40 Nicholson Street

Standing proudly at 40 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, Osborne House boasts a rich history that intertwines with the narrative of Melbourne itself. Often regarded as the oldest documented house in Fitzroy, this grand structure holds within its walls stories of prominent figures, architectural evolution, and the ever-changing urban landscape.

Osborne House's journey began in 1850 when it was constructed in the Regency style for John MacPherson, a wealthy squatter. The central section, originally known as Helena House, was designed by Charles Laing and built by William Pelling. This section remains the core of the present-day building, a rare example of Regency townhouses in Victoria.

John MacPherson's son, John Alexander MacPherson, who later served as Victoria's Premier from 1869-1870, also resided in the house. Interestingly, recent research suggests that Bishop Goold's house, part of the Convent of Mercy on Nicholson Street, might have predated Osborne House by a few months.

In 1887, the house underwent a significant transformation. Melbourne merchant George Nipper acquired the property and envisioned a new purpose for it. He commissioned architect Charles Webb (though the attribution is not definitive) to expand the house into a boarding house capitalizing on the upcoming 1888 Centennial Exhibition. The additions included grand three-story wings flanking the original structure and a cast-iron verandah wrapping around the newly formed entry court. The house was also renamed Osborne House, likely in honor of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

Osborne House thrived as a boarding house for over nine decades, witnessing the life and times of Fitzroy. The building's significance extends beyond its historical associations. Its architectural merit lies in the beautiful contrast between the elegant Regency core and the later, classically inspired additions. This unique blend reflects the architectural trends of the time.

Today, Osborne House stands as a testament to Fitzroy's heritage. Classified by the Victorian Heritage Council, the building is a reminder of the suburb's early days and its architectural evolution.

Main photo: 1964, from the collection of the State Library of Victoria. Text by Google Gemini.

Osborne House as a boarding house (approx. 1967), from the collection of the State Library of Victoria

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