The first sighting of Rucker’s Hill by a white man was probably surveyor Joseph Gellibrand in 1836. After following the Merri Creek he saw a “…flat-topped hill, thereby affording a most eligible situation for a homestead.”
William Rucker agreed with that and in the first land sales in 1837 purchased two strips of land, lots 100 and 101, a total of 262 acres spreading from the Merri Creek and across the hill which was to bear his name. He paid £2,266 for the land and in 1841 constructed a large mansion on the top of the hill.
In 1842 Rucker sold some of his land to George James, including the site of the Northcote Town Hall. Rucker had borrowed £10,000 from influential members of the Melbourne community to fund his land purchases. He subsequently went into insolvency, dragging his backers with him. Rucker latter rebuilt his career as a wine merchant in Melbourne.
That same year Robert Hoddle, the colonies Surveyor, laid out his grand plans for Melbourne’s road network. He envisaged Hoddle Street following a northern route from the city past Northcote and to Epping and beyond. He had to make a slight adjustment to allow a crossing of the Merri Creek at a ford on the site of the Northcote High Street Bridge. But he was not going to be deterred by the steep incline of Rucker’s Hill. This was to cause headaches for the traffic for many years to come.
The poor quality of the road during the 1850s and 1860s saw the hill locally referred to as “Mucker’s Hill’, although the presence of the Peacock Inn at the top was probably a popular site for the teamsters after struggling with their wagons up the hill.
In the early 1850s the bank began subdividing and selling off Rucker’s land. The Bastings brothers purchased a number of lots and built a general store and hotel on the top of the hill. The store also served as the local post office and with the hotel across the road, the nucleus of the township grew around them.
The steepness of the hill was to present a clear danger for users. This was amply demonstrated in January 1859 when the Argus newspaper reported that the Whittlesea mail carriage had been coming down the "Northcote hill" when the breech of the cart broke. It crashed into fencing along side the hill, throwing out the passengers. One of them, Michael O'Donogue, being very seriously injured. He was taken to Melbourne hospital where he appeared to be recovering well, when suddenly took a turn for the worse and died the following day. This was only one of many accidents which occurred on the steep climb up Rucker's Hill.
During the 1890s other areas began to develop in Northcote including Westgarth and Thornbury around Dundas Street, but the building of the Northcote Town Hall on Rucker’s Hill ensured that its dominance was never threatened until the amalgamation of Northcote and Preston and the closing of Northcote Town Hall.
After several years of renovation the Northcote Town Hall has reopened and with the development of new coffee shops and restaurants around Rucker’s Hill the hill looks like regaining some of its former glory.
(1859, January 22). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956).
Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.