The Melbourne Benevolent Asylum: Hotham’s Premier Building

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The Melbourne Benevolent Asylum: Hotham’s Premier Building
by Mary Kehoe

Annals of Hotham Volume 1
Hotham History Project
North Melbourne, 1998

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Summary: It stood at the end of Victoria Street like a great Tudor country house, except that it was bleak and jerry-built. Ships passengers coming up the bay saw it on the Melbourne skyline, not knowing that this was where they might end their days should their immigrant dreams come to nothing. Yet it was not a Workhouse like the dreaded institutions of England’s Poor Law. It was an asylum, a place of refuge for those who could no longer look after themselves. Inmates entered voluntarily, although they submitted to a strict regime. They were not prisoners, and even on cold days they hung around the streets of North and West Melbourne, hoping for a copper or two, a kind word, even a drink. Mary Kehoe’s history of the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum is the first comprehensive account of this extra-ordinary but now barely remembered place. She brings alive the inmates, their daily lives, the administration and the politics of Victoria’s first refuge for the poor.

Bio: Although a relative newcomer to North Melbourne, Mary Kehoe has lived on the northern edge of the Benevolent Asylum site for over 20 years. She has long been fascinated by its story and is grateful to the Hotham History Project for giving her the impetus to finally research and write this account.