May 2004, The Courier Mail

Bricks and mortar view of history.

Review article by John Wright

THE Victorians were great demolishers. Wherever they followed earlier colonial builders in Britain’s expanding 19th century empire, they showed little compunction about preserving history or architectural heritage.

Pre-Victorian Brisbane, a town which grew out of the Moreton Bay Convict Settlement, was a repository, albeit a modest one, of stone and brick Georgian‑style buildings erected largely by convict labour from the late 1820s.

They included a military barracks and hospital, a jail, a prisoners’ barracks and hospital, a parsonage, the settlement’s Commissariat Store, a windmill, cottages and other official buildings.

Of these early structures, only the windmill (on Wickham Terrace) and the Commissariat Store (in William Street) would survive the remodelling of Brisbane by the Victorians and those who followed.

The rest was lost, except in the drawings and paintings of the few colonial artists of the early 19th century who found their way north.

Their observations form a solid pictorial basis for Historic Bris­bane: Convict Settlement to River City, a meticulously researched and impressively presented work by Brisbane‑based author and histo­rian Susanna de Vries and her husband Jake, an architect, photographer and artist.

As the author says, those cities in the world which have a record of their earliest history are fortunate, and Brisbane was one of them.

The first structures and townscapes were sketched, not long after they were built, by commissariat officer William Looker, who lived at Moreton Bay between 1830 and 1835, and contemporary Henry Boucher Bowerman. Their work is reproduced in this book, as is that of colonial artists Owen Stanley, Conrad Martens and others.

The illustrations alone make Historic Brisbane a very satisfying introduction to the city’s history and offer a reminder of how bleak this city was in its early days and of how much of the built heritage was lost.

The drawings, paintings, maps and early photographs are accompanied by research (and recent photographs) which fill out the story behind Brisbane’s transition.

Why did the first bridge over the Brisbane River collapse? What happened on the treadmill at the Wickham St windmill and in the Female Factory, which stood on the Queen Street site of the current GPO? And why did the Belle Vue Hotel, ironically a wonderful example of Victorian architecture, have to be demolished?

The answers are here in a very readable history of this dynamic city.

Historic Brisbane, Convict Settlement to River City, by Susanna and
Jake de Vries