Caroline's West End Cottage

Caroline's West End worker's cottage, soon to be
renovated and extended
Caroline has a Queensland worker's cottage in the West End, and a blog documenting every day family life and the upcoming renovations and extensions to her house. As part of my House Histories series I'm on the hunt for case studies covering a range architectural styles, ages and localities, so after a quick exchange we agreed to look into the history of her home. It turned out to be a very enjoyable project that taught me lots about a part of town that I previously knew very little about, but also a challenging piece of research.

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
The picture above was taken from Toowong across the river some time in the late 1800s. The Toowong village grew up around the local creek in the 1850's and 60's, serviced by river trade and later the Ipwich road and railroad, but the Hill End neighborhood on the other side of the river languished in rural isolation, its rolling fields fringed by mangroves. There were no good roads to service this dead-end bend in the river, nor trains or trams. Instead the land was used for growing fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. A 1930 history of the "The Garden Suburb" describes:

"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"

With this pleasant image in mind, let's look at the ownership deeds for Caroline's cottage and follow the development of Hill End from farm lands to one of Brisbane's classic "tin and timber" suburbs.

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.

The "Fortitude"
Adolphus McWilliam was, of course, a Scotsman - one of the many that arrived in Queensland during the first decade of the free settlement. The sudden influx of Scotsmen was largely the project of John Dunmore Lang, a prominent statesman and Presbyterian minister with early visions of Queensland as a colony of free men engaged in farming, commerce and other productive and righteous activities. But John took a dim view of the resident convict population, as well as Irish Roman Catholic immigration, and decided to change the trajectory of Queensland's demographics. In the late 1840's he traveled to his native Britain to hand-pick skilled artisan families for emigration to Moreton Bay under his sponsorship. The ship Fortitude (which gave name to the suburb) arrived in Brisbane in January 1849 with 270 immigrants, the Chaseley in May 1849 with 214 immigrants and the Lima in November with 84 passengers.

1849 register of Arrivals on the Chaseley. Adolphus is listed 
under the name “Adolph” and “Farmer”.
Adolphus McWilliam and his wife Helen arrived on the Chaseley; "Adolph" a mature 38 years old and Helen 22, with no children recorded in the passenger's list.

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.
We don'know what happened to the McWilliam land between 1850 and 1874 (a title deed is missing) but we can assume that it was put to productive use. It is possible that it was on-sold fairly quickly as Adolphus was listed as living in South Australia in 1851. Perhaps they had friends or relatives down south and decided to join them. The next records are of the deaths in 1864 of both Adolphus and Helen, in Geelong Victoria. The genealogical sources show no evidence that the couple had had any children, and apart from the McWilliam name on an old Brisbane parish map very few traces remain of their short life in Australia.

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
In 1874 the full 27 acres of land were bought by the semi-famous Richardson and Wrench partnership. The name may sound familiar and you would be correct to associate it with property - or more precisely the Richardson & Wrench Real Estate Agencies which are still active today.

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

The breaking of virgin land in the Queensland colony attracted a particular kind of upper-class, internationally mobile, cashed-up and well connected risk takers, often with fascinating biographies. The next owner of the land was a good example of this breed of colonial entrepreneur, and quite a character in his own right.

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.
Edward bought the 27 hectares of Hill End land in 1875 and it appears that it continued as farmland until 1884, when it was subdivided and sold in more than 80 separate transactions over the following six years. This marks a time when the Hill End emerged from the rural backwaters of Brisbane to became a suburb in its own right. The transformation was triggered by the construction of an iron bride across the river in 1874, at the current location of Victoria Bridge. The journey across the river was strictly by horse or foot only until 1885, when horse-drawn trams from the city finally reached the West End.

Horse-drawn bus on the West End to
 City run, ca 1890
In my research I came across a first mention of West End in 1874, when the government gazette published a cattle brand registered by a local farmer. By 1875 the suburb was serviced with a school and a primitive Methodist church, and by 1876 by the Boundary Hotel. The first grocer was listed in 1880 and the following decade saw rapid expansion of commerce with a wide range of retailers, builders, manufacturers, churches, friendly societies and a bank moving into the area. Judging from the commercial directories, West End was a fully fledged suburb by the mid 1880s.

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
Brandon was a laborer and appeared in the newspapers on several occasions - for the wrong reasons. In 1927 he invited three friends to join him in his dinghy on a trip across the river from Toowong but the boat took on water mid river and sank, drowning two of his comrades. In 1932 he was fined for "occupying premises which were in a filthy condition, and which were used to store fruit, the defendant being a hawker". I have no doubt that further searches, perhaps including the police gazettes, would yield more information on this character. There are no records of marriage or children.

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
Continuing the theme from the previous owner, William Masson did appear in the press a few times for the wrong reasons. There were at least three reported traffic incidents, beginning in 1922 when he "accidentally fell out of his cart while driving on Montague Road", requiring attention from the ambulance brigade and treatment at the Mater hospital. A few years later in 1924, his horse and sulky knocked down a woman on Archibald Street on West End, resulting in abrasions, contusions and lacerations, and in 1937 his milk wagon was involved in a head-on crash with a truck in Coomera, causing five casualties but no fatalities. One suspects that he would have failed a modern breath test on some of his milk runs.

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
We can see that the Masson's land had two houses on it - a dwelling named "Emoh-Ruo" ("Our Home" spelt backwards, a common house name at the time) to the left, and Caroline's cottage, yet unnamed, to the right. It seems reasonable to assume, although we can't prove it, that they lived in one house and rented out the other. Emoh-Ruo has since been demolished and replaced with another building.

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
There were a few James McMahon's around in Brisbane in the late 1920s and I haven't been able to pin down a specific person to the house, but I know that James never lived in the house for any extended period of time. No person of that name is listed as living on the street; in the census records, electoral rolls or post office directories. We conclude that James bought the house as an investment and rented it out.

But there is one piece of history that James may have left behind. By the front door of Caroline's cottage there is a wooden sign with the house name - "Durham". The sign is hand-made, clearly antique and seems to be covered by as many layers of paint as the rest of the house. It's an intriguing name with no obvious local connections. Durham is a town in the North East of England, and there's also a Durham Downs station and creek in the Roma area and a Durham cattle breed. Whatever the reason for the name it must have been very personal. And it was probably named sometime after 1927, judging from the surveyor's plan.

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.

Final thoughts

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.

Researching house histories takes a bit of effort and in the interest of saving time I have omitted a detailed reference list. But as a rough guide, I have consulted the following key sources for this article:

- TROVE newspaper archives, in particular the Brisbane Courier
-, 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, 
- PDOnline,
- Miscellaneous texts on Queensland history, some of which can be accessed at 
- 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


  1. Thank you for this research, I look forward to more discussion about Drury street history as I live at 24 Drury st RPD L105, with my husband who is renovating our cottage. You may also like to have a discussion with an elderly gentleman who lived in No 26, and was friends with the people who lived in I guess Emoh-Ruo, 60 years ago. It would be wonderful to capture his oral history of the area. I look forward to talking more with Caroline please call in for a cuppa one day.

  2. Wow, wow, wow!!!
    That was really interesting!!!
    I look forward to reading more.

  3. Hi Magnus, Hope you are well! Thank you for conducting this research for me - it certainly was interesting to read about my home's former life! You've really sparked an interest in my neighbour who is now researching the history of the entire street! Take care, Caroline

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