As one of the earliest settled areas of Brisbane, Spring Hill was surveyed, subdivided and land sold to investors from the 1850s – within a decade of the Moreton Bay colony being proclaimed as a free settlement.   The Wickham Terrace and Leichhardt Street ridges were the first to be sold and these were divided into one acre blocks.  What is now St Pauls Terrace was then part of Leichhardt Street and the area around Gloucester and Thornbury streets was designated Northern Allotments 91, 92, 95, 96 and 97.  These were auctioned and sold in 1853.

Lithographers T Ham & Co’s 1863 map of Brisbane (featured above) shows Northern Suburban Allotments 91, 92, 95, 96 and 97 along the Leichhardt Street ridge.  Allotment 95, the land around Gloucester and Thornbury streets, is owned by Tom Dowse a prominent figure in the early colony and as the Moreton Bay correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, a prolific and popular diarist.

Allotment 96 (between that and Boundary St) is owned by grazier David Cannon McConnell, whose wife Mary founded Brisbane’s first children’s hospital.  The Industrial School Reserve is on the site of what is now St James College. Industrial schools were established to provide training for ‘neglected children’ or orphans but they were also used as reformatory institutions for children convicted of crimes.  Next to this is land owned by Father James Hanly, Brisbane’s first catholic priest. It would become St James College.

W A Brown, the owner of the land between McConnell Street and Hartley Street, was William Anthony Brown, the first Sheriff of the Moreton Bay Colony and Police Magistrate of Brisbane. He arrived in 1848 and took up the position of Postmaster.

On this map, Gloucester Street becomes Gloucester Lane below Thornbury Street and there is no link through to Hartley Street. Gloucester Lane ended with a disease-ridden pool of stagnant water. Hartley Street was Northern Suburban Allotment 60C.


Tom Dowse

Tom Dowse

Tom Dowse was a prominent figure in the early colony. One of the earliest settlers, setting out from Sydney within days of Moreton Bay being proclaimed a free colony in May 1842, he was later described as its best PR man – though that wasn’t always the case.   Dowse and his family arrived in Brisbane on 9 July 1842 on The Falcon, a schooner part-owned by his brother-in-law.  They landed at night, exhausted, cold and hungry from the voyage and he thought Brisbane “the abode of damn’d Spirits, so unmistakably miserable did all the surroundings appear”.

An engaging and energetic figure, he became variously the first Brisbane river ferry operator, auctioneer, cigar purveyor, census taker, importer, shipping agent and real estate agent.  But perhaps more importantly he was the Moreton Bay correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and one of Brisbane’s most popular early diarists – someone dubbed him Brisbane’s Samuel Pepys.    He was also politically active.  One of his obituaries would later say “he was always in the front of every political movement. He worked tirelessly for Separation and vigorously opposed the inhuman trade of convict transportation”.  Throughout the 1860s, 70s and 80s until the time of his death in 1885, he wrote a series of immensely popular recollections of colonial Brisbane in the Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander under the name, ‘Old Tom’.

Born in Hackney in 1820, Dowse had been convicted of theft aged 14 and sentenced to life imprisonment and transportation to NSW.  For some reason he had stolen his elder brother Henry’s clothes and his widowed mother had accused him of theft to teach him a lesson. It had all gotten out of hand.  Later, filled with remorse, she moved with Henry from England to Sydney to be near Tom.

His fortunes waned more often than they waxed but it wasn’t for the want of trying. It was said that he was possibly too generous and was sometimes taken advantage of. Then there was his fondness for gambling on the horses and his liking for a drink.

Dowse took the first census in Brisbane in 1846, and recorded 614 persons living in 107 houses in North Brisbane and 346 in 84 in South Brisbane.

(North Brisbane included the City and Spring Hill.)




Next to the school reserve in Ham’s map is an area of land owned by Reverend James Hanly. It would become St James College.  Hanly was Brisbane’s first Catholic priest who had arrived from Ireland aged 29 in 1843.  Hanly’s parish was vast – as far as the Darling Downs. His land on the corner of Hartley Street and Boundary Street was called Castleracket and according to an early parishioner, it was there that he fed and exercised ‘quite an unusual number of horses’ which he rode in order to visit his parishioners. Later he built a house.



Reminiscing about early house building in Brisbane, Tom Dowse wrote:

As I have before remarked, the settlement, as regards house accommodation, consisted entirely of the various buildings erected under the authority and inspection of the Government officials during the penal times. But it was naturally anticipated that the purchasers of the land sold at the first Government sale of town allotments would improve their properties.

 “Several pairs of sawyers commenced falling and converting into boards and scantling the numerous pine trees then abounding in the scrub lands bordering the township, and a little cutter named the Nelson was busily employed procuring shells (to be converted into lime) from the shores of the bay. Unfortunately for the owner of this little craft, the description of buildings erected in the early days of the settlement did not necessitate the use of a large quantity of either bricks or mortar, and the result of this shell speculation was anything but favourable to the worthy projector, and, like many subsequent schemes to open out new industries, was before the age, and necessarily unprofitable.”

Throughout the 1860s the Northern Allotments were subdivided into smaller blocks and sold.    A scattering of houses began appearing in Gloucester and Thornbury streets, from grand mansions at the top on the Leichhardt Street corner (now St Paul’s Terrace) that would catch the views and breezes, to cottages for the merchant class lower down.  It stopped at the junction with Thornbury Street.  Below this was the much narrower Gloucester Lane – described as a ‘narrow back lane’ – which ended near what is now St James College with an area of stagnant water “with all the germs of disease and death floating on it” that was constantly being complained about.  Over the years various complaints were made to the authorities about the need for draining the stagnant pool that sat at the bottom near Hartley Street, which was thought to be a source of cholera.


Another Fever Bed
Another Fever Bed – Brisbane Courier December 1864

Newspaper ads from the early 1860s, show that the top of Gloucester Street was a location for prime real estate. There were “10-roomed brick mansions” and agents called for “Capitalists, Speculators and Others “ to view “Splendid freehold properties”.  Houses were marketed on the merits of the quality of the neighbours already residing there – prominent local citizens such as “Messr Warry, Petty & Others”.  (The Petty or Peattie family lived at Wexford Cottage on the corner of Gloucester and Leichhardt streets.) Further down the hill, houses were more modest but nonetheless were well-built for solid citizens.  Ads offering board and residence were commonplace.  There were “Vacancies for Gentlemen at Mrs Lindsays” and “Comfortable board and residence for two young ladies in a private family”.  Further down the hill local speculators developed purpose-built timber cottages to rent out to workers for short-term accommodation. Some allotments changed hands more than once before they were developed. In 1860, two blocks opposite each other in Thornbury Street “either side of Mr Scott Schoolteacher” were offered for sale at £27 each.

In 1867, two stone cottages (now 17 & 19 Gloucester Street) were built for two Scottish families, the Lows and the Gregors. It’s possible there were other stone cottages. An ad in the Brisbane Courier in April 1865 offers “a six-room STONE HOUSE with detached kitchen and water tank to be let”.

17 and 19 Gloucester Street
17 and 19 Gloucester Street, built in 1867 for two Scottish families


By the early 1870s, many subdivisions had still to be developed. In 1873, eight blocks of land at the top of Gloucester Street were offered for sale “opposite Mrs Peattie’s residence, commanding A Magnificent View of the River, the City and the Suburbs and occupying unexceptionally the very choicest site about Brisbane, either for beauty, salubrity or Convenience to the Centre of the City, being easily and readily accessible from Queen-street, the Valley, and as though in the heart of the Town, while being far removed above the inconvenience and discomforts of the actual City location.”

In 1866 – perhaps during one of those many times when he was strapped for cash – Tom Dowse sold subdivisions 20 and 21 to John Gallagher.  These two (now 53 and 61 Gloucester Street), were just below the junction with Thornbury Street.   Gallagher lived in Hartley Street.

In 1879, Gallagher sold the land at 20 and 21 to his neighbour in Hartley Street, George Loscha cab proprietor. He lived on the corner of Hartley and Boundary Street and kept his horses there.


The Telegraph 1880
The Telegraph 1880

Losch bought four blocks of land in Gloucester Lane and built houses to rent.  Brisbane was undergoing a population boom and there was a ready market for rental accommodation.

He was involved in local matters in Spring Hill, requesting service improvements and complaining about sanitation. He joined the chorus of complaints about the swamp at the bottom of Gloucester Lane – without a great deal of success by the looks of it.

He also complained about the architect, Andrea Stombuco who lived in one of the stone cottages further up the Gloucester Street hill.  Unimpressed by Stombuco’s fame as a designer of important churches, schools and grand homes, Losch was more concerned about the smells coming from his neighbour’s attempts to build a flushing toilet in his back yard.

On number 21 (now 61) Losch built a terraced pair of two-storey cottages with a dividing brick wall. A mirror image of each other, they each had two downstairs rooms, with a hallway leading to a kitchen at the back.  Narrow steep staircases led up to two bedrooms. Each kitchen had a brick hearth and fireplace – possibly with a range for cooking. The bricks were made at Yorks Hollow (Now Victoria Park) and the glass for the window panes was made nearby.


61 Gloucester Street built in 1879, formerly a pair of two-storey workers cottages.
61 Gloucester Street built in 1879, formerly a pair of two-storey workers cottages.



It’s impossible to say what Losch’s house on subdivision 20 (now number 53 Gloucester St) looked like because in 1883 it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1884.

The fire had started next door in 19 (now 47) Gloucester Street and being less than a metre away, soon spread.  Number 19 was a timber cottage tenanted by Ned Thrower, a boot upper maker.  It was owned by William Peter Gordon who lived opposite in a more substantial house, now One Thornbury St B&B. Gordon owned a joinery and furniture warehouse at 79 Edward Street (a business that would expand to become Gordon and Gotch).   There were suspicions about the fire from the start because Thrower had sent his family to live at Sandgate yet he had been seen in Gloucester Street not long before the fire.  More to the point, he had insured his furniture, which he had bought from Gordon, for a substantial sum and he still owed money on it.

An enquiry began on 16 August 1883 and a series of witnesses gave often conflicting but always colourful evidence about the community around Gloucester and Thornbury streets.  Thrower’s servant said it was common for fires to escape the tin-lined or brick hearth and set timber floors alight. Thrower and Losch had argued forcibly the morning after the fire.  Losch’s tenants at number 20 Tom and Annie Woods and their young children had needed to be rescued and most of their uninsured possessions had been destroyed or damaged.

In the event, the fire was judged not to have been deliberately lit. But the following year, the Queensland Government, responding to fires like this, introduced the Undue Subdivision of Land Prevention Act 1885.  This made it illegal to subdivide land into lots of less than 16 perches and it imposed minimum lengths effectively banning multi-tenanted dwellings.

The few purpose-built multi-tenanted dwellings that survive in Brisbane are in general pre-1885.  Two examples of houses built on small lots are the pair of identical two-story timber houses at what are now 16 and 20 Gloucester Street, built in 1882 by John Walls, a carpenter in Boundary Street.



Gordon’s house on the corner of Thornbury and Gloucester Lane was one of four gable-roofed houses built in the mid-1870s by John Jackson, one of Brisbane’s early produce merchants (who occupied the furthest – now 15).   Jackson had his warehouses at the back of the house (now Charlton Brown College).

Gordon and his wife Ann had formerly lived in the cottage they rented to Ned Thrower.  They rented at least two cottages: Flagstaff Cottage on the corner of Gloucester and Thornbury streets and Bognor Cottage in Gloucester Street, a “four-roomed, lined, ceiled, and papered cottage with a kitchen, servants’ room and back dining room, and water laid on”.  It’s possible this number is 19.

Properties at numbers 16, 19, 20, 21, 23 and 61 Gloucester Street are heritage listed as are houses at 1, 7, 11 and 15 Thornbury Street.

Lower Gloucester Street with One Thornbury St B&B on the left and 49 Gloucester St (19) on the right. 53 Gloucester St (20) is next door further down the hill.
Lower Gloucester Street with One Thornbury St B&B on the left and 49 Gloucester St (19) on the right. 53 Gloucester St (20) is next door further down the hill.


Four gabled roofed houses built in the mid-1870s, now nos. 1 – 15 Thornbury Street (15 closest to the camera) 
Four gabled roofed houses built in the mid-1870s, now nos. 1 – 15 Thornbury Street (15 closest to the camera)


no. I Thornbury Street (now a B & B named One Thornbury)
no. I Thornbury Street (now a B & B named One Thornbury)