The Hockings family arrived in Sydney on board the immigrant ship “William Jardine” late in December, 1841. Along with their Yorkshire parents Thomas and Jane were two teenage sons, Albert and Henry. The family were bounty immigrants, with their fare paid by a sponsor. If they were found to meet the Government requirements on arrival, the fare was reimbursed. Thomas was well known in the total abstinence community and formed youth groups in both London and Sydney. It’s likely the sponsor was a colleague from this movement.
Thomas seems to have prospered, as in 1845 he became the owner of a new 51 foot (16 metre) 40 ton brigantine, the “Sarah Wilson”, that he had built at Brisbane Water. She departed on her first trading voyage to Tahiti via Auckland, visiting Samoa and Tonga on the return journey.
Albert, aged just 19, was on board to manage the commercial transactions. The cargo was mainly his father’s, although he took a small amount of his own goods to sell such as paint, tar, combs and hats. They were also carrying gin and brandy for a third party. It seems Thomas’ total abstinence didn’t extend to business transactions.
The “Sarah Wilson” returned 9 months later with a ton of sperm oil as well as coconut oil and preserved bananas. The brigantine was eventually wrecked in 1848 after hitting a reef near the entrance to Newcastle Harbour.
Michael and his son Albert ran a shop selling produce until 1847, whilst young Henry commenced working as a wine and spirit merchant, importer and produce merchant.
The year 1848 finds the two brothers Albert and Henry announcing the opening of their store in Grey Street, South Brisbane. This was the store previously operated by David Peterson from the early days of free European settlement in Moreton Bay some 6 years earlier.
They sold a wide range of goods to wholesale as well as retail customers and used a variety of innovative marketing techniques.
In 1849, the brothers purchased riverside land between Melbourne and Russell Streets for £69. Here they constructed a wharf, operated a saw pit, and ran Brisbane’s first bonded warehouse. Due to a lack of currency, they printed some 50,000 5 shilling promissory notes which circulated in the infant settlement for some years.
Brisbane was experiencing an extreme labour shortage and the brothers utilised the indentured labour system which brought almost 800 Chinese workers to Moreton Bay at a time when the total immigrant population was only around 2,500. Henry made the news in 1851 when he was convicted of assault for pushing one of the brothers’ Chinese workers into the river in a fit of rage.
Albert and Henry ceased trading at the rented Stockton Store in 1852, Henry returned to Sydney for a few years and Albert continued running a general business from the wharf.
Albert married Elizabeth Bailey in 1851, and the couple made their home at “Rosaville”, located on some 7 acres of riverside land, later expanded to 10 acres ( 4 hectares). The land today is bordered by Hockings and Donkin Streets and Montague Road. Here they raised their family of 9 children, with another dying in infancy.
Albert’s father Thomas died in Sydney in 1852 and his mother Jane moved to Brisbane, probably travelling
with Henry when he returned to Queensland with his family in 1855. She passed away in 1870 and was the first person to be interred in the South Brisbane Cemetery at Dutton Park. Albert was a trustee of the then new cemetery.
The Hockings’ residence is given in her death notice as “Rosaville”. The family later built a home called “The Oaks” which was located near the river. The old house was possibly then used as a kitchen for their new home. In 1931, Florence Lord gave a description of the property as part of her “Historic Homes of Brisbane” series. At that time, “The Oaks” was occupied by the manager of Humes Pty Ltd who had purchased the site some 15 years previously.
Seedsman and the nursey
It was also here that Albert established his nursery, which would become a household name in Brisbane. Before European settlement, the area had been swampy rainforest, with very fertile soil making it a good choice for a nursery. There were also several creeks nearby, providing sources of fresh water. The first advertisement for his nursery appeared in 1854. In the following year, he opened a store in Queen Street, selling seeds, garden tools and plants as well as fruit and vegetables.
Hockings’ experiments with importing seeds and cuttings and successfully producing fruit then unknown locally, made the news around Australia. For example, when he successfully ripened the “papaw apple” (carica papaya) in 1859, it was reported not only in Brisbane, but also in Sydney and elsewhere. Examples of his pawpaws were on display at his Queen Street store.
Whilst some fruit types he experimented with such as the pawpaw were to become commonplace, others are now rare. For example, the same year, he ripened giant granadillas (Passiflora Quadrangularis), reported as far afield as Ballarat.
Hockings experimented with many varieties of fruit trees and developed hybrids suitable for the Queensland climate. He became particularly well known for his peaches and apples. In 1934, Hockings Canvade and Hockings Greening were still being mentioned as ideal apples for cultivation in Brisbane.
Amongst the fruit trees he imported over the years from various parts of Asia were various mango varieties, the “sweet and sour sop”, guava, Brazilian cherry tree (Eugenia uniflora, now regarded as a pest), wampee (Clausena lansium), longan and jack fruit.
Politics and public life
In 1859, Brisbane was declared a municipality, with its boundary as detailed in my post Vulture Street – From Dotted Line to Bitumen . The first council elections were held in October of that year and Albert Hockings was elected as an alderman. This was the start of his involvement in politics that was to last 20 years.
Hockings had a second term as alderman from 1864 to 1867. During this period he was mayor in 1865 and again in 1867. He had to handle difficult negotiations with the Queensland Government that I described in my post The Fascinating Story of the First Victoria Bridge .
Between 1877 and 1878, he was the member for the short lived electorate of Wickham in the Queensland Legislative Assembly. Hockings served as President of the South Brisbane Mechanics’ Institute, was a trustee for the South Brisbane Recreation Reserve (later Musgrave Park, see my post Musgrave Park – The Early Days) and the South Brisbane Cemetery and was a member of the Board of General Education.
In the 1860s, he served as secretary of the Moreton Bay Horticultural Society and in the 1880s as treasurer of the Commercial Rowing Club.
The Great Fire
The year 1864 saw a fire which destroyed around 50 businesses and as many houses in Queen Street, including his shop at number 62. Unlike some other traders impacted, Hockings was well insured and soon bounced back. He relocated to the corner of Queen and Albert Streets, where he was to remain for almost thirty years. In 1891, the shop moved to the Albert Buildings in Albert Street.
A description of the nursery
Newspapers featured articles on Rosaville nursery over the years. The first detailed description appeared in 1859 followed by others up to 1888, shortly before it was relocated. The 1859 article mentions that “the date tree has stood seven winters unprotected” which would indicate that the nursery was established circa 1851.
The visitor entered from Montague Road into a large greenhouse covered with creepers that housed about 4,000 plants in pots. Beyond there were “propagating frames” with some 2,000 more plants. The visitor in 1865 noted that the rest of the nursery contained around 40,000 fruit trees and vines.
In 1886, it was described as covering 7 acres (about 3 hectares) with a further 2 acres leased for experiments in corn and potato varieties.
There are descriptions of a huge Monstera Deliciosa that was constantly flowering and fruiting and a mango imported from the Calcutta Botanical Gardens in 1853 that had grown by 1888 to roughly 37 feet (11 metres) high.
Hockings had a strong interest in shade trees and experimented with oak, plane, Norfolk and New Caledonian pines as well as various native ficus varieties. After improvements were made to Montague Road in the 1880s, Hockings planted a row of shade trees along his property alignment.
Albert Hockings distilled his years of experience into two books. The “Queensland Gardening Manual” was originally published in 1865, with further editions in 1875 and 1888. By the time of the third edition, the book’s scope had expanded to include subjects such as sericulture as well as the cultivation of sugar, coffee and tea reflecting the wide range of experimentation that had been undertaken at Rosaville.
Over the years, short extracts from the book were regularly published in “The Queenslander”.
Published in 1875, “The Flower Garden in Queensland” covered not only topics such as garden layout, soil preparation and propagation but also bouquet making .
Albert John Hocking’s son Albert Thomas took over the running of the nursery and relocated it to Eagle Junction in around 1889. This was fortunate, as the South Brisbane area was flooded in both 1890 and 1893. The Eagle Junction nursery continued in operation until around 1916. Albert senior’s health started to deteriorate and he died in 1890, aged 64. In the following year, the family sold 4 acres of their South Brisbane land.
Elizabeth continued living in “The Oaks” until she passed away in 1907. Both Albert and Eliza were interred in the family grave at South Brisbane Cemetery.
The remaining almost 7 acres of land, including the house “The Oaks”, cottage, stable, cow sheds and coach house as well as the family cows were advertised for sale in 1908. At this time, it was described as still being planted with a number of magnificent ornamental, shade and fruit trees.
Part of the land was purchased by Hume Pipe Co. Ltd sometime around 1916 and their concrete pipe manufacturing facility opened in 1921. In the 1934 photo of the site below, the Hockings family home remains but there are few trees. Florence Lord mentioned in her 1931 article that there were some oak trees remaining as well as a terraced rose garden in front of the house.
Another part of the property was used by the Australian Chemical Company to produce products such as paint and carbolic acid (phenol). By 1922, local residents were complaining of noxious fumes.
The old nursery site is now occupied by numerous commercial buildings, although a number of large trees remain. Some of these, given their size, possibly date back to Hockings’ time. The riverside trees were already quite large in an aerial image taken in 1960.
Many of the varieties of flowers, shade and fruit trees grown in Queensland today owe their local introduction to the work of Albert Hockings.
Newspaper Descriptions of Rosaville Nursery
© P. Granville 2021