The Hellenic Museum (Former Royal Mint Building)
280 William Street, Melbourne VIC, Australia
Free to view from outside
Interior access during Hellenic Museum opening hours, subject to entry fee
The Former Royal Mint was designed by John James Clark, whose distinguished career in the office of the Colonial Architect, later the Public Works Department, began in 1852 when he was just 14 years old. “JJ” Clark would go on to become one of the most prolific architects in Australia, designing notable Melbourne buildings including the Old Treasury Building, Supreme Court, Government House, Old Customs House and City Baths.
At the time of its opening in 1872, the Royal Mint site featured a U-shaped factory complex which met with the front administration building to form a quadrangle with a central courtyard. These factory buildings were demolished after the Mint ceased operations in 1968, and now, what remains of the original site are its north and south guardhouses, perimeter wall, and the administration building – which houses the Hellenic Museum!
The administration building is styled after Raphael's Palazzo Vidoni Caffarelli in Rome. Its architectural style is Renaissance Revival, a broad group of 19th century styles which were neither Greek nor Gothic Revival, but instead drew inspiration from a wide range of classicising Italian modes. Today the building is one of few surviving examples of Renaissance Revival in Australia.
In the wake of budget constraints, the original design submitted by Clark was considered too large, and he was asked to design a more modest and less ornamented administration building. The result is the rendered brick structure you see today. Unlike the Palladian norm, the piano nobile is on the ground floor. The first floor features paired ionic columns, while an attic storey features oval windows. The perimeter wall is an imposing brick construction with large wrought iron gates and iron lamps. The original vault, which stored Australia's gold bullion until 1931, still remains intact on the ground floor of the building – inside the Gods, Myths & Mortals exhibition!
The establishment of the Sydney Mint as a Branch of the Royal Mint in 1855 set a precedent for Melbourne to follow. However, the British government in London needed to be convinced of the necessity of a second Australian branch. The gold rush, demand from prospectors and the rapidly increasing population in need of a viable currency secured their decision and the first coins were minted in Melbourne in 1872. Unlike Sydney, Melbourne was authorised from the start to strike full British sovereign and half sovereign denominations, but with the mint mark M to designate their Melbourne production. In 1930 the mint experimented with producing its own master tools, used to make working dies. This experiment led to the production of Australia’s rarest circulating coin — the 1930 penny.
In 2022, the Former Royal Mint building celebrated 150 years. For more information about the building and its history, visit the Hellenic Museum blog where we shared 15 of our favourite facts in celebration of this major milestone. That's a fact for every decade!
Prompts & Activities
It is very fitting that the Former Royal Mint building, with its Greek inspired columns and ornamentation, would one day become the home of the Hellenic Museum! Can you locate any columns or depictions of columns – not on the building, but in the Hellenic Museum collections? Hint: try the gift shop and a few of the upstairs galleries!
What style of columns are featured on the facade of the Former Royal Mint?
How many columns can you count?
Can you find the official opening date of the Melbourne Royal Mint, scribed somewhere outside? Hint: horses and lions and coats, oh my!
Can you find the Mint's original gold bullion vault inside the Gods, Myths & Mortals exhibition? The vault now holds precious collection items, which sit on the vault's original shelves. The vault door is also original, and can be moved! Try giving it a careful push to see just how heavy it is.
Explore other landmarks:
Hellenic Museum • State Library of Victoria • Glyn Davis Building • Immigration Museum • Temple of Boom • Parliament House • Shrine of Remembrance • Melbourne GPO • Nicholas Building • Eureka Tower • Greek Centre • Trades Hall • Former Mail Exchange • Collins St Baptist Church • Royal Australasian College of Surgeons • Emily McPherson College