Colony by Colony: Nineteenth- (& one twentieth-) century arcades of Queensland

Grand Arcade (front right) & Royal Exhibition Arcade (fourth building from rh corner), both featuring wrought iron verandahs, Queen Street, Brisbane, c1908, State Library Queensland.

Previously I’ve given an outline of the nineteenth-century shopping arcades built in both Victoria and Sydney. By the mid-1870s,  five shopping arcades had been built in Victoria, the most recent being the Victoria Arcade & Academy of Music on Bourke Street (1876). Although Sydney had been promised an arcade as early as 1859 (Illawarra Mercury, 24 March 1859, 2), one was not actually built until 1880.

While it is probably not a surprise to many that the first arcades in the Australian colonies were built in the booming goldrush metropolis of Melbourne, the second city where they were constructed is probably more of a revelation. Today we move further north to Queensland, to briefly touch on the three arcades built there in the nineteenth-century, and another that just sneaks into my research end date of 1901.

It was in the small colonial capital of Brisbane that one entrepreneurial man built both of the first arcades in Queensland – the Royal Exhibition Arcade (1877) and the Grand Arcade (1885) both within a few doors of each other on Queen Street, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare. The story of these arcades is inseparable from the life of their owners, Henry and Louisa Morwitch, about whose lives I’ve recently written a book chapter, and about whom I will write more in another post.

An advertisement for Professor G.W. Gibson, Botanic Physician, from the Queensland Figaro newspaper, 20 April 1889, 601. He was based in the Royal Exhibition Arcade, seen at left.

The other two arcades that were built in Queensland were in seemingly unlikely locations but, at the time of their construction, represented the progress and modernity of two regional towns that were booming, both economically and in terms of population.

Firstly, the Royal Arcade was constructed in Charters Towers, nearly 1400 km from Brisbane, in the mining country of Far North Queensland, by businessman Alexander Malcolm and designed by Sydney architect Mark Cooper Day.  In 1888 the town was rapidly expanding, with a population drawn by lure of new gold discoveries (and displacing the traditional owners, the Gudjal people).

Although it was never finished (it still is missing it’s back half!) it is in fact, the only of the four Queensland arcades that I’m studying that still exists. Because it housed the Charters Towers Stock Exchange for a number of years, it’s now known as the Stock Exchange Arcade and is again operating as an arcade, run by the National Trust of Queensland.

Charters Towers Stock Exchange building (former Royal Arcade), c1890. Photographer unknown. State Library of Queensland
The Stock Exchange Arcade, Charters Towers, 2014. © Nicole Davis. Note the missing back half!

The final arcade in Queensland that I will look at is the Town Hall Arcade in Townsville, which was built by Townsville’s city council as part of a large development known as the Market Reserve Buildings, which included a Town Hall, Arcade, Theatre Royal and Central Hotel. The theatre was completed in 1900 and the complex was opened by Lord Hopetoun in September the next year (who raised the new flag of the federated Australia above it).

It was a magnificent example of very early Federation architecture and must have been quite a site to behold. This amazing collection of buildings (see an image here) was partly demolished in 1973 and tragically destroyed by fire in 1978. Today, the current municipal buildings, a typical example of 1980s civic architecture, stand in its place (Townsville Bulletin, 15 February 2015).

Town Hall, Flinders Street, Townsville, 1914. Photographer: W.J. Laurie. City Libraries Townsville, 315258. The Arcade entrance is below the tower.
Arcade building and premises of Brownhill, Kirk and Company, Market Reserve Building, Flinders Street, 1913. Photographer unknown. City Libraries Townsville, 323846.

If you want to read a little bit more about these Queensland arcades, head to my post detailing the big road trip I took to do site visits and archival research on all four in 2014. In the future, I’ll be doing profiles of each of the arcades as well – in that previous post, the Townsville arcade was a particular mystery, but I’ve found out a lot more since then!

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