Thursday, September 18, 2014


1860’s to 1880’s
Queensland’s infant capital Brisbane has narrowly escaped forever being known as Edenglassie and despite early bickering regarding its site and relative importance the settlement has grown in leaps and bounds.

Queensland became a separate state in 1859 and around then Brisbane’s population began to grow at such a pace it became necessary to formulate a street plan. City fathers in a show of rare humour and originality decided to delineate the city’s street grid by giving north to south running thoroughfares the names of female royalty – Queen, Adelaide, Elizabeth, Mary, Ann and Charlotte with corresponding east to west streets named Edward, George, Albert and William.

Imagine the Councillors of the day searching back through history books for suitable names – Victoria Street? No ‘twouldn’t be right using Queenie’s name, her being on the throne and all.  All right for those Victorians down south, but no, just plain Queen Street will have to do.
Even so, imagination aside, on that note Queen Street was born.
Perhaps planners hadn’t bargained on the city’s growth, or maybe weren’t all that familiar with England’s Kings and Queens because the next northern cross street was named Creek Street when it could so easily have been named Henry or even Richard, or for that matter Canute… which might have come in handy repelling future floods.
The next images comparing the old with the ultra new were taken at roughly the same favoured city intersection, Queen and Edward Streets:  The first a rare photograph taken in 1859 is facing south towards today’s Victoria Bridge, its modern comparison taken 150 years later is facing north towards Fortitude Valley.

Those early planners also argued that as this rather small provincial town would never amount to much there was no need to waste money on wide traffic avenues as had been the case in southern cities.  Instead they restricted the width of Queen and other city streets from the original 27 meters to 20 meters and then finally reneged and allowed them to become 24 meters.  Such was their lack of foresight and the reason why our present-day two block long city mall is so compact if not a trifle cosy.



Much to the delight of the male population hotels like the Sportsman’s Arms above and the Volunteer below began springing up in what was quickly becoming the town’s main thoroughfare.

Hotel keepers didn’t have to look far for their beer supplies, two gentlemen named Stanbridge and Harrison have established their City Brewery in Mary Street in the vicinity of the town known then as smelly old Frogs Hollow.
In a public statement publicising the establishment they proudly stress that much improvement has been made to the drainage in the area, namely at the corner of Albert and Mary, with the inclusion of a large sewer that now takes all the drainage direct to the river. 

At much the same time some small distance away in the rarefied atmosphere of nearby Hamilton Hill gentry like the Dickson family, seen here with twelve of their fifteen children, were creating fine mansions, naming theirs Toorak House which incidentally still stands today.

Mrs Dickson, the lady of the house seated side saddle on her trusty steed obviously welcomes the demise of the crinoline.

Of course an evolving town needs a Town Hall and one swiftly becomes a fait accompli.

That’s Brisbane’s first Town Hall above, erected on a site more or less opposite today’s Myers Department store in Queen Street.  It won’t be replaced until 1930, and then it will be on the much grander scale seen here in its entirely different location around the corner in King George Square.
The cottage next to the old Town Hall is Brisbane’s original General Post Office, in effect housed in a small dwelling.

Brisbane Town was beginning to stretch further out into bushland. The town of Ipswich had already been settled and now houses begin dotting the high ridge line of Kangaroo Point and the river front section of South Brisbane.  Up to now crossing the river could only be made by barge or boat.

Pylons for Brisbane’s first permanent bridge
Bridging the emerging north and south aspects of the township of Brisbane separated as it was by the twisting snake like river that made its way from the upper reaches past Ipswich all the way to Moreton Bay, was always going to be a problem.  The first temporary bridge below was opened to traffic in 1865 and collapsed some two years later.
No wonder, the wooden structure was riddled with marine wood worm.

 Thinking caps were again donned with city fathers planning yet another bridge and in 1869 pylons were constructed for Brisbane’s first permanent Victoria Bridge.
(Obviously back then the words temporary and permanent didn’t have the same meaning as today. Neither of these bridges survived all that long.)

These civic officials would in time need the patience of Job: Clearly those early planners had no idea the damage the river’s floods would deliver time and time again.
The year 1864 proved to be a calamitous one for the emerging town centre: In the space of a few months Brisbane was ravaged first by flood and then twice by fire.

This photo was taken from the corner of Charlotte and George Streets in the area known back then as a rather smelly Frogs Hollow.  That building on the right is the then Brisbane Courier newspaper office. On this occasion the river flooded following severe storms; a resulting fortnight of deluge causing the muddy banks to give way and water to inundate South Brisbane and the city proper from the river along Creek and Albert and into Queen Street.
Residents had barely enough time to recover from the devastating floods before they were faced with another catastrophe…Fire!

Compare these two views of Queen Street; the same distinctive roof top viewed far right seen also in a previous photo with the Boot sign, and beside it the small single storey building housing Finney Isles.
Below shows the same group of buildings miraculously saved in the midst of burnt out shells.

1864: The first of the two fires started in the Little Wonder Store in Edward Street and rampaged through 14 shops lining Queen Street.  The second fire three months later in December began in the basement of a Queen Street drapery store and blazing out of control according to the Brisbane Courier… “…virtually destroyed the whole of the business premises and private residences in Edward, Queen, Albert and George Streets.”
A news story was scathing in its criticism of Brisbane’s fire brigades when reporting the tragedy of numerous houses that were little more than huts owned by the town’s poorest residents, all completely razed to the ground, occupants left homeless.
No doubt all fire fighters in the vicinity rallied to the blaze, perhaps even the same gentlemen pictured in the photo below.

Members of the New Farm Brigade, all suitably serious and sombre for the occasion; even the dog is standing to attention.

In this 1900’s pix taken some 30 years later Brisbane’s state of the art Fire Brigade has vastly improved, though still only semi motorised, rigged out as it is with two versions of horse power side by side!.
Back in 1864 though Brisbane Town had to make do with basic horse and man teams to combat the terrible fire that quickly destroyed the centre of town.

The photo above of the still smoking ruins reveals the surprising growth of buildings and businesses in the adjoining streets; that’s Adelaide St over to the right, and further across to Ann and Roma Street.  The following day in various advertisements in the Brisbane Courier newspaper residents and store owners publicly acknowledged their gratitude to fire fighters.

One gentleman, not wishing to stir up a hornet’s nest, Mr H. Williams, tempered his heartfelt thanks with a diplomatic plea for the return of a box of clothes ‘mistakenly’ taken from his fire ravaged premises.

By 1879 Queen Street has settled gently into the appearance and feel of a flourishing and fashionable town albeit one with a sleepy slow paced attitude to life.

Northern aspect of Queen St.
The passing years have seen the passage of countless souls, convicts, early settlers, soldiers and original inhabitants. Their ghosts now keenly observing from the sideline, all of them no doubt gobsmacked at the great changes a few years have made. The population has grown; the new State of Queensland spreading its wings with numerous new settlements popping up to the west and to the far north.
Along with progress comes the mandate to govern: Government, especially colonial Government needs solid, spacious and imposing room to decide the future of their vast fiefdom.

Accordingly around George Street’s genteel and green Botanic precinct there is a flurry of public building with the construction of an elegant Government House and further back towards Mary Street the impressive three story Parliament House.  Both locally quarried sandstone buildings completed in record time complete with sweeping lawns and wide carriageway. The humble settlement town planners had derided would never amount to much was already taking on the appearance of an ambitious and wealthy state capital.

Facing onto George St, across from the newly built Parliament House is this early view of the first Bellevue Hotel, forerunner of the historic old building famously torn down in 1979 by Premier Joh Bjelke Petersen’s state government.

Workmen and ladders can be seen adding final touches to a building that must seethe with ghosts, both the good and the so-so from Queensland’s early past.
While we’re in the general vicinity.…
With the gentrification of Brisbane well under way thoughts turned to home, and in most cases that meant the ‘old country’… England.  Manicured gardens, climbing wisteria, ornamental ponds and exotic flora.
The following report was lodged in Parliament in 1865 by the Colonial Botanist and Director of Botanical Gardens, Walter Hill. Walter is obviously delivering a wish list, and its easy to see how Brisbane came by so  many exotic introduced species, cinchona from India, French honey suckle, Java almond…

And the end result some years later is this huge chunk of Brisbane’s real estate bordering on both Government House and Queensland’s House of Parliament.

(In much later years the Gardens were home to caged capuchin monkeys and baboons.)

In the years to come this landscaped strip would prove to be a popular Sunday jaunt for locals, and a source of income for a host of gardeners.

Around the same time, 1870 It became obvious that the original cottage Post Office adjacent to the Town Hall could no longer cope with the growing population.
Deciding  to move it further along Queen Street, the site of the old Women’s Gaol was then swiftly demolished to make way for a much grander building. After much deliberating over design and architect successful plans were finally given to John Petrie for construction of Brisbane’s General Post Office. He would later become a Mayor of Brisbane.


Brisbane’s stately General Post Office was built in two stages with the second building seamlessly incorporated using the laneway access to join the two. Along with the iconic Treasury Building at the top end of Queen Street, the GPO has kept pace with the changing pace of life, from the days of horse drawn trams and buggies, through to the early days of electric trams, then finally on to the here and now of fast rail and motor transport, a city pedestrian mall, and underground car parks.
A well proportioned and striking building in its time, the GPO of today is now dwarfed by an explosion of high rise tower blocks.
Back in those early days though, Brissie’s GPO was so modern, virtually state of the art , and so well ahead of its southern counterparts that it became the first post office in Australia to use a typewriter!


Everyone loves a parade, a chance to dress up, mingle with the crowd, ooh and ah at the sight of visiting dignitaries especially when they’re members of British Royalty.

In 1881 the young Prince’s Albert and Edward were entertained by the Governor and other old fogies in the grounds of Brisbane’s old Government House: Though judging purely by the expressions on the Prince’s faces I would imagine boredom was the order of the day…not a pretty young girl in sight!

Far more exciting, at least from the crowd’s point of view was the earlier visit by one of Queen Victoria’s sons.

1868: Queen Street is in full celebration mode complete with welcome arch and flags flying from every vantage point.   Brisbane crowds have turned out in force to greet their first Royal visitor, Queen Victoria’s second son Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, a Navy Captain touring the new colonies of Australia aboard the HMS Galatea.
Brisbane fans can consider themselves lucky to have seen the Prince at all:  In Sydney he was shot and wounded by a disgruntled onlooker and spent several weeks recovering.
A similar flag waving welcome nearly one hundred years later see’s Brisbane, now a fully fledged city with crowds thronging Queen Street to greet yet another Duke of Edinburgh; Prince Philip accompanying his young bride and Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth 2.

Both British Monarchs, Victoria and Elizabeth 2 celebrated their Diamond Jubilee whilst on the Throne, each Queen reaching out to sample modern inventions of the day.  In Victoria’s era the new fangled gadgets were cameras and the advent of the telegram, for our present day Queen her own Facebook page and a channel on You Tube.


Continuing next:  3: Ghosts of Queen St Past: Brisbane explodes into the 80’s & 90’s. Public transport makes the transition from horse to electricity, women join the work force and work begins on an ambitious project that will take 42 years to complete.

ROBYN MORTIMER – With special thanks to all those early historians, bless their souls…they must all be turning in their graves now to see the dearth of  historic fact being taught in public schools.