Built by Francis Clark in the early 1840s and now considered to be Melbourne’s oldest licenced public house and Fitzroy’s oldest surviving building. Francis was the first licensee from 1843-1845 but following this it was licensed by others. It is now part of the St Vincent’s Hospital complex.
Francis was born in White Roding, Essex on 10 September 1820. He was the second child of seven and the eldest boy. Francis travelled to Port Phillip (Melbourne) in 1840 when he was 19 years old. It is recorded in Alexander Sutherland’s Victoria and its Metropolis (1888) that Francis, on arriving in Port Phillip “went at once to the country, and took the management of a sheep run for about two years (p.514). (Source – Francis Clark: a man of his time 1820-1896, by Alison M Hart).
In 1843 he is recorded as a butcher on Little Brunswick Street, Collingwood (later renamed Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy in around 1853)(see site 2 below). By this time Francis had married Martha Davies (28 July 1842) and in May the following year William Thomas (known as Thomas was born). Francis purchased properties including the Devonshire Arms (1), the south west corner of Gertrude and Fitzroy streets (4) which included properties and a bakery and three cottages dating from 1854 next to it (5). The largest and most valuable holding was 4-6 rateable properties fronting Brunswick Street and extending around the corner and including another 4-8 properties on Gertrude Street (3). (Source – Francis Clark: a man of his time 1820-1896, by Alison M Hart).
“Francis Clark owned the Devonshire Arms Hotel for approximately fifty years, though it appears that he may have tried to sell it in the mid 1850s. Around this time there were a number of articles in The Argus which indicate Henry McGregor (later licensee of the Rob Roy Hotel) and his family lived at the Devonshire Arms and that he held the license (Family Notices, 1853). However he is also listed in the 1854 List of Improved and Unimproved Property in the Fitzroy Ward as being the owner. It is not entirely clear what happened with the sale, or how far it progressed, but in the August 1855 Victorian Government Gazette there was a report of what seemed a rather convoluted court case in which the Bank of Victoria was seeking to recover £2,600 from McGregor relating to a
bill of exchange drawn by Francis Clark. This bill of exchange, which came due in April 1855, was endorsed by Clark to Edward Langton who in turn had endorsed it to the Bank of Victoria, which was seeking to recover the money. McGregor was apparently no longer locatable and by 1854/55 Michael Tobin was the licensee of The Devonshire Arms. At this time Edward Langton took over Francis’ butcher shop at 121 Elizabeth Street in the city and The Devonshire Arms is again listed as being owned by Clark. It would appear most likely that McGregor did not meet the payment and the sale fell through, Clark then retained the Arms until his death in 1896.” (Source – Francis Clark: a man of his time 1820-1896, by Alison M Hart).