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Victorian Heritage Register (VHR) Number


Heritage Overlay Number


Level of Significance



Extent of Registration
1. All the building marked B1 on Diagram Number 1892 held by the Executive Director.

2. All the following movable objects (see furniture inventory on file for detailed description): Cedar counter located in Long Room; 9 cedar cabinets; cedar table with two drawers and inset leatherette top; 6 cedar chairs with solid circular turned backs; 2 swivelling office chairs (1 blackwood, 1 maple) with inset leather panels and cushions; 2 steel safes.

3. All the land marked L1 on Diagram Number 1892 held by the Executive Director being all the land included in Lot 2 on Plan of Subdivision PS 424108Q.

Statement of Significance

What is significant?
The Geelong Customs House was built by Melbourne contractor WC Cornishin 1855-56. The design of the building is attributed to threearchitects: Clerk of Works for Geelong, William Edward Davidson;Colonial Architect James Balmain; and prominent Public Works Departmentarchitect John James Clark. It is probable that all three were involvedin the design, but to what extent remains unresolved. The buildingreplaced two earlier structures: a prefabricated building of c1838 and astone building of 1845. The Colonial Georgian style Customs House is athree-storey Barrabool freestone and bluestone structure with a slateroof. It housed a bond store in the basement, offices on the lowerground floor and a central long room above. The building served as aCustoms House for 140 years.

How is it significant?
The former Customs House has architectural and historical significanceto the state of Victoria.

Why is it significant?
The former Customs House has architectural significance as anexceptional and elegant example of the Colonial Georgian style. It ischaracterised by simplicity, plain surfaces, elegant proportions,symmetry and an occasional use of classical detail. The rear of thebuilding has a more Renaissance Revival character with a rusticatedbasement with a piano nobile over and quoinwork to the corners of thebuilding. The interior has a number of original features and furnitureincluding notable examples of joinery throughout the building,fireplaces, the coved ceiling of the Long Room and the counter. It isalso significant as an outstanding example of freestone masonry inVictoria. The building has an unusual architectural expression with asteep fall from front to rear of the site resulting in two distinctiveprincipal elevations: the single storey elevation to Brougham Street andthe three storeyed facade facing Corio Bay.

The former Customs House, built on a site associated with customsactivities since 1838, has historical significance as a physicalexpression of the commercial importance of the second most prosperousport in the colony after Melbourne. The scale and impressive design ofthe building reflect the importance of a busy commercial port which atthe height of its activity briefly challenged Melbourne as the principalport in the colony. The building demonstrates the planning principlesand level of security required for 19th century customs houses with thesecure bond store at the lower level and the Long Room where businesswas transacted accessible only from the front of the building.

The former Customs House has architectural and historical significancefor its associations with its attributed architects. The building is oneof the few works that can be associated with Edward Davidson and JamesBalmain. John James Clark was one of the most prominent and talentedarchitects to work in the Victorian Public Works Department. Thebuilding also has associations with builder WC Cornish who was asignificant and controversial contractor in Melbourne from his arrivalin 1852 until his early death in 1859. Cornish was known for hisdisputes with trade unions, in particular his refusal to accept theeight-hour day.

Year Construction Started 1855
Architectural Style Victorian Period (1851-1901) Georgian
Heritage Act Categories Registered place; Registered object integral to a registered place

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