Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Duncragan - a house with a big history

A Townsville property that continues to pop up time and again in my research, and in surprising places, is Duncragan.[1] So I thought it was time I wrote something about it, and the many different functions it has fulfilled over the years. Situated in Cleveland Terrace, on Melton Hill, adjacent to the old Supreme Court building, Duncragan was built around 1917 for William Duncan, managing director of Messrs Brand and Dryborough’s Cleveland Foundry.
Duncragan, Melton Hill, Townsville, 1960s.
Photo: University College of Townsville Handbook.
It was described by the Townsville Daily Bulletin at one time as “one of the most commodious residential buildings in Townsville, with a panoramic view unexcelled anywhere, from all points of the compass.” [2]  The home was large and spacious, with four bedrooms plus a maid’s bedroom, a lounge room with a skylight, a large living room, a billiards room and a lookout turret. The house was surrounded on three sides by 12ft-wide verandahs.

Duncragan's floor plan at the time of the State Government's purchase of the house from the Misses Duncan. Note the location of the former turret, indicated lower left-hand corner.
Source: Queensland State Archives.

World War II
According to Peter Dunn’s ozatwar.com website, during World War II Duncragan was “commandeered by the US Army and used as a private residence for at least one US General”. Stories exist about the parties held there in those years, and according to one report, American officers used to dance on the billiard table![3] It was during WWII that the house’s turret was taken down.

Maternal and Child Welfare Home
In November 1949, William Duncan’s daughters – Olive Duncan and Nita Duncan – sold the property to the State Government for £10,000.[4] The government wanted to convert the property for use as a Maternal and Child Welfare Home. It had been canvassing properties in Townsville since the mid-1940s but had not found anything suitable until Duncragan was offered for sale. In June 1950, the government declared the land as a Reserve for Health (Maternal and Child Welfare) Purposes.[5] 1n 1951 the government proceeded to plan alterations and additions to the property that would “add to the efficiency and convenience of the home”.

The work encompassed conversion of the main building to provide an infants’ nursery, a toddlers’ nursery, bedrooms for mothers, sitting and dining rooms, various specialised kitchens, a sun room, a toddlers’ play area, and a trainee lecture room. Outbuildings were converted into modern laundry facilities. Plans also included a new annexe that provided a suite for the Matron, six bedrooms for Sisters, sitting room for the Sisters, a kitchenette and other general amenities.[6] It was important that the facility have a “homelike and bright appearance” as the mothers who would be staying there were not ill. Every care was taken with furnishings and fittings, with most pieces made from silky oak timber - stained walnut - and “all linoleums to be green inlay jasper or marble – not plain brown”.

The overall purpose of the Maternal and Child Welfare Homes were to provide specialised care for infants with an intellectual disability, without removing the child from its mother. But at the same time as planning for the improvements was progressing, the Hospital Board in Townsville requested that Duncragan be made available for the accommodation of nursing staff of the Townsville General Hospital. The need was intended to be temporary, while new Nurses’ Quarters were completed at the hospital.[7]

Nurses Quarters
In February 1954, it was announced that Duncragan would be used as temporary nurses’ quarters.[8] In December, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported on a Christmas function held there.

“Duncragon, the nurses’ quarters at Melton Hill, was the venue for the gaieties… guests including ships’ personnel from the Paringa and Ribera, members of the Surf Life Saving clubs and RAAF. A special guest was Matron E. McCarthy, who wished all the joys of Christmas and New Year. There was dancing until midnight to orchestral music supplied by a trio of nurses and to add to the social enjoyment small tables and chairs were set up for conversation in a garden setting of sloping lawns. Some very special and delicious dainties were submitted for supper which was served buffet-style.”[9]

University students, outside Duncragan, 1960s.
Photo: University College of Townsville Handbook.

University Student Accommodation
In 1961 Duncragan became a hostel for female university students. The North Queensland University Association, through an appeal to the people of North Queensland, established two Halls of Residence in Townsville for male and female students of the University College of Townsville (later James Cook University).[10] Duncragan was used to accommodate 22 women, in “agreeably furnished single and double rooms”. Full board at the Halls of Residence cost £6 per week, and at Duncragan a “simply but adequately furnished common room” with a “very attractive panoramic view” was provided for recreational purposes. [11] 

[1] There seem to be many variations on the spelling of this house – variously Duncragan, Duncraigen, Duncragen, Duncragon.
[2]  Townsville Daily Bulletin, 13 February 1954, p. 2
[3] ‘Melton Hill’s Duncraigan’, ABC North Queensland radio broadcast, 3 August 2010.
[4] Letter to the Public Curator, dated 11 May 1949, which included a contract to sell the property, signed by Olive Duncan on behalf of herself and her sister Nita Duncan. Held by Queensland State Archives; see also Memorandum from Assistant Supervisor of Works to Department of Public Works dated 11 November 1949, held by Queensland State Archives.
[5] Queensland Government Gazette, 24 June 1950, p. 3082.
[6] Memorandum from Acting Chief Architect to Department of Public Works, dated 27 June 1952, held by Queensland State Archives.
[7] Letter from Secretary of Hospitals Board, Townsville to Under Secretary, Department of Health and Home Affairs, dated 20 June 1952, held by Queensland State Archives.
[8] Townsville Daily Bulletin, 13 February 1954, p. 2.
[9] Townsville Daily Bulletin, 27 December 1954, p. 5.
[10] The other property was Stuart House, in Wulguru, which could accommodate 66 men; while Olsen House, in Stagpole Street, West End, was established in 1963 and accommodated 38 men. University College of Townsville Handbook, 1965.
[11] University College of Townsville Handbook, 1965.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Trish, I was one of those female students residing in Duncragan, from 1965 and 1966. After that I went to the University hall. The floods in Townsville prompted me to look up which areas will be flooded, and I googled to see which familiar areas will be affected. And came across your blog! Ad a young student, I had little interest in history, so was fascinated to read about Duncragan. I recognise some faces in that black and white photo! i recall walking up that hill! The uni had a minibus that provided transport to the Pimlico campus. Good luck with your research - please let me know if I can be of any assistance.