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. 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.
At the rear of the Club building is a private courtyard garden, maintained by arborist-horticulturalist John Fordham, which is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, and is the location of garden parties and private functions. The garden contains the largest plane tree in Victoria according to the National Trust's Register of Significant Trees.
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.
- McNicoll, Ronald (1988). Number 36 Collins Street (2008 ed.). Australia: Allen & Unwin/Haynes in conjunction with the Melbourne Club. ISBN 978 0 04378 008 4.
- Young, Helen (February 20, 2016). "Open gardens: Melbourne Club’s walled oasis". The Australian. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
- "Exclusive clubs feud over highrise plan". ABC Radio. 15 February 2000. Retrieved 24 February 2010.