While history lovers traipsed around Brisbane over the weekend as the doors were opened to her most-loved buildings for the tenth straight year, a remarkable historic find was made just sitting there in a city park.
In Brisbane’s Wickham Terrace precinct known for two centuries as the centre of the medical profession, I met Emma a follower of History Out There. She prefixed the path to the amazing discovery.
Emma works at the former Lady Bowen Hospital (pictured) which for 130 years has been the centre of caring within the then colony and now state of Queensland. In 1889 the hospital opened for women who could not afford to pay for their confinement or for a private mid-wife or nursing home. During the Second World War it was a hostel for Australian soldiers on leave. Today it’s the home of Q Shelter – Queensland’s peak body for housing and homelessness – and still provides accommodation for those in need. Emma’s own grandfather was born here.
Outside a number of World War Two bomb shelters still exist. They were constructed in 1942 as the Queensland coast was under attack amid Australia’s seemingly certain invasion by the Japanese.
I walked to the City Tabernacle Baptist Church where I met Keith whose wife Jenny does the flowers there. He introduced pastor Richard and guided me through this incredible church erected in 1890. The church is uniquely a twenty-four metre square building, built so that the six aisles radiated from the pulpit meaning all 900 seats are within easy reach of the message of God. An 1884 bible (pictured) adorns the pulpit to this very day and is overlooked by an amazing 2,500 pipe organ that four years ago celebrated its own centenary.
Nearby is Queensland’s oldest building. It’s the old Windmill (top picture) built by convicts in 1828. One grindstone was driven by the sails, the other by a treadmill powered by convicts needing ‘special punishment’. The convicts walked until they dropped. One such poor soul was Michael Collins who was killed here when he was crushed by the treadmill wheels in 1829. Two Aboriginal men Mullan and Ningavil were hanged here at the Windmill in 1841.
The use of the Windmill changed, including as a telegraph station with a time ball that dropped each day at 1pm accompanied by a cannon blast. This was standard across the British colonies. The practice ceased here in Brisbane in 1930. It was after this that Tom Elliott broadcast television signals from the Windmill – a quarter of a century before television first greeted the Australian public in 1956.
I was fortunate to ascend to the top of the old Windmill as part of Brisbane Open House over the weekend. I therefore joined an elite band of only around 100 people who get to do so each year.
I then walked to the nearby park, inexplicably drawn by curiosity of what the previous night’s heavy rain had revealed under the big old tree. And there it was, an unnatural shape perched in plan site on top of the damp soil.
It was an English sterling silver threepence coin (pictured). The coin was adorned by the profile of Queen Victoria who was veiled in mourning for her late husband Prince Albert. That meant it was minted in 1893-1901. The coin was well-used by someone who had visited the Wickham Terrace precinct perhaps a century ago and had laid here lost ever since.
What an amazing surface find discovered just by chance. I had a feeling to look under that tree, after having visited the Lady Bowen Hospital, City Tabernacle, and the old Windmill.
History has a way of calling out when she’s ready to be found.
Now please watch the video of this find:
Windmill 2019 – my own
Lady Bowen Hospital 1912 – State Library of Queensland
City Tabernacle bible – my own
Queen Victoria threepence – my own