The opening of the Hamilton Hotel in 1865 launched not only a destination. The Hamilton also became that reach of the Brisbane River on the way to, near or at the hotel, cleaved from its first European place names of Breakfast Creek and Sea Reach[1]. In the nineteenth century this country hotel gained increasing patronage through promotion of the area’s natural and scenic abundance. The institution served the cultural and practical wants of its patrons and the wider community to much acclaim; its  popularity a well curated mission that has never waned.


While ‘the Hamilton’ has again rapidly transformed at a landscape scale, the history of nineteenth century structures and social networks pertinent to the Hamilton Hotel reveals crucial aspects of a persistent spatial construct (Figure 1). In this, the art history of the Hamilton from the mid 1860s onward illuminates a resilient, aspirational memory guided by the forms and functions du jour.


 Figure 1: Part of J. H. Braddock’s 1863 survey for landowner Jas (James) Sutherland. Subdivisions 1A, 1, 2 and 3 (shading added) of Allotment 9, Portion 2, Parish of Toombul, County of Stanley; the sections upon which the Hamilton narrative developed. Map source: Queensland Land Titles Registry, DNRME, Brisbane


A watercolour of the Hamilton Hotel and grounds (Figure 2) painted 1876 to early 1878, attributed here to William Austin[2], captures this essence of the Hamilton’s spatio-temporal frame. The view of routes, buildings, structures and spaces relevant to the hotel includes the Hamilton Hotel Pavilion.


Figure 2: Part of a watercolour c. late 1876 to early1878, attributed to William Austin. At (L) the two-storey section of the 1876 hotel [3] , horse paddock and freshwater stream (flowing under road to river). On the riverside section (R) the Hamilton Hotel Pavilion with flags, cottage for trainers and jockeys, loose horseboxes (wall) and Hamilton Jetty. A new hotel building opened in 1882 east of the one shown. Image source: 6632, Old Hamilton Hotel Artwork, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Australia.


Through the 1870s, the Hamilton Hotel’s licensee and eventual owner Samuel Brandon Hamilton elevated the hotel’s open space into an art form whose traditions hark back to a Hanoverian philosophy of landscape design. The historical meanings embedded in the pavilion form and the hotel’s riverside allotment were perfect foils for projecting a sense of cultural arrival, something in which Samuel Hamilton was well schooled.


The ideals of accessible spatial culture championed by the Hanoverian Queen Caroline and her architect William Kent through development of the Long Water and the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, have been transformed in the twenty-first century by the Serpentine Pavilion program. There, pavilion design and construction lean into history and modernity for themes, methods and materials: the forms generative, gathering ideas, ideals and people into their orbit.


The art historian Joel Robinson conceptualized the pavilion as “a transient (and often modest) presence in the landscape, one which belies the otherwise weighty ideas or positions about the world embodied or put on display there”[4] so placing morphology on a continuum.


The Hamilton’s first pavilion, between land and water as many floods would prove – a modest structure in the landscape, has returned[5] as part of a geometric progression of elements within familiar boundaries: the natural edges succumbing to the hard trace of landed claims.


In 2019, a new public space at Brett’s Wharf features an array of eight black steel poles supporting a programmable catenary lighting system (Figure 3). Linked verticality and repetition riff along the historical trajectory of driven piles – an ancient methodology and natural pairing to ships’ masts and rigging. In this intertidal zone, the Hamilton Hotel’s first jetty of 1867, modern apartment construction, the early 1900s Cold Stores Export Wharf and a new urban platform – all emerged from a construction methodology writ large on the landscape.


Figure 3: The Brett’s Wharf Plaza to (R) of The Hamilton Hotel with catenary lighting system supported by eight poles (‘pavilion’); shade shelters (‘summerhouses’), Portside Cruising Wharf in distance and Brett’s Wharf Citycat jetty far right. The large blue sculptures in middle of image by artist Kenji Uranishi. Photo: Megan Cotterell 24112019.


The etymology of pavilion animates the latest edition. In its bones we might discern the campaign tent undulating in the breeze, pennants aloft, an elemental building. The current act brings into play ephemerality otherwise only alluded to by day in its solid shapes. That would turn us toward November 1874 as – under pipe band, No. 3 Company of the Queensland Volunteer Brigade approached the new pavilion decorated with flags and lit with lanterns for the occasion. After the usual formalities they sat down to supper,[6] one of many events hosted in Samuel Hamilton’s pavilion. In it, a microcosm of Brisbane’s nineteenth social life unfolded, a sheltered place to view river regattas, to promenade; a venue for balls, civic meetings, bands playing, gustatory celebrations; and, with another nod to the future, roller-skating.[7]


The Hamilton long view, separated from its antecedent by over 150 years reiterates its perspectival alignment. The purpose of the spaces and forms; indeed the very cloud formations of summer are today virtually unchanged.[8] The return of our riverside open space presents a timely moment to raise a glass to Samuel and his wife Annie Hamilton for their enduring contribution to ‘the Hamilton’.


Megan Cotterell is a Hamilton based cultural anthropologist and historical archaeologist. Her research into Hamilton’s cultural roots and identity is an ongoing, long term project.

[1] John Oxley (re) named this already occupied Country in his 1823 survey, published 1825 as Plan of the River Brisbane by John Murray, Albermarle Street, London.
[2] My research has considered other works by William Austin and his contemporaries and has concluded his likely involvement in all or part of this painting. He and Samuel Hamilton were well known to each other, the latter owning paintings by the former.
[3] 1876 ‘The Hamilton Hotel and Sports Ground’ The Week, 14 October, p. 19. Brisbane, Qld.
[4] Robinson, Joel (2014) Introducing Pavilions: Big Worlds Under Little Tents. Open Arts Journal Issue 2 Winter 2013-2014.
[5] The conceptual origins of the 2019 form are not publicly described. This research draws the association between forms.
[6] 1874 ‘THE VOLUNTEERS.’ The Telegraph, 16 November, p.3. Brisbane, Qld.
[7] 1877 Classified Advertising The Brisbane Courier, 23 June, p1. Brisbane, Qld.
[8] In no way should this narrative be read to minimise Indigenous occupation of Country; explored in other aspects of this research which here looks specifically at the projection of the European mindset onto the land.


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