During the Goldrush, sudden influx of fortune seekers to Melbourne resulted in a spike in unidentified dead bodies and usually such dead bodies were stored at the nearest pub waiting for a coroner investigation. But many resented the practise of storing dead bodies in a bar as most were in a decomposing state. A blue stone Morgue was erected next to Gem Pier in 1859 mainly to cater for deaths at sea or in the bay.
At the morgue, the bodies were hung from the ceiling to prevent it from eaten by rats. The remains of the Post-mortem were swept out the doors onto the beach to be swept away during high tide. As Gem Pier got busier, public agitation resulted in the Williamtown morgue been relocated to Ann Street. But the disposal of the remains continued the same manner.
Throughout its existence, the inadequacy of the morgue was in spotlight. In 1893, Argus published a report by local health officer Dr Johston which reads, “The building consists of one apartment 20f by 18f with walls 13ft in height. There is no ingress and the roof permits ready ingress of draughts and rain. The discharges and other products of a post mortem examination were merely swept out of one of the doors to the beach, where it lies until a sufficiently high tide effects its removal.”
In 1921, after an inquest acting coroner E.W. Jackson made strong comments about the condition of the morgue. The Argus reported him saying that, when he visited the morgue few days before, he saw a body lying in the floor with three parts flooded with water.
The usage of the morgue was discontinued in 1925.
The Morgue now is not open to visitors, access is by appointment or through Ghost tours. The building has both historical and cultural significance being the second oldest surviving building in Williamstown and being the earliest surviving morgue in Melbourne.
Location: Ann Street, Williamstown