1. Themes
  2. A to Z

Government House

Located in the Kings Domain adjacent to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Government House has since 1876 been the residence of Victorian Governors. Between 1901 and 1926, when Melbourne was the federal capital and Commonwealth Governors-General lived here, Stonnington was the Victorian vice-regal residence. This 'palatial mansion' is, in fact, Victoria's third Government House - La Trobe's Cottage at Jolimont and Toorak House preceding it.

A vice-regal residence appropriate to Victoria's wealth and colonial standing was a long-standing political issue. Finally, in 1871 a design by the head of the Public Works Department (PWD), William Wardell, better known for his gothic revival church architecture, was accepted. Intended to marry the private needs of a residence and the public and ceremonial obligations of the head of state, the Italianate design may have been inspired by the Royal family's Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Built of cement-rendered brick and prominently located, it set standards and was imitated by the suburban mansions of the colonial well-to-do. Its first resident, Governor Bowen, feared it would become 'a white elephant'. Subsequent Governors pursued a lavish lifestyle and met many day-to-day costs.

The building still functions as a setting for occasions of state, the business offices of the Governor, and the Governor's residence. Each part is kept separate but the overall unity is maintained. The huge and ornate state ballroom, with its stencilled ceilings and elaborate dais, occupies the entire south wing of the building. It can hold 2000 people - the Governor's Ball was once a principal event of the Melbourne social calendar - but it is now also used for presentations. State rooms, including the dining room, offer more intimate grand settings. Artworks include portraits of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, King Edward VII, George V and Queen Mary. Regular open days are well attended.

David Dunstan