Sojourn in Toowong–the Lahey Story

Shirley Lahey’s grandparents leased ‘Sidney House’ in 1905 for a short period of time before moving to Indooroopilly. ‘Sidney House’, which boasted a prime riverfront position, was located on River Road (now renamed Coronation Drive) and has since been demolished. In common with many descendants of Toowong’s early families, Shirley has returned to the area and now lives in Taringa.

Shirley’s reminiscences include these family memories:

My paternal grandparents were David Lahey and Jane Jemima (née Walmsley). David was born in 1858 in County Westmeath, Ireland, and Jane was born in Maldon, Victoria, in 1860. They were married in Brisbane in 1881 and had twelve children. One boy died, aged one month. Another son died of wounds in France in 1917, during World War I. Of the remaining ten children, the best known ones are the eldest child, Vida (a noted Australian artist, art advocate and educator) and Romeo, who was known for his lifelong interest in national parks. This included his work towards the reservation of Lamington National Park and the Windsor Tableland and Upper Daintree area of the Daintree National Park as well as being the founder of the National Parks Association of Queensland, the first of its kind in Australia.

David Lahey’s parents and ten siblings migrated from Ireland in 1862. His father Francis was a farmer, first at Coopers Plains, and then at Pimpama, where he was a successful arrowroot farmer. His five sons became interested in sawmilling at Waterford and then, in 1884, David and three of his brothers built a sawmill in Canungra, which developed into the largest softwood mill in Queensland. Later mills were built in other parts of south-east Queensland. Initially, the partnership was called Lahey Brothers, the name later changing several times, but when the company went into voluntary liquidation in 1921, it was named Laheys Limited. Earlier, in 1910, David had set up a sawmill in Corinda, Brisbane, so that his sons would have business opportunities. This company was called Brisbane Timbers Limited.

When David and his wife came to Brisbane to live in 1899, they leased ‘Yeronglea’, the home of the late premier of Queensland, T.J. Byrnes, at Yeronga in Brisbane, where they lived until 1905, when they moved to Toowong and leased ‘Sidney House’, which had been built for Thomas Finney. I believe Finney was the partner in Finney Isles, the store that is now David Jones in Queen Street. The architect of the house (which was named for Finney’s wife, Sidney) was F.D.G. Stanley and its extensive grounds went down to the river.

When the David Laheys lived at ‘Sidney House’, there was a total of about twenty-five people under its roof. Apart from the immediate family, Jane’s mother, unmarried brother and at least one half-sister lived with them. Also there were some of David’s nephews (whose mother had died) and staff (who included a Kanaka who had worked for the Laheys at Pimpama and who stayed with them for the rest of his life, declining to return to his island home). From ‘Sidney House,’ they moved to ‘Greylands’ at Indooroopilly, which they leased for about three years, before building their own home at Corinda, which was called ‘Wonga Wallen’, near the sawmill.

An article featuring more of Shirley Lahey’s memories titled Sojourn in Toowong–the Lahey Story is published in Toowong: A Tram Ride from the Past, Memories of the Toowong Community Vol. 4, ed. Leigh Chamberlain and Lindy Salter, Toowong and District Historical Society, 2008, p.1.

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