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South Brisbane Dry Dock

  • 600301
  • 412 Stanley Street, South Brisbane


Also known as
Queensland Maritime Museum; Government Graving Dock
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
21 October 1992
Marine and maritime industry: Dry dock
3.3 Developing secondary and tertiary industries: Developing engineering and construction industries
5.4 Moving goods, people and information: Using shipping
Construction period
1876–1887, South Brisbane Dry Dock (1876 - 1887)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century


412 Stanley Street, South Brisbane
Brisbane City Council
-27.48192885, 153.02647994


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

The South Brisbane Dry Dock (built 1876-81) is important as an infrastructure facility associated with the shipping industry which contributed significantly to the commercial and economic development of Queensland. It is important as rare surviving evidence of 19th century shipping activity along the South Brisbane Reach, and indicative of the massive scale of former riverside industry and port-related activity in Brisbane. It is also important for its role as the Ship Repair Base and US Navy submarine base during World War II, docking and repairing nearly 300 vessels.

The South Brisbane Dry Dock is an integral element in the historic precinct centred around the South Brisbane Memorial Park, which also includes the former South Brisbane Library (QHR 600302), Cumbooquepa (Somerville House) (QHR 600305), the former South Brisbane Municipal Chambers (QHR 600306) and the Ship Inn Hotel.

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

The South Brisbane Dry Dock is the only surviving feature of the shipping and manufacturing activity along the South Brisbane Reach. It is a rare surviving Australian example of a dry dock dating from the 19th century, illustrating contemporary engineering and technology. The altars on both sides of the dock for supporting the breasting shores are considered to be a rare surviving feature worldwide of 19th century graving docks. The concrete bombproof shelter is a rare surviving shelter built by the Department of Public Works in 1942 and reflecting the perceived threat of bombing during WWII.

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

The South Brisbane Dry Dock is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a dry dock facility. Located immediately adjacent to deep water, in alignment to the Brisbane River, the Dry Dock comprises a long, wide and deep excavated basin. The 1881 section (on the northeast) has parallel sides lined by stone altars (steps) which give it a parabolic section. The 1887 extension (on the southwest), has bare rock and brick walls and tapers to a rounded point. Fixed features associated with the dock’s operation, including iron and concrete bollards, iron rings fixed into the stonework, and a 1906 Ransome and Rapier hand-powered crane, are installed alongside the dock. While the dock is now sealed from the river to prevent water ingress, the pipes, sluice gates and tunnels for the filling and emptying process remain in situ.

The layout of the Dry Dock and its related ancillary structures – including Casual Men’s Change Room (1945), Office (1942), Mess Room and Permanent Men’s Change Room (1945), Workshop (c1943), Office (1895), Pump House, Boiler House, Chimney Stack (1879-81), Motor Room (1925) and concrete Bomb Shelter (1943), Machine Shop (1886) – demonstrate how the facility operated and evolved over time in response to changing needs and technology.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The South Brisbane Dry Dock makes a strong landmark and aesthetic contribution to the South Brisbane townscape, and is an integral element in the South Brisbane historic precinct. The use of freestone and sandstone on the dock altars provides a striking contrast to its surrounding green landscape and river. Views of the dock are afforded from the surrounding bridge and pathways, and views from the dock are provided along and across the river to the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, Brisbane Botanic Gardens and CBD. The dock also possesses evocative qualities, its location and size reflecting the scale and importance of the shipping industry that once dominated South Brisbane’s riverbanks.

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

The South Brisbane Dry Dock is an important example of the work of engineer William D Nisbet in Queensland, and an important monument to 19th century engineering practice. Features such as the choice of location, the alignment to the river, response to geotechnical issues, the early use of cement, the use of porphyry rock and Melbourne granite, the shape of the dock in cross-section to withstand ground-water pressure, its precision design, the design of the sluice valve and the choice of machinery are strong evidence of Nisbet’s superior engineering skills, and demonstrates a high degree of technical achievement.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The South Brisbane Dry Dock has a strong association with generations of dock workers who were employed at the dry dock during its ninety years of operation. It also has a strong association with the Queensland Maritime Museum Association, which was established in 1971 with the intention of opening a museum at the dry dock. The dry dock has served as the association’s base since 1973, and as its museum since 1979.

Criterion HThe place has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history.

The South Brisbane Dry Dock is significant for its association with the work of contractors, flour-millers and machinery merchants James and Acheson Overend, who made significant contributions to the development of Queensland in the 19th century, particularly in the construction of railway and industrial facilities. The Dry Dock was the firm’s first Queensland construction project.


The South Brisbane Dry Dock was designed in 1875 by William Nisbet, chief engineer for the Department of Harbours & Rivers. Construction was undertaken by J & A Overend between 1876 and 1881. It served a major role in Queensland’s shipping industry until its closure in 1972, and is one of the oldest surviving, substantially intact dry docks in Australia. It has operated as part of the Queensland Maritime Museum since 1979.

Shipping played a significant role in 19th century Queensland as its primary – and sometimes only – means of trade and communication. Brisbane was declared a port of entry in 1846, a warehousing port in 1849, and in 1850 a Customs House was erected.[1] With the rapid growth of Queensland’s economy in the 30 years following separation, ports were opened in 14 centres along the Queensland coast to service the adjacent hinterland regions. Queensland’s share of the total Australian shipping tonnage climbed from 3% in 1871 to 11% in 1881, in addition to its intercolonial direct trade.[2] Much of this trade came to Brisbane, which had become a much more accessible port after the Upper Flats near the mouth of the river were cleared in 1871, enabling large vessels to access the Town Reach.[3]

The busy Brisbane port required a substantial facility for the maintenance, repair and refitting of commercial ships and the Department of Harbours and Rivers’ dredges, barges and other vessels. Minor repairs could be undertaken at the small patent slip at Kangaroo Point,[4] or by upending vessels on the mud flats, but most commercial vessels used the facilities at Sydney, while the Queensland government lacked any maintenance facilities.[5]

A site for a graving[6], or dry dock, was chosen on government-owned land between Stanley Street and the river at South Brisbane. Soundings were taken in the Brisbane River in September 1873, and the site was found to have deep water and solid foundations, suitable for a dock capable of accommodating vessels up to 3000 tons.[7] Civil engineer William D Nisbet, who had been engaged in dock work in England, Scotland and Malta, was appointed Engineer-in-Chief for Harbours and Rivers in 1875. Newly arrived from England, he drafted plans for a graving dock.[8]

Nisbet’s design comprised a 32ft (9.75m) high, 313ft (95m) long dock, with a possible extension to 450ft (137m). It varied from 40-49.5ft (12-15m) wide at the bottom to 60-74ft (18-23m) at the top. A 3ft (1m) thick brick and cement arch formed the base of the dock, inverted in shape to reduce water pressure. The floor, atop this, was lined in stone and timbers to hold keel blocks along the centreline, which would ships in place during repairs. A series of stone altars (steps) lined both sides of the dock, providing support for timber shores to keep ships upright, and bollards on the ground on either side of the dock to help warp ships in and out. Two culvert drains on either side filled the dock, and a suction-well in a 5ft (1.5m) pit adjoining the dock allowed the water to be emptied. A ship would be floated into the dock, a caisson (dock gate) closed across the sill (or cill) at the entrance, and the dock pumped dry.[9] Workers accessed the dock floor via two sets of stairs. Once the vessel was repaired, sluice gates in the dock were opened to allow river water in, the caisson opened and the ship was floated out.

The design included allowances for local conditions, with the dock set at an angle to the river, optimising ingress and egress, and the sill set at a height over spring tides, giving the dock protection during floods.[10]

Tenders for excavation and masonry work for the dock were called in September 1875. Melbourne contractors Messrs J and A Overend were awarded the contract in January 1876, with work to take place over the following three years.[11] James and Acheson Overend had established their construction business in 1872, and came highly recommended by the Victorian Railways Engineer-in-Chief for their work on the Oven’s River and Beechworth Railways. They moved their plant to Queensland after winning the Dry Dock contract, and successfully tendered for sections of the Southern and Western Railway (Dalby to Chinchilla). The firm went on to construct sections of the Bundaberg to Mount Perry Railway (including the Splitters Creek Railway Bridge in 1878 [QHR 600529]), Southern Railway (Warwick to Stanthorpe, including Cherry Gully Tunnel, also 1878 [QHR 601517]), Bundaberg (Saltwater Creek Railway Bridge, 1894 [QHR 600370]) and Mackay (Mirani Railway Bridge, Pioneer River).[12]

The Dry Dock site was excavated in the first eighteen months, with excess material laid on South Brisbane streets. Construction followed. Bricks were made on site or sourced locally.[13] Portland cement, granite and porphyry stone (sourced from Queensland and the southern colonies) were employed on the floor, walls and pit, with sandstone (or freestone) on the altars.[14] Brisbane ironfounders Smellie and Co constructed the iron caisson in 1880-1.[15] Machinery to work the caisson and drain the dock, including centrifugal pumps[16] and boilers,[17] were installed next to the dock in a pump- and boiler-house, with steam escaping through a 46ft (14m) brick chimney.[18] The total cost of the work was £83,849 8s 9d.[19]

The barque Doon, which had been damaged in a storm, was the first to utilise the dock on 10 September 1881.[20] Premier Thomas McIlwraith attended the launch of the Doon twelve days later, opening the dock without an official ceremony. The Premier declared that, with £4,000 already spent on repairs to the Doon, ‘the dock would answer the purpose for which it was intended, and… a substantial benefit accrued to the city from having a dock in which repairs to ships could be effected.’[21] Contemporary newspaper reports described the dock as ‘one of the most important of the public works of the colony’.[22]

Rather than a public facility with employed staff, the dock was available for use by private contractors. A sliding scale of charges was set for use of the dock, and punching, drilling and shearing machinery was installed for hire by contractors undertaking repairs at the dock. In 1886 a workshop or machinery shop (partly extant) was built to house the equipment, adjoining the boiler-house.[23] A crane (no longer extant) was also installed. These improvements to the facilities, plus the promise of a 117ft (35.6m) extension, encouraged shipowners to bring their vessels to Brisbane, instead of Sydney, for overhaul work.[24]

Further improvements followed. The impending extension was interrupted by the construction of the railway extension. Site works around the Dry Dock, including the creation of an embankment and stone retaining walls, were undertaken in 1884-5.[25] The dry dock was lengthened to 420 feet (121m) in 1886-7,[26] by which time 240 vessels had used the facilities. An office (partly extant) was built for £66 in 1895, replacing one destroyed in floods.[27] Additional cranes were installed, including the only extant crane, a 15 ton hand powered crane supplied by Ransome and Rapier of Ipswich in 1906, and put into use in 1907.[28] The three Cornish boilers powering the dock were replaced by Brisbane firm Evans, Anderson and Phelan in 1906, to plans prepared by chief engineer Alexander Cullen; these boilers remain in situ.[29] Electric motors replaced the pumping engines in 1924.[30]

The dock served an essential function as Queensland’s only graving dock until the mid-20th century. It also served an interesting social function after 1902, with swimming carnivals held in the dry dock when not in use by ships.[31] In its first twenty years of operation, an average of 60 vessels a year utilised the dry dock, with a peak of 90 vessels in 1909.[32] Its size and shape limited the vessels it could dock,[33] but it remained a profitable venture for the government until 1925, when patronage declined due to increasing vessel size.

Brisbane’s prominence in the South Pacific Campaign during World War II brought a renewed role for the South Brisbane Dry Dock. The HMAS Swan and Katoomba, damaged in the bombing of Darwin, were taken to the South Brisbane Dry Dock for repair in March 1942, inaugurating the dry dock as the Ship Repair Base. Additional facilities were built on the adjacent site (formerly a timberyard). A US Navy submarine base was also established at the dock in April 1942, necessitating additional wharfage and facilities. A new office building (1942), workshop (c1943), and mess and changing facilities (1945) were built on the Sidon Street side of the dry dock to accommodate over 100 arrivals per month.[34] A concrete bomb-proof shelter was constructed over the pump- and boiler-house, engulfing part of the brick chimney.[35] The dock was a vital piece of infrastructure during the war, docking and repairing 298 American, Australian, British and French vessels, before it was returned to the Department of Harbours and Marine in September 1946.[36]

In 1944, the substantial Cairncross Dock was opened downstream on the Brisbane River.[37] Capable of repairing larger ships, the Cairncross Dock catered for vessels that South Brisbane had previously been unable to dock. The South Brisbane Dry Dock became primarily a repair shop for Queensland government vessels, but remained viable for small government and commercial vessels for the next three decades.[38]

Changes in shipyard practices, the dominance of large bulk carriers, construction of the Captain Cook Bridge and the need for a major rehabilitation of the dock compelled the government to close the South Brisbane Dry Dock in September 1972.[39] Activities, personnel, plant and equipment were moved to an expanded Cairncross Dock, and the machine shop was partly dismantled.[40]

In 1971, anticipating the closure of the dry dock, members of Queensland’s World Ship Society formed the Queensland Maritime Museum Association (QMMA), and approached the Queensland Government to suggest the establishment of a museum at the dry dock.[41] QMMA members were concerned that the closure of the dock would result in its demolition, and viewed the dock as an ideal location to house its growing maritime artefact and vessel collection.[42] Ownership of the South Brisbane Dry Dock site and buildings was transferred to the Land Administration Commission in 1973. QMMA established its base on the site in April 1973, and opened the museum to the public in 1979.[43] The site was gazetted as a recreation park and museum in 1976, held in trust by the Brisbane City Council, and leased to QMMA.[44] In 1981, the retired naval frigate HMAS Diamantina was docked in the dry dock, and was joined by the lightship Carpentaria in 1985.[45] The machine shop was rebuilt in 1986, using bow trusses possibly from the original machine shop.[46]

In the mid-1980s, sites between Stanley Street and the river were cleared in preparation for Expo 88, removing the last traces of the once-dominant shipping industry in the area. Buildings on the former Ship Repair Base were removed, but after some negotiation the Dry Dock was left intact and became a feature exhibitor, attracting over one million visitors during Expo.[47] Additional buildings and displays were moved onto the site after 1988 as part of the museum. The caisson, which had breached in 1998, was demolished and replaced with a concrete riverwall in 2006.[48] In 2001, the 1945 office was lowered for the construction of the Goodwill pedestrian bridge, which was built over the top of the Sidon Street retaining wall and WWII Dry Dock buildings.[49]

In 2018 the dry dock site continues as the Queensland Maritime Museum.[50]


The South Brisbane Dry Dock is incorporated within the grounds of the Queensland Maritime Museum, which occupies a 1.77ha site on a bend in the bank of the Brisbane River in South Brisbane. In addition to the Dry Dock (1876-1881, extended 1887) is a complex of associated buildings, structures and equipment, dating from the 1870s to World War II. The site is bounded by the Southbank Parklands to the northwest, Stanley Street to the southwest, Little Dock Street and Dock Street to the southeast, and adjoins Lower River Terrace at the far eastern end. While relatively flat, the majority of the site sits several metres below street level. The dry dock is collocated with the former South Brisbane Railway Easement [QHR 600293], which runs along the southeast and southwest sides of the site, and comprises a series of retaining walls, ground level changes, sloping gardens and bitumen pathways. The main entrance is located in the centre of the northwest boundary, and a secondary entrance at the eastern end of the site. The main entrance is located in the centre of the northwest boundary, and a secondary entrance at the eastern end of the site. The Dry Dock divides the site into northern and southern areas.

Significant features and buildings in the northern area include:

  • A stone retaining wall (c1879) running along the southern edge of the former Sidon Street road reserve.
  • A row of three timber buildings along the southeast side of the retaining wall, dating from the 1940s. From west to east, these buildings are:

o   Casual Men’s Change Room (1945).

o   Second Office (1942).

o   Mess Room and Permanent Men’s Change Room (1945).

The southern area of the site contains four buildings closely grouped together near the eastern end of the dry dock. From west to east, the significant buildings are:

  • Workshop (former, c1943; converted to Museum’s display hall 1979).  
  • Office (former, 1895; altered c1942).
  • Pump House, Boiler House and Chimney (1879-81) and Motor Room (1925) encased within a concrete bomb shelter (1943).
  • Machine Shop (former, original structure 1886) adjoining the northeast side of the Boiler House – this retains some significant early fabric but has undergone substantial alterations (including being partially rebuilt in 1986).

Dry Dock (1876-81, extended 1887)

The Dry Dock is a long, stone-lined basin excavated from solid rock. Orientated in a northeast-southwest direction, it measures approximately 131m long and 22.8m wide at the top (coping) level and is 9.7m deep. The two phases of the dock’s construction are clearly indicated by their different construction methods and materials. The 1881 section (northeast) has parallel sides lined by stone altars (steps) which give it a parabolic section. The 1887 section (southwest) has bare rock walls and tapers to a rounded point. The dock is kept dry and is sealed off from the river by a concrete wall at the northeast end (which replaced the original iron caisson after its removal in 2006).

The floor of the 1881 section is constructed from layers of concrete with an inverted arch of brickwork in between. The floor is lined with porphyry blocks inset with regularly-spaced timber beams (running widthways). Channels for draining the dock run around the edges of the floor. The concrete-backed side walls are lined with stone, comprising a Helidon sandstone cap on porphyry blocks. Each wall has two symmetrically-placed stone stairways and two curved slides, also constructed from stone.

The sloping sides of the 1887 section have rough porphyry blockwork filling in gaps and hollows in the excavated rock walls. The floor is lined with concrete and has long timber beams inset, running lengthways.

A walkway crosses the thick concrete wall sealing the river end of the dock, with the iron balustrade from the original caisson attached along the edges. At each end of the walkway a large block of granite forms the inner corners of the dock entrance. On the river side of the entrance, the northeast corner is a masonry feature known as a roundhead, which projects into the river. Semi-circular at its northeast end, it is constructed from large, rough-dressed porphyry blocks capped with Helidon sandstone. On the south side of the entrance is a straight, stone retaining wall of similar construction, which runs parallel to the southern dock wall with a return at the eastern end. Beyond this wall, the sloping river bank is lined with rough porphyry blockwork.

While the dock is now sealed from the river to prevent water ingress, some fixed features associated with the dock’s operation are retained, including:

  • Roman numerals marking the water depth engraved in the walls at the dock entrance (both sides) and in each of the four stairways.
  • Pipes, sluice gates and tunnels for the filling and emptying process.
  • Rectangular iron hatches over sluice chambers on either side of the dock entrance featuring the lettering ‘J & A OVEREND & CO CONTRACTORS, BRISBANE GRAVING DOCK 1878’.
  • Iron and concrete bollards.
  • Iron rings fixed into the stonework.
  • A 1906 Ransome and Rapier hand-powered crane, located next to the southeast stairway.

Sidon Street retaining wall (c1879)

Running along the southern edge of the former Sidon Street road reserve is a stone retaining wall, which slopes down from several metres high at the Stanley Street end to ground level behind the Mess and Change Room building. It is constructed from Brisbane Tuff (porphyry) and has a capping with chamfered edges. The blocks vary in size – larger at the base of the wall and smaller near the top.

Casual Men’s Change Room (1945)

The Change Room is a small, lowset timber building on concrete stumps, clad in timber chamferboards, with a hipped roof clad with modern corrugated metal sheeting. A single entrance is located in the centre of the southeast wall, accessed by timber steps. Internally, walls are unlined with studs and cross bracing exposed, and there is no ceiling. Non-original timber partitions divide the interior into two rooms (used as locker and shower rooms in 2016) and a small entry area.  

Features of state-level heritage significance also include:

  • Window openings in all four walls, located high up under eaves. These are enclosed by banks of timber louvres.
  • A boarded timber double entry door with early hardware.
  • A ventilation panel of vertical timber slats above the entry door.  

Features not of state-level heritage significance include:

  • Interior partition linings of vertical timber boards and flat sheeting.
  • Modern flush doors.
  • Timber benches.
  • Shower cubicles.
  • Sinks.
  • Floor tiles.

Office (1942)

The Office is a rectangular timber building, highset on concrete stumps with a hipped roof clad in modern corrugated metal sheeting. The roof extends over a verandah along the southeast side, which is accessed by a projecting timber staircase. Access is via two doors to the verandah and one door to the pathway along the rear (northwest) side. The understorey (used as storage space in 2016) is enclosed by modern timber batten screens on three sides. The northwest side abuts the stone retaining wall along the former Sidon Street. The southwest end of the verandah has been enclosed (used as a toilet in 2016). The interior of the building is divided into three rooms and the location of former partitions is evident on the ceiling. In c2001 the office was lowered to facilitate the construction of the Goodwill Bridge above.

Features of state-level heritage significance also include:

  • Four-light, double-hung windows in the verandah wall.
  • Eight-light casement windows in the other walls.
  • Framed and boarded timber doors with early hardware to the exterior.
  • High-waisted, panelled timber doors to the interior, each part glazed with 6-lights of obscure glass and retaining original hardware.
  • Exterior timber weatherboard wall cladding.
  • Interior wall and ceiling linings of V-jointed (VJ) tongue and groove (T&G) timber boards.
  • Simple timber cornices.
  • Single skin room partitions with a dado rail.
  • An original timber built-in cupboard in the south corner of the northeast room.
  • Verandah detailing of: a two-rail timber balustrade, timber floor and raked ceiling lined with timber boards. 

Mess Room and Permanent Men’s Change Room (former, 1945)

The Mess Room and Permanent Men’s Change Room (former) is a long, lowset rectangular building, with a Dutch gable roof clad in modern corrugated metal sheeting. Walls are clad in timber weatherboards, and the understorey enclosed with concrete footings. The main entrance is via a door in the centre of the southeast wall, and secondary entrances are located in the northeast wall and at the northern end of the northwest wall. A former recessed porch in the location of the main entrance door had been enclosed with weatherboards, however the concrete steps and floor slab of the porch remain.

Internally, original partitions have been removed and later partitions divide the space into a large room at the northeast end and a bar, kitchen and store room at the southwest end. Part of the northern wall of the porch survives next to the main entrance, and another small section of original partition wall is located along the northwest wall. The walls are unlined, with studwork exposed.

Features of state-level heritage significance also include:

  • Banks of timber louvres with two-light, rectangular fanlights to the northeastern end of the building (former Mess Room).
  • Banks of timber louvres, located high up under the eaves, to the southwestern end of the building (former Change Room).
  • Boarded and framed timber doors with early hardware.
  • Timber floor boards.
  • VJ, T&G timber board ceiling linings to the former porch.
  • Flat sheet ceiling linings with timber cover strips.

Workshop (former, c1943; converted to display hall 1979)

The Workshop (former) building is a long, rectangular, timber-framed, gable-roofed shed with concrete slab floor. The walls are clad in timber weatherboards around the base and vertical timber boards above, and the roof is clad in modern corrugated metal sheeting. Two entrance doors are located in the northwest wall - a large timber, braced and ledged sliding door at the western end, and a set of timber, braced and ledged double doors at the eastern end, accessed by a shallow concrete ramp.

Internally, walls are unlined with framework and cross bracing exposed. Square timber posts run along the central axis of the building, supporting steel beams which in turn support a modern suspended ceiling. A secondary structure of thick timber posts and beams sits inside the walls for part of the building’s length, used for stacking and suspending various boats and artefacts in 2016.

Features of state-level heritage significance also include:

  • Tall, two-light, horizontally centre pivoting timber-framed windows positioned high up under the eaves. These are arranged in regularly-spaced banks of six in the northwest wall, and in sets of three along the southeast wall.
  • Top-hung timber board shutters covering the southeast-facing windows.

A ventilation opening in the southwest end wall has had the original timber louvre panels (visible in a 1991 photograph) replaced.

Features not of state-level heritage significance include:

  • Suspended ceilings.
  • Joinery installed as part of the conversion of the building into a display hall, such as shelving, a store room, and a two level display resembling a ships cabin and deck at the eastern end.

Office (former, 1895; altered c1943)

The Office (former) is a rectangular, timber-framed building with a hipped roof clad in modern corrugated metal sheeting. Three of the exterior walls, which were previously surrounded by a verandah, remain single skin with exposed studs and cross bracing, while the fourth wall (southern) is enclosed with weatherboard cladding. Sections of chamfer board cladding at the top of the single skin walls indicate the point at which they met the former verandah roof. The bottom plates of the walls stand on a concrete slab floor.

Internally, the building comprises a single, high-ceilinged room. The southern wall is unlined, with the location of a former window evident in the exposed framing at the eastern end, and a small window located at the western end. A top plate running across the ceiling indicates the location of a former partition.

Features of state-level heritage significance also include:

  • Original timber-framed, double-hung windows – two in the northern wall and one in the western wall – with each frame divided into two lights by a central mullion.
  • An early timber braced and ledged door with original hardware hung upside down in the location of an original doorway in the eastern wall.
  • Verandah wall and ceiling linings of beaded T&G timber boards.
  • Two rounded ceiling vents (missing their original grilles.
  • Original conical-topped, metal roof ventilator (stored within the building in 2016).
  • Traces of pencil graffiti on some walls.

Pump House, Boiler House, Chimney Stack (1879-81), Motor Room (1925) and concrete Bomb Shelter (1943)

Encased within a thick, flat-roofed, off-form concrete Bomb Shelter is a series of rooms and the base of a brick chimney. In the northeast corner, under a lower section of roof, is the square Pump House; in the southeast corner is the rectangular Boiler House; and running along the western side is the Motor Room in the northwest corner and a storage room surrounding the base of the Chimney Stack in the southwest corner. Access to the pump and boiler houses is through doorways in the northeast walls. Access to the Motor Room and storage room is through a door in the southwest wall. The two sides of the building are not connected, other than visually through openings in the walls. The floors are concrete and the roof is supported by timber and steel beams with timber board formwork remaining in place.

Pump House

The Pump House comprises a large, deep pit with battered walls lined with rough-dressed porphyry blocks. The floor level is 1.5m deeper than the bottom of the Dry Dock, and retains original equipment including pipes and two centrifugal pumps, now painted bright colours. Various pipes and chambers (now sealed off) pass underground to connect the Pump House with the Dry Dock, suction well, sluice chamber and the Brisbane River. Ropes connecting the pumps with engines in the adjacent Motor Room pass through openings at the top of the southwest wall. Access down to floor level is via a set of timber stairs which lead to a raised timber platform along the northeast wall. From this platform, an opening in the southeast corner leads, via concrete steps, to the adjoining Boiler House; and an opening in the centre of the northeast wall leads to the bottom landing of two concrete staircases. The staircase heading northwest leads to the exterior and is enclosed by a metal gate; while the one heading southeast is sealed with a timber board door.

Boiler House

The Boiler House has a passageway along the northeast wall, leading to a doorway at the southeast end. The enclosing walls are solid concrete, with former coal chutes and various holes in the northeast wall. The concrete floor is approximately 1m below ground level, and the base of the Chimney Stack is visible in the far southwest corner. The southwestern side of the room is taken up by three large boilers, manufactured by Evans, Anderson and Phelan of Brisbane in 1906. Cylindrical in form and laid parallel, the boilers retain their original hatches, valves, dials and other equipment, and are linked by pipes running across the top. Roughly-laid brick walls fill the gaps between the front faces of the boilers and the outer walls, pierced by small, arched openings with metal covers at floor level.

Grooves in the outer (northeast) face of the northeast wall indicate the location of a former curved roof that adjoined the Boiler House prior to it being encased in concrete.

Motor Room

The Motor Room is at ground level and has a chamfered northwest corner. The southwest wall retains a chamferboard-clad timber wall of the original timber building, which was left in place as formwork. Two large electric motors stand in the centre of the room, and two switchboards stand against the southwest wall. Holes in the concrete floor allow the ropes from the adjacent Pump Room to connect with the motor wheels. A doorway in the southeast wall leads to a rectangular storage space with the base of the Chimney Stack at the southern end. Some concrete walls have circular or square penetrations. The entrance and interconnecting doors are early timber board doors.

Chimney Stack

The Chimney Stack is approximately 12m high and the base sits 1.5m below ground level. Square in plan, it is constructed from red-brown brick and has slightly tapered sides. Additional strengthening is provided by vertical iron bars at the corner of each face, held in place by nine equally-spaced iron bands clamped together by threaded rod.

Machine Shop (former, 1886; extended by 1942, partly demolished c1974, extended and partly rebuilt 1986)

The Machine Shop (former) is a large, enclosed shed of timber pole construction with an arched roof supported by metal bow-chord trusses. Skillion-roofed attachments containing a number of rooms and storage spaces run along both sides, and it adjoins the Boiler House and Pump House at its southwest end. Interiors are unlined. While the iron trusses and parts of the framework at the southwest end of the building are significant elements of the original fabric, the majority of the building has been reconstructed and modified over time.

Along the southeast side of the Machine Shop is a timber-framed, skillion roof structure (c1902) clad in chamferboards and accessed by a door in the northeast wall. Containing three rooms, this structure is used for storage in 2016.

Features not of state-level heritage significance include:

  • The floor slab.
  • External cladding.
  • Most joinery (eg. glass louvres, timber awning windows).
  • Interior partitions dating from c1986.


The grounds surrounding the Dry Dock are predominantly grassed lawns with modern bitumen, concrete, paved or gravel pathways linking the various buildings and forming a circuit around the site. A narrow segment of the site extends beyond the Museum fence line at the eastern end and is used as public space, ornamented by three large metal sculptures incorporating items from the Museum’s collection.

Other collection items displayed within the grounds include:

  • A number of important vessels, with two of them – WWII frigate HMAS Diamantina and 1917 light ship Carpenteria - permanently berthed within the Dry Dock.
  • The former Bulwer Island Lighthouse (1912, relocated to its current position c1983) north of the dry dock. It is one of six surviving timber-framed, corrugated iron-clad lighthouses in Queensland.
  • A segment of the original iron caisson, displayed near the northeast corner of the dock.

Goodwill Bridge (2001)

The Goodwill Bridge, which spans the Brisbane River, passes over the site, crossing the northern corner and curving around to run parallel with the southeast side of the Maritime Museum building. The bridge is supported by a number of steel posts and concrete anchor footings located within the museum grounds. The bridge deck at the Stanley Street entrance sits above the former Sidon Street railway underpass cutting.


Extensive, unobstructed views of the Brisbane River are obtained from the Dry Dock and its surrounds, reinforcing the site’s long and close connection with the River.

Features not of State-level Heritage Significance

Features not of state-level heritage significance include:

  • The Queensland Maritime Museum building (c1988, extended 2001), which occupies part of the former Sidon Street road reserve.
  • Museum collection items, displays and signage.
  • Trees and other plantings.
  • Modern fencing around the site and Dry Dock edges.
  • A steel staircase inserted into the southwest stair recess of the dry dock.
  • Walkways accessing the Diamantina and Carpenteria, shade structures.
  • A steel, open-sided shed sheltering the yacht Ella’s Pink Lady.
  • The Winifred Davenport Centre building.
  • A timber shelter shed.
  • Visitor facilities such as picnic tables and pathways.


[1] Ian Jempson, Review of Technical Heritage: South Brisbane Dry Dock and Stanley Street Railway Easement, 2016, pp4-5
[2] Lewis, A History of the Ports of Queensland: a study in economic nationalism, 1973, p39
[3] Lewis, A History of the Ports of Queensland: a study in economic nationalism, 1973, p35
[4] Brisbane Courier 2 November 1864 p2
[5] Ian Jempson, Review of Technical Heritage: South Brisbane Dry Dock and Stanley Street Railway Easement, 2016, p6; Cameron, 125 Years of State Public Works in Queensland 1859-1984, 1989, p31.
[6] Graving being a process to remove growth and apply an anti-fouling measure to a ship’s hull. David Jones and Peter Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, p5
[7] Brisbane Courier 3 October 1873 p2
[8] The Week 3 December 1897 p23; Davenport, Harbours and Marine, 1986, pp192-3;
[9] Queenslander 6 November 1875 p7; Jones and Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, pp35-7;
[10] Queenslander 6 November 1875 p7.
[11] Queenslander 11 September 1875 p26; Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser 15 January 1876 p2
[12] The Aldine History of Queensland, 1888 pp239-40
[13] Queenslander 23 December 1876 p27; Brisbane Courier 19 July 1879 p6
[14] Queenslander 23 December 1876 p27, 8 December 1877 p13, 17 August 1878 p630
[15] Brisbane Courier 18 September 1880 p5
[16] Supplied by Gwynne and Co of London
[17] By Easton and Co of London
[18] Davenport, Harbours and Marine, 1986, p216; Brisbane Courier 19 July 1879 p6
[19] Brisbane Courier 23 October 1882 p4
[20] Morning Bulletin 12 September 1881 p2
[21] Telegraph 23 September 1881 p2; Ian Jempson, Review of Technical Heritage: South Brisbane Dry Dock and Stanley Street Railway Easement, 2016, p7
[22] Queenslander 8 October 1881 p2
[23] Telegraph 29 April 1886 p5, 11 May 1886 p4, 2 June 1886 p4
[24] Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 23 September 1886 p2
[25] By contractor Lawrence Murphy. Queenslander 26 July 1884 p161
[26] By contractor George Bowser. Queenslander 15 January 1887 p96
[27] This appears to have replaced an engineman’s cottage, for which tenders were called in October 1883. The 1895 office was built by contractor T Keenan. Queensland Government Gazette Vol 33 No 56, 13 October 1883, p1039 and Vol 62, July-December 1894, pp527 and 700; Telegraph 29 September 1894 p2
[28] Jempson, Review of Technical Heritage: South Brisbane Dry Dock and Stanley Street Railway Easement 2016, p54.
[29] Queensland Government Gazette, No 18 Vol 86, 20 January 1906, p150; Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser 13 February 1906 p4; Jones and Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, pp69-70
[30] Queensland Government Gazette, Vol 122 No 16, 19 January 1924, p173; Brisbane Courier 11 March 1924 p4
[31] Brisbane Courier 8 March 1902 p4, 24 March 1902 p3
[32] Buchanan Architects, Queensland Maritime Museum Site South Brisbane Conservation Plan,1999, p10
[33] Brisbane Courier 24 September 1895 p4; Jones and Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, p63.
[34] By June 1943. Jones and Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, p108
[35] In order to fit the concrete shelter to the site, the machine shop was demolished and rebuilt, and the verandahs of the office building removed. Jones and Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, pp103-107; Buchanan Architects, Queensland Maritime Museum Site South Brisbane Conservation Plan ,1999, p12
[36] Jones and Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, pp116, 125; ‘South Brisbane Dry (Graving) Dock, Queensland WWII Historic Places, 2014,, accessed 6 April 2018.
[37] Jones and Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, p115.
[38]Buchanan Architects, Queensland Maritime Museum Site South Brisbane Conservation Plan, 2005, p18.
[39] Jones and Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, pp147-50; Buchanan Architects, Queensland Maritime Museum Site South Brisbane Conservation Plan, 2005, p20.
[40] Jempson, Review of Technical Heritage, 2016, pp50, 60-3.
[41] Kevin Jones, ‘Redeveloping ports, rejuvenating heritage: Australian maritime museums’, in Des Griffith and Leon Paroissien (eds), Australian Museums and Museology, 2011, National Museum of Australia, published online at ISBN 978-1-876944-92-6, accessed 24 April 2018.
[42] Jones and Nunan, More than a Haircut and Shave, 2013, pp197-99.
[43] Buchanan Architects, Queensland Maritime Museum Site South Brisbane Conservation Plan, 1999, p20
[44] Certificate of Title.
[45] Malcolm Wells, ‘Light Ship Carpentaria’, 2013,
[46] Jempson, Review of Technical Heritage, 2016, p63; aerial photographs QAP445020 (December 1985), QAP4535151 (May 1986), QAP4450113 (June 1986), QAP4601248 (October 1986), QAP4606100 (January 1987).
[47] Buchanan Architects, Queensland Maritime Museum Site South Brisbane Conservation Plan, 1999, p20.
[48] Jempson, Review of Technical Heritage, 2016, p25.
[49] Buchanan Architects, Queensland Maritime Museum Site (former South Brisbane Dry Dock) Conservation Management Plan, 2005, [p24]
[50] Queensland Maritime Museum website,, accessed 9 April 2018

Image gallery


Location of South Brisbane Dry Dock within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
20 February 2022