Archaeological gems found near Queen Vic Market

Pieces of Melbourne’s early history have been uncovered during archaeological investigations at the site of a new community hub being developed opposite the Queen Victoria Market. 

​The archaeological investigations at the Munro site were undertaken in March and April, with the findings released today to coincide with National Archaeology Week.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the artefacts date back to the early years of European settlement of Melbourne.

“These artefacts give us an idea of what life was like when Melbourne was a township. We’ve found bottles, plates and fragments of stone grinding wheels, which will be preserved for future generations,” the Lord Mayor said.

“It’s exciting that we’ve uncovered these pieces of our history as we plan for a new generation of community facilities for Melbourne.”

Developer PDG Corporation engaged Extent Heritage to undertake the archaeological works, and the dig was conducted in accordance with approvals from Heritage Victoria.

Executive Director of Extent Heritage Jim Wheeler said a range of artefacts from as early as the 1850s were found, including an intact ‘torpedo’ bottle, ceramic tobacco pipes and pieces of porcelain plates.

“Our dig uncovered thousands of bottles of all shapes and types underneath the site of the former Mercat Cross Hotel. The evidence suggests this was a very early commercial bottle dump and sheds new light on uses of the area during the mid-1800s,” Mr Wheeler said.

“At almost 6000 square metres, this is one of the largest archaeological sites by area that has ever been excavated in Victoria. Unlike previous sites, which have largely focused on the early residential and domestic history of the colony, the Munro site provides us with an insight into the commercial and industrial development of the city.”

No Aboriginal artefacts or cultural heritage deposits were found, however the archaeologists unearthed evidence of Melbourne’s early landscape and environmental history. This included evidence of a creek bed beneath the Therry Street shopfronts that were recently demolished to make way for the community hub.

“We believe the creek bed might be an upper branch of the historic ‘Williams Creek’, a natural watercourse that ran along the current day Elizabeth Street, through the city centre and emptied into the Yarra River,” Mr Wheeler said.

“Williams Creek was notorious for flooding, and at times became an impassable quagmire until improved drainage systems gradually started to address the problem.”

The archaeologists discovered that the creek bed was covered to shore up the soft ground and create a level site so that the shops could be constructed in 1913. Soil samples will be analysed to establish the age of the creek bed, the historic rate of water flow and to identify pollen and other flora, if any.

The dig also found:

  • J Mc Ewan and Co Ironmonger (c1860s): a line of timber stumps, most likely associated with a shed from the ironmonger and later hardware chain, located in the area adjacent to the current Jasper Hotel.
  • Jas A Munro & Co Sawmill (c1913): fragments of large round sharpening stones / wheels used to sharpen sawmill blades.
  • Queen Street residence (c1860s): rough cut bluestone foundations and verandah post holes on Queen Street, suggesting an early residence.

The City of Melbourne invested $76 million to purchase the Munro site in 2014, to protect the market from inappropriate development and prevent a supermarket or large chain store setting up in direct competition with the Queen Victoria Market.

Now that the onsite archaeological investigations are complete, the City of Melbourne will start to construct a $70 million community hub. It is due for completion in 2022.

The community hub will include a 120 place childcare facility, a family and children’s services centre, a community centre and kitchen, a city gallery, affordable housing units and 500 customer car parks for the Queen Victoria Market.

Work on the $250 million renewal of the Queen Victoria Market is progressing and Council recently received permission from Heritage Victoria to start restoring the market’s open air heritage sheds.

The Lord Mayor said the City of Melbourne will invest an initial $6.5 million this year towards the $11 million staged onsite restoration of the market’s heritage sheds and adjoining verandahs.

“The restoration of the sheds is just one way we’re securing the Queen Victoria Market’s future while maintaining its heritage as a traditional open-air market. Further investments will be made towards improving storage and amenities, and waste and recycling facilities at the market, in accordance with the People’s Panel recommendations,” the Lord Mayor said.

Visuals courtesy of Extent Heritage and City of Melbourne:

  • To view a video of the archaeological dig at the Munro site, click here:
  • To access high quality raw video footage, including aerial footage filmed by drone, contact the Media Team at City of Melbourne.

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