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,

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 25 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.

  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.

    • Statement of Significance
      What is Significant?
      The Newport Coffee Palace (former), constructed in 1891, at 24 Newcastle Street, Newport.
      How is it Significant?
      The Newport Coffee Palace (former) is of local historic and aesthetic significance to the City of Hobsons Bay.
      Why is it Significant?
      Historically, it is significant as the only known surviving purpose built coffee palace in the region and as one of the relatively small number in the State. It demonstrates the early development of Newport and also has strong historical associations with the temperance movement, a powerful religious, political and social force in Victorian society. (

  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.

    • Thankyou! Change made.

      • I still have my familiy’s 1871 “The Temperance Hand-Book” with Rechabite Library handwritten inside the back page.
        Baptists who settled in north west Victoria in the late 1800s.

  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

  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.

  10. Hi Paul, I shared a photo called James Coffee Palace Williamstown (GGM Photographer) in a Williamstown Facebook group but the building is not being accepted as having ever existed in Williamstown.- Sth Aust was suggested or USA. Can you help at all? The original photo is both in the Trove and the State Library L

  11. Hi Paul

    I’m interested in finding out more about prohibition in Melbourne. Do you know if there was much of an original speakeasy/illegal bar scene in town?

  12. Christine Sanger

    My Great grandmother had a Coffee Palace in Gembrook Vic, 1916 to about 1936. I also noticed one in a wodonga historical society photo around the 1800’s I hadn’t realised they had anything to do with temperance unions. From my anecdotal knowledge, I thought my great grandmothers was like a cafe with Accommodation. She also had The Last Stand Cafe in Glenrowan in 1937, which was similar, but not called a Coffee Palace. In finding this site, I thought they may have been a common occurrence in early Australia. I haven’t done much research, but any information would be appreciated.

    • Hi Christine,
      I will take your question as deferred enquriy and a librarian will get back to you.
      Thanks for reading,

  13. My great great grandmothers brother was the former Premier of Victoria James Munro 1890-92 who was a leader in the temperance movement in Melbourne during the 1800’s.

    He owned or was a major shareholder in the Grand coffee Place(Windsor Hotel) and the Victorian Coffee palaces in Melbourne.

    His wife Jane Munro was also a leader of the Womens Temperance Movement in Victoria and was one of the first women to sign the Victorian Womans Suffrage Petition in 1891 that was signed into law by her husband Premier James Munro.

  14. Another part of the temperance movement was the Blue Ribbon societies which were formed in country towns. See e.g Port Albert report 1885, second paragraph of Then the blue ribbon signified “taking the pledge”, but now is taken to honour police who have died in course of duty.

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