top of page

Caroline's West End Cottage

Caroline has a worker's cottage in the West End and a blog documenting renovations and extensions to the house, and she was keen to know more about the history of her home before she set out on the renovation and extension works.

Before we dwell on the history of  the house and plot of land, let's look at West End, or more precisely the Hill End part of the suburb. The first thing that struck me when walking along Hill End Terrace was how Toowong Central seems to tower over the neighborhood - from the other side of the river. This came as quite a surprise as I think of Toowong as my local patch but I'd never walked down the streets of Hill End. It turns out that the close-yet-remote location of Hill End was a key factor in the relatively late residential development of this part of town.

Hill End from Toowong, late 1800s

The picture above was taken from Toowong across the river some time in the late 1800s. While the Toowong village grew up around the local creek in the 1850's and 60's, serviced by river trade and later the Ipwich road and railroad, the Hill End neighborhood on the other side of the river languished in rural isolation, with rolling fields fringed by mangroves. There were no good roads to service this dead-end bend in the river, nor trains or trams. Instead the land was used for growing fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. A 1930 history of the "The Garden Suburb" describes:

"There was a time in Brisbane's history when the district that embraces the the 

delightful suburbs of West End and Hill End was covered with farms and orchards... 

Fruits and vegetables and other produce were brought from there to town, and sold 

to storekeepers as special lines, "grown on the rich flats across the river". That 

was a hall-mark of quality in the produce markets of Brisbane for years, until the small town grew into a large one, and then to a city, and the gardens gave way to 

multiplying homes"


With this pleasant image in mind, let's look at the ownership deeds for Caroline's cottage and follow the development of Hill End from orchards to one of Brisbane's classic "tin and timber" suburbs.

The Scottish Farmer and First Owner, 1850

The research on Caroline's house began, as always, by tracing land ownership back to the Deed of Grant which documents the sale of crown land to the first owners. This time the chain of titles lands us in the year 1850, when 27 acres acres of Hill End land were bought by a Adolphus McWilliam. To put the date into context, Queensland at the time had a white population of perhaps a few thousand and Brisbane consisted mainly by convicts and their caretakers, and a handful of free men.


Adolphus was a Scotsman - one of the many that arrived in Queensland during the first decade of the free settlement. The influx of Scots was largely the project of John Dunmore Lang, a prominent statesman and Presbyterian minister with early visions of Queensland as a colony of enterprising and free men. But John took a dim view of the resident convict population, as well as Irish Roman Catholic immigrants, and decided to change the trajectory of Queensland's demographics. In the late 1840's he traveled to his native Britain to hand-pick skilled artisan families for emigration to Moreton Bay under his sponsorship. The ship Fortitude (which gave name to Fortitude Valley) arrived in Brisbane in January 1849 with 270 immigrants, followed by the Chaseley in May 1849 with 214 immigrants and the Lima in November with 84 passengers.

The "Fortitude"

Adolphus McWilliam and his wife Helen arrived on the Chaseley; "Adolph" a mature 38 years old and Helen 22, with no children recorded in the passenger's list.

1849 register of arrivals on the Chaseley. Adolphus is listed under the name “Adolph” and Farmer”.

The new country offered a mixed bag of fortune for the new settlers, including some setbacks in the promised provision of government land for farming, but Adolph took the matter into his own hands and shortly after arrival he bid for 27 riverside acres a short distance from town. This was the largest portion of land in West End and as you can see from the map below it covered the area between the current Montague Rd, Ferry Rd and the river.

Adolphus McWilliam's land, purchased in 1850. Click to enlarge.

We don'know what happened to the land between 1850 and 1874 (a title deed is missing) but we can assume that it was put to productive use. It is possible that it was on-sold fairly quickly as Adolphus was listed as living in South Australia in 1851. Perhaps they had friends or relatives down south and decided to join them. The next records are of the deaths in 1864 of both Adolphus and Helen, in Geelong Victoria. The genealogical sources show no evidence that the couple had had any children, and apart from the McWilliam name on an old Brisbane parish map very few traces remain of their short life in Australia.

John Dunmore Lang on the other hand rose to great prominence and is remembered by the many thousands of descendants of the 600 Scottish and English pioneers that arrived at such a critical time in the colony's development. He also played a crucial part in the wave of German immigration and was a vigorous supporter of the separation of Queensland. John is memorialized with a statue in Wynyard Park in Sydney, as well as in countless place names and Australian histories.

Real Estate Moguls, 1874-1875

In 1874 the 27 acres of land were bought by the Richardson and Wrench partnership. The name may sound familiar and you would be correct to associate it with property - or more precisely the Richardson & Wrench Real Estate Agencies which are still active today.

Richardson & Wrench, photos courtesy of the R&W website

Robert Richardson and Edward Wrench were both English born and arrived in Australia in the early 1850s. They joined forces in 1860 and became key players in the Queensland pastoral industry, operating wool stores at circular quay in Sydney and acting as agents and auctioneers for land transactions throughout the colony. The farm land at Hill End was held by these gentlemen for only a year and was then sold again, possibly due to Richardson's retirement in 1875. Or perhaps the land was always intended as a "quick flip" - suggesting that the industry hasn't changed much in the past 150 years.

Edward Robert Drury, 1875-1890

The breaking of virgin Queensland soil attracted a particular kind of upper-class, internationally mobile, cashed-up and well connected risk takers with fascinating biographies. The next owner of the land was a good example of this breed, and a character in his own right.

Edward Robert Drury was born to a  prominent Brussels family in 1832 and migrated to Australia in his twentieth year. Working his way up in the Bank of Australasia he became the manager of the new Queensland National Bank in Brisbane by 1872. Edward had a penchant for pomp and and a fetish for uniforms, which was fulfilled by his many military engagements including several stints as commander for the Queensland Defense Forces. His banking management was aggressive and brash, extending huge lines of credit to the developing primary industries as well as to his elevated friends and himself, sometimes with little or no collateral. Edward became the central financial figure of Queensland and his grand head office in the corner of Queen and Creek St., once referred to as "Drury's Temple", remains a heritage landmark of the Central Business District.

Edward Robert Drury

The Queensland National Bank grew rapidly until 1893, when Australia entered a depression and Edward's loose lending policies finally came home to roost. The bank languished for several years until Edward died in 1896, in his home "Saltwood" at the junction of Swan St and Shorncliffe Parade at Shorncliffe. The grand old house is still there, on the corner lot overlooking Moreton Bay. He was buried with full military honors, the streets along his procession lined with spectators and government buildings and businesses across the region flagging at half mast.

After his death the irregular lending practices of the bank unraveled and it was discovered that his own account was overdrawn by £50,000 and the account of his good friend and business partner McIlwraith by a whopping £250,000. The resulting Queensland Banking Scandal reverberated throughout the continent. A few years later it was rumored that Edward had fled abroad and that his coffin, interred at the Toowong Cemetery, was in fact full of rocks.

Edward Drury's land from the 1875 deed, still comprising 27 intact acres. 
Click to enlarge.

Edward bought the 27 hectares of Hill End land in 1875 and it appears that it continued as farmland until 1884, when it was subdivided and sold in 80+ separate transactions over the following six years. This marks a time when the Hill End emerged from the rural backwaters to became a suburb in its own right. The transformation was triggered by the construction of an iron bride across the river in 1874, at the current location of Victoria Bridge. The journey across the river was strictly by horse or foot only until 1885, when horse-drawn trams from the city finally reached West End.

I came across a first mention of West End in 1874, when the government gazette published a cattle brand registered by a local farmer. By 1875 the suburb was serviced with a school and a primitive Methodist church, and by 1876 by the Boundary Hotel. The first grocer was listed in 1880 and the following decade saw rapid expansion of commerce with a wide range of retailers, builders, manufacturers, churches, friendly societies and a bank moving into the area. Judging from the commercial directories, West End was a fully fledged suburb by the mid 1880s.

Horse-drawn bus on the West End to City run, ca 1890. Click to enlarge.

Hill End was mentioned sporadically in the news from the 1860s and was generally referred to as an agricultural outpost. In the 1874 post office directory only one person is listed in the area - William Winterbottom who later became the proprietor of the omnibus service. The streets on Edward Drury's parcel of land were listed in the post office directories from the mid 1890's, initially with very few addresses but showing a steady increase in residents which spiked in the 1920s.


Edward Drury may have a mixed legacy in banking circles but he is remembered as a very capable military commander. We don't know whether his investment in the Hill End land turned a profit but we can assume that it did, considering the tremendous land and construction boom of the 1870's and 1880's. And more importantly - he sold out before the depression hit in the 1890's. His name is immortalized in Drury Street which cuts straight through the center of his portion of Hill End Land.

Subdivision and Construction, 1912 to 1935

The streets of suburban Brisbane began as rudimentary gravel roads through pastoral landscapes, sparsely populated for many years until the subdivisions of land were complete. The pattern of settlement typically involved initial transactions covering multiple adjacent lots, that were either re-subdivided and "flipped" for a profit, or built upon by the owner who then sold off the adjacent lots over a period of time.

And this is where the research gets harder. It's easy to track the ownership of a particular plot of land across the years but much harder to pin down the construction date and the inhabitants of a house. For this we need to cross-reference range of sources such as old street maps, post office directories, census records, electoral rolls, rate books and newspaper notices - none of which may give definitive answers. And for the humble workers cottages the challenge is even greater, as their dwellers were unlikely to figure in the press (other than for the wrong reasons), often lived in rented accommodation and had nondescript professions such as "laborer" which offer no clues for further research and identification.

This is certainly case with Caroline's cottage and I have to admit a partial defeat in nailing down the builder and construction date of the house. But I have narrowed it down to a few suspects and a likely time frame, as follows:


Herbert George Brandon purchased seven adjacent lots on Drury's previous land in 1912, as outlined in the below map. The lots were numbered 106-112 in this particular portion.

Herbert George Brandon's initial land purchase, 1912

Brandon was a laborer and appeared in the newspapers on several occasions - for the wrong reasons. In 1927 he invited three friends to join him in his dinghy on a trip across the river from Toowong but the boat took on water mid river and sank, drowning two of his passengers. In 1932 he was fined for "occupying premises which were in a filthy condition, and which were used to store fruit, the defendant being a hawker". I have no doubt that further searches, perhaps including the police gazettes, would yield more information on this character. There are no records of marriage or children.

Lots 106-108 were sold in 1919 and the post office directories list Brandon on the street until at least 1937, so we can assume that he lived in a dwelling on one of the lots 109 to 112.

William and Margaret Masson were a typical Hill End couple of their time - William a laborer also listed as a milk vendor, and Margaret occupied with home duties. The couple bought lots 106-108 in 1919 and raised a family of at least two sons and a daughter.

William and Margaret Masson's land purchase, 1919

Continuing the theme from the previous owner, William Masson did appear in the press a few times for the wrong reasons. There were at least three reported traffic incidents, beginning in 1922 when he "accidentally fell out of his cart while driving on Montague Road", requiring attention from the ambulance brigade and treatment at the Mater hospital. A few years later in 1924, his horse and sulky knocked down a woman on Archibald Street on West End, resulting in abrasions, contusions and lacerations, and in 1937 his milk wagon was involved in a head-on crash with a truck in Coomera, causing five casualties but no fatalities. One suspects that he would have failed a modern breath test on some of his milk runs.

A a 1927 Surveyor's Plan of the street provides some further clues to the street addresses:

1927 Surveyor's Plan

We can see that the Masson's land had two houses - a dwelling named "Emoh-Ruo" ("Our Home" spelt backwards, a common house name at the time) to the left, and Caroline's cottage, yet unnamed, to the right. It seems reasonable to assume, although we can't prove it, that they lived in one house and rented out the other. Emoh-Ruo has since been demolished and replaced with another building.

As for the construction date of Caroline's Cottage we can only confirm that it was there by 1927. The house is a four-room bungalow with full front verandah, typical for the 1900s to 1920s. Our best guess is therefore that the house was built by the Massons at some point between 1919 and 1927.

James McMahon bought the cottage and surrounding plot of land in 1927, thereby completing the subdivision of the land:

James McMahon's land purchase, 1927

There were a few James McMahon's around in Brisbane in the late 1920s and I haven't been able to pin down a specific person to the house, but I know that James never lived in the house for any extended period of time. No person of that name is listed as living on the street; in the census records, electoral rolls or post office directories. We can assume that James bought the house as an investment and rented it out.

But there is one piece of history that James may have left behind. By the front door of Caroline's cottage there is a wooden sign with the house name - "Durham". The sign is hand-made, clearly antique and seems to be covered by as many coats of paint as the rest of the house. It's an intriguing name with no obvious local connections. Durham is a town in the North East of England, and there's also a Durham Downs station and creek in the Roma area and a Durham cattle breed. Whatever the reason for the name it must have been very personal. And it was probably named sometime after 1927, judging from the surveyor's plan.

Immigration records reveal that a James McMahon, and his wife Sarah and daughter Rose Anne, immigrated from Durham to New South Wales in 1862. James and Sarah had a son named James in 1869, who would have been 58 years old in 1927. I'll take a punt that young James ended up in Brisbane, bought the cottage as an investment and named it after his ancestral home.

James McMahon senior, with wife and daughter arrive in NSW, 1862. Click to enlarge.

1935 to Now, a Summary

And so we've arrived in the mid 1930's, in our very sketchy history of Caroline's cottage and the land. The list of post-1935 owners is as follows:

1935-1938, William Charles (last name illegible, possibly Knox). The name on the title certificate cannot be deciphered but the Titles Registry can provide an enhanced copy of that particular section of the deed.

1938-1941, Victor Luppi. A quick scan of the archives hasn't revealed any information on this gentleman, but further research probably would.

1941-1946, Sarah Alice Knox. Again a quick check revealed no information on this lady. But we do have an aerial photo of the house (left) taken in 1946, and a contemporary photo for comparison. The cottage is outlined in red. Note the two cottages marked with a red dot - including Emoh-Ruo to the left. Both appear to be of an older gabled design and are now demolished. They were probably the oldest houses on the street, and Herbert George Brandon probably lived in the cottage to the lower right.

Caroline's cottage and neighbors in 1946 and today

1946-1947, Thomas William Knox (husband of Sarah). This gentleman was confirmed as living at the address in 1943.

1947-1985, Harold Vincent Coupar. A "boot clicker", confirmed as living at the address in 1949, 54, 58, 63, 68, 72 and 77. Harold was active in the West End community and appeared many times in the press, for the right reasons. His brother, who lived on one of the adjacent streets, was reported as a prisoner of war in 1943 and Harold won the Golden Cask lottery in 1954. The archives contain lots more information on this gentleman.

Final thoughts

The histories of our "tin and timber" suburbs are never mundane and they deserve to be documented and cherished by the people who live there. And with the increasing availability of on-line records I am optimistic that this type of local historical research has a bright future. Wouldn't it be great if every vintage house came with a pedigree of previous owners, and some details of their life and times? I believe that it would increase people's enjoyment of their homes, and hopefully support their future preservation.

Thanks Caroline for giving me the opportunity to do this research on the house and land. I wish you good luck with the upcoming renovations and all the best for your family in your lovely old home.

Key sources:
- TROVE newspaper archives
-, for family trees, census records, passenger lists and electoral rolls
- Post Office Directories from the 1870's through to the 1940's
- Pugh's Almanacs, 1859-1927
- The Australian Dictionary of Biography, 
- PDOnline,
- Miscellaneous texts on Queensland history, some of which can be accessed at 
- BCC surveyor's Plans, courtesy of the BCC Archives
- Parish maps, courtesy of the Queensland State Archives
- Brisbane House Styles 1880-1940, a Guide to the Affordable House, J. G Rechner

bottom of page