Category Archives: Brisbane Back

Electric city : trams and power in Brisbane

Brisbane in the nineteenth century was in many ways a primitive, frontier town with unpaved streets and an unreliable water supply but in other ways it was in the forefront in adopting new technology.  I have previously described Brisbane’s early and enthusiastic adoption of the new telephone technology.  The Brisbane Gas Company was incorporated in 1864 to supply gas for street lighting and domestic and commercial purposes which it manufactured from coal.  Gas lighting soon had a competitor in the form of electricity.  The world’s first public electricity supply was delivered in Godalming, Surry in 1881 and Thomas Edison opened the world’s first steam driven electricity generation plant in London in 1882.  The first public electricity supply in Brisbane followed less than a decade later in 1888 when Barton White & Co. was contracted to provide electricity to the G.P.O. from their building in Edison Lane.  Brisbane was not the first Queensland town to have established electric street lighting however, that honour went to Thargomindah in the west of the state.

Advertisement for Barton White & Co, manufacturers of electrical equipment, Brisbane, ca. 1890, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 167304

Advertisement for Barton White & Co, manufacturers of electrical equipment

C. Frank White was one of the first electricians in Queensland, taking up the agency for the American Edison Company around 1881 and operating as an electrician and electrical supplier from a shop in Creek Street before forming a partnership with Edward Barton in 1888 with financial backing from his brother Thomas.  Edward Gustavus Campbell Barton was a pioneer of the electricity industry, having supervised the first commercial electricity supply in Godalming in 1882.  After working as an electricity consultant in New Zealand and Australia, Barton was engaged by the Queensland Government to complete the installation of electric lighting equipment in the Government Printing Office and parliament buildings in 1886 and was appointed Government Electrician.


 Formal portrait of Edward G. Campbell Barton, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 187003

Formal portrait of Edward G. Campbell Barton

The depression years of the 1890s proved to be a tough time for developing a new industry.   Uptake of electric power was slow and running cable over the roofs of city buildings was expensive.  The Queensland Government was slow to respond to the new technology and the first legislation for the control of electricity supply was not enacted until 1896.  Transmission of electricity by overhead cables was illegal until 1898.  In 1896 Barton, White & Co. was declared insolvent and the partnership was dissolved.  Barton formed the Brisbane Electric Supply Company to carry on the business.  The original powerhouse in Edison Lane was abandoned in 1898 and a new powerhouse opened at 69 Ann Street.  A unique personal perspective on the early development of  the Brisbane electric industry comes from F. R. L’Estrange who’s presentation to the Post Office Historical Society on Brisbane’s early electricity supply was published in 1954.  L’Estrange joined the company as a 14 year old apprentice in 1904.  In that year the company was renamed the City Electric Light Company.

Brisbane Electric Supply Co. employees in Brisbane, 1904, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 39117

Brisbane Electric Supply Co. employees in 1904. 14 year old apprentice F. L'Estrange is third from the right in the front standing row.

In the mean time another player had come on the scene.  Since 1885 the Metropolitan Tramway and Investment Company had offered a horse-drawn tram service in inner Brisbane from Albion Park and New Farm to West End and Buranda under the Tramways Act of 1882.  An amendment to the Act in 1890 allowed for the sale of the company and electrification of the line.  The 20 miles of track and 51 cars were sold to the Brisbane Tramway Construction Company, the owners also registering the Brisbane Tramways Company to operate the electric trams.  American company General Electric were chosen for the task of electrifying the tramways and Joseph Stillman Badger was sent out as Chief Electrical Engineer to oversee the work.  Badger would stay in Brisbane until 1922, transfering from GE to work directly for the Brisbane Tramway Company as Manager, then General Manager and ultimately Managing Director.

Badger family, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 7557

Joseph S. Badger, of Belle Vue, Miskin Street, Toowong with his wife Carrie and sons Arthur and Richard

To provide the electricity supply for the trams a new powerhouse was built on land at Countess Street bordering the Roma Street goods yards.  Three Robey cross-compound, horizontal, non-condensing, steam engines were installed, each driving a 300 kW, 550-volt DC generator.  The engines were supplied with steam from four large boilers under a 150 ft. high brick chimney.  Alongside the powerhouse, additional land provided space for the offices and workshops for tram maintenance and manufacturing.  In 1902 the installation of more powerful generating equipment meant that the tramways now had excess power which could be sold off to homes and businesses adjoining the tram lines.

View of the Roma Street Railway Station, Brisbane, ca. 1900, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 6408

Roma Street goods yards with the tramway Power Station behind

As well as distributing electricity the tram service had an important role in distributing mail.  This began in the horse tram era when the trams were contracted to transfer mail between the G.P.O. and suburban post offices at Breakfast Creek, South Brisbane and Woolloongabba.  This arrangement was continued and expanded when electric trams were introduced and continued until 1934.  As well as transferring mail between post offices the trams also served as mobile post boxes with posting bags being carried on trams from 1894 until 1916.

Described in the Australian dictionary of biography as able, courageous and ruthless, Joseph Badger oversaw the expansion of the tramways into a profitable company able to pay handsome dividends to its stockholders.  He was implacably opposed to trade unions and his hard line approach led to the General Strike of 1912 after union members were locked out for wearing union badges on their uniforms.  The Labor Party remained hostile to Badger and when a Labor government of T. J. Ryan was elected in 1915 they began planning a government takeover of the tramways.

Boss Badger

'Boss Badger' a cartoon from The Worker, Saturday, 7 January, 1905

The government put plans in place to buy out the Brisbane Tramways Company and at the same time sought to limit the company’s profits by legislating to control fares in a bid to reduce what they would ultimately have to pay for the company.  At the same time they raised doubts about the legality of the company’s electricity supply sideline.  The government did not want to have to compensate them for their electricity distribution assets as well as their core tramway business.  The Tramways company’s electricity distribution assets were sold to the City Electric Light Company in 1921 when the company realised that its aging generating equipment limited its capacity.  Conflict between the government and the company continued with the government attempting to devalue the company and refusing to include tramlines it claimed were built without permission.  The company struck back with its London based investors urging a boycott of lending to the Queensland Government.  In the meantime the company refused to invest in new lines or equipment and the network was becoming run down.  Eventually a compromise valuation was agreed and the company was purchased by the Brisbane Tramways Trust before being handed over to the newly formed Brisbane City Council in 1925.

The City of Brisbane Act of 1924 created what is often known as Greater Brisbane from two former Cities, seven towns, ten shires and parts of two other shires.  Section 36 of the Act gave the city council the authority to generate electricity for light and power.  The only generating capacity in the control of the council was that of the tramways which had three small and obsolete power stations in Countess Street, Light Street and Logan Road.  Much of the city was already being supplied with electricity by City Electric Light Company.  The Council had to decide whether to continue buying electricity from CEL or to go into competition by generating its own electricity.  Firstly, however, the council decided to try to purchase the City Electric Light Company.  The council had turned down the opportunity to purchase the company when Barton & White was declared insolvent in 1894 and on a number of occasions since the idea had been put forward but no agreement had been reached.  In 1926 the council made an offer to by the company’s assets for £1,500,000 but the company was not impressed, making a counter offer to sell at £2,500,000.  The distance between the two parties proved to be too great and the BCC resolved to build their own power station.

Construction of the boiler house at New Farm Power Station, ca. 1926, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 90744

Construction of the boiler house at New Farm Power Station, ca. 1926

The New Farm Power Station was opened in 1928 with two units generating less than 10,000 kW although the capacity would rapidly increase.  The new power station was controlled and operated by the council’s tramways department, supplying in bulk to the electricity department, the tramways and the council’s workshops.  The bulk supply required by the tramways was essential as the council was unable to supply the industrial and commercial customers in the city centre which were supplied by CEL under franchises it owned under the terms of the 1896 Electric Light and Power Act.  City Electric Light had opened its new Bulimba power station in 1926.

The existence of two major power stations in Brisbane where one would have been sufficient was just one example of the inefficiencies that had developed as a result of the piecemeal and patchy development of electricity generation and supply throughout Queensland and in 1936 the Queensland Government established a Royal Commission on Electricity chaired by J.R. Kemp, the Main Roads commissioner and a well qualified civil engineer.  The commissioners gave their prime attention to ‘ensuring the orderly planning of the electrical supply industry in Queensland’, to the elimination of waste and duplication, to the economic development of the state, and to rural electrification.  The end result of the Royal Commission’s work was the formation of the State Electricity Commission.  They undertook to implement a scheme for the electrification of south-east Queensland with the City Electric Light Company playing a leading role with a plan for the government to purchase the company in 15 years time.

Eventually instead of the government purchasing the company a compromise was reached.  The company was converted from a privately owned company into a public authority under the Southern Electric Authority Act of 1952.  The company’s directors would remain in charge, supplemented by the electricity commissioner and an official from Treasury.  There would be no cash payment and the shareholders would have their investments converted into stakes in a public loan.  In 1962 a further rationalization occurred when agreement was reached for the Brisbane City Council to relinquish its power stations and instead take over electricity distribution for the whole Greater Brisbane area.

 Night view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1959, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Image number: lbp00005

Night view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1959

The ownership of Queensland’s electricity generation and distribution infrastructure remains a contentious issue with moves by the current government to privatize parts of the network generating a lot of discussion and conflict.

A very thorough description of this history can be found in A history of the electricity supply industry in Queensland by Malcolm I Thomis.  The story of Boss Badger and the Brisbane trams can be found in One American too many by David Burke.  The last Brisbane trams ran in 1969 when they were replaced with buses, however trams are making a return to south east Queensland with a new light rail service carrying its first passengers on the Gold Coast this week.  See an album of Queensland trams on SLQ on Flickr.

Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland

Plants Worthy of Attention in an Indooroopilly Park

Recently the State Library of Queensland received a request for information regarding the early beginnings of a garden now called Thomas Park, Bougainvillea Gardens in Indooroopilly.

Bougainvillea covers a residence in Indooroopilly

In 1867, Robert Jarrott purchased land at Indooroopilly and proceeded to clear and prepare it for cultivation and farm use. Within a year he had built a home on the high part and moved his family there from George Street, Brisbane. During the next 15 years, he established a citrus orchard and grew many types of fruit and vegetables, as well as lucerne, often winning prizes at the semi-annual shows of the East Moreton Farmers Agriculture & Horticulture Association (predecessor of the R.N.A.). When Robert Jarrott had his orchard the fruit was transported to the Roma Street markets by boat until a road was eventually built. After the death of Robert Jarrott snr in 1878, his second son, also called Robert, carried on the farm until some years later when the property was subdivided into seven lots and transferred to each of Robert’s siblings and eventually all the properties were sold.

Sub 1  Henry Thomas in 1898, Sub 2 to Morrow in 1893, Sub 3 to Lalor in 1906, Sub 4 Swain in 1888 then to Lalor, Sub 5 Carr in 1889, Sub 6 Lalor, Sub 7  to Thomas.

Bougainvillea archway at Indooroopilly

Henry Thomas came to Australia from England in 1882. He worked as a groom for the Clerk of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Later he trained racehorses for the well-known Dangar family on their properties in New South Wales. Henry Thomas purchased his parcel of land in 1898 and built his home and began to cultivate an amazing garden around his residence, “Somerset” situated in Hart’s Road, Indooroopilly.
The garden in its heyday was world renowned and had international attention, because of the variety of plant species cultivated by Henry Thomas. He once told Sara Stramberg, the staff reporter on the Australian Women’s Weekly, that he had done very little gardening until he settled in his new home.

Bougainvillea Gardens

“Somerset” became a popular venue for garden parties, fetes and afternoon teas all of which were held in the magnificent Bougainvillea Gardens.  The Queensland Horticultural Society, held benefits to showcase the natural beauty of the masses of rose-pink blooms that spread out beneath a canopy of tall waving green palm leaves. Several varieties of the bougainvillea were on show, including the Bougainvlllea-Thomassi that once embowered Henry’s home in a wealth of color. This variety, was named in Mr. Thomas’s honor, and was propagated by him ca. 1907. One of Henry Thomas’ mutation triumphs is called Turley’s Special E, a cherry-red specimen, another was Crimson Lake, a beautiful red and  Laterita which was a brick red colored bloom, these were just a few of his bougainvillea varieties. He became known as the Bougainvillea King and well regarded in horticultural circles.

Bougainvillea Gardens home of Henry Thomas

There were many articles written about this glorious garden. A few are listed below -

Henry Thomas was given a life tenancy when the cottage “Somerset” and the gardens were taken over by the Brisbane City Council. This allowed him to maintain his garden that he had established and cared for over many years. Nowadays, the park is maintained by council, who provide benches and picnic tables under shady trees for visitors wishing to rest a while and observe the view. Sadly this site with its variety of shrubs and trees, many of which were planted in 1898, is showing the ravages of time now that Mr. Thomas is no longer able to potter around his garden maintaining the wonderful legacy he created and left for the people of Queensland and Indooroopilly.  He is said to have raised hundreds of pounds for hospitals churches and other charities through opening his garden to the public and sharing the natural beauty of this place.

Janette Garrad – Original Content Technician, State Library of Queensland

Frankenstein terrifies Brisbane

“To have seen Frankenstein is to wear a badge of courage! Do you dare?” tempted advertisements in Brisbane newspapers in the build-up to the premiere of Hollywood’s latest horror film on June 10, 1932.

Advertisement for the Brisbane premiere screening of Frankenstein at the Tivoli Theatre, on 9 June 1932

Advertisement for the Brisbane premiere screening of Frankenstein at the Tivoli Theatre, on 9 June 1932

Cunning film distributors had carefully planned their campaign with the promise that Brisbane audiences who attended screenings at the Tivoli Theatre in the CBD would be covered by £1000 death insurance should they expire from terror. People’s curiosity was further titillated by the promise that a nurse would be in attendance to attend anyone who succumbed to their nerves.

Publicity for the Brisbane screening of Frankenstein. Published in the Brisbane Courier, 9 June 1932

Publicity for the Brisbane screening of Frankenstein

Just before the premiere, a rather scrawny Frankenstein’s monster stepped from a train at South Brisbane railway station. The 21-year-old, 6 foot 11 inch (211cm) Lance Robartson was on contract to travel Australia and attend premieres made up as Frankenstein’s monster to give people a scare and garner some publicity.
Newspapers reported that Robartson had a tough time of it. During his train journey from Sydney he was unable to fit into the bed in the sleeping car and had to make do sleeping in the corridor. The Tivoli also had difficulty finding a sufficientsized hotel bed. Fortunately a local firm offered to construct a special bed.

To celebrate the premiere, a “monster” event was held at the Carlton Cabaret in the city on June 9, with dancing until 1am, vaudeville acts, and of course Robartson appearing as the monster. For conservative voters attending the evening screening on June 11, it was an even more terrifying experience as updates on Labor’s victory in the state election were announced during the intervals.

Frankenstein publicity party at the Carlton Cabaret, Brisbane, 9 June, 1932. Taken from the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper, 9 June 1932

Frankenstein publicity party at the Carlton Cabaret, Brisbane, 9 June, 1932

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland



The Coltons of Lutwyche

On a humid day in December 1979 a large group of people gathered for the auction of the contents of a home which had become a closed archive of items from another era. The house at the end of Colton Avenue sat on a large but wedge-shaped piece of land. The narrow street frontage fanned out beyond the house to a nook heavily shaded in poinciana and mango perched on a ledge above Kedron Brook.

Miss Mary Colton had died in January that year and was buried the day before what would have been her 93rd birthday. She was the youngest of 9 children and the longest lived child of Charles Colton and Elizabeth McKeon. She had a fall on her way to Mass at the Holy Cross Wooloowin, knocked over by an over-exuberant dog in 1972. She was admitted to care and the house closed up.

One of the new owners, Elizabeth described what they found when they looked at the house: “Mary’s hair brush was on her dressing table and her tiny slippers were near her chair. The house looked as though she had just walked out. The kitchen had a calendar dating back to 1972. The hallway was filled with a collection of large photos of football teams and ancestors, antiques and historic collections rather like a museum.” Those who knew the Coltons’ place well added details of the horse hair lounge, the piano illuminated with lights from the Lutwyche Estate, and the flowers in a Victorian glass dome. It was a time capsule of an earlier age.

The contents of the house, the possessions of a family who had been in the area since the early days of Queensland and who had owned much more land around the house were dispersed.

Brisbane Courier, 24 June 1916, p.4

Brisbane Courier, 24 June 1916, p.4

Charles Colton arrived in the colony of Queensland in August 1862 with his brother William on the immigrant ship, Helenslee, which departed from Glasgow with Scottish migrants. In 1862 within 10 days, 2034 migrants had arrived in 6 ships. The Brisbane Courier stated on 16 August 1862 “they are, for the most part, just of the right stamp to assist in the work of colonization and in building up the future prosperity of Queensland.” It was noted later that the passengers brought £30 000, a considerable amount of money that put them above the pauper immigrants the government wanted to avoid. Charles Colton was originally from County Tyrone in Ireland where he was born C1822. He went to Ipswich initially but returned to Brisbane where he purchased 4 acres, 2 roods and 10 perches from John and George Harris in July 1864 on Kedron Brook where he took an early role.

Coltons’ place across the road from the hotel and St Andrews Church 1888: Kedron Park Estate. State Library of Queensland collection

Coltons’ place across the road from the hotel and St Andrews Church 1888: Kedron Park Estate

The plan for the landmark, St Andrews Anglican Church, Lutwyche was launched at Coltons. The Brisbane Courier reported on 12 March 1866 on “a meeting of members of the Church of England residing in the neighborhood of Kedron Brook … at Mr. Colton’s, opposite the church reserve, Bowen Bridge Road. The meeting was well attended; his Honor Mr. Justice Lutwyche took the chair”. The Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin and the later colonial architect, F D G Stanley, were also in attendance providing advice. It was an eventful year for Charles Colton: his brother, William died and he married Elizabeth McKeon.

Charles Colton was also a member of the committee to build the Catholic Church at Wooloowin and was listed at the laying of the foundation stone as reported in the Brisbane Courier 15 March 1886.

Charles and Elizabeth had 9 children, 5 sons and 4 daughters, born 1867-1886. His sons were busily involved in sporting activities and the newspapers were peppered with their results in athletic events and football, from the 1880s to the early 1900s. Two sons, Alfred and Tom, played international football. The State Library has an image which includes 2 of the Coltons.

Battlestained Queensland Rugby Union Team photographed after the match in July 1899. John Oxley Library. State Library of Queensland.  Neg 12023

Battlestained Queensland Rugby Union Team photographed after the match in July 1899. Alfred Colton (front row, right end); Tom Colton (centre row right end)

William Colton was a blacksmith then later a bus driver. He was fined for “furious driving” at 10pm Saturday night, 4 June 1887 when he was racing a driver of an opposition line on Lutwyche Road. He was found guilty of driving the horses “at a speed of between ten and twelve miles an hour.” The senior-constable called out to them to stop, but they did not until eventually the other driver pulled up to take a passenger. The Colton daughters followed the domestic pursuits of the time, including fine needlework and tatting as well as helping at church fetes.

Charles was involved in various activities on his land. In September 1866, the month after his brother’s death, he advertised a market garden under cultivation on Kedron brook with a 2 room cottage. In April 1871 he wanted “a young man to take charge of a horse and dray.. a good axeman”. In March 1880 Charles took out a mortgage for £150 and built the large home, still in existence today. In September 1880, 14 years after William’s death, letters of administration were granted to Charles and a solicitor in the matter of William’s property. The heir had been William’s brother, Bernard Colton of Paisley Scotland. In 1885 Charles applied unsuccessfully for a slaughterman’s licence. He died in 1916 aged 93½ (10 years older than his shipping record indicated). His youngest son, Nicholas pre-deceased him in 1915. Elizabeth, his wife died in 1928 and most of his sons and daughters during the 1930s and 1940s.

The Colton’s home  on Lutwyche Road C1880-1939 in Colton Ave 1939-1982. Drawing courtesy of Clive Porritt

The Colton’s home on Lutwyche Road C1880-1939 in Colton Ave 1939-1982. Drawing courtesy of Clive Porritt

The Colton’s home  on Lutwyche Road C1880-1939 in Colton Ave 1939-1982. Drawing courtesy of Clive Porritt

The Colton’s home on Lutwyche Road C1880-1939 in Colton Ave 1939-1982. Drawing courtesy of Clive Porritt

In 1937 the Colton property was surveyed in preparation for creating housing blocks. A road, Colton Avenue, was dedicated on 22 February. The Colton home, with the family living in it, was moved on logs, over a period of about a week, from 672 Lutwyche Rd to a cul-de-sac on Kedron Brook at the end of Colton Avenue. The family sold off the blocks gradually until 1947 when there was only their own residential block and home among much newer buildings. Mary Colton and her brother, Thomas, remained from this large family. Mary had been a milliner then a saleswoman in a department store. Thomas was a saddler and made horse collars. He had also been a grocer living at Sylvan 600 Lutwyche Road but returned to the family home in his later years and died in 1958.

Mary Colton c.1968. Image courtesy of Hargraves family

Mary Colton c.1968. Image courtesy of Hargraves family

Mary lived another 21 years, her home and its contents increasingly at variance with the developing suburbia around the property. The large, dark house, lined with honey-coloured, unpainted beaded board and with a wide central hallway and wrought iron verandahs on three sides, differed markedly from the small, more modern homes in the street.

The new owners of 1979 turned the house around and settled on Kedron Brook for 24 years until council changes to the Lutwyche area prompted a move. A house removalist took the home, on 2 huge black trucks, to Narangba. The house was later moved to Murrumba Downs. In 2010 it was moved again, to Redcliffe overlooking Scott’s Point. Predictably, if ironically, no longer owned by the Coltons or on their former land, it was now called ‘Colton House’.

Stephanie Ryan – Senior Librarian, State Library of Queensland

Thanks to Elizabeth Ryan; Robert Riddell and Don Watson architects; Mrs Helen Colton; the Wildie and Hargraves families; Qld State Archives; and Windsor and Districts Historical Society.

Moreton Bay Penal Settlement 1824 to 1842

Guest blogger: Niles Elvery – Queensland State Archives

This year marks the 190th anniversary of the settlement of the Moreton Bay Penal Colony. Established in 1824 the penal settlement at Moreton Bay was a place of secondary punishment to house hardened criminals and recidivist prisoners.

Layout of Brisbane Town, Moreton Bay. Queensland State Archives. Digital Image ID 5212

Layout of Brisbane Town, Moreton Bay

The first commandant of the new settlement was Lieutenant Henry Miller of the 40th Regiment (1824 to 1825). During the time of the settlement nearly 2400 men and 145 women lived at depots stretching from Stradbroke Island to Limestone (Ipswich), including Cowper’s Plains, Eagle Farm and environs of the present city of Brisbane. They were under the control of military commandants with detachments numbering up to 100 soldiers.

Elevations and plans for conversion of Prisoners' Barrack buildings, Moreton Bay, July 1839. Queensland State Archives. Digital Image ID 5252

Elevations and plans for conversion of Prisoners' Barrack buildings, Moreton Bay, July 1839

The Moreton Bay penal settlement was closed in 1842 when the Moreton Bay area was opened to free settlement, with Brisbane Town as its centre. The colony of Queensland was separated from New South Wales in 1859.

Many significant records documenting this period of Moreton Bay’s life as a penal settlement are held at Queensland State Archives. Of great interest to researchers is The Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay (Series ID 5653) which identifies each person under sentence, the ship of transportation to New South Wales, occupation and full details of original and colonial sentences.

Extract from the chronological register of convicts at Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, 28 December 1826. Queensland State Archives. Digital Image ID 5268

Extract from the chronological register of convicts at Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, 28 December 1826

A snapshot of convict life is provided in the Book of Public Labour Performed by Crown Prisoners (Series ID 5645), colloquially known as Spicer’s Diary. In 1828 the Brisbane Town superintendent of convicts Peter Beauclerk Spicer compiled a journal describing penal settlement life during that year. Excluding Sundays, the daily entries detail that day’s distribution of labour, numbers of hospital patients, buildings in progress and visits to Dunwich to collect new arrivals or despatch convicts to Sydney.

Register of a daily account of public labour performed by Crown Prisoners at Moreton Bay 26 May 1828 - 15 September 1828 Queensland State Archives Digital Image ID 24298

Register of a daily account of public labour performed by Crown Prisoners at Moreton Bay 26 May 1828 - 15 September 1828

All the architectural drawings of the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement and archival records of Queensland’s convict era have been digitised and made available online. In 2012 these records were officially listed on the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO) Australian Memory of the World Register.

Discover more about the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement at Moreton Bay convict records 1824-1842.

Niles Elvery – Manager Public Access, Queensland State Archives


The circus comes to Brisbane, May 1903

Costumed performer posing with a trained lion at Wirth's Circus in Brisbane, 1903. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 150867

Costumed performer posing with a trained lion at Wirth's Circus in Brisbane, 1903

On May 9, 1903, Wirth’s Circus gave the opening performance of its Brisbane season at a site near Central Railway Station. Tickets sold quickly; Wirth’s later boasted that hundreds had to be turned away. Inside the main tent, audiences saw a show The Brisbane Courier described as “a wide diversity of performance, in which sensationalism, gracefulness, clownish farcicalities, humorous as well as grimly earnest aerobatics, are intermixed with the other”.

Advertisement for Wirth's Circus, published in the Brisbane Courier newspaper on 8 May 1903

Advertisement for Wirth's Circus, published in the Brisbane Courier newspaper on 8 May 1903

This included a menagerie of performing animals (lions, tigers, horses, bears and more), thought-reading duo the Howard Brothers, aerial performers the Flying Eugenes, and clowns and acrobats.

Herr Pagel ready to tackle the lion at Wirth's Circus, Brisbane, 1903. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 422

Herr Pagel ready to tackle the lion at Wirth's Circus, Brisbane, 1903

A later addition to the Brisbane season was Herr Pagel, the German Hercules (pictured above), whose feats included carrying a horse up a ladder and “lifting” a full-grown elephant. Less successful were his attempts to subdue and lift a lion above his head. On one occasion the lion escaped from Pagel, scratching him in the process. Although audiences thrilled at the spectacle, the Queensland Figaro was less impressed, proclaiming Pagel’s behaviour with animals as showing “as much respect as children usually bestow on a toy Noah’s Ark and its contents. Someday, his audience may ‘snatch a fearful joy’ by seeing Herr Pagel crunched up by one of his pets”.

Circus strongman lifting a horse, Brisbane, 1903. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.  Neg 69044

Herr Pagel lifting a horse, Wirth's Circus 1903, Brisbane

On another evening, waiting crowds got more thrills than usual when a boy noticed one of the tigers had escaped its cage. Terrified the boy ran to the front entrance and shouted to the waiting crowd at there was a tiger on the loose. This news caused considerable panic as people fled. The tiger was quickly subdued by the head trainer. The tiger’s cage had not been properly secure and the big cat had merely stepped out of its cage to play with the ball it performed on during its act.

Herr Pagel supporting Mrs Pagel and nine men on a plank. Wirth's Circus, Brisbane, 1903. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 421

Herr Pagel supporting Mrs Pagel and nine men on a plank. Wirth's Circus, Brisbane, 1903

State Library of Queensland holds a number of materials documenting circuses in Queensland, including photographs, posters, programs and books.

Further reading: On the road, the wandering Wirth family

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

Water for a thirsty city

I was interested to read an article recently revealing that Brisbane based company Underground Opera has reached agreement with the Brisbane City Council to stage a series of performances in the Spring Hill Reservoirs.  These underground reservoirs, the first built in 1871, were still in use until 1962.  Most Brisbane residents, myself included, have not known of the existence of these rather striking vaulted brick spaces, whose only visible sign is a couple of modest low roofed structures on the hillside below the iconic Windmill.  What is the story of these reservoirs, and how do they fit in to the vital story of supplying water to a rapidly growing city?

Drinking fountain in the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane, ca. 1910, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 24215

Drinking fountain in the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane, ca. 1910

The first Moreton Bay settlement was established at Redcliffe but the water supply soon dried up and the settlement was relocated to Brisbane where there was a reliable water source.  This was a creek that emerged at Yorks Hollow near the current location of Brisbane Grammar School and flowed through what would be the middle of the city, entering the Brisbane River near Creek Street.  This creek was augmented by an earth dam in 1838 under the direction of Captain Logan and this reservoir served as the cities only public water supply, with some improvements, until 1866.  The Brisbane River itself is too salty for drinking, being subject to tidal flows for a considerable distance past the city.

Roma Street Reservoir during the early settlement of Brisbane, ca. 1862, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg:147714

Roma Street Reservoir ca. 1862

The Reservoir was the subject of many complaints in the newspapers.  This editorial from the Moreton Bay Courier of 23 March 1850 criticizes the neglect of the provision of fresh water if favour of less vital projects and goes on to a damning assessment of the state of the Brisbane Reservoir. (racist language warning)

These remarks, which are more or less applicable to the whole colony, apply with peculiar force to the towns, and in particular to the town of Brisbane, for there, from the probable future centralization of population, the uncertainty of the seasons, and the absence of fresh water streams, a scarcity of water may be anticipated as a natural contingency if not provided against, and would be most severely and fatally felt. We need only point to the neglected condition of the public reservoir at North Brisbane, upon which that section of the town is chiefly dependant for its supply, to prove the utter indifference hitherto displayed in this respect. Constructed for the purpose of collecting and preserving the waters that drain from the hills in the vicinity; reserved from sale as a public property for that purpose, the reservoir is still abandoned to the destructive ravages of wanton neglect. Its embankments are gradually being washed away, and the water that should be saved for a time of need is allowed to drain off whithersoever chance may guide it. The basin is open alike to the uses of herds of cattle, of stray pigs, dogs, and horses, and to the filthy ablutions of greasy blackfellows. It needs no long sight to predict the speedy annihilation of this source of supply, at the present rate. It is a fact that in proportion to the increase of population in Brisbane, the means of supplying the town with freshwater has been growing indifferent. So long as a cask of water can be obtained at the usual price, no person looks forward, but the spendthrift motto seems to be adopted, to live while you can, and die when you must.”

In 1863 the first Queensland Parliament turned its attention to the water supply and passed a bill to enable the Municipal Council of Brisbane to construct waterworks and to lay down pipes, or to erect public fountains and wells, and to charge for such service.  The Council raised a loan of £50,000 from the Treasury and prepared preliminary plans for a water supply at Enoggera Creek.  On 18th August, 1864, the first sod was turned by Mr A. C. Gregory, the Surveyor-General and works were completed in August 1866.  Just as the work was nearing completion the State Government took control away from the Municipal Council and appointed the Brisbane Board of Waterworks to run the service.

Workers constructing the Enoggera Reservoir, Brisbane, ca. 1864, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 103336

Workers constructing the Enoggera Reservoir, ca. 1864

Some additional pipes were laid in 1869 making a pipe service of some 11 miles within the city boundaries serving up to 6,000 people.  The first service reservoir, the underground brick structure soon to echo with music, was constructed in 1871.  The service reservoirs received water from the main supply from Enoggera.  The water was then distributed from the service reservoir, ensuring no interruption due to excess demand.  As the population of the city continued to grow there was need to increase the supply of water and a new dam was constructed at Gold Creek, completed in 1885.

Workers standing at the entrance to the tunnel at Gold Creek Waterworks, Brisbane, ca. 1885, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Image number: APO-014-0001-0016

Workers standing at the entrance to the tunnel at Gold Creek Waterworks, ca. 1885

The construction of the Gold Creek Dam allowed for improvements to be made to the water supply for South Brisbane and a service reservoir was constructed on Highgate Hill supplied by a branch from the mains coming from Gold Creek and passing under the Brisbane river.    The Brisbane Courier of 10 October 1889 provides this description of the construction of the reservoir.

A more detailed description of the reservoir may now be entered upon. It has been constructed on the highest part of the hill, on property purchased from Mr. Skinner, and formerly occupied by the residence of Judge Sheppard. The reservoir is a large tank excavated in the rock, lined with concrete, and divided into four equal compartments. It is 207ft. in length by152 ft. wide, and the depth of water, when full, is 12ft. 3in. The walls are 7ft. in thickness where the greatest strain has to be met, tapering to 3ft. at the top, whilst in other parts it begins at 3ft. 6in. and runs out to 18in. The sides rise but a few inches above the surrounding surface, and the whole is protected by a roof composed of matched boards covered with galvanised iron, with felt between the iron and timber to keep out the heat. The roof is supported on four sets of arched iron principals, which rest on the walls of the reservoir and on two rows of iron columns running from end to end. The dust and heat are thus excluded, and evaporation is prevented  

Similar reservoirs can now be found on high points around the city.

Reservoir construction in Albion, ca. 1929, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Image number: 10189-0002-0058

Reservoir construction in Albion, ca. 1929

Soon after the Highgate Hill reservoir was completed the Board arranged for construction of an improved pumping station and a storage reservoir at Mount Crosby, on the Brisbane River.  This work was completed in 1892 and the Mount Crosby reservoir was Brisbane’s main water source at the time of publication of Brisbane’s Water Supply, issued by the Brisbane Board of Waterworks, in 1909.  The Board was very proud of their acheivements.

Great have been the transformations of the past, but to-day, as never before, the march of progress is manifest.  The pressure of population and the demand for greater efficiency than was accepted yesterday are two factors that compel attention.  They ask not quietly and respectfully as in days of old ; they demand loudly and sternly.  But great though future transformations may be, they will never shame the progress of the past, but serve rather to show how carefully the foundations of the great scheme were laid, and how generously the requirements of a growing city have been met.

Sketch of the reservoir at Mount Crosby, 1893, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 193086

Sketch of the reservoir at Mount Crosby, 1893

Since 1909, of course, Brisbane’s population has continued to grow rapidly and new sources of water have had to be found.  In 1916 Lake Manchester Dam was completed North-West of Mt Crosby.  In 1935 work commenced on Somerset Dam and after an interruption due to material shortages during World War Two it was eventually completed in 1959.  North Pine Dam was completed in 1976, holding 200,000 megalitres of water and Wivenhoe Dam was finished in 1985 at a cost of $160 million, with a storage capacity of 1.15 million megalitres.

Workmen laying water pipes along Mount Crosby Road, Brisbane, Queensland, 1920, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 161466

Workmen laying water pipes along Mount Crosby Road, 1920

A byproduct of all this dam construction is that the newly formed lakes make delightful picnic places.

 Day trippers travelling to Enoggera Reservoir, Brisbane, ca. 1896, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 123081

Day trippers travelling to Enoggera Reservoir, ca. 1896

Not sure where these places are?  All the illustrations in this article have been pinned to the map in Historypin on our State Library of Queensland channel.

Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland

A Brief History of ‘Beenleigh’

Guest blogger: Don Watson – architect and historian (2012 John Oxley Library Fellow)

The building of the Queensland house : a carpenter's handbook and owner's manual by Andrew L. Jenner

The building of the Queensland house : a carpenter's handbook and owner's manual by Andrew L. Jenner

If you are looking for information about Queensland timber houses, a delightful and very informative text about their construction is The building of the Queensland house : a carpenter’s handbook and owner’s manual, written and published (in 2012) by the author, Andy Jenner. Andrew Lathan Jenner (1943- ) was born at Wallase, Cheshire and trained as a carpenter and joiner with John Barnes of Suffolk and Rollo Sherwill of Guernsey, Channel Islands. Jenner migrated to Australia in 1979 as one of the last ten-pound poms. In his book, he follows the process of constructing a timber Queenslander as if he were the original builder. The narrative is based on his own experience in conserving his own house in 1977-78, but reflecting also his subsequent experience over more than thirty years working on local timber houses. In 1977-78, Jenner’s house was at Red Hill in Brisbane. After carefully completing his work, Jenner sold the house. Later, when he returned, the house was gone, despite Jenner’s care and concern for its longevity.

Most of the book is illustrated with useful sketches by John Braben, but also includes photographs taken by Jenner. Among these are three of the house, which from its juxtaposition to St Brigid’s Church, Red Hill and a steep fall to the rear of its site, together with Detail Plan 117 of the Brisbane City Council, make it possible to identify the house as Beenleigh, 25 Upper Cairns Terrace, Red Hill.

Beenleigh, Upper Cairns Terrace, Red Hill, c.1977. Reproduced with the kind permission of Andy Jenner

Beenleigh, Upper Cairns Terrace, Red Hill, c.1977. Reproduced with the kind permission of Andy Jenner

Rear view of Beenleigh, Upper Cairns Terrace, Red Hill, c.1977. Reproduced with the kind permission of Andy Jenner

Rear view of Beenleigh, Upper Cairns Terrace, Red Hill, c.1977. Reproduced with the kind permission of Andy Jenner

On the rear cover of his book, Jenner supposes that the house was about ‘100 years old’ but research suggests an earlier date, c.1886. A search of the title shows that the site (Subdivision 4, Portion 721, Parish of Enoggera, 23.4 perches) was acquired by Robert Mills of Brisbane on 29th July 1885. On 9th December 1885, he takes a mortgage with the Brisbane Permanent Benefit Building & Investment Society for £140 which may have been towards the cost of the house. On 23rd November 1897, the land was transferred to Helen Urquhart, wife of Thomas Urquhart.

This occurred after the death of a Robert Mills on 2nd March 1897 (Death certificate 1897/1587). Mills’ funeral was held from the residence of his son-in-law William Day, Cairns Terrace, Red Hill (Brisbane Courier, 3.3.1897, 1). In 1889, William Day had married Margaret Rubina Mills, the eldest surviving daughter of Robert Mills, a printer who died in 1897.

In the Post Office Directory for 1885-6, a Robert Mills, compositor, was living at Petrie Terrace. A year later, there are two Robert Mills, the second, a clerk living at Cairns Terrace. Mills’ eldest surviving son in 1897 was Robert William Albert Mills, presumably the Robert Mills, who occupied the house prior to his sister and brother-in-law, Margaret and William Day. Robert William Albert Mills had married Elizabeth Murphy at Brisbane in 1884. In the following year, the house was built for Robert Mills snr, apparently for the use of his married children. The name Beenleigh was in use by 1937.

From an obituary, quite a lot is known of Robert Mills snr (Telegraph, 2.3.1897, 5) who had a long association with Australian newspapers. He was born Longford, Ireland late in 1827. With his parents, brothers and sisters, he migrated to Australia in 1850 on the Argyle. The rest of the family went to Sydney but Robert stayed in Melbourne where he married Ann Mills (it is not known in they are related) in 1852. In the boom conditions Robert prospered as a compositor and was associated with the Melbourne Argus in its early days. Later he worked in Sydney on Henry Parkes’ paper the Empire before in 1863 he moved to Brisbane where he became overseer of the Guardian for which his brother Charles was stone-hand. After the Guardian was incorporated in the Courier, Robert Mills was printer and publisher of the Express. Following its demise in 1871, he brought out is successor, the short-lived Colonist which merged with the Telegraph in October 1872. Mills then worked for the Queensland Government Printer before overseeing a new Roman Catholic journal, the Australian, before he returned to the Telegraph where he spent almost the balance of his career in the composing room. He was a strong Protestant and an active member of the congregations of All Saints, and Christ Church, Milton. He was a lieutenant with the Fortitude Valley Corps of the volunteer Queensland Defence Force and one of the first presidents of the Queensland Typographical Association. With members of his family living at Cairns Terrace, Robert Mills moved from Petrie Terrace to Thorroldtown where he lived for many years until his health failed late in 1896 and he returned to Cairns Terrace to live with Margaret Day, his married daughter. He was buried at Toowong.

When I referred this information to Andy Jenner, he queried the area of the property (23.4p) and it quickly became apparent that Beenleigh as shown on Detail Plan 117 (and on page 16 of Andy’s book) would have fitted on Subdivision 4. A check of the title of Subdivision 5, the neighbouring property on the eastern side, showed that it also was owned by Andy Jenner, making the site of Beenleigh 46.8p, with the house straddling the common boundary between Subdivisions 4 and 5, an unusual circumstance, but not a difficulty at that time, provided that both allotments were owned by the same person. Subdivision 4 (No. 25 Upper Cairns Terrace) was transferred from Helen Urquhart to Isabella Campbell Ferguson, wife of William Ferguson, a Sergeant of Police in July 1900. Isabella transferred the title to her husband in October 1905, on the same day that he purchased Subdivision 5 (No. 23 Upper Cairns Terrace). What this probably means is that although the core of Beenleigh was built c1886, the eastern side verandah (which overlapped the common boundary) was not added until after 1905. Previously Subdivision 5 was owned by Matthew Lovenberry until 1901 when he sold it to Francis Alexander Jackson Isles in November 1901 who sold it to William Ferguson in 1905. Such an extension would explain a change in wall cladding on the rear elevation and with this knowledge, would also have been apparent elsewhere in the house.

Detail Plan, Brisbane City Council. No.117. Courtesy Brisbane City Archives

Detail Plan, Brisbane City Council. No.117. Courtesy Brisbane City Archives

Detail Plan, Brisbane City Council. No.117. Courtesy Brisbane City Archives

Detail Plan, Brisbane City Council. No.117. Courtesy Brisbane City Archives

Beenleigh passed through a further five owners before it was purchased by Andy Jenner in June 1977. Sometime after he sold it in February 1978, Beenleigh was removed or demolished. None of this information diminishes the usefulness and interest of Andy Jenner’s book. .

Thanks to Andy Jenner; Annabel Lloyd, Brisbane City Archives; and Kaye Nardella, Museum of Mapping and Surveying

New Accession: Equal Love Brisbane Collection

The John Oxley Library recently received a wonderful donation of memorabilia from the pressure group, Equal Love Brisbane, relating to the Marriage Equality campaign.

Equal Love Brisbane poster

Equal Love Brisbane poster

Assorted memorabilia

Assorted memorabilia

Equal Love is a nationwide organization which was formed in 2004 as a response to the Howard Government’s amendment of the Marriage Act to outlaw marriage between people of the same sex.  Equal Love’s objective is to campaign for same sex marriage in Australia through education and direct action, the aim being to change public attitudes towards gay and lesbian relationships and put pressure on the government to legislate for equal marriage rights.

It is timely that in 2014, the 10 year anniversary since the amendment to the Marriage Act and a significant year of action for the group, that material has been donated to State Library.  Also of interest is the very recent legalisation of same sex marriage in England and Wales where the first weddings took place on March 29th.  Scotland has also legislated to allow same sex marriage with ceremonies expected to take place later this year.

The collection includes T-shirts, badges, stickers, flyers, posters, rainbow banners, magazine articles and other memorabilia, as well as two life size wooden figures of same sex couples in wedding costume.

It's Okay to be Gay Sticker

It's Okay to be Gay Sticker

Assorted badges

Assorted badges

Marriage Equality T-shirt

Marriage Equality T-shirt


The collection also includes items relating to the 2013 Federal Election in which marriage equality was one of the key issues.  The rallies held in Brisbane leading up to the election attracted crowds of supporters and significant media attention.  A recent rally held  on the 8th March 2014 in Queen’s Park, Brisbane, attracted up to 1000 supporters.


Rally Poster

Rally Poster

Marriage Equality 2013 election material

Marriage Equality 2013 election material

The Equal Love Brisbane Collection may be viewed in the John Oxley Library Reading Room, Accession No. 29397, Boxes 18356-18357, 17387 O/S, 18359 O/S.


Lynn Meyers – Original Materials Librarian, State Library of Queensland

First baby born at the Women’s Hospital in Brisbane (1938)

First baby born at the new Women's Hospital, 26 March 1938. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 53863

First baby born at the new Women's Hospital, 26 March 1938

The first baby to be born at the new Women’s Hospital in Brisbane arrived on March 26, 1938. Five days later, the then minister for health and home affairs – and future Queensland premier – Ned Hanlon visited the new arrival and presented mother and baby with a 14-inch (35cm) silver loving cup to mark this important event (pictured above). The baby was also presented with a small silver drinking cup, silver porridge bowl and spoon.

Opening ceremony for Brisbane's new Women's Hospital. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 201609

Opening ceremony for Brisbane's new Women's Hospital

The hospital’s official opening ceremony had taken place two weeks earlier on March 13, at which premier William Forgan Smith said, “The best investments a people can make are in health services, maternity services and child welfare. They are investments giving increasing dividends”.  In an editorial, The Courier-Mail boasted of the new facility that “a stranger who dropped from the clouds and found himself at the portals of the new Brisbane Women’s Hospital could be convinced, after less than an hour’s inspection, that he was in one of the most modern cities in the world”. But it would take almost a fortnight before patients could be admitted.

Royal Women's Hospital in Brisbane at the time of its opening 1938

Royal Women's Hospital in Brisbane at the time of its opening 1938

According to The Courier-Mail: “It was necessary to cleanse and refumigate the whole place, repolish the floors, and remove fingermarks everywhere”, following the crowds who had passed through during the opening.

The hospital finally opened its doors to receive patients at midnight on March 25 with “a large staff of trained nurses”. The first patient did not arrive until 2.56am.

Maternity ward at the new Women's Hospital Brisbane March 1938. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 54380

Maternity ward at the new Women's Hospital Brisbane March 1938

Nursing staff signing on for the first shift at the Women's Hospital in Brisbane 1938. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg

Nursing staff signing on for the first shift at the Women's Hospital in Brisbane 1938

Then, at 3.15am, a second patient was admitted, a Mrs Mollie Kirkwood, whose baby girl, Noela Margaret, became the celebrated “first baby” of the hospital.

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland