Finlay Brothers history site

Elizabeth Street Premises
Preserving the bicycle and
motorcycle heritage of
Finlay Brothers, Elizabeth St
Melbourne, 1900-1961.
Evolution of a streetscape - 316-322 Elizabeth Street
Evolution of a streetscape - 316-322 Elizabeth Street
1900:     The fledgling Finlay Brothers firm originally trades from their 'Barb Cycle Works' at 358-360 Elizabeth Street.1

1910:     A burgeoning motor cycle industry and the chance to purchase a significant site in Elizabeth Street.

c1910 image of 322 Elizabeth Street.  Source: Finlay Brothers
advertisement (motorcycle journal) from the collection of Robert Saward.
By now, Finlay Brothers are leasing premises at 322 Elizabeth Street for £162 per annum.2
The property is one of multiple inner city commercial properties held by the Estate of the late Mr J.B. Watson - a Bendigo millionaire with heavy involvement in gold mines, Melbourne property and bank shares.3  In late June 1910, at a two day auction of some of the holdings of his Estate,4 Finlay Brothers are thought to have been able to successfully purchase this property.  It would become a pivotal part of the Elizabeth Street premises from which they would continue to trade for the next 50 years.

The "Nella" sign in the left ground floor window of the building is thought to refer to the Nella Enamelling Company, run by Mr Henry Allen (Nella being his surname spelt backwards).  They were based in Knox Place, a laneway behind Elizabeth Street.5  Their business would have been involved in doing paintwork on bicycles and may have used part of the Finlay Bros premises.

1930's:    322 Elizabeth street remains the hub of the Finlay Brothers firm, though the business is evolving rapidly.

scene shows RACV motorcycle patrols outside the firm's premises in April 1936.  The motorcycles are thought to be B.S.A.'s (this being the probable link with Finlay Brothers), and were a vehicle in use by the RACV predominantly between 1924 and 1937.6

The ground floor of the premises in this photograph appears to have been rebuilt, but the upper story and adjoining buildings remain very similar to the 1910 image.  Signwriting at the top of the ground floor windows (not clearly visible in the photo below) reads "There's no limit to the holidays you can enjoy if you own a B.S.A.".

Courtesy of RACV Heritage Collection

Late 1930's - Adrian Crothers, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria
“Ride a 1937 B.S.A.” proclaims the Finlay Brothers advertising in this evocative night-time shop window scene. 

A family run business, they had now held premises in Elizabeth Street for almost forty years.  Having weathered the economic depression of the late 1920’s and early to mid 1930’s, this shop – 322 Elizabeth Street – and the three shop sites to the right of this image, would be demolished in around May 1940 in preparation for new custom-designed premises.


1940’s:     Becoming known as “BSA House”, these art-deco style premises were constructed against the backdrop of World War II in Europe.  They opened in early 1941, before the Pearl Harbour attack, and probably just before the stress of wartime rationing and labour shortages heavily impacted Australia.  They featured an open ground floor showroom, first floor offices and spare parts department, and a tenant-occupied upper floor.  

c1941 - Lyle Fowler, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria

1950’s:     Melbourne’s population and prosperity flourished in the post-war boom years, with the economy surging ahead.  Finlay Brothers were selling cars, bicycles, multiple other items, and maintaining their emphasis on British motorcycle makes.  This Mark Strizic photograph shows Elizabeth Street decorated for the 1954 Royal Tour celebrations.

Click here to view Strizic's photograph within the State Library of Victoria's online catalogue (image remains under copyright).

1970’s:     With the company having been taken over in 1961, the following photographs illustrate the building’s commercial transition – gone are the metal “BSA” and “Finlay Brothers” lettering across the top of the building and new tenants are in situ.  These photographs were taken in around 1970, with probable demolition of the building by the mid 1970’s.

The photographer – Maurice Austin - writes:  “I was made aware in the early 1970's that the buildings on the 'block' would be demolished for development. I then took a number of photographs to record these buildings.”

c1970 - ©Photograph by Maurice Austin - Elizabeth Street view

c1970 - ©Photograph by Maurice Austin - Looking up Little Londsdale Street.  Finlay Brothers building at far left with "La Musica" sign attached.

here to view a 1973 photograph by Wolfgang Sievers within the State Library of Victoria's online catalogue (image remains under copyright).  The Finlay Brothers building is at the lower left of image.

1980’s:     By 1987, inner city Melbourne was undergoing a commercial and architectural transition - in preparation for the Melbourne Central development.  Demolition of the old Finlay Brothers’ premises had occurred several years earlier.

The photographer – Maurice Austin - writes:  “Taken July 1987 looking west from off Little Lonsdale St.  After the demolition the site was vacant for some time, possibly a year or so. I think it was used as a fenced off car park.”

July 1987 - ©Photograph by Maurice Austin

By April 1988, the construction of the service tower for Melbourne Central - to contain the lifts – was central to a very different night time scene of 50 years earlier.  Looking from Museum Station (now Melbourne Central Station), this photograph shows Latrobe Street to the right of the image, with the original Finlay Brothers site at the upper left side.

April 1988 - ©Photograph by Maurice Austin

The site today (taken in 2011):     The Elizabeth Street site as it stands today – an evolving architectural entity within the ever-changing commercial streetscape of inner city Melbourne.

Over 100 years of images - recording decade by decade of streetscape evolution…


1. Sands and McDougall, "Melbourne Directory 1900", Public Record Office of Victoria - Microfilm.

2.  The Argus, Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1954), June 25, 1910, 2.

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1954), January 27, 1908, 4.

4.  See note 2 above.

5.  Bendigo Advertiser (Vic:1855-1918), September 19, 1912,8.  http:/

6.  Susan Priestly, The crown of the road: the story of the RACV, (Melbourne: The Macmillan Company of Australia Pty Ltd, 1983), 52 & 75.

Elizabeth Street Premises