Prior to European occupation, the area around Coburg and Merri Creek was occupied by the Woiwurrung speaking Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. The Wurundjeri had a religious relationship to their land, participating in corroborees and sacred ceremonies on Merri Creek.
Coburg was first surveyed by Robert Hoddle in 1837 – 1838, and he recorded that a Mr Hyatt had a sheep station and hut on the east bank of the Merri Creek, near present Outlook Road. Hoddle marked out a 327 acre (1.3 km²) village reserve with two roads for the district: Bell Street West and Pentridge Road, later called Sydney Road. In 1840 the place was named Pentridge by a surveyor called Henry Foot who lived and worked near Merri Creek. It was named after the birthplace of Foot’s wife: Pentridge, Dorset, England.
In 1842 the first inn, The Golden Fleece, was built on Sydney Road just north of Page Street. Twenty one farms were in the area by 1849. With the Victorian gold rush in the 1850s the population of the area grew rapidly. In 1858 water mains from Yan Yean were connected and the first local paper, the Brunswick and Pentridge Press, was started.
Quarrying of bluestone began in the area 1850s, and by 1875 there were 41 quarries in Coburg. In December 1850 16 prisoners were moved from an overcrowded Melbourne Gaol to a stockade at Pentridge. Prisoners at what came to be called HM Prison Pentridge were immediately put on “hard labour” by breaking up bluestone for road surfaces. In 1867 a public meeting was called to change the name of the district, as residents were stigmatised and embarrassed at living in a suburb principally known for its gaol, Pentridge Prison. Robert Mailer of Glencairn suggested that the suburb name be changed to Coburg, inspired by the impending visit to the colony of the Duke of Edinburgh, who was a member of the royal house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The government agreed with the proposal and the change was made in March 1870.
The Post Office opened on 1 August 1853 and was renamed Coburg in January 1870.
Sydney Road attracted numerous hotels and commercial premises in the 1860s. Coburg later became a Shire in 1875. The Upfield railway line opened in 1884, and the Coburg railway station was built in 1888. In February 1889 the horse tram service began along Sydney Road. Electric trams started in service in 1916.
By 1899 there were 6000 people in the district. Coburg was gazetted as a borough in 1905 with Thomas Greenwood becoming Coburg’s first mayor. The Public Hall built in 1869 was extended in 1909, but was still inadequate for the growing city. The new Town Hall was built and opened in 1923, with further extensions in 1928.
Lake Reserve is a popular picnic spot on the Merri Creek. The land was purchased in 1912 and a weir was constructed in 1915 to form a lake contained by basaltic outcroppings. The reserve was immensely popular, with diving boards, wading pools, kiosk and gardens, and continues to be a favourite picnic spot, also accessed by the Merri Creek Trail.
After World War I there was significant development east of Sydney Road, with the former East Coburg Primary School opening in 1926. Coburg High School, now demolished, stood opposite the Coburg Town Hall, and was once one of the few selective double sex high schools in Melbourne and was also highly regarded.
In June 1994 the 135-year-old City of Coburg ceased to exist when it merged with the City of Brunswick to become the new City of Moreland.