Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Hanworth The History - The Heaths Part 1

I thought that, after all our great lady has gone through, we needed to take a look back. Who was she when she was built in 1864 ? What made her so great?

I had 2 wonderful visitors last week - 2 local residents who are passionate about the history of the East Brisbane area- we will call them The Gregorys but affectionately we will call them Historians HH - they are so famous they have written a book  - see! 

I felt a bit guilty as they had asked to meet with me quite some time ago, but with everything going on, I had just not got around to it. Then the fire - then guilt set in even more - so I invited them over. I was so sorry I had not invited them previously to see the grand lady that HH was becoming. But they were so gracious and full of information. How wonderful it is that there are people in the community who just thirst to know? They were infectious - now I want to know more too!

So I have delved into the HH archives  Did you know that East Brisbane was was once called Mowbraytown? The Historians HH want it to become Mowbraytown again - who knows!

OK.. moving on ... construction started on Hanworth House in 1864 (point of note, that makes HH 150 years old in 2014 so mark the date in your diaries now!)

This entitles it to status as one of Brisbane's oldest homes.  Just for kicks, I did some research on what else was happening in the world in 1864. For a start, it was a leap year! Just saying!  There were lots of wars. Abraham Lincoln was re-elected American President and The American Red Cross was founded.

But most importantly (at least for the purposes of this blog), building commenced on Hanworth House in Lytton Road, East Brisbane. The architect was James Cowlishaw. Cowlishaw was from Sydney (but we won't hold this against him!) and moved to Brisbane in 1860. Two of his notable designs were the Commercial Bank of Sydney in Queen Street Brisbane and the Brisbane Boys Grammar School.

The Great Hall, Brisbane Boys Grammar School,
[designed by James Cowlishaw, architect, built 1871-1881]
Hume Collection, Univeristy of Queensland

And of course our beloved Hanworth House, the hero (or rather the heroine of this blog).  Cowlishaw apparently designed only a few private residences.

This photo was taken in 1930 but I can't believe that HH looked much  different then to how it did in the 1860s. It still has the original cast iron columns, and many of its original red bricks, hipped roof, original shutters and hinges (thank goodness these were off site at the time of the fire), some of the original fireplaces (well the fire destroyed the most beautiful white one, but we still have its sister). The house was described as an elegant symmetry of  Georgian influence.

Architect HH and I are fascinated by the asymmetry of the cast iron columns on the front verandah. We think Cowlishaw was just a little bit quirky and in an era when proportion was everything, we love that he chose to live just a little bit on the edge!

He was asked to design a house for Lieutenant George Poynter Heath RN (1830-1921) who was the first Portmaster of Brisbane. Heath purchase the land the year before from Robert Simpson for the pricely sum of £241! Here's a visual of old George himself.

George's hometown was Hanworth in Norfolk (England) - hence why he chose the name Hanworth for his Australian home. The English are so good with their names - imagine a house called Mt Gravatt or Rocklea - just does not have the same ring as Hanworth or Brighton or Chelsea does it?

Wilkipedia (so it must be true!) states that Hanworth has an entry in the Domesday Book of 1085 by the name Hagan(a)worda. It says that there were "two mills, 8 beehives, 5 cobs and 24 cattle". Obviously a very happening place!

How ironic is it that Hanworth Hall (family home of the Doughty family from 15th to 18th century) was rebuilt after an fire gutted it in 1686?  Maybe a little piece of history repeating itself 327 years later?  Here's a picture of Hanworth Hall I imagine about the time George was growing up in Norfolk.

This is it now - pretty inspiring! How very Pride and Prejudice it is!

In 1860 when the Heaths were leaving for Australia, Hanworth was a "thriving community of about 230 people".  Its rector was listed as Rev Charles Heath, George's father. George was born on 19 June 1830 to Charles and his wife Mary Anne Poynter. George was also the grandson of the headmaster of Eton. Educated at Cheltenham College, George joined the navy as a 15 year old cadet in 1845. As a lieutenant and, after serving on the H.M.S. Rattlesnake, he applied to become the marine surveyor in the brand new colony of Queensland and moved to Brisbane in 1860.

Of course he had to take a wife there! So on 23 February 1860, before setting sail to Australia, he married Elizabeth Jane Innes. They arrived in Brisbane in late August 1860 (some honeymoon that boat trip must have been!) and George immediately took up the post with the Department of the Surveyor-General.  Following this it was decided that a Portmaster be appointed to take overall charge of the Harbour Masters Department and it was little wonder that, in 1862, our George became the first portmaster of Queensland (a post he held for nearly 30 years).

We Queenslanders kept him quite busy in that job as he oversaw the construction of 13 new ports (including Townsville and Cairns), and 33 lighthouses (including this one at Cleveland) as well as marking the navigation of the Great Barrier Reef.

Cleveland Lighthouse

George served as Chairman of the Marine Board of Queensland from 1869 (when he retired from the Royal Navy as a Commander) until his retirement in 1890.  He was also active in Anglican work.

OK, enough about George - let's get back to the story of the early days of Hanworth.  Work on Hanworth started on 16 July 1864. Handmade bricks were used to build the house (those same bricks stood in staunch defiance of the 2013 fire which ravaged much of it). Apparently bricks were used because milled timber was not readily available.

During this time the Heaths lived at nearby Eskgrove (on Laidlaw Parade today). They were busy as they had a total of 9 children (6 girls and 3 boys including twin boys). We know they were back into the new home at Hanworth when the twins were born in 1865.  Hanworth was to become their family home for nearly 25 years.

The house plan is a simple single storeyed U shape surrounded by verandahs. There was a drawing room (I call it the HH ballroom and that is what it will always be known as in this blog) and adjoining dining room with bay windows.  I give you the pre-fire 2013 visual again of the ballroom (note the magnificence of the white 1860s marble fireplace)

Of course the kitchen, scullery (and servants quarters naturally!) were continued in the adjoining short wing.

And left of the main entrance hall there were bedrooms. And this wing terminated in a narrow staircase which led up to two attic  rooms with views of the Brisbane River. Rumour has it that George used to sit by the dormer windows in the attic (one of my favourite spots in the whole house) and use his telescope to watch out for the boats going up the Humbug Reach of the Brisbane River. 

Remember, HH was then on 7.5 acres and fronted the main road to Lytton and had a substantial frontage to Norman Creek with other boundaries at Mowbray Terrace, Heidelberg Street and Oaklands Parade  (Churchie boys you have Heath to thank for your land too I presume!)

This is the view of the attic today (pre-fire).

I was going to write on about the "lavish gay" entertaining at HH but I think that warrants a post all of its own so the story about the Heaths at Hanworth will be continued.

For now I will leave you with some fabulous shots of the HH attic, destroyed by fire but, like so many of my friends are promising, it will "rise like a phoenix from the ashes" .  Let's hope so.  Like George Poynter Heath, it is also my favourite corner of the HH world.

the narrow staircase leading down from the attic

and after the fire devastation

But from this sad sad photo to a hope-filled image of what it may become - this is the loveliest of all views from HH - at sunset overlooking the rest of the house and the city from the attic - probably the same spot that Heath used to watch for boats and watch his children play in the courtyard.

Bye for now

x HH


  1. I just finished reading through all the post on the restoration and fire of Hanworth, so sad to think someone would want to destroy a home with so much history, with so many stories within it, but I guess as time goes on so will your story of your time with Hanworth house & hopefully it will once again enjoy a happy ending. All the best to you with whatever dreams you have for the home.

  2. THanks Leonie. The blog has been very therapeutic and I look forward to sharing my journey with lots of friends of FF

  3. I'm still understanding from you, but I'm making an attempt to achieve my ambitions. I undoubtedly enjoy studying every thing that is posted on your internet site.Keep the stories coming. I preferred it!
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  4. Thanks for reading Olaf - hope you keep enjoying (especially when the building finally starts again - all this waiting around is making me a bit impatient!) x HH