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St Brigid's Convent (former)

  • 601078
  • 9-17 Upper Clifton Terrace, Red Hill, Brisbane


Also known as
St Brigid's Convent; Convent of the Annuciation; St Brigids Convent (former); St Brigids Convent
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
28 March 2003
Religion/worship: Convent/nunnery
8.1 Creating social and cultural institutions: Worshipping and religious institutions
9.1 Educating Queenslanders: Providing primary schooling
Eaton & Bates
Construction period
1902–1923, St Brigid's Convent (1902 - 1923)
Historical period
1900–1914 Early 20th century


9-17 Upper Clifton Terrace, Red Hill, Brisbane
Brisbane City Council
-27.45677266, 153.01176866


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

St Brigid’s Convent (1902-03), occupied by the Sisters of Mercy in Red Hill from 1902 to 1999, is important in demonstrating a way of life of a religious Order that has made a significant contribution to the state of Queensland. The place is a good example of a purpose-built convent building, which illustrates the educational, religious and social practices the Order of the Sisters of Mercy implemented throughout the state in the early 20th century.

The place is a distinctive representation of a body of substantial Catholic buildings erected on prominent hilltop locations in Brisbane in the first half of the 20th century.  

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

St Brigid's Convent is a well-executed and largely intact example of a purpose-built masonry Catholic convent of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, and demonstrates the principal characteristics of its type, including:

  • an internal separation of private and public spaces through their placement on different floor levels;
  • a former chapel space for prayer and adjacent vestry;
  • a refectory space for communal dining;
  • a parlour located adjacent the front entrance, and;
  • separated private bedrooms (cells) to the upper floor.

The convent is a fine example of the ecclesiastical work of the architectural firm Eaton and Bates, who made a significant contribution to Queensland architecture in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

St Brigid’s Convent is important for its aesthetic significance due to its landmark qualities, expressive architectural attributes, panoramic views and streetscape presence.  

Set on a prominent hilltop location, the place has been a distinctive element of the Red Hill skyline for over a century. It is a highly visible landmark when viewed from the east, particularly from the Inner City Bypass, Musgrave Road and Kelvin Grove Road; and it retains panoramic vistas of Brisbane CBD to the southeast, an important southwestern visual connection to St Brigid’s Church [QHR 600284] on Musgrave Road, and a strong streetscape presence to Upper Clifton Terrace. The place’s hilltop siting expresses an identifiably assertive and impressive public image articulated by the Catholic Church in the 19th and 20th centuries.

St Brigid’s Convent has well-composed elevations, and features intact, fine detailing including: cedar joinery, lancet and leadlight windows, pressed metal ceilings, decorative fireplace mantelpieces, and decorative balustrades and valances. Ecclesiastical motifs throughout the building express the former life of the building as a place of religious living and worship.

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 place is significant for its long and special association with the work of the Sisters of Mercy in Queensland, in particular their important educational and pastoral work in the Red Hill-Petrie Terrace district from the early 1880s.


St Brigid's Convent (former) at Red Hill, was erected in 1902-03 for the Order of the Sisters of Mercy in Queensland to a design of the Queensland-based architectural firm, Eaton and Bates. The building is located on a sloping site, fronting Upper Clifton Terrace, and is in close proximity to St Brigid’s Church [QHR 600284] on Musgrave Road. The site comprises a rendered masonry former convent building, which overlooks Brisbane central business district (CBD) and is a landmark in the Red Hill skyline, and associated grounds. It has a long and special association with the Sisters of Mercy and remains an excellent example of a Catholic convent of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The residential suburb of Red Hill is located approximately 3.5 km northwest of Brisbane CBD, and the area was first subdivided for semi-rural estates in the 1860s. The land on which the former convent is situated was surveyed and alienated in 1865 as portions 608 and 609, parish of North Brisbane.[1] At this time Red Hill was sparsely populated, with the steepness of the hills deterring settlement initially; but from the 1870s, its proximity to the town centre, the availability of cheap residential allotments in the valleys and the later provision of a tram service through the district (opened along Musgrave Road, 1897-98), encouraged residential and corresponding religious development of the area.[2]

Catholicism, a major branch of Christianity, arrived in Queensland with the establishment of the Moreton Bay penal colony in 1824, and in 1959 the Diocese of Brisbane covered the entire colony of Queensland. The first mass celebrated in Queensland was in May 1843 in a temporary chapel in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, and St Stephen’s Church, the first Catholic church constructed in Queensland, was consecrated in 1858. The first Catholic parishes in Brisbane were established in Coorparoo, South Brisbane, Kangaroo Point, Red Hill and Rosalie.[3]

On 10 May 1861, the Sisters of Mercy, headed by Ellen Whitty (Mother Vincent Whitty), arrived in Brisbane at the invitation of Bishop James Quinn, and established their Mother House at All Hallows (Fortitude Valley, Brisbane). At the time of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in the Colony of Queensland, the colony’s population was 30 059, with 7 696 (39%) of these being Catholics.[4]

Initially founded in Ireland by Mother Catherine McAuley in 1831, the Sisters of Mercy congregation was uncloistered, and developed primarily with a mission to improve social justice through educational, religious and social services for women and children at risk of homelessness, exploitation and entrenched poverty. The first Australian Sisters of Mercy foundation was established in Perth and Victoria in 1957, and then subsequently in New South Wales (1859), Queensland (1861), South Australia (1880) and Tasmania (1892).[5] By 1863, three schools had been established by the Sisters in the Brisbane / Ipswich area; and in the years following, orphanages, benevolent women’s and children’s institutions and hospitals were also established.[6] 

In 1877, the first St Brigid's Church was erected on the site of the present church on Musgrave Road, Red Hill, and in 1881, the Sisters of Mercy from All Hallow's Convent, Fortitude Valley, established a school at St Brigid's Church, travelling daily to Red Hill. The Sisters also undertook pastoral work in the Petrie Terrace-Red Hill district. On 9 June 1901, a new St Brigid's School was opened and blessed at Red Hill, adjacent to the Church, reflecting the expansion of residential settlement in the Red Hill district around the turn of the century.

Almost immediately after being purchased from the crown in 1865, portions 608 and 609 (the site on which St Brigid’s Convent was later constructed) were subdivided. These portions changed tenure from 1866; and in 1873, the six subdivisions of portion 608 (fronting both Upper and Lower Clifton Terrace) were acquired by Lydia Pigott, widow of Gayndah grazier, Peter John Pigott. It is likely that the first development on the site, the construction of the residence Kenilworth, occurred after this acquisition. In December 1874 Lydia Pigott married Brisbane broker and merchant, William Horsley, and they appear to have been resident at Kenilworth by 1876, when the residence was first listed in the Post Office Directory. Extensive terracing on portion 608 is likely to have been developed as part of the grounds of Kenilworth (removed between 2000 and 2004), as well as several large pine trees along the Upper Clifton Terrace frontage (removed).[7] In 1889 Lydia Horsley (formerly Piggott) acquired title to an adjacent block, subdivision 11 of portion 609, and the Horsleys resided at Kenilworth until c1900. The house appears to have been rented out for several years prior to its acquisition by the Sisters of Mercy. 

The early 1900s saw considerable growth for the Catholic parish at Red Hill, with a building program including: the construction of a school (1901), a convent (1902-03) and a church (dedicated 1914). [8] The convent site (subdivision 3-8 of portion 608 and subdivision 11 of portion 609) was acquired by the Sisters of Mercy in May 1902 for the sum of £1610; with the title registered under the names of Archbishop Robert Dunne, and Sisters Emily Mary Conlan, Bridget Murphy, Honoria Griffin and Mary Potter.[9]

The acquisition of this convent site on the crest of Red Hill aligned with a pattern of constructing of substantial Catholic buildings on prominent hilltop locations during the 19th and 20th centuries. The visibility and image of the Church was considered a source of enormous pride for the Catholic congregation and clergy, and hilltop sites tended to be deemed the most suitable for church, school, convent and monastery buildings. The construction of these prominent buildings was intended to create an impressive and assertive public presence and demonstrate the strength of the Catholic Church. An article in the Catholic Leader in 1955 later noted the outcome of this practice, stating, ‘It is impossible to go any distance in city or suburbs without the eye catching one of those glorious sites for the acquiring of which the Catholic Church is now famous.’ [10]

The Sisters at Red Hill commissioned architectural firm Eaton and Bates, of Brisbane, Rockhampton and Townsville, one of the more fashionable and prolific firms of the day, to design their new convent. Sydney-trained architects George T Eaton and Albert E Bates had formed a partnership in Rockhampton c1894 and developed a successful Central Queensland practice in the late 19th century, with branch offices established at Mount Morgan and Longreach by 1898, Clermont in 1900, Gladstone in 1901, Maryborough in 1902, and Townsville by 1902. Arthur B Polin of Sydney joined the partnership in Townsville c1901, as Eaton, Bates & Polin. Early in 1902 their head office was moved to Brisbane, with branches retained at Rockhampton and Townsville. A branch also operated briefly at Toowoomba in the early 1900s. They entered and won many architectural competitions around the turn of the century, and undertook a wide variety of work, from hotels and commercial buildings to residences, hospitals and masonic halls. One of their most notable commissions was for the new Queen's Hotel (1901-04) [600936] at Townsville, won in competition. Eaton and Bates received many commissions from the Catholic Church, including churches at Barcaldine, Gladstone and Donnybrook, convents and schools at Mount Morgan, Gladstone and Geraldton and a school at Toowong. The firm also supervised construction of St Joseph's Cathedral, Rockhampton and the Church [later Cathedral] of the Sacred Heart, Townsville (1896-1902) [600939]. Their style was eclectic, drawing upon both eastern and western classical traditions, with a particular emphasis on verandahs and pavilions - both as a decorative device and as a response to the warm Queensland climate.

In mid-1902, Eaton and Bates called tenders for the erection and completion of a brick convent building at Red Hill. The construction of St Brigid’s Convent (initially also referred to as the Convent of the Annunciation and St Bridget’s Convent) was completed and occupied in 1903, with Sister M Thecla Kelleher, Head Teacher at St Brigid's School, as the first Superior. The building cost over £3100 to construct, and it was furnished in 1903 for a little over £500. At this time, the north verandah was single-storeyed, with bold and ornate ecclesiastical motifs incorporated into the iron valances and balustrades. A decorative picket fence defined the frontage of the property to Upper Clifton Terrace, and the grounds along Upper Clifton Terrace contained several mature pines trees.

The organisational layout of the convent’s plan included main living rooms on the ground floor, sleeping quarters on the first floor, and servicing rooms to the understorey. The main living areas comprised: a small parlour adjacent the main, northern entrance; a chapel with adjoining vestry to the south; a lounge room (divided from the chapel with folding doors); and a dining room.  The first floor was divided into various sections: a space for the Mother Superior for a bedroom or private office; and southern and western areas for bedrooms (cells). The understorey level included a kitchen (with a working fireplace), a pantry and store rooms, and was accessed via a small stair at the rear of the building, on the eastern verandah. It is thought that a small bedroom and anteroom in the southeast corner of the understorey may have been a later addition.[11]

In mid-1906, the Sisters acquired title to several blocks adjacent to St Brigid's Convent: subdivision 10 of portions 615 & 616 [20.6 perches, (521 square metres)] and subdivisions 12 & 13 of por 609 [36.2 perches, (915 square metres)], parish of North Brisbane, county of Stanley, from the estate of Alexander Fraser. Subdivisions 12 and 13 extended the convent grounds along Lower Clifton Terrace.

Various newspaper articles dated from 1909 to 1939 indicate the use of the convent grounds as a venue for fundraising fetes. The fetes were generally run by a committee who organised entertainment, and stalls were set up in the grounds by members of the community. Reports of these fetes describe the grounds of the convent as having ‘pretty green lawns,’ garden beds with ‘many blooms of snapdragons, zinnias, lilies, and geraniums,’ and tall shady trees.[12]

The northern upper floor verandah of the convent may have been added in 1923, when additions to the convent costing £1140 were carried out by the builder Corbett. This verandah was most likely immediately enclosed with weatherboards and timber casement windows (possibly from the original building fabric) to accommodate orphans from St Vincent’s Nudgee while they looked for employment in the city. This addition coincided with the replacement of an external window to the verandah with a doorway. [13]

Since this addition, other alterations have been made to the building and the site. Some partitions on the first floor have been removed and modifications have been made to the windows in the western wing. The kitchen has been removed from the understorey; and a new kitchen has been installed on the ground floor (the eastern verandah was enclosed to accommodate this installation, but the enclosure has since been removed). The stair at the rear of the building has also been extended to service the first floor.[14]

At its peak, St Brigid's Convent is likely to have accommodated 8 or 9 sisters, but no pupil boarders. The Sisters continued their pastoral work in the district, and in later years, several basement rooms and a small cottage in the backyard (since demolished) are understood to have been used as refuges or temporary accommodation for the homeless. Although St Brigid's School was officially closed in October 1989, several Sisters remained at St Brigid's Convent until the building was sold and vacated by the Order in late 1999.[15]

The closure of the school and convent coincided with the dramatic fall in the number of religious staff in Catholic organisations during the late twentieth century. Numbers of nuns in Australia dropped from 14,622 in 1966 to 5,927 in 2009; and their average age considerably increased during the same period, with the percentage of nuns 60 years or older rising from 36.5 percent in 1976 to 85.6 percent in 2009.[16]

On sale of the property in c2004, the statue of Mary of the Assumption housed in the front elevation of the convent’s chapel was removed by the Sisters of Mercy. A sculpture representing the wings of St Brigid replaced the statue after 2013.[17] Steps associated with the terracing were removed from the site in 2003; and the terracing of the grounds was also razed at this time. The convent was renovated to accommodate the changed use of the building as a private residence after its sale in early 2005.[18] A timber fence running along the Upper Clifton Terrace boundary was replaced by a brick fence, but was partially reconstructed in 2009 to match the early design. At this time, a fence was also constructed along the northern boundary of the site, separating the convent from the northern lot (Lot 6 RP99989).[19]

After the ownership of the northern allotment (Lot 6 RP99989) and the eastern allotments fronting Lower Clifton Terrace were separated in c2004, a multi-unit dwelling was constructed to the east of the former convent in c2010, and a residential dwelling was constructed on Lot 6 to the north of the former convent in 2016.[20]

In 2017, the place retains its Convent Building (former) with some of its associated grounds. It is a good example of a late 19th / early 20th century convent building, demonstrating the principal characteristics of the type of place, and remains representative of the ecclesiastical work of Eaton and Bates architects. While now in use as a residential property, the place demonstrates the growth of the Catholic parish to the fringe areas of Brisbane CBD and is important for its association with Sisters of Mercy. The building continues to be a landmark in its setting.  


The St Brigid's Convent (former) is located on the crest of Red Hill, a residential suburb of inner-northwest Brisbane. Fronting Upper Clifton Terrace to the west, the 0.17 ha, sloping site is bounded on all other sides by residential properties. The masonry former convent building is a landmark in its setting and is a prominent element of the Red Hill skyline, particularly from the east. It retains a visual connection to the southwest with St Brigid’s Church and Musgrave Road (a major arterial road through Red Hill); and panoramic vistas over Brisbane CBD are available from the eastern (rear) and southern verandahs.

Convent Building (former), 1902-03

The Convent Building (former) is a two-storey structure, with an additional basement at the rear that is cut into the sloping terrain of the site. It is rendered externally and has a corrugated metal-clad, steeply-pitched hip and gable roof, which features small ventilation gablets and reconstructed decorative cresting and finials. Verandahs on the ground and first floors wrap the perimeter of the building and are sheltered by skillion roofs of corrugated metal sheeting.

The former public and communal spaces (including former chapel, vestry, refectory, parlour and foyer) are located on the ground floor, private spaces (including sleeping areas) are on the first floor, and former service spaces (including former kitchen and laundry) are within the basement. A gabled projection protruding from the front (west) and rear (east) elevations punctuates the perimeter verandahs, and features a further front projection at ground floor level which reflects the location of the former chapel sanctuary.

The ground floor is accessed via a foyer at the northwestern end of the building, and its planning arrangement is orientated around a central hallway (running north-south). Most rooms were historically accessed from this hallway, with the exception of the former front parlour, which was only accessed from the foyer (an additional door now connects to the hall). The southern end of the hallway is terminated by the former chapel (southwest) with southern former vestry, and the former rear parlour (southeast). A former dining room, standing between the rear parlour and northeastern stairwell (which is opposite the foyer and accesses the first floor), is fitted-out with a recent kitchen (the fit-out is not of significance).  

The plan form of the first floor is similar to that of the ground floor, with rooms flanking a central hallway. The first floor contains four bedrooms, a bathroom and an ensuite. Room partitions that formerly created smaller bedrooms (cells) are no longer discernible. The northern verandah is enclosed (c1920s addition) to form an additional living space.

The interior walls of the ground and first floor are of load-bearing brick, and are plastered and painted. The ground floor ceilings have pressed metal finishes, which vary in pattern from room to room, and the first floor ceilings are lined with narrow tongue and groove (T&G) boards. The skirtings are of wide timber and the architraves are of timber (the skirtings and architraves on the first floor have been painted).

Joinery throughout is generally of cedar (some of which has been painted). The front entrance has surrounding leadlights and cedar panelling, and the projection to the western (front) elevation has a bank of three lancet windows on the upper level. The rear projection has a bank of three lancet windows on both the ground and first levels. The ground floor chapel has leadlight lancet windows, and a lancet-shaped timber-panelled door opening into a small former vestry at the southwestern end. The front parlours on the ground floor have step-out sash windows, and folding timber cedar doors separate the former chapel and former dining room on the ground floor. Most other windows are timber double-hung sashes with rounded heads. Three-light timber casement windows, located in the northern wall of the enclosed verandah, are an early addition. A tall arched opening leading from the first floor hallway to northern verandah enclosure indicates the former location of a window.

Most doors are timber, of a low-waisted design, and have centre-pivoting fanlights. A rounded arch infilled with a glass and timber screen and door separates the hallway from the foyer on the ground level, and features a metal base plate with an engraving marking ‘SMITHS SPRING’.

The stairs connecting the ground and first floors are of timber, with a decorative timber balustrade and timber panelled to dado height; and painted timber panelling forming the underside of the stair.

Various early fireplaces, with early fine timber and marble mantlepieces, tiles, heaths and grates, have been retained. These are located in the former rear parlour and dining room on the ground floor, and the eastern bedroom of the first floor.

The verandahs generally have timber floors, decorative cast iron columns (except for those to the northern verandahs, which are square timber), and balustrades and valances which feature ecclesiastical motifs of lancet and rose windows.  Most verandah ceilings on the ground floor are flat and lined with corrugated metal sheeting; and most of the verandah ceilings on the first floor are raked and lined with V-jointed timber boards. Those on the southern first floor verandah are unlined and feature stop-chamfered rafters and purlins. The first floor of the northern verandah is an early c1920s addition, externally enclosed with timber weatherboards and three-light timber casement windows, and internally lined and ceiled with VJ timber boards. Northern, eastern and southern sides of the basement feature a colonnade of lancet-shaped masonry arches.

A narrow timber service staircase in the northeast corner of the verandah links the ground floor to the basement, which contains the former kitchen and pantry spaces. The basement plan is organised around a central hallway (former main pantry), running north-south, with the former kitchen to the east, and excavated rooms to the west (the excavated rooms are not significant). An opening in the southern wall of the former kitchen features a large fireplace opening and the adjacent, eastern wall features an opening that is now infilled with brick. The hallway and former kitchen are terminated to the south by store rooms. Part of the understorey colonnade at the southeast corner of the building has been enclosed. A small store room, located in the southwest corner of the building, is only accessed from the south.  This store room also features an unlined ceiling, with various names and dates painted onto the underside of the timber floorboards of the chapel. All other brick walls to the understorey have been painted, and some of the arches within the colonnade have been enclosed with glass and metal grates.


The building sits on the high ground of a sloping block, with a small front garden adjacent to Upper Clifton Terrace, and some perimeter planting along the southern side of the block. A timber picket fence runs along the Upper Clifton Terrace frontage and is a reconstruction of an earlier design (although stands at a reduced length). The footpath leading from Upper Clifton Terrace to the front building entrance, and the pine tree planted to the northeast of the building are also reconstructions of early features.

Non-significant features

Recent additions that are not of cultural heritage significance include: aluminium-framed window sashes; the southern driveway; the eastern pool, garage and associated structure; recent kitchen and bathroom fitouts; clear acrylic attached to the eastern verandah and lattice attached to the northern verandah; recent linoleum and carpet floor linings, plywood ceilings and recently excavated western rooms to the basement; interior painting; and chandeliers.


[1] Queensland Places: Red Hill, 2015, The University of Queensland (UQ), [online] <>.
[2] Queensland Places: Red Hill, 2015.
[3] Archdiocese of Brisbane, 2016, About: History of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, [online] <>.
[4] QHR 602796, St Patrick’s Convent.
[5] Sisters of Mercy: in Australia & Papua New Guinea, 2017, [online] <>.
[6] Sisters of Mercy, 2017.
[7] Robert Riddel Architect, 2004, (former) St Brigid’s Convent Red Hill: Conservation Management Plan, Brisbane, p.6.
[8] Robert Riddel Architect, 2004, p.9.
[9] Transfer no.374870 & new CT 123143a on 10204070: transfer no. 374870 & new CT 123l44a on 10204114: transfer no.374870 and new CT 123145aon 10742151.
[10] Catholic Leader, 10 November 1955, Jubilee Supplement; David Hilliard, 1991, A church on every hill: religion in Brisbane in the 1950s, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Vol 14, Iss 6, pp.245-44;  Corpus Christi Church, QHR 601460.
[11] Robert Riddel Architect, 2004, p.11.
[12] Brisbane Courier, 12 December 1927, p.19.
[13] Robert Riddel Architect, 2004, p.12.
[14] Robert Riddel Architect, 2004, p.13.
[15] Queensland Government Department of Education and Training, 2014, Opening and closing dates of Queensland schools, [online] <>; Verbal communication from Mr Bevin Hobbins, Property Manager for the Sisters of Mercy, 17 February 2000.
[16] Stephen Reid, 2009, See, I am doing a new thing! : results of the 2009 survey, Pastoral Projects Office Australian Catholic Bishops Conference [online] <>, p.6 and 11.
[17] Personal communication with current owner 2017, Robert Riddel Architect, 2004, p.13.
[18] Robert Riddel Architect, 2004, p.13.
[19] Google Earth aerial imagery.
[20] Brisbane City Council development applications A004291231 and A002824100 (available at PD Online:

Image gallery


Location of St Brigid's Convent (former) within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
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