73-75 Alfred Crescent, North Fitzroy (The Haven)

  • Architect: Nicholson / Builder: David Masterston
  • Built:1889
  • First owner: John McMahon
  • Other owners: Salvation Army

The following is the history as told by Sue Bradshaw, Fitzroy Historical Society, April 2005 Newsletter:

Hertiage database photo of 75 Alfred Cres, North Fitzroy.

John McMahon was born at Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland on 26th October 1846. In January 1865 he left Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland to set sail for Australia on the ship Southern Ocean. He was 18 years old when he arrived in Port Phillip in
May of that year. John was well educated by the time that he left Ireland. He had studied at a private school and had originally intended to enter the priesthood. At 14 years of age he had learnt the art of tailoring from his father who was a tailor specializing in clerical outfitting at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Maynooth. After arriving in Australia John worked for 11 years as a tailor for Buckley & Nunn in Melbourne.

In 1870 he married Jane Givan, a spinster of Davis Street, South Yarra. Jane was born at Gortin, near Omagh, County Tyrone, Ireland on 11th May 1848. She had arrived in Australia from Omagh, Northern Ireland in 1839 with her parents, brothers and sisters. She was Presbyterian. They were married in St. Kilda in a Catholic Church and then in a Presbyterian service conducted in the home of her parents in South Yarra. John and Jane had ten children including twin daughters – two girls. One of the twins died of diphtheria in their early childhood. There were 7 girls born in a row and last 3 children were boys – all of whom had double-barreled names – John Joseph, Frank Fitzroy and Leo Luke. All 3 sons were doctors when they grew up and had children who also were medical practitioners.

John McMahon read widely for a person of his era. The results of his interests produced a store of early Australian literature and original manuscripts of Australian history. The gift of his collection of over 50 rare and many handwritten books to Newman College library allegedly instantly doubled their resources in this area. John was himself the author of 5 books including one titled Over the Wide Waste of
the Waters Blue, which was an account of a world trip he undertook with his pregnant wife and some of his children in 1889. His youngest son Francis Fitzroy McMahon was born on this trip – he was born in the same house in Maynooth where his father had been born.

11 years after arriving in Australia John McMahon started his own tailoring business at 101 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (corner of James Street). This building is now a wine merchants – it is a beautiful 2-storey bluestone establishment going back some 100 feet in depth. It is constructed of handmade bricks and had a handsome archway at the back for a carriage entrance. John was very active building in the Fitzroy area. He built the terrace houses known as “Elanel” and “Matilda” at 53 & 55 Alfred Terrace, North Fitzroy. Of greater significance is the row of 10 shops known as “Gladstone Terrace” on the corner of Brunswick and Tranmere ‘Streets, North Fitzroy. There is a plaque on the corner shop detailing the construction of the building that is still being used for commercial purposes. The facade of the terrace is quite unusual and appears to still be in its original condition. As well as undertaking major building works in the Fitzroy area John McMahon purchased land at Pakenham Upper where he built his “country house” which was called The Grange – the original white weatherboard home is still standing, as are the original gardens with some magnificent oak trees. The property is now approximately 15 acres and being used for equestrian purposes.

John McMahon is supposed to have invested 100,000 pounds in land speculation in Victoria together with his friends Mr. Sam Lyons and Sir George Turner (who was to become treasurer of the Commonwealth).

Most famous of course of all the buildings constructed by John McMahon was 75 Alfred Crescent, North Fitzroy. Built in 1889 it is a significant and substantial home. If you look closely at the windows you will see shamrocks in the stained glass. The main stained glass window, which cannot be seen from the outside is of a large Irish Wolfhound hunting scene- this window was specially imported from Ireland and to ensure that it was installed in the new home John actually ordered 2 windows to be
shipped to Australia just in case one was broken in transit. 75 Alfred Crescent is well known as “The Haven”. The architect of the building was Nicholson. David Masterton was the builder.

John McMahon had a long and distinguished public career. In 1877 he was returned
to the Fitzroy City Council. On 2 occasions he was elected Mayor of the city. It was during his time on the Council that the Fitzroy Library was built. He
was supposed to be one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Library and his name is to be found in the stonework in front of the Library steps.
He was also president of the Road and Bridge League, Northcote and Chairman of the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works. He stood for State Parliament a number of times but was not successful. Finally, some may say his most important public
function was that he was one of the founders of the Fitzroy Football Club and chaired its inaugural meeting.

During his time on the Fitzroy Council the Edinburgh Gardens were established for the benefit of the local citizens. Whilst Mayor he kept unemployed men occupied by organizing for them to plant trees. Some of the family consider it was through his efforts that the Edinburgh Gardens were preserved for the enjoyment of the people of Fitzroy – the state government apparently wanted to have a large amount of the gardens excised and used for other purposes – he led the revolt against this proposal.

Apparently when he was elected Mayor the second time there was a great deal of distress in the community as he insisted that the fire wood and food given by the previous mayors to the poor and needy only be given to those who worked. The work
programme involved tree planting – a large number of trees were planted in the City of Fitzroy at this time (the results of which can be seen in many local streets today).

Unfortunately in 1895 following the stockmarket crash and the end of the land boom John McMahon and his family lost all of their assets and 75 Alfred Crescent was sold by a Bank who had foreclosed on their mortgage. The property then passed into the hands of the Salvation Army who used it for various purposes over the years until it
was sold in the last 1980`s when it reverted to a private residence again after having been used as a home for unmarried mothers for many years. It is known to many as The Haven.

John McMahon died in 1918. Little is known of the last 20 years of his life. His wife died in 1915 whilst living in Kew at her eldest son’s home. John died at Uxbridge House Private Hospital, Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. He is buried in a substantial family gave at the Melbourne General Cemetery.

Adding to Sue’s history:

In 1897-1988 the Haven Foundling Home & Refuge was established and run on the site of 73-75 Alfred Crescent. It was also known as the Haven Maternity Home (1897-1973), The Haven Hospital and Nursing Home (1932-1967), The Haven Child Care Centre (1973-1975), The Haven Hostel for Girls with Intellectual Disabilities (1975-1988).

The Victoria Government DHHS site, provides this history:

A private home was modified to provide dormitories, a maternity hospital and a nursery. The Haven was used as a maternity home for young mothers who were sent there from around the state. In 1932, a two-storey hospital and nursing home was erected on the Alfred Crescent site to accommodate infants and toddlers.

An inspection in 1938 found The Haven accommodated 56 mothers (22 pregnant, and 34 with young infants), 22 infants who were wards of state, and 20 infants under the infant life-protection provisions of the Children’s Welfare Act 1928

The Haven Maternity Home, Melbourne

In 1967, the hospital section was closed and women were sent to the Royal Women’s Hospital to give birth.

In 1971, a new babies’ home opened on the site, comprising a reception area, lounge, office for the sister-in-charge, and a room for newborn babies up to six months awaiting adoption. Another wing comprised four units, each for five children.

Until the mid-1970s, The Haven operated as a hostel for unmarried mothers, and as a hospital and home for babies and toddlers. The Haven Hostel babies’ and toddlers home accommodated 31 babies and toddlers from birth to three years. The hostel section still housed unmarried mothers whose babies were delivered at the Royal Women’s Hospital.

In 1973, the Salvation Army closed the babies’ home and established a day care centre in its place.

From 1975 until its closure in 1988, The Haven cared for girls with a mild intellectual disability.

Records are available online from the DHHS of those mothers and children who used the facilities.

According to the North Fitzroy Conservation Study 1978 the building is described as “A large late Victorian dwelling, constructed in 1890, that is devoid of much of the flamboyance of the boom period. It comprises a symmetrical two storey cement rendered structure with a smaller slate hipped roof projecting section which has a two storey return verandah. The verandah is notable for its scale and intact and pleasing cast iron work. The fenestration onto the verandah is of interest because it is all of a matching design with double hung sashes with side lights. The building is of a major streetscape value.” (Glossary)

4 thoughts on “73-75 Alfred Crescent, North Fitzroy (The Haven)

  1. It is true that John McMahon saved the Edinburgh Gardens for the people of Fitzroy when the government wanted to excise the land for public housing. There is a plaque acknowledging this fact in the Gardens. This plaque and one on the Fitzroy grandstand were placed there in acknowledgment of the work of John McMahon and his loyalty to Fitzroy. I have researched his whole life and there is far more to his story. Some of the above story is not quite correct. I did give this information to Sue, but she had not done my research and so was rather dismissive of some things I had discovered.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment – I would be fascinated to see your research at some point. I think the story of this building and its people is fascinating. My email address is on my site, so please get in touch.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: