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The First Sandridge Fire Brigade

Portrait of a young man in Sandridge Volunteer Fire Brigade uniform by William J Burman. Ca 1876-77 John Etkins Collection, State Library of Victoria
Portrait of a young man in Sandridge Volunteer Fire Brigade uniform by William J Burman. Ca 1876-77 John Etkins Collection, State Library of Victoria

With bushfire alerts all over ABC radio this week and the lingering smell and haze of smoke in the air my eyes were drawn to the Society bookshelves and a great little publication called ‘Fire in the Borough’ by Shirley A Videion.

Videion traces the story of fire and Fire Brigades from the early Sandridge days through to the building of Port Melbourne Fire Station No 41 in 1939 at the corner of Graham Street and Williamstown Road.

Sandridge’s first Fire Brigade was formed in the aftermath of a series of fires in 1855. The first fire struck in Gameson and Nankerville’s store in Bay Street in the early hours of January 23. It was the middle of a heatwave and the flames were fanned by a hot north wind. No doubt the gunpowder stored in their cellars didn’t help the situation either.

With only the Volunteer Brigade of Emerald Hill (South Melbourne) and the various Insurance Company Fire Brigades based in Melbourne many buildings and tents were destroyed in just a few hours before the wind swung around and pushed the fire north-easterly towards Graham and Liardet Streets.

By morning a large area of Sandridge had been reduced to smouldering ruins. As Videion writes …

The fire destroyed sawmills, stables, coffee works general stores, hotels, the theatre, dining rooms, sixty houses and twenty tents.

A second fire hit Bay Street on September 9. It is believed to have started in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the Ship Inn and spread to several neighbouring buildings including the butcher shop of Mr May, an ancestor of PMHPS Vice-President, John May. Eventually the gable end of the Chusan Hotel stopped the fire sparing further destruction.

When a third fire destroyed several buildings a month later a public meeting was held at the Marine Hotel and it was resolved to form a volunteer Fire Brigade and work towards acquiring a fire engine. As a result the Sandridge Watermen offered to form the nucleus of a loosely organised Volunteer Fire Brigade.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Almost 160 years later there are still many CFA Volunteers fighting fires all over Victoria. Our thoughts and best wishes are with them. Stay safe.

David Thompson

Sources and further reading
Videion, S A 2007, Fire in the Borough, 1st Ed, H Merrick-Andrews, Mordialloc
U’Ren, N & Turnbull, N 1983, A History of Port Melbourne, 1st Ed, Oxford University Press, Melbourne


  • Toni Danson
    Posted June 3, 2016 9.17 pm 0Likes

    I am researching an ancestor Francis Adie (Eadie)) Greenshields who resided in Port Melbourne 31 Nott Street and was listed as a fireman in 1914 and 1919 on the Victorian electoral rolls. I’m trying to find out if this was a volunteer role he had with the fire brigade or if it relates to the railways (steam trains). How can I find out?

    • David Thompson
      Posted June 3, 2016 10.39 pm 0Likes

      I have forwarded your query to our Tuesday working group to see what they can find out.

  • Toni Danson
    Posted June 3, 2016 9.18 pm 0Likes

    Also I am interested in this book Fire in the Borough Can I purchase a copy? if so where from?

    • David Thompson
      Posted June 3, 2016 10.42 pm 0Likes

      I believe Fire in the Borough is out of print and it is unlikely that there will be a reprint. It may be available at some libraries or even on eBay but I know there weren’t that many copies printed in the first place.

      I’ve checked the index but there isn’t any Greenshields listed.

      • Toni Danson
        Posted June 5, 2016 4.22 pm 0Likes

        Thankyou so much for your quick response I really appreciate it.

  • Janet White
    Posted June 20, 2021 10.38 am 0Likes

    My great grandfather GEORGE WILLIAM POSTANCE was a fire fighter at Port Melbourne
    In the electoral roll he was living at Liadert Street in 1903 – 1905
    I would love to know the history.

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Acknowledgement of Traditional Custodians

We respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet and work, the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation and pay respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.