IT was the devil that made me do it, leering down from the grand entrance of a fine old building in George Street.
And I do, literally, mean the devil for this turned out to be the former Queensland Government Printing Office and the sculpted demons give a nod to the old term printer’s devils.
There are some interesting, but firmly closed, doors with stained glass and a couple of signs announcing the building’s former use.
As the front door is no longer open, it’s worth a wander around the back where there’s a big open courtyard and a more unassuming rear entrance to the building that now houses the Births, Deaths and Marriages office.
The courtyard has plenty of seating and a couple of big old trees, figs of course, and a chunk of concrete with details of the site’s history.
This is where the first Queensland government power station began operating in July 1886, supplying power for lighting parliament and the printing office for about 20 years.
It was also the site of the cottage of the Commandant of the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, which was built in 1825.
The settlement was established to confine prisoners with colonial convictions in NSW and remained such until the district opened to free settlers in 1842.
The commandant’s cottage was then sold and the buildings demolished. Some sub-surface components survived and were uncovered during construction work on the site in 1986.
The original building locations are now marked out in brick and sandstone paving in the courtyard.
Now, getting back to the printing office.
When the colony of Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859, a government printing office was needed to print postage stamps and also, Parliament House needed to publish Hansard and other official documents.
Who would have thought a printer would rate so highly among the must-haves of a new colony, but by 1862, there it was – a two-storey timber building facing William Street, right across the road from the Commissariat Store and with its back to the current courtyard.
Demand soon outstripped capacity and by 1865 the first humble building was replaced by a new brick building. Printing was certainly big business, as this one didn’t cope for long either and it also had to be replaced.
Colonial public works architect F.D.G. Stanley, whose name keeps cropping up when it comes to some of Brisbane’s finest old buildings, set to work in 1872 and by 1874, his French Renaissance Revival architectural masterpiece with Gothic Revival detailing was ready for the printers to move in.
The original William Street office information plaque notes that “Stanley’s work reflects contemporary European interest in revival architecture as well as conditions in colonial Queensland.”
And that it does, with its arches and brickwork.
The “complex of buildings” on the site of the original print shop, operated from 1862 to 1986, publishing, composing, ruling, binding, storing and dispatching.
Not surprisingly, given the record of inadequate planning for future growth, Stanley’s fine building also was to soon prove unable to meet demand for printing.
In 1911, architect E.E. (Edwin Evan) Smith came up with the new and larger building fronting George Street, which was to become the public face of the whole operation.
It was Smith, who was noted for his detailed stonework and sculpture, that came up with the devils in the detail.
He designed the demonic face for the keystone of the arch over the original entrance and then the pair of devils, carved by the sculptor WP MacIntosh, perched on the parapet above.
Those devils clearly got into the engraving of the metal plaque now on the front of this building, which says it was used to “supply the Government Gazette, legislation reports and notices to “Queenslander’s (someone didn’t know how to use an apostrophe) for over 50 years”.
So, we have two separate buildings reflecting two different periods and the site of the commandant’s cottage all wrapped up in one pleasant spot to visit.
The government printer moved out in 1986 when extensive renovation work was carried out. It was the temporary home of a science museum but being in the government precinct, it’s not unreasonable it should now be the headquarters of the Public Service Club.