The Collection

Following the merger of the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited (CML) and the Commonwealth Bank in 2000, material from the CML archives was distributed between Museums Victoria, the Commonwealth Bank and Melbourne University. This happened in 2001 when the Bank's Archives were being moved to Sydney. Museums Victoria acquired four pieces from the CML archives as part of this move: a large wooden plaque, an illustrated booklet, framed lift sign and a framed painting of the building.

The Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society

CML was launched in 1873 at a time when Melbourne was a city transformed by gold and there were strong aspirations to form cooperative organisations based on mutual benefit. T. Jaques Martin was the Society's founder and first General Manager, and Sir Redmund Barry the first President. The new Society had its headquarters at 419 Collins Street, and by the end of 1874 had established offices in all other capital cities in the Australian colonies. Attention then turned to overseas and CML branches were established in Fiji (1876), South Africa (1883) and New Zealand (1884). In 1886, CML became the first of the Australian life offices to commence operations in the United Kingdom.

The Society survived recessions and depressions and grew steadily, such that by the 1920s it had outgrown its old premises. It purchased the Equitable Building in 1923, then the best known commercial building in Melbourne. Soon after, it pioneered the system of payroll deductions for paying insurance premiums. The wooden plaque and 'keep hats on in lift' sign date from this 1930s to 1950s period when CML occupied the Equitable Building.

By the late 1950s, the Company's expansion had once again led to its headquarters becoming inadequate, so a decision was made to demolish and rebuild on site. Appreciating the significance of the building however, CML published both a booklet on its history and an album of photographs. The booklet and painting in the Museum's collection, along with the building fragment in the Melbourne Museum plaza recall the grandeur and opulence of the building. CML continued to diversify its business, moving into the general insurance field then, in 1980, forming a permanent building society as a subsidiary. In the 1990s it extended its activities into Southeast Asia.

The company demutualised in 1996, was listed on the Stock Exchange in 1997, and then merged with the Commonwealth Bank in 2000.

More Information