Historical Overview

Wesley Place acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land, the Peoples of the Kulin nation, and pays respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

A unique place in Melbourne’s heart

Wesley Place is home to an irreplaceable complex of mid to late-19th century and early-20th century ecclesiastical buildings. The restoration of the Wesley Church is part of the Wesley Place redevelopment, alongside the Manse, the Caretaker’s Cottage, the School House and Nicholas Hall.

The focal point is Wesley Church, one of Melbourne’s finest and earliest examples of Gothic Revival architecture. Designed by renowned architect Joseph Reed, the principal group of 1858-59 buildings (Wesley Church, School House and Manse) is recognised as the earliest intact church complex in the state.

The site and complex are of social and historical significance for their long association with various welfare programs since the 1850s, in particular those of the Wesley Central Mission Victoria (now Uniting Vic.Tas).


A deeper story to tell

The depth of history at Wesley Place was brought to light during the 2017 archaeological dig. This resulted in the highly significant discovery that large areas of the CBD had been filled with thick yellow clay to alleviate flooding and the remains of many of Melbourne’s earliest buildings were preserved below these deposits. The dig also revealed a diverse and lively pocket of the city, from early residences in the 1840s and 1850s, to the tiny houses and businesses of Jones Lane and Little Lonsdale Street.

What’s more,100,000 artefacts were recovered which tell stories of the diverse cultural groups and rapidly changing socio-economic and urban landscape of Melbourne – from the 19th century to the 20th century. Slate pencils, dressmaker’s pins, remnants of chamber pots, Chinese porcelain, figurines, and even a whale’s tooth, certainly capture the richness of the city at this time. The artefacts  shed light on activities at the Wesley Church complex during the gold rush, as well as the notoriety and illicit activities of adjoining ‘Little Lon’ from the 1870s. This eventually gave way to the factories and light industries of the early to mid-20th century.


Honouring and sharing history

Included in both the Victorian Heritage Register and the Victorian Heritage Inventory, Wesley Place is at the heart of the story of early Melbourne. Honouring this, Charter Hall engaged leading heritage consultants from project inception, and has committed ongoing funding to preserve this iconic site.

Key partners integral to the heritage interpretation of Wesley Place include heritage consultants Lovell Chen, alongside archaeologist’s and heritage consultants Dr Vincent Clark & Associates & Christine Williamson Heritage Consultants. Conservation was completed by Grimwade Conservation Services and installation design by Thylacine. In addition, Heritage Victoria and the Uniting Church in Australia were involved throughout the process, working with Charter Hall to deliver a long-standing commitment to preserve the site’s heritage and share it with the wider community.

Beyond restoring the five heritage buildings to their former glory, Charter Hall has committed a 125-year sinking fund to ensure each building retains its true character for future generations to enjoy. Further honouring the richness of the site’s history, the artefacts found during the archaeological dig have been documented and many have been preserved. A selection is on display today at 130 Lonsdale Street.

To discover more about Wesley Place’s history, visit the Heritage Trail page

Or to uncover details of the archaeological dig and artefacts visit the Archaeological Discoveries page

Image reference: Melbourne with the landmark Wesley Church spire, taken by the Paterson Brothers, 1875. Source: State Library of Victoria