Melbourne Street Names
Robert Hoddle, the surveyor who laid out the grid of early Melbourne, tells us in his journal how However
Governor Bourke came to his tent one morning with names of the streets.
Edmund Finn came to Melbourne in the early days of European settlement and worked as a journalist under the name of Garryowen. Here is what he tells of the city street names.
Statue of Governor Bourke
“The boundaries of ‘Old Melbourne’ were from the Yarra by Spring, La Trobe, and Spencer Streets, back to the river, and for years no sane man dreamed that for any business purposes the township would require any extension. The Streets from the Yarra to La Trobe Street were named after
Flinders, one of the earliest navigators of Port Phillip Bay; Captain
Collins, the commandant of the convict settlement of 1803; Governor
Bourke and Captain Lonsdale. The streets from west to east were called after Lord
Spencer (the Lord Alethorpe of a Melbourne Administration); Governor
King of New South Wales; William Street after William the Fourth and
Queen Street after his consort, though the compliment would have been more marked and the name more distinctive, if they had called it Adelaide Street.
There is a difference of opinion as to the lady whose name is borne by
Elizabeth Street. Some years ago it was stated in a Melbourne publication that it was a compliment paid by Sir Richard Bourke to one of his daughters; but I am assured, on the authority of Mr. Hoddle, that it was meant for Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen of English history.
Swanston Street distinguishes a captain of that name, the Chairman of the Batman Association;
Russell Street is a memento of the once popular Earl Russell; and
Stephen Street is a tribute to a permanent under-secretary of state for the colonies. For years
Spring Street was an enigma, which neither myself, nor anyone I asked could solve. The only theory that ever suggested itself to my mind, with any show of probability, was that the street, when pegged out, was so far away in the ‘bush’, and passed over such a smooth, grassy, picturesquely timbered stretch of country, up a beautiful hill from the Yarra across towards the Carlton Gardens, that either Governor or surveyor was induced by the fragrance of the gum trees and the freshness of the day, to present a votive offering to the goddess of Spring . . . This fanciful surmise has been singularly sustained by the testimony of Mr. Hoddle, to the effect that when Sir Richard Bourke and he arrived on the crown of the Eastern Hill, there was such an abundance of beautiful black and white wattle trees growing where the
Parliament House and
Treasury are built, that the Governor, in a fit of happy inspiration pronounced in favour of ‘Spring’ Street. Another idea is that the Governor Bourke intended it as a compliment to Thomas Spring Rice, afterwards Lord Monteagle, a once distinguished British statesman, the private friend and political patron of Bourke.”
We might supplement Garryowen’s account by adding that Governor Bourke’s wife Elizabeth had died in 1832 and Elizabeth Street may well have been named in her memory. It is worth noting that the leaders of the two rival parties who settled Melbourne,
Fawkner, did not feature in this list. The fact that Fawkner was the son of a convict and had himself spent time as a prisoner, and that Batman at the time was dying of syphilis did not make them good candidates for such official recognition. However they were later to have numbers of places around Melbourne named after them (Fawkner’s middle name was Pascoe).
La Trobe Street was named after Charles La Trobe. Stephen Street was renamed to
Exhibition Street in 1880 to promote our first grand international exhibition.
It is also worth noting that Governor Bourke named Melbourne after the British Prime Minister of the time whereas
was named after the king. This would seem to indicate that he thought of
Williamstown as the more important settlement – an opinion still often
expressed by those fishing at The
When it comes to the naming of the streets in neighbouring East
Melbourne, Garryowen tells us:
“In 1850, Bishop Perry obtained a
grant of the Bishop's-court
site, where a tasty edifice was soon put up; and as years rolled on,
the quarter grew into much demand for private residences. As the
quadrangle was select, it was only right and proper that its naming
should be equally so, and therefore we find it divided amongst a
Prince, Lords, and Commoners who did good service in their day, such
as Albert, Clarendon, Gipps, Hotham,
Grey, Powlett, and Simpson - whilst it is bounded
on the north and south by Queen Victoria and the Duke of
Wellington, and east and west by the Marquis of Lansdowne
and Mr. Robert Hoddle. The last-named, too, obtained the
longest street almost by accident, and how this happened is thus
told by himself in his journal. He so writes:-" In conversation with
me one day, Mr. Latrobe observed that I had been very modest not to
have had a street named after myself. I [jocularly ] told him that
unless a good, broad street was named after me, I had rather be
without one. I must have a street; which street did I prefer? I told
him if I must have a street, the continuation of Collins Street
would do very well. He wrote `Hoddle Street,' accordingly. Some time
after, in, speaking about the streets, he remarked to me, `I suppose
judge Willis [one of early Melbourne’s most colourful characters]
must have a street, and, as he is a cross old fellow, he must have a
cross street.' When Mr. Latrobe subsequently quarrelled with Judge
Willis, he erased his name from the street assigned to him on the
map, substituting my name on the `cross' street, and erasing it from
the continuation of Collins Street [which never occurred with
gardens being built instead]” And thus it was that poor Willis
(afterwards removed from the Bench) was done out of his street, and
Hoddle got it.”
Essential but Unplanned - Weston Bate
This is a thorough history of Melbourne’s lanes and alleys with wonderful photographs and maps. See also our reference in our newsletter of September 2005.
- The Royal Historical Society of Victoria has published an excellent flyer giving the origin of many of the street names in the Melbourne CBD. It is available at their museum.
Australian place names