“Dorra Tor” – Plywood, Politics and Punters

There’s a quiet corner of Highgate Hill bordering South Brisbane where many surviving old houses boast spectacular views. One of these is the home “Dorra Tor” which has a fascinating history. 

dorra tor view nw

The view looking north west from ‘Dorra Tor”. (P. Granville)

Thomas Blacket Stephens

Thomas Blacket Stephens arrived in Brisbane with his wife Anne nee Connah in around 1856. He established a fellmongery and tanning business and also purchased the Moreton Bay Courier newspaper business in about 1859.

He served as an alderman as well as a member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly, filling a number of ministerial positions over the years.

t b stephens aldine history qld

Thomas Blacket Stephens (Aldine History of Queensland via Trove)

Stephens was an enthusiastic buyer of land in the numerous Government auctions held in the 1850s. Amongst a number of other purchases, he accumulated almost 100 acres roughly bordered today by Vulture and Gloucester Streets and Gladstone and Annerley Roads.


Land purchased by T. B, Stephens around 1857. (Google Earth)

Parts of this land closer to town were subdivided and developed in the 1860s. The southern part remained undeveloped for decades and became known as “Stephens’ Paddock”.

stephens paddock from hgh 1889

Stephens’ Paddock viewed from the top of Highgate Hill ca. 1889. Gladstone Road runs across the bottom of the image. Numerous houses have been built to the north of Prospect Terrace which runs diagonally across the image. (State Library of Queensland)

Over the years, this large tract of land was used for various purposes. Stephens himself  is said to have sunk a deep shaft near the corner of Gloucester Street and Gladstone Road looking unsuccessfully for gold.

There are reports of cricket matches being held on the rough terrain of the paddock in the 1880s, an indication of the scarcity of playing fields in Brisbane at the time.

stephens paddock bumpy the week 7 jan 1888

“The Week”, 7th January 1888. (TROVE)

Stephens’ Paddock subdivided

Thomas Stephens passed away in 1877 and his eldest son William took on

william stephens blog

William Stephens (State Library of Queensland)

the management of the family’s land. William was born at South Brisbane in 1857 and was also active in business and local government. He served as the first mayor of the Town of South Brisbane.

He decided to subdivide the paddock in 1890, despite the fact that the market was weak. The huge land boom of the 1880s was over and Queensland was heading towards bank failures and a deep depression. 

Perhaps he hoped the proximity of the land to the city and the new railway station planned nearby (see my post Gloucester Street Railway Station ) would assist sales.

stephens paddock extract 2 tele 6 june 1890

The Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 June 1890. (Trove)

As was typical at the time, the land was divided into quite small lots of around 17 perches or a bit over 400 square metres. This was to encourage the sale of multiple small lots to make up a large block at a higher total price than a single large lot. It also enabled purchase by small investors. They were just over the 16 perch minimum size specified by the 1884 Undue Subdivision of Land Prevention Act.

Stephens Paddock Estate dorra tor

The lithograph advertising the sale of the first section of Stephens’ Paddock in 1890. The land occupied by “Dorra Tor” is circled (State Library of Queensland)

Laura Street passing through the centre of the estate was probably named after Laura Stephens, one of William’s sisters.

stephens sisters sophia emily elizabeth laura slq

Daughters of Samuel Blacket and Anne Stephens, from the left Sophia, Emily, Elizabeth and Laura. (State Library of Queensland)

“Dorra Tor” stands on 3 of the small lots on Laura Street. darr tor subdivisions

“Dorra Tor” stands on 3 subdivisions. (Google Earth)

One of the 3 subdivisions, portion 11, was sold to a George Simpson a year after the estate went on sale. Portions 12 and 13 were purchased 7 years later again in 1898 by Hender Underwood, a storeman. In the increasingly difficult economic climate, the lots moved slowly.

Nevertheless, an image looking down Gloucester Street from Gladstone Road from around 1891 does show a number of houses already built on the estate.

stephens paddock upper part 1889 slq

Looking down Gloucester Street from Gladstone Road ca. 1891, with Stephens’ Paddock on the left, a number of houses have been built in the first section at the bottom of the road. (State Library of Queensland)

The Hancocks build the house

In April of 1907, all three lots were transferred to Mary Isabella Hancock. Isabella Hancock nee Peel was the wife of Josias Henry (Harry) Hancock. They had married 5 years previously and had established their home “Scotby” on nearby Prospect Terrace shortly afterwards. Scotby is a village in Cumberland, England where Mary Isabella’s mother had lived.

Mary Isabella Peel.

Mary Isabella Hancock nee Peel (Courtesy of the Peel family)

Isabella Peel was born in Cumberland and emigrated to Australia with her family as an 7 year old in 1884. Her father James was a coach builder and with her two brothers founded Peels Ltd., which was based in Stanley Street, South Brisbane. In the motor vehicle era they continued as coach builders as well as motor traders.

nash ambulance peels courier 13 june 1929

An example of Peel coachwork, the Brisbane Courier, 13th June 1929 (Trove)

josias henry hancock slq

Josias Henry Hancock (State Library pf Queensland)

Harry Hancock was born in Ipswich in 1875. His grandfather Thomas, father Josias and uncle Thomas junior had established a timber mill in Ipswich in 1867, after immigrating from Cornwall. The business grew steadily and Harry joined it after finishing school. A partnership was formed with Joseph Gore in 1904, the company then becoming known as Hancock and Gore.

Harry was a dominating figure in the firm as it grew to become Australia’s largest plywood manufacturer by the time of his death in 1945. With over 2,000 employees, it was Queensland’s largest employer after the railways.

hancock gore 1954

One of Hancock and Gore’s Woolloongabba buildings decorated for the Queen’s visit in 1954. (State Library of Queensland)

It seems that the Hancock’s  first home was not entirely to their liking, as after purchasing the land in Laura Street in 1907, they built the home later known as “Dorra Tor”. They gave it the same name “Scotby” as their first house.

The attractive original stained glass of  “Dorra Tor”.

They stayed here for only 3 years, with one of their children, Clarence,  born in the house in 1909.

hancok not home courier 2 dec 1909

It was common for women not to be “at home”  on their usual day of the week for visitors during the hot months. (Brisbane Courier, 2nd December 1909, Trove)

The Hancocks sold the house in mid 1910 and built a new home on Mowbray Terrace, once again named “Scotby”. It remained in family hands until 1965 is now heritage listed.

The sad Kidston interlude

The house was purchased by William and Margaret Kidston. 

kidstons purchaSE house telegraph 14 may 1910

Brisbane Telegraph, 14th May 1910 (Trove)

They renamed their new home “Dorra Tor”, after an historic house in the Falkirk area of Scotland, where they were both born. It fell into disrepair in the 1920s and no longer exists.

dorrator-house Falkirk Local history Society

Dorrator House. (Falkirk Local History Society)

dorra tor name plate

William followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming an iron moulder at the Carron Works near Falkirk that had been established in the early days of the industrial revolution. He married Margaret Scott in 1875 and they had five sons and a daughter.

The Kidston family decided to emigrate in 1882 and eventually made their way to Rockhampton, where Kidston became a bookseller. He entered politics and became a Labor member for Rockhampton in the colonial government in 1896. Under Premier Anderson Dawson, he was part of the ministry of the world’s first though brief Labor Government in 1899.

He later became Treasurer in a Liberal-Labor coalition, then formed his own party and served as premier twice, from 1906-1907 and then 1908-1911. He is the only person to ever make a comeback with a second term as Premier of Queensland. His achievements included electoral reform, finally giving women the vote in State elections and creating a one vote, one value framework.

the Kidstons slq

William and Margaret Kidston around the time they purchased “Dorra Tor”. (State Library of Queensland)

At the time of their purchase of the house, there was some satirical comment , mentioning that previously the Premier had lived in very modest circumstances. The Kidston family took possession in June 1910, moved in, and in the following month Margaret died of a heart attack. Public schools and offices were closed for a day as a mark of respect and she was laid to rest in Rockhampton. One obituary mentioned how although she had never been “in society”, she moved quietly and naturally into her new position when her husband became Premier, earning great respect.

Kidston and his unmarried children continued to live in the house until December 1911, when it was once again sold. The asking price was £1,150. In that year, Kidston decided to resign from politics and became President of the Land Court, in which role he continued until his death in 1919.

dorra tor sitting room

The sitting room in 2011. (realestate.com.au)

Bookmaking and coach-making

The house was purchased by John Henry (Jack) and Lucy Sears who retained the name “Dorra Tor”. 

Lucy Sears nee Kinealy was born in Orange NSW, where her parents Michael and Anne had settled after immigrating from County Cavan in Ireland. Her father Michael was a coach builder and eventually established his own company.

kinealys coach factory freemans fournal 1 apr 1899

Freeman’s Journal, 1st April 1899. (TROVE)

In 1897 he took up hotel keeping and became the licensee of the Locomotive Hotel in Orange. He sold his coach factory in 1901. The next year, tragedy struck the family when one of the Kinealy daughters, Margaret, suffocated in her bedroom from the fumes of a charcoal brazier she used to heat the room. Just 3 years later, Anne passed away.

Jack Sears was born on a property “Bora” near Warren, NSW, in 1876 where his father was a property manager. In 1902, he married Lucy Kinealy in Sydney. They moved to Brisbane in around 1910 along with their first daughter Clare.

By 1912, Lucy’s father Michael and three of her siblings had joined her in Brisbane. Her brother Bob formed a partnership with husband Jack, running a bookmaking business. They became very well known in Brisbane. Jack was also a noted race horse owner and billiards player.

sears kinealy ad 1919 13 july

Brisbane Truth, 13 July 1919. (TROVE)

The pair hit the news in 1924 when a punter by the name of Trihey, after making some cash bets, made large bets using a cheque as security. He won £4,340, but his unusual behaviour led Sears and Kinealy to do further checking, and they found a history of bouncing cheques.  As it appeared that Trihey would have been unable to pay if he lost the bet, they decided not to pay out the winnings. Trihey complained, but Tattersall’s Club ruled in favour of the bookmakers in what was a very controversial decision.

tattersalls forst settling day new buildimg 1926 slq blog. jpg

First Settling Day at Tattersall’s Club’s new premises, Brisbane, 1926. (State Library of Queensland)

Lucy made the home a social centre. As well as family weddings, Dorra Tor saw numerous charitable fund raising events, some quite large.

dorra tor coin tea tele 14 jul 1914

Brisbane Telegraph, 14 July 1914 (TROVE)

Meanwhile her retired father Michael, a skilled coachmaker, kept busy making furniture for the house. He passed away at “Dorra Tor” in 1919.

The social events continued into the next decade, as the Sears daughters grew up. Clair was around 13 years old at the time of this party.

dorra tor party courier 14 sep 1922

Brisbane Courier, 14 September 1922. (TROVE)

In 1922, the family decided to leave Brisbane and settle in Sydney. Jack and Bob travelled to Calcutta for a stay working as bookmakers. Back in Brisbane, Lucy set about selling a vast array of furniture, paintings, carpets and other possessions as well as the house itself.  

dorra tor furnishing saler bc 17 feb 1923

Brisbane Courier, 17th February, 1923. (TROVE)

The house didn’t sell, but Lucy left with daughters Toots, Joan and Clare in 1923 to meet up with Jack for a long holiday.  They returned home for a few years and finally managed to sell the house early in 1927. Once again advertisements appeared for a long list of furnishings.

dorra tor realestate dot com 2011

The house in 2011 (realestate,com)

From Sears to Shear

Confusingly, Dorra Tor passed from the Sears to the Shear family.  Martha and Peter Shear owned property comprising two shops and a dwelling in Melbourne Street where today the Convention Centre is located. 

Following resumption to widen the street, they were in dispute with the Council regarding the compensation offered. In 1926, the Land Appeal Court granted them £10,500. The following year they purchased “Dorra Tor” for £1,850.

They lived in the house until the mid 1930s and seem to have created a number of separate flats for rental. They then moved to the Darling Downs and rented out the entire house.

In 1937, the Reverend William Henry Wright Lavers, who ran a group called the “People’s Evangelistic Mission”, rented the house to start a home for elderly women called the “Frances Lavers Memorial Home of Sunshine”. It was named in honour of his late mother.

peoples evangelistic mission

The mission letterhead. (Courtesy of the Anglican Archives, Southern Queensland)

They occupied the house for some years, however by 1941 they had relocated to New Farm. The Reverend Lavers got into a spat with the “Truth” newspaper in 1942 after an elderly lady was found wandering around the streets of New Farm.

frances lavers home new farm 1942 slq

The Francis Lavers Home after relocation to New Farm. (State Library of Queensland)

“Dorra Tor” was once again in the news in 1943 with a blatant case of war profiteering. Martha Shear had rented the house to a Mrs. Osbourne for £3 a week. Osbourne had sublet the house to the US Army for £45/10/- a month, or almost 4 times what she was paying.

Seven women, working for the US Army and occupying the house, applied for a determination as they were struggling to pay the rent, even though employed full time.

The severe shortage of housing during the war prompted the Federal Government to introduce price controls. Rentals were calculated by the court based on the value of the house and ongoing costs.

Interestingly, the Fair Rents Board valued the house and land at £1,735, less than Martha Shear had paid for it in 1926. The rental was reduced to around a third of the original figure.

rent reduced tele 18 may 1843

Brisbane Telegraph. 18th May 1943. (TROVE)

fireplace dorra tor

A fireplace at “Dorra Tor”. (P. Granville)

Recent times

The house stayed with the Shear family until 1973 and then passed rapidly through numerous hands.

In yet another interesting addition to the house’s varied occupants over the years, the current owners purchased it from a company offering astrological, psychic and clairvoyant services.

“Dorra Tor” has now returned to being a family home.

dorra tor 2020

“Dorra Tor” in 2020. (P. Granville)

Further Reading

Josias Henry Hancock Biography

William Kidston Biography

A poem written by William Kidston in 1891  “The Ballot is the Thing”

© P. Granville 2020


8 thoughts on ““Dorra Tor” – Plywood, Politics and Punters

  1. Dear Paul,
    Great to read about the long history of this house and its occupants. Mary Isabella Hancock nee Peel was my great aunt, her age on arrival in Brisbane was 7 according to the “Renfrewshire” immigration records. I am wondering if you have other information that places her as you state being 11 on arrival?
    I’ve written some family history about James and Ann Peel and their children and Peel Coachbuilders and Peel Motors in Stanley Street which I am more than happy to share. You are welcome to contact me if you are interested in looking at it.
    Denis Peel


    • Hi Denis, nice to hear from you. I went back and had a look and I see now that Mary Isabella isn’t actually listed for some reason in the State Archives index for assisted immigration though the rest of the family is. I used The age stated for Margaret in that record in error. I’d be interested in having a look at what you’ve done although I can’t squeeze too much more in the post as it’s already way over what’s recommended for blog posts. Would you have a photo of Mary Isabella that I could use by any chance ? My email is pdgranville@gmail.com


  2. Pingback: Gloucester Street Railway Station | Highgate Hill and Its History

  3. Hi
    I lived with my family in this house from around 1964 – 1973.

    This house played a Key role in the Aboriginal community including the tent embassy.

    If you would like further information email me

    Thank you for the history I love it.


  4. Thank you for this article
    My father and his family lived in Dorra Tor for some time ( I guess they were renting). I have a photo of my grandmother leaning over the verandah rail on what I believed was the back of the house. I understood it faced Strath Street, but may have been mistaken. My parents met while working at the Taxation Office and discovered they were neighbours. – Mum lived with her family on the corner of Gloucester and Ridge Streets.
    I also understood that “Dorra Tor” was cut into the lawn of Dorra Tor.


    • Hi Nancy, thanks very much for your interesting family recollections. I think the house always had two entrances. There’s a formal entry stairway up from Laura Street to the garden but the Strath Street entrance was far more convenient.


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