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William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls

  • 600135
  • William Street, Brisbane City


Also known as
North Quay porphyry wall
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
21 October 1992
Transport—road: Embankment/cutting
5.2 Moving goods, people and information: Using draught animals
5.5 Moving goods, people and information: Using motor vehicles
6.3 Building settlements, towns, cities and dwellings: Developing urban services and amenities
7.6 Maintaining order: Defending the country
O'Connor, EJ
Construction periods
1889–1970, William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls (1889 - 1970s)
1889, William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls - William Street Retaining Wall (1889 - 1889)
1897, William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls - Abutment, Second Victoria Bridge (1897 - 1897)
1920–1930, William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls - Men's Toilets (1920s - 1930s)
1936, William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls - Queens Wharf Road Wall (1936 - 1936)
1941, William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls - Air Raid Shelter (1941c - 1941c)
1944, William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls - Bus Shelter (1944 - 1944)
1970, William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls - Women's Toilets (1970s - 1970s)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century


William Street, Brisbane City
Brisbane City Council
-27.47204571, 153.02307832


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

The William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls are important in demonstrating the historical development of Queensland’s civic infrastructure and urban facilities from the late 19th to the mid 20th century.

Construction of the William Street wall (1889) was closely associated with the Treasury Building [QHR 600143], making a functional and aesthetic contribution to a site that was an expression of Queensland’s economic aspirations and a focus for official occasions.

The various sanitation elements incorporated into the William Street wall, from a simple closet recess to an interwar toilet block with ventilation shaft, illustrate the development of urban public health facilities.

Designed to afford protection in the event of air raid attacks or other emergencies, the air raid shelter is important in demonstrating the impact of WWII on the civilian population of Brisbane and as part of the Air Raid Precaution activities that were implemented for the defence of Brisbane.

The Queens Wharf Road wall (1936) is important in demonstrating interwar beautification initiatives undertaken along the north bank of the Brisbane River.

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

The place has the potential to contain archaeological artefacts that are an important source of information about Queensland's history. Despite disturbance in some areas, there is the potential for subsurface material to survive relating to the establishment, evolution and pattern of settlement of early Brisbane as a penal colony, as well as accumulated material from subsequent periods of development of Queensland's capital city.

Archaeological investigation has the potential to answer important research questions critical to Queensland's history. Such questions could focus on but are not limited to the identification of the locations and purposes of previously undocumented buildings, evolution of road and other civic infrastructure, and individual and collective living conditions.

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

The William Street wall is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a late 19th century stone retaining wall, and is a good example of its type. It retains its rough-course Brisbane Tuff construction, with sandstone coping and metal railings, which along with a lamp stand base at the western end are good examples of the decorative work of important 19th century Brisbane founders Smith Forrester & Co.

The shelter's solid construction, rectangular shape, and siting near a population concentration, demonstrate the principal characteristics of a WWII public air raid shelter.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls are of aesthetic significance for their contribution to the definition of an important ceremonial and civic space associated with the river front and the Treasury Building. The textured surface of the stone, its varied colouration and the light and open effect of the railings endow both walls with an attractive streetscape presence.


The William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls were built in 1889 (southern side of William Street) and 1936 (southern side of Queens Wharf Road). Constructed of Brisbane Tuff (commonly referred to as porphyry), with sandstone coping and decorative metal railings, the walls extend approximately 70 metres, between Queen and Elizabeth Streets. The William Street wall retains original features including a decorative cast iron lamp base on a marble plinth, at the western end, and a former closet recess, at the eastern end.  Subsequent additions include: an interwar stairwell and men’s toilets with concrete ventilation shaft; and a World War Two (WWII) air raid shelter. Positioned above the north bank of the Brisbane River, the walls form a visual plinth at the base of the Treasury Building [QHR 600143] when viewed from the south.

The William Street retaining wall was planned in 1888 to endow William Street with some aesthetic distinction to compliment the new Treasury Building being erected opposite the site. Drawings from 1883 by architect John James Clark show the wall with a lamp stand at the western end, forming a visual plinth in the foreground of the William Street frontage of the Treasury Building.[1] The Victoria Bridge end of an old rubble wall along William Street was to be replaced by a Brisbane Tuff and sandstone wall with an elaborate cast iron railing and a small closet recess or pissoir built into the wall at the Elizabeth Street end.[2]

In November 1888 the contract was awarded by the Brisbane Municipal Council to EJ O'Connor, who in the previous year had stabilised the large Brisbane Tuff retaining wall at Queen Street, Petrie's Bight [QHR 600159]. Within five months O'Connor was contracted to excavate and reform William Street and build the retaining wall for £1431.[3] By the time Cabinet first met in the new Treasury Building in 1889, the wall, railing and gas lamp in William Street were completed.

The South Australian marble end post, set on a base of Enoggera granite, was a gift to Mayor Galloway from the mayor of Adelaide, who had visited Brisbane while the wall was being completed.[4] The railing and the elaborate gas lantern were made by local firm Smith Faulkner & Co (formerly Smith Forrester & Co), who also had provided the cast iron railing for the large retaining wall at Petrie's Bight.

By 1890 a cab stand had been established at the Victoria Bridge end of the William Street wall. By the turn of the century the cabs had been supplanted by horse-drawn buses, and a small timber and iron shelter for the convenience of waiting passengers had been erected on the William Street pavement abutting the end railing.[5] This was removed by about 1910.

Additional public toilet facilities were provided with the construction of a urinal on the southern side of Queens Wharf Road by the late 1890s, to the east of the northern abutment of the 1897 Victoria Bridge [QHR 600303].[6] In 1914 the early closet recess off Queens Wharf Road was closed for repairs and a new public toilet block for women and children was opened on the corner of William and Elizabeth Streets in 1915.[7] Built of brick, with a tiled roof, the women’s toilet block remained in use until the early 1970s.

Until 1928 when the Queen Street frontage of the Treasury Building was completed, the William Street frontage was an important focus for official occasions. In January 1901 large crowds congregated in front of the wall to hear Lord Lamington proclaim the Commonwealth of Australia from a balcony of the Treasury Building opposite.

In the decades that followed, the wall served more practical purposes. In the twentieth century motorbuses replaced the horse-drawn vehicles lined along William Street, and by the early 1930s a large timber bus timetable sign had been erected against the railing of the retaining wall.

Attention shifted to the improvement of North Quay in the late 1920s, with the Works Committee of the Brisbane City Council recommending a beautification scheme be prepared for the William Street side of the Victoria Bridge in July 1928. The development of a new dumping ground at Milton Road meant that the Sanitary Wharf, accessed via Queens Wharf Road, would no longer be used for the removal of night soil, presenting an opportunity for an area with unpleasant associations to be transformed.[8]

By May 1929 a full scheme for the William Street frontage of the Brisbane River had been prepared by the City Architect, with an estimated overall cost of £11,000.[9] While the cost for the entire scheme was seen as prohibitive, the inclusion of a lavatory block responded to public concerns about the small number of public conveniences available in the city at the time (eleven in the central area of the city and on the south side).[10] By June 1930 the Health Committee had approved plans for the 20ft 6in x 11ft (6.25m x 3.35m) structure to be built into the wall and accessed from William Street and Queens Wharf Road, at an estimated cost of £1,000.[11]

Construction commenced in the early 1930s, with fill under the William Street footpath excavated and a three metre section of the wall and railing was apparently realigned to accommodate a stairway leading from William Street to the new public conveniences. The entrance to the original closet recess was likely bricked over at this period also. By 1932 the William Street men’s lavatories, along with those at Customs House, were being leased for £26 per annum.[12]

The new toilet block had a concrete ventilation shaft with a decorative metal lamp bracket, positioned along the parapet on William Street. It was similar in design (but of a smaller scale) to the Monier ventilator shafts [QHR 601995, 602067, 602068] that were erected in city streets in the early 20th century, to remove foul and unhealthy smells from the drainage systems.

The decorative masonry and iron wall on the other side of Queens Wharf Road was erected in the 1930s, replacing a dilapidated timber fence.[13] Plans were prepared in 1934, but the wall was not erected until 1936. It appears to have been intended to, demark the entrance to a ramp that led to Hayles Wharf below, which was leased from the council. Sections of the retaining wall here were extant before this period and stairs built to the west of the ramp possibly incorporated part of the former urinal structure.[14]

As a wartime precaution, the Brisbane City Council erected an air-raid shelter on the Queens Wharf Road frontage of the William Street retaining wall, abutting the Victoria Bridge end, circa early 1940s. Plans show the 58ft x 11ft 6inch (17.7m x 3.5m) shelter was constructed of reinforced concrete, including its slab roof and internal blast walls, and had a doorway at the eastern end and steps down to an entrance at the northwest end.[15] Above this a bus shelter, equipped with public telephones and a drinking fountain was erected on the William Street footpath in 1944, resulting in the removal of a section of the wall parapet and railing. This remained a principal stop for buses servicing Brisbane's southern suburbs until a major underground bus station was constructed in the 1980s that had a tunnel entrance at the southern end of Queen Street. The William Street bus shelter was demolished c2008 and a new metal fence was built around the top of the air raid shelter at that time.

With the completion of the new Victoria Bridge in 1969, the 1897 bridge was demolished, with the exception of the northern abutment adjacent to the Queens Wharf Road wall. In the early 1970s, female toilet accommodation was provided abutting the wall on Queens Wharf Road, with a section of the William Street wall parapet and railing removed to extend the footpath over the flat roof, and 20 metres of the wall and the 1915 women’s toilet block was demolished to make way for the Elizabeth Street off-ramp for the Riverside Expressway.

In the mid 1990s the Treasury Building was redeveloped as the Treasury Casino, which involved the excavation of a large services basement under William Street. Part of Queens Wharf Road was lowered, as evidenced by exposed rock at the base of the wall to the east of the men’s toilet block, and the 1970s female toilets were demolished, to allow the formation of an underground driveway entrance through the William Street wall. A section of the stone parapet, coping and balustrade above were reconstructed, and the driveway entrance framed with a rendered finish. The interwar men’s toilets were closed and metal louvres were installed in the window and door openings, along with the (previously bricked-in) opening to the former closet recess.

More recent works associated with the upgrade of the North Quay Ferry Terminal included landscaping of the embankment and the construction of a viewing platform, public lift, stairs and ramps to provide access from Queens Wharf Road. The ramp that led to Hayles Wharf was demolished and the western end of the Queens Wharf Road wall was reconstructed using original stone. 

In 2016 the foundations of the 1915 women’s toilet block were encountered during traffic signal works on the corner of William and Elizabeth Streets. The archaeological potential of Queens Wharf Road, once the main thoroughfare up the steep river bank to the early penal settlement, has been identified as ‘exceptional’ in the Brisbane City Central Business District Archaeological Plan (EHP, 2013).


Aligned approximately northwest to southeast, the walls are located on the southern sides of William Street and adjacent Queens Wharf Road; between Queen Street and the former Victoria Bridge abutment to the northwest, and the Elizabeth Street exit-ramp of the Riverside Expressway to the southeast. The walls are set high on the north bank of the Brisbane River, and visually form a plinth to the Treasury Building when viewed from the south.

William Street retaining wall (1888-89)

The William Street retaining wall is constructed of rough-coursed Brisbane Tuff, with a parapet, sandstone coping and decorative cast iron railing. It extends approximately 70 metres along William Street and reaches a maximum height of approximately 7 metres to the Queens Wharf Road frontage. A marble pedestal terminating the wall at the Victoria Bridge end is inscribed WM Galloway Mayor 1889, and supports an elaborate gas lamp stand base bearing the words Smith, Faulkner & Co. 1889.

Various structures are incorporated into the wall, including (from northwest to southeast): a concrete WWII air raid shelter; an interwar stairwell and men’s toilet block; a modern driveway entrance accessing an underground service area for the nearby Treasury Casino; and a modern entrance to the early closet recess.

The WWII concrete air-raid shelter is contiguous to the wall on the Queens Wharf Road level. Constructed of reinforced concrete, it has a flat slab roof and off-form walls. Boarded timber doors are located at either end, with the western doorway truncated by a modern concrete footpath (infilled former entrance stair). Four window openings, with metal mesh screens, have been formed on the southwestern wall and the slab roof is framed by a modern metal fence.

Original stonework and perhaps additional stones face both sides of the interwar stairwell, which has a decorative metal railing. This leads to the men's toilet block that has been built into the wall, with render-framed window and door openings facing Queens Wharf Road that have been filled with modern metal louvres. The letters BCC are emblazoned in raised cement render in the arch above the central window, and there are rendered panels (signage painted over) above the doorway and on the southwest facing wall. A concrete ventilation shaft, octagonal in plan and approximately 3 metres high, is centred on the toilet block parapet. Decorative metal lamp brackets are fixed atop the vent and on the western corner of the toilet block.

A plinth of exposed rock at the base of the wall extends between the toilet block and the expressway exit-ramp abutments, punctuated by the modern Treasury Casino driveway entrance driveway and former closet recess. The parapet, coping and metal fence above the rendered driveway entrance has been reconstructed. The entrance to the original closet recess has a modern concrete render surround and louvred metal vent.

Queens Wharf Road wall (1936)

On the other side of Queens Wharf Road is a wall that extends approximately 40 metres and consists of a decorative wrought iron railing sitting on top of a Brisbane Tuff dwarf wall between stone pillars. A concrete base wall with a rough-laid pebble finish is visible in some sections. Ornamental sandstone capping stones on the pillars are cut at the corners so that they form gables in elevation. Two gateways in the wall are marked by taller pillars with flat capping stones. The western gateway leads to concrete steps that have a base of stone walls and are closed-off by a modern fence. The western end of the Queens Wharf Road wall has been reconstructed (incorporating original stone), and adjoins the northern abutment of the 1897 Victoria Bridge.

The embankment below is retained by Brisbane Tuff walls, pebble and concrete walls and battered earth banks. Modern steps, ramps and a public lift have been incorporated into recent landscaping works.

Archaeological Potential

There is the potential to encounter previously undisturbed archaeological deposits below the modern road surface along Queens Wharf Road, to the west of the men’s toilet block; disturbance to the east associated with the Riverside Expressway and Treasury Casino development has reduced archaeological potential in that area. Potential finds may include historical artefacts or features relating to the early establishment and/or subsequent periods of development of the area.


[1] ‘Public Offices Brisbane’, JJ Clark, Architect, 1883, State Library of Victoria.
[2] ‘William Street Improvement’, 1888, Drawings 4-BCC-E-13-3/1 and 4-BCC-E-13-4, BCC Heritage Unit; ‘Proposed Wharf’, c1898, Drawing 4-BCC-J-16-204, Brisbane City Archives.
[3] Brisbane Municipal Council Minutes 6-8-1888 to 29-1-1894, p 55, 12 November 1888; ‘Municipal Labours, Review of the Past Year’, The Telegraph, 5 February 1889, p 3.
[4] ‘Current Events’, The Week, 29 June 1889, p 11.
[5] The shelter is visible in an image from 1897; ‘Queensland 1897, Victoria Bridge, Brisbane’, Image 2274, Queensland State Archives.
[6] ‘Proposed Wharfage Accommodation for Messrs WM Howard Smith and Sons, Queens Wharf Road’, 15 December 1898, Drawing 4-BCC-J-16-198, Brisbane City Archives.
[7] Survey plan C19-60, Queen’s Lane Public E.Cs, 3 May 1912, updated 12 February 1914, BCC Archives; ‘Municipal Improvement for Public Conveniences’, The Telegraph, Thursday 11 February 1915, p3.
[8] ‘North Quay Beautifications Scheme, William Street Side’, The Telegraph, 20 July 1928, p 3.
[9] ‘Improving River Bank’, Brisbane Courier, 29 May 1929, p 12.
[10] ‘Would Cost £11,000. William Street Scheme’, Daily Standard, 29 May 1929, p 5; ‘Public Conveniences’, Brisbane Courier, 12 August 1929, p 3.
[11] ‘North Quay Scheme’, Brisbane Courier, 12 June 1930, p 14.
[12] ‘Leasing Public Lavatories’, The Telegraph, 16 January 1932, p 2.
[13] ‘City Beautifications’, Daily Standard, 24 November 1933, p 4.
[14] ‘Proposed Wharfage Accommodation for Messrs WM Howard Smith and Sons, Queens Wharf Road’, 15 December 1898, Drawing 4-BCC-J-16-198, Brisbane City Archives; ‘Treasury Buildings from the Museum’, 1906, Image courtesy State Library Queensland.
[15] ‘Proposed Air Raid Shelter, William St, City’, Drawing H 9 37, Brisbane City Council Department of Works, c1937, sourced from BCC Heritage Unit.

Image gallery


Location of William Street and Queens Wharf Road retaining walls within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
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