You only need to ripple the thin veil of today’s shopping facade to sense the spectral memory of Brisbane’s colonial economy. Queen Street Mall is a long way from this week’s history-making Melbourne Cup Carnival, and even further from Queensland’s rough frontier bustle of the 19th century. But the sound of horses still echo in the city streets.
A man named Crawford in the 1860s sold cattle and horses in a yard on the site of today’s T&G Building on the corner of Queen and Albert streets. It was usual for prospective buyers to mount horses there and ride them up and down Queen Street. The original T&G office tower built there in 1923 was used as the headquarters for the US Army in the Far East during the Second World War. The current glossy T&G incarnation now centres the Queen Street Mall, but fails to mask the haunting tones of its original inhabitant.
Robert Crawford was born in Scotland in 1813, with the Napoleon-ending Battle of Waterloo still two years away. He arrived in Brisbane in 1861 and set up shop on the corner of Queen and Albert as an auctioneer. He called his yards the Brisbane Royal Horse Bazaar. In 1863 he was in the process of selling a horse and cart in the middle of Albert Street when bailed up by a policeman. Crawford claimed he didn’t know it was a thoroughfare! The auction atmosphere peaked later that year when he sold a mob of 50 unbroken colts and fillies that had been walked from the Burnett District, more than 200 miles away. The following year he disposed of several teams of bullocks that then headed on the arduous 1,300 mile journey to the Gulf of Carpentaria. This was just three years after Burke & Wills died attempting a similar trek.
By 1865, Crawford was offering horses and buggies for hire. That was when the notorious Patrick Mayne died in his premises across the road. Mayne’s blood-stained butchers shop and coach shop were on the other side of Queen Street from the bazaar, on the site of today’s purportedly haunted Brisbane Arcade. Also that year champion stallion Oakwood was standing at Crawford’s bazaar. Exactly 150 years ago today on 4 November 1865, Oakwood was taken to the old Toowong Hotel near today’s Royal Exchange Hotel for any interested mares.
Crawford died in 1879 at his home in Bowen Street. He left his wife Jane, a brood of grown children, and the sounds and souls of his Brisbane Royal Horse Bazaar.