Monday, November 16, 2015

Inglis Tea Building, Adelaide St

Over the weekend the beautiful mrs tff and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary and to mark that milestone we went to one of our favourite CBD restaurants, e'cco bistro. And co-incidentally that restaurant is housed in the building we are discussing today.

Firstly, a few words about the restaurant - not a review as such, but more of a recognition of its local importance. Chef Philip Johnson opened the restaurant in 1995, a time when Brisbane was hardly overrun with excellent eateries. In 1997 Johnson won the prestigious Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year and since then Philip Johnson and the restaurant have won a shedload of awards and Johnson has also knocked out six best-selling cookbooks. Philip Johnson is really a pioneer of the modern Brisbane food scene and has set a very high standard for local restaurateurs to emulate. Here's one person's view of Brisbane's current culinary capability.

The building that houses the restaurant dates back to 1919 and it was constructed as an office and warehouse for the tea merchants, James Inglis & Co. Situated right at the end of Adelaide St at the Boundary St corner, the site was close to the river and the Petrie Bight wharves, a definite advantage for the transferring of tea chests onto and off ships. This photo shows the Boundary St frontage of the building.

The name Inglis may not mean much to people these days, but most would have heard of their branded teas - Billy Tea and Goldenia Tea.

 (Photos: National Library of Australia)  

And this is the man behind the tea - James Inglis, a Scot who arrived in Australia around 1877 via New Zealand and India.
(Photo: nla.pic-an24219595-v)

Inglis's ties to India gave him the opportunity to promote Indian tea at the Sydney International Exhibition in 1880 and he went on to become the agent for the Indian Tea Association of Calcutta, before partnering with WP Brown to form Inglis, Brown & Co in 1883. That partnership was dissolved in 1887 and James Inglis & Co came into being. By 1893 the company was handling over 1,000,000 lbs (about 453,400 kg) of packaged tea per annum. Inglis was obviously a marketing devotee - he purchased the rights to "Waltzing Matilda" in order to wrap the words around each packet of Billy Tea. In fact the version of the song that is heard today stems from the rewrite commissioned by Billy Tea in 1903.

But it was not only tea for which Inglis is remembered. An accomplished and industrious man, he was a politician, a director of several companies, a writer and supporter of the arts. He died in 1908.

Click here for a Google Map.



  1. I cannot tell you how often I read a report between a specific International Exhibition and the success of an artist/architect/scientist/manufacturer etc. That the Sydney International Exhibition in 1880 gave Inglis the opportunity to promote Indian tea in Australia in front of tens of thousands of people makes perfect sense. Ditto that he went on to become the agent for the Indian Tea Association of Calcutta.

    I note that the office and warehouse building for tea merchants building wasn't built until after WW1 ended. So where did the tea merchants do business in Australia until 1919?

    (Congratters on 40 years :) My 45th is imminent)

    1. Thanks Hels - time flies when you are having fun! :-)

      I suppose there were other accommodations, either owned or rented, that were used prior to this.

  2. This is fascinating! I wonder what the original words to waltzing matilda were?

    1. There is some info on that here:

  3. Often thought I would like to try this restaurant, must do. Interesting history of the building.


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