Robert Hoddle is the subject of one of the most enduring myths of Mudgee history, which credits him as the designer of the Mudgee town plan.
Hoddle, whose name is preserved in Robert Hoddle Grove, was the first surveyor of the Mudgee area in 1825, marking out the borders between early properties including Putta Bucca and Bombira.
However, he did not stay in the region, and in 1837, when the Mudgee site was mapped for the village’s gazettal the next year, Hoddle had just become leader of the Port Phillip Survey Department, the role that would ensure his place in Australian history.
Born in London, Hoddle became a cadet-surveyor in the army at the age of 18, and spent 10 years contributing to the trigonometrical survey of Great Britain before leaving for Cape Colony, South Africa.
After working as an assistant engineer on military surveys in Cape Colony, he headed to New South Wales, four days after his 29th birthday.
In Australia, Hoddle was appointed assistant surveyor to surveyor-general John Oxley, with whom he travelled in 1824 to Moreton Bay to survey the site of the planned city of Brisbane.
In 1837, he joined the governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke, in travelling to the new settlement at Port Phillip, where Hoddle was tasked with drawing up a plan for the area’s administrative capital, which would be known as Melbourne.
The plan of Melbourne’s CBD is known as the Hoddle Grid, and Hoddle was proud that he successfully fought to establish wide streets of 99 foot breadth in the city centre.
Hoddle became the first Surveyor General of Victoria when the state separated from New South Wales in 1851.
Hoddle’s early association with the Mudgee settlement and the use of the grid pattern in both Melbourne and Mudgee have seen him incorrectly credited with the town’s layout for some time.
However, when Hoddle was in Mudgee, the site for the town had not even been selected, and the settlement still centred around Menah.
The site of Mudgee was reportedly fixed by a gentleman named Richard Lewis, who initially selected the plain between the Cudgegong River and what is now the westernmost section of MarketStreet.
Lewis was advised against this by the Cox family’s overseer, Mick Lahy, who pointed out that the area was prone to floods, and instead suggested the current town centre.
Stories of Mick Lahy are largely found in the unpublished ‘A History of Mudgee’, a conversational collection of recollections, stories and sports results compiled by George Henry Frederick Cox, the grandson of Mudgee settler George Cox.
“Lahy is deserving of great praise for his sagacity,” wrote Cox. “In naming the streets of Mudgee, it would have been a fitting tribute to the man, had one of them been named after him, but those were conservative days.”
Lahy Court, off Denison Street, now honours the Lahy family.
Lahy was transported to Australia in 1816 for his role in an uprising against the British landlords in County Tipperary, Ireland.
He earned a conditional pardon in 1821 and became an overseer for William Cox, com- ing to Mudgee in 1825 to work with his son, George Cox.
Lahy took the place of an overseer who was removed after the man’s cruelty and “injudicious management” worsened the hostilities between the Indigenous and European populations in the Mudgee area.
“Matters now considerably quietened down, owing to Lahy’s conciliatory methods, and to a great extent he gained the confidence of the natives,” reports Cox’s history.
Lahy built up his own livestock holdings while serving the Cox family, and after becoming a free man in 1830, he purchased the property Uamby from George Cox for the sum of 10 shillings - which was almost a gift, as Cox had purchased it a few years earlier for £222.
Lahy and his wife Mary Ann Thurston had a daughter Mary, born in 1834, reportedly the first white child born in the Mudgee district.
His descendants are now car- bon farmers at Uamby, where Lahy and many members of his family are buried.
A History of Mudgee, by George Henry Frederick Cox
Michael Kiely’s Lahy family his- tory research on his Uamby blog; envirofarming.blogspot.com.au Norman McVicker’s research
into Robert Hoddle and campaign against the mistaken attribution; www.budgeebudgee.com
Information on Robert Hoddle from the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries, www.dse.vic.gov.au
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1 (1966 and online at adb.anu.edu.au)