Coburg, the north Melbourne suburb that is home to HM Pentridge, is rich in character, diverse in population and perfectly unpretentious. It’s also steeped in history, having played a significant role in Melbourne’s early establishment.
In fact, many are surprised to learn that the area today known as Coburg once bore the name Pentridge, before the infamy of being known as a place of incarceration became too great for the locals to bear.
The area was first surveyed by Robert Hoddle – the man who granted Melbourne its distinctively ordered grid layout – sometime around 1837-38, and a 327 acre reservation established for a village served by two district roads: Bell St West, and what would later be called Sydney Road.
Hoddle also recorded details of the first known white man found living in the area, a Mr Hyatt, running a small sheep station from his hut on the east bank of Merri Creek. Prior to European settlement, the land was home to the Wurundjeri people, who spoke the Woiwurrung language.
The Pentridge name would come later in 1840, when surveyor Henry Foot named the area for the birthplace of his wife: Pentridge in Dorset, England. Ten years later, in response to a burgeoning crime rate driven by the Victorian gold rush, the Pentridge Stockade was established with an initial population of sixteen prisoners transferred from the overflowing Melbourne Gaol.
By this time Pentridge was already growing steadily. The first stores had opened in the same year Pentridge was named. The Golden Fleece Inn was built in 1842 on Sydney Rd. The foundation of the Pentridge Stockade therefore came just when the area was hitting its stride.
By 1850 there were over twenty farms in the area, with the Wesleyan Church already built and more places of worship reaching completion by 1852. Bluestone quarries were opening, and prisoners at the newly conceived HM Pentridge put to labour breaking up the stones, contributing greatly to the early construction of Sydney Road.
The time’s they were a-changing. And for the quiet village of Pentridge, the change would be dramatic…
In upcoming posts, we learn more about how Pentridge underwent its evolution into the Coburg we know today… and how the Stockade’s transformation into a gaol cemented the Pentridge name in history.
Former Pentridge Prison Conservation Management Plan, Bryce Raworth
History of Pentridge Prison, Moreland City Council website