The First Occupants
William Perry (1835-1891)
In June 1860 William Perry and his brother, George, arrived in Brisbane where they planned to set up a hardware business. Their brother Frederick later joined them and by the middle of August the 'Brisbane Courier' carried an advertisement announcing that, "Perry Brothers, Wholesale and Retail Ironmongers, Queen-street, (present Wintergarden Centre) North Brisbane, have constantly on hand such essentials as Bullock Bows, Horse Shoes; Cross-cut, Pitsaw and Hand-saw Files, Putty, Pitch and Tar, American Stoves".... the business thrived. In 1865 fine new premises designed by architect James Cowlishaw were opened next door. These were later extended to Elizabeth Street, with the ironmongery warehouse opposite on the sites of today's Henkelmann's Building and the Irish Club.
In 1862 William married Annie Harcourt of Sydney. Over the years Annie bore seven children, but sadly, two died in early childhood. In c.1870 the family moved to Bowen Hills (then known as Breakfast Creek) into 'Folkestone', the nucleus of which dated from the 1860s. The gregarious Perrys enlarged and modernised the rambling house, which shared the crest of the hill above 'Miegunyah' with two other distinctive houses, 'Montpelier' and 'Cintra'.
William was described by a contemporary as "one of the most reputable, worthy and wealthy citizens in Brisbane". As well as managing Perry Brothers successful ironmongery business, he also accumulated land, so that eventually he had quite sizeable holdings throughout the Brisbane area, including the present Perry Park, which was used as the family cow and horse paddock.
In 1890 he was appointed a Member of the Legislative Council. He held this appointment for a short time only as he died suddenly on 11 June 1891. Annie died on 14 May 1917.
When William Perry died in 1891, his eldest son WHF (Herbert) Perry was 27 years old and had been living at Miegunyah for about five years. He and his brother, George, carried on the business founded by their father and uncles. After an initial period of difficult trading in the economic slump and record floods of the 1890s, the business thrived under the management of the Perry brothers. Between 1911 and 1913 they expanded their business by constructing the eight-storey Perry House (now the Royal Albert Hotel), on the corner of Albert and Elizabeth Streets. This was then the tallest building in Brisbane with every floor occupied by their business activities and storage of goods. Herbert was a widely experienced businessman and held directorships in the Castlemaine Brewery and Quinlan, Gray & Co.
It seems that Herbert and Leila moved into the newly-built Miegunyah shortly after their marriage. Their two sons, William Herbert (Bert) (1886) and Arthur Harcourt (1888), were born at Miegunyah, where Leila became a vivacious and busy hostess. Occasions such as Mrs Perry's 'Literary Ball' and 'Tray Party' were given full coverage in the social notes of the day. Leila's presence is still discernible at Miegunyah, where she once used her engagement ring to inscribe into the drawing room french window 'Leila Perry 1898'. She was also a practical person, interested in cooking, woodcarving and carpentry which she painstakingly undertook in her workroom beneath the house.
By 1922 both Leila and Herbert had died and the house passed out of the Perry family.
World War II
During the war Miegunyah was requisitioned by the Government. In 1943 it served as a staging camp for the men of Z Special Unit, who carried out Operation Jaywick. These men entered Japanese occupied Singapore Harbour in the seemingly harmless coastal fishing vessel, the 'Krait', and sank some 39,000 tonnes of Japanese shipping. It was at Miegunyah that the success of that raid was afterwards celebrated by the survivors.
Post War Years
Following the death of Herbert Perry in 1922, there were several owners/occupiers of Miegunyah.
In the 1960s the property was purchased by the Enright Brothers of Beaudesert, who divided it into three flats, which was the fate of many large houses during the post war housing shortage. The front of the stable building was knocked out and a lean-to roof added to provide garage accommodation. At some period the house also had a name change from its original 'Miegunyah' to 'Beverley Wood'.
In March 1967 the Queensland Women's Historical Association (QWHA) purchased 'Beverley Wood', carried out initial renovations, changed the name back to the original Miegunyah and opened the house to the public in June 1968. For details see QWHA purchasing Miegunyah
In 1979 the QWHA obtained a grant of $2,000 through the National Estate Program for a conservation survey of the house and grounds. Undertaken by Richard Allom Architects of Brisbane, this found that the house, stables and grounds were in a sound condition. Although the house interior had been substantially altered, there was sufficient evidence remaining to determine its original structure and later significant changes.
Funds were then sought to carry out restoration work to enable the house to function efficiently as a house museum and home for the QWHA, and also be displayed to the public as a significant and carefully conserved part of the Nation's architectural heritage.
In the 30 years since the original conservation plan was drawn up slow but steady progress has been made. Finance always being a major consideration as recurring and unexpected expenses to maintain the property had to be met. Over the years funds have been received from a bequest from Miss Hilda Chandler (allowing the project to begin), the Commonwealth and State Governments, the Brisbane City Council, while the QWHA has contributed a percentage of funds also.
The result is a house which conserves its 1886 features, yet is a living part of Brisbane's heritage. If it were possible for Herbert and Leila Perry to once again walk through the front door of "Miegunyah" they would immediately recognise their home.
"Miegunyah" is on the Register of the National Estate, on the Queensland Heritage Register, classified 'A' by the National Trust and its grounds are protected by a Brisbane City Council Vegetation Preservation Order.
"Miegunyah" owes its status not least to the innumerable voluntary man and woman hours put in by QWHA members and honorary architects alike.
Here is a half acre of Brisbane as it was in the last years of Queen Victoria's reign and the early years of the 20th century. Miegunyah is typical of the larger houses built in Brisbane in the 1880s, of which it is a particularly well-preserved and fine example. Typically, it has a main entrance door and hall in the centre of the front elevation. The roof is of corrugated galvanised iron with symmetrical form at the front and with uneven hipped projections to the rear with an internal valley between them.
The exterior of the house bears in its original colour scheme. A broad verandah runs around the front and two sides of the house, with a curved iron roof, and with a projecting pedimented porch to the front door. The verandah is richly decorated with cast iron balustrades, filigree columns and friezes. The name of the maker, Smith Forrester & Co., Brisbane, is noticeable on the exterior surface at the base.
Particularly unusual in Brisbane houses of the period is the honeycomb brickwork in the base wall under the outer edge of the veranda. A photograph of the house in 1886 shows that two different colours of brick were used, producing a striking column effect. Most of the original cedar joinery remains, although mostly covered by many layers of paint. The flooring is of pine, its quality denoted by its almost knotless state.
Much of the furniture and artefacts have been donated to the Association and many pieces have a link with notable people or events of early Queensland. For example, the figurine on the drawing room mantel piece was a wedding gift to Captain and Mrs Louis Hope, the builders of Ormiston House. The wine chest and sideboard in the dining room were owned by Colonel Grey, first Usher of the Black Rod in Queensland's Parliament. The wine chest went with him to the Battle of Waterloo
A glimpse of the kitchen and laundry will show you how uncomfortable life could be for the housewife and servants in the late nineteenth century. Very important pieces of equipment were the wood fuelled stove for heating flat irons and the pottery water cooler.
The stable building at the rear of the driveway was restored in 1982. Using photographs dating from 1886, the facade has been returned to its initial appearance, including the mustard coloured exterior walls. It now serves as the caretaker's accommodation.
In the grounds are hitching posts that once were in Charlotte Street. The converted gas light at the foot of the entrance stairs is from Constitution Hill in London. It stands as a bicentenary tribute to Captain James Cook. A second lamp stands as a memorial to Martha Young, president of the QWHA for 12 years, whose drive, enthusiasm and leadership greatly contributed to the purchase of 'Miegunyah'.