Brisbane General Cemetery (aka Toowong Cemetery)

The Brisbane General Cemetery’s picturesque setting maintains the visual allusion of the Victorian concept of a mortuary park on the outskirts of the city. After a sizable portion of land was set aside for cemetery purposes at Toowong in 1861, the appropriateness of the site at Toowong for the purpose of a General Cemetery was an issue contested for the next two decades. Its isolation and doubts about the suitability of its site, with a lack of access and public transport, fuelled dissent and debate while the public continued to use the cheaper, more accessible familial grounds at Paddington.

The State government passed the Cemetery Act in 1866 providing the means to establish general cemeteries under the control of government appointed trustees. In 1868, a further portion of Crown land, 53 acres in area, north of the cemetery reserve was added to fulfil of the Trustee’s requirement for the entire cemetery to be surrounded with public roads. The reserve was gazetted and the Cemetery Trust established in October 1870. The grounds at the Cemetery were laid out by the prominent surveyor, George Phillips and the Cemetery was officially opened on 5 July 1875.

The first burial here was that of Colonel Samuel Wensley Blackall (1 May 1809-2 January 1871), an Irish soldier and politician who served as Queensland’s second Governor. He served from 14 August 1868 until he died while in office. As his health was declining, in 1870, he selected the highest burial site at the new Toowong Cemetery. Shortly after, he died in office on 2 January 1871. His memorial is the largest and most prominent in the cemetery with commanding views of the city and surrounds.

Between Governor Blackall’s burial and the official opening of the Cemetery, there were six burials. The next interment was Ann Hill, wife of Walter Hill, superintendent of the Botanical Gardens on 2 November 1871. Thomas and Martha McCulloch were buried in November 1873, Teresa Maria Love on 16 March 1875 and Florence and Ethel Gordon on 4 July 1875.

The distinctive Cemetery gates are an example of the Victorian concept of a mortuary park and were designed by F.D.G. Stanley, who later resided in Church (now Jephson) Street, Toowong. The gates were erected in 1873-74.

Just inside the gates is the Temple of Peace. This memorial was erected by Richard Ramos as a memorial to his four sons, three of whom had died in WW1. Victor Ramos died at Messines, his brother Henry died of wounds in Belgium, and the youngest son, Gordon was killed at Gallipoli. An adopted son, named Fred, was killed in an accident in 1923. Ramos’s grief was so profound he designed and built the temple for his sons in 1924, and also for the family dog which was poisoned.

 

The Ferris family of 102-104 Sylvan Road

[Click on the thumbnails for larger images. There are additional photos of the Ferris family in the Gallery.]

Both these allotments belonged to Mr Thomas ‘Tom’ Ferris, the Toowong Station Master. Mr Ferris’s residence occupied allotment 104. Thomas Ferris had married Bridget Morton on the 9th April 1895.

Tom Ferris

Tom Ferris

When Tom and Bridget arrived in Toowong, they rented a house down by the railway line in Sylvan Road until they could afford to buy a property. Then at last they decided they could afford to purchase a block of land upon which to build their home. Tom had heard that there were blocks for sale around the Kate Street area, but when he went to inspect these, he found that there were only two blocks in the street available for sale. One was on the eastern side situated next door to the school on the top of the hill while the other was on the western side at the bottom of the hill.

Tom was enthusiastic about the block at the top of the hill because of the beautiful view it had. However, his wife reserved her opinion and declared that she wanted to have a look at the two blocks herself. So the next day, she walked around there to have a look and when Tom came home from work, she declared, ‘No way! You can buy the block on Sylvan Road, but not up there!’ She would be the one that would be pushing the stroller and carrying the groceries home, and there was no way she’d be carting them up the hill!

In his retirement years, Tom’s great source of pleasure was to sit in his squatter’s chair on the verandah, and watch the daily funeral processions make their way past his home along to the Toowong Cemetery. He would have his newspaper handy so he could look it up and see whether he knew the person about to be interred—and what religion they were! If it was a member of the Catholic Church, he would send for the children to come and stand erect beside him as a mark of respect, with hats off and the boys with a hand over their chest. He wasn’t so concerned about the Protestants in his midst. If he had gone ahead and bought on the top of the hill, this delight would not have been his.

When Tom’s son, William Ferris was to be married, Tom arranged for his block to be surveyed for re-subdivision. On 23 May 1939, the survey plan of allotment 102, which was a 16 perch block, was prepared and Mr Tom Ferris subsequently sold the allotment to his son, William ‘Bill’ Ferris. Sadly, Mrs William Ferris died, and later, Bill re-married. His second wife’s name was Mary. After she was widowed, Mrs Mary Ferris lived at 102 Sylvan Road until 2003.

Ferris house

102 Sylvan Road

Bill Ferris applied for permission to build his house on allotment 102 at a time when City Hall was in the final stages of a process of conducting a civic survey. This civic survey had been commissioned in 1934 when Alfred Jones became the Lord Mayor of the Brisbane City Council (BCC). One of his first acts as the new Lord Mayor was to re-institute a civic survey, which had almost completed when the City of Mackay and Other Town Planning Schemes Approval Act was passed in 1934. This act required elaborate definition of the area to be zoned and also required Ministerial approval of any town plan prior to publication in the Government Gazette. As result a new survey was instituted and R. A. McInnes was appointed on a part-time basis to prepare a new survey which would form the basis of ‘a living scheme’ to ‘shape, control and idealise the growth of Brisbane’. McInnes was appointed to the permanent staff as City Planner in April 1938. Eventually, the project was completed in May 1939 and zoning boundaries were defined thereafter.

Ferris_Blueprints_Sylvan_Rd_Subdivision_sml

Blueprints for subdivision

Thus, when Bill Ferris applied for permission to construct a house on the block, initially the BCC had reservations. It appears that under the BCC’s new Town Plan, which had to comply with the guidelines of the new Act, the block was considered too small to build a house on. Mrs Mary Ferris’ understanding was that this was the first time that the BCC was asked to approve the building a house upon a 16 perch block (probably in the Toowong area). It would seem that the difficulty resulted from the adoption of the new Town Plan. Lord Mayor Alfred Jones wrote a letter to the family (which Mrs Ferris still had) and proposed a truncation of the corner of the block. It seemed that permission to build on the 16 perch block was dependent upon the provision that the BCC be allowed to truncate the corner of the block. Lord Mayor Jones felt that truncation of all corners was necessary so that car drivers could have a better field of vision and thus prevent accidents. He could foresee that in future, car usage of the road would increase. This was done in this case and was probably the first truncation to occur in Toowong, and maybe even in Brisbane. In retrospect, it seemed that Lord Mayor Jones’ dream to introduce truncation all over the city of Brisbane did not eventuate. The reason is not hard to explain. The Jones’ administration used a financing strategy based upon debt, rather than rate increases which was electorally popular and the increasing levels of debt was causing significant disquiet in some quarters. The issue came to a head when war was declared and of avenues of debt raising through loans available to Council dried up completely. The Ferris family are of the opinion that their truncated corner was the first and probably the only one in Toowong – part of Alfred Jones’ grand vision for the future of the City of Brisbane, for which the necessary underlying financing was not forthcoming.

Bridget died in 1951 and Thomas died in 1954.

Mrs Mary Ferris was interviewed by Leigh Chamberlain on 25 February 2003.