This is the story of one family and the two houses they owned in Highgate Hill. The first house was Cooltigue, owned by William Theophilus Blakeney and his wife Eliza. The second house was Beaumont, the home of William’s parents Charles and Ellen who followed their son to Australia from Ireland.
In the early 1930s, the journalist Florence Lord wrote a series of articles about the historic homes of Brisbane. A large proportion of these were on the northside of town, probably due to reasons described in a previous post, The Southside of Brisbane 1875.
Amongst those on the Southside was the Blakeney family home “Cooltigue” which stood on a rise just off Gladstone Road opposite Dorchester Street in Highgate Hill.
Cooltigue is an alternate spelling to that of the townland of Coolteige in County Roscommon, Ireland. It was here that the Blakeney family had lived in a house called Holywell in the parish of Kilbride from the time of the marriage of Charles Blakeney to Bridget Gunning in 1761. Bridget had inherited the property from her father.
Charles William Blakeney was the grandson of Charles and Bridget. In 1826 he married Ellen Jeffries, one of the heirs of Blarney Castle, owned by her father John Jeffries.
Charles inherited the Coolteige property of 1,681 acres in 1845. By this time he was a 43 year old barrister.
Amongst the children of Charles and Ellen was William Theophilus Blakeney born in 1832. He married Eliza Carr in 1853 and they emigrated to Sydney in the same year.
After spending some years in commerce, William entered the NSW Sheriff’s department in 1856. When the new colony of Queensland was formed in 1859, he took up a similar role in the newly established colony’s public service. By 1883 he had risen through the ranks to become Queensland’s Registrar-General as well as Registrar of Patents and Registrar of Friendly Societies.
In 1865, William was nominated as one of the four initial trustees of the South Brisbane Recreation Reserve, later known as Musgrave Park. This led to some conflict of interest as he was also a prominent member of the local Anglican congregation that successfully obtained a sizable slice of the park on which to build their new church ( see my post Musgrave Park – The Early Days ).
William and Eliza purchased a number of blocks of land in the Highgate Hill area in 1860. One of these of around seven and a half acres, costing them just over £38, was where they built their family home “Cooltigue” some two years after. Florence Lord recounts a story of how William, after buying the land, climbed a tree to get an idea of what the view from the house would be like. The architect was Benjamin Backhouse who also was responsible for the nearby house “Toonarbin” discussed in a previous post (Toonarbin ).
They also purchased a further three portions totalling almost twenty-two acres further up the hill adjacent to Gloucester Street and around 10 acres on the corner of Dornoch Terrace and Boundary Street.
Cooltigue was built around 1862 largely of cedar with a large shuttered veranda that served as a ballroom. The house was in the form of a square with an internal courtyard surrounded by verandas. This was later surmounted by the glassed tower seen in the photo below, built by a subsequent owner.
Eliza and William had one son who died young while they were still living in Sydney. Then followed a progression of 8 daughters, although two died as young children. Amy Emma, born in 1858, married Charles Ridley Smith, aide-de-camp to Governor Lamington when she was just 16. After they returned to England, she became a suffragette and was the first woman to be elected to the Westminster City Council.
Another daughter, Kate, died at just 20 years of age while she was visiting friends on a property near Harrisville over Christmas. She was thrown from a horse and hit her head on a tree. A poignant memory of her remained in the form of the figures “KB 78” scratched on a pane of glass on a French door in the drawing room. After attending her funeral, one friend was moved to write an acrostic, or poem with the initial letter of each line form words.
Spencer Browne in “A Journalist’s Memories” says that William “was a big strong man with a family of beautiful daughters and had been known in cricket and rowing circles but in later days it was a case of ‘drat them rheumatics’ “. He travelled into work by either hansom cab or by his own “well horsed wagonette”.
The only photo of the family I’ve been able to find is the rather indistinct one below of the youngest daughter Gertrude on the occasion of her marriage in 1904. “Gertie”, as she was popularly known, featured heavily in the social pages for some years before her marriage.
In 1853, the same year that William had left for Australia, his father Charles had been forced to sell the family property at Coolteige in Ireland through the Encumbered Estates Court. Whilst some accounts state that this was due to profligacy and gambling debts, the Famine meant a sharp fall in rental income for many landlords as poor tenants were forced off the land. This could have exacerbated the situation.
Charles and Ellen then decided to join their son William and other family members in Australia. They eventually settled in Brisbane in 1859 where Charles continued his work as a barrister. He was elected a member of the colony’s first Legislative Assembly in 1860 but resigned from this position when he became the first judge of the Western District Court in 1865.
In 1873, Judge Blakeney presided over the notorious Bowen Downs cattle-stealing case at Roma courthouse. This involved the theft of over 1,000 cattle near Longreach. The case against the accused, Henry Redford, was strong and yet the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, eliciting widespread critical comment.
The verdict was probably due to the great admiration felt for the accused by the jurors due to his outstanding bushmanship in driving the stolen cattle to South Australia for sale. Rolf Boldrewood based a story in “Robbery Under Arms” on this event and based his character “Captain Starlight” on Redford.
From around 1872 Charles Blakeney’s health began to deteriorate and he had frequent fits. This lead to his retirement in 1875. A year later he went missing and his walking stick was found near the river bank at the rear of Judge Sheppard’s residence (see my post The Hazelwood Estate, Highgate Hill 1885 ). A few days later his body was found floating in the river near Indooroopilly. It was thought that he had suffered a fit and had fallen into the river. Ellen survived him by 21 years and died in 1897, aged 96.
Charles and Ellen lived a home called “Beaumont” which was built in the early 1860s on the land purchased by their son William at the corner of Gladstone Road and Gloucester Street. They rented it out for periods of time from 1865 when they were residing outside of Brisbane during Charles’ career as a judge. Their first tenant was in fact Judge Shepperd, before he built his own home across the road.
After Charles’ death, Beaumont had been rented again out by the family. On the afternoon of the 10th of January 1884, the two storey wooden house was destroyed in a spectacular fire , visible all over Brisbane. One can imagine the horror of the family watching the conflagration from their vantage point at Cooltigue just down the hill. Ellen lost furniture and other valuable items stored in the house.
The fire brigade could do little as there was no reticulated water on Highgate Hill. This situation persisted until the construction of the service reservoir just across the street from the location of Beaumont, as described in a previous post, Highgate Hill Reservoir 1889
Beaumont flats were eventually built on the house site, and were in turn replaced by a unit complex in recent years.
Shortly after the house “Beaumont” burnt down, the Blakeneys subdivided and sold most of the property as Beaumont Estate.
It’s interesting to note from the poster the creation of Gertrude, Louisa and Mabel Streets at this time. These are the names of William and Eliza’s three youngest daughters. Gertrude Street has featured in two previous posts in this blog – The Enigmatic Ebenezer Thorne and A Highgate Hill Con Man .
In this photo taken six years later in 1890, looking down Gloucester Street from Gladstone Road, a cluster of houses built on Beaumont Estate are visible on the right of the photo.
William Blakeney passed away at home in 1898 at the age of 65 years whilst still employed as the Registrar-General. Eliza received a widow’s payment from the Queensland Government. Its size of £800 was greater than the total of £500 assistance given to the mining industry that year resulting in critical comment.
The family decided to break up the Cooltigue estate in 1901 and the real estate agents used novel advertising for the time.
A total of 47 allotments out of the 51 offered were sold on the auction day for a total of £4,424. The house itself was sold with 2 roods and 36 perches (approx. 3,000 square metres) of land for a thousand pounds.
Over the years, Cooltigue had various owners. There was a Cooltigue Tennis Club for a while before the First World War based at a tennis court in the grounds.
The house suffered fire damage on at least two occasions. When we first moved to Highgate Hill, a part of the house was visible from Westbourne Street behind a brush fence. A large modern house now occupies the site but much of the land seems intact.
Judge Charles Blakeney has his final resting place in a grave in the South Brisbane cemetery. Later his wife Ellen, son William Theophilus and his wife Eliza as well as two of their daughters Ellen Frances and Kate Mary and a niece Gracie were also interred there.
Today Blakeney Street, which runs through the southern part of the original Cooltigue estate, reminds us of this interesting family for many years prominent in many aspects of Brisbane life.
© P. Granville 2019