Governor Bourke named this new town around Port Phillip after the British prime minister – Lord Melbourne.
The planning of the town helped establish the character of Melbourne. In 1837, Robert Hoddle (1794–1881), the officer in charge of the survey of Port Phillip, designed Melbourne’s ‘grid’ – so described because it consisted of forty-eight rectangular blocks, separated by wide boulevards and smaller streets.
The original grid encompassed what is now known as Flinders, Spencer, Spring and Lonsdale Streets. La Trobe Street was added later. With remarkable foresight, Hoddle convinced his superiors to allow Melbourne’s main streets to be 99 feet (30.1 metres) wide, leaving the city with a legacy of open streetscapes, easily accessible for trams and motorists alike.
Showing remarkable foresight, Hoddle convinced his superiors to allow Melbourne’s main streets to be 99 feet (30.2 metres) wide.
The generous scale he insisted upon has meant that Melbourne’s streets have always been easily accessible to vehicles both large and small.
“One dry morning, while I was waiting my turn for letters at the Post Office on a mail day, I was startled by seeing a great tidal wave rolling along Elizabeth Street…
I got up the ornamental base of one of the pillars and clung there, with the water dashing over my waist, while some less fortunate ones were swept away. ”
(Hume Nisbet, A Colonial Tramp, 1891)
Melbourne's Street Names
Melbourne’s principal streets are said to have been named by Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales, when he visited the Port Phillip District in 1837. (A May, 2010)
Collins Street was Named after David Collins (1756–1810), the first lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land (1804–10). In January 1803, Collins was commissioned as lieutenant governor of a convict settlement planned for Bass Strait. He sailed into Port Phillip Bay, with a party of troops and convicts, but when he went ashore (at Sullivan Bay, close to the present-day town of Sorrento) was discouraged by a lack of fresh water. Victoria never became a convict colony as a result. Collins went on to establish and administer the township of Hobart.
Mud and Mire
“At almost every hour of the day may be viewed the interesting spectacle of drays being bogged in the muddy depths of Collins-street … a dray of bullocks were so hopelessly embedded in a hole in Elizabeth-street, that the animals were allowed to stifle in the mud...their remains with that of the dray, lie buried in that ex-temporary graveyard to the present day.” Thomas Strode. c.1869
The Gabrielli Loan
Many public infrastructure projects in early Melbourne were funded by loans; the most famous was the so-called Gabrielli Loan.
In July 1853, a young European financier named Antonio Gabrielli approached the Melbourne City Council with a proposal: Gabrielli offered to obtain a loan of £500,000 for Melbourne, so that the Council could fund a program of public works.
Gabrielli was persuasive and the loan, underwritten by a government guarantee, proceeded.
The streets of Melbourne could now be paved!
Antonio Gabrielli claimed connections both to the international banking house owned by the wealthy Rothschild family and to the British railway magnate Sir Morton Peto, but the claims were never verified.
“Throughout Melbourne’s history the politics of changing street names in reaction to offensive social connotations highlighted the social and moral geography of the city. Melbourne’s lanes were…filthy backdrops to the main streets, and the resort of the criminal and the deviant. Lanes were occasionally renamed under pressure from local residents concerned for their property values and the respectability.” (Andrew May, eMelbourne, 2010)
“Punch Lane: The inquest on the body of … the woman murdered in a house in Punch’s-lane, off Little Bourke-street, on Tuesday last, was held yesterday morning, by Dr. Youl, the city coroner, at the Colonial Hotel, Little Bourke-street. Great excitement was manifested by the residents in the locality, and during the course of the proceedings a large crowd was collected around the hotel."
Argus, 23 August 1872
In the course of the nineteenth century, the Melbourne City Council received numerous petitions regarding the names of lanes. Most of these petitions were organised in response to a lane’s having gained notoriety as the site of murders, robberies, prostitution or other forms of criminal activity. Synagogue Lane became Bourke Lane (and Little Queen Street) while Romeo Lane became Crossley Street.
Punch Lane was notorious for prostitution, violence and poverty. In October 1872, property owner Daniel Haren, and others, petitioned the Melbourne City Council with a request that the name of Punch Lane be changed ‘to any other name your honorable Council may think fit’; the reason cited for this request was ‘the recent horrible murder which was committed there’. The petition was successful and Punch Lane was reborn, as Princess Lane.
It has since returned to the original title of Punch Lane.
Flinders Street was Named after Matthew Flinders (1774–1814), English navigator and surveyor of the Australian coastline.
In October 1798 Flinders, together with George Bass, sailed south from Port Jackson (Sydney) on the sloop Norfolk, with the object of proving their theory that Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) was an island. This they did, also exploring the body of water now known as Bass Strait. In 1801–02, as commander of the Investigator, Flinders conducted a survey of Australia’s southern coastline, including Port Phillip.
Flinders Railway Station
By the early 1880s, the buildings serving Melbourne’s main metropolitan railway station, located at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, were in need of a significant upgrade, and the Victorian government set about planning to replace them. Melbourne did not see a new Flinders Street Station until 1910 – but the wait had been well worth it, as the new station building was quite remarkable. It was destined to become a cherished city landmark.
The Age newspaper [in 1910] described a lavishly appointed third-floor suite of rooms that were more akin to a gentlemen’s club than a railway station.
"Along with a concert hall amenities included a lending library, a billiard room, gymnasium and dining room laid with silver, crystal and linen.”
(James Button, Reflections, 2004)
Flinders Street, as it is familiarly known, would become both a public transport hub and a popular meeting place – many still arrange to meet ‘under the clocks'.
“The railway nursery, July 1935, young mothers from the suburbs were encouraged to leave their children in the care of railways’ staff while they shopped in the city.
Many took advantage of this early form of creche. A wire cage on the roof of Flinders Street was used for play activity; under supervision, children could watch the trains”.
(James Button, Reflections, 2004)
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This online exhibition is based on the physical exhibition Streets of Melbourne originally displayed at Old Treasury Building, 20 Spring Street, Melbourne. http://www.oldtreasurybuilding.org.au/
Curator — Kate Luciano
Online Producer — Kate Follington
For — Old Treasury Building in collaboration with Public Record Office Victoria