Electricity in Brisbane 1882 – 1888
The number of towns in all the States of Australia generating electricity around the 1888’s, was increasing rapidly and Brisbane was no exception.
Before Electricity was being used by the DC generator the telegraph and telephone were established by this, to cater for communication using the electric battery. The arc lights were mainly used for street lighting, as they were a heavy drain on the battery supply.
Then came the practical use of the generator, which could give ample supply of electricity to use these arc lights. Also the storage battery came into its own, to store up the electricity in conjunction with the DC generator.
It had reached the stage, that it was time to show the public, what this “electricity” could do. So the opportunity was taken on 9th December 1882, to introduce electricity to Brisbane by having a demonstration of using eight arc lights, erected along Queen Street. The power to supply these arc lights was taken from a 10 hp Crompton DC generator driven by a Robey steam engine in a small foundry in Adelaide Street and occupied by J. W. Sutton & Co. The lamps were erected on cast iron standards, 20 ft in height.
After the first sensation of surprise was over, numbers of people stood in groups at the foot of the lamp posts, apparently enjoying the beautiful light. The high expectations formed by those who had only read of the electric light were being fully met.
During the demonstration, something appeared to go wrong. To those who watched closely, there was apparently a very sensitive variation in the intensity of the light. This was owing to the fact that the belt which drives the governor of the steam engine broke early in the evening and the engine had to be run during the remainder of the time without the aid of the governor.
It was this demonstration that gave Brisbane in Queensland Australia the first recorded use of electricity for public purposes. This was followed by the installation of lighting at the Government Printing Office in George Street in April of the following year 1883.
This was only one year after the first demonstration of electricity in England in 1882 which shows that Queensland was well up to date in the use of electricity.
The lighting consisted of fifty Edison type incandescent lamps and were supplied with power from an 8.5 hp Crompton DC generator, driven by a steam engine, which also was used to drive the printing machinery. They also had batteries to work in conjunction with the generator.
Apart from the demonstration of arc lights in Queen Street, the installation of lighting in the Government Printing Office, was the first practical use of electricity in Queensland.
In May 1884, the Brisbane Courier Newspaper had their own private plant but before this they received a supply from J. W. Sutton’s “Foundry” in Foundry Lane, later called Isles Lane.
The power was from a 10 hp Crompton DC generator.
It was recorded that in 1886 the Roma Street Railway Yards had arc lights installed. There was no mention of where the supply came from although the Countess Street power house was built near by, but this power house was not built until 1897.
The next building of note is the Parliament House. Surprisingly enough, it received its electric supply from the Government Printing Office in 1886. This was done by an Edison 3 core 200/100 volt DC supply underground cable, laid along William Street from the Printing Office, thus giving Queensland the distinction of having the first Parliament House in Australia to have an electricity supply.
Mr. E. C. Barton who was the Queensland Government electrical engineer, supervised the laying of this cable. He came from England in 1882 to do this and also completed the lighting at Parliament House.
Soon after this, Mr. E. C. Barton formed a Company with Mr. C. F. White as Barton & White Co. in 1887. Mr. White had an electrical business in Creek Street previous to this. A year later in June 1888 they built a power house in a building in Edison Lane at the back of the General Post Office – Queen Street. The building comprised four storeys, with the engine room in the cellar, boiler room, ground floor, and the other three floors, as workshop, store and office. The plant consisted of a traction type boiler and a Marshall engine. The generating unit was a Crompton dynamo supplying direct current at 100 volts and 30 kW capacity. The overhead mains were distributed from the top of the power house and over the roof tops, along Queen Street and other streets with frequent complaints of damage to roofs.
The GPO being adjacent to the power house was the first consumer in Australia to be supplied with electricity making the firm of Barton and White the first Electricity Supply Undertaking in Australia.
The GPO had arc lights installed, although at this time incandescent lights had not long been invented.
Soon afterwards, Barton & White’s clientele was increased by several nearby shops and up to 1893, had 91 consumers.
Also in 1888 a small generating plant was installed at the old Exhibition prior to the fire on 13th June. This engine and dynamo were used by Messrs Skinners from a skating rink there, but after the fire, was bought by Barton and White for their power house.