Monday, December 8, 2014

Toonarbin, West End

Captain Henry O'Reilly, an Irish master mariner, left his job sailing steam ships out of Liverpool in England to emigrate to Australia and arrived in Sydney in 1854 with thirty quid in his pocket and a belief that divine providence would present opportunities. He was correct - he was immediately hired by the Australasian Steam Navigation Company to sail steamers between Sydney and Brisbane.

O'Reilly made hundreds of trips between Sydney and Brisbane, mainly on the steamer Telegraph, and in 1863 he was made manager of the ASN operation in Brisbane, triggering a move up here. The forerunner to this building would have been his Brisbane office. Captain O'Reilly and his family for a time lived in the house Montpelier that overlooked the river in a spot known then as O'Reilly's Hill, later to become Bowen Hills and the site of Cloudland.

Subsequently Captain O'Reilly bought some land at West End from the architect Benjamin Backhouse that was offered for sale in 1868: 
FOR SALE, " TOONARBIN," a Superior Suburban Property, on the River, South Brisbane, near Hill End, containing about 8 acres, thoroughly fenced, substantial Stables and Offices, well-stocked Garden, Water Dams, &c., &c. Apply to Mr. BACKHOUSE, Architect.
(Brisbane Courier 16 September 1868 via

O'Reilly engaged Backhouse to design a house for him on the property and the following photograph shows the original form of the residence. The name Toonarbin that Backhouse had bestowed on the land came originally from a Henry Kingsley novel, and it was applied to the house. Here is a photograph showing the early form of the house - note the ornate chimneys on each corner. 
(Photo: JOL 98162)

O'Reilly lived at Toonarbin until his death in 1877, and his wife and children continued to live there for a considerable time after that. His son Charles O"Reilly was a customs agent and his bonded stores at Margaret St in Brisbane's CBD were recently demolished despite a call for them to be added to heritage lists.

In 1926 Archbishop Duhig bought the property. Some of the land was sub-divided and sold off and the residence was converted to a convent for the Sisters of Mercy. Some improvements and alterations, including replacing the wooden balconies and facade with brick, took place then to cater for its new function.

The building operated as a convent through to around 1995 and was then vacant for a dozen years until purchased by the current owners who set about restoring the building to its former glory. A labour of love over the ensuing years has Toonarbin looking like this. Although the structure has been enlarged and enclosed in brick, the chimneys provide external evidence of the building's origins.
(Photo: © 2014 the foto fanatic)

Proof of the success of the restoration is illustrated by the fact that Toonarbin won a High Commendation at the announcement of the National Trust's heritage awards for 2014.

Click here for a Google Map.


This is our final post for 2014.
Seasons Greetings to all readers!
We will be back in 2015.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Back to the future

There are a few hotel names that bob up in many different towns, for example - the Railway, the Post Office, the Royal - and today's venue, the Exchange.

In fact different versions of the name "Exchange" have existed in Brisbane hotels. The original Stock Exchange Hotel operated by Mrs Sarah Balls was situated in Queen St between Creek and Wharf Streets and the Royal Exchange Hotel that was owned at one time by Patrick Mayne was on the corner of Elizabeth and Albert Streets. Both of these have disappeared, although these days there is a Royal Exchange Hotel at Toowong. Remaining in the CBD is the Exchange Hotel on the corner of Edward and Charlotte Streets that was constructed in 1863 and is held on the Brisbane City Council's heritage list. Here is the earliest picture of it that I could find, taken in the late 1880s. It is taken from Elizabeth St looking up Edward St towards Spring Hill, and the Exchange is seen in part on the right side of the photo. There were some improvements made to the building in 1887 by architect John Ibler, and then when licensee Mr P Talty took over in 1897 he promised to make it an "up-to-date family hotel" with a "much altered and improved private bar".
(JOL 100011) c1889 

The following image was taken a decade later and shows the Exchange Hotel next to the Edwards Dunlop Building which in turn is listed on the Queensland government's heritage list. The sign at the front of the hotel proclaims Henry Biggs is now the proprietor.
(Photo: BCC-B120-31063) 1908  

When I started work in the city in the sixties, the Exchange Hotel was not quite the closest to the office where I worked, but the back beer garden of the Exchange became the favourite venue for the keg parties that were the standard office celebration for 21st birthdays, engagements and weddings, getting "called-up" (conscripted) or returning from the army, whether scathed or unscathed. In an office that contained several hundred mostly young workers there were plenty of opportunities to "tap" a keg, and we were frequent visitors. There was a "Select Steak Room" there too, as evidenced by the following tram advertisement for Quinn's Exchange Hotel.
(Photo: BCC-B54-14542) 1960 

Over the ensuing years the hotel has been subtly altered from time to time in order to re-invent itself in the face of increasing competition and changing tastes. Like many of the other older hotel buildings, the verandahs have been removed and there is an abundance of advertising signage. In the photo below the 2011 rugby World Cup is the theme to lure patrons to the venue - the flags and the oversized football a somewhat kitsch statement.

(BCC Heritage List) 2010

In my photograph taken earlier this year the signs are a little less obtrusive and the exterior a little more muted.
(Photo: © 2014 the foto fanatic) 

However, a visit to the hotel's web page just prior to posting this piece reveals more changes. The hotel has undergone a complete makeover in recent months, featuring a new look and new management. The date of the hotel's beginnings is featured, together with a name change.

And, a blast from the past! It is now the Stock Exchange Hotel.

Click here for a Google Map.

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