Field of Flowers,
Field of Prayers, Field of Spirit
A history of the Auchenflower site

see also:

 The 40th Anniversary of Holy Spirit Church, Auchenflower

History of the Toowong Parish


On 12th October, 1969, the foundation stone for the Holy Spirit Chuch was laid. This was the beginning of the Field of Spirit. But what about the Field of Flowers and the Field of Prayers?

In 1987 a series of articles were printed in the Parish Newsletters presenting the history of the Auchenflower site. The dates shown as headers indicate the newsletter in which these words appeared.

28th June 1987
In a few weeks' time we will be given a chance to join in a Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving for 60 years of the "Auchenflower" community of our parish, which grew out of a group of Carmelite Sisters arriving from the south to take up residence in "Auchenflower House" on the 27th July, 1927. On that date Toowong's first Parish Priest celebrated the first Mass for the new community in the Convent Chapel, which became a church of ease for the residents in the area.

Quite recently signs defining the residential areas of Auchenflower have reappeared on Milton Road and Coronation Drive, following demands from residents that their loved area retain the name which had identified the area for many years.

On the Feast of St. Ignatius, July 31, 1927, the Sisters were officially enclosed in "Auchenflower House" by Archbishop Duhig and remained there until 1965, when they moved to Ormiston into much more suitable surroundings. The parish then acquired the property.

As a lead up to the celebrations on Sunday, August 2, at the 8.15 a.m. Mass, I would like to recapture something of the History of the Auchenflower Area and the Community.

I understand that the Carmelite Sisters have no plans for anything special on their jubilee in Queensland on that date but invite old friends to attend their Special 10.30 a.m. Mass at Ormiston on Sunday, July 19, to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and to picnic in the grounds afterwards. Recently I enjoyed a guided walk along the Centennial Bike Trail from the Merivale Bridge to the A.B.C. Studios, Toowong Library and the Regatta, as part of the Brisbane History Group's Riverpath Heritage Tour from Town to Toowong.

With umbrella up trying to read the Guide Book in pouring rain the Brisbane History Group presented a picture of both sides' of the river covered with thick bush and vine scrub inhabited by Aborigines and native fauna. It states that Aboriginal history records that the western bank abounded with river rats deemed a culinary delicacy.

I learned that during the convict era a primitive road was formed to Moggill. I often wondered why Moggill Road commenced in Toowong. Apparently it originally commenced from North Quay and portion of it was renamed Toowong Road in the 1850s, River Road in the 1860s, Farm Road, then Toowong River Road in the 1920s and then Coronation Drive in 1937.

It was not until the 1850s that land was officially alienated for occupation. In 1850 plans were drawn up by James Warner, Government Surveyor, in preparation for the sale of twelve large allotments along this stretch of the river road (1854). Though some farms were established by early settlers, especially Ambrose Eldridge (Milton House) and Robert Cribb (Lang Farm), the so called western farms remained quite wild until later decades.

From John Oxley's Fieldbook 1823, on first exploring the Brisbane River, the following extract is taken: "Station 10 (North Quay). From this station to the next on the same shore the river forms a magnificent crescent of two and a half miles of forest land. Soundings from three and half to eleven fathoms. The laboured side (West End) thick brush with some Cyprus. Station 11 (Regatta Hotel). On starboard side still continues low open forest, good grass and iron bark trees, opposite side rich low brush."

From John Oxley's Fieldbook 1924 on his second trip exploring the river with botanist Alan Cunningham we read that when Oxley and Cunningham landed in the vicinity of Moorland Park in search of fresh water they were encountered by numbers of natives, the strongest and best made muscular men seen in any country who became nuisances and wanted

5th July 1987
With the Taylor Ranges in the background and the many hills and valleys in the district it is inevitable that numerous water courses would prevail, draining into the Brisbane River. It is difficult with present day formation, roadworks and development, to realise that water courses were so numerous and these, of course, had to be bridged or piped underground.

Western Creek (exiting into the Brisbane River at Lang Parade), made up of 2 tributaries, drains much of the Auchenflower Area. Langsville Ck or Saltwater Ck (exits at Moorlands Park) of three tributaries, also drains some of the Auchenflower Area. Along with Toowong Ck, these water courses influenced the development of earlier acreage living. Milton House, 1854, Dunmore House, 1854 (Robert Cribb), were among the early homes.

A Queensland pioneer grazier, Mr. John Markwell, purchased the original "Auchenflower" property of 52 acres in 1854. After changing hands in 1870 to Mr. Arthur Hodgson in 1876 to Mr. John Ward, a Brisbane Ironmonger, who built the original house in 1876.

Sir Thomas McIlwraith, Premier of Queensland, became the owner in 1880 and after redesigning and enlarging the house, building outhouses and stables, named the property "Auchenflower" House after his birthplace in Carrickshire, Scotland. Translated it means "every flower" or "field of flowers". In 1888, after the death of Sir Thomas, Lady Harriette disposed of the property to her brother, Sir Arthur Palmer. Ten years later, Sir Arthur's son sold the property to Mr. Thomas Joseph Ryan, a Labour Premier, who took up residence with his young bride in 1910.

In between times it was used as a Boy's private preparatory school and after T.J.'s death in 1921, several people leased the house until acquired by the Carmelites in 1926.

It would appear that in about the 1880 to 1890s the original large acreages were progressively subdivided into smaller lots.

A Rev. Dr. John Dunmore Lang sponsored many protestant migrants to develop a cotton cultivation. One such migrant, Robert Cribb, (Milton House) arrived on the "Fortitude". Others arrived on the ships "Chasely" and "Lima". Robert Cribb became a prosperous property speculator and adherents to Lang's principles, Kings¬ford, Challinor, Hobbs, Aldridge and Grimes are preserved in nomenclature of nearby streets. No need to mention where the Dunmore and Lang Streets and Parks names originated.

The development of residential areas was aided by the opening of the railway in 1875 from Brisbane to Indooroopilly. In the meantime, Toowong Village, commencing to develop from 1862, was progressing. By 1878, 108 children were in school and 1893 saw the opening of the first Catholic Church in Toowong, dedicated to St. Michael and All Souls.

12th July 1987
Archbishop Duhig had a great devotion to and admiration for Therese of the Child Jesus. On his Ad Limina visit to Rome in 1922, he visited the Carmel at Lisieux. Since her death in 1897, this obscure young Carmelite nun had become popular the world over and the demand grew daily for her canonisation. During his visit on July 15 and 16, Archbishop Duhig "spoke with her sisters and celebrated Mass in the convent chapel on the following Sunday morning". At that time, Therese's sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus, was Prioress. Her other sisters, Louise, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, and Celine, Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face and St. Teresa were also present. He also visited Therese's cell and the family home, "Les Buissonnets". Visiting the grave of Theresa he was impressed by the procession of young people going there to pray.

At Lisieux, Archbishop Duhig made a promise to Therese that he would endeavour to establish a Carmel in Brisbane for the enrichment of the Diocese and the Church in Queensland. Pauline presented the Archbishop with a portrait of Therese, autographed by all three sisters. This portrait is now a part of the shrine of St. Therese and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in St Stephen's Cathedral, Brisbane.

Upon returning, to Australia, Archbishop Duhig visited the Dulwich Hill Carmel and confided to the Prioress, Mother Mary of the Holy Spirit: "Having made a promise to the Little Flower to have a Carmel established in my Archdiocese of Brisbane, I now, in fulfilling my promise, call on you to respond to my request. I free myself now in placing this engagement before you to accomplish it."

He then, in February 1926, invited the Prioress of Sydney and the Prioress of Melbourne to come to Brisbane to inspect "Dara", Archbishop Robert Dunne's old home, with a view to establishing a Carmel there. However, this property was found to be unsuitable. The nuns returned to Sydney with no definite plans made.

Meanwhile, Mr John Kidner, a confidant of Archbishop Duhig and Father Richard Murphy SJ, Parish Priest of Toowong, continued the search for a suitable site. It was said "John Kidner made the bullets and Fr. Murphy fired them". In 1923, Indooroopilly had been separated from Toowong to form Holy Family Parish. Fr. Murphy was now able to concentrate on the Auchenflower end of the parish which had always been described as a "no man’s land". Auchenflower House, the home of Mr T.J. Ryan, was put up for sale by his widow, Lil, in 1925. Upon hearing of this, Fr. Murphy suggested to Archbishop Duhig that it would be a suitable place for the Carmelites. The Archbishop's reaction was one of surprise: “What! bring the Carmelites to Auchenflower to starve?". However, the Archbishop was soon won over by the suggestion and before he left for the Eucharistic Congress in the United States he gave, on May 26, 1926, Fr. Murphy permission to secure the house for the nuns should it be suitable.

Fr. Murphy on May 21, had expressed concern to His Grace that the purchase of the land might be lost unless steps “are taken soon to secure it. £7000 asked for the land was considered too high by Fr. Murphy and he wrote to the Archbishop saying: "Until I am able to get independent advice upon the value of the house and property, I feel that I cannot advise the Carmelites to accept Mrs. Ryan's offer." Having received the Archbishop's permission, Murphy continued negotiations to secure the site for the Carmelites, or failing that, he was instructed to purchase it for a future church.

Auchenflower House
"Auchenflower House"

19th July 1987
Fr Murphy persisted with Mrs Ryan and invited the nuns to inspect the property. On September 19, 1926, Fr Murphy wrote to His Grace who was then returning to Brisbane from his trip to America and said: 'After some lengthy talks(with Mrs Ryan), I eventually got the "firm offer" of the house and land until October 1st. The price we agreed upon was £5,500, which I think is a very good price indeed (for Mrs Ryan)'.

Fr Murphy suggested that the ballroom, which had served as the Ryan's nursery, be used as the new church. Mr Donoghue, an architect, had drawn up plans for the nuns outlining the alterations needed to be made to make the colonial house a Carmelite Monastery. Mother Mary was not entirely satisfied with the arrangements: "To use the Ballroom as a Church would mean to put the enclosure fence along this side, (i.e. Harriet St.), and to have the entrance to the Monastery and the Church through a lane-way (Burt St.).(This would mean) ......... that all the gardens and lawns would be in the enclosure but that the Extern Sister's quarters, which had previously been for the servants, would be poor and inadequate". However, with Auchenflower House as a "temporary" measure and with the hope for a regular monastery eventually, Mother agreed to the conditions of sale. Before the end of the year, the 5,500 pounds had been paid and the property had been transferred to the Carmelites.

To help pay for the alterations, Fr Murphy organised the parishioners into a frenzy of fundraising activities. Jazz evenings, where parishioners 'can tell you how they danced their legs off', as well as St Patrick's Day Balls, New Year Parties, Quiz Competitions, Garden Parties hosted by Mrs Ryan, all helped to raise 2,500 pounds to furnish the monastery, as well as build a church, nuns choir, enclosure walls and a laundry. The old servants’ hall was remodelled for the Extern Sister's quarters and the rooms within the house itself were divided up to provide enough room for each nun's cell. "Working Bees" were organised by Fr Murphy to clean up the grounds and do any minor repair work that required attention.

Fr Murphy, being 'a great rose fancier', had a huge garden dug and dozens of rose-trees planted in honour of St Therese - the 'Little Flower'. A large fish-pond was moved from near the former ballroom to where the enclosure was to be made and the nuns later placed a statue of Our Lady atop a rockery in the centre. The church was furnished by Fr Murphy who arranged for the placing of an Altar and pews.

Eight women comprised the foundation community, a joint venture of Sydney and Melbourne Carmels: Mother Mary of The Cross (Prioress), Sister Katherine of Christ (Sub-Prioress), Sister Marguerite of Jesus, Sister Rose of St Mary and the Blessed Sacrament (Choir Nuns), Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart, Sister Mary Veronica of the Holy Face (Choir Novice), Sister Mary of the Incarnation (Lay Sister) and Sister Mary Elizabeth (Extern Sister).

The train left Sydney at 3.30 pm on July 24, 1927, via Newcastle, Maitland, changing at Wallangarra. Since there were no refreshments provided on the train, Fr Murphy had written to Dulwich Hill suggesting that "if the nuns can fast till the Queensland border they will be taken care of by the Sisters of Mercy. Fr Murphy also promised to act as the nuns' luggage boy. Passing into Queensland, the first stop was at Stanthorpe. The Mercy Sisters provided ample refreshments and a hearty welcome was extended by the crowd which had gathered. Fr Murphy and a deputation from Toowong parish welcomed the nuns to Brisbane when their train pulled into Central Station at 7.30pm on July 25. From the station the nuns were transported to Stuartholme Convent, where they spent their first night. As he promised, Fr Murphy supervised the transferral of the nuns' luggage to Auchenflower.

26th July 1987
July 31, the feast day of the patron of Toowong Parish, St Ignatius Loyola, was set as the opening day of the Monastery by the Archbishop. The Community settled into the life of prayer and penance and so com¬menced the Church of ease for Auchenflower, under the title of 'Carmel of the Holy Spirit', in the Toowong parish. Two masses were celebrated every Sunday at 7am and 9am and 7am each weekday. The chapel seated approx. 150. Those who had motor cars journeyed to Toowong to ease the accommodation problem, however, when the priests did not yet have a car the brisk walk or a pedal bike for them was the norm of the day, particularly on Sundays when the trams did not commence till 8am.

The presence of Carmelite Community was to continue in Auchenflower House until 1965, with a community of approx. 19 members. A 6 feet high brick wall existed along the boundary of Harriett St. with corrugated iron walls around the other 3 sides. Entry to the chapel was through a wooden gate in Burt St. During the war years Auchenflower Carmel hosted Papuan Carmel Nuns for some 3 years.

The fund to establish a permanent Carmel was commenced in 1943 with Novena Lamp in honour of St Therese. The search for alternate sites for commenced in 1939, Mt Gravatt, Ashgrove, Nudgee, Eight Mile Plains, Wynnum, Cleveland, Wellington Pt., Victoria Pt., until 1958 when Ormiston House came on the Market. Private vendors were waiting to purchase 'Auchenflower' to enable the nuns to purchase 'Ormiston', however, Archbishop P.M. O'Donnell directed the then parish priest, Fr. Lewis Cardiff SJ , that Toowong Parish should purchase the property, which was duly done in 1959 (for the second time) for 30,000 pounds. The Carmelite sisters eventually moved to Ormiston in 1965 upon completion of their new brick monastery.

The Auchenflower people were a community of great spirit in the support of the parish as a whole as well as the Carmelites. In St. Ignatius church the stained glass windows in St. Therese's shrine tell us the shrine was dona¬ted by the people of Auchenflower in 1929. One gate to the one door to the church seemed to strengthen and develop a strong bond so that when the Sisters left, the making ready of the church, altar, etc. for Mass, security thereof afterwards, was undertaken immediately. Auchenflower house, by this time, had become run down and in need of repair. Lots of tem¬porary extensions had been made, rooms had been subdivided into cells, etc., and the obvious choice seemed to be that it should be demolished to make way for a new church, this time facing Harriett Street.

In 1967, Fr. Maurice FitzGerald S.J. then serving his second term as Parish Priest of Toowong, set plans in motion to build a new church, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1969, with the present church of the Holy Spirit being opened on the 15th December 1969.

The former church, which in fact was the ballroom and billiard room of the former "Auchenflower House", (ballroom the chapel, the billiard room the Nuns’ Choir) was saved from demolition by the Hancock family and were transported to Early Street Historical Village where they now form the nucleus of the Social Centre of Early Street. Sir Thomas McIlwraith saw the Spirit of God in his new home and garden when he christened it Auchenflower - "Field of Flowers". The Carmelite Sisters made it a "field of prayer" to the Almighty and the Auchenflower community have made it a "field of spirit" present within the district and in appreciation of the 60 years of the Auchenflower community within our parish, let us give praise and thanks for blessings bestowed next Sunday at the 8.15 am Mass.

© Percy Hanlon


~ back to top ~

  SITE MAP      |      Copyright Toowong Catholic Parish 2011 Website by School Site Solutions