The history of Stanley Street (or Stanley Quay) as it was originally named, began after the survey in 1842 by Henry Wade of the allotments near the area from the present Grey Street Bridge along towards Russell Street. Subsequently, in various years to 1879 Surveyors Warner, Burnett, Galloway, Rawnsley, Sinnott and St. John Wood respectively carried out road and sub-divisional surveys as far as East Boundary Road (Wellington Road) where Stanley Street then terminated.
Stanley Quay was named after Lord Stanley who was Colonial Secretary in Lord Robert Peel's Ministry in England during, the year of Wade's survey in 1842. The original survey did not provide for allotments on the river frontage until some years later.
In the course of time the thoroughfare was greatly extended beyond the riverside area and consequently the term Quay, as applied to it, was considered a misnomer and the name Stanley Street was adopted. However, the two names, Stanley Quay and Stanley Street were shown as the business address of various firms in that thoroughfare in the late 1860's. The name given from the site of the present South Brisbane Municipal Library was Stanley Street East.
The original plan showed Stanley Street as continuing in a straight line from Sidon Street to Vulture Street. At that time the Dock Reserve was of an irregularly shaped triangular block of land, bounded by Stanley Street on the South Brisbane western side. The opportunity was taken in 1873 before the commencement of excavating the South Brisbane Dry Dock began to re-align Stanley Street to intersect Vulture Street about fifty yards in a south easterly direction from the original right angle Vulture Street intersection (near the old South Brisbane Town Hall).
An area of 1 rood 2 perches was converted from the Dry Dock reservation to form part of Stanley Street while on the opposite side of the street the corresponding 1 rood 2 perches was left to remain as part of the original street. It remained as such until 1954 when that area of street was closed and included in the eastern side of Memorial Park, and is identifiable by the low concrete wall.
Stanley Street from Sidon Street to Vulture Street was the frontage of three early day residences built on this elevation and reached by flights of steps from the footpath. The houses were removed when Memorial Park was formed. This original semi-circular street frontage area formed a convenient standing place for the horse drawn cabs and vehicles awaiting the arrival of railway passenger trains from the South Coast (Southport) and Cleveland lines at the Stanley Street Station opposite this spot, until the line was opened to Melbourne Street on 21st December 1891.
In the year 1883, Stanley Street was improved between Vulture Street and Annerley (Boggo) Road when a small bridge opposite the Farmers Arms (Hotel Gloucester) was removed and the street brought out to its full width. The Woolloongabba Divisional Board (the Municipal authority) in 1886 borrowed £10,000 for the widening, and repairs of that portion of Stanley Street from Annerley Road to Merton Road. This area was on the southern boundary of the “Water Reserve for a supply of water to South Brisbane and a camping Reserve for Drays".
It originally consisted of a chain of eight lagoons in the area bounded by Vulture Street, Wellington Road and Stanley Street to Merton Road. The area towards Annerley Road became familiarly known as the One Mile Swamp and a 7 ft deep creek ran across Stanley Street on that spot.
This portion of Stanley Street remained the narrowest part on account of the heavy expenditure in bringing it only to half of its present day width. It remained as such until the mid 1920's when the work of widening, re-aligning the tram tracks, the demolition of the shop buildings on the northern side and the re-building of the entire frontage from Annerley Road corner to Merton Road where stood the Hotel Morrison, took place.
In the year 1886 Stanley Street from Merton Road to Wellington Road had been widened to 99 ft. by converting a strip of land from the Railway Reserve to road purposes.
Stanley Street as previously stated terminated at Wellington Road in the early day road surveys. The 146 acres of land bounded by Wellington Road, Vulture Street East, Kingfisher Creek (since filled in) and Norman Creek had not been sub-divided nor roads built through the area. In December 1881, D. F. Longland's 311 acres between Longland Street and Withington Street was the first sub-division and was followed by Thos. Grenier's 24 acres between Wellington Road and Fisher Street in June 1884.
The next sub-division of the area was in August 1884 when Joseph Darragh's 261 acres were cut into allotments between Withington Street and Edgar Street. However, Stanley Street East as a continuous thoroughfare did not come until Thos. Mowbray's 24 acres between Fisher and Longland Streets were sub-divided, the street formed in August 1885 and the final block of Joseph Darragh sub-divided in October 1885 between Edgar Street and Norman Creek over which Stanley Bridge was eventually built.
Access from that area to Woolloongabba, prior to these land sub-divisions had been by Vulture Street East. The route to Coorparoo, as the destination sign on the horse drawn omnibuses read was “Coorparoo, via Maynard Street" (off Logan Road) until the late 1880's. Burnett Swamp Bridge (Hanlon Park near O'Keefe Street) and the hill cutting near Logan Road (Buranda) Station had not been completed.
Moreover, the building of the Cleveland Railway line which would close Maynard Street was in progress so these factors made the opening of Stanley Street East between Wellington Road and Norman Creek a timely and convenient happening.
Stanley Street South Brisbane has undergone many changes in surface elevation, formation, business activities and traffic importance. The area on which it was originally formed was low lying swampy ground and many sections of its length were submerged every heavy flood. Portions between Glenelg and Ernest Streets (where a creek discharged into the river) and Tribune and Sidon Streets were raised 6 ft. and 4 ft. respectively from material excavated from the South Brisbane Dry Dock in 1876.
The building of the railway line from Ipswich towards Brisbane created a busy flow of traffic from Oxley where until the railway bridge over the river at Indooroopilly was completed, passengers were brought by coach from Oxley to Brisbane via Stanley Street.
Despite the laying of hard Bundamba, road metal, dust was a continuing nuisance, so, in 1877, the system of watering the streets usually twice daily in dry weather was introduced. Stanley Street was one which, owing to its heavy traffic, created the dual problem of accumulating dust in dry weather and seas of mud after heavy rain. At each intersection granite blocks were laid into the street to form a stone crossing 6 ft. wide to enable pedestrians to cross without having their footwear mud-stained to a depth of one or two inches.
Afterwards, heavy rain horse drawn road sweepers with circular hard bristle brushes 6 ft. long and 1½ ft. in diameter diagonally placed and chain propelled from the vehicle wheels, swept the mud from the cambered street surface to the gutters. It was subsequently collected by semi-circular iron cylinder self-tipping carts and dumped in some low lying spot. Stanley Street had its problems alike in dry and wet weather.
It would appear that the reason of this denudation of the street surface alternatively resulting in dust and mud was caused by the action of traffic of those days. Statistics taken by the Woolloongabba Divisional Board in October 1881 in connection with a proposed railway extension between Merton Road and Annerley Road corners resulted as follows:
Horse drawn traffic passing the above named spot on a Wednesday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.: Buggies and Carriages 93; Spring carts and Cabs 532; Drays and Wagons 312; Omnibuses and Coaches 177; Horsemen 283; Grand Total 1,397.
Without unduly labouring the statistical aspect and having regard to the number of horses and iron tyred wheels of the respective vehicles, it can be fairly calculated that the effect on the surface of Stanley Street would be daily 10,500 poundings of horses' iron shoes and iron tyres.
Stanley Street could be rightly considered one of the oldest streets in Brisbane as practically all frontages from Montague Road area to Woolloongabba Fiveways on both sides were sold between 1842 and 1856, three years before Queensland was separated from New South Wales. It is the longest street (3¼ miles) in Brisbane and had the dubious distinction of having the largest number of hotels- seventeen- in its first 2¼ miles.
The hotels were named St. Helens (later St. Helens Private Hospital), Victoria Bridge (later Victoria), Palace, Brisbane Bridge (Manhattan), Royal Mail (Adelaide), King's Hotel (later Russell Family Hotel, then Atlas), Bowen (unlicensed and demolished), Plough Inn, Ship Inn, Farmers Arms (Gloucester), Stanley (later Yorke), Clarence (later Newtown), Duke of Cornwall (later Britannia, then Hotel Morrison), Railway, Woolloongabba, Australian National, and East Brisbane (later Stanley).
The incidence of so many hotels was due to the railway traffic from the South Coast (Southport) and Cleveland lines, the busy shipping and waterside activities and a compact local population in the area. The volume of traffic in Stanley Street doubled from the year 1883 to 1888. It was a busy shopping thoroughfare before 1892 particularly from Victoria Bridge to Vulture Street with well appointed shops of drapers, grocers, ironmongers, banks, offices and light industries.
However, it is a truism that everything fades. Time creates the need and the need brings the change. One of the needs was to bring the railway traffic nearer to the centre of the city (particularly so after the completion of the Cleveland line in 1889). The extensions to Melbourne Street of the lines from Buranda, and Dutton Park were completed and used from 21 December 1891.
Several other retarding factors followed, such as the ravages of the 1893 flood, the diversion of one-way traffic to Grey Street in 1917, the transfer in 1938 to Newstead of overseas shipping activities due to the need for speedier arrivals and departures in the tidal river of Brisbane, the opening of the Story Bridge in 1940 and a consequently large diversion of traffic.
The Captain Cook Bridge from the Domain to Vulture Street, the Riverside Freeway through to northern and western suburbs, the corresponding South east Freeway to southern suburbs, the trans-river railway bridge linking South Brisbane and Roma Street including the interstate rail line, have all played their part in the shifting demography of Stanley Street.
Conversely the redevelopment of Southbank has required feeder roads, of which Stanley Street continues to play an important role. The proliferation of the automobile has pummeled the old street into submission, notwithstanding the gentrification of its shops.
So much then for the story of the old-time sloppy, slushy Stanley Street and the recollections of its distressingly dusty days. Its present first class condition of level bitumen on a dustless street without camber on modern foundations and without stagnant gutters, has been maintained in such condition for well over a half a century.
It is now flown over by a freeway, channeled and fed by exit and ingress lanes, tunneled into bus lanes, contrasts to the age of the buildings remaining along its route. Tribute is due to modern road building methods and it prompts the thought that the sometimes much vaunted “good old days” did not always have good old roads.