Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Suburbs That Changed Their Names

In some ways, Melbourne is a chameleon city.

Consider the following; it has had a number of names (starting with 'Bearbrass'), has evolved through a number of distinct eras (illegal farming outpost, sub colony of Sydney, gold rush boom town, 'Marvelous Melbourne' in the 1880s), and has had its geography almost totally altered (Batman's Hill, the South Melbourne Swamp and the Elizabeth St Waterfall were all prominent features, now consigned to history).

Even the street names that break our city into its famous grid are enigmatic; start on Elgin Street in Carlton and head east and you will shortly find yourself on Johnson Street, then Studley Park Road, without taking any corners.

Another way that our city reveals its shifting nature is in the names the suburbs. Many of these have changed over the years, and some more than once. The following list is a selection of these (Know another? Drop me a line...).


Current Name: Burwood

Like so many people in the story of Melbourne, John O'Shanassy stopped here on his way to Sydney, where he was headed to make his fortune, and never left. The story goes that the devout Irishman had a chance meeting with Melbourne's first Catholic Priest, Rev. Patrick Geoghan, who convinced him to stay on.

Which worked out well for O'Shanassy, who started a profitable drapery business on Collins Street and then moved into politics. Twice Victoria's Premier, O'Shanassy's second term in office in 1858 coincided with the development of this suburb in Victoria's east, whose name is thought to be a tribute. 

But subsequent arrivals from England chafed at living in an area with an Irish name (similar to 'Irishtown', below). A campaign was eventually organised to change the suburb's name, and the local council opted for 'Burwood', taking the name of prominant local settler Sir James Palmer's estate. Burwood was formally applied to the suburb in 1879.


View of Melbourne from the base of Emerald Hill, 1858.
Current Name: South Melbourne
Immediately behind the south bank of the Yarra, the first European settlers of Melbourne were struck with a remarkable sight. Rising from the broken, swampy ground that stretched towards the coast was a lush green hill; a volcanic outcrop, covered in thick foliage. 

While the damp land around the river's edge was mostly unsuitable for settlement, the hill itself was considered a prime location. The site was surveyed and subdivided in 1852. and so became one of Melbourne's first suburbs. The name Emerald Hill was a riff on a description by a local journalist, Edmund Finn, who in 1845 described the area in the 'Port Phillip Herald':

Green as the freshest shamrock, encircled by shining lagoons and the shining sea.

The name Emerald Hill was used in the promotional material when the land was sold. As the area boomed in the 1870s, the local council adopted the name 'South Melbourne', feeling that this was more befitting their growing stature.


Current Name: North Melbourne

Born in Suffolk in 1806 to a seafaring family, Charles Hotham joined the Navy when he was only 12, serving as a cabin boy in the Caribbean. A decorated, globe trotting career followed; Hotham rose rapidly through the ranks and commanded ships in South America, and a fleet in Africa. But this stern, authoritarian man was not universally popular.

Hotham's political enemies had him removed from the armed service, and posted to out of the way Victoria as Lieutenant Governor in 1853 (expanded to full Governor the following year). Initially a popular figure in Melbourne, Hotham's aggressive response to the Eureka Stockade lead to a collapse in his support. He tendered his resignation in early 1855 and was waiting to be replaced when he died in office, on December 17.

To commemorate Victoria's first full Governor, a new suburb north of the city was named after Hotham in 1859. The area flourished and quickly became one of Melbourne's most distinguished suburbs. Wishing to highlight its connection to the city proper, the local council decided to change the name to North Melbourne in 1887.


H.L.Wood's General Store, High Street, Preston
Current name: Preston

Never a formal name for this area, this inner northern suburb was known for a time as 'Irishtown' as the first settlers to the area were from the Emerald Isle. Chief among these was Samuel Jeffrey, a labourer who established a farm on 40 acres in 1846. Jeffrey's farm and family prospered; he was soon able to expand his holdings, establish other businesses, and had 7 children with his wife, Eliza.

But subsequent arrivals were not happy to be living in 'Irishtown.'

Among these were the Wood family; English Baptists who established the first general store and post office in the early 1850's. The Woods, and other English settlers, took to calling their little township 'Preston', after a village in Southern England where many of them had holidayed. The name Preston was formally adopted in 1856.

Samuel Jeffrey lived on his property until his death in 1891. To the end, he listed his address as 'Irishtown.'. 


Liardet's Beach in the early 1840s.
Current Name: Port Melbourne

Born in England in 1799, Wilbraham Liardet set sail for Sydney with his large family (including 9 children) in 1839. He hoped to make his fortune in the booming colony at Botany Bay but, en route, the Liardet's docked in Melbourne for three weeks. Wilbraham was immediately entranced with the local climate and scenery, and changed his plans on the spot. 

Deciding to settle in Melbourne instead, the Liardet's took up residence in a few tents, which they pitched on the largely unoccupied beach just south of the city. Wilbraham was an energetic man, and he shortly constructed a crude jetty from the beach, where mail could be landed from passing ships. For a fee, he would then ferry the mail by horse into the city, where it was distributed.

This small business proved lucrative, and by 1841 Wilbraham had built a more substantive jetty - which allowed goods to be landed - a house for his family, and a hotel; 'The Brighton Pier Hotel.' He had also become a well known figure about early Melbourne; friendly, colourful, and known for his artwork as well as his business endeavours. 

Then known as Sandridge, Wilbraham favoured the name 'Brighton' for the beach area where he lived. But for a time, locals knew called it by a name associated with the man himself, 'Liardet's Beach.'

See also: SANDRIDGE.

The proposed Rosstown Sugar Works
Current Name: Carnegie

William Murray Ross was an English born entrepreneur, who made a fortune in manufacturing in the early days of Melbourne. He is best remembered for 'Rosstown'; an ambitious project he conceived in 1875 in the south eastern suburbs of the city.

Ross proposed creating a new industry, and town, from scratch; sugar beets, then unknown in Melbourne, to be grown in large quantities and processed in an enormous factory he would construct. To service the factory, Ross also intended to build a planned community for his workers, and two high speed rail lines connecting both town and factory with the city.

But only one of these projects panned out. As Melbourne continued to expand rapidly, Ross' housing development sold well. But the people buying the land were not sugar beet millers; the local beet industry never took off, and the factory was started, but never completed. Meanwhile the state government, wary about privately owned rail infrastructure, delayed the railway line approvals in Parliament. Ross eventually had problems with his creditors and had to abandon the mill and the railway, and sell his interest in the land.

The suburb kept his name though, until 1909. 

And then the local council, trying to curry favour with American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, and secure a loan from his foundation to build a library, changed the suburbs name to 'Carnegie.' This unlikely move had an even more unlikely coda; the council's effort to gain funds was unsuccessful, but the suburb kept the name Carnegie anyway.


Current name: Port Melbourne

William Wedge Darke was an English born surveyor who worked with Robert Hoddle in early Melbourne. The two men clashed frequently and Hoddle, as Chief Surveyor, insisted that Darke be employed only on a contract basis, rather than as a full time employee.

Something of an eccentric, Darke lived in a wooden caravan he had imported from Sydney, which the locals dubbed 'Darke's Ark.' To limit his dealings with his subordinate, Hoddle sent Darke out to survey the Port Melbourne area. Darke parked his caravan on the beach south of Melbourne in 1838, and worked independently form there.

Darke was reportedly the first person to cut a track through the tea tree scrub to the south beach, and he hoisted a sign post on a barrel to mark the path back to the colony. The sign was positioned on a sandy ridge, the highest ground around, and this primitive landmark gave the area its first name: 'Sandridge.' 

The name was changed to Port Melbourne in 1884 by the local council.