Robert Hoddle: Pioneer Surveyor, 1794-1881
Research Publications, $79 hb, 324 pp
Of the two groups who opened up Australia to settlement, the squatters have created about their persons a huge library, both admiring and critical. The surveyors, who followed in their footsteps, have rarely captured the imagination (with the exception of Sir Thomas Mitchell and Colonel Light) but their influence, especially in metropolitan Australia, has been incalculable. The site of Melbourne was chosen by a governor, but it was surveyors who laid out the grid plan of the square mile, imposing it on a hilly site, bounded by a narrow river to the south and swamps to the west. Principal among the Melbourne and Port Phillip surveyors was Robert Hoddle, who ended a long career as the first Surveyor-General of Victoria (1851–53).
Hoddle (1794–1881) joined the British Army as a cadet surveyor and draftsman. One of his teachers, Robert Dawson, revolutionised topographical drawing, and Hoddle’s later sketches have proved to be important historical records of an altered Australian landscape. Like many army men, he was put on half-pay in 1817, despite which he married in 1818; and again, like many of the middle classes, he decided to emigrate, chancing his arm as a surveyor at the Cape Colony, leaving his wife and daughter to live frugally with his parents. Hoddle’s years at the Cape were not a success: ‘The more I see of Africa, the less I desire to see.’