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Service Reservoirs

  • 600174
  • 230 Wickham Terrace, Spring Hill


State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
21 October 1992
Utilities—water supply: Dam/reservoir
6.3 Building settlements, towns, cities and dwellings: Developing urban services and amenities
Holmes, Henry
Construction period
1871–1882, Service Reservoirs (1871 - 1882)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century


230 Wickham Terrace, Spring Hill
Brisbane City Council
-27.46607265, 153.02309977


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The Wickham Terrace service reservoirs are an historic expression of demographic growth, improvement in living standards and local politics in Brisbane during the years of early self-government.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

In Queensland they are the first of a series of inground reservoirs, but quite unusual in being the only ones known to have been built of brick with arched baffle walls rather than concrete.

Criterion CThe place has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Queensland’s history.

The sub-surface pits, chambers and pipes, and the sites of the two former houses have the potential to reveal technical and archaeological evidence.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

In Australian context there are important differences in form, material and dating between each of the above reservoirs; but their similarities, particularly between Wickham Terrace and Adelaide, are such that the former may be treated as a significant example of its type.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

In addition the reservoirs have long formed a pleasing part of the 'Windmill Hill' reserves, which also include the old convict tower mill [600173], a reconstructed signal flagstaff and surrounding parkland. Their dimly lit, resonant and monumental interior spaces are also atmospheric in character.

Criterion FThe place is important in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period.

As an important part of the Enoggera waterworks system, and a simple but handsome solution to the problem of an adequate water supply, the reservoirs represent both a technical and a creative achievement of the Colonial era.


The Service Reservoirs (1871 and 1882) are located adjacent to the Windmill Tower (QHR 600173) on Wickham Terrace in Spring Hill, Brisbane. Constructed as purpose-designed water storage and distribution facilities to service Brisbane's rapidly growing population in the late 19th century, the Service Reservoirs represent both a creative and technical achievement of the Colonial era. The reservoirs constitute two mostly subterranean tanks, constructed of brick arched walls, roofed in the early 1900s and once connected by a series of pipes to Enoggera Dam. They were the first of their kind in the state.

Aboriginal occupation of what is now the Brisbane City area was located within a close distance of freshwater streams, at the main camps at "Barrambin" (York's Hollow, now Victoria Park) and "Me-An-Jin" (Gardens Point). When European settlement was established in the area, the proximity of a sufficient water supply had a significant impact on where it was to be situated. The Moreton Bay Penal Settlement was established at Redcliffe in 1824, under the instructions of John Oxley that a suitable location would be "easy of access, difficult to escape from, and hard to attack; furthermore, it should be near fresh water and contain three hundred acres for cultivation".[1] Only one year after settlement, the inadequacy of Redcliffe's water supply became apparent and the settlement relocated to the current Brisbane City site.[2] Adjacent to the river, the new site allowed the collection of water from the first substantial water supply within 15miles (24.14km) of the mouth of the Brisbane River, a freshwater creek and a chain of water holes near the present Roma Street Station.[3]

In 1826, Captain Logan arrived as Commandant and established a works program; key buildings were replaced with substantial structures made of stone and brick. Further development was encouraged by the construction of King's Wharf (1827) which allowed goods to be transferred from incoming ships.[4] Due to this expansion of the penal settlement, by 1829 the quantity and quality of the water supply had dramatically decreased.[5] In response, Captain Logan under the guidance of engineer and Clerk of Works, Andrew Petrie, ordered the excavation of an earthen dam across a creek near present-day Tank Street that was intended to hold up to a year's supply of water. From this dam, water was reticulated through a series of hollow ironbark logs with convict-powered pumps to a small number of buildings within Brisbane, including the prisoners' and military barracks, and the Commandant's quarters.[6]

Brisbane experienced rapid growth after its opening for free settlement in 1842 and the population quickly rose to 812 by 1845. Water carriers charged exorbitant prices for their services and water was frequently required to be transported from Breakfast Creek at times of drought when the earthen reservoir dried up.[7] By the 1850s the supply of fresh water became polluted from bathing, washing and watering animals. The walls of the dam deteriorated and leaked, and in 1858 it collapsed.[8]

The Municipalities Act 1858 tasked local councils with the obligation to control their town's water supply.[9] Brisbane's Municipal Council (formed in 1859, the same year as Queensland's separation from New South Wales) only made short-term repairs to the dam due to other priorities such as constructing roads, Municipal Headquarters, and improving drainage and sanitary conditions.[10] The Council constructed a temporary tank on the edge of the reservoir in Tank Street and licensed water carriers to serve the people Brisbane, whose population had increased by 54 percent between 1856 and 1861 to 5900 people.[11] It soon became clear that Brisbane required a much larger water supply. Tensions emerged between the Municipal Council and the Queensland Government over who was accountable for funding future systems.[12]

Despite the strenuous debate amongst alderman regarding the best solution, and continual conflict between the Council and Queensland Government over control, the Brisbane Municipal Council made the decision in 1863 to adopt a long term solution from a report by Civil Hydraulic Engineer, Thomas Oldham.[13] This proposal involved a gravity reticulation system to the city fed from a dam constructed at a higher elevation on Enoggera Creek. A service reservoir would be constructed near the top of Windmill Hill on Wickham Terrace, the highest suitable site near town, to store water before distribution. Oldham's scheme was designed to provide a 12month water supply to 200,000 people; five times Brisbane's population at the time.[14] The Brisbane Waterworks Act 1863 enabled the Municipal Council to construct reservoirs, supply water to the town and to charge for services, but allowed the Queensland Government to influence decisions with the establishment of a Board of Waterworks.[15]

Joseph Brady was appointed as Engineer to the Board of Waterworks and oversaw the construction of Enoggera Dam which began on 18 August 1864. The dam was completed by March 1866, with alterations made to reduce expenditure; pipework sizes were minimised and plans for the Wickham Terrace Service Reservoir were scrapped.[16] By legislation, responsibility transferred to the Brisbane Board of Waterworks in August 1866, and later that month 94 chains (1.89km) of water mains reticulating to Queen, George and Edward Streets were turned on.[17] By 1869 reticulation to the southern side of the river was achieved.[18] The system was the first reticulated gravity supply and the first municipal engineering undertaking in Queensland.[19] Being the first of their kind in the colony, the Service Reservoirs at Spring Hill set a precedent for subsequent water supply schemes throughout Queensland, including places such as Ipswich, Toowoomba, Maryborough and Rockhampton.[20]

After complaints from Brisbane residents about mains not servicing higher areas of town and of a poor supply during peak hours, the Board of Waterworks decided to proceed with the construction of a Service Reservoir near the observatory on Wickham Terrace.[21] Tenders were called in 1870 for the construction of a reservoir in either concrete or brick. Henry Holmes' tender was accepted specifying the use of concrete, but after preliminary excavations and the identification of cracks in concrete samples, Holmes requested to change the walls to brick and subsequently offered to withdraw his contract.[22] The Board of Waterworks made the decision to complete the contract under its own Clerk of Works; immediately letting a contract for bricklaying and purchasing 69,000 locally produced bricks.[23]

The first Reservoir at Wickham Terrace was completed in 1871 and was filled for the first time on 24 February 1871. The Reservoir was a 60ft x 30ft (18m x 9m) open-air structure, with 480mm (3 bricks) thick outer walls and arched brick internal cross-walls that divided the reservoirs into 15ft (4.5m) squares. It held 126,000 gallons (570,000 L) of water which came to a depth of 13ft 6in (4.15m). For 10hours every night, the mains were turned off and the reservoir was filled to keep up with demand for the following day.[24] The Service Reservoir had a major effect on both the cost and the standard of living in Brisbane with the average cost of delivered water dropping from the 1866 price of 20shillings/1000gallons to just 1shilling/1000 gallons.[25] In 1872 a tender for £36 from H Wakefield to raise the walls by 2ft (60.96cm) and increase the Reservoir's capacity was accepted and in 1876 an additional main from Enoggera Dam was laid to allow water to be reticulated to higher parts of town.[26] Further complaints, together with a surge in Brisbane's population in the late 1870s, due to immigration, port activities and the construction of the railway, prompted suggestions that the Reservoir had become inadequate and that a second, much larger reservoir was required to support increasing demand.[27]

In 1882, plans were drawn for a second reservoir to be completed by the end of the year by W Innes and Son for £2797-10-0. An additional main was laid across Victoria Bridge to service the higher parts of Kangaroo Point and South Brisbane.[28] The second Reservoir was constructed with 510mm (4 bricks) thick brick walls. The interior was divided into 15 spaces by arched brick walls; the spaces being a square shape in the central section and rectangular on the eastern and western sides.[29] In 1889, the Board of Waterworks considered roofing both reservoirs; these additions did not take place at this time due to the leaking condition of the reservoirs, the declining reliance on them and the introduction of other water supply systems.[30]

Only a few years after the second reservoir was constructed, other improvements were made in Brisbane's water supply system to cope with the population boom of the 1880s. This included the building of the Gold Creek dam in 1885-86, and the Highgate Hill service reservoir, which was of mass concrete rather than arched brick walls, in 1889. The commissioning of Mt Crosby pumping station in 1893 marked the decline of gravity water supply. The service reservoirs continued to only supply water to the lower parts of the city. Although the larger reservoir retained water in case of emergency, both reservoirs were removed from use between 1898 and 1906.[31]

In 1904-05 the reservoirs were recommended for reconditioning to bring them back to a usable standard. These works comprised: the reconnection with the original Enoggera main; the provision of roofs to prevent the growth of algae and to stop animals falling or being thrown in; and the installation of a spray inlet, a floating outlet and a relief valve for the Mt Crosby supply.[32] In July 1905 tenders were called for further works on the small reservoir, including the cement rendering of internal walls. Contractors, Maskrey and Kitchen, were approved to re-roof the reservoir for £226-6-8 including extras.[33] After 1906, little work was completed on the Service Reservoirs apart from routine maintenance.[34]

Along with the reservoirs, several other structures were constructed; over time these were demolished or removed. A cottage was constructed by JP Hardy in 1871 for £125 and was built to house the Inspector who was responsible for overseeing the reservoirs running day and night.[35] The Inspector's cottage was removed from site before 1959. A second cottage was constructed in 1894 as a caretakers' house. This became the turncock's residence between 1958 and 1959, was occupied until 1976 and was vacant until destroyed by fire in 1977.[36] A third residence was erected for the Senior Inspector in 1909 for £315-12-0. At different periods until 1958, the third residence also housed the Superintendent of Mains and Services, and the turncock. The residence was considered uneconomical to repair in 1958 and was moved off the site by early 1959.[37]

The Wickham Terrace service reservoirs remained an integral part of the Brisbane water supply system until 3 September 1962 when the water main from Enoggera Dam collapsed and was shut down, unable to serve an increasingly high-rise inner city due to their comparatively small capacity and low elevation. Redevelopment proposals for the reservoirs during the 1980s included converting the area into an art gallery, bus exchange, restaurant and theatre in the round.

In 2014, after two years of negotiations with the Brisbane City Council, the Brisbane based Underground Opera Company completed a $150,000 temporary fit-out to allow the staging of a series of opera performances within the space.[38] The service reservoirs continue to serve as a visual reminder of the vital importance of a reliable, accessible and clean water supply, as well as the technical advancements in the early development of Brisbane and Queensland.[39]


The Service Reservoirs stand on an elevated, irregular-shaped, 3799m2, landscaped site, downhill from Windmill Tower (QHR 600173) on the outskirts of the Brisbane CBD and adjacent to Wickham Terrace in Spring Hill. The site comprises two, partially subterranean, gable roofed structures that align with Wickham Terrace at the northern edge of the site.

Standing separately and perpendicular to each other, the two rectangular Service Reservoirs are constructed of thick brick walls that are protected by later additions of timber-framed, corrugated metal roofs. The earlier, smaller structure has a single gable roof, while the larger, later one is double-gabled. Both reservoirs have subsidiary gabled ridge-vents to allow for ventilation and a box gutter runs along the valley between the double gables of the larger reservoir to ensure adequate drainage. Along the longitudinal sides of each reservoir, the roofs meet exterior white-washed and painted brick walls. The brick walls continue around to the gable-ends on which banks of timber louvers which provide ventilation to the interiors. The two reservoirs feature timber doors on each gable end which are elevated above the brick wall height and allow entry to the interiors. A set of timber stairs on the western gable-end of the small reservoir provides access to this reservoir. Ladders descend into the two reservoirs from all timber doors.

 Internally, the Service Reservoirs are empty of water and are divided into compartments (eight in the smaller and fifteen in the larger) by brick, high arched baffle walls, which step down in height towards the centre of the spaces and are designed to withstand external pressure. In the small reservoir, a small portion of the interior walls are cement rendered, while the remainder are facebrick. All interior walls in the large reservoir have a cement wash coating. Both reservoirs have a concrete floor slab and hardwood timber roof framing is exposed within each space. Within the two reservoirs, 30mm metal tie rods span between external walls. The terminations of each tie rod are visible on the exterior of the reservoirs where vertical timber packers stand. A cast-iron inlet and outlet, valve chambers and pits, and main outlet and scour pipes remain within the reservoirs.


[1] Taylor H, nd., The Reservoirs, Brisbane City Council Heritage Unit, Brisbane, p.1.

[2] The new site for the penal colony was selected by Lieutenant Miler; Taylor, The Reservoirs, p.1.

[3] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.1.

[4] Commissariat Store (former) QHR 600176.

[5] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.1.

[6] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.1; Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, p.2.

[7] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.1; Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, p.3.

[8] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.1.

[9] Brisbane City Council Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct: Conservation plan part 1, p.53; Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, p.3.

[10] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.1.

[11] Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, p.3; Brisbane City Council Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.54.

[12] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.1.

[13] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.55; Cossins G 1981, Chapter 6: Water, Tracing the Brisbane water supply, Brisbane Heritage Group Papers No.1, p.125.

[14] Cossins G 1981, Chapter 6: Water, Tracing the Brisbane water supply, Brisbane Heritage Group Papers No.1, Brisbane, p.125.

[15] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.55.

[16] Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, pp.3-4.

[17] Cossins G 1981, Chapter 6: Water, Tracing the Brisbane water supply, p.4.

[18] Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, p.5.

[19] Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, p.3.

[20] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.103.

[21] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.1; Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, p.5.

[22] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.2. BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.59.

[23] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.59.

[24] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.2.

[25] Cossins G 1981, Chapter 6: Water, Tracing the Brisbane water supply, p.5.

[26] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.61; Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.2.

[27] Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, p.6.

[28] Cossins, 1966, One Hundred Years of Brisbane's Water Supply, p.6; BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.63.

[29] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.88.

[30] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.2.

[31] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.2.

[32] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.2; Wadley AL, nd, A brief history of Brisbane's water supply, p.45.

[33] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.72.

[34] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.2.

[35] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.76.

[36] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.77.

[37] BCC Heritage Unit 1996, The windmill and reservoirs precinct, p.78.

[38] Bochenski N, 4 May 2014, Brisbane Times; Bochenski, 18 July 2014, Brisbane Times.

[39] Taylor H, The Reservoirs, p.2.

Image gallery


Location of Service Reservoirs within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
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