The history of the Coronation Drive Office Park - Part 6
A site of industry
By Angus Veitch
The Coronation Drive Office Park (CDOP) site in the 1850s and 1860s was primarily farmland scattered with a few houses. Agricultural uses continued into at least the 1880s, with market gardens operating alongside J.G. Cribb’s more experimental activities. In the 1870s, new kinds of industry began to arrive at the CDOP site.
The Milton Distillery (1871-1889)
Early in 1871, a distillery was built on the land fronting the northern end of Cribb Street. It boasted a novel technical design and was claimed by some (though not all) to be Queensland’s first rectifying distillery.(1) The physical particulars of the distillery were described in the Brisbane Courier:
The building has an extreme length of sixty foot by a width of twenty, and is divided into two stories. Brick and stone form the materials of which it is composed, and the flooring of the second story is of beech. The ground floor is divided into a bonded store, a room to be used for the storing of the materials employed on the works, and still-house, each twenty foot by twenty. On the upper floor is the fermenting room, in which will be fitted twelve vats each estimated to hold 1100 gallons. The still is capable of containing 800 gallons, and is fitted with a syphon refrigerator in a galvanised iron tank. The copper rectifier is capable of holding 1500 gallons, and seems to be an excellent piece of workmanship. The steam boiler, which is of sufficient dimensions for the use of the establishment, is placed in a commodious shed outside the main building. There is also another large and strongly-built shed, which will be used for bottling and other purposes.
… The building stands upon an allotment of about an acre in extent, and presents a plain substantial appearance. Mr. Samwell, the proprietor, is a new arrival, being not more than a year in the colony, and certainly deserves a great credit for the spirit and enterprise which he has evinced in embarking his capital in initiating an industry of this kind. Every description of spirituous liquor will be manufactured on the premises, and with a protective duty of one-third the amount paid upon imported spirits, there is every likelihood of a large trade being done.(2)
Probably the only surviving photograph of the distillery is the one shown above, which was taken during the flood in 1890. The photographer would have been standing on the railway line, possibly on the bridge over Cribb Street, looking east-south-east towards the opposite corner of the site. On the front of the building are the words ‘Milton Distillery Comp. Estab. 1870’.(3)
Although the distillery closed in 1889, the building remained in place for many years. In his ‘Reminiscences of Early Toowong’, written in 1917 but describing a journey along the River Road in 1872, John Brenan recalled:
There were a couple of cottages between Little Cribb-street and the Milton-road, and immediately on the corner of the latter was the Milton Distillery, which was, I think owned by the Forsyth family and the inspector was Mr. A.E. Douglas. The word ‘Distillery’ has been deleted but ‘Milton’ remains, and the place is now occupied as a dwelling-house.
The building was there until at least 1949, when the Brisbane City Council purchased the land to expand the tram workshops (see Part 8). In July of that year, someone in the council took the photograph, above right, which shows the front of the building that was photographed in the 1890 flood and described by Brenan. Knowing that the building was standing as late as 1950 means that we can identify it on the City Council’s ‘detail plan’ of the site, which dates from 1927. The relevant part of the plan is shown below, with the distillery building circled. While nothing on this plan identifies the building, the surveyor’s field book provides the necessary information to do so.
The distillery produced rum, distilled wine and other spirits, but rum was the staple product. After 18 months of operation, William Samwell’s rum won first prize in the Intercolonial Exhibition in Sydney.(4) In the 12 months to 31 March 1872, the distillery produced 18,555 gallons of rum, equal to about one sixth of Queensland’s total production.(5) The following year, the distillery produced 34,498 gallons, a touch over one fifth of Queensland’s total.(6)
By that time, Samwell was no longer running the distillery. After losing a contractual dispute with his coppersmiths, he was forced to give up the distillery in December 1871.(7) The new owner was Robert Forsyth, who ran the business until 1876 when he had a contractual dispute of his own and also got into trouble with the Inspector of Distilleries for operating with an expired licence.
The next and last owners of the distillery were the brothers Nicholas and Edward Fitzgerald, who were well-known brewers from Castlemaine, Victoria.(8) With their partners, trading as Quinlan, Fitzgerald and Co., the Fitzgerald Brothers established the Castlemaine Brewery at the site of the current brewery in September 1878.(9)
Quinlan and Co. ran the distillery alongside the brewery until the distillery closed in 1889.(10) In the 1895 post office directory, the distillery site is listed as ‘Wilson, Quinlan, Gray & Co steam mills’, suggesting that the company found other uses for the site after the distillery closed. The vacant distillery was still listed in the 1907 directory, but by 1911 the building had become a residence.
The ice works (1876-1883)
Before the invention of electric fridges, ice was made in steam-powered factories. One such factory was established on the CDOP site in 1876, when the Queensland Ice Company set up their plant in the corner between the railway line and Boundary Street. The exact location is marked on the map to the right. As the image shows, the ice company’s premises did not front Boundary Street but were instead accessed by the now non-existent Boundary Lane. The site also backed onto Boundary Creek just upstream of E.J. Bennett’s residence.
The machinery installed by the ice company in 1876 had been imported from London but built to a patent originating in Geelong. According to a description in the Brisbane Courier:
The principle of the process used is the production of cold by the evaporation of ether in vacuum, and the conveyance of the cold, by the agency of brine, to the water operated upon. The evaporated ether is pumped through a large number of pipes in the refrigerator, which is a cylindrical vessel full of tubes. […] The necessary pumping power is supplied from a 80 horse-power Cornish boiler, and a horizontal engine equal to 20 horse-power. The Enoggera water is purified with alum for making the ice, and is also used for the boiler; but for all other purposes water is pumped up from a salt water creek close by, and condensed.
In 1883 the Queensland Ice Company wound up(11) and the premises and equipment were purchased by the Brisbane Ice Company, which was already operating a plant at a location near the present Parliament House.(12) The company’s director was Owen Gardner, who also owned the soft drink company Owen Gardner and Sons, which later merged with a rival to become Kirks.
The Brisbane Ice Company consolidated their operations at Milton, and after upgrading their machinery could produce six tonnes of ice per day. The company also modified the creek to better serve their operations. As a report in the Brisbane Courier in October 1884 explained:
The water required for the works is obtained from a well on the premises, 6ft. by 6ft., and about 25ft. deep, which is supplied from a creek hard by. The supply of water in the creek is maintained by three dams, which always kept it at a certain level and regulate the influence of the tide, as the creek runs into the river.
The ice company received repeated requests from their neighbour, E.J. Bennett, as well as the Toowong Shire Council to remove obstructions from the creek. They continued to dam the channel of the creek even after its connection to the river was blocked in 1887.(13) But by this time the ice company was on its last legs. Struggling after a wet and relatively cool summer, and in the face of stiffening competition from the Queensland Ice and Freezing Company (based at North Quay), the Brisbane Ice Company voluntarily wound up in late 1887 and its operations on the CDOP site ceased.(14)
Stables, garages and other businesses
Other than the distillery and the ice works, the most notable industrial activities on the CDOP site were the sanitary depot and the tram yards, each of which are discussed separately in Part 7. Operating alongside these was a range of other businesses and individual traders, many of them allied with the larger enterprises.
Along the River Road from about 1915 onwards there were various stables, storage sites and mechanical garages. These included a Kerosene bond, Thomas Healsop & Co.’s stables and bulk storage, Morrows Ltd Stables, Dell Price’s motor service station, Safe Brakes Pty Ltd, Federal Furniture, Highway Homes and Fowlers Drive Yourself Cars. In the early 1980s there was a Datsun car yard near the corner of Cribb Street and Coronation Drive.(15)
The Morrows Ltd Stables were associated with the Morrows Ltd biscuit factory which was located on the city side of Boomerang Street. Morrows merged with Arnott’s in 1949, and the factory operated at Boomerang Street until the 1980s.
- This meant that the distillery employed a ‘fractionating’ or ‘rectifying’ column through which the evaporated alcoholic solution would rise, undergoing successive cycles of vaporisation and condensation until the desired strength was obtained. Based on a design perfected by the Irishman Aeneas Coffey in 1830, rectifying distilleries enabled continuous and efficient production of spirits. The simpler, traditional method of distillation involved channelling the vapour directly into a condenser, a process that often had to be repeated many times to achieve the desired strength. (For more, see Distillation on Wikipedia.)
- The Brisbane Courier, 4 February 1871.
- Don’t bother trying to make out the words on this version — you can only read them on the original.
- The Wallaroo Times and Mining Journal, 8 November 1871.
- The Brisbane Courier, 2 July 1872.
- The Queenslander, 5 July 1873.
- The Brisbane Courier, 6 December 1871.
- The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, 21 July 1877.
- This link between the brewery and the distillery seems to have caused some confusion. The history page of the XXXX website, for example, states twice that the brewery and the distillery were on the same site.
- The Brisbane Courier, 6 August 1889.
- Queensland Government Gazette, Vol. 33.
- The Brisbane Courier, 8 May 1833. The premises were on Short Street, which no longer exists.
- See the Brisbane Courier, 3 September 1885, 29 October 1885, and 18 August 1887.
- The Brisbane Courier, 7 May 1887 and 1 November 1887.
- These businesses are listed in the Queensland post office directories from the years mentioned.