A Look Back at the History of the Queensport Aquarium in Hemmant

Did you know that during its heyday in the late 19th century, the Queensport Aquarium in Hemmant was well known for having electric lighting, the finest collection of marine creatures, reptiles, birds and other animals, and a near-disastrous but ultimately successful hot-air balloon exhibition ride?

The Queensport Aquarium holds a significant place in Brisbane’s history. Dating back to the late 19th century, the first amusement park located in Hemmant was originally established to transport visitors to a world of maritime adventure and discovery. 

The park, which opened in August 1889, featured various attractions, including a seafront promenade, marine exhibits, and live performances, all of which brought the ambience of the Victorian era. The Queensport Aquarium, which closed in 1901, boasted the finest collection of marine creatures, reptiles, birds and other animals. 

Queensport Aquarium
Photo Credit: National Library of Australia

But the Queensland Aquarium offered more than just animal exhibits. The grand concert hall hosted shows during the weekends, featuring an organ that delighted guests. The Aquarium Band serenaded by the best singers in Brisbane, added to the entertainment. The park’s popularity led to the subdivision and sale of land nearby, known as “The Queensport Aquarium Estate.”

Queensport Aquarium Estate Hemmant
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

Visitors to the Aquarium arrived by steamer from the city centre, enjoying a package deal that included the return fare on ships like the Natone, the Woolwich, or the Alice. Moonlit excursions to dances in the concert hall became popular activities.

The Queensland Aquarium boasted modern conveniences, including electric light, which was connected in September 1889. During the day, the park offered various activities. Sports days celebrated the New Year, whilst picnics took place on Foundation Day, which was on January 26. 

In May 1891, an extraordinary sight delighted the crowd—a hot air balloon. Professor Fernandez, an experienced aeronaut, made his first balloon ascent in the colony. Though the balloon initially deflated and seemed in danger of sinking into the river, it rose again and landed safely, thrilling the onlookers.

Despite a significant flood in 1890 that affected the wharf in the city, the Queensport Aquarium remained relatively unaffected. However, a more devastating flood occurred on February 5 and 6, 1893, which caused severe damage. 

Queensport Aquarium Flood
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

The flood tore down fences, leading to the escape of many animals, and ruined the meticulously landscaped gardens. Following this incident, J.D. Campbell and the Aquarium Company advertised the sale of the steamers. Although the picnics and parties were still well-attended, the once vibrant theme park gradually faded from the tourism spotlight at the close of the century. 

Today, the land where the aquarium used to be now partly encompasses the Queensland Rocks Park in Murarrie, near the Gateway Bridge.

Published 23-May-2023