The Blakeneys of Highgate Hill

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 Highgatge Hill

A view of Cooltigue from 1931 ( Queenslander 26th November 1931) TROVE

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.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle, Ireland (Wikimedia).

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.

brisbane registrar generals office ca 1885

The Registrar-General’s office ca 1885. It was located at the corner of George and Queen Street and was demolished in 1923 to make way for the final stage of the Treasury Building.

William and Ellen purchased around seven and a half  acres at Highgate Hill in 1860 paying for just over £38. Soon after they built their family home “Cooltigue” there. 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 two portions totalling almost fifteen acres further up the hill adjacent to Gloucester Street.

crown land grants. William Blakeney

Detail from a map showing crown land grants. William Blakeney purchased three portions along Gladstone Road. (State Library of Queensland)

Cooltigue was built largely of cedar and a large shuttered veranda 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.

A view of Cooltigue from the garden, 193

A view of Cooltigue from the garden, 1931. (TROVE)

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. Another daughter, Kate, died at just 20 years of age in a riding accident. 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.

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.

Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 - 1934), Friday 8 July 1904, page 20

Getrude Blakeney. The Week, 8th July 1904 (TROVE)

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.

judge blakeney 1865

Charles Blakeney in 1865, unusually for the time without a beard. (State Library of Queensland)

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.

Bowen Downs rustling Case 1873

Sydney Morning Herald 1st March 1873 (TROVE)

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.

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 a previous 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 on the second portion of land purchased by their son William on the corner of Gladstone Road and Gloucester Street.

The site of Judge Blakeney's house "Beaumont" on Gladstone Road.

The site of Judge Blakeney’s house “Beaumont” on Gladstone Road.

After Charles’ death, Beaumont had been rented 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.

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.

Beaumont Estate

A poster for the sale of the Blakeney estate in 1884. (State Library of Queensland)

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.

gloucester street 1890 Highgate hill

Looking down Gloucester street in 1890. Beaumont estate is on the right side of the street. (State Library of Queensland)

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.

Elizabeth Blakeney payout

A cartoon comparing Elizabeth Blakeney’s payout  with assistance to mining. The North Queensland Register, 14th November 1898. (TROVE)

The family decided to break up the Cooltigue estate in 1901 and the real estate agents used novel advertising for the time.

Blakeney estate advertising 1901

Brisbane Courier 21st October 1901. (TROVE)

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.

Cooltigue site highgate hill

The site of Cooltigue today with Gladstone Road at the bottom left and Blakeney Street running left to right at the back of the photo.. (Google Earth)

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.

Blakeney Family grave in South Brisbane Cemetery.

The Blakeney Family grave in South Brisbane Cemetery.

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.

Further Reading

Irish Landed Estates database entry

Judge Charles William Blakeney biography

Wikipedia entry for William Theophilus Blakeney

3 thoughts on “The Blakeneys of Highgate Hill

  1. Pingback: Toonarbin | Highgate Hill and Its History

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