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Robert Hoddle (20 April 1794 – 24 October 1881) was a surveyor of Port Phillip District (later known as Victoria (Australia)) in the 1830s, and the creator of the Hoddle Grid, the street grid system upon which inner city Melbourne is based. He was also an accomplished artist and depicted scenes of the Port Phillip region as well as New South Wales. Hoddle was one of the earliest-known European artists to capture images of Ginninderra, an area now occupied by Canberra, Australia's National Capital. Hoddle, the son of a bank clerk for the Bank of England, was born in Westminster, London.
Surveying in Australia
Robert Hoddle trained as a cadet surveyor in the Royal military surveyors beginning in 1812. He sailed for the Cape Colony, South Africa in 1822 where he worked on military surveys. Ten years on he migrated to the Australian colonies, arriving in Sydney aboard the William Penn in July 1823. Governor Brisbane appointed him assistant surveyor under surveyor-general John Oxley. He spent the next twelve years in Queensland and later still in NSW where he surveyed the sites for the New South Wales towns of Berrima and Goulburn as well as Bell's Line of Road in the Blue Mountains. Between 1830 and 1836, Hoddle made several visits to the rural district now occupied by the Australian Capital Territory (A.C.T.), where he surveyed property boundaries. Squatters were urgently pressing for government surveyors to legalise their rural holdings. Hoddle’s field book indexes the history of the aforementioned areas and pastoralists— George Palmer, Robert Campbell and Hamilton Hume.
Hoddle arrived in Port Phillip the future site for Melbourne, in March 1837 and was appointed senior surveyor with his assistants D'Arcy and Darke; he was to take charge of the surveying work which had been begun by Robert Russell. Whether Hoddle planned Melbourne or used Russell's ideas has been a subject of controversy. Hoddle's first map of Melbourne, completed on 25 March 1837, covered the area from Flinders Street to Lonsdale Street, and from Spencer Street to Spring Street. The principal streets were made one and a half chains wide (30 m), and the smaller, then intended merely to furnish back entrances, a half chain wide (10 m). Later Hoddle provided for wide exits from the city such as Wellington and Victoria parades, and the continuation from Elizabeth Street to Sydney and Mount Alexander roads. He also made provisions for squares and reserves in the city itself and in the immediate suburbs. He was in no way responsible for the narrow streets which later were formed in Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond. These were made when comparatively large areas were subdivided by their owners.
By 1838 Melbourne, Williamstown and Geelong were quickly surveyed for deliverance to the market as real estate. He fixed the site of Geelong in spite of opposition from the Sydney authorities who favoured Point Henry. His designs were an innovation for Australian cities, as Melbourne and its inner suburbs were planned in the grid style.
Artist in ink and watercolours
Robert Hoddle is the earliest-known European artist to have depicted the A.C.T. area. Many of his works are held in the National Library of Australia, State Library of Victoria and the State Library of New South Wales.
Some of the paintings he made during this time are held at the National Library of Australia. They include:
- Ginninginderry, i.e. Ginninderra, Plains, New South Wales; watercolour
- Ginninginderry, i.e. Ginninderra, Plains; watercolour
Additional works by Hoddle include:
- View from Limestone Hill called Campbells Hill, New South Wales, March 1832; watercolour
- The seven day's in the Week's Occupation of the Australians, hunting, 1835; ink wash
- Unidentified coastal landscape, New South Wales, 1; watercolour
- Unidentified coastal landscape, New South Wales, 2; watercolour
- View from Illawarra Range en route to Kiama, 1830; watercolour
William Lonsdale appointed Hoddle auctioneer at the first sale of crown land on 1 June 1837, at which he sold half-acre (0.2 ha) allotments averaging just over £35 an acre. His commission was £57 12s. 7d. He bought two allotments for himself costing £54. Hoddle built himself a house on the corner of Bourke and Spencer Streets where, in retirement, he tended his trees, played organ and flute and translated Spanish.
In 1840 Hoddle was granted a gratuity of £500 as he was leaving the survey department on account of ill-health. However, after a few months holiday he recovered his health, took up his duties again, and the gratuity was not paid to him. He later did valuable work in the country districts of Victoria, became Surveyor General of Victoria in 1851, and retired in July 1853 with a pension of £1000 a year. He had bought in 1837 the block of land in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, on which the Commonwealth Bank of Australia now stands, for a comparatively small sum, and he became a wealthy man. After his retirement he took an interest in the Old Colonists' Association and was elected a life governor in December 1873. He died at his residence at the west end of Bourke Street, the site of the present general post office, on 24 October 1881. He was married twice and left a widow and children. Hoddle Street, East Melbourne, Hoddles Creek (a creek and town in the rural east of Victoria) and Robert Hoddle Gr, Mudgee were named after him. He did excellent work in New South Wales, and Victoria owes much to his wisdom and foresight.
- NLA News, Robert Hoddle: Pioneer Surveyor-Artist in Australia, July 2006 Vol XVI N10, National Library, http://www.nla.gov.au/pub/nlanews/2006/jul06/article5.html
- Marjorie J. Tipping, 'Hoddle, Robert (1794 - 1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, MUP, 1966, pp 547–548