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South Brisbane Municipal Chambers (former)

Place Details
Place ID 600306
Registration Type State Heritage
Place Name South Brisbane Municipal Chambers (former)
Alternative Name South Brisbane Town Hall
Place Classification Built
Place Category Government Administration
Place Type Council Chambers/Offices [Town/City/Shire/Divisional Board]
Themes 7 Maintaining order / 7.4 Local government
Register Entry Date 21/10/1992

Address 263 Vulture Street
Post Code 4101

Cultural Heritage Significance
Principal Period
of Significance
1890s, 1940s (fabric) 1891-1925; 1941-45 (historical)
Criterion A The former South Brisbane Municipal Chambers are important in illustrating the evolution of Queensland's history, being landmark physical evidence of the consolidation of the Borough of South Brisbane as a political, social and economic rival to the Municipality of Brisbane. It is a rare masonry municipal chambers in Brisbane, and the most substantial and ornate prior to construction of the new Brisbane City Hall in the 1920s.
Criterion B It is a rare masonry municipal chambers in Brisbane, and the most substantial and ornate prior to construction of the new Brisbane City Hall in the 1920s.
Criterion D The former South Brisbane Municipal Chambers is a most accomplished and intact building in form, fabric and feature, the first in Brisbane to be designed in free classical style, the first in Australia to incorporate an electrically-driven clock system, and is an excellent example of its type.
Criterion E It possesses strong landmark and aesthetic qualities and makes an important contribution to the historic precinct centred around South Brisbane Memorial Park.
Criterion G It possesses strong landmark and aesthetic qualities and makes an important contribution to the historic precinct centred around South Brisbane Memorial Park.
Criterion H The place is significant as a major and early Brisbane work by important architect John S Murdock, and for its close association with the work of the South Brisbane Municipal Council and with the presence of United States military personnel in Brisbane during the Second World War.

History Constructed in 1891-2 for the South Brisbane Municipal Council, this two-storeyed former municipal chambers provided a focus for the new Borough of South Brisbane [created in 1888], which sought to rival in development and prestige the Municipality of Brisbane. The site, located centrally between South Brisbane and Woolloongabba, was purchased in 1889 by the South Brisbane Municipal Council for £2600, and was intended for a town hall. Financial restrictions forced a compromise and municipal chambers only were commissioned. Following a competition in late 1889, the innovative design submitted by John Hall & Son was accepted. It is attributed to John Smith Murdock, who later became Commonwealth Deputy-General of Works and Chief Architect of the Commonwealth, 1926-30. The contract was let in December 1890 to Brisbane builder and brickmaker Abraham James, with a price of £6,999. Work commenced in January 1891, but was halted temporarily when the contractor was bankrupted. The Council called tenders for separate trades to complete the building, and contracts for the stone, brick, carpentry and joinery work and the boundary fences and entrance gates were let to established Brisbane builders John Stewart & Co. The building was completed in mid-1892 at a total cost of £11,000, and served the South Brisbane Municipal Council until 1925. The tower clock, installed in 1904 by the Synchronome Electrical Co. of Australasia Ltd, was the first electrically-driven clock system in Australia. In 1925 the building became the property of the Brisbane City Council and served as offices for the Council's district engineer from 1926 to 1940. In March 1941 the building was rented by the Australian Army, and in March 1942 it was occupied by the American Military Police as their Base Section Three Headquarters. The Americans removed a large stained glass window above the stairwell to allow construction of a walkway across to the grounds of Somerville House, which served as Base Section Three Army Headquarters. This window was never recovered. In 1943 the Americans erected the two-storeyed brick and fibrous-cement building at the rear. Following the American withdrawal the building remained vacant for some years, but in 1948 was converted into seven flats for Council employees. In 1955 the State Government purchased the building and converted it into accommodation for the newly established Queensland Conservatorium of Music, who remained there until 1975. Since 1976 the building has been occupied by branches of the Education Department and TAFE, and is currently an Adult Education centre. In 1977 and 1983 restoration work was undertaken, and in 1986 the missing stained glass window was reproduced to the original design.

Description The former South Brisbane Municipal Chambers stands on a prominent rise at the corner of Vulture and Graham Streets, and is visible from the city side of the river. Despite having sustained several refurbishments, the building remains substantially intact, and retains a dominant presence in the historic precinct centred around South Brisbane Memorial Park. The building comprises two storeys, a basement, attic and a conspicuous clock tower, and is designed in the free classical style. It is constructed of red Coorparoo and Waterstown bricks left their natural colour. Bluish-grey Helidon sandstone and terracotta panelling from the Albion works of James Campbell & Sons are used for the exterior decorative detailing. The roof is clad in rolled edge flat iron. The Vulture Street facade has a loggia on the first floor and a pediment with stylised floral motifs. The simpler Graham Street facade has large sashed triplet windows and sandstone pilasters, with the words Municipal Chambers in low relief beneath a small pediment. The 70 feet (21 metres) high tower is elaborately decorated with classical motifs above a restrained brick shaft with a four-dial clock. Each clock face is 6 feet (1.8 metres) in diameter. Internally the building retains its original layout and much of the decorative finishing. On the ground floor are offices and on the first floor are the large council chamber and ancillary rooms. A small room at the rear of the council chamber is an addition, bricked in prior to 1923. A principal internal feature is the main staircase, with its white marble handrail and steps [whole marble slabs], and strings, newels and balusters of cedar. Above the stairwell is a replica of the original stained glass window with the seal of the Corporation of South Brisbane in the design. The boundary fence along Vulture and Graham Streets is of brick and stone with a cast-iron railing. At the corner an arched entrance with iron gates and broad stairs leads from the street level to the tiled vestibule. Several mature palm trees remain in the grounds.

Element Name South Brisbane Municipal Chambers (former)
Design Period 1870s - 1890s Late 19th century
Construction Period 1891 - 1892
Place Components Office/s
Objects (movable) - government administration
Tower - clock
Council chamber/meeting room
Fence/Wall - perimeter

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Last updated: 15 March 2013

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