Ballarat Fire Station

The Facts

  • Meeting held at Star Hotel on 31 May 1856 to form a fire brigade
  • Architect Mr Robinson drew up the plans for the first Engine House
  • Brigade purchased a building on Specimen Hill for £60 on 19 January 1857
  • Captain Burrows tender of £351 to build the 1st engine house was accepted
  • Land was granted on the corner of Barkly and East Streets on 6 December 1858 and it was officially opened only two weeks later at a cost of £500

The Beginnings

The Ballarat Fire Station is historically significant as one of the few remaining examples of nineteenth century fire stations. Formed in 1856, the volunteer fire brigade was the first to be established in Ballarat. A temporary engine house erected at the rear of the Montezuma Motel was in use by 1857.  At this time a manual pump named Aquarius was used.

Charles Dyte, the secretary of the Brigade, on 5 January 1857 at a meeting at the Montezuma Theatre, announced that he had collected £150 from the shopkeepers in Main Road. He also had the names of 74 men who had volunteered as members.

Around 16 January 1857 they decided to determine a supply of leather buckets, clothing, and an engine man to look after the equipment. They also decided to sink a water tank in front of the Star Hotel at the cost of £42. The following month they discovered the tank was not watertight.

During 1857, the Fire Brigade placed six large tanks along Main Road to collect rainwater to be used only to extinguish fires. A new hose reel was also purchased. When the next fire broke out the fire brigade volunteers rushed to put it out, but when the new hose reel got wet, it fell to pieces. Water was not laid on and firemen relied on tanks or carted water.

Exterior

The Ballarat Fire Station is of architectural significance demonstrating outstanding application of brick masonry as both a decorative and structural material in the octagonal tower with its combination of arcaded corbel tables and angled bricks.

The tower, together with the boldly articulated and complementary Engine House forms an unusual and sophisticated ensemble of buildings.

The Ballarat Fire Station is of further historical significance in its ability to demonstrate the size and pre-eminence of the Ballarat region in the state of Victoria. East Ballarat formed one of its many suburbs until the early decades of the twentieth century. The existing Engine House was officially opened in 1916 and replaced the earlier 1858 structure.

The Brigade was progressive in its use of new firefighting technology being the first in Victoria to use a steam fire engine and install electric street fire alarms.

The Belltower

The bell arrived by the Doul McCabe. The bell was christened the ‘Lady Barkly” on 20 August 1863. It was purchased from Naylor Vickers & Co. of England and was over one tonne in weight.

Tenders were called for designs for a brick tower and belfry on 4 August 1863. Henry Caselli designed the winning entry. The builder was Mr Cowlands (a member of the brigade). The foundation stone for the tower was laid on 1 January 1864. Lack of funds prevented the Engine House from being fully constructed to Caselli’s design. The tower was restored in 1982.

HISTORICAL EVENT

Flames crackled and spat leaping high into the night sky at the Montezuma Theatre at the north west corner of Main Road and Eureka Street in 1861. When the flames reached the Chinese stores 6,000 packets of fire crackers went off. With a strong wind blowing the flames it spread rapidly and devoured the next building. One of the largest fires in the history of Ballarat continued to rent its destructive powers. Three double chains of bucket men and four hoses worked tirelessly but a quarter of a mile of Main Road (Geelong Road) was destroyed including three theatres, seven hotels and 58 shops.

uniforms

The uniforms decided upon in the early days of the Brigade included a cap with the letter “A” painted on it and a broad belt. By 3 April 1857, a red shirt was provided to each member at the expense of the brigade. A badge with the word Aquarius was furnished to each member, also at the expense of the brigade (as well as a leather belt and a cap for parade), and a hat with the letter “A”.

The volunteers turned out in full uniform on 5 August 1857. Hundreds of spectators rushed to accompany them to the Swamp (Lake Wendouree) where they tried out their newly purchased pumping engine. A stream of water was lifted to a height of around 11 metres. The crowd cheered enthusiastically until the water coming down drenched them completely.

On 28 October 1858 the volunteer firemen dressed in their glazed helmets, red woollen jumpers and dark trousers marched behind the new fire engine through the crowds cheering them in Main Road until they saw the equipment safely housed in the Fire Brigade complex in Barkly Street.

Supported By

Ballarat Heritage Festival 2021 has been supported by the Bushfire Relief Community Events Grant which has allowed us to implement activities and initiatives that bring bushfire affected communities together, build resilience and raise awareness of support services.

If you are seeking advice or CFA news please use the information links below:

NOW

More than 160 years later, the Ballarat Fire Station is still operating and protecting the local community.

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