1878 Queen Victoria Market opens in Melbourne

Saturday morning at Queen Victoria Market in 1879. State Library of Victoria

The Queen Victoria Market was built on the site of Melbourne’s first cemetery. It is now the largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere, with a colourful (and criminal) history, from mafia killings and extortion rackets to piracy crackdowns. As well as stalls for meat, fish, deli goods fruit and vegetables and general goods it has a range of permanent shops and eating places including the famous American Doughnut Kitchen food van.

The Queen Victoria Market was not the first Melbourne market. The first official fruit and vegetable market was the Western Market, established in 1841. It was established close to the Yarra River in the block bounded by Market, Collins and Williams Streets and Flinders Lane. The location of the Western Market meant goods could easily be unloaded from boats and transported to the market halls. As the railways expanded the market’s proximity to Flinders Street Station was also an advantage.

Other city markets included the Eastern Market (originally the Hay Market) on the corner of Little Collins and Exhibition Streets which officially opened in 1847 and the later, splendidly elaborate, Melbourne Fish Market with its clock towers, turrets and copper spires, which opened in 1890.

The opening of the Queen Victoria Market in March 1878 was celebrated with a free breakfast for the market gardeners given by the Mayor of Melbourne. Initially, the market was open every day except Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday. The wholesale market operated in the morning from 6 am to 10 am, while the evening general market ran from 3 pm to 9 pm, or 11 pm on Saturdays.

Of Melbourne’s great 19th-century markets, only the Queen Victoria Market survives. In the mid-20th century, the wholesale market for fruit and vegetables was associated with Mafia activities among the many Italian growers, resulting in the murder of several market traders. As a result, during the 1960s, a Royal Commission was held leading to the relocation of the wholesale market to Footscray in 1970. The Queen Victoria Market became a retail market only. It now has a National Heritage listing.

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