The white marble plaque set in the ground in today’s Queen’s Gardens marks where once was located the altar of St John’s Pro-Cathedral, in the late nineteenth century the fashionable venue for Brisbane society brides of the Anglican faith.
The Church of England acquired what is now the Queen’s Gardens site in the late 1840s, constructing a parsonage on the William Street/Elizabeth Street corner in 1850-51. Running parallel with William Street, the single gabled St John’s Church was constructed in 1850-54. Its first Bishop was Edward Tufnell who was appointed in 1859, when the new Diocese of Brisbane was created. Tufnell declared St John’s a pro-cathedral after he arrived in mid-1860.
During the fifty years St John’s Pro-Cathedral was located on William Street, many weddings were conducted there. Most were acknowledged by one or two lines in the newspapers of the time. However, when wealthy and powerful people were involved, many column inches were devoted to a description of the wedding and the people who attended.
In 1872 Bishop Tufnell officiated when Eliza Russell, the niece of the Marchioness of Normanby (the wife of the Governor of Queensland), wed the Hon. John Bramston, the Attorney-General of Queensland. According to the newspaper report, a large number of people watched as Miss Russell arrived in the company of the Governor and Lady (Laura) Normanby. The bride wore a white silk dress covered with a profusion of beautiful lace made at St Ann’s Industrial School, an institution run by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy from 1868 to provide education and a home for young women at risk. Descriptions of the bridesmaid’s dresses, the wedding lunch at Government House, some of the wedding presents and the honeymoon destination were provided.
Society notables Edith and Evelyn Harris, the daughters of George and Jane Harris and the grand-daughters of George and Jane Thorn, were married from St John’s Pro-Cathedral. George Harris was a Brisbane merchant and George Thorn one of the founders of Ipswich. In 1883 Edith Harris married George Condamine Taylor, the son of the Hon. James Taylor MLC of Toowoomba and one of the founding fathers of that city.
Hundreds of people came to view the wedding event, some even making their way onto the balcony of the then Museum to get a better view. At this time it was not uncommon for the service to be referred to as fully choral – where the service was intoned by a different clergyman to the celebrant. For the Harris-Taylor wedding the Venerable Archdeacon Benjamin Glennie, the first Deacon appointed to the Anglican Church in Brisbane in 1848, performed a semi-choral service assisted by two other clergymen.
The dress Edith Harris wore was imported from Paris, but the bridesmaids’ dresses, with one exception, were made in Brisbane. What was worn by other notable guests such as Lady Julia Griffith, the wife of Sir Samuel Griffith who was the leader of the Opposition in Queensland at the time, and Annie Perry who lived at Miegunyah with her husband, the businessman William Perry, was duly reported. The wedding ceremony was followed by a ball at Newstead House, the Harris family residence.
Younger sister Evelyn Harris married Richard G. Casey of Normanby Station in 1888. He had just been elected as the Member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly for Warrego. Newspaper reports provide a detailed account of this St John’s wedding, where Archdeacon Glennie likewise officiated. Guests in the congregation included Sir Thomas McIlwraith, the new Premier of Queensland following the 1888 General Election, and Lady McIlwraith, the former Harriette Mosman whose sister had been Cecilia Palmer, wife of the fifth Premier of Queensland, the Hon. Arthur H Palmer KCMG. The wedding breakfast for 250 guests was held at Newstead House and the bride and groom travelled to Sandgate for their honeymoon.
In 1891 a wedding which had two and a half full columns devoted to its description in the Brisbane Courier was that of Charles Campbell-Riley of Lanark Station near Clermont, and Kate Walsh, the daughter of the Eliza Walsh and parliamentarian the late William Henry Walsh. Miss Walsh’s godfather, the Hon. Arthur H Palmer KCMG, was also present.
Friends of the bride decorated St John’s with pink and white flowers, a colour scheme continued in the bridesmaids’ dresses and those of the girlfriends of the bride. The ‘pink’ wedding, as the paper called it, appeared to be a novelty but one that was felt could become quite ‘the order of the day’. The wedding service was conducted by Bishop Webber, but the service was not choral. Much detail was given of the dresses, many of which came from the ateliér of Mrs (Janet) Walker, who operated the largest private dressmaking establishment in Brisbane. After the ceremony, the wedding party and guests went to the home of Eliza Walsh where a marquee had been erected on the lawn.
One of the most extensively covered weddings at St John’s occurred in 1894. Thomas H Brown was a member of the Brown family of Scotland which ran the company D.L. Brown & Co., the company which in 1877 had bought the wharf in Short Street from George Harris, and expanded it into a major overseas terminal. Both Thomas and his elder brother John worked with their uncle D L Brown. Both were well known and liked in Brisbane.
On 28 December 1894 Thomas Brown married Mary Eveline Griffith, the eldest daughter of Sir Samuel Walker Griffith, KCMG, former Premier of Queensland and the then Chief Justice. Twelve and a half columns were dedicated to the description of the wedding, the list of guests, the dresses of the bridal party as well as many of the guests, the reception and the wedding presents.
The guest list, as might be expected, ran like a ‘who’s who’ of Brisbane society, starting with the Governor of Queensland, His Excellency Sir Henry Norman and Lady Norman. The service was fully choral. The opening was performed by Canon Stone-Wigg with Rev. A Rivers intoning the final charge and benediction. The wedding attracted several hundreds of spectators who occupied not only the Museum balcony but also that of the Treasury Building. Police were required to control the crowd. Bunting flew from ships in the Brisbane River.
Once again the ateliér of Mrs Walker was responsible for the gowns worn by the bridal party, except for one bridesmaid’s gown which came from the St Anne’s Industrial Home. In great depth the newspaper article covered the church decorations, the guests and their dress and even included a list of the wedding presents. Following a reception for 200 at ‘Merthyr’, the Griffith family home, the bride and groom left for Toowoomba, later sailing for Europe.
The wedding of George Sampson FRCO, organist of the Cathedral, and Amy Winifred Taylor, second daughter of Isabella Taylor and the Hon Dr William F. Taylor, a member of the Queensland Legislative Council (1886-1922), was one of the last society weddings to be held at St John’s before the congregation relocated (1903) and the Pro-Cathedral demolished (1904). The celebrant was the Venerable Archdeacon David. The service, which was fully choral, was intoned by Canon Oakley. Once again Sir Samuel Griffith and Lady Griffith were guests, the former proposing the toast to the bride and groom at ‘Banksia’, the Taylor’s home, where the guests assembled after the service. The bride and groom then left for a honeymoon in Tasmania.
In the twentieth century, St John’s Cathedral in Ann Street took over as the place where society brides and their grooms chose to make their vows.
Brisbane Courier, 16 December 1872, p. 2.
Brisbane Courier, 29 August 1883, p. 4.
Brisbane Courier, 24 May 1888, p. 5.
Brisbane Courier, 17 December 1891, p. 6.
Telegraph, 29 November 1894, p. 6.
Brisbane Courier, 29 December 1903, p. 2.