Monday, October 25, 2010

Who was Joshua Jeays?

What has continually been reinforced to me as I write this blog is how young Brisbane is. It's not so long ago that Brisbane was a squalid prison outpost known as Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, set up to hide from Sydney society the very worst of the convicts transported from England to New South Wales. There was little thought given to planning the town or providing even basic amenities for its residents. When the convict era ended and free settlement was proclaimed around 1842, there began a slow process of trying to make Brisbane a more habitable and attractive place.

Inevitably, this task fell to a few who had the foresight and energy to bring about the necessary changes. One such man was forty year-old Joshua Jeays (below), Leicestershire-born,
husband to Sarah and father of four children, who arrived at Moreton Bay in 1853. Jeays was a carpenter and builder, and although he had his own building business in London, he left that crowded and polluted city for Australia in order to provide a healthier way of life for his family.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #109863)

After renting in Albert St for a time, the Jeays family moved to a house at North Quay, also rented initially, but subsequently purchased in September 1854 and retained for the rest of Joshua's life. The house is marked in the photo below - it seems to be on George St, somewhere around the present Turbot St intersection.(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #64881)

It appears that Joshua Jeays hit the ground running. He became a member of the Brisbane School of Arts, a valuable networking tool, and commenced looking for work. His foresight became immediately evident in his searches for quarry sites to provide stone for the building boom that was about to take place in the settlement. Jeays ended up establishing a quarry on the riverbank at Woogaroo (now Goodna), producing excellent stone that was able to be sent downriver by barge to Brisbane.

Building projects soon eventuated too - in partnership with timber merchant JW Thompson, Joshua Jeays extended St John's Pro-Cathedral in William St, and constructed the second Wesleyan church (below) on Albert St and Burnett Lane.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #56618)

From here on, there was no stopping Joshua Jeays. Now in business alone, he built the new colony of Queensland's first major project, the original Government House in George St; he supplied the stone for the construction of Parliament House; he built churches and houses, including Bardon House and this one at North Quay called Romavilla that was to become a boarding house. Romavilla was demolished in 1974, but here is a photograph of it from 1875.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #63319)

As well as his hectic business life, Jeays also found time to serve his adopted community. An accomplished mathematician with a love of astronomy, he frequently gave talks at the School of Arts, and he was elected to serve on Brisbane's first municipal council. He became the fourth mayor of Brisbane in 1864. His political sphere was enlarged when his daughter Sarah Jane married Charles Lilley who was later to become Queensland's premier. During his time as mayor and councillor, Jeays was instrumental in providing the city with lighting, water and ferry services. He also served on the bridge committee that had oversight of the construction of the first bridge over the Brisbane River. As well as his thriving business, Jeays was also somewhat of a property speculator. He purchased large tracts of land at Bowen Hills, Upper Paddington (later to be known as Bardon, named after the house he built there) and Sandgate. To this day, descendents of Joshua and Sarah Jeays work in the family businesses at Sandgate and live nearby.

Joshua Jeays died at the age of 69 on 11 March, 1881 and was buried at Toowong Cemetery. His legacy lives on in his buildings that remain - Old Government House and Bardon House - and Jeays St at Bowen Hills, which contains Jeays Park, named in his memory.

© 2010 the foto fanatic)

There is also a Jeays St at Sandgate and one at Brighton.

Click here for a Google Map.


Next: Bardon, the house


  1. Not too many people have the privilege of influencing a town from the ground up. Even Baron Haussmann, who was given carte blanche to redesign Paris, still had to work within the framework of an existing city.

    Even so, Joshua Jeays must have been remarkably ambitious and confident. You say that he wasn't a convict; he voluntarily left home, with a young family, to an unknown, unbuilt place on the other side of the world! Amazing!

  2. The only clue I could see was that Jeays' wife Sarah did not enjoy robust health, and perhaps that was a motivating factor to leave a profitable business and travel as far from London as it was possible to go.

    If we only had the legacy of the stone from his quarry, or his wonderful Old Government House building, he would have been a memorable citizen.

    But add to that his service to the community as an alderman and a mayor, and being heavily involved in bringing water services and electric lighting to Brisbane, and you see a true founding father

  3. My father's business (Bayside Demolitions) dismantled 'romavilla' and I managed to save lots of large blacksmith made nails from the site. I did use lots of the long lengths of timber VJ from that building on my first Queenslander I had just purchased, 7 Ridley Street Auchenflower. I used them to line a walk-in (6 people) sauna that I built under that house. It was early seventies remember, we all showered together then . . .


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