Coburg, a residential suburb 8 km. north of Melbourne, was also a municipality from 1874 to 1994. The municipality was bordered on the south by Brunswick city and on the west and east by the Moonee Ponds and the Merri Creek valleys. Much of the land is overlain with basaltic lava flows.

In 1837 the government surveyor, Robert Hoddle, surveyed the Coburg area between the two creeks, subdividing it into allotments of between 53 ha. and 287 ha. A village reserve was marked out where the former Pentridge Gaol and Coburg cemetery are now situated. Among the first purchasers were John Pascoe Fawkner (a Melbourne “founder”), Faquhar McCrae (magistrate and speculator) and Arundel Wrighte (squatter and speculator). Fawkner had two lots, totalling 517 ha. A road to Sydney was marked out along the western side of the village reserve.

Some allotments near the Sydney Road were subdivided as small farms, and the village reserve was named Pentridge in 1840, probably after Pentridge, Dorset. A Sydney Road Trust was formed in 1840, principally involving McCrae and Fawkner who were antagonistic to each other. McCrae built La Rose (now Wentworth House, at 22 Le Cateau Street), in 1843. In addition to the Pentridge village there were villages called Bolingbroke to the west and Newlands to the north.

In 1850 the Port Phillip authorities chose Pentridge as a site for a penitentiary, sufficiently remote form Melbourne and on a road with nearby road-making materials to keep the felons employed. By then churches had been built by the Catholics (possibly as early 1844), the Wesleyans (1849, preserved at the corner of Sydney Road and Bell Street and on the Register of the National Estate) and the Anglicans (1849, next to the Wesleyans, and on the Victorian Heritage Register). Pentridge’s first school opened in 1850 in the Anglican church and others followed in 1853 (National School), and 1854 (Wesleyan). The National School became Coburg primary school.

In 1859 the Pentridge District Road Board was formed, changing its name to Coburg on 21 January, 1869. The change came from residents wanting to dissociate their place name from the gaol, and Coburg was chosen because of the Royal visit by Prince Alfred, Duke of Saxe Coburg. The Sydney Road attracted numerous hotels and commercial premises, and two thirds of Coburg’s rateable properties were under 4 ha. in 1865. Friendly societies were formed: Manchester Unity (1863), Druids (1867), Rechabites (1868) and a St. Patrick’s Society (1870). By 1870 there were 1,300 people in Pentridge village and surrounds and 645 in the gaol (including warders and their families).

Coburg was proclaimed a shire on 24 December, 1874. The most populous trade or profession was warder (80), followed by 60 farmers or market gardeners, 54 quarrymen and 28 retailers. Market gardens were near the Merri Creek and most farmers grew hay for Melbourne’s increasing numbers of horses. In 1884 the railway line from Melbourne to Coburg was opened, the station being close to the village. A tram service to Moreland, south of Coburg village, began in 1887. The transport links provoked a boom in residential land subdivisions, predominantly in the south of the shire. Residents, however, found work on farms or in neighboring Brunswick’s factories, and Coburg was described as a pretty suburb with charming valleys.

In January, 1905, Coburg was proclaimed a borough, in evidence of the four-fold growth in its population since 1880. In 1914 the Brunswick and Coburg Tramways Trust was created, replacing the antiquated horse-tram service. Electric trams ran along Sydney Road to Coburg North by 1916. Sporting and swimming facilities were provided in that decade along with the laying out of some parklands, but a public library was not. The Coburg lake and parkland became a popular recreational area until the 1930s.

Coburg had experienced intermittent infectious outbreaks and the influenza outbreak after the first world war provoked Coburg into opening Victoria’s first Truby King health centre. By the 1920s Coburg’s developed area extended about one kilometre either side of Sydney Road, but the War Service Commission encouraged servicemen to settle and build on Coburg’s relatively cheap land. Local industries grew: the Lincoln Mills (garments), Invicta Manufacturing, Dawn Vices, bottle, plaster and timber-milling factories provided local employment. The Coburg electorate returned Labor candidates to the State and Federal Parliaments. New housing westwards was followed by the Coburg West primary school (1917) and eastwards with another school in 1926. Coburg was proclaimed a city on 1 April, 1922.

Gaffney Street became the address of many factories, maintaining employment through to the postwar years. Textiles and garments were the main outputs, but paint, chemicals and engineering goods were significant. Coburg technical school was opened in 1954 five years after the College of Textiles. Sydney Road’s shops became a service retailing area as well as one for comparison shopping. Neither east nor west between the boundary creek valleys is there any other shopping centre apart from a medium-size one at Pascoe Vale South. The trams and motor traffic along Sydney Road make the strip very busy. Its viability has been maintained by rear-of-shop parking areas and the building of supermarkets.

Between 1947 and 1981 the proportions of Coburg municipality’s residents who were born overseas increased from 9 to 34%. Over one-third of them were Italian, and one-eighth were Greek. There are several Catholic schools and churches in the municipality. Later immigrants from Middle Eastern countries have opened two Islamic colleges and a mosque in Coburg.

Coburg has been affected by tariff reductions for garments and textiles. The Lincoln Mills closed in 1980 (although later used by smaller firms) and the Government Clothing Factory was sold in 1981.

The area around Pentridge has changed. A teachers’ college was opened in 1959, later becoming a campus of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and a combined primary/secondary school after Coburg and Newlands high schools were closed. On 1 May, 1997, the Pentridge Gaol was closed.

Coburg municipality contained Pascoe Vale, Pascoe Vale South, Coburg North and Moreland. Most of it was united with Brunswick city to form Moreland city on 22 June, 1994.

The median house price in Coburg in 1987 was 82% of the median for metropolitan Melbourne, and in 1996 it was 93%. In 1997 the median price increased sharply as home buyers chose Coburg as an affordable location next after the inner suburb of Brunswick which had house prices beyond their reach. In 1996 the median personal income of persons 15 years or more was $239 a week, compared with a metropolitan median of $331 a week.

Coburg township’s census populations have been 1,033 (1861), 2,370 (1881), 6,772 (1901) and 9,454 (19110. The municipality’s census populations have been 5,272 (1891), 9,505 (1911), 33,118 (1933), 70,771 (1961) and 53,100 (1991).

Further Reading:

  • Broome, Richard, “Coburg Between Two Creeks”, Lothian Publishing Company Pty. Ltd., 1987.

4 thoughts on “Coburg”

  1. I am trying to find information on a James Smith who was a warder at Pentridge and built a bluestone cottage there. Any information whatsoever would be appreciated

    Elayne Whatman
    Hon. Secretary
    Broadmeadows Historical Society & Museum Inc.

  2. Hi Peter,

    The book you mentioned by Richard Broome, is it available from the Coburg Library? I am writing an essay on Coburg for a uni assignment and would like to peruse the book for some background info.

    Thanks – Zainil

Fill in your details below or login