Wednesday, September 17, 2014



Do you ever gaze at the space around you and wonder what went before? Do you ever feel a pin prick of identity; an eerie feeling of nostalgia, a sense of what might once have been, right on this very spot, two, three, four lifetimes ago?


 Brisbane’s Queen Street isn't all that ancient, and let’s be honest, not all that historically interesting: not if you compare it with Bond Street in London or the Champs Elysees in Paris.  But journey back in time to Brisbane’s earliest days and you might well be surprised.  

Way back in 1836, just three years before his untimely death in a shipwreck, Henry Boucher Bowerman drew this simple but as it would turn out historical sketch of the new convict settlement named   for expediency sake Moreton Bay. His drawing included the river, a windmill on the hill, a sad cluster of child size graves in a small fenced cemetery, and workmen erecting a building.  A crude thoroughfare of sorts is included. 
That basic track would eventually become the hub of a busy metropolis; Henry’s sketch does in fact herald our first sight of Brisbane’s future centre of commerce, its major thoroughfare bolstered as it is now by high rise buildings and fairly pulsing with frantic activity, our very own Queen Street.  First though, it had to suffer the ignominy of convict cruelty.
The early years spanning the 1820’s and 30’s saw the settlement of Moreton Bay as nothing more than a convict prison.  There were instances of excessive and brutal punishment for men and women alike. The Queen Street we now traverse once included both the Women’s Convict Factory and the men’s Convict Barracks complete with whipping posts, chain gangs and tread mills.
Yet even a convict settlement and administrators need the support of commerce so it didn’t take long for controlling bureaucracy to emerge and farmers, bakers, shop keepers and the like to set up shop.
By 1844 there was sufficient development to warrant a spot of urban planning and identification courtesy of a gentleman named C.F. Gerler.

Mr Gerler identified the buildings and their owners in a numbered street map:  No 46 on the list is that splendid roadway in the middle, Queen Street circa 1844. Slades (old) post office no 11 is right next door to Slade’s pineapple garden; No 14 is the hospital and right next door at 15 is Mort the milkman; there follows McLeans blacksmith, Bow’s hotel, Montifeur the financier, Father Hanley (the only priest), Edmonston the butcher, Wright’s hotel, Skyring’s beehives and soft goods shop, W. Kent the druggist, Savory the baker, and Handel a cattle drover…and so the list went on.
The Convict Barracks No 6 is midway down Queen St on the right with the town lock up conveniently next door at number 9.  The Convict Barracks slap bang in the middle of Queen Street was the site for the 1830 hanging of Irish convicts Fagan and Bulbridge:  Their crime? Burglary.
Their shackled spirits may well be haunting the general area of today’s Chifley at Lennons Hotel, roughly where the hangings took place.
Andrew Petrie’s home, number 1 on the list is of course in the vicinity of present day Petrie Bight. Saw mill and boat house by the river are also identified as well as a decorative flourish of trees and plants that by chance mark the future approximate site of Brisbane’s city botanic gardens.
But before we become firmly attached to this township named Brisbane we should ponder a while on a first choice of name, Edenglassie: A hybrid joining of Edinburgh and Glasgow proposed by the New South Wales colony’s Scots born Chief Justice Francis Forbes but discarded by explorer and army man John Oxley who probably preferred to toady up to his boss and visiting dignitary Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane.
Imagine addressing your letters to Queen Street, Edenglassie.
THE 1840’S & 50’S
Australia’s founding fathers in their wisdom had already pushed their boundaries past Sydney Town deciding to move their most difficult convicts north.  A necessary decision that solved a clutch of problems:  The north was to be colonised and convicts, even recalcitrant ones were the colony’s labourers of convenience.
The long white building pictured above is the Womens Prison, roughly on the site of today’s General Post Office in Queen Street. Behind it is the easily recognizable St Stephens Church in what will become Elizabeth Street.  The church is still there today though over shadowed by a grand cathedral built in later years.
One early planner on visiting the proposed settlement turned his nose firmly up at the mainland site and even voiced the opinion that Stradbroke Island would be far more suitable. Thank goodness he was over-ruled.  I like sleepy Dunwich the way it is.

An artist’s view of Brisbane in 1865 gives the impression of a largish town with a busy waterfront.  This particular section covers the Mary Street wharves and port office with One Tree Hill (or Mt Coot-tha) and the Observatory featured at opposite corners of the skyline.  The photo below taken in 1861 continues the river view to the right of the photo showing the gas works and Petrie Bight.

See the difference thirty odd years make.   Henry Boucher Bowerman’s watercolour below of that same section of the river was painted in 1835.  The river appears rather benignly peaceful; Henry obviously had yet to see it in full flood.

By the advent of the 1860’s though, Brisbane’s river would have achieved such prominence as a public thoroughfare to warrant its own Water Police contingent complete with no less than two fully manned dinghies.

By that time too shops were springing up in the centre of the settlement. The cluster of photos gives a good idea of Brisbane’s earliest Queen Street entrepreneurs… a menswear shop front, an oyster bar not far from Meyers private boarding house, and a street corner shop forerunner of Finney Isles Department store seen here on the corner of Queen and Edward.

 Our forebears from those early days certainly didn’t starve for the want of good tucker. The 1860 advertisements for Christmas and New Year bargains reveal both the fine foods then available and the early existence of a shopping arcade in Queen Street.

Imported hams, Italian savouries, dried fruit from Europe.  It didn’t seem at all odd that these provisions had made a month and more long journey from the old country without the benefit of refrigeration.

The Queen Street of those early days is a far cry from the Queen Street Mall of today. Who back then trudging along the dry dusty road avoiding ruts made by horse and sulky had the foresight to imagine their future great, great grandchildren strolling along that same thoroughfare; a Queen Street magically transformed into an inconceivable solid concrete expanse lined by giant skyscraper buildings, all encased in a busy pedestrian mall?
Not in their wildest dreams!


 Corner Queen and Edward Streets circa 1864’s

Here just a few years later we glimpse the same stretch of Queen Street: Additional shops have been built and storeys added. Horse and buggy traffic is sparse. Buildings are a mixture of timber, stone and brick… That single storey building on the right tucked under the Boot sign is actually on the corner of Queen and Edward and is about to become the modest forerunner of a future major department store…Finney Isles, a century later to be bought out by David Jones.

(As the story of Queen Street progresses we will both of us, you and me, become fascinated by early photographers choice of this particular street corner- it will pop up year after year always with that extra tantalising snippet of progress.)

Those early days of Brisbane’s settlement saw the disassembling of the country’s original inhabitants as suburbs and townships evolved and urban development started gobbling up surrounding bushland. No doubt the settlers gathered below at what may have been an annual charitable event, at that time sincerely imagined their actions were made with the best of Christian intent. 

On this day in 1863, at the Queen Street Barracks a crowd has gathered to observe the distribution of blankets to those most in need.
The photo also gives a glimpse of the cumbersome style of dress popular in those days. Noting their men folk’s only mode of transport I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth a clutch of women cocooned in voluminous skirts could be comfortably accommodated in the back of a horse drawn sulky.

Judging by the cumbersome crinolines worn over a whale bone hoop, I would say they were transported from home to town with great difficulty.

A town centre is beginning to take shape. The Women’s Factory Prison in Queen Street and the first Catholic Church behind it in Elizabeth Street are easily identified behind the large partly completed Normal School a good two blocks away.  The new building which appears to share a corner frontage with Adelaide and Edward Streets will for a short time be the settlement’s largest building. On the other side of the river you can see houses stretching out along the high ridge of Kangaroo Point.
So far though we’ve covered only the first 30 or so years of Queen Streets history, at this stage our Ghosts of the Past are fairly thin on the ground, but as this 1865 lithograph shows, Brisbane seems already bursting at the seams.

Obviously the only way to go is up.
CONTINUING NEXT INTO THE 1870’S & 80’S: MORE GHOSTS OF QUEEN STREET PAST:  Queensland’s capital is growing, its main street evolving from a muddy right of way to a busy commercial thoroughfare. Ahead, running hand in hand with Queen Street’s  progress will be the spectre and devastation of both fire and flood.
Robyn Mortimer - with fervent thanks to those early photographers for their birds eye view of Brisbane before it became a city...

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