Bird’s eye view of Brisbane 1888 – W. A. Clarson
Bird’s eye view of Brisbane 1888 – W. A. Clarson

The events described occurred in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, and a fast-growing city. Its first years following settlement in 1824 were as a convict colony. By 1851 some ten years after ceasing to be a convict settlement, Brisbane had a population of 2,500. This had doubled by 1859 when Queensland became a separate colony. By 1871, the population had increased to 19,000. In another ten years to 1881 it became 37,000, then a leap to 88,000 by 1891. At Federation in 1901 the population was 121,000. This had doubled by 1924 and doubled again by 1953, passing the half million mark in 1954.  At present (2019/20) the population of Brisbane is two and a half million1Figures extracted from Queensland Government Records.  Of course, residential areas have spread out over the years as the population increased and larger land holdings were subdivided into smaller and smaller lots.

In the principal period being examined (1890 to 1920), the population increased from some 85,000 to just over 200,000. It is interesting to bear this background in mind.

Some other facts assist an appreciation of this earlier period:

  • January 1888 saw the first through trains between Sydney and Brisbane, after changing trains at Wallangarra due to the different gauge.
  • There was no linkup of rail near the city centre until completion of the Merivale Street Bridge in 1978. Southern Suburb trains stopped at South Brisbane Station, necessitating a trip across the river via Victoria Bridge by road to either reach the city or to go to Roma Street Station for the northern lines. Suburban tram lines (electrified from 1897) used the Victoria Bridge. There were other forms of public transport.
  • In July 1891 the Railway extended as far as north as Gympie.
  • February 6th, 13th, and 17th 1893 saw major flooding of the Brisbane River resulting in partial destruction of the Victoria Bridge and much devastation. Somerset Dam was built later to mitigate future flooding.
  • A severe depression struck in the early 1890’s. Many banks ‘suspending payment’ in early 1893. Many again resumed after mid-year.