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Ballow Chambers

This description is based on a number of sources but principally the Heritage Register (2014), maintained by the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

This three-storeyed masonry office building was constructed in two stages, in 1924 and in 1926, for Ballow Chambers Ltd, a group of medical practitioners headed by Dr Charles Thelander. The company acquired most of the site in 1924. Bunya Bunya Cottage, erected on the site c. 1870s, had accommodated a medical practice in the late 1880s, and from about 1900.

Brisbane architect Mr Lange Powell was commissioned to design the new building. Powell was an established Brisbane architect, whose work includes St Martin’s War Memorial Hospital (1922) and the Masonic Temple (1930), both in Ann Street, Brisbane (1). Ballow Chambers was one of the earliest of the purpose-built specialist medical buildings in Brisbane. These interwar medical office redevelopments along Wickham Terrace included Wickham House (1923-24), Craigston (1927), Inchcolm (1930) and Brisbane Clinic (1930). Their construction constituted the second phase (the first being in the 1880s) of the Terrace’s growth as a medical precinct, and was indicative of new directions toward specialist medicine in Queensland in the interwar years.

The ground floor and sub-floor of Ballow Chambers were constructed in 1924, with a further two storeys added in 1926. John Hutchinson was the builder for both stages (2). The building was named after a colonial surgeon and the first doctor to establish a private practice in Brisbane, Dr David Ballow, who died of typhus fever while treating emigrants quarantined at Dunwich, Stradbroke Island, in 1850. To this very day there is a plaque commemorating Ballow near the entry to the building.

Ballow Chambers is remembered in Brisbane history because of two regrettable events. The first took place in 1955, when Ballow Chambers was involved in a long-forgotten terrorist incident. Karl Kast, “a loud-mouthed braggart who had a brilliant mind” and “loved making bombs”, sought revenge on several of Wickham Terrace’s doctors because they “had repudiated his claim for workers’ compensation after they failed to find evidence of a back injury [he] complained of” (Hurst, 2009). Kast’s rampage resulted in the shooting deaths of two medical professionals – both at their desks in Ballow Chambers – and the injuring of a third, before he blew himself up. It is said that the explosion could be heard at Woolloongabba.

The second incident involved the still unsolved theft of artworks. In the foyer of Ballow Chambers once hung two 18th century paintings – one of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the other of Henry, Cardinal of York – that were given to George Keith, 10th Earl Marshal of Scotland and an ancestor of Dr Ballow, by the Old Pretender in recognition of his devotion to the Stuarts. These paintings were given to Ballow Chambers by the late Miss Elizabeth E. Moreton, a great niece of Dr Ballow, in recognition of his services to mankind. In September 2007, the original paintings were stolen and have not been recovered. Reproductions currently hang in their place.

Since 1992, Ballow Chambers has been listed on the Heritage Register because of its cultural heritage significance. Ballow Chambers (Heritage Register, 2014):

  • is important in demonstrating the interwar evolution of Wickham Terrace as an important medical specialist precinct in Brisbane, and is associated with the development of specialist medicine in Queensland.

  • is an accomplished building which is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a purpose-built interwar medical office building, including in the restrained design the assertion of medical specialist prestige.

  • as one of a related group of classical facades, exhibits a strong aesthetic contribution to the Wickham Terrace streetscape, which is valued by the community.

  • has a special association with Brisbane architect Lange Powell, as an example of his interwar work.

While medical specialists continue to maintain rooms at Ballow Chambers it has, over time, attracted other professions. Drew, Walk & Co. took rooms in Ballow Chambers in January 2015.

1. Lange Leopold Powell (1886-1938), architect, was born on 2 July 1886 at Rockhampton, Queensland. Privately educated, and briefly at Central Boy’s School, Brisbane, Powell was articled to Addison & Corrie, architects, (1900-05) and attended Brisbane Technical College. He worked as a draughtsman for C. W. Chambers (1905-06), then briefly with the Public Works Department in 1907. A council-member of the Queensland Art Society, and highly recommended by Addison, Powell left for London in 1908 and worked for Belcher & Co. He was an accomplished pen-and-ink sketcher and water-colourist. In 1909 he became an architectural member of the Union des Beaux Arts et des Lettres of France. That year he exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, the Louvre, Paris, and at the Queensland Art Society (also in 1911). His Brisbane partnerships included Chambers & Powell (1911-21), Powell & Hutton (1922-25) and Atkinson, Powell & Conrad (1927-31); with Atkinson and Conrad he had been appointed architect to the Brisbane and South Coast Hospital Board in 1926. St Martin’s War Memorial Hospital (opened 1922) is Powell’s best-known extant work; he considered it one of his best designs. It is situated next door to St John’s Cathedral and part of the cathedral precinct. He was grand architect for the Masonic Temple, Brisbane (1928), its grand hall being one of the finest in Australia. Many of his buildings have been demolished, including Eton House, which complemented St Martin’s Hospital. Powell was interested in interior decoration and designed a Gothic carved-stone reredos in Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley, dedicated on 10 November 1929. He designed the altar and triptych (painted by W. Bustard) for the Lady Chapel of St John’s Cathedral, eventually erected in his memory by his friend Dr Robert Graham Brown and dedicated on 4 August 1940, and other interior decorations of the cathedral. Powell was honorary secretary (1910-15), councillor, vice-president (1923-27) and president (1927-31) of the Queensland Institute of Architects. The Architects Registration Act was passed in 1928 during his presidency; he became a member of the first board. For many years he was Queensland representative on the federal council of the Australian Institute of Architects (president 1928-29). With Sir Charles Rosenthal he drafted the constitution of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (1930) of which he was second president in 1932-33. Powell represented the board of architects of Queensland on the R.A.I.A.’s board of architectural education. He was a fellow of the Queensland Institute of Architects (1918), the Royal Institute of British Architects (1929) and the R.A.I.A. (1930). A popular mixer who loved club life and who golfed for recreation, Powell was president of the Brisbane Club (1933-34). He died on 29 October 1938 in St Martin’s Hospital, Brisbane, and was cremated with Anglican rites (Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2014).

2. John Hutchinson’s great grandson, John Scott Hutchinson (“Scott”), is the current Chairman of Hutchinson Builders, now one of Australia’s largest privately-owned building and construction companies having celebrated its centenary in 2012. John Hutchinson’s grandson and Scott’s father, John Collins Hutchinson AM (“Jack”), is retired but remains a director of Hutchinson Builders. In 1999, Jack was inducted into the Queensland University of Technology’s Construction Hall of Fame, in 2010 he was inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame, and in the 2011 Australia Day Honours List was named a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to the building and construction sector through executive roles with industry organisations, and to the community.

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