Queensland Places – Somerset – Henry Marjoribanks Chester

Henry Marjoribanks Chester is prominent in the history of the Torres Strait region by virtue of his having been one of the Police Magistrates at Somerset.  Henry Chester was born in 1832 in England and immigrated to Queensland in 1864, where he worked for a time in the Union Bank of Australia.  He was then appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands and Police Magistrate for the Warrego Pastoral District.  He subsequently served as Land Agent at both Gladstone and Gympie.

In 1869, he was appointed Police Magistrate at Somerset, replacing Frank Jardine who had been granted leave of absence.  Chester was under the impression that his appointment was permanent and was disappointed when he had to stand aside when Frank Jardine returned in August 1870.  Chester stayed at Somerset until around 1872, involving himself in various business enterprises, as well as undertaking some exploration of the area.  Eventually he was re-employed to fill the vacancy brought about by the death in office of Police Magistrate Aplin, taking charge on 20 October 1875.

On 25 September 1877, Chester took charge of the new settlement at Thursday Island, before moving on to serve as Police Magistrate at several other Queensland locations including Cairns, Croydon, Cooktown, Clermont and Gladstone.

One of the major highlights in Chester’s long and varied career was his sailing north in the Pearl from Thursday Island to take possession of the supposedly unoccupied eastern half of New Guinea when, under instructions from the then Premier of Queensland, Sir Thomas McIllwraith, he planted the Union Jack at Port Moresby on 4 April 1883.  This act of occupation, with its complex political background, was later disowned and disavowed by the British government.

Henry Chester died in Brisbane on 3 October 1914.

Henry Marjoribanks Chester, State Library of Queensland Neg. No. 166768

Henry Marjoribanks Chester


This image, published at the time in various newspapers and publications, shows an artist’s impression of Henry Marjoribanks Chester, at the time of the raising of the British flag at Port Moresby.

You may also be interested in two recent blog posts on the history of the Somerset settlement Part 1 and Part 2

Brian Randall, Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland.

Location location location : real estate then and now

Guest Blogger: Sarah Beirne – Fieldwork Student

Selling real estate in Queensland has always been big business and stirring interest among potential investors not only requires a hot location but also a fine command of the English language. A veritable plethora of examples can be discovered while perusing the various estate maps and real estate ephemera contained within the John Oxley library collection. Estate maps featuring hand drawn mermaids, musketeers and Her Majesty the Queen have given way to sleek, glossy photographs of kookaburras, green bushland or twilight views of the city skyline. It is interesting to note the differences between the methods used to sell during the 1880s and what is employed now, however it is much more striking to observe the way that things really have not changed when it comes to what appeals to buyers. The language used to recommend properties is still as flowery now as it was when Queenslanders acknowledged Queen Victoria as their head of state.

Sparkling Wave Estate : to be sold at Ipswich by J. Cameron, Dec. 2nd. 1882, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Sparkling Wave Estate

Langlands Estate, East Brisbane : [next to Norman's Creek], John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Langlands Estate, East Brisbane

Jubilee Township [Estate], John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jubilee Township Estate

An estate map advertising the sale in 1910 of the Royal Park Estate and St. John’s Wood Extension Estate in Ashgrove describes the area in the following manner: The air is like champagne … The soil will grow anything from roses to trees of enormous dimensions. The scenery is simply exquisite, huge trees, green foliage, rippling water, singing birds and mountains in the rear, are more beautiful than one can imagine. This may seem a little over the top and just a wee bit kitsch, until one stumbles upon the description of the Ivadale Lakes development brochure which exhorts readers to meander down through the leafy green tree-shaded spaces along the pristine walking track down towards the lake where the morning sun has lifted a lazy curl of mist off the mirror-calm surface of the water.What an idyllic scene!

Royal Park Estate [and] St. John's Wood Extension Estate : Ashgrove, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Royal Park Estate

There is also a notable trend that buyers are supposed to be concerned about their health, with much of the advertising declaring estates to be not only the most beautiful but also the healthiest part in the Southern Hemisphere. Drawing attention to an areas resemblance to other exotic countries or locations of renowned beauty is definitely a tried and true method, as is providing recommendation from celebrities or famous personages. Who does want to live in an exquisite Balinese villa located in Surya, the Garden of the Sun God, in which calm, graceful architecture blends effortlessly with exotic textiles, coconut wood and the rich hues of the surrounding tropics? 

Real estate ephemera

Samples of real estate ephemera

The sellers of the St. John’s Wood Extension Estate describe the reactions of King George VI who visited the estate in Ashgrove while he was Duke of York. What did His Majesty the King say about St John’s Wood? “He was delighted with the place and its glorious surroundings, and, moreover, it reminded him of the Manor Plains of Sussex, England”. The luxuriousness of the trees and height of the mountains shade the place from Westerly winds and dust, and keep it warm in Winter and cool in Summer.

People want to be where the important people are, according to the advertising – St John’s Wood, aptly named the Switzerland of Queensland on account of its beauty, has been sold to the best people in the State – people of wealth, repute and undoubted position. This alone will make the name of St John’s Wood a hall mark of distinction and exclusiveness.

There are some peculiar comparisons drawn when it comes to marketing properties, as shown in the blurb relating to The Springs in Spring Hill, where you are at the centre of a city of one million people, and yet you enjoy complete calmness and serenity. The serenity here has been compared to the exhilarating stillness that exists at the eye of a storm. One wonders how this serenity compares to a two-stroke motor at full throttle.

The Springs

The Springs real estate brochure

The State Library of Queensland collections of real estate maps and ephemera are a wealth of information when it comes to the different methods employed by agents when selling property, however the most remarkable aspect is definitely the fact that the language used has changed so little over the past 100+ years.

Queensland Places – Somerset – Part Two

The strategic former port of Somerset was established at the tip of Cape York in 1864, backed by grand visions of protecting shipping and trade in the area as well as acting as a beacon of British power and prestige.  However, despite some successes, Somerset failed to fully achieve its original aims, and only operated until 1877.  What went wrong and why did Somerset only operate for such a relatively short period?

There was good support promised at the beginning.  Somerset was to operate as a joint imperial-colonial facility with the British government providing a small contingent of marines as well as a naval surgeon.  Queensland’s part in the arrangement was to provide nine colonial officers including a police magistrate who would act as the senior officer.  John Jardine, previously the Police Magistrate at Rockhampton, was appointed to this position and acted as the Government Resident at the new port.

But operations were not to go as planned.  A severe financial depression rolled through the economy from 1866 and the Queensland government, no doubt with more pressing issues to deal with, neglected the Somerset outpost.  As well, the British government withdrew its marine contingent in 1867, leaving the settlement weakened and exposed, a real issue in the face of on-going conflict with the local Indigenous peoples.  In terms of local issues, the pearl shell industry was also developing at the time and this industry was tending to centre itself at Thursday Island.  The anchorage in Albany Passage had long been criticised as being difficult and at times dangerous, which was a further negative for Somerset.

But perhaps the final blow for Somerset was that its strategic geographic position was lost when the Queensland Government legislated to extend the colony’s boundary to include all of the islands between the coast and the Barrier Reef.  This border change made Thursday Island a far better strategic location for a northern port and settlement.  The Government resident was therefore moved from Somerset to Thursday Island and Somerset was closed in 1877.

John Jardine, first police magistrate, Somerset, State Library of Queensland Neg. No. 35162

John Jardine, first police magistrate, Somerset

This image shows John Jardine, the first Government Resident at Somerset.

Brian Randall, Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland.

Q ANZAC 100 Fellowships

On the 26th September, CEO and State Librarian Janette Wright announced four Fellowships as part of the Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation commemorations. The announcement was made at the Serving Country Forum.

State Librarian Janette Wright at the Serving Country Forum.

The four fellowships valued at $15,000 each are on offer in 2014 to fund research projects relating to Queensland’s role in, and experience of, World War One, both at home and abroad.

The fellowship program aims to uncover and explore the lesser known or untold stories, and foster new research, interpretations and knowledge about the Queensland experience of the First World War.

These fellowships are proudly supported by the Queensland Government.

For more information about these fellowships or to apply please visit the Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation website.

To view a recordings of the Serving Country Forum please visit State Library of Queensland’s webcast page.

Lara Shprem, Project Support, Queensland Memory.


Modern Queensland design

On 23 September, as part of the Night in the John Oxley Library series and in conjunction with the Hot Modernism exhibition, Robert Riddel and Eddie Codd joined Ian Townsend for a discussion on modern design in Queensland.

The night’s discussions ranged from reminiscences of seminal design businesses West’s Furniture and the Craftsman’s Market, reflections on architectural practice in Brisbane and the future of design and manufacture in Australia.

As the exclusive Australian importer of Knoll furniture from 1953, West’s was the place to go for cutting-edge pieces. Harry Seidler was a prominent and regular customer: a letter from him is reproduced in the State Library of Queensland exhibit “Modern Design meets Brisbane.” Of interest is the fact that much of the furniture was manufactured in Brisbane under licence, often to a standard unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.

Craftsman’s Market in Toowong, established by Joy De Gruchy in the 1960s, sold the latest fabrics and furnishings, featuring on-trend and colourful designs from labels such as Marimekko.

Eddie brought in three Harley Industries chairs that he designed over the years, one of which was designed for Robin Gibson’s design of State Library of Queensland’s auditorium in 1988. You can see more of Eddie’s designs for Harley Industries in this collection: Acc 29550 Harley Industries Pty Ltd Catalouge.

If you weren’t able to be there on the night, you can know listen to this sparkling and wide-ranging conversation below.



James Birrell in Hot Modernism

James Birrell is one of the architects prominently featured in Hot Modernism. A range of his buildings, from the Centenary Pool in Spring Hill, through to the Jame Cook University Library in Townsville, are included in the exhibition, which concludes on 12 October 2014. Mr Birrell’s remarkable career is reflected in many of the show’s drawings and photographs.

At the comparatively young age of 27, Mr Birrell was appointed Chief Architect of the Brisbane City Council. Over six years, Mr Birrell oversaw an extensive range of public building projects, including libraries, car parks, even public toilet blocks. The majority of his buildings during this period have been altered or demolished. The Toowong Municipal Library, for example, has been modified and now houses a radiology clinic.

Following his time at Brisbane City Council, Mr Birrell worked at the University of Queensland from 1961-66, where he was responsible, among other buildings, for Union College, the J.D. Story Administration Building and the Agriculture and Entomology Building. In 1966 Mr Birrell established his own practice, working on a variety of projects, including the University of Papua New Guinea. Mr Birrell’s extensive collection of plans from his private practice are held in the John Oxley Library.

To learn more of Mr Birrell’s architectural legacy, you can view this interview conducted in 2012 and view several images taken from the John Oxley Library’s collection.

James Birrell Oral History

You can also access these collections held by the John Oxley Library:

Acc 28520 James Birrell Papers

Acc 27313 James Birrell Papers

Acc 28199 James Birrell Photographs

New acquisition – List of Motor Owners in Queensland

State Library is pleased to announce the addition of a rare book to the John Oxley Library collection: List of Motor owners in Queensland. Names, addresses, make of cars 1923 .  Alphabetically and numerically arranged together with List of Motor Garages in Queensland. Publisher – A. Hardman Knight [Main Roads Board of Queensland] c1923 Link to Online: http://hdl.handle.net/10462/pdf/2155

List of motor owners in Queensland cover

List of motor owners in Queensland - Front cover

As its title suggests, List of Motor Owners in Queensland contains 2 separate lists: names of registered owners of vehicles in the year 1923, by name of owner and by registration number of the vehicle.  The alphabetic list includes registration number, name of person to whom the number was registered, address of owner and model of vehicle registered. The numerical list includes plate number and name of registered owner which can then be cross checked against the alphabetical list:

Numerical list

State Library is extremely grateful to the Queensland Department of Transport Library for this donation, as this slender tome makes for a powerful research tool for several communities of interest.

The motor historian, the classic car aficionado and the collector of Queensland number plates now have an authoritative source from which to quote.  It can be used to find vehicle models by their registration number as well as by their registered owners.  The List of Motor Owners in Queensland is also extremely useful for the family historian wanting to flesh out extra motoring details in their old family photographs.  If your photograph includes a shot of the family car which was fortuitously showing its number plate (generally affixed to the rear of the vehicle) and the date was circa 1923, you can now identify the vehicle model from the number plate.

Those who know their onions when it comes to the history of motor vehicle registration in Queensland will be aware that all of the numbers that appear in the List of Motor Owners in Queensland 1923 represent what are referred to as ‘Q plate numbers’.  These number plates date from July 1921 when the Regulations  of the Main Roads Act of 1920 came into force, requiring all motor car owners to re-register their vehicles with the newly-formed Main Roads Commission, replacing all previous plates with a new one, beginning with the letter ‘Q’.

Prior to July 1921 vehicle registration was handled by the Police Traffic Department as vehicles were registered to the police district in which they were driven.  These early plates started with a letter – representing district – followed by a number. The districts were as follows-:

A – Brisbane
B -  Rockhampton
C -  Toowoomba
D – Townsville
E – Ipswich
F – Maryborough
G – Warwick
H – Cairns
J – Bundaberg
K – Mackay
M – Clermont
N – Gympie
P – Hughenden
R – Dalby
R – Redcliffe

But I digress.

The List of Motor Owners in Queensland is about Q-plate numbers and their owners.  Names in the List read like a Who’s Who of Queensland in the early 1920s and reveal much about early car ownership in Queensland.  Certainly car ownership in the early 20s was largely the preserve of the affluent professional or the business enterprise.  Indeed, we see represented by the first 6 plates a hotelier, 3 doctors (one of whom was also a politician), an engineer and a manufacturer.

Q1 numberplate image courtesy http://www.numberplates.com.au/plates/qld/q1/

Q1 numberplate image courtesy http://www.numberplates.com.au/plates/qld/q1/

The very first Q plate was registered to James T. McGuire,  Newmarket Hotel Brisbane, and the vehicle to which it was registered was a Crossley – a British vehicle :

McGuire list extract

From McGuire’s obituary ( Courier-Mail , 23 June 1949) we glean that James Thomas McGuire was an teetotaller Irish Hotelier from Cork, who  in 1923 was running  the Newmarket Hotel.   He would later add the Windsor to his portfolio and become a City Council Alderman.  McGuire was also an original member of the Queensland Turf Club.  No doubt he would have been astonished to find that the plate he acquired in 1921 would be sold 64 years later to a hairdressing entrepreneur for $100,000. Stefan (Ackerie) has kept this plate, purchased in the 1985 ‘great Queensland plate auction’, despite all subsequent lucrative offers.

Q 2 was registered to Charles F. Marks:

Doctor Charles Ferdinand Marks, Brisbane, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 195737

Doctor Charles Ferdinand Marks

This is the eminent surgeon and MLC whose practice was at 101 Wickham Terrace.  His entry in the ADB also attests that he was one of the first to own a motor car in Queensland.  Charles’s son Alex, owner of Q3, was also a highly accomplished member of the medical establishment as well as a decorated soldier. His biography can be read at the QUT Marks Family Collections Online site. The Marks were clearly both Ford men.

Doctors are well represented in the List of Motor Owners.  See for example the name Lillian Cooper on page 45:

Cooper list extract

Lillian Cooper (1861-1947) was Queensland’s first registered female doctor as well as the first recorded female motorist and founding member of the RACQ . We can see that by 1923 Dr Cooper had abandoned her Oldsmobile and Humber and was driving a Renault, plate number Q 2689. Her address was listed simply as George Street, Brisbane – the location now known as the George Street Mansions where she lived and practiced.

Here is Lillian (in white) with companion Josephine Bedford in her pre-motoring days:

Two friends seated in a horsedrawn buggy, Brisbane, ca. 1900, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg:7593-0001

Lillian Cooper and Josephine Bedford

Other recognisable names include that of Sir Sydney Kidman – as you can see, all his vehicles were Fords – reliability being a stringent requirement in places like Bedouri, Thargomindah and Boulia:

Kidman list extract

Thanks to the online version’s searchability, we can use The List of Motor Owners to create a retrospective census of motor vehicles for the year of 1923.  For example, if we want to know how many Rolls Royces there were on the road in that year, a check for the key word ‘Rolls Royce’ reveals there was only one.  It was registered to Arthur Youngman, the pioneer grazier of Taabinga, Kingaroy:

Rolls Royce list extract

The advertisements contained in the List of Motor Owners are also of interest. Many of the ads for vehicles include specifications.   A useful index to them appears on page 236 – for cars, motor garages, companies, associations, and  motoring products  in Queensland:


The last few pages of  The List of Motor Owners  includes a list of the  leading garages and agents for various vehicle models sold in Queensland (p231) and a list of the cars on the Queensland Market with Agent’s name and address  (p235).

List of cars on the Queensland market

We owe the existence of the List of Motor Owners to the publishing energies of Albert Hardman-Knight (1876-1974). Hailing from Lancashire, Hardman-Knight had a varied career in Queensland  as editor, journalist, author and publicist for various bodies,  including the Queensland Country Party and the RACQ.  Well known In Brisbane motoring circles in the 20s and 30s, he was also in demand as a speaker, giving lectures and talks on historical figures  for radio, various societies and Universities . He was later to edit the Society and Home Journal in the mid -1920s and work as publicity officer for the RACQ in the 1930s.

Mr A Hardman-Wright Image source: Men Behind Campaign. Courier Mail 14 April, 1944 p. 2 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42040336

Mr A Hardman-Wright Image source: Men Behind Campaign. Courier Mail 14 April, 1944

The List of Motor owners in Queensland is a valuable addition to John Oxley Library collection, and complements the rich collections relating to motoring in Australia held at the State Library.  For those interested in number plate history, the following items held at State Library are of particular relevance:

Jennifer Freeman - Librarian, State Library of Queensland

Queensland Places – Somerset – Part One

The former port of Somerset, at the tip of Cape York, was formally established in August 1864, for predominantly strategic reasons related to the protection of shipping as well as trade.  In this article we briefly discuss the initial establishment of Somerset with the next article looking at its operations as well as why it eventually closed.

By the early 1860s, the Torres Strait had become a vital commercial shipping channel, but despite this channel being well charted by this time, it was still dangerous and ship wrecks were common.  As there was no port between Cardwell, some 900 kilometres to the south and Timor, across the Arafura Sea, survivors of shipwrecks had to make long voyages, often in open boats, to reach safety.

Queensland’s first governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, suggested that a government outpost at the tip of Cape York would alleviate some of the on-going maritime problems and dangers.  Such an outpost would act as a harbour of refuge, a supply station and a coaling facility.  As well, Bowen argued that the new port could act as a centre for geographic research, as a base to assist missionary activities as well as a staging post for the colonisation of northern Australia, New Guinea and even parts of the Indonesian archipelago.  With such grand aims, Bowen’s vision for the new settlement included the hope that it would prosper to the point when it would become a symbol of the prestige and power of Great Britain.

On-going shipping tragedies finally tipped the government’s hand and the scheme was approved.  The new port was to be known as Somerset and a site was chosen on the mainland opposite Pabaju (Albany Island), about eight kilometres from the tip of Cape York.  Somerset was to act as the administrative centre of the area, including Torres Strait for some thirteen years, until its closure in 1877.  During this period its success fluctuated and a range of problems and obstacles hampered the achievement of its original vision.

This brief story of Somerset will be continued in the next post.

Somerset, ca. 1869, State Library of Queensland Neg. No. 153655

Somerset, ca. 1869

This image, dating from 1869, shows the main buildings at Somerset, only some five years after it was originally established.

Brian Randall, Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland.

Housing a growing state

During WWII, the Federal Government introduced restrictions on the building and renovation of homes in Australia. A shortage in building materials and labour made development during the war a limited exercise. The increase in post-war population put further strain on the nation’s housing infrastructure. In 1946, Brisbane architect Robert Cummings estimated that there was a shortfall of 300,000 houses nationwide.

To address the comparatively high costs of building, coupled with the high demand for housing, Mr Cummings recommended that “good results to this end could be obtained by some method of standardisation, especially in fittings, equipment, doors and windows, which, when made in many varieties, accounted for a large proportion of the cost of a home.”

Utilising new building materials from places as far aware as France, Sweden and Czechoslovakia, the Queensland Housing Commission oversaw rapid development. Brisbane suburbs such as Zillmere, Chermside and Norman Park became populated with low-set timber houses on quarter acre blocks. As the scheme developed over time, more and more pockets of Queensland suburbia started to feature these houses, which we know commonly refer to as “post-war.”

The current State Library of Queensland exhibition Hot Modernism examines the ideology behind these developments, including the theories of Cummings and Karl Langer and how they thought Queenslanders could build contemporary homes appropriate to Queensland’s climatic conditions. See it before it closes on 12 October 2014.

Several publications  featuring these houses have been digitised, including these three titles:

Queensland Housing Commission designs 1950.

Queensland Housing Commission plans 1959.

Collection of Queensland Housing Commission house plans 1967.

If you live in a similar house, or would like to explore these buildings further, there are also a large number of digitised images available via OneSearch, including some taken from the Frank Corley Collection. Brisbane City Council has also recently released a guide to researching the history of your house, available here.

Typical suburban house ca. 1950


Drawing and floor plan of house design no.172 from the Queensland Housing Commission 1950


House in Salisbury


Housing commission houses at Norman Park Brisbane Queensland ca. 1950

Queensland Places – Sweers Island

Sweers Island is located to the east of Bentinck Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.  The island was named in 1802 by Matthew Flinders during his voyage of circumnavigation, in honour of Cornelius Sweers, one of the councillors of Batavia, who had originally authorised Abel Tasman’s journey of 1644.  Tasman had been sent by the Dutch government to determine whether a strait existed between New Guinea and the Great Southland, later to be known as Australia, however, his voyage encountered many difficulties and obstacles.  Tasman was however, in all likelihood, the first European to have seen Sweers Island.  Flinders also sailed through the area and saw the island, naming its high land Inspection Hill, noting “its obvious nature as a vantage point.

The nearby Bentinck Island was also named by Matthew Flinders, after Lord William Bentinck, who had been the Governor of Madras, India.

In the mid-1860s, the little town of Carnarvon was established on the island as an alternative to Burketown, to support shipping and communication through the area.  Sweers Island also drew settlers away from Burketown during a major outbreak of fever in 1868.  The wreck of the paddle steamer Pioneer, which came to grief in 1870, is a visible remnant of the former town of Carnarvon.  The Pioneer had mainly been involved in the shipping of wool, tallow and hides from the mainland to Sweers Island, but the thirty metre vessel was wrecked in 1870 on the island’s south-western tip during cyclonic weather.  During the late nineteenth century, Carnarvon was the administrative centre for the Gulf of Carpentaria region with a customs house, bond store, hotel as well as police facilities.

Sweers Island Customs House, 1871, State Library of Queensland Neg. No. 67337

Sweers Island Customs House, 1871


This image, dating from 1871, shows the Sweers Island Customs House, not long after the facility was first established.  The people standing at the front of the building are probably the customs official and family members.  Other buildings at the settlement can be seen to the rear of the customs building.

Brian Randall, Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland