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.
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.
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).
I’m doing a LOT of travelling as part of my research for my thesis. Recently, I did a trip to Queensland to look at the history of the nineteenth century arcades there. It was a fruitful journey that answered a number of questions that couldn’t be resolved through online research.
It allowed me to visit the sites & understand their location and placement within the cityscape of both the nineteenth century & today, and I also collected reams of information, images, plans, maps, directories, council records and other resources that will assist with my research.
Additionally I was able to gain valuable information through direct contact with the staff of the archives and libraries there that yielded some revelations. Some of the information was contextual and this was vital. Despite growing up in Brisbane, I knew comparatively little about its history compared to Sydney & Melbourne, as that has been where my history and heritage work has focused up until recently.
There were four arcades constructed in Queensland prior to 1901 – while I say nineteenth-century a lot, my study actually extends to 1901, in order for me to consider one of these specific Queensland sites, constructed in the year of Federation and on the cusp of the new century that brought great changes to the Australian urban landscape.
Two were constructed in Brisbane and both were the brainwave of enterprising businessman Henry Morwitch, who lived a truly international life throughout the British Empire and beyond. Born in Poland, he migrated to England, then Victoria, followed by New Zealand, back over to Brisbane (with a sojourn in Gympie), then to Sydney and, at the end of his life, returning to Britain. His two arcades were built on the busiest commercial street in Brisbane, Queen Street, in close proximity to each other.
These were the Royal Exhibition Arcade, constructed in 1877 and demolished in the years around World War I, and the Grand Arcade (fronting Queen and Edward Streets), built in 1885 and demolished in parts between the mid 1920s to late 1930s.
Both sites are now taken up by commercial buildings featuring similar tenants, although certainly on a different scale. The Royal Exhibition Arcade was on the site of Macarthur Central, a large, recently constructed, shopping centre with diverse shops and eateries. As for the Grand, the Tattersall’s Arcade, part of the Tattersall’s Club buildings constructed between World Wars I and II, sits on the exact footprint of the Grand Arcade.
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.
The first was constructed in Charters Towers, nearly 1400 km from Brisbane, in the mining country of Far North Queensland. In 1888 the town was a city with a rapidly expanding population, drawn by rich lure of its gold discoveries and usurping the land of its traditional owners. By 1899 it had a population of 25,000 and was one of the biggest cities in the Australian colonies.
Entrepreneurs in Charters Towers used the gold wealth to create a European-style city, commissioning architects, often from the cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, to design buildings in the manner of the high boom metropolises far to the south. One of these was the Royal Arcade, today known as the Stock Exchange Arcade, constructed in 1888 for businessman Alexander Malcolm and designed by Sydney architect Mark Cooper Day. It was never completely finished due to Malcolm becoming insolvent, and today the back remains open to the land and laneway at the rear. It’s the only remaining arcade from the nineteenth century in Queensland and both it and the town, with its mining history and several heritage sites, are fantastic spots to visit.
The last site I visited was in Townsville, 140 km east of Charters Towers on the coast. It’s a quite expansive city of 170,000 people. In 1901, the year of Federation, the Earl of Hopetoun, first Governor-General of Australia, opened the large municipal civic buildings constructed on Flinders Street. The structure, which took up a significant section of the block, included a Town Hall, a theatre, a licensed hotel, a market and a shopping arcade.
Unfortunately, not much survives in records nor in the collective memory about this arcade and before I arrived I doubted that it even was a real arcade in the sense that I was defining them. But I found some tantalising evidence in the Townsville City Library that did confirm it was an ‘authentic’ shopping arcade. This photocopy of a cross-section came from the original plans, which certainly existed in the 1990s, but now appear to be lost.
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.
This amazing collection of buildings, built during a period of intense change for Australia, were unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1978 and today, the current municipal buildings, a typical example of 1980s civic architecture, stand in its place.
Despite the fact that the majority of these arcades no longer exists, seeing the sites on which they stood (and still stand, in the case of the Royal Arcade), allowed me to better understand their placement within the urban environment that no amount of looking at images or maps can provide. I also feel much more illuminated as to their place within the history of the cities in which they were built and the overarching historical narrative of those places.
The experience of road tripping to Charters Towers in particularly was fascinating as the bitumen road from tropical seaside Townsville took me to the dry almost outback of western Queensland and allowed me to understand the true feat of what was constructed in this now small town in the last decades of the nineteenth century.
I’m currently collating all the material and information gathered and this will figure in a longer case study of specific arcades that will contribute to my thesis.
This trip was made possibly by a Graduate Research Arts Travel Scholarship from the University of Melbourne. Lastly, a big shout out to those who assisted so much in my research on this whirlwind two week trip:
Charters Towers & Dalrymple Archives Group, especially archivist and curator, Michael Brumby, who was excessively generous with his time and resources, and was willing to have great long chats about history with me.