The temperance movement originated in the 19th century and urged for the reduction or prohibition of alcohol. Temperance societies were initially founded during the 1820s in the United States and England, and during the 1830s they emerged in Australia.

Various temperance groups were active in Australia, such as the Independent Order of Rechabites, the Band of Hope and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. These movements aimed to educate the public about the dangers of drinking, and also campaigned for changes to the law, such as the introduction of six o’clock closing and the development of ‘dry’ suburbs. Temperance was also associated with social reforms, with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union being actively involved in the women’s suffrage movement.

A 1906 postcard showing the headstone of a temperance man.
Here lieth a temperance man
, H97.248/217

One of the effects of the temperance movement was the emergence of coffee palaces. The coffee palaces aimed to compete with hotels, providing all the amenities and conveniences of hotels, but without the alcohol.

Wood engraving from 1888 of the Federal Coffee Palce, Melbourne
The coffee palaces of Melbourne, IAN23/06/88/117b

 ‘Temperance advocates realised that the public house performed a crucial service in providing food, accommodation and recreation as well as alcohol, and if they were to attract clients away from the pub they had to provide alternative venues for such needs.’ (Under the influence, p. 173)

During the 1880s many coffee palaces were created in Melbourne, with more than 50 existing by 1888. One famous coffee palace in the city was the Grand Coffee Palace (now the Windsor Hotel). It was initially built as a hotel, called The Grand Hotel, in 1883 by the businessman George Nipper and designed by Charles Webb. However, by 1886 George Nipper was forced to sell the hotel and it was purchased by the Grand Coffee Palace Co. Ltd and converted into a temperance establishment – The Grand Coffee Palace. James Munro, managing director, ceremoniously burnt the Grand’s liquor licence at the Grand Coffee Palace’s opening.

Wood engraving from 1888 showing The Grand coffee palace.
The coffee palaces of Melbourne,
IAN23/06/88/117d

By 1888 the Grand Coffee Palace had doubled its original size. (Duchess: the story of the Windsor Hotel, p. 10)  It now consisted of 400 rooms, included about 300 bedrooms, as well as a cafe, dining room, smoking room, billiard room, library and more. (Duchess… p. 13)

However, financial problems hit Melbourne in the 1890s and the Grand Coffee Palace was not spared. Munro was declared bankrupt in February 1893. In 1897, the shareholders and directors decided to obtain a liquor license. This was also, in part, an acknowledgement of the fact that plenty of surreptitious drinking was actually occurring at the Grand Coffee Palace. As Christopher J. Spicer explains in Duchess: the story of the Windsor hotel;

What was annoying them (the shareholders and directors) at the time was not so much that a large amount of liquor was being consumed in the hotel, but that because the hotel was not selling it the shareholders were not collecting any of the financial rewards.’ (p. 19)

By this time many of the other Melbourne coffee palaces had also closed or become licensed as it had become clear that the coffee palaces were not really an effective business alternative to the conventional hotel.

Written by Debra Hutchinson, Librarian, Australian History and Literature Team

This article has 13 comments

  1. My father was raised in South Melbourne and as children they belonged to the ‘Band of Hope’ Sunday School. Grandmother was Presbyterian – no alcohol allowed in home, and we had the sign ‘the pledge’ when 21.

    • Thanks for your comments. We love hearing your personal recollections. It gives a real truth to a history which can be quite abstract.
      Debra.

  2. There is a coffee palace in Newport (cnr. Schutt & Newcastle Sts) which has been cleverly divided into 6 townhouses. I cannot find any photos or history of it in local Williamstown Museum or Heritage Victoria.Can anyone help?

    • Hi Ross
      Thanks for your comment. I have taken this as a deferred enquiry- so I will do some research and get back to you shortly.
      Debra

  3. In the 1980s you could still buy reprints of fabbo 1950s posters saying ‘For a Happy Party, the Hostess serves FRUIT DRINKS’, sold by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I wish I had kept mine.

  4. “Rechabites” not “Rachabites”. I only know this because many years I bought an IOR badge from an op shop.

  5. while doing my family history I discovered that my great great grandfather had a mistress he later married. Researching the mistress I discovered that she and her husband took her 3 daughters to The Grand coffee palace in Melbourne at abandoned them there. The children were later discovered and put in homes.

  6. Four generations of our family with a tradition of staying at The Victoria Coffee Palace.

  7. Jo Russell-Clarke

    I’m wondering if (hot) drinking chocolate similarly led to ‘chocolate houses/palaces’? Perhaps chocolate was also drunk in coffee houses? I’ve come across European chocolate palaces but wonder if Australia had any?

  8. This Cadbury’s advertisement from 1931 is for drinking chocolate- but I can”t find anything in association with coffee houses
    http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page485088

  9. My GG grandfather was involved with the Band of Hope. I can find newspaper articles about him being President of the Band of Hope in Gulgong. However he left there and moved to Sydney in the last 1870s. I have found his headstone in Sydney which says that it was there from Band of Hope recognizing his work in establishing this society. His name was George Bell. I was wondering if you had any further information.

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