29th September 2021

Melbourne’s Early Fire Brigades: Part 1

In the early years of Melbourne’s existence, there were no fire brigades. Fires were put out by volunteers with the help of professional water carriers, who would bring carts loaded with water from the Yarra River to where it was needed. In 1845 meetings were held to arrange the first formal volunteer brigade, the Melbourne Fire Prevention Society, which seems to have be renamed the Victoria Fire Brigade under control of the Melbourne Council by 1850. As the Melbourne Council did not have the authority to fund this (Melbourne was still governed from Sydney), it had to be funded by public subscription at first. The first fire engine was supplied by the Tasmanian Fire Assurance Company, and parked by the Police Station.

Subsequently there were formed other rival and/or co-operating brigades named after the suburbs they were raised in, or after the insurance or other company funding them, such as the Emerald Hill, Collingwood, North Melbourne, Australia Felix, Carlton Brewery, etc. By 1890 there were 56 separate brigades competing rather than cooperating …

Melbourne Punch, 30th December 1886 page 6.

To deal with ongoing troubles arising from continuing friction and jealousy the 1890 Fire Brigades Act was passed, with two boards representing the metropolitan and country districts formed. On April 30th 1891, all previous suburban brigades were disbanded, with members invited to join the new Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB).

Collingwood Fire Brigade

The stag head is featured on the Collingwood family crest. This may date post 1880. No back mark. Shank missing.

Late in 1854 a series of meetings to establish a fire brigade was held in the district of Collingwood, which was “extending its boundaries so rapidly as to bid fair very soon to rival the city itself in point of size “. Like many fire brigades of the era, it was to be supported by an insurance company.

The Argus (Melbourne), 17th January 1855 page 5.

By the end of the second year two stations had been built, one at the corner of Smith and Webb Streets, the other midway along Johnston Street. By 1860 there were two Collingwood brigades, a Collingwood Volunteer and an United Insurance Company Collingwood Fire Brigade.  On 18th June 1860 the volunteer brigade resigned due to a dispute with the insurance companies, and the assets were sold. However, by  1876 there were once again two rival Collingwood Brigades. By 1878 there were four! In 1878 the council forced them to amalgamate as four units of the Collingwood United Fire Brigade. However, jealousy and squabbling continued for years. In 1889 there were still disputes between insurance company and volunteer brigades in Collingwood.

Collingwood was declared a city in 1876. The button may date from after 1880, as that is when the Collingwood City Council paid for a copy of the crest to be sent from London.

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