RMIT Building 1 (Francis Ormond Building)

124 La Trobe Street, Melbourne

Unveiling by Lord Brassey of a statue of Francis Ormond, corner of La Trobe and Bowen streets, 7 June 1897

Unveiling by Lord Brassey of a statue of Francis Ormond, corner of La Trobe and Bowen streets, 7 June 1897. The statue stands before the Francis Ormond Building and the (then) Court of Petty Sessions is visible in the background right. The statue was modelled by Percival Ball. The substantial granite pedestal bears the inscription 'Francis Ormond, public benefactor. Died May 5th 1889'. The statue was paid for by a public subscription. Photo provided by RMIT Archives.

Fast facts


The Francis Ormond Building is on the Register of the National Estate, classified by the National Trust, and designated a 'notable building' in the Melbourne City Council planning scheme. The National Trust classification applies to the exterior and the west (Bowen Street) entrance.

Construction dates

Stage 1 construction permit dated 23 April 1885. Architect: Terry & Oakden and Nahum Barnet. Builder: James Moore of Sandridge Road, South Melbourne. Stage 2 construction contract dated 3 July 1890. Architect: Oakden, Addison and Kemp.

↑ page menu

What to see

La Trobe Street foyer, ground floor

A pair of framed portraits show politician and philanthropist the Hon. Francis Ormond and his wife Mary. Little is known about the artist or the date of these paintings.

The unlabelled portrait is of Sir John Storey, a tireless campaigner in the 1940s for the Melbourne Technical College to become an institute of technology and provide a higher level of education and training. Storey Hall is named for Sir John and his son, also named John, who was the first president of the Students' Representative Council.

Council chamber, first floor

Originally a lecture theatre. The open timber ceiling rose recalls the days of gas lighting.

Eastern corridor and courtyard, ground floor

From here you can see the back of the original Gothic-revival building with its steep-pitched roof and elaborate wrought-iron cresting and finials.

Western doors, ground floor

New sliding doors lead through the heritage-classified west entrance guarded by a pair of gargoyles. The Bowen Street courtyard offers close-up views of stained glass, arched windows and original stonework.

↑ page menu

 RMIT Building 1, from Bowen Street

RMIT Building 1, from Bowen Street. Photo by Margund Sallowsky.

History of the building

This building was the first home of the Working Men’s College and was built in two stages.

The first was the Bowen Street wing which included the main lecture hall, workshops, classrooms and caretaker’s quarters. The Hon Francis Ormond MLC (pictured, right), a grazier and philanthropist--and founder of the Working Men's College--donated £5000 and the rest of the £10,600 was raised by public donations and a levy paid by members of the Trades Hall Council.

The Bowen Street wing was completed in 1886 but, because it still had to be fitted out and furnished, classes did not commence in the lecture hall until the June in the following year.

The La Trobe Street wing and tower block were added in 1890, completing the original vision for the building. This £13,700 addition was financed by the bequest of the Hon. Francis Ormond, who died the previous year, and some government funding. When completed in 1892, the La Trobe Street wing provided offices, College Council and instructors’ rooms, large classrooms, and laboratories for photography and practical chemistry on the top floor.

The three storey brick structure is faced with Barrabool stone with Waurn Ponds dressings. Architect Percy Oakden taught at the Working Men's College.

Adjoining the college in the 1890s were the Supreme Court and the Melbourne Gaol. Bowen Street was at that time a thoroughfare with a pub, a boys’ home and various business premises.

A number of significant additions have been made to the original 1887-91 Francis Ormond Building. These include the first floor extension of the east wing to provide an engineering drafting room, a new internal staircase (built in the 1930s), weatherboard additions to the cottage, and the two outdoor toilet blocks. The second floor of the east wing was constructed as additional classrooms in 1955. Much of the interior space fronting La Trobe Street was remodelled following a 1953 fire which required a whole bay of the building to be reconstructed. Further refurbishment is planned.

↑ page menu