Designed by Newcastle architect, Fredrick Menkens, the Mechanics’ Institute was described in its day as the handsomest building of its kind in the district. Upstairs was a reading room with daily newspapers, a library, a meeting room and a billiards room. Downstairs was a large hall to seat 400 people, with a stage.
Mechanics’ Institutes were set up to provide working men with access to technical education. In a time when education was seen as a privilege and only available to the elite few, these establishments provided a combination of talks, courses, lectures and books to these men. Since books and library subscriptions were beyond the financial means of workers, the Institutes filled this gap, expanding from technical subjects to the humanities, especially literature. Even debating was encouraged.
The first modest weatherboard building experienced a troubled twenty plus years, financially and in terms of its role, from 1862 until 1888. Then, as a result of strong advocacy from some community leaders, a fine new building was commissioned on the same site. It was opened by the NSW Premier, Sir Henry Parkes in August, 1888.
By the early 1920s, membership of the Institute was a healthy 800, and its educational role was changing to a recreational one as it became more like a community club. Income was raised through dances, musicals, motion pictures, hire of billiard tables — until the growth of a range of other social clubs usurped this role, too.
For a time, The Mechanics’ Institute had served as a focus for many of Hamilton’s most important educational, social and political activities.
In the 1940s the Hamilton RSL Sub Branch purchased the premises, which became Anzac House and later the RSL Club was built next door.
Historical details have been obtained from:
P Murray, From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee, P.112, 1848 – 1921. Self-published (2006)
R Cotton, Hidden Hamilton Blog http://hiddenhamilton.blogspot.com.au/ (2013)