St Vincent’s stands on the site of John Wren’s Cyclorama

The Fitzroy and Collingwood Sketchbook also told me this:

“St Vincent’s, the most easterly of these great [charity] hospitals, became closely linked with the residents of the inner suburbs. Today it is still conducted by the same order of nuns who founded the institution [the Sisters of Charity].

The more recent extension of the hospital, and those sections erected in 1928, straddle what was once a roaring colonial fairground, where a host of noisy and sometimes disreputable sideshows attracted a wide-eyed throng on weekends and holidays.

Later, at the turn of the century, part of the site was used for a wondrous structure called the Cyclorama, owned by the well-known sporting entrepreneur, John Wren. At the Cyclorama there were regular boxing and wrestling contests and later it was used to house a spectacular series of dioramas where the public could pay for the privilege of seeing tableaux showing the Battle of Waterloo, the Eureka Stockade and the Panorama of Jerusalem.”

Funny thing is, a cyclorama is not a place where cycles go around and around. It is a long painting affixed to the walls of a circular room. The punter stands in the middle. Now there is a book about them by Dr Mimi Colligan of Monash University (“the only historian to have made a detailed study of Australasian panoramas”, quite a claim to fame). They were very popular in the 19th century:

“The most popular traveled from city to city to provide local entertainment — much like a modern movie. As the viewers stood in the center of the painting, there would often be music and a narrator telling the story of the event depicted. Sometimes dioramas were constructed in the foreground to provide additional realism to the cyclorama.

Many circular and hexagonal shaped buildings were constructed in almost every major US and European city to provide a viewing space for the cycloramas.”

Wren’s cyclorama was variously a cycle track and boxing and wrestling theatre, but he bought it at the moment when cinema began to throw cyclorami into a decline.

2 Replies to “St Vincent’s stands on the site of John Wren’s Cyclorama”

  1. Love your blog

    and great to see mentions of both the Cyclorama and John Wren – in his own right as entrepreneur and promoter of entertainments

    However – you have gotten your story a little back to front

    the Cyclorama was one of a set of buildings across Australia and New Zealand [in the 1890s?] by a consortium of Australian and US business interests. John Wren took over the building and gave it a new lease of life when the Cyclorama and Diorama displays began to lose public suport due to the increasing popularity of the cinema and its radical new effects. John Wren’s boxing and wrestling events gave a ne lease of life to the building. I believe that the wowsers tried to close down these events and they were transferred to the Stadium (on the site of the later Festical Hall) West Melbourne

    For the detailed history of the Cyclorama you should read the book by Mimi Colligan published recently by the University of Melbourne Press

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