“I staked the main streets ninety-nine feet wide, and after having done so was ordered by the Governor to make them sixty-six feet wide; but upon my urging, and convincing him that wide streets were advantageous on the score of health, and convenience to the future city of Victoria, he consented to let me have my will.” Robert Hoddle. 
Hoddle's Grid, Historic Map 1837

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.

Princess Theatre, 1901
Swanston Street, 1858

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.

Elizabeth Street, which followed the path of a natural waterway, flooded regularly

“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)

The first parcels of land on surveyor Robert Hoddle’s ‘grid’ to be made available for sale to the public were auctioned on 1 June 1837. All were sold (under the gavel of Hoddle himself)  A large number of the one hundred half-acre (0.2 hectare) allotments released for sale at this time, as well as many of the lots auctioned at a second sale, held on 1 November 1837, had frontages on Collins Street. 
The Eastern Market occupied the city block bound by Bourke and Little Collins Streets. This building opened in December 1879, but the site had been a market since 1847.

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)

Spencer Street, named after John Charles Spencer, Viscount Althorp and 3rd Earl Spencer (1782–1845), English politician and agriculturist.
Spring Street was named either for the fragrant charm of wattles or a tribute to Governor Bourke’s great friend Thomas Spring Rice.
Swanston Street was named after Charles Swanston (1789–1850). A captain in the East India Company’s Madras Native Infantry, Charles Swanston settled in Hobart, with his wife and children, in 1829. He went on to manage, and to be the majority shareholder in the Derwent Bank, which in 1838 became the first bank to open for business in Melbourne.
Collins Street: One of Melbourne's finest streets and site of the first bank.

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.

At the close of the nineteenth century, to stand at the intersection of Collins and Elizabeth Streets was to gaze on some of the finest examples of Victorian-era architecture outside England.  Click on the image to zoom.

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

Bourke Street
By 1868 Inspector-General of Roads, was looking into Aveling and Porter steamrollers. 

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.

Gabrielli Loan Agreement, 1853


“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)

Gun Alley, 1921

“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

Melbourne’s Lanes 

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.

"...asking the council to change the name of the right-of-way known as 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 Street Railway Station Built 1910

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.

A stunning view over the new Flinders Station

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)

Grand Ballroom, Flinders Station
Juice Bar, 1926

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)

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne's most iconic meeting point. 


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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/

Credits: Story

Curator  — Kate Luciano
Online Producer — Kate Follington
For — Old Treasury Building in collaboration with Public Record Office Victoria 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.