Timber Cottage, Spring Hill

Spring Hill, Brisbane, in the 1890s (State Library of Queensland)

In addition to the history of the cottage, I was also commissioned by the owner of this house to research something a bit different. They had heard that the spring that gave Spring Hill its name, had been located where their house was and wanted to find out if this was true. They also had some very large trees in their backyard and wanted me to see if I could find out how old they were. Both requests turned out to be quite challenging!

Spring Hill, c1905 (State Library of Queensland)

The Land

The traditional owners of the land north of the Brisbane River are the Turrbal people, who called it ‘Meeaan-jin’. This area had been used as a camping and hunting location by the indigenous population for tens of thousands of years. The Turrbal were fishing people and relied on the river, creeks and swamps of the area for food. Barambin was one of their largest and most important camps. This large, swampy area north of Gregory Terrace was originally known by Europeans as York’s Hollow. In the early days of Spring Hill, the area was used for brick making operations, with employees and their families also camping in the vicinity. The area was later gazetted as Victoria Park. In the early days of the Moreton Bay settlement, the area between what are now Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley was known by the somewhat oxymoronic name of Valley Hill and remained covered in virgin forest. Some of the earliest land purchases around Brisbane were made in this area, as it was just north of the main settlement of Brisbane Town. Early subdivision of the area in the 1850s saw the gazetting of Wickham and Gregory Terraces. Gregory Terrace was named after Queensland’s first Surveyor-General, Augustus C. Gregory and was the northern perimeter of Brisbane Town from 1859.

Detail of map of North Brisbane in 1844. Note there is no development in the area north of the windmill (today located on Wickham Terrace) (Brisbane City Council Archives)

Detail of map showing the extent of development in North Brisbane by 1858, with Gregory Terrace the northern boundary (Brisbane City Council Archives)

The Spring Hill area was one of the first areas to have a reliable water supply in Brisbane, first from the natural spring that gave its name to the suburb and filled water holes in York’s Hollow and Spring Hollow (today’s Water Street). When these supplies became insufficient and polluted, water was obtained from the reservoirs built behind the windmill on Wickham Terrace in 1871 and 1882. The area was also among the first to be connected to town water and sewerage, being reticulated by 1918.

An Englishman named George Dickins (also spelt Dickens) took advantage of the early land sales in what was then the Parish of North Brisbane. On 27 December 1858, he purchased four adjacent allotments, Suburban Portions 225, 226, 227 and 228, which measured close to seven acres in total. These allotments lay within a triangular slice of land, bordered by Gregory Terrace and a large area of park lands to the north, Fortescue Street to the east and “Old Boundary Street” to the south. The lot on which the subject house now sits, covers a small section of both the original Portions 227 and 228.

Detail of map showing George Dickins’ land holdings at Spring Hill in 1865. The dotted lines represent water courses in the area (Department of Natural Resources and Mines)

George Dickins was born in London around 1820 and travelled to Australia in 1849, arriving in Brisbane in May of that year. He was induced to come to “Cooksland” (Queensland), by John Dunmore Lang, under his immigration settlement scheme, wherein free land was granted on arrival in Australia, if you covered the cost of your passage. However, George later disputed Lang’s claims, stating instead that he promised free passage to Australia with a purchase of land. Either way, George and many others claimed never to have received their promised or purchased land. In George’s case he had paid one hundred pounds for eighty acres, but was presumedly left to build a new life in Brisbane without this money or land. Regardless of this early set back, George seems to have done rather well for himself, owning a 36 perch lot on Edward Street by 1851 and purchasing the additional four allotments on Gregory Terrace by 1858.

Alderman George Dickins (Brisbane City Council Archives)

George Dickins doesn’t seem to have ever actually lived on his land at Spring Hill, however Dickens Street (one end now Wedd Street) was surely named after him, as it is shown running through the middle of his original allotments in later maps. The seven acres of land are recorded as being vacant in December 1859, with Dickins residing at his other property, the North Brisbane Hotel in Queen Street. In November 1861, he sells sixteen subdivisions of his land at Spring Hill. From 1864, Dickins lived at, and held the licence for, the Royal George Hotel on Ann Street., This hotel was the precursor to today’s pub of the same name, on the corner of Ann and Brunswick Streets in Fortitude Valley. Dickins served as Alderman for the Fortitude Valley Ward on Brisbane Municipal Council between 1865 - 1866 and also on the Legislative Committee in 1866. In 1867, George appears to divest himself of some of his land investments, selling subdivisions of Portion 225. George remains the hotel keeper at the Royal George Hotel until 1869, however by 1874, he is instead listed as a Butcher on Ann Street., Dickins eventually died of cancer at the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum on North Stradbroke Island, on 8 September 1886, and was buried in Dunwich Cemetery.

Detail of 1874 map of Brisbane Town, showing the four portions purchased by George Dickins in 1858. The outline of Dickens Street (later Wedd Street) can also be seen (Department of Natural Resources and Mines)

Detail of 1863 map of Brisbane, showing Dickens Street now running through Dickins’ original allotments (State Library of Queensland)

Houses must have been constructed on Dickens Street after Dickins sold the subdivisions, as by 1874, the street has sixteen residents. The residents are an interesting working class mix and include a bricklayer, a tailor, a baker, a ferryman, a cab operator, a mariner and four clerks. Some of them possibly ran their businesses from this location also. By 1876, the western end of Dickens Street has been renamed Wedd Street and the land fronting the street on the northern side had been subdivided into eight smaller allotments. Between 1878 and 1898, records show that there were only three to four residents on the north side of Wedd Street. These residents were located approximately where numbers 47, 57 and 63 Wedd Street and 122 Fortescue Street are today.

Detail of an 1895 map of Brisbane showing Dickens St renamed Wedd St (State Library of Queensland)

On 5 January 1891, James Hislop buys Subdivisions 20, 21 and 22 of Dickins’ Portions 226, 227 and 228. James Hislop was an undertaker and ran his own firm before going into partnership with his son, John Hislop, in 1889. John eventually takes over the business and from 1910 it is operated as John Hislop & Sons from 544 Queen Street, Brisbane. 

Like Dickins, Hislop appears to have bought the land as an investment, as records do not show him ever living there. By December 1899, Hislop has subdivided the land further and begins selling the re-subdivisions.

James Hislop’s Undertaking Business at 71 Queen Street, Brisbane, about 1892 (State Library of Queensland)

John Hislop & Sons at 544 Queen St Brisbane in 1916 (State Library of Queensland)

The House

On 2 February 1899, Ann Allan purchases Re-subdivision 4 of Subdivision 21, measuring 18 perches, from Hislop. This land is the current lot on which the cottage is situated. Ann and her husband, Alexander Allan, were already residing in the area when they made the purchase, recorded as living on Dickens Street in 1898. They had arrived in Brisbane from Scotland on board the Duke of Sutherland on 7 May 1886. Their children, Agnes, Alexander Junior and John also travelled with them. 

After buying the land at Spring Hill in 1899, the couple appear to have built a house there almost immediately, as they are registered as living at Wedd Street by 1900. As Alexander was a carpenter, it is likely that it was he who built the house. This c1899 house survives today, with some extensions and alterations over the years.

During the Boer War in South Africa, Alexander served in the Sixth Queensland Imperial Bushmen and reached the rank of Corporal. While her husband was serving overseas, Ann took in boarders at their house on Wedd Street. She also appears to have rented the house out for a few years, whilst she and her daughter joined Alexander in South Africa, after the war. Frank Freudenberg is recorded at their address in 1904 and John Bannon in 1907. Alexander and Ann’s daughter, Agnes, is married to Robert Higson in December 1904, whilst they are all in South Africa.

Alexander Allan in his military uniform, c1901

Report of Agnes and Robert’s South African marriage

The Allans return to Australia and were still living at their house on Wedd Street in 1910, when Alexander dies there in October of that year. Ann is listed there in the 1911 Queensland Post Office Directory and remains there for over thirty six years, until her death in December 1947. Agnes inherits the house after her mother dies, but doesn’t live there. Agnes and Robert made their home at 21 Wickham Street, Newmarket, after returning from overseas. In February 1949, Agnes sells the Wedd Street property to Seymour Douglas Tooth.

Seymour Tooth was a teacher and eventually Assistant Master at Barcaldine State School, before relocating to Brisbane. He lived at 27 Wedd Street after purchasing it and may have chosen the location to be close to relatives, as another Tooth family are living at number 54. He entered politics and in 1964, was appointed the Minister for Health in the Nicklin Government. In January 1955, he sells the property to Henry Phillipson. However, Phillipson dies only seven months later and the property passes to Reginald Rufus Barlow as Devisee in Trust. Barlow then sells the property to a widow, Mary Young.

Location of the Spring

Despite extensive searches of maps and documentary resources online and at the State Library of Queensland, Brisbane City Council Archives and the Department of Natural Resources and Mines, the exact location of the spring that gives the suburb of Spring Hill its name, could not be found. It was uncovered that a water course did originally run behind the Wedd Street houses however. It is is unlikely that the spring was located there though, as the water is recorded as flowing from further to the east.

Detail of an 1844 map of Brisbane showing the chain of waterholes covering the area that is now Spring Hill (Brisbane City Council Archives)

Detail of a map from 1858, showing Spring Hollow and the path of the water course through Fortitude Valley and Spring Hill (Department of Natural Resources and Mines)

An 1865 Map of Brisbane showing Spring Hollow (National Library of Australia)

As land was sold and development progressed to the north of Brisbane Town, the lowest parts of the suburb remained water holes. A water course stretched from past Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley and ran all the way to the intersection of Boundary Street and Gregory Terrace. This water course would have passed through what is now the back yard of number 27 Wedd Street. These water holes were presumably fed by the spring, but unfortunately it is not marked on any of the maps. This may indicate that it was an underground spring and the exact location was not known even back then. The section of this water course, from Brunswick Street to just past today’s Rogers Street, was known as Spring Hollow, so it is likely that the Spring was somewhere near here. Water Street today closely follows the path of the original Spring Hollow.

A 1914 map showing Water Street running along what was previously Spring Hollow (Department of Natural Resources and Mines)

A survey plan from 1914, showing the outlines of the houses on Wedd Street and the location of a modern sewer (dotted line) (Brisbane City Council Archives)

The age of the Trees

It was confirmed from a 1946 aerial photo, that the trees in the back yard of the subject house were already mature at that date. Unfortunatley no other earlier photos or or references could be found. However, the evidence from the 1946 photo alone means that they are quite old specimens, as well as being rare survivors in the inner city!

A survey plan from 1914, showing the outlines of the houses on Wedd Street and the location of a modern sewer (dotted line) (Brisbane City Council Archives)

1946 aerial photo of Wedd Street (Brisbane City Council Archives)

Notes

References citing the sources of  the information contained in this report have been omitted from this online version to make it easier to read. Some images and maps have also been cropped to show details more clearly. Please contact me if you would like a fully referenced copy of the report, or if you want to know where to find the full size versions of the images and maps.

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