Originally known as Irishtown due to the high number of Irish immigrants who settled there, Preston is a testament to how much money stimulates the imaginations of property developers. It owes its name to a need to class up a notorious worker’s slum in order to attract higher sales prices. (Further testimony to the lack of imagination of early Melbourne settlers can be found a few miles to the north, where an area with a high number of Germans living in it was called Germantown.)
The money in question was gold rush money, of course. Successful miners had it, and property developers wanted it. It was just exactly that simple. But given the poor repute of the Irish in the Melbourne of the 1860s, no one was going to buy in a place called Irishtown except for a wealthy Irishman – and that phrase was widely considered an oxymoron at the time. A new name was needed, and so the search for the right name began.
Preston was a name taken from Preston Hargreaves, often considered to be Queen Victoria’s favourite poet at the time (he excelled in creating new remembrances of Prince Albert without repeating himself too obviously). It seemed that such a name was suitably classy for what the property developers intended, suggesting a connection to royalty without trespassing against the prideful aristocrats by using one of their own names.
There was one small problem, although it was not discovered until 1879, when the Queen’s grandsons, Princes Albert Victor and George, visited Melbourne, and when asked about Preston Hargeaves, honestly replied that there was no such person. (Upon leaving Melbourne by ship, their tutor and guardian recorded an encounter with The Flying Dutchman, and some historians record Preston Hargreaves as a member of its crew from that point onwards). For the Irish of Preston, to learn that their suburb had been renamed after a British lie was little surprise, although it did help to fan the flames of republican sentiment among them.
Suburbs near Preston: