Drama behind river's name

22:30, Jan 03 2013
George Plantagent
George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, 1st Earl of Salisbury, 1st Earl of Warwick, KG (21 October 1449 – 18 February 1478) was the third son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the brother of kings Edward IV and Richard III. He played an important role in the dynastic struggle known as the Wars of the Roses. He is also remembered as the character in William Shakespeare's play Richard III who was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.

The largest river in Marlborough was named after a character in a Shakespeare play, not Queen Victoria's uncle, a researcher of geographic names says.

George Holmes, who has investigated many place names and had about 95 spellings on maps changed to reflect his findings, said the generally accepted view was that the Clarence River was probably named after Queen Victoria's uncle, the Duke of Clarence, who became King William IV.

However, his research led him to believe it was actually named after an earlier Duke of Clarence, who took a leading part in the Wars of the Roses, a period of bitter warfare between rival factions in the royal family in England in the 15th century, and whose imprisonment and violent death was told in Shakespeare's play Richard III.

Mr Holmes said he would ask the Geographic Board to change the spelling of one of the Clarence's tributaries to reflect his findings.

The names of the tributary streams provided clues pointing to the identity of the person commemorated in the river's name, Mr Holmes said.

The biggest clue to the identity of the Clarence was the most obvious one, he said.


The name of the Gloster River, which flows into the Clarence, was a misspelt form of Gloucester River, named after Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, who in Shakespeare's play sent the two murderers to kill his brother, the Duke of Clarence, in the Tower of London.

The name of George Stream, not far from the mouth of the Clarence River, was another obvious clue because Shakespeare named his character George, Duke of Clarence.

The two murderers who appear in the scene in which Clarence pleads for his life before being stabbed to death, were the murderers referred to in Murderers Stream.

"The name of a hill named Warder, near the Clarence River, which may originally have been Mt Warden, is probably a reference to Duke George's keeper in the Tower of London who, in Shakespeare's play Richard III speaks to the Duke of Clarence shortly before the murderers arrive to kill him."

The Clarence River was believed to have been named by Sir Frederick Weld, who established the Flaxbourne sheep station with business partner Sir Charles Clifford in the 1840s, Mr Holmes said.

"He was a very well-educated man from England. He named Lake Tennyson after his favourite poet. He would have known Shakespeare."

Mr Holmes said his research indicated the Clarence River was given its present British name in 1850 or 1851.

"This date is somewhat later than has generally been assumed. By that time King William IV, the king who is usually believed to be referred to in the name of the Clarence River, had been dead for 13 or 14 years, and 20 years had passed since the late king's earlier title of the Duke of Clarence had been used."

That made it "most unlikely" that the river was named after the king.

The Marlborough Express