John Sankey and Sankey Street

Dornoch Terrace in Highgate Hill follows the line of a ridge and in places the drop off on the southern side is quite steep. St. James Street, for instance, has a dog leg descent to handle the incline. Adjacent Sankey Street is, according to this article, the 7th steepest street in Brisbane and the steepest Southside street.

It has, depending how you like to think about these things, a 1 in 3.9 incline; 14.4 degree angle or 26 per cent slope. It leads down into the gully leading to the river which gave our house, Glenview(see Glenview – A Highgate Hill House circa 1883 ), its name.

The steepest street in Brisbane is Gower Street Toowong, with a 1 in 3.2 incline.


Sankey Street looking up to Dornoch Terrace

Sankey Street was named in honour of John Sankey and his family.

Before arriving in Australia, Sankey had had a long military career. After 4 years with the British Army’s 32nd Regiment in Ireland, in 1842 he was transferred to the 12th Regiment which was sent to Mauritius. However the Regiment was required in Africa and never got past Cape Town.

Sankey was involved in one of a long running series of wars between first the Dutch and later the British and the Xhosa nation. These wars stretched over 100 years from 1779 to 1879. He received a spear wound to the ankle which troubled him for the rest of his life. His actions at the Battle of Waterkloof earned him the Distinguished Service Medal.

battle waterkloof

The Battle of Waterkloof (

His wife Sarah had the difficult task of giving birth and raising their children in locations such as Fort Beaufort which was attacked around this time during the 8th Xhosa War.

Sankey was eventually promoted to Brigade Sergeant-Major based in Cape Town. He was offered a commission as a officer, but in those days only men from wealthy backgrounds could afford this. In 1859, he returned to England on a pension after 22 years in the army.

After some years back in England, the Sankeys decided to migrate to Australia as John’s health was suffering with the British climate. John, Sarah and 8 children aged from 22 year old John to 2 month old Maud born during the voyage, arrived in Brisbane on board the “Royal Dane” in 1871.

The family established a model farm called “Lyneham” at what was known as “Sankey’s Hill” in the Coorparoo area. It’s remembered today by the existence of  “Sankey’s Mountain Lookout” and “Sankey’s Scrub” in the Brisbane City Council Whites Hill Reserve purchased by Council in 1934.

The Sankeys moved to Highgate Hill sometime around 1885 where they built a house called “Kitley”. It was built before any of the side streets off the south side of Dornoch Terrace existed and eventually had its address as St. James Street.

Sankey was well known in Brisbane due to his connections with the Queensland Defence Force. In 1877, a group of residents with military backgrounds, including John Sankey, decided to establish the Brisbane Garrison Battery.

This was part of the volunteer Queensland Defence Force and Sankey’s role included instruction in the use of the antiquated Carron cannons manufactured between 1797 and 1810 which had been sent to Brisbane.

cannon botanical gardens

The Carron cannon in the Botanical Gardens, Brisbane, was manufactured in 1803.

The restored cannon in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens is one of the surviving examples and is located at the site of the original Queens Park Battery. This was intended to prevent enemy passage up the river but later its usage was for training and ceremonial salutes.

Despite the training received,  accidents occurred involving volunteers from time to time. In January 1879 during a vice-regal salute, failure to follow correctly the sponging process required before reloading lead to a premature firing in which one man was killed and several others injured. Sergeant-Major Sankey was called to give evidence at the subsequent enquiry.

In later years, John Sankey was chief clerk and storekeeper of the largely volunteer Queensland Defence Force. See my post The Battle of Highgate Hill  for more on this topic.


Sergeants from No. 1 Queensland Volunteer Artillery . State Library of Queensland

John and Sarah’s son James Sankey was born at Fort Beaufort in South Africa. He was also was a long term volunteer in the Queensland Defence Force and a noted marksman. He worked his way up through the company of retail and manufacturing jewellers Flavelle, Roberts and Sankey. He eventually became Managing Director and from 1891 a partner in the firm and didn’t retire until he was 79 years of age.  Some of the firm’s work  was of high quality  as described in this post from the Queensland Art Gallery.

j r sankey

James Sankey (TROVE)

John Sankey and his wife Sarah were laid to rest in the South Brisbane Cemetery.

john sankey gravestone

John and Sarah Sankey’s grave at South Brisbane Cemetery

The inscription of his gravestone reads :

“The tired soldier bold and brave
has seen his last campaign.
And from the shelter of the grave
he’ll never march again”

Residents of Sankey Street first appear in the Post Office Directory in 1916. However it is shown with subdivided land on McKellar’s Street Map of 1895. suggesting that no houses were built for some years. Perhaps the steepness of the street was seen as a drawback.

mckellar close up sankey

An extract of McKellar’s Street Map of 1895 showing Sankey St, adjacent to undeveloped Portion 179.

As well as Sankey Street, Fraser Terrace also appears on this map. Thomas Fraser and Charlotte Sankey, Charles’ and Sarah’s oldest daughter, were married in 1876. Two years later they purchased land near the river and built their family home “Daisybank” here. They had to cut a path through the bush to gain access to the land. Thomas was for some years Under Sheriff of the Supreme Court. Around seven years later the Sankeys built their house on a close-by block. “Daisybank” later became the home of  Jeffris and Hilda Turner  (see my post Doctor A. Jefferis Turner – “Gentle Annie”  )

An idea of the development that took place early in the twentieth century can be gained by comparing the two photographs below of Dornoch Terrace. The first was taken around 1901 and the majority of houses south of Dornoch Terrace are clustered near the  river bank. Sankey Street today runs down from approximately the bend in the distant fence visible in this photo.

Dornoch 1901

Dornoch Terrace circa 1901, State Library of Queensland


Dornoch Terrace circa 1920. State Library of Queensland

In the second photo dating from around 1920, the slopes have largely been filled in. On the corner of Sankey street in the centre of the photo, the house “Lutmis” is visible with its pagoda shaped belvedere and verandah. It’s still standing today although it no longer sports the belvedere.

Sankey street Dornoch Terrace and Lutmis

‘Lutmis’ and the Corner of Sankey Street and Dornoch Terrace with a warning sign for Sankey St.

I’ve described the fascinating origins of this house in my post The Mistresses’ House  and another post, The Pastor’s House ,continues the story.

At the bottom of the gully, skirted by Sankey Street, is the delightful Lyon’s Playground. The land was sold to the council in 1938 by the Lyons family on condition that it be designated parkland.

Further Reading

John Sankey’s Obituary (which confuses him with his son James).

John Sankey Obituary

An article on James Sankey and the family

James Sankey and the family

Charlotte Fraser (nee Sankey) obituary 1937

Charlotte Fraser



4 thoughts on “John Sankey and Sankey Street

  1. Pingback: The Golden Casket Art Union | Highgate Hill and Its History

  2. Pingback: Animals on the Loose in Highgate Hill | Highgate Hill and Its History

  3. Pingback: The Mistresses’ House | Highgate Hill and Its History

  4. Pingback: Doctor A. Jefferis Turner – “Gentle Annie” | Highgate Hill and Its History

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