Library Service, Local History Librarian for a walk down Clarendon Street, South Melbourne’s historic commercial centre.

A fascinating story of Civic evolution, land ownership, property development, local industry and retail. The tour will give a snapshot of 19th century South Melbourne and introduce you to current traders on Clarendon Street.

Children’s activities


Images: (1) Clarendon Street looking north, 1888. Photo: David Wood. (2) Clarendon Street looking south, 1888. Photo: David Wood. (3) Clarendon Street, corner Bank Street, 1888. Photo: David Wood. (4) South Melbourne Town Hall, 1888. Photo: David Wood. All images courtesy Port Phillip City Council.

Important Details

Time & Date

Saturday 30 July

Tours runs for 75minutes for 20 people
Bookings required.

For more information: https://www.portphillip.vic.gov.au/explore-the-city/history-and-heritage

Age Requirements

All Ages


Partially wheelchair accessible
Accessible parking nearby


Clarendon Street, South Melbourne


Presented with the Clarendon and Coventry Business Association.


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