Wesley Church Precinct


MMBW 1895 map overlaid on a c.1857 plan of Melbourne showing structures next to the manse which were excavated

MMBW 1895 map overlaid on a c.1857 plan of Melbourne showing structures next to the manse which were excavated

Over a six-month period, a team of archaeologist from Dr Vincent Clark and Associates conducted excavations across three Victorian Heritage Inventory sites located within the Wesley church complex between Little Lonsdale Street and 118-148 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. The excavations resulted in the exposure of several dwellings and features dating back to the early-mid 19th century and the collection of over 100,000 artefacts.

Given the large scale of the project, several staged consents were applied for and granted by Heritage Victoria. The consents specified conditions of the excavations, requirements of the recording and management of recovered material. 

19th Century historical maps and images of Melbourne were used to guide excavations and identify different phases of occupation at the site. The earliest map, the 1850s Bibbs map shows several large structures spaced across the site.

During excavations several buildings relating to early Melbourne were uncovered. The structural remains include bluestone footings, walls, cellars and fireplaces relating to early residential dwelling (1860s-1980s) and bluestone footings relating to the original Wesleyan School house (built in the 1850s, demolished in 1860).

Structural remains exposed within the northern half of Jones Lane Archaeological Precinct H7822-2349, including remains of two-story terraces houses (1860-90s), above earlier bluestone structural footings buried beneath over 1m of clay fill. The discovery of a distinct layer of yellow clay fill across the entire site at a similar depth, combined with the identification of several demolition layers, indicated an intentional rising of the ground level.

Historical newspapers confirm that in 1855 the Melbourne Public Works Committee ordered the land owners on little Lonsdale street between Russel and Stephens Street, raise the level of their properties to match the street level adjacent (The Argus 16 October 1855).

The discovery of clay fill between structural remains was unexpected. The remains beneath the clay were well preserved and included original floor surfaces, windows, doorways, fireplace bases, brick walls, plaster, timber posts and numerous artefacts. The earliest structural remains were built on top of as opposed to being demolished and removed. The remains align with the structures depicted on the 1850s Bibbs map.

The site is of great significant in terms of early Melbourne, specifically its settlement and development. The condition and expanse of the structural remains provides an abundance of information relating to the construction of the buildings and the changing occupation of the site. It also contributes to our understanding of how the city was built and how people responded to challenges of the built and natural environment.

More than 100,000 artefacts were collected during excavations. Some of the most significant artefacts found on site relate to the condition, representativeness and uniqueness of the object. Artefacts include full glass bottles, ceramic jars, leather boots, clay pipes, slate pencils, coins and tokens, buttons, dress maker pins and tapes, and personal items such as jewellery, and ornaments (ie. Porcelain figurines, a whale’s tooth).

The discovery of different artefacts and types of residences, of both a common and extravagant variety, contributes to a more rounded picture of life in Little Lonsdale, beyond the ’slums of Melbourne’ narrative.

The project has attracted some media attention and you can find out more about the excavations from the links below:

Nine News Story:  http://www.9news.com.au/national/2017/03/12/20/37/archaeologists-uncover-melbourne-treasure-trove

Herald Sun article:  http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/treasures-unearthed-dig-reveals-early-melbourne-artefacts/news-story/68b47476d9dc20572d25f3fec08fd1ba

ABC radio interview with Jeremy Smith from Heritage Victoria:  http://www.abc.net.au/radio/melbourne/programs/saturdaybreakfast/unearthed-treasures/8386322