First man to discover gold in Victoria hosted Melbourne’s oldest pub, The Duke

The Duke of Wellington, Melbourne. Picture: Pat Adams


WHILE in Melbourne for the tennis, an old mate of mine, Pat Adams supplied a few images and a review of the city’s oldest pub, the Duke of Wellington.

Arguably, the most famous of the long-line of hosts of ‘The Duke’ was the man credited with being the first to discover gold in Victoria in 1851.

Louis John Michel hosted the Duke of Wellington for over a decade from the early 1860s into the 1870s. However, before we get into the pub’s history, Pat provided us with this beaut review. He writes:

“Mick, have a go at this little gem. It lost its licence for a few years after the licensee Brian ‘The Whale’ Roberts (Richmond football legend) passed away, and has now reopened.”

Pat said he first had a beer in the pub, located at the corner of Flinders and Russell Streets, in 1985: “This has always been my favourite pub when I come to Melbourne,” he said.

The Whale was a huge man and loved to drink seven ounce glasses of beer, Pat recalled. “It looked funny; him with such a small glass in his hand, ya would think it would slip through his fingers.

“The whole bar area has been gutted, but it now looks better then before. On the down side they have many beers on tap – but no Carlton!”

The historic Duke of Wellington Hotel, Melbourne. Picture: Pat Adams

Pat couldn’t find a gold plaque, which for years was in the main bar. It read, he said:

“ON THIS SPOT, on the seventeenth of September in the year 1984 MR VAL PEROVIC player of the Carlton football club, drank 37, 375ml cans of Victoria bitter in 2 hours. Witnessed by the hotel patrons, teammates and his very nervous dog”.

The plaque was signed by the then licensee.

The Duke of Wellington was originally built as a boarding house in 1850, and later bought by local businessman, Richard Dalton and licensed as a hotel in 1853.

Dalton had a short stay as host and died at the pub a year later of consumption, aged just 36. His wife Margaret took over as licensee after her husband’s death.

Louis John Michel, who is credited with the first person to discover gold in Victoria, gained the license of the Duke in 1862. He remained licensee until 1875.

The Duke of Wellington Hotel, Melbourne. Inset: Louis John Michel.

Born near London in 1825, of parents whose ancestors were driven from France owing to the persecutions of Louis XIV., his adventurous spirit led him to leave home for the shores of Port Jackson, Sydney as a teenager.

In 1840 Michel found himself in Melbourne where he became assistant manager of a general store in Collins Street. At the age of 19 he married Alicia Bell in 1844, and lived in a cottage on the slope where the Melbourne Town Hall now stands.

About the middle of 1851, Michel was host of the Rainbow Hotel, which stood on the north-eastern corner of Swanston and Little Collins Streets when he was tempted by a £1,000 government reward to find gold in Victoria.

The decline in Melbourne’s population owing to the discovery of gold in the NSW central tablelands town of Bathurst in February 1851, prompted the Victorian Government to counter the citizen drain by offering the reward to anyone able find the precious metal in the colony.

The result was not long in coming. Early in July 1851 gold was discovered in the bed of Anderson’s Creek, 30kms from Melbourne, at Warrandyte, by Michel and his party of men. To quote the words of the report of the government select committee that examined the evidence in reference to the priority of discovery of gold in Victoria:- “Mr. Michel and his party have, in the opinion of your committee, clearly established their claim to be held the first publishers of the discovery of a gold field in the colony of Victoria, the situation of their works being shown publicly on 5th July, and full particulars communicated to the Government on the 8th“.

Licences to dig for gold were issued shortly after, namely, on September 1 1851.

Michel did not stay long on the field he had discovered, and he went on to make his wealth on gold fields in Bendigo and Ballarat.

Fearing to trust to the continuance of such luck, he took a surer road to fortune, by renting the Ship Inn, Williamstown. There, during those phenomenal years in Victoria, 1852 and 1853, he grew his wealth as a hotelier and retired.

However, Michel found himself back behind the bar when the 1850s depression ruined him. He gained the license of the Duke of Wellington Hotel in 1862.

Michel was host of ‘The Duke’ for 13 years before he retired on the death of his wife, Alicia, in 1875. He lived his last days at his home, “Ivanhoe”, in Lygon street, North Carlton.

Louis John Michel in his later years. Picture: State Library of Victoria

The old colonist died at the age of 80 in 1904, leaving a grown-up family.

In the bed of Anderson’s Creek, Warrandyte, a memorial to the first discovery of gold in Victoria by Louis John Michel and party was unveiled by Mr. C. R. Long, of the Historical Society of Victoria in 1935. The memorial, of stone hewn from the nearby country, stands on the intersection of the gold-bearing reef and Anderson’s Creek, where on June 30, 1851, a shallow hole revealed the much sought-after metal.

The bar of The Duke. Picture: Pat Adams

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2022

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Categories: Melbourne Hotels, Reviews

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3 replies

  1. What , no Carlton ???? My Dad would be horrified. My Dad , Denver Huckett , was Advertising Manager of CUB for thirty years from 1968 onward , a mad supporter of the Whale in his pubs , and along with Brian , a member of the Melbourne Beer and Beef Club . After many a lunch at other city venues , the members would retire to the Duke for further refreshment . They were thirsty chaps !

  2. The plaque was actually from the Cricket Club Hotel in Clarendon St not the Duke of Wellington it says so on the plaque.

  3. Great Work Mick, Louis John Michel is my 5x Grand Father. Back in the 70’s my uncles could drink for free in the bar. I did a lot of research on the National Library Trove website back around 2012-2015 and discovered another interesting fact about the Duke & LJM. while he was there the first land titles where established for Victoria, which also opened opportunity for legal claims around property ownership. The Duke & LJM where embroiled in a claim which was ultimately settled by the full bench of the Supreme Court (on appeal). LJM won, and the ruling was used as precedent in many adverse possession case for years after. I tagged/cataloged a lot of the newspaper articles I discovered on the trove website. (its now 2023). I often call in for a quiet one myself at the Duke (have done since the 80’s) and sit and think of Louis John.

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