The club is a symbol of Australia's British heritage and was established at a gathering of 23 gentlemen on Saturday, 17 December 1838 and initially used John Pascoe Fawkner's public house on the corner of Collins Street and Market Street. At the rear of the Club building is a private courtyard garden which is the location of garden parties and private functions. The Melbourne Club building is of architectural significance as a rare intact example of a nineteenth-century purpose-built clubhouse in the Victorian Renaissance style.
Frederick Powlett (1811–1865) was a founding member in 1838 as well as being a founding member and the first recorded president of the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1838. He was a public servant, a police magistrate and later chief commissioner of Crown Lands.
Membership included Governors General Sir Isaac Isaacs, Sir Ninian Stephen, Archbishop Peter Hollingworth; Governors of Victoria Sir Henry Winneke, Sir James Gobbo, the Hon Alex Chernov AC; Chief Justices of Australia Sir John Latham, Sir Owen Dixon; High Court Justices Sir Daryl Dawson and Kenneth Madison Hayne AC; Chief Justices of Victoria Sir William Foster Stawell, Sir William Irvine, Sir Frederick Mann, Sir Edmund Herring, Sir Henry Winneke and Sir John Young; Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, politicians Sir John Bloomfield, Andrew Peacock, Admiral Sir William Bridges; Generals Sir Brudenell White, Sir William Johnston, artists Sir Arthur Streeton and Sir Daryl Lindsay; mining magnates Sir James Balderstone, Hugh Morgan, BHP-Billiton businessman Don Argus, and former head of Shell Australia and vice president of the International Olympic Committee Kevan Gosper.