Williamstown Morgue is a fairly nondescript and easily missed building in Williamstown, Victoria.
Despite its modest appearance, it has a fascinating history and was probably the first building of its type in Victoria and definitely the last standing.
Being a morgue, it also has many gruesome stories attached to it that make us realise just how far the world has moved on in 150 years.
So let’s get started and learn more about Williamstown Morgue….
Williamstown Morgue History
The Grisly Need For a Williamstown Morgue
The requirement for a morgue in Williamstown largely came about due to Victoria’s gold rush which took place between 1851 and 1860. The town grew enormously, with people coming from as far afield as the tin mines of Cornwall in the South-West of England.
With this growth inevitably came a growth in deaths in the town, with bodies arriving on boats after long trips from distant lands and deadly fights amongst men with a lust for gold.
Bodies in Pubs
With many of these deaths due to unidentified causes a coroner needed to be involved, a process which could take days. At the height of the gold rush in 1853, 262 deaths needed a coroner’s involvement.
The only place to store the bodies away from the baking Victorian sun was in the cellars of the local hotels (pubs) which had grown from only two up to 26 due to the influx of people to the town.
Victorians are a hardy bunch who love a beer, but storing bodies in their favourite hang-out spots was enough to keep them away.
In 1842 a the Lamb Inn, a bushranger’s body was reportedly left on a billiard table for days with a bullet hole in his head. Up the road in North Melbourne a body was left in such an advanced state of decomposition, the smell cleared the bar below.
Williamstown Morgue Construction
A local newspaper took up the campaign to and in 1859 Williamstown Morgue was built using bluestone rock from the quarry in front of Fort Gellibrand.
It was a small building with only a single room measuring around six metres in length, five metres wide and four metres tall originally built at Gem Pier.
These were different times, with less sanitation, so the location for the morgue was chosen because of its close proximity to the beach. After a post mortem had been completed the building was simply flushed out with water, with any remains being washed out onto the beach. What the local wildlife didn’t deal with the high tide took out into Port Philip Bay.
Williamstown Morgue Relocation
As Melbourne grew and Williamstown became more popular, it was decided to move the morgue away from Gem Pier. It didn’t seem the right impression for visitors by boat from the city to be greeted by body parts and blood on the beach.
So the whole building was taken apart brick-by-brick and moved to Ann Street, a location that still presented its challenges. The bodies had to be hung from the rafters to prevent them from getting eaten by rats or overtaken by floodwaters, but at least it was away from the public eye.
Unfortunately (for him at least), the contractor who moved the morgue got hit by a train shortly after the job was completed and ended up as the first official resident of Williamstown Morgue in its new location!
Visiting Williamstown Morgue
Location of the Morgue
It might sound daft to say that I struggled to find the former Williamstown Morgue given it’s listed on Google, but everything I’d read mentioned Gem Pier so when we’d been in that area I’d looked for it without really doing any further research.
It’s only when I set my mind on finding it that I learned it had been relocated a couple of streets away on Ann Street.
Seeing Inside the Morgue
The morgue is no longer open to the public but can be seen if you go on one of Williamstown’s after-dark ghost tours.
It also occasionally opens its doors as part of the Open House season in Melbourne.
The Plaque on Williamstown Morgue
Cool Facts About Williamstown Morgue
- Williamstown’s second-oldest public building
- Constructed in 1859 beside Gem Pier and relocated in 1873 to the current location on Ann Street
- (Probably) the first morgue built in Victoria and is included on the Victoria Heritage Register
- The only surviving independent morgue in Melbourne
- It is a simple, early and near original public building, one of very few in Metropolitan Melbourne
- When the morgue was relocated, the contractor who did so was hit by a train shortly afterward and became the first resident of the morgue in its new location!
I hope you enjoyed the post.
If you have been to old Williamstown Morgue then feel free to share your experience in the comments below.
If you have any photos you’d like to share then let me know through my contact page and I will add the best ones into the post for everyone to see (with full credit of course!)