The Queen’s Gardens is a square of Brisbane CBD green space bounded by William, Elizabeth and George Streets and, in 2016, the Heritage Hotel. Such has not always been the case.
Since 1825 this small envelope of land has been the site of a convict era cottage and lumber yard, a church, parsonage and synod hall and the offices of Brisbane’s early police detectives. It has been known by two garden names and, since the early twentieth century, a place notable for its statues and monuments.
From around 1825 to the mid to late 1830s the convict settlement’s engineer resided here in a sawn timber cottage. The cottage was converted to offices following the removal of the lumber yard to a site at the upper end of what would become Queen Street. The chaplain also lived in this location, with his front door facing the river and his gardens sloping towards today’s George Street.
With the convict settlement closed, the Church of England acquired the site in the late 1840s, constructing a parsonage on the William Street/Elizabeth Street corner in 1850-51. St John’s Church was completed next, in 1850-54. Today a marble plaque identifies the position of the altar. With the declaration of the Diocese of Brisbane in 1859, St John’s Church was designated a pro-Cathedral. As the congregation grew, an extension was constructed (1868). The third bishop, William Webber, commenced the planning for a grand cathedral in 1885. In the late nineteenth century the pro-Cathedral was the venue for a number of society weddings.
The day-to-day operations of the Diocese required the construction of a timber bell tower in 1877. It held a set of 8 bells cast in London by Messrs John Warner and Sons. Towards George Street, a timber building was erected in 1879-80 to provide space for a synod hall, library, committee rooms and a church school. This building was replaced by the Church Institute and Synod Hall built in stone at the George Street/Elizabeth Street corner in 1897.
Government plans for the construction of a new lands and survey building (the previous one was in George Street near Adelaide Street) changed the direction in which planning for the cathedral was headed. The land on which the pro-Cathedral was built was sold to the government to provide the Diocese with the finances needed to purchase land in Ann Street, the eventual location of St John’s Cathedral.
The church buildings were demolished in 1904. The Executive Gardens, a 30 metre strip of land to the west of the newly constructed and now named Executive Building, provided the park’s first green space. Within two years the land on which the demolished parsonage had been located was declared a park reserve to be added to the Executive Gardens, the second of the three parcels which make up the Gardens.
The stone Church Institute building was not initially demolished, being used as the offices for the Criminal Investigation Branch (formed 1896). In 1927 an explosion caused considerable damage to the building. With the construction of a new police headquarters in North Quay in the 1960s, the former Church Institute building/CIB office was demolished. The stone was used for the ongoing construction of St John’s Cathedral in Ann Street. With the addition of this corner, Queen’s Gardens now consisted of a total of 0.48 hectares of land.
In preparation for the visit in March 1963 of Queen Elizabeth II, a new layout for the gardens was prepared featuring diagonal paths, gardens and a fountain. Although beneath the park has been developed since as a car park, the layout remains essentially the same. The fountain has been converted to a planter box.
Over the years, the Executive Gardens/Queen’s Gardens has become the site of a number of statues, monuments and artillery items:
The bronze statue of Queensland Premier Thomas Joseph Ryan by Bertram Mackennal
Artillery pieces from the Boer War.
A Krupp (German) 77mm field gun placed in the gardens in 1917.
A Monument of Memories erected by the Queensland Service Women’s Association in 1990.