NOW here’s a funny thing. Down at the end of Edward Street near the river and the Botanic Gardens where it was once the home of the Queensland Navy and other maritime interests, is the old Port Office.
Nothing surprising about that. It’s a superb Italianate building that has clearly played a big part in the development of Brisbane.
A little further up the street, at the corner of Margaret Street, is the Port Office Hotel, another superb building although not near so ostentatious, which has been a favoured drinking spot since 1868.
Anyway, the hotel is another story.
The Port Office was designed by the colonial architect FDG Stanley who, like the builder John Petrie, must have been very busy indeed as there are many buildings still standing testament to their work, some of them already mentioned in Brismania.
The area’s proximity to the Brisbane River and the growing city made it a significant part of the Port of Brisbane’s growth during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
This was the home of offices for the harbour master, pilots and staff of the Marine Board and Shipping office as it was at the centre of the action when ships and steamers came into wharves between Petrie Bight and Victoria Bridge.
Shipping activity since then has gradually moved downstream, first to New Farm and Teneriffe, then Hamilton wharves and now the Port of Brisbane 24kms from the CBD right at the river mouth on Moreton Bay.
The old Edward Street building is a Victorian Classic Revival style and has the detail usually associated with Italianate palazzo architecture as well as decorative iron lace.
There is a big entry porch fronting Edward Street and three gable-ended projecting bays with circular ventilator openings connected by verandahs and a collection of chimneys.
In 1988, the beautiful old building was incorporated into the development of a hotel when it was restored to its original splendour and, it is said, even improved upon by the addition of balconies where were part of Stanley’s original plans but not originally included.
At least ending up as part of a hotel was a happier ending than for some of Brisbane’s fine old buildings that were demolished during the 1970s and early 1980s.
While the exterior still retains the colonial splendour, a quick peek inside didn’t reveal anything more than a foyer. Only a heavy timber staircase gave a hint of its glorious past.
An addition at the front, which seems strangely at odds with the building and looks like it might have escaped from the stock exchange, is the Moo Moo bull. Despite not looking like it belongs, it is still an impressive piece of work at 2.2 metres long and almost one metre high.
It is said to weigh 500kgs and was created in China over 70 days by the company that created the sculptures for the Beijing Olympics.
And as a final claim to fame, the legendary British sailing ship Cutty Sark, berthed at South Brisbane and was loaded with a record 3100 bales of wool in 1893.