Testimonial for Henry O'Reilly from Queensland Governor George Bowen.

Testimonial for Henry O'Reilly from Queensland Governor George Bowen. Photo: Tony Moore

Brisbane risks "wantonly and carelessly rubbing out" part out of its history as an emerging steamship port, a descendant of steamship captain, Henry O'Reilly has warned.

Or, it could protect it - as part of a future development that respects Margaret Street's place as an "industrial hothouse" in the early, early days of Brisbane.

Robby O'Reilly Nason's great great grandfather is Captain Henry O'Reilly, "The Captain", who in 1864 established the Brisbane businesses whose Margaret St remnants now face demolition.

Cobbled laneway in Margaret Street precinct.

Cobbled laneway in Margaret Street precinct. Photo: Tony Moore

She is now asking Brisbane to protect the three Margaret St buildings; O'Reilly's Bonded Stores, Hotpoint House and Free Stores building, linked to her family.

Her great, great grandfather first came to Brisbane from Ireland, via Sydney, in 1860.

"It just seems to me to be tragic to obliterate our history," she said.

Henry O'Reilly's descendent Robin Nasen outside O'Reilly's Bonded Stores in Margaret Street.

Henry O'Reilly's descendent Robin Nasen outside O'Reilly's Bonded Stores in Margaret Street. Photo: Tony Moore

"The buildings are not great architectural pieces - they are not - but they are part of an early working life of a city, which was then a town.

"And they are a reminder to us of where we came from and how we now live in this now wonderful city."

"It seems to me to be a case where we could carelessly rub out our history."

"It's wanton. And a disservice to those who come after us."

On April 16, Queensland's Heritage Council must decide whether to add the three buildings to Queensland's Heritage Register, preventing them from demolition.

Heritage Register listing

To be added, they must satisfy "one or more" of these seven characteristics:

Are the buildings part of an area that is part of the evolution in Brisbane's history? Do they highlight anything unusual? Could it yield information about Queensland's history? Do they represent the work of a prominent person? Is it creative? Does it represent a religious aspect of Queensland? Or does it have an aesthetic appeal?

Their limited aesthetic appeal comes mainly from their role in the Margaret Street streetscape.

However they can be viewed as part of an evolution in Brisbane's history.

This part of early Brisbane was called Frog's Hollow - a colourful, swampy red light district (from the 1830s to the 1880s), that evolved as Brisbane's main warehousing and light industrial area, linked to the city's growth as a trading port.

Robby Nason and her family still refers to Henry O'Reilly as "The Captain".

Was Captain O'Reilly prominent?

As his business grew, so did Captain O'Reilly's place in the city's social networks.

In 1864, he received - along with others from 35 bankers, merchants, politicians and solicitors - a testimonial from Queensland's Governor George Bowen.

"I have now known you for five years, and have had many opportunities of observing your conduct, both as the popular and successful Commander of the steamer 'Telegraph' between Sydney and Brisbane, and afterwards as Agent for this city for the Australasian Steam Navigation Company," Governor Bowen writes in 1864.

"I have much pleasure in bearing my testimony to the social position which you hold here, and to your high character for ability in your profession and for your gentleman-like conduct."

"The Captain" and his wife Mary rented the famous Bowen Hills home, "Montpelier", when they first moved to Brisbane around 1860.

The hill - which many Brisbane-ites call Cloudland Hill - became known as "O'Reilly's Hill", Robby Nason said.

"The family story is that from this house you used to be able to look down the river," she said.

"And on the verandah of this house was a marble-toppped table - which now is in my brother's house - on which Mary would always put a lamp.

"So as the Captain steamed up the river at night, he would look up on to the hill, see the light and know where his home was."

"And it was known as O'Reilly's Hill."

By 1868, Captain Henry O'Reilly and his family shifted to another grand home, 'Toonarbin', on Dornoch Terrace at Highgate Hill.

O'Reilly had Brisbane architect Benjamin Backhouse design and bulid 'Toonarbin'.

"It cost him 200 pounds and it came with five acres of land, down towards the Brisbane River," Robby Nason said.

He was an amateur astronomer and on Toonarbin's grounds was 'O'Reilly's Observatory', bought after his 1877 death by the Queensland Government for 225 pounds.

Robby Nason has only recently been inside 'Toonarbin' herself, after a private couple bought the home in 2007 and renovated it, after the building had been vacant for 12 years.

"My mother (Sheelagh O'Reilly) and her siblings used to go there as a child, maybe up until she was married."

"But the family business went to the wall during the depression and old Toonarbin was sold at that time to the Catholic Church."

The Catholic Church's Sister of Mercy modified the building - adding the exterior brickwork - and ran it as a convent from the late 1920s until the late 1990s.

Submissions to the Heritage Council can be received until March 14.