Celebrating the Walter Hill Fountain in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens
If you asked Brisbane residents to name some important heritage places remaining in the city today, it is unlikely that many would mention the Walter Hill Ornamental Drinking Fountain.
The Commissariat Store, Brisbane City Hall, or even Lamb House might more readily come to mind because of their location, scale, or publicity, but the less well-known Walter Hill Fountain remains one of Brisbane’s most significant historical monuments.
This unheralded role in the popular history of Brisbane’s built environment is surprising considering that the fountain remains relatively well-preserved and prominently positioned within the Brisbane Botanic Gardens beside Parliament House.
AHS was commissioned by Brisbane City Council to deliver a Conservation Management Plan for the fountain which will guide any future renovation, restoration, adaptive re-use, and interpretive planning of this location.
Fine example of a Victorian era public monument
The Walter Hill Fountain was erected in 1867 to provide the public with clean drinking water sourced from the recently constructed Enoggera Reservoir. An underground piping system installed from the new mains supplied water to the fountain and irrigation to the gardens.
Standing approximately 3.5 metres tall and leaning slightly to the west, the monument has remained largely intact since its original construction. All the major structural components are made of sandstone with additional ornamental features in marble.
Water poured from the two ornate lion heads into marble collecting bowls below. The fountain was in use from 1867 until 1930, with the feet of thirsty visitors and overflow from the bowls wearing down the surface of the upper plinth on two sides.
The fountain was named in honour of Walter Hill, the first and longest-serving Superintendent of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens between 1855 and 1881. Hill also served as Colonial Botanist and cultivated the first healthy crops of sugarcane, cotton, tea, coffee, and pineapples in Queensland.
A first for Queensland
The Walter Hill Fountain is the first known ornamental public drinking fountain to be built in Queensland. The novelty of this convenient resource and the cleanliness of water from Enoggera Reservoir would have made this a popular meeting point for Brisbane residents.
As well as being the first of its kind, this is one of just a few public drinking fountains constructed anywhere in the State during a period when such amenities were a rarity.
Another good example of its type in Brisbane is the Eagle Street Fountain which was built more than a decade later and became known as the Mooney Memorial Fountain, while others also remain in Cooktown, Ipswich, and Port Douglas.
Other than one existing partial levee bank, the Walter Hill Fountain is also the last surviving feature of Walter Hill’s original Fern Island Garden which was a prominent element of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens landscape design from the 1850s until the moat was removed in 1936.
A secure future
The importance of the Walter Hill Fountain is reflected by its inclusion on the Queensland Heritage Register as part of the larger Brisbane Botanic Gardens site.
However the AHS review of the Queensland Heritage Register statement of significance shows that the gardens’ current listing doesn’t reflect the unique importance of the fountain itself. We hope to see the fountain receive its own detailed listing as the next step in protecting the monument and surrounding site.