Mechanics Institute / Sorrento Museum / Pioneer Garden

Address:827 Melbourne Road
Suburb:Sorrento

The Mechanics Institute was built in 1876. It represents one of the early substantive civic buildings of Sorrento. Fittingly, it is now home to the Sorrento Museum and the Nepean Historical Society.

The Mechanics' Institute, Sorrento is classified by the National Trust of Australia and located at 827 Melbourne Road, Sorrento. In July 1876, the Mechanics' Institutes Trust received the land, believed to be a donation from local landowner, parliamentarian and 8th Premier of Victoria, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy. The Trust built the hall using the locally quarried limestone. The building was opened on 3 February 1877. Performers at the opening ceremony concert included local landowner, comedian and parliamentarian, the Honourable George Coppin and his daughter, Blanche. On 24 January 1885, a special concert was held at the Institute featuring Dame Nellie Melba

By 1910, the Institute's library contained 2015 books and various magazines and journals (including The London Illustrated News). The hall was used for concerts, dances, lectures, church socials, political meetings and other functions. It also housed the Court of Petty Sessions. During World War I and World War II, the hall was used by the Red Cross for making items and packing parcels for Australian troops. Grand plans to build a Town Hall on the site adjacent to the Mechanic’s Institute never eventuated. Instead tennis courts were erected in 1909. These were eventually converted to netball courts.

In 1965 the Flinders Shire, the predecessor to the Mornington Peninsula Shire, made the Mechanics' Institute available to the Nepean Historical Society. On 15 October 1967, the Historical Society opened the Sorrento Museum in the building. The Pioneer Memorial Gardens were established on the corner site in 1983 and the historic Watts Cottage (built 1870) was relocated to these gardens in 1988. It is a stark reminder of the changes that have occurred in housing scale and expectations over the past 150 years. In March 1994, a gallery extension was built using grants from the Commonwealth Government and the local Shire. (Ref: John Alexander, Mechanic’s Institute, Sorrento, NHS, 1995).