Blackbirder established the Queen’s Hotel on the Brisbane River wharves

The Queens Hotel, Brisbane, 1880. Picture: Brisbane Sunday Mail, September 6, 1953.

By MICK ROBERTS ©

THE Queen’s Hotel, opposite the wharves on the Brisbane River, was a favourite haunt of sailors and the men working on the docks. And, no wonder.

The pub sat opposite a small reserve dominated by a wide-spreading fig tree, where men during the first half of the 20th century would gather, waiting to be selected for employment by the stevedores to work the ships. It was a bustling, noisy precinct, where men from all nations, including South Sea Islanders, indigenous Australians, mingled – not always harmoniously – with white men from far away lands.

Two of those foreigners were Henry and Julia Lynde who arrived in Brisbane from Ireland on the ship Fiery Star. The Lyndes were amongst 550 immigrants aboard the Black Ball clipper ship Fiery Star, which dropped her anchor in Brisbane at 2pm on November 20, 1863.

The husband and wife team would go onto establish the Queen’s Hotel, which traded for over 110 years on the banks of the Brisbane River at what is today the corner of Creek, Charlotte and Eagle Streets.

There seems to be some conjecture over the year the Queen’s Hotel opened for business, with many reports stating it began trading in 1853. I believe, however, 37-year-old Henry Lynde first licensed the Queen’s Hotel on April 16, 1865.

Henry and Julia married in England in 1860 before setting sail to Queensland and purchasing an established boarding house, containing 10 bedrooms, in Margaret Street almost immediately on arrival in Brisbane in 1863.

Born in Middlesex, England, in 1828, Henry Gascoigne Lynde would be host to the heavy drinking merchant seamen and wharfies who frequented his establishment for five years before he became a Queensland government agent aboard the ships engaged in the practice known as ‘blackbirding’.

An illustration of ‘blackbirding’. Picture: Smiths Weekly, June 24, 1933.

Blackbirding involves the coercion of people through deception or kidnapping to work as slaves or poorly paid labourers in countries distant to their native land.

These blackbirded people were called Kanakas or South Sea Islanders. They were taken from places such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Niue, Easter Island, Gilbert Islands, Tuvalu, and the Cook Islands.

The owners, captains and crew of the ships involved in the acquisition of these labourers were termed blackbirders. The demand principally came from Queensland colonists who sought cheap labour to work on their farms, chiefly sugar cane plantations.

Blackbirding ships began operations in the Pacific from the 1840s which continued into the 1930s. When the Lyndes arrived in Brisbane the practice was at its peak.

Lynde applied for a license for a eight bedroom house opposite the Brisbane River wharves on April 18, 1865. Lynde placed the following advertisement in the Brisbane Courier on March 30, 1865:

I HENRY GASCOIGNE LYNDE, Boarding-house keeper, now residing at Margaret street, in the City of Brisbane, do hereby give notice that it is my intention to apply, at the next Annual Licensing Meeting, to be holden for this district on the 18th day of April next ensuing, for a PUBLICAN’S LICENSE, for the sale of Fermented and Spirituous Liquors in the house, and appurtenances thereunto belonging, situated at the corner of Charlotte and Creek streets, Brisbane, containing three sitting-rooms and eight bed-rooms, exclusive of those required for the use of myself and family. I rent the house from Mr. Peter Hartley, of Brisbane, and intend keeping it as an Inn, or Public-house, under the Sign of the Queen’s Hotel. I am married, having a wife and no children. I have not held a license before. Given under my hand, this 27th day of March, 1865.

A map showing the Brisbane pubs, including the Queen’s Hotel, about 1900. Source: Sunday Mail, September 28, 1986. With thanks to Andrew Malcolm, Bygone Brisbane Vintage Qld Facebook Group.

Interestingly, Lynde was fined 40 shillings in 1866 for selling ‘grog’ to an indigenous person. Lynde, who pleaded guilty to the charge, said his barmaid responsible for the offence was new in his employ and wasn’t aware that it was illegal to sell alcohol to indigenous people and Polynesians.

The hotel, which was said to have featured on its facade a “profile of Queen Victoria chipped from a solid sandstone block”, became one of the most popular of the pubs that overlooked the Brisbane River wharves, with its “first class table d’hôte meals at 1pm and 6pm daily. The publican also advertised plenty of ice to keep his customers drinks cool.

Lynde’s hotel also became a favourite venue for passengers making the dangerous sea journey from England to customarily entertain and thank their captain with a dinner. Lynde’s meals became a drawcard at the pub.

In 1871, Lynde sold the business to Samuel K. Toes, an experienced publican on the Brisbane docks. With his wife, Anne, Sam Toes had previously hosted the York Hotel in Wharf Street, and would go onto host the Queen’s Hotel for almost a decade.

Toes would host the Queen’s Hotel until 1879, when he again took over the license of the nearby York Hotel. With the death of his wife in 1881, Toes left the York Hotel. From newspaper reports, he seems to have been committed to an asylum for the insane at Goodna in 1885, and from here, the publican mysteriously disappeared from the pages of history.

Meanwhile, after Lynde left as host of the Queen’s Hotel, he was employed as a government agent to accompany ships engaged to carry Polynesians between Queensland and the South Sea Islands.

After the death of his wife, Julia in 1875, the former publican found himself at the centre of attention in sensational nationwide newspaper stories published in 1876.

A telegram was received that the crew of the schooner May Queen, “on a recruiting cruise” to Vanuatu had been attacked by natives, the vessel burnt, and all aboard had been killed and eaten!

The shocking news was widely reported in Australian newspapers, stating Lynde, the government agent was one of the crew cannibalised, and that he would be remembered as a “well-known and much-respected landlord of the Queen’s Hotel”.

Thankfully for Lynde – and the crew – the reports proved wrong, and the May Queen sailed into the Brisbane River wharves, with ‘all well’ on board in July 1876. The blackbirding schooner docked at the wharves opposite the Queen’s Hotel with 80 native labourers onboard.

Lynde retired as government agent in 1881 and opened a colonial wine store on Elizabeth Street, Brisbane. He died on November 27, 1893 at the residence of his nephew, Dr. W. S. Webb, in Vulture Street, South Brisbane, aged 65.

Queens Hotel, Brisbane, 1893. The pub often ‘went under’ when the Brisbane River flooded. On this occasion, four feet of water went through its public bar. Picture: State Library of Qld. Thanks to John Macdonald from Bygone Brisbane Vintage Queensland Facebook Group.
Another view of the Queen’s Hotel when it went under during the 1893 floods. Picture: State Library of Qld. Thanks to John Macdonald from Bygone Brisbane Vintage Queensland Facebook Group.

The hotel continued to be the favoured drinking place for waterside workers and seamen into the 1890s, and its bar could become rowdy with fighting amongst customers not uncommon.

A tragic death occurred in the bar of the Queen’s Hotel on the morning of Monday, November 18, 1895.

Several men in the bar, including Robert Dickie, a wharf labourer, and William Stewart, a seaman onboard the steamer Fitzroy, both single, and old friends, got into a friendly argument.

Dickie ongoingly ribbed his old school-mate about his baldness, and on this particular morning lifted Stewart’s hat to joke about his lack of hair.

Stewart jocularly pocked his old mate in the ribs, when Dickie fell, and struck his head on a wooden screen. He died in 10 minutes.

Stewart was arrested, but later cleared of any responsibility of his mate’s death.

The old building changed little over the proceeding decades, with minimal alterations made to the historic pub. During renovation in 1922, an exciting find was made by the new licensee, Mrs Vaughan.

The walls, upstairs and down, were stripped of many sheets of wall-paper, kalsomine and paint, which had accumulated over the last 60 odd years of trading.

As a result of the cleaning process in the upper floor the renovators discovered over a door, leading to two corner rooms, a sign, “The Johnsonian Club — Private”, with an index finger pointing to two rooms.

The entrance to the Johnsonian Club room in the Queens Hotel, Brisbane, 1922. Picture: State Library of Qld.

Brisbane’s Johnsonian Club operated for over a century from 1878 to 1991. It was modelled on the famous Literary Club that Dr Samuel Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds founded in 1764 in Lichfield, London, which was still active in 1969.

Like the original Literary Club, the Brisbane club defined itself by gender, profession, class and a firm belief in the elevating effects of cultural, and in particular literary, exchange.

One astounding and little known fact about the Brisbane club is that, although there was a spate of replicas of the original Literary Club forming all around the world, the Brisbane club was the very first! It even pipped the Johnson Club of London, which was established six years after it in 1884.

After holding meetings at the private houses of principal members, the club for a period occupied a room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, in George street, Brisbane.

The Johnsonians moved to the Queen’s Hotel in the first half of 1879, where they occupied two rooms on the upper floor. A year or two later the club left the Queen’s Hotel to a cottage attached to the Bellevue Hotel, in George street. They later relocated to purpose built premises in Adelaide street.

By the early 1950s, the Queen’s Hotel had become Brisbane’s oldest licensed pub. The Truth reported on July 13, 1952 that the corner pub was built on a bank of a creek opposite site of present Queen’s Head Wharf, where flat bottomed steamers unloaded wool from Ipswich.

“One of most popular tap rooms in Brisbane in those days, the little pub has survived the rush of modern times and is still there. Its only claim to fame now is that it is the oldest existing licensed premises in Brisbane, but around its slightly faded air there still lingers some of the memories of bygone days. In same room where frock-coated Ipswich, graziers drank ale and swapped yarns 100 years ago, wood fire still burns nostalgically during winter.”

While the Truth reported that the Queen’s Hotel had “survived the rush of modern times”, little did the writer know that the pub was in its final years. The Brisbane Sunday Mail reported on September 6, 1953 that rumours were circulating that the brewery owners of the Queen’s Hotel were planning its demolition and replacement with a modern building.

THE boys down at Mark’s are worried.

‘Mark’s’ is what they call the Queen’s Hotel, at the foot of Creek Street.

It has the oldest continuous’ licence of any hotel in Brisbane, and if it’s not the oldest building, it should be. The hotel has maintained a club-like atmosphere under youngish friendly Mark Mulroney, who couldn’t look less like a publican. For years the boys who go to Mark’s – mainly people in the wool, shipping, and wholesale businesses – have been afraid that one day the building would slip into the river. Now, it is rumoured the brewery owners are about to rebuild.

The boys fear the new hotel may be a tile and chrome monstrosity with as much character as a chain store. They think, too, that they may lose the murals in the public bar- abo. heads drawn by the late Garnet Agnew, and some rather earthy crayon drawings by fellows Mark knew in World War II.

Mark’s is one of the shabbiest hotels in Brisbane, but it always has worn its shabbiness with a genteel air. One-time a keg of beer nearly went through the floor, and there was a hole in a lounge floor that Mark used to joke about, saying: ‘The rats have been bad lately.’ 

There are two lounges at Mark’s. Where the paper is not peeling off, the plaster is. You have to be careful about the springs in the upholstery, and the tables are inclined to slope away from you, like the floor. You don’t wait for a man in a white coat to come around. You go and get your own at the bar. But Mark’s ‘piece de resistance’ is a bar wall which you can push back-ward or forward, just like a gate.

Mark has a photo of the place (see above) taken in 1880. The hotel’s just the same now, only with verandah posts. Actually, the hotel was built in 1853 – six years before Queensland separated from New South Wales. In those early days Creek Street was a creek which joined the river near the Queen’s, and most of the up-river trade came in where creek and river met. The hotel was built to house Ipswich squatters bringing their wool down by barge.

The rumours proved correct, and the old pub was demolished the following year, and replaced with a modern hotel. The Brisbane Telegraph reported on July 29, 1954:

Old buildings razed for new

Two more of Brisbane’s early historical landmarks have been removed to make way for modern city buildings.

One is the Sister Kenny clinic building in George Street, which for the last 80 years has served as a newspaper office, boarding house, clinic for the treatment of polio cases, and a home for aged veterans of the South African War. It will be replaced by a five-storey building for Gordon and Gotch (Aust.) Ltd.

A two-storey hotel will take the place of the old Queen’s Hotel in Creek Street. This building was constructed in 1853.

The new Queen’s Hotel will be completed in the next 18 months. The only relic of Brisbane’s early days found during the demolition of the Sister Kenny building was a solitary coin. The coin, picked up by a workman under the structure, was dated 1871. Workmen found that the interior of the building was lined with maple and cedar.

A profile of Queen Victoria which had been chipped from a solid sandstone block of the old Queen’s Hotel has been saved and will be built into the new hotel.

Workmen found surprisingly few changes in the construction and in the materials used in the old building. Apart from the foundations, which were solid rock instead of the modern piles, and the extensive use of sandstone arches, they found that modern building methods varied only slightly from those of 100 years ago.

The Queens Hotel, late 1981, shortly before its demolition. Picture: Robert Lane.

The “new” Queen’s Hotel traded for about another 26 years, becoming a much-loved live music venue through the 1970s before it too fell to redevelopment and a modern city skyscraper.

The site was bought by AMP and the second Queen’s Hotel was sadly demolished in 1981.

The site of the Queen’s Hotel, corner of Charlotte and Creek Streets, Brisbane. Picture: Google

© Copyright, Mick Roberts, 2021


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Categories: Australian Hotels, Queensland hotels

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4 replies

  1. Great Story, and old photos of the area. my father was a wharfie but not in those times and Dr. Joseph Bancroft used Kanackas on his experimental farm at Deception bay.

  2. The Hidden Treasure reminds me of a friend of mine now decd. Douglas Cowlishaw who was a shoe salesman over Queensland and his cases were stolen also similar to that story.

  3. Interesting story, thanks. Unfortunately the image you have for ‘the site of the Queens Hotel’ is of the wrong side of Charlotte street. The Queens Hotel stood at 2-10 Creek street (corner Charlotte street) – where the ‘Blue Tower’ is now.

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