Exploring the area’s growing pains and how it came by the Coburg name
By the middle of the 19th century the village of Pentridge was prospering. As more and more folk began to make their livelihoods in this burgeoning little slice of north Melbourne, the identity of this small district was undergoing a shift.
Although prison labour had helped build Sydney Road and break up the bluestone across the increasing number of quarries that were taking advantage of the basaltic lava plain beneath Victoria, numbers at the stockade were on the rise.
So too were the concerns of residents.
It did not help matters that the stockade was literally a collection of log huts on wheels, barely contained behind a low wooden fence just 1.2m high. Mounted aboriginal police troopers patrolled its perimeter, which operated under the superintendence of Samuel Barrow.
The stockade was upgraded to a fully enclosed, Pentonville-style prison between 1857 to 1864, just as the Local Government was forming in earnest, and thus was born HM Pentridge. Single cells, high walls and guard towers ensured a higher degree of security.
By 1865, beyond the bluestone walls of its looming facade, Pentridge had grown into a thriving district served by six shopkeepers, four bootmakers, three bakers, three butchers, two saddlers and more, including multiple blacksmiths and ironmongers as well a druggist and draper.
Business, it seems, was booming.
THE FUTURE LOOMS INTO VIEW
As a result, the close association of the township with a site of incarceration was beginning to rankle. People, it is said, became ashamed to say where they lived. In 1867 it fell upon Father Charles O’Hea to call a public meeting, which resolved to change the name of the district.
On the suggestion of a Robert Mailer of Glencairn, an upcoming visit to the colony of Melbourne by the Duke of Edinburgh presented an opportunity to dispel the spectre of the Pentridge name. As the Duke was a member of the royal house of Saxe-Coburg, Mailer proposed the name Coburg to the assembly.
The name was accepted, agreed to by government, and became the district’s official name in 1870. On Christmas Eve of 1874, this “pretty suburb with charming valleys” was formally proclaimed the Shire of Coburg.
And even as the population of Coburg grew, so too did that of Pentridge. Its transformation into a penitentiary, while affording the area additional security, also served to cement its place in the public’s mind for generations to come.
Coburg: between two creeks, Richard Broome
Former Pentridge Prison Conservation Management Plan, Bryce Raworth
History of Coburg and Pascoe Vale, Moreland City Council website
Victorian Places website