Our History

Frederick Schell

Was only twenty-seven when he was offered the exciting assignment of selecting the illustrations for the mammoth three-volume publication The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia. He had already acted in a similar capacity as Art Editor for a companion volume The Picturesque Atlas of Canada which had proved a most successful publication, running into several editions. It was intended to employ these direct selling techniques to sell the ‘Picturesque Atlas of Australasia’ to the newly-affluent capital cities of Australia and to owners of remote properties in the bush. No expense was spared and some of Australia’s finest landscape artists such as Julian Rossi Ashton and Arthur Henry Fullwood were commissioned to travel to different areas and paint the most historically interesting or beautiful views available. Schell, as Art Editor, chose Julian Ashton, William Fitler and himself to make the Brisbane paintings, which were used to illustrate the chapters on Queensland’s exploration and subsequent development.


He chose to paint Wickham Terrace as the epitome of all that was prosperous and secure in Victorian Queensland. Forgotten were the rough pioneering days of Captain Wickham or the harsh convicts era, when convicts in heavy leg-irons shuffled up the steeply sloping track which is now ‘The Terrace’ to put in a fourteen hour day on the treadmill.


Schell’s view of ‘The Terrace’ shows it during the year’s if Brisbane’s unparalleled financial boom, when revenues from mines like Mount Morgan, or hugh pastoral fortunes based on wool from the Downs for the frozen meat export trade, paid for the Brisbane Opera House, and crates of imported French champagne were consumed on the exclusive premises of the Queensland Club.


Residences like ‘Alexandra’, ‘Montpelier’ and ‘Gowrie’, now the site of suites of professional rooms for Brisbane’s medical and surgical specialists, then housed some of the most important families, whose daughters were driven daily to school or to shop in Queen Street in horse-drawn carriages handled by liveried coachmen.


This era ended abruptly with the financial crash of 1893, which destroyed so many of Queensland’s self-made men and revealed the much of the Colony’s apparent prosperity had been based upon a delicate and intricate system of mortgages, loans and credits.


Of particular interest is Schell’s portrayal of one of the earliest telephone lines in Brisbane, which had connected the Observatory, formerly the Windmill, to the City Fire Station since the beginning of the 1880s. However some of the residents of elite Wickham Terrace had gladly paid the hugh sums that it cost in that era to obtain the luxury of a ‘speaking’ apparatus installed in their mansions.


The coded flags on the Signal Mast at the left of the Observatory indicated, the merchants and townsfolk in the City below, what ships were on their way between the Fort Lytton Signals Station and the wharves. Different coloured flags represented different classes of shipping and the arrival of the eagerly- awaited monthly mail ship was always signalled by a red flag. The arrival of a ship from England or Europe at this period generally meant that imported machinery and merchandise for the merchants of the Terrace would be arriving, together with luxuries from London and Paris for their wives. These same ships, would, in thei r turn export the wool, hides, frozen meat and gold from Northern Queensland goldfields to pay for them.


Historically the former Windmill is undoubtedly Brisbane’s most important and unique building. Soon after his arrival in 1837 Andrew Petrie rectified its design faults and it is believed that the Windmill continued the grinding of maize under sail power until 1841. In 1849 a public outcry followed the proposal to sell the building for re-development and the Windmill was saved.


In 1862 it housed the Natural History Collections of the Queensland Museum, to which Silvester Diggles contributed so much work. By 1865 it had become a Signal Station and Observatory, the domed top shown by Bowerman and Martens was removed and a flagpole was erected. The balustrated platform, formerly used to repair the sails was converted to an observation platform. In the 1930s, no longer an Observatory, the Windmill was used for some of Brisbane’s first experiments in television and it still stands today on Wickham Terrace, where its site has been preserved as a park by the Brisbane City Council.