Toonarbin

The stately house Toonarbin on Dornoch Terrace was built in the late 1860s by Henry O’Reilly, who was a sea captain and later Brisbane manager of the Australasian Steam Navigation Company.

Henry O'Reilly Sydney Morning Herald

Henry O’Reilly (Sydney Morning Herald)

ASNC office Mary Street ca 1875 blog

The ASNC Office, Mary Street Brisbane ca 1875 (State Libray of Queensland)

O’Reilly purchased the land on which the house stands from the architect Benjamin Blackhouse who had named the property Toonarbin.

Toonarbin Brisbane land sale 1868

Brisbane Courier, 10th September 1868

The name Toonarbin comes from the novel “Geoffrey Hamlyn” written by Henry Kingsley in 1859. Partly set in Australia, two stations, Toonarbin and Baroona, feature in the book. It must have been a favourite of Blackhouse as he also designed the house Baroona in Paddington, Brisbane. His other works include Fernberg, now Government House and Bishopsbourne.

At the time it was built, Toonarbin was very isolated and neighboring houses only began to appear around 20 years later.

Dornoch Terrace circa 1883

The track that was to become Dornoch Terrace with Toonarbin in the background ca 1883 (State Libray of Queensland)

Toonarbin West End

Toonarbin in its time as the O’Reilly family home (State Library of Queensland)

Henry O’Reilly was an amateur astronomer and had an observatory in the grounds of Toonarbin. He wrote numerous letters to the editor on astronomical matters. This is a typical one.

Henry died in February 1875 and is buried in the family grave at the South Brisbane Cemetery at Dutton park.

Henry O'Reilly grave Dutton park
Henry O’Reilly’s grave, South Brisbane Cemetery

Charles O’Reilly was Henry’s son. He ran a bonded warehouse, customs agency, and general carrier business in Margaret Street.  There was recently some controversy regarding demolition of this premises.

Charles lived in Toonarbin from the time of his marriage until his death in 1925.

charles o'reilly cartoon smh

The property behind the house, known as ”O’Reilly’s Paddock” was used for community activities. On one occasion in 1912, 500 children from 3 local schools had a picnic there.

O'reilly's paddock hill end picnic 1912

Brisbane Telegraph 5th June 1911 (TROVE)

In 1926, the house and land were purchased by the Catholic church.

Toonarbin sold 24/3/1926 Brisbane Courier


Brisbane Courier 24th March 1926 (TROVE)

The house became a convent of the Sisters of Mercy. The brick outer walls were constructed around 1927.

Toonarbin west end brisbane 2018

Toonarbin in 2018

In 1912, part of the estate had been subdivided into 68 allotments which all sold for a total of £5,610. Most of the remaining land was subdivided in 1928. Gray Road and River Terrace pass through  the original property, which stretched down to the river.

Riverview estate Toonarbin dornoch terrace land sale 1928

The land sale in 1928 (State Library of Queensland)

The house was vacated by the church and remained empty for 12 years until purchased by private owners in 2007. Their restoration of the property is described in this article with interior photos

Florence Lord’s 1931 article on the house can be read here. She wrote a series of such articles for “The Queenslander” magazine.

One thought on “Toonarbin

  1. Pingback: John Sankey and Sankey Street | Highgate Hill and Its History

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