1 December

The Great Fire of Brisbane was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of Brisbane in the Colony of Queensland (now a state of Australia) on this day in 1864.

For two and a half hours the fire burned out of control in large parts of Brisbane’s central business district with entire blocks being destroyed, mainly in Queen, Albert, George, and Elizabeth Streets. It consumed 50 houses, 2 banks, 3 hotels, 4 draperies, and many other businesses as well as a “considerable amount of small houses”. Considering the extent of the fire, casualties were very few; there was no loss of life, and four people were taken to hospital with injuries.

Two fires occurred in Brisbane in the same year before the Great Fire of Brisbane, the first occurred on 11 April 1864 in Queen Street where 14 buildings were razed. The second occurred only a few months before the Great Fire of Brisbane. This fire broke out around 1:00 am on 5 September 1864, the Volunteer Fire Brigade was quick to respond and extinguished the blaze within an hour. A total of fourteen buildings were razed in this fire. These fires were able to spread easily due to the abundance of buildings made from timber, and the limited supply of water to subdue the fires. After the April fire, an unknown Brisbane resident urged the Brisbane city council to invest in a proper fire brigade, however this warning was apparently ignored.

Sir, – What would the nations of the earth think if they knew that in the chief city of the colony of Queensland there is not a properly organised Fire Brigade, neither paid nor voluntary. There is a fire engine certainly, such as it is, but it is a miserable affair, compared with those made in America, though I have no doubt it has cost as much money. The great fire this morning tells a tale which should not be disregarded; some fine buildings have been thoroughly burnt down, to say nothing of the contents, most likely of far more value. Will not the government and the city council bestir themselves, so that this city shall be placed in comparative safety from fire?

— Brisbane Courier, 11 April 1864
As the town’s buildings were mostly constructed of timber, the blaze spread quickly through one of the most densely developed blocks in the town centre. As there was no water supply, it was difficult to control the blaze. There were only volunteer fire brigades to fight the fire and they were poorly funded.

Following the fire, the rebuilding used more stone and brick. However, it was not until 1881 that a Brisbane Fire Brigade Board was established. Its first commander, John Edward Hinton, was appointed in 1882, but it was not until 1889 that the first full-time fireman was appointed.

P.S. I live in Queensland – “beautiful one day, perfect the next” as they say, however stupidity runs very very deep in the sunshine state and the fire is just one example of that chronic knuckle-headedness. More recently we’ve had the police helicopter controversy, and of course DAYLIGHT SAVING which exists in every other state except the one with the most sunshine.