Audio Script Back to Audio Tour Index
I am Diane White and along with my fellow members of the Mornington and District Historical Society, we hope you enjoy this Main Street walk.
Main Street Mornington is today the heart of a bustling township which serves a large community and visitor population. But close your eyes, go back 160 years and imagine when Mrs Turner and her husband arrived in November 1854 for the first land sales in the area. She recalled that the Pier was still to be constructed and Main Street itself was just a sand track with only a few buildings comprising what was then the tiny village of Schnapper Point. Yet within a few years Mornington, as it was renamed in 1861, had become the hub of a vibrant fishing and rural community.
Over the next hundred and fifty years Mornington was the main township of the Peninsula but its composition was constantly changing. From a street of houses interspersed with traders and produce merchants Main Street evolved into a typical High Street. It offered every variety of shops, banks and services. There were also hotels and boarding houses as Mornington became a major tourist and holiday destination thanks to the paddle steamers, the train and improved roads. New shops and buildings replaced the old, particularly after the Second World war. The 1990s saw further transformations. Fortunately a number of the grandest buildings have survived in some form to give Main Street the charm it has today.
1. COURTHOUSE AND LOCK UP
DW At the start of your walk stands the Court House on the corner of Main Street and the Esplanade. Originally Schnapper Point Court House, it is the Town’s oldest building and was built in 1860 to dispense justice to the local community..
Local Historian Michael Collins takes up the story . . .
MC The earliest record we have of this was a telegram sent from Mornington in 1862.
KW To: Superintendent of Police, Richmond depot. Be good enough to send a spring cart to Coles Wharf. A prisoner en route to Melbourne jail per steamer Vesta expects to arrive about 2 o’clock this day. Senior Constable McAdam
MC The building served as a Magistrates Court and Court of Petty Sessions for the Mornington Peninsula area until 1988. Many of the township’s councillors and other important residents served as Justices of the Peace and Magistrates. Some of the first matters brought before the court were the registration of slaughterhouses, with 27 applications from all over the Mornington Peninsula lodged in the first two years. The granting of publicans’ licences also made up much of the early work of the court. Most of the court cases were relatively minor, typically involving drunkenness, theft, by-laws infringements and later, motoring offences.
The Court House was also the venue for the second inquest into the 1892 Mornington Football Disaster. This was held two weeks after three more bodies had been found washed up on beaches along
the coast. To find out more about this tragedy, walk across the street to the monument and information board on the park corner.
DW and there was a case of some notoriety?
MC There certainly was! The case known as the “Mornington Scandal” in 1919 concerning ex Shire President and local corn merchant, John Blacker was heard here. Blacker had been charged with forgery and falsification of accounts. He was let off lightly, raising allegations against the Victorian Solicitor General of attempting to exert improper influence. This trial at Mornington eventually led to a Royal Commission.
DW and can you describe how the court functioned?
MC If you are able to go inside the building you will see its original layout has been preserved. The clerks of court sat in the raised section and the Magistrate sat at his desk below facing the gallery. The public gallery was so small that many people attending a case would have to sit on the wall out-side waiting to be called.
The adjacent Lock Up operated as a gaol for twenty years after it opened in 1862 but was later used mainly for holding persons overnight or during the court sessions.
The original police station was situated in part of a Victorian house until replaced by the current building in 1990. In the early decades Mornington had only a single policeman on horseback to serve the District. Over time as the police force grew horses were replaced by motor cycles and cars.
DW The growing population of the area eventually forced the closure of the courthouse in 1988 even though an additional portable structure had been added next door. The area is now served from Frankston.
Although many of Mornington’s early buildings have been replaced,as you walk up Main Street, we want to give you a picture of some of the early residents and their businesses. Just past the police station was a guesthouse and cafe originally owned by Mrs Ross after whom Ross Street was named, and later by the Swiss Bieri family until the 1920s. At Ross Street you might like to turn left and see St. Peter’s Manse, or cross over to the corner which was the site of Mornington’s first public school in the early 1860s – a little wooden building with a picket fence. If you now go to number 28 – 30 Main Street and look up, you will see the words Coffee Palace on the parapet.