city electric power station

Inside the CEL William Street Power House, c1915, showing the turbo alternator. SLQ image 39142.

In the early years of the twentieth century a power generating station was constructed at the corner of William and Margaret Streets, where Pettigrew’s Sawmill had once been. Constructed by the City Electric Light Company Limited, this station provided power to the city until larger stations such as that at Bulimba took over.

Brisbane’s first power electric power was generated by Barton White & Co. in 1888 to supply the General Post Office in Queen Street. Edward G. C. Barton had earlier been involved in completing the installation of electric lighting equipment in the Government Printing Office and Parliamentary buildings. When the partnership of Barton White & Co was dissolved in 1896, Barton formed the Brisbane Electric Supply Company and opened a new power house at 69 Ann Street. To allow for expansion in what was a growth industry, a new company named the City Electric Light Company Limited was formed in 1904 and commenced construction of its William Street power house from around 1910.

Large extensions were made to the plant in 1920 through the addition of a second turbine, cooling water for which was pumped from the Brisbane River. Burning 2.5 tons of coal per hour to generate over 6 million candle power, it is little wonder that complaints from nearby residents about smoke and dust increased and CEL was taken to court for creating a nuisance.

Inevitably the infrastructure for the generation of electric power moved away from the city centre. CEL opened another power house, later referred to as Bulimba A, in 1926. In 1930 the William Street generator, weighing over 60 tons was moved downhill to the river where it was transported, by raft, to this newer generating station. In time the William Street power house was decommissioned.

Additional Reading

  • Egeherg, HF. ‘The Development of electricity supply in Queensland‘ in the Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, volume 6, no. 1, pp. 60-72.
  • Thomis, Malcolm I. A history of the electricity supply industry in Queensland. Brisbane: Boolarong, 1987.


  • SLQ image 39142
  • SLQ image 39211
  • BCC-B120-14350

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