|Caroline's West End worker's cottage, soon to be|
renovated and extended
Before we dwell on the history of Caroline's house and plot of land, let's take a look at West End, or more precisely the Hill End part of the suburb. The first thing that struck me when walking along the river at Hill End Terrace was how Toowong Central seems to tower over the neighborhood - from the other side of the river. This came as quite a surprise as I think of Toowong as my neighbor but I'd never walked down the streets of Hill End. And it's more than that old Brisbane North/South divide (although I admit to spend most of my life on the North side). The close-yet-remote location of Hill End was a key factor in the relatively late residential development of this part of town.
|Hill End from Toowong, late 1800s|
"There was a time in Brisbane's history when the district that embraces the the
delightful suburbs of West End and Hill End was covered with farms and orchards...
Fruits and vegetables and other produce were brought from there to town, and sold
to storekeepers as special lines, "grown on the rich flats across the river". That
was a hall-mark of quality in the produce markets of Brisbane for years, until the small
town grew into a large one, and then to a city, and the gardens gave way to
multiplying homes A1"
The Scottish Farmer and First Owner, 1850
The research on Caroline's house began, as always, by tracing the land ownership all the way back to the Deed of Grant which documents the sale of crown land to the first pioneers. This time the chain of paperwork lands us in the year 1850, when 27 acres acres of Hill End land were bought by a Adolphus McWilliam. To put the date into context, Queensland at the time had a white population of perhaps a few thousand and Brisbane consisted mainly by convicts and their caretakers, and a handful of free men. These were very early days.
1849 register of Arrivals on the Chaseley. Adolphus is listed
under the name “Adolph” and “Farmer”.
The new country offered a mixed bag of fortune for the new settlers, including some setbacks in the promised provision of government land for farming, but Adolph took the matter into his own hands and after only a few months in the country he bid for 27 acres of riverside land a short distance from town. This was the largest portion of land in West End and as you can see from the map below it covered the area between the current Montague Rd, Ferry Rd and the river.
|Adolphus McWilliam's land, purchased in 1850. Click to enlarge.|
John Dunmore Lang on the other hand rose to great prominence and is remembered by the many thousands of descendants of the 600 Scottish and English pioneers that arrived at such a critical time in the colony's development. He also played a crucial part in the wave of German immigration and was a vigorous supporter of the separation of Queensland. John is memorialized with a statue in Wynyard Park in Sydney, as well as in countless place names and Australian histories.
Real Estate Moguls, 1874-1875
|Richardson & Wrench, courtesy of|
the R&W website
Robert Richardson and Edward Wrench were both English born and arrived independently in Australia in the early 1850s. They joined forces in 1860 and became key players in the Queensland pastoral industry, operating wool stores at circular quay in Sydney and acting as agents and auctioneers for land transactions throughout the colony. The farm land at Hill End was held by these gentlemen for only a year and was then sold again, possibly due to Richardson's retirement in 1875. Or perhaps the land was always intended as a "quick flip" - suggesting that the industry hasn't changed all that much in the past 150 years.
Edward Robert Drury, 1875-1890
Edward Robert Drury was born to a prominent Brussels family in 1832 and migrated to Australia in his twentieth year. Working his way up in the Bank of Australasia he found himself the manager of the new Queensland National Bank in Brisbane by 1872. Edward had a penchant for pomp and and a fetish for uniforms, which was fulfilled by his many military engagements including several stints as commander for the Queensland Defense Forces. His banking management was aggressive and brash, extending huge lines of credit to the developing primary industries as well as to his elevated friends and himself, sometimes with little or no collateral. Edward became the central financial figure of Queensland and his grand head office in the corner of Queen and Creek St., once referred to as "Drury's Temple", still stands today.
The Queensland National Bank grew rapidly until 1893, when Australia entered a depression and Edward's loose lending policies finally came home to roost. The bank languished for several years until Edward died in 1896, in his home "Saltwood" at the junction of Swan St and Shorncliffe Parade at Shorncliffe. The grand old house is still there, on the corner lot overlooking Moreton Bay. He was buried with full military honors, the streets along his procession lined with spectators and government buildings and businesses across the region flagging at half mast.
After his death the irregular lending practices of the bank unraveled and it was discovered that his own account was overdrawn by £50,000 and the account of his good friend and business partner McIlwraith by a whopping £250,000. The resulting Queensland Banking Scandal reverberated throughout Australia. A few years later it was rumored that Edward had fled abroad and that his coffin, interred at the Toowong Cemetery, was in fact full of rocks.
|Edward Drury's land from the 1875 deed, still comprising 27 intact acres. |
Click to enlarge.
|Horse-drawn bus on the West End to|
City run, ca 1890
Hill End was mentioned sporadically in the news from the 1860s and was generally referred to as an agricultural outpost. In the 1874 post office directory only one person is listed in the area - William Winterbottom who later became the proprietor of the omnibus service. The streets on Edward Drury's parcel of land were listed in the post office directories from the mid 1890's, initially with very few addresses but showing a steady increase in residents which spiked in the 1920s.
Edward Drury may have a mixed legacy in banking circles but he is remembered as a very capable military commander. We don't know whether his investment in the Hill End land turned a profit but we can assume that it did, considering the tremendous land and construction boom of the 1870's and 1880's. And more importantly - he sold out before the depression hit in the 1890's. His name is immortalized in Drury Street which cuts straight through the center of his portion of Hill End Land.
Subdivision and construction, 1912 to 1919
The streets of suburban Brisbane began as rudimentary gravel roads through derelict landscapes, sparsely populated for many years until the subdivisions of land were complete. The pattern of settlement typically involved initial transactions covering multiple adjacent lots, that were either re-subdivided and "flipped" for a profit, or built upon by the owner who then sold off the adjacent lots over a period of time.
And this is where the research gets harder. It's easy to track the ownership of a particular plot of land across the years but much harder to pin down the construction date and the inhabitants of a house. For this we need to cross-reference range of sources such as old street maps, post office directories, census records, electoral rolls, rate books and newspaper notices - none of which may give definitive answers. And for the humble workers cottages the challenge is even greater, as their dwellers were unlikely to figure in the press (other than for the wrong reasons), often lived in rented accommodation and had nondescript professions such as "laborer" which offer no clues for further research and identification.
This is certainly case with Caroline's cottage and I have to admit a partial defeat in nailing down the builder and construction date of the house. But I have narrowed it down to a few suspects and a likely time frame, as follows:
Herbert George Brandon, 1912 - 1919
Herbert George Brandon purchased seven adjacent lots on Drury's previous land in 1912, as outlined in the below map. The lots were numbered 106-112 in this particular portion.
|Herbert George Brandon's initial land purchase, 1912|
Lots 106-108 were sold in 1919 and the post office directories list Brandon on the street until at least 1937, so we can assume that he lived in a dwelling on one of the lots 109 to 112.
William and Margaret Masson, 1919-1927
The Massons were a typical Hill End couple of their time - William a laborer also listed as a milk vendor, and Margaret occupied with home duties. The couple bought lots 106-108 in 1919 and raised a family of at least two sons, one by the name of Andrew and a daughter Janet.
|William and Margaret Masson's land purchase, 1919|
As I've stated before, Land Ownership does not necessarily imply house ownership and we need to cross-reference a few sources to come up with a likely construction date. In this case we have a 1927 Surveyor's Plan of the street that we can overlay on a modern aerial photo:
|1927 Surveyor's Plan|
As for the construction date of Caroline's Cottage we can only confirm that it was there by 1927. The style of the house is Four-Room Bungalow with Full Front Verandah, typical for the 1900s to 1920s. Our best guess is therefore that the house was built by the Massons at some point between 1919 and 1927.
James McMahon, 1927-1935
The Massons sold the cottage and plot of land to a James McMahon in 1927, thereby completing the subdivision of the land:
|James McMahon's land purchase, 1927|
Immigration records reveal that a James McMahon, and his wife Sarah and daughter Rose Anne, immigrated from Durham to New South Wales in 1862. James and Sarah had a son named James in 1869, who would have been 58 years old in 1927. I'll take a punt that young James ended up in Brisbane, bought the cottage as an investment and named it after his ancestral home.
|James McMahon senior, with wife and daughter arrive in NSW, 1862|
1935 to now, a Summary
And so we've arrived in the mid 1930's, in our very sketchy history of Caroline's cottage and the land. There is plenty more to research - we've merely scraped the surface so far. The list of post-1935 owners is as follows:
1935-1938, William Charles (last name illegible, possibly Knox). The name on the title certificate cannot be deciphered but the Titles Registry can provide an enhanced copy of that particular section of the deed.
1938-1941, Victor Luppi. A quick scan of the archives hasn't revealed any information on this gentleman, but further research probably would.
1941-1946, Sarah Alice Knox. Again a quick check revealed no information on this lady. But we do have an aerial photo of the house (left) taken in 1946, and a contemporary photo for comparison. The cottage is outlined in red. Note the two cottages marked with a red dot - including Emoh-Ruo to the left. Both appear to be of an older Gabled design and are now demolished. They were probably the oldest houses on the street, and Herbert George Brandon probably lived in the cottage to the lower right.
|Caroline's cottage and neighbors in 1946 and today|
1946-1947, Thomas William Knox (husband of Sarah). This gentleman was confirmed as living at the address in 1943.
1947-1985, Harold Vincent Coupar. A "boot clicker", confirmed as living at the address in 1949, 54, 58, 63, 68, 72 and 77. Harold was active in the West End community and appeared many times in the press, for the right reasons. His brother, who lived on one of the adjacent streets, was reported as a prisoner of war in 1943 and Harold won the Golden Cask lottery in 1954. The archives contain lots more information on this gentleman.
The histories of our "tin and timber" suburbs are never mundane and they deserve to be documented and cherished by the people who live there. And with the increasing availability of on-line records I am optimistic that this type of local historical research has a bright future. Wouldn't it be great if every vintage house came with a pedigree of previous owners, and some details of their life and times? I think that it would increase people's enjoyment of their homes, and hopefully support their future preservation.
Historical research is never complete and in this case there are many questions left to be answered by Caroline and future owners of the cottage. As a start, I would recommend trying to get a hold of descendants of the Masson family to understand the changes to ownership of their two houses back in the 20's. There's a good chance that someone in the family has this information. The Coupar family may also have records, and perhaps even photos, of their extended occupancy of the house from 1947-1985. These surnames are quite rare and a few speculative messages on Facebook or LinkedIn may pay off.
During the course of my research I also noted that the history of West End and Hill End is surprisingly poorly documented. I haven't come across any dedicated text on the subject. This is a project waiting for someone to pick up the challenge - it's a great neighborhood and deserves a written history.
Thanks Caroline for giving me the opportunity to do this research on the house and land. I wish you good luck with the upcoming renovations and all the best for your family in your lovely old home.
- TROVE newspaper archives, in particular the Brisbane Courier
- Genealogy.com, for family trees, census records, passenger lists and electoral rolls
- Post Office Directories from the 1870's through to the 1940's
- Pugh's Almanacs, 1859-1927
- The Australian Dictionary of Biography, http://adb.anu.edu.au/
- PDOnline, http://olr13.brisbane.qld.gov.au/website/MN_CP/index.htm
- Miscellaneous texts on Queensland history, some of which can be accessed at http://www.textqueensland.com.au/
- BCC surveyor's Plans, courtesy of the BCC Archives
- Parish maps, courtesy of the Queensland State Archives
- Brisbane House Styles 1880-1940, a Guide to the Affordable House, J. G Rechner