The Brisbane CBD Public Clock Self-Guided Tour with Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower the Highlight.
Museum of L M S.
The tour begins at South Brisbane easily accessed by train from South Bank. The full tour of 7 Stops will take approximately 3 hours. For a shorter tour of under 2 hours start at the City Hall (Stop 3). A brief description of each clock follows. Scroll down or click on each stop to take you to a more detailed explanation.
Stop 1 - the Old South Brisbane Town Hall – if using the train you need to embark at 1a (South Bank Rail Station) then a 500m. walk up to Stop 1 (Somerville House, 17 Graham St. near Mater Hospital). While here, visit the ‘Under the Clock Café’ which has some old photos of this 1904 clock. Walk back to Stop 1a (Southbank Stn) & catch a train to Stop 2 (South Brisbane). Alternatively, you could walk through the Southbank Precinct to Southbank Station &/or visit the Maritime Museum.
Stop 2 – South Brisbane - check out this 1891 heritage station with its Brisbane Synchronome clock hanging at the front entrance. Then walk across Victoria Bridge past the historic Treasury Casino.
Stop 3 – City Hall built in 1930 is the tours highlight. A free lift (the oldest hand-operated lift in Brisbane) runs every 15 minutes & takes you 73m up to an observation deck beneath the bells. It also pauses at the clock room allowing you to view from behind the four 4.87m clock dials made here in Brisbane. A glimpse of the Master clock can be seen through the wire grid.
The lift runs daily from 10:15am - 4:45pm. every 15mins. Entry is from the Museum of Brisbane reception on level 3 of City Hall. It would be wise to book this online. https://www.museumofbrisbane.com.au/whats-on/clock-tower-tours/
Stop 4 – Brisbane Arcade walk 40m up Adelaide St. & turn right into the 100year old Arcade. Check out the 2 synchronome slave clocks upstairs. Exit to Queen St. & continue East (left turn) down the Mall to -
Stop 5 – GPO clock in Queen St. Walk through Anzac Square a heritage listed war memorial square and the Shrine of Remembrance. The Memorial Galleries are also worth a look.
Stop 6 - the Central Railway Station clock tower. This Gillett & Johnston clock was installed in 1901. The Grand Central Hotel below the clock tower is a great place to eat & relax & has several wall clocks inside. Near the entrance is a Brisbane Synchronome street clock labelled Grand Central Hotel.
Stop 7 –the Old Windmill. built by the convicts in 1828. Walk to Edward St. then North 50m and up Jacobs Ladder. The time-ball, which still can be seen, operated here from 1861 – 1866 & then from from 1894 to 1930. The clock operating the ball drop from 1894 - a Victor Kullberg regulator can be seen in the Museum of Lands, Mapping & Surveying 317 Edward St. open weekdays from 9.30 - 4pm. Well worth a visit.
THE STOPS IN MORE DETAIL - Stop 1 - South Brisbane Town Hall Tower Clock
This elegant red brick structure built in 1892 for £11,000 in the Italian Classic Revival style, though called a Town Hall, was actually offices for the South Brisbane Council. With 2 main storeys and a 20m tower (accessed by a series of wooden ladders) it was easily visible across early Brisbane. The four 1.8m clock dials illuminated by 10 lights were installed 12 years later in 1904 by Synchronome Electrical Co. Australasia at a cost of £100. This was their first tower clock in Australia and also the first electrically driven clock. The master clock, located in the Town Clerk's Office, was linked to 6 slave clocks. Although electrically controlled, it needed a weight driven mechanism to move the hands every 30 seconds when released by the electrical impulse. The manual winding of these weights was done by the Government Horologist - from 1978 to 1999 by a member of our club Greg Baker.
The building has had a colourful history. Its use as municipal offices ceased in 1925. City engineers then took over followed by the American Military during WW11 and then into flats for Council workers. The Qld. Conservatorium of Music occupied this building from 1955-1979. and then TAFE in the 1980/90's. Heritage listed in 1992, it has since 1999 been part of the Somerville House Girls School.
Stop 2 - South Brisbane Railway Station Clock
This Renaissance-styled masonry station was built in 1891 and is the second oldest station in Brisbane after Roma Street. It was the terminus of the standard gauge railway from Sydney to Brisbane until 1878 when the Merivale Bridge was built allowing Roma Street to become the interstate terminus. In 1992 it was heritage listed.
The notable feature of this station is that it still retains much of its early platform furniture and the original 100year old clock hanging at the front entrance made by Brisbane Synchronome.
Stop 3 - Brisbane City Hall Clock Opened in 1930
This Italian Renaissance style building made of granite and sand-stone with a 92m. tower is truly spectacular. Corinthian columns, a statue of King George V, two bronze lions, a carved tympanum and inside a magnificent organ with over 4000 pipes and a copper-domed circular auditorium seating up to 1500, came at a massive cost - £1m.
The clock when built was the largest in Australia. The synchronome master clock imported from England was a duplicate of the one at Greenwich Observatory. Synchronome Brisbane then built the four clock dials, the hands and the 60 slave mechanisms needed for the building. The 4 dials weighing 3 tons were 5m wide and filled with white opal held by over 1000 screws. The copper minute hands were 3m long and the hour hands 1.7m. The exciting part is that the original hand-operated lift still operates and takes one up the middle of the tower pausing as it passes through the clock room then on to an observation deck at 73m. operating daily for free. Because the lift runs through the clocks a separate movement was required for each dial. From the 1950's the slaves in the building were removed and a master clock put into the tower.
Stop 4 - The Brisbane Arcade
This stunning 95 year old art deco arcade linking Adelaide with Queen St. was built in 1923/24. Featuring elegant woodwork, lead lighting, terrazzo floors & boutique shops. Designed by Richard Gailey Junior, it was built at a cost of £70,000.
There are two synchronome electric slave clocks hanging at either end with a distinctive green metal edge, a red bezel and enamel dials. Listen for the very audible 'clunk' of the hands moving every 30sec.
Stop 5 - The Brisbane GPO.
The Original Plan
This heritage listed sandstone structure designed by F Stanley has an interesting history. Initially the plan was for two identical wings with a central tower rising 100 feet (30.48m) featuring a three-faced clock.
The East wing was built first in 1872 costing £7450. However the clock tower costing another £4,000 was considered too lavish, so a 4½ foot (1.4m) dial clock with striking bells costing only £150 was placed into the centre of the East wing gable. It was illuminated by a gas-powered light. The West wing with the central tower reduced in height by half was completed in 1879 at a cost of £19,417. The rest of the building through to Elizabeth Street was finished by 1908.
The call for a more visible clock to look up and down Queen Street, resulted in the removal of the gable clock in 1908 and a double-faced electric clock was hung from the central tower. In the mid/late 1960's this clock due to time-keeping issues was taken down and a smaller electric clock put back into the East wing gable where it has remained to today. This clock has resurfaced in 2018 relatively intact and displayed at Harringtons Antiques Stones Corner. It has no makers name on the dial. Originally the clock had 'Brisbane Synchronome' on the dial.
Stop 6 - Brisbane Central Railway Clock in Ann Street.
Central Station was erected in 1899 in Federation style and designed by renown Australian architect JJ Clark - who also designed The Treasury building. It was State Heritage listed 21 October 1992. The sandstone clock tower which is above the main entrance was built later in 1901. The four-dial mechanical clock was built by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, England. From the front steps, one can look South and see the GPO across Anzac Square.
Stop 7 - The Windmill Tower, Spring Hill, Brisbane - once a Time Ball Station.
Main Details - Built by convicts in 1828 as a treadmill to grind grain and as a form of punishment, it was converted in 1861 to a time ball station. The Tower is a circular stone and brick structure, standing 16m. with a base of 8.4m in diameter, tapering to 4.5m at the top with an observation platform containing a hexagonal timber cabin.
Time Keeper Facts - Its location in the CBD, high above the Brisbane river, made it ideal for use as a signal station and Observatory. From 1855 shipping news from the mouth of the Brisbane river about 15km away, was sent to the Tower. In 1861 it had a time ball added to allow watches and clocks to be set/regulated. At 1pm the time ball would drop based on observations relayed by telegraph from Sydney. The time ball was replaced with a time gun between 1866 and 1894 to fire the 1pm time signal. In 1894 a new electrically controlled time ball returned and in 1902 it was connected to the telegraph at Roma Street railway station. But modern technology had made time balls round the world unnecessary. The ball ceased to drop in 1930 with the new City Hall clock becoming the main time regulator for Brisbane.
The master clock signaling the time ball from 1894 was made by Victor Kullberg, a Swedish clock maker living in London - one of England’s premier chronometer makers. This regulator clock is now on display at the Museum of Lands, Mapping & Surveying at 317 Edward St. just over from Jacobs Ladder. Open only on weekdays 9.30 - 4pm.
Heritage listed in 1992, the Windmill remains one of Queensland’s oldest structures and a valuable monument to Brisbane’s history of time keeping.