Monday, November 30, 2009

Mooney Memorial Fountain

I'm not sure how this would go down today, but back in 1877 the Brisbane Municipal Council decided that the area around Queen St and Eagle St needed a lift. The civic-minded aldermen of the time decided that they would construct a fountain to beautify the area. And not just any old fountain - what they had erected, complete with a plaque listing all of their names for posterity, was this rather overstated drinking fountain.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #108572)

The 10 metre high fountain was designed by the city engineer, Mr WH Chambers, sculpted by William Webster, and built at a cost of £627. For the purposes of comparison, this newspaper archive shows that Richard Gailey was selling quarter-acre blocks of land at Toowong for £25 in the same year. Whether there was an outcry about the cost, or because it was just too expensive for the Council to fund totally, I cannot say, but there was a public subscription to raise some of the money required. This subscription happened to coincide with another fund-raising effort - one to raise money for a memorial to James Mooney, a volunteer firefighter who had been killed fighting a fire in Queen St. As a result, the self-serving aim of the councillors was diluted somewhat, because the people of Brisbane came to associate the fountain with the collection for Mooney. Even though a memorial to him was actually built at his burial site at Toowong Cemetery, the Eagle St fountain became known as the Mooney Memorial Fountain. The fountain has survived, and here is a current photograph of it.

(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

Below is a photograph from 1891, showing the fountain in place at the intersection of Queen and Eagle Sts. The procession is to celebrate Eight Hour Day.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #190686

In the 1930s, the Brisbane City Council planted a weeping fig tree behind the fountain, and the magnificent tree now provides welcome shade over the fountain.

(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

The fountain needed some restoration work in 1988, and at that time, the Council decided to formalise the association that the people had recognised since it was built. A plaque commemorating James Mooney and all firefighters who had lost their lives protecting the city was incorporated into the fountain.

(Photo: © 2010 the foto fanatic)

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  1. I've been looking for information re another James Mooney who lived in Brisbane around the same time and thought you might be interested in the following. I found a Brisbane Courier article dated 5 July 1877 which says in part:

    200 [pounds]have been voted by the Municipal Council, conditional upon an additional 100 [pounds] being subscribed by the citizens. A sum of money had previously been collected for the purpose, and at a recent meeting of the Council a communication was read stating that the amount had been collected, but that 40 [pounds] of it had been subscribed by the friends of the late james Mooney, who died from injuries received while engaged as a fireman in this city, and that they were willing it should be devoted to the erection of this fountain if a tablet were attached thereto in memory of Mr Mooney, and stating that this sum had been contributed by his friends. The proposal was referred to the Improvement Committee, and their report will be presented at the meeting on Monday next.

    In the Brisbane Courier, 10 July 1877, I found the following:

    8. The committee have considered the letter of Messrs. Hancock and Ridley, in reference to the fountain in Queen-street, and recommend that the wish of the subscribers be complied with, and that designs be at once procured.

    Although this is not totally clear, I read this as saying there was to be some recognition of James Mooney when the fountain was finished. When the debate as to the purpose of the fountain became heated in the late 1920's, early 1930's one person wrote to say he was a friend of James Mooney's brother (I believe his name was John Mayne Mooney) and that James had been honoured at the opening ceremony for the fountain.

    While I have not yet found any evidence of this from the papers of the time, it shows there was more than myth attached to the assumption that the fountain honoured James Thomas Mooney and not just the memorial at his Toowong Cemetery grave.

  2. Thanks - that's really interesting. The state government's heritage site says this:

    "The fountain popularly became known as the Mooney Memorial Fountain. This name arose through donations given at the time towards a memorial to James Mooney, a volunteer fireman who had lost his life while fighting a fire in Queen Street in March 1877. The official Mooney Memorial, however, was erected above Mooney's grave at Toowong Cemetery using funds raised publicly by his friends and fire-fighter colleagues.
    When the Eagle Street fountain was restored in 1988, a special tablet was inscribed as a dedication to James Mooney and to other firemen who had lost their lives in the line of duty."

    We may never know exactly what transpired, but at least there is a permanent memorial on the fountain now.


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