Henry Miller had laid out the basic structure of the penal settlement, with the defence of the site paramount in his mind. The design of Miller’s new settlement was based on a set of walled military style compounds. All according to plans and instructions from London.
Apart from the strategic position of the triangle site, Miller also noted that part of the land was elevated, and that good building stone could be obtained from the cliffs across the river (Kangaroo Point). Furthermore, he located fresh water at the lagoons in the area now occupied by the Roma Street rail yards.
He observed, or most likely the Surveyor General John Oxley had observed the spurs that run parallel to the river, with in between spurs that run perpendicular on the river. These spurs were used for the erection of the buildings, in order to keep them above the flood levels.
Within those restrictions he organised the lay out of the settlement in three section: the convict compound, the military compound and the commander’s compound. The early buildings were all slab huts built from local materials.
However, before he could serious start building his settlement Miller was called back to Sydney, as discussed in the previous chapter.
There were ongoing problems with erecting the various buildings because of a lack of skilled labour. Captain Bishop in 1826 mentions that there are just two skilled convicts able of do this work. Prisoners send from Port Macquarie for assistance, also proofed to be a failure. So the best they could do in these early years was building huts of slabs and plaster.
Food-wise the situation was much better, the subtropical climate and the good soil had made it possible by early 1826 to have 85 acres of land under cultivation, enough to secure a basic food supply for a 12-month period.
Upon the arrival of Bishop’s successor Captain Patrick Logan in 1826 these timber buildings were gradually replaced by stone buildings. For this he had sand stone quarried from Kangeroo Point, bricks came from the kiln near the chain of ponds (Roma Street), lime from Ipswich and timber was cut locally and sawn in the pits on the edge of the settlement (near Herschel Street).
The stone buildings were in the typical English Georgian style of the era. They looked very pretty as we can still see in the Commissariat and in similar surviving buildings in Sydney and Norfolk Island. However, they were totally unsuitable for the subtropical climate in Brisbane, the ceilings were far too low and created an even more oppressive atmosphere, especially in the summer months.
Apart from the rich known history of the convict period, very few buildings have survived. There is the windmill (without the sails) at Wickham Terrace. The Commissariat Store is the only building left from the original compounds.
But interestingly, the arrangements of the original convict era compounds can still be recognised in the street pattern of the city. The alignment of North Quay, William Street and Queen Street evolved from the location of the buildings and tracks which ran through the settlement.
The concept of the three different compounds as such can still be recognised. The military and commander’s section is where now Parliament House and the Old Treasury is. The convict barracks turned into shops and this grew into Queen Street Mall and the agriculture area is where Roma Street Parkland and the Botanical Gardens are situated.