Paul Budde's History Archives

Brisbane capital of Queensland

Already in the 1840s, the local people started petition the Governments in Sydney and London, for an independent state. Revered Dr John Dunmore was one of the more senior people advocating for it. Lang’s call for the creation of a northern colony in 1844 was defeated in the NSW Legislative Council by 26 votes to seven. However, in 1850 the British Parliament passed the Australian Colonies Government Act, which enabled the creation of new Australian colonies with a similar form of government to New South Wales.  Moreton Bay was specifically mentioned as a districts which was likely to become a separate colony in the foreseeable future. Over the following years Lang heavily campaigned for separation and had of course the full support of the people now living in  the various places where people had started to settle. However, these same people were heavily divided of where the capital should be situated in  Brisbane, Cleveland, Gayndah, Gladstone, Ipswich or Rockhampton. In the end it came down to Brisbane and Ipswich but in 1859, Brisbane was put forward as the capital.

Of course the border would become the next issues as there were different opinion between the north and the south. In the end it was settled when Queen Victoria signed the Letters Patent to create Queensland on 6 June 1859 at Osborne House, the border was fixed at 28 degrees south.  On her insistence the name of the new state had to be Queensland.

The Municipality of Brisbane was gazetted on 25 May 1859 and proclaimed by the Governor of New South Wales on 7 September 1859.

However, there was no money available for the new state. The newly appointed Governor George Bowen  had to take  residence in the house of Dr Hobbs, known as Adelaide House (now The Deanery of St John’s Cathedral) which was leased for three years at the cost of £350 a year.  The new governor was sworn in on the 10th of December by Justice Alfred Lutwyche on the verandah of the doctor’s house in Adelaide Street. From here he read out the Proclamation of Independence.  There were yet no funds available for to build a proper Government House and it would still take three years before this was build  in the Botanical Garden was built. It remained in use as the official residence till 1910. However, the Governments Garden was in 1859 set aside for the Botanical Gardens. There have been numerous conflicts over this site as Brisbane Municipality Council (BMC) wanted to use it for development, however the State didn’t budge so we can now still enjoy it.

There was no Parliament Building and it were the old convict barracks in Queen Street that were used for that purpose and several government offices resided in this building as well, including the Supreme Court. It was here that the Queensland Legislative Assembly with its 26 elected members sat for the first time on 22 May 1860.

George Bowen had recently served as Britain’s Lord High Commissioner of the United States of the Ionian Islands near Greece. He was the local representative of the British government  between 1816 and 1864. At the time, the Islands were a federal republic under the protection of the United Kingdom, as established under the 1815 Treaty of  Paris.

While in that post, he married the Contessa Diamantina di Roma on 28 April 1856. Diamantina was the daughter of Conte Giorgio-Candiano Roma and his wife Contessa Orsola, née di Balsamo. The Roma family were local aristocracy; her father being the President of the Ionian Senate, titular head of the Islands, from 1850 to 1856.

He was popular in Queensland, so that the citizens requested an extension of his five-year term as governor, resulting in his staying for further two years. Diamantina was equally popular. She unfortunately suffered from severe headaches and this was a very dilapidated situation. However, she  worked hard to alleviate distress and pauperism. She was instrumental in establishing a range of social, educational , healthcare and cultural institutions.   She worked hard with her friend Eliza O’Connell. Her husband Maurice became a member of the Legislative Council of Queensland.

Together they set up a maternity hospital officially called, the Queensland Lying-In Hospital. It was opened on 2 November 1864 in a house, Fairview, in Leichhardt Street, Spring Hill. Two years later it moved to a new purpose designed building in Ann Street, between Edward and Albert Streets.  This was an eight roomed building with beds for twelve patients and ancillary rooms. In August 1867, this building was renamed the Lady Bowen Lying-In Hospital. It was adjacent to the Servants’ Home  which was also founded by Lady Bowen and Lady O’Connell. This was a school for servants in order to make newly arrived female immigrants more employable. This building still exists. In 1889 an extended Lady Bowen Lying-In Hospital was built at Wickham Terrace, currently known as Roma House of Mission Australia for homeless people.

The two Ladies also set up an orphanage in George Street.

The names Roma Street Parkland, Roma Street, Countess Street, Roma Street Station all refer to Contessa Diamantina di Roma. Throughout Queensland there many more references to her a good indication how well loved she was.

At his arrival of the Bowen’s the Governor mentioned that the town had 7,000 inhabitants, 14 churches, 13 hotels and 12 local policemen. The leading people here were English and Scottish merchants and manufacturers. At the same time all of the above mentioned problems were the same, lack of funds, lack of healthcare, poor housing, terrible infrastructure and so on.

As a young settlement there was not yet a strong community feeling. Most people were simply fighting for their survival. The level of local cooperation and collaboration at that early stage was not well developed. Religion further undermined this. The 14 churches were highly divided and there was great suspicion between them. Each one claiming to be the only true church. This lead to many unchristian acts often led or fuelled by fanatic parsons.

On the other side, once Brisbane became the capital it attracted a new range of often middle class people and even more wealthier immigrants. Basically ignoring the  poor state of the town at the time and understanding the opportunities that would arrive. There was an equal massive divide between the two social classes.

Bowen inherited what became the political leaders of both the the  settlement and state  of which many were more interested in their own vested interest than in that of the community. Getting ‘common good’ projects of the ground was an eternal battle. First of all there was the conflict between the town and the state. While the BMC was dominated by local  business men, the State Government was heavily influenced by wealthy landowners and squatters living in the country. The interests of both groups were often opposite of each other.

On the BMC side the aldermen were builders, ironmongers, sawmill and quarry owners and many others who would profit from government investments. Decision were often influenced by whom would benefit financially the most, corruption was rife.  In the first five years of Brisbane City Council (BMC) there were four different mayors.

The lack of a proper working civil society became apparent in the first few decades of bit the City and the State. When many infrastructure projects needed to be developed, most decisions took far too many years because of many divisions, conflicting interests and not yet well established institutions to manage and oversee these developments.

What also didn’t help was that under the Queensland Police Act of 1863  the magistrates performed a dual task of prosecution and adjudication which was an open door for corruption and the abuse of power. This became  ingrained in the Queensland policing system and was finally exposed by the Fitzgerald Inquiry in 1988.

The wealthy country men were influential in building (and financing) Parliament House, Government House, the opulent Queensland Club and various mansions in the area.  They received early government investments in a railway for the Darling Downs and after that from here to Brisbane. This at the same time as the city was struggling to get fresh water, build a bridge, buying a fire engine or a even building a hospital.  One of the most serious issues in the town was the fresh water supply that had been a health hazard for decades, because of infighting between the councillors, solving this solution took many years. The same infighting led to long delays in building the bridge.

Bowen was also worried by the ongoing attacks of Aboriginal warriors. He just ignored the reasons why the Aboriginals attacked the settlements. Hunting , camping and sacred sites were totally ignored and the increased number of  farms  here and in the Darling Downs created more and more limitations for the traditional owners of these lands. Farmers were shooting Aboriginals as if they were animals and several massacres took place in these years.

As all of these different issues were not enough,  the settlement and the state went went at the same through a very rapid growth period. In the years following Independence up to seven ships per week dropped off new immigrants. They only received three days of free accommodation after their arrival. Many people were living in tents that were scattered around town often for many weeks or even months before they were able to rent a place or built their own slab hut. Many of the early arrivals settled on what was known as Windmill Hill which name was changed in Canvass Hill.

In 1861 there were 318  brick or stone houses, 747 weatherboard and 79 other dwellings. These ‘others’ being basically huts.

Fortunately there was a permanent lack of labourers as well as women. So as soon as immigrant ships arrived they were recruited by farmers and business men. While Brisbane was one of the most remote cities in the more developed world, it did also attract many overseas immigrant nit just from England but also from Ireland, Germany and China. From the very beginning there was hostility against the Chinese people, furthermore they were discriminated against (they could not bring their family with them) and were widely exploited and underpaid. South Pacific Islanders were also brought in as plantation labourers  often against their own will.

The rapid growth of the settlement also lead to people moving beyond the original ridges where the settlement was established back in 1825. While flooding occurred regularly because of the many waterholes and creeks in the area  it did not have a devastating effect in the convict era as all of the buildings were positioned on the ridges in the settlement.  The situation 40 years later was totally different. Most of the low laying areas in the settlement were now also built up areas and the floods of 1863 and 1864 had a devastating effect on the town.  The flood in 1864 was preceded by a cyclone which caused large scale destruction. Flooding occurred basically every year after this till 1872 and many more times after that year. The lack of proper city management and indecisiveness as mentioned above resulted in lack of proper relief action and little action to prevent further disasters.

Other avoidable disasters were two great fire of Brisbane in 1864. A month after Brisbane was flooded again, in April that year, 14 houses burned down on the northern side of Queen Street, halfway between Edward and Albert Street.  It had started in a shop called ‘Little Wonders” that sold books and miscellaneous articles.

While the fire immediate drew large crowds there was no coordination or any leadership in how to handle this crisis. There were only  three volunteer firefighters and they arrived an hour into the disaster but there was nowhere a water supply for the pump, nor had they any authority regarding what to do. Property owners claimed their property rights at this stage there was no legislation that could over rule this. Individualism ruled ,they were only interested to look after their own premises and had little regard for the others, so in the end they all suffered. The BMC and the State Government quarrelled about building regulations, preventing people from rebuilding in timber or other flammable materials.

As mentioned above money for a proper fire service had been under discussion for many years. Within two days after the fire a committee was formed with the task to set up a proper fire service. However, the indecisiveness continued with BMC not acknowledging a volunteer fighters service and trying to start one on their own based on council clerks, obviously that didn’t work either, so the bickering continued. Furthermore, the bureaucratic process saw a slow moving process of muddling on over fire fighting equipment equipment. When in December the 2nd large fire of the year burned down a whole block between Queen Street, Albert Street, Elizabeth Street and George Street the town remained unprepared. Again there was no coordination, no leadership and property owners reluctant to let fire fighters in. In all 25 businesses burned down – including two banks and three hotels – as well as ‘numerous’ private properties many of them slab huts or otherwise poorly built timber housing. Within a year half of the Queen Street businesses had gone up in fire. Several of the businesses that were burned down in the December fire used the empty section on the east face of Queen Street, between Creek and Edward Streets that had been burned down in the April fire. They build here a range of one level shanties that became  known as Refuge Row.

Finally early the following year  a fire engine was purchased, a proper fire service was set up with proper legislation that allowed them to take control of the situation and overruled individual property rights if needed and finally also building regulations were implemented. The former female prison on Goal Hill became the fire station and a fire bell was installed.

There were no social services so the many families that had lost their homes had nowhere to go, some were reported to use the entry porch of the old Convict Barracks as their shelter. There is no information about their plight which could indicate that indeed little was done for these poor people, they simply had to fend for themselves. It further conforms the frontier situation of the city with at this time still hardly any infrastructure both socially and otherwise.

Reoccurring typhoid and other ongoing healthcare emergencies had  also suffered from lack of proper governance. Most cases were brought in by the immigrant ships. Captains were eager to offload their loads and the quarantine rules were not always followed or badly policed.  Furthermore there remained an ongoing lack of a proper hospital facilities, healthcare staff and equipment. The opening of the new Bowen Hospital in Herston in 1867 also significantly improved the health care situation in town (now the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital). The hospital in those days depended on voluntary contributions to remain afloat, and there was an ongoing scarcity of funds (this situation continued until 1917 when it was taken over by the Queensland Government).

As mentioned, cross-river transport for the first 20 years was by ferry. Finally the decision for a bridge was made. The foundation stone  for the first bridge – called Queen Bridge – was laid by Governor George Bowen on 22 August 1864. However, problems continued, lack of funds saw the original design of an iron bridge downgraded to one that would temporarily be based on wooden piers. However, shipworms rapidly noticed the structure and in 1867 a large section of the bridge collapsed. As there still was no money available another wooden bridge was constructed in 1874. The name was now changed to Victoria Bridge. This bridge was swept away by the flood of 1893. This time it was finally replaced by an iron bridge. In 1896 a one way bridge was opened, a year later the 2nd lane was added. In 1969 this one was replaced by the current concrete built bridge.

By 1864 the population had grown to 12,500 people and the whole of Queensland now had just over 60,000 inhabitants. By the end of the year that number had grown to close to 75,000, an incredible rapid increase of just under 25%.

Despite the management problems, the 1860s and 1870s started to see improvements, the Normal School was opened with separate sections for boys and girls.The governor could move into what is now the Old Government House in the Botanical Gardens.  The foundation stone of Brisbane’s first town hall in Queen Street was laid on 28 January 1864 by Queensland Governor George Bowen and completed three years later. In the Old Windmill a museum was established. The William Street Saw Mill claimed to be the first true factory and the first part of the new parliament house got build. Gas street lighting arrived as well as a telegraph  service to Ipswich and to Sydney. Perhaps most importantly clean water was finally provided piped from the newly established Enoggera Dam. Which was constructed in 1866, on the upper reach of Breakfast Creek.


The Financial and Political Crisis of 1866

Convict History of Brisbane TOC