Highgate Hill Reservoir 1889

Water Problems in Highgate Hill

Shortage of water was initially a major inhibitor to the residential development of Highgate Hill.  In a 1930 article in the Courier Mail describing the history of the suburb, the water issue merits its own section. It describes how early residents made brick lined underwater tanks to collect rain water, and fetched water from water holes along Gladstone Road or from the spring which existed at the site of the Boundary Hotel. The 1930 article mentions that amongst early settlers was the Wilson family who built a home at the top of Bellevue Street in the 1860s.

CBD from Highgate Hill November 1948 Qld Gov archives

The Wilson house in Bellevue Street is at the front right of this 1948 image. (Qld. Government Archives)

One of their children, later the well known architect Alexander Brown Wilson (see my post Alexander Brown Wilson, Architect.), recollected fetching water.

‘Mr. A. B. Wilson distinctly remembers his mother and a Highland lassie named Katie Campbell, who accompanied the Wilsons to the new land, as well as other members of the household, troop to the spring in Boundary-street with buckets, tubs, or any other handy container, and trudge back through paddocks, over gullies, and through bush with the precious water.’

Another article in the Courier in 1930 described West End. It mentions that a creek ran down from the vicinity of Dornoch Terrace to Melbourne Street. A reservoir was built on the creek at the corner of Melbourne and Manning Streets from where, after rain, water was sold by the cask. For more on the topic of water in the area see my post Kurilpa – Water, Water, Everywhere .

Later, when corrugated iron became available, water tanks made with this material were very popular and were still common in Brisbane backyards in the 1960s. Water was also supplied by horse drawn dray. The cost of this supply was 20 shillings (approximately $130 in 2015 dollars) per 1,000 gallons compared to the cost after reticulation of 3 pence (around $1.60) per 1,000 gallons.(Cameron 1989). For more on water issues, see my post Kurilpa – Water, Water, Everywhere.

Brisbane’s early water supply

Brisbane’s first water supply was from a dam across the creek which flowed from around the Wickham Terrace area down to the river at Creek Street. The dam was close to the location of today’s Supreme Court.

Hams 1863 map detail of creek

Detail from Ham’s 1863 Brisbane map showing the city’s first reservoir.

By the mid 1860s, this was completely inadequate and Enoggera Dam was completed in 1868. At the time, it was one of the largest dams in Australia.

The first permanent Victoria Bridge was completed in 1874 (see my post The Fascinating Story of the First Victoria Bridge)and a 6 inch  (approximately 15cm) water pipe was extended over the bridge in 1877, replacing a pipe laid on the river bed that was frequently damaged by ship anchors. This was later supplemented by a 9 inch (around 23 cm) pipe. Whilst a reticulation network was constructed, the pressure was insufficient to provide a satisfactory service for many locations. Also, until 1885, the pipe was disconnected when the bridge swung open from time to time to allow ships to pass, resulting in an interruption of supply.

Panorama of the first permanent Victoria Bridge Brisbane ca. 1874

Victoria Bridge in 1874. The swing mechanism can be seen the south end on the left. (State Library of Queensland)

The new reservoir

With the growing population of the South Brisbane district, the decision was made to build a service reservoir at a suitable high location. Highgate Hill was perfect for the job. The reservoir was to be fed from Gold Creek dam near Brookfield. This dam was built in 1886 to supplement the existing reservoir at Enoggera during the period of a great drought that impacted Eastern Australia from 1880 to mid 1889.


Gold Creek Dam. built in 1886.

The stepped spillway was the first of its type in the world.


The stepped spillway at Gold Creek Dam.

A  pipeline was built from Gold Creek, passing under the river at Toowong, and then up Dornoch Terrace to the reservoir location.

water pipeline river crossing 1889

Laying the pipeline across the river. 1889. (Brisbane City Council)

The Highgate Hill reservoir is located on Gladstone Road, close to the corner of Dornoch Terrace and adjacent to Hazelwood Street, mentioned in a previous post, The Hazelwood Estate, Highgate Hill 1885.

Gold Creek Dam is approximately 96 metres above sea level, 24 metres higher than Enoggera Dam. Water reached the Highgate Hill reservoir at around 60 metres above sea level via a syphon effect. As well as the gravity feed to the Highgate Hill reservoir, there was also a tunnel connecting the dam with that at Enoggera. Gold Creek dam was decommissioned in 1991.


Highgate Hill reservoir from above. (Google Earth)


Highgate Hill reservoir.

The completion of the reservoir was extensively reported in the press.

The full article may be read in TROVE

The lack of reticulated water had made house fires particularly dangerous. A previous post in this blog, Rat Causes Fire on Highgate Hill 1887 gives a typical example of the difficulty of fire fighting with closely spaced wooden houses. Great importance was placed on the role of the new reservoir with respect to fire fighting.

This article dates from 4 years after the reservoir was completed.

Highgate Hill reservoir cottage fire brigade

Telegraph (Brisbane) Tuesday 14 November 1893 (TROVE)

The telephone was an expensive item at that time. For a discussion on the introduction of telephones, see my post The Telephone Becomes Automatic .

Despite these works, subsequent extension of water reticulation was not automatic. For example, there is mention in the Telegraph, 30th August 1916 of an application to Council for extension of water supply to Fraser Terrace and to Dudley and  Sankey Streets.

Highgate Hill service reservoir remains in operation today.

For further reading on Brisbane’s water supply please see this blog from the State Library


Highgate Hill. (1930, November 22). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 19. Retrieved December 3, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21606866

Growth of a Garden Suburb. (1930, November 8). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 19. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21602186

Cameron, Ian (1989) 125 Years of State Public Works Brisbane Boolarong Publication

© P. Granville 2016 – 2020

6 thoughts on “Highgate Hill Reservoir 1889

  1. Pingback: Rat Causes Fire on Highgate Hill 1887 | Highgate Hill and Its History

  2. Pingback: Glenview – A Highgate Hill House circa 1883 | Highgate Hill and Its History

  3. Pingback: The Blakeneys of Highgate Hill | Highgate Hill and Its History

  4. Pingback: The Telephone Becomes Automatic | Highgate Hill and Its History

  5. Pingback: The Hazelwood Estate, Highgate Hill 1885 | Highgate Hill and Its History

  6. Pingback: Kurilpa – Water, Water, Everywhere | Highgate Hill and Its History

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