Camberwell is one of Melbourne’s most popular suburbs. Its location to the East of Melbourne -roughly ten kilometres from the CBD with multiple transport options and schools makes it a great place for families.
The original survey of the area by Robert Hoddle named the parish Boroondara, an aboriginal name meaning place of shade, which is truly apt even now as Camberwell is well known for its glorious tree canopy and its street trees are a credit to the Boroondara Council.
Robert Hoddle with Telescope. Hoddle learnt his trade in the British Army and arrived in Australia via South Africa. After a decade in Queensland and rural New South Wales he was appointed senior surveyor for Port Phillip, arriving in March 1837.
But in 1835 Camberwell was difficult to get to and this made suburbs to the north of Melbourne such as Fitzroy, Carlton and Collingwood easy pickings for expansion. These suburbs were flat and on the same side of the river as Melbourne. The Yarra formed a natural barrier to settlement of Camberwell and it was just that little bit out of reach due to the road system at the time. Camberwell was more of a firewood supply and grazing region. However it was slightly elevated and gave strategic views to the Yarra River and the mouth of the bay. Many properties in the Prospect Hill area, especially those running east and west can attest to the fabulous views of the city enjoyed by the suburb.
Initially, the land was occupied by squatters, most notably John Gardiner who was the first to occupy the hills of Camberwell. He arrived in 1836 with a flock of sheep from Tasmania and shortly thereafter drove a herd of cattle across land from the Murrumbidgee. The cattle had to swim the various rivers including the Murray and when they arrived at Melbourne crossed at Dight’s falls at Abbotsford.
Gardiner’s cottage was located at Hawthorn near Scotch College, and his claim covered the current day suburbs of Hawthorn, Camberwell and Kew. There is a saying that first in is best dressed and this clearly operated in this case.
John Gardiner – Camberwell’s first squatter. Purchasing 300 head of cattle from Jospeh Hawdon (who settled in Heidelberg) Gardiner overlanded cattle along Hume’s track to the Port Phillip settlement. Born in Dublin in 1798, he owned several properties around Melbourne, including15,000 acres at Mooroolbark. He also purchased a block on the corner of Elizabeth St and Little Collins St at Melbourne’s first land auction. He later retired to England in 1853 and died in 1878.
But the early squatters had no title to the land and Gardiner’s tenure was limited, although his name remains firmly entrenched in the area.
In 1841 there was a quirk in the land regulations “special survey regulations” that allowed anyone to make a claim for eight square miles of land at one pound per acre, provided that the land was a minimum of five miles away from any surveyed township. The pace of land speculation outran the legislation and there were four notable claims lodged. Henry Dendy claimed a large estate at Brighton, a Sydney solicitor, F.W. Unwin purchased property at Bulleen and Lower Templestowe and Henry Elgar purchased much of present day Camberwell, North Balwyn, Balwyn, Box Hill North, Mont Albert, Deepdene, Canterbury and Surrey Hills using these regulations.
Elgar was a West Indian merchant who looked to diversify his investments due to poor sugar prices and the emancipation of the slave population in the Caribbean. Elgar, through a Sydney agent called Ranulph Dacre pulled off the purchase – indeed Mr Dacre managed to purchase many d’acres on Elgar’s behalf and managed to do the same deal twice with two adjoining purchases. The western boundary of Elgar’s purchase was the present day Burke Road.
Elgar never visited Australia but held onto the land for many years renting it and selling off small parcels as it suited him.
Of these purchases under the special survey regulation, only Elgar remained successful. Dendy died in poverty at Walhalla, a gold town in Gippsland. Less than four years after the buy of the century he was bankrupted. He did, however, get one of Brighton’s principal streets named after him. Unwin did not appear to make a fortune from his holding, and he has a small street named after him which runs off Anderson St in Templestowe. Needless to say the special survey regulations were short lived.
The opening up of the area was made possible due to the construction of a timber bridge in 1851 at the site of James Palmer’s punt, which ran across the Yarra at Denham Street, Hawthorn. The punt had been operating for ten years, ferrying livestock, loads of firewood and supplies into and out of Melbourne. Further upstream near Abbotsford Convent another punt had been operated by John Hodgson. A wooden bridge crossing the Yarra at the cleverly named Bridge Road was constructed in 1851 with a more substantial bridge, still in use today constructed in 1861.
The location of the bridge in turn led to the curious direction of two major roads that is a feature still apparent today – it was one of the first tramlines in the area and if you head east along Bridge Road and cross the bridge you are presented with two options. To the left you pick up Church St which runs into High St. This was the preferred route of gold seekers heading out to Warrandyte gold diggings via Kew and Templestowe. This cuts through the curious intersection at Kew Junction. If you go right you follow the tram line out towards Camberwell Junction to Burwood. At the point of meeting the bridge Burwood Road continues the line of Bridge Road but a kilometre out kicks off to the right towards Burwood and becomes Camberwell Road. This allowed the market gardens and orchards to flourish in the area. These roads were the bee line to these sought after locations and ignored the convention of the European Surveyor’s innate need to have streets and roads in a perfect grid.
During the 1860’s there were numerous smaller holdings. The land was largely cleared, much of it tilled and what remained was pasture for livestock and hay production. If you can look past the devastation of the native vegetation and those beings that relied on that vegetation, it must have been a rural arcadia.
Burwood Jonquil Farm – Melbourne’s early market gardens were located at Camberwell and Burwood. This photo was in a Weekly Times book published in the mid 1950’s and you can almost smell the flowers.
Camberwell Junction is the intersection where the perfect grid gets upset by the bee line – Burke Road runs North South, while Riversdale Road runs East West. Annoyingly, Camberwell Road cuts through on an angle so this makes the traffic bank up at peak times.
The term Camberwell comes from a hotel situated at this intersection. The Camberwell Inn was named by the publican, George Eastaway. The intersection reminded Eastaway of the roads that converged at Camberwell Green in London, not far from the present day Tate Britain art gallery and the Oval Cricket Ground. With the first hotel established, other businesses set up alongside such as blacksmiths and storekeepers. Eventually the settlement took on the name given to the hotel by Eastaway.
The shopping strip is known as Camberwell, however the area to the west of Burke Road is Hawthorn East, and the east of Burke Road is Camberwell.
Notice in the “South Bourke Standard” Friday, May 18, 1862. After a quite night out was this one of Melbourne’s first drink driving incidents? No real harm was done to the publican’s son.
An advertisement in the same edition of the South Bourke Standard as the Eastaway report. Maybe the woodcutters should have attended one of these meetings instead of speeding down a rough road at night causing accidents. There was no sign of an Abstinence Society in Camberwell with these notices, but in an ironic twist Camberwell was a dry zone from 1920 until 2015.
Camberwell Junction in 1954 – with the Six Ways Milk Bar to the left, the original site of the Camberwell Inn. There’s a lot going on here including trams, English Cars, bike riders and pedestrians. One thing that is missing is traffic lights however a very brave policeman is doing a good job at controlling the traffic. No high vis vests in sight! The fine building to the centre right is the original post office.
Much has happened since those times, but today Camberwell has an enduring appeal with splendid streetscapes and built form. There are many grand houses on sizeable lots and it is the lot size that allows the greenery to remain a dominant feature of the suburb.
Many of the older homes are of the Victorian era made of brick with ornate features. Areas subdivided in the 1920’s are typically of a smaller lot size further to the east. The homes built in this time are typically Californian Bungalow’s and post second world war homes.
Typical intact streetscape in Camberwell. Victorian era homes with slate roofs and expansive gardens.
The area has been a popular for renovations and house extensions. Over the past decade Supa Group have completed dozens of ground floor and second storey extensions to homes in the Camberwell area.
Camberwell house prior to renovation and extension
Completed project adding second storey extension. The project involved removing the existing 1970’s ground floor extension and rebuilding with a large open plan kitchen and family living area with extra bedrooms upstairs. Note the comfortable set back of the upper storey extension and minimal overlooking to the neighbouring property. Streetscape character intact!
Hawthorn Historical Society Website
A History of Camberwell – Geoffrey Blainey 1964
South Bourke Standard 18.05.1862 – via Trove
Australian Dictionary of Biography