Steep 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 on how you like to think about these things, a 1 in 3.9 incline; 14.4 degree angle or 26 percent 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 in Toowong, with a 1 in 3.2 incline.
Sankey Street was named in honour of John Sankey and his family.
John and Sarah Sankey
Before arriving in Australia, Sankey 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 on arrival at Cape Town, the Regiment was required in Africa and remained there for some time.
Sankey was involved in one of a long running series of wars between first the Dutch and later the British and the Xhosa people. These wars stretched over 100 years from 1779 to 1879. He received a spear wound to the ankle which never fully healed and troubled him for the rest of his life.
His unit eventually went on to Mauritius where he married Sarah Casey. The 12th Regiment was sent back to South Africa in 1848 where Sankey spent 4 years in the field. His actions at the Battle of Waterkloof earned him the Distinguished Service Medal.
Sarah had the difficult task of giving birth and raising their children in isolated locations such as Fort Beaufort which was attacked on numerous occasions in this period.
Sankey was eventually promoted to Brigade Sergeant-Major based in Cape Town. He was offered an officer’s commission, but he had to refuse as at that time the cost of purchasing a commission meant it was only for the wealthy. In 1859, he returned with his family to England on a pension after 22 years in the army.
The Sankeys come to Australia
After some years back in England, the Sankeys decided to migrate to Australia as John’s health was suffering with the British climate. John and Sarah arrived in Brisbane on board the “Royal Dane” in 1871. With them were their 8 children aged from 22 year old John to 2 month old Maud, born during the voyage,
The family established a model farm called “Lyneham” at what became known as “Sankey’s Hill” in the Coorparoo area. It’s remembered today by the existence of Sankeys Road in Holland park as well as “Sankey’s Mountain Lookout” and “Sankey’s Scrub” in the Brisbane City Council Whites Hill Reserve purchased by Council in 1934. Sankey’s Scrub is one of the few remaining patches of rain forest in the Brisbane area and has been a favourite spot for bush walks for at least a hundred years.
The Sankeys moved to Highgate Hill sometime around 1885, however they retained the farm land for many years.
The Brisbane Garrison Battery
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 24 pound Carron cannons manufactured between 1797 and 1810 which had been sent to Brisbane in 1862.
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. Its usage was mainly for ceremonial salutes as Governors and important visitors came and went.
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 led 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.
John passed away in 1899 with septicemia associated with a chronic leg ulcer. Perhaps the war injury from 57 years earlier that had never healed caught up with him. Sarah died in 1913.
Early Highgate Hill Residents
The first resident of Sankey Street appears in the Post Office Directory of 1913. However it’s shown with the name “St. John’s Street” on an 1889 street map, “John Street” in 1892 and “Sankey Street” with subdivided blocks on the eastern side in McKellar’s Street Map of 1895. Being shown on the map doesn’t necessarily mean that the road existed at that time. Perhaps the steepness of the street was a significant hurdle to its realisation.
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” there. They had to cut a path through the bush to gain access to the land. After the surveying of streets many years later, it’s location was on Dauphin Terrace near the corner of Fraser Terrace.
Thomas Fraser was Clerk of Petty Sessions and later Under Sheriff of the
Supreme Court. “Daisybank” remained as Charlotte’s home for some years after his death in 1891, but she eventually sold it to Jeffris and Hilda Turner (see my post Doctor A. Jefferis Turner – “Gentle Annie”).
One of their sons was Charles Sankey Fraser, who started work as an optometrist in Brisbane in 1899 probably at his Uncle James Sankey’s firm Flavelle, Roberts and Sankey. He founded his own highly successful practice in 1912. The Toowoomba branch of his company still operates today under the name Sankey Fraser.
A daughter Elizabeth “Bessy” Fraser started work as a pupil teacher at Dutton Park State School and worked there for 50 years. She she passed away in 1942 just 6 months short of her planned retirement. She was still living in Dauphin Terrace at the time.
Around 1883, the Sankeys built their house “Kitley” on a close-by block to “Daisybank”. The location today is on Fraser Terrace near St James Street. John and Sarah’s daughter Minnie Sankey lived in the house up until 1917, a few years after her mother died.
These two houses were part of a cluster located on a ridge overlooking the river, visible in the photo below. In the 1880s, both John Sankey and Thomas Fraser wrote to the Woolloongabba Divisional Board, then the local government body for the area, asking for a road to be made to their houses. This wouldn’t happen until after both had passed away.
Having lived close to each other for decades and having two intersecting streets named after them, the Sankeys and Frasers have adjacent graves at South Brisbane Cemetery.
The inscription on John Sankey’s 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”
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 1890 and the majority of houses south of Dornoch Terrace are clustered on the ridge near the river bank.
Sankey Street today runs down from approximately the end of the fence near the centre of this photo. “Daisybank” and “Kitley” are in the group of houses visible on the ridge near the river.
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.
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.
John Sankey’s obituary published in the Brisbane Courier on 20/01/1899 confused him with his son James. James Sankey was born at Fort Beaufort in South Africa. He was also a long term volunteer in the Queensland Defence Force eventually reaching the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and a noted marksman. He worked his way up through the company of retail and manufacturing jewellers Flavelle, Roberts and Sankey. As a young man, he is said to have regularly walked to and from the city from the family farm in Coorparoo.
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.
John Sankey’s Obituary (which confuses him with his son James).
An 1924 article on James Sankey and the family
Thomas Fraser Obituary 1891
Charlotte Fraser (nee Sankey) obituary 1937
Bessie Fraser Obituary 1943
© P. Granville 2020