Nyrambla is situated on land which was part of some 40 acres sold by Deed of Grant to Frances Edward Roberts in 1856. After further sales and subdivision, around 14 acres were purchased by the Corporation of the Australian Joint Stock Bank in 1885. It was usual for banks to provide residences for their managers, a practice which continued well into the 20th century. Sometimes the bank and residence were incorporated into the same building, for example the A.J.S. banks at Rockhampton (1862-63, James Cowlishaw), Mackay (1879, F.D.G. Stanley, supervised by A. Josling) and Killarney (1890; designed by F.D.G. Stanley and recently removed to the western suburbs of Brisbane). Prominent Brisbane architect, James Cowlishaw was commissioned to design a residence on the Ascot site for Henry Abbott.
James Cowlishaw trained as an architect in Sydney before arriving in Brisbane in 1860. He soon established himself as one of the town’s most successful private architects and was also a land speculator, newspaper director and Conservative MLC in the Queensland parliament. Cowlishaw designed many bank buildings throughout Queensland in addition to many residences, churches and business premises in Brisbane and elsewhere. His obituary described his architectural legacy as “banks and business premises and the better-class residences”.
Postal records show that H.P. Abbott was living in Brisbane by 1868. Prior to the 1880s, his earlier addresses are given as Brunswick St (1874) and “Hazlewood”, South Brisbane (1876). A 1932 article in the Queenslander by F.E. Lord noted that the Abbotts were members of the New South Wales squattocracy and that Nyrambla was named after a station owned by the family of his wife. After retiring from his position at the Australian Joint Stock Bank in the late 1890s, Abbott and his family moved to Sydney where he died in 1903. Abott Street, which dates from at least the 1890s and Henry Street, which appeared some time after the estate of Nyrambla was subdivided in 1905, recall the presence of the family in the area.
In the 1890s, Nyrambla was one of the three large estates which took up much of the land between Windermere Road and Lancaster Road. The other two estates were Windermere and Mayfields. While the 1880s residence of Windermere, once the home of the Appel family, has survived to the present, Mayfield, was destroyed by fire in the 1990s.
By 1900, Nyrambla was being rented from the Australian Joint Stock Bank Ltd. by Patrick Perkins, an Irish brewer and Member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland. Subsequent tenants included Mr T. Herbert Brown and his wife, a daughter of Sir Samuel Griffith.
From 1905, the entire property of Nyrambla was subdivided by the Bank and sold as allotments ranging in size from 16 perches to over 80 perches. An estate map for the sale advertised the land as “Nyrambla Estate, Ascot ….for many years the residence of the late H.P. Abbott …….93 super excellent building blocks and superb residence”.
In 1912, Nyrambla and over 1 acre of the surrounding grounds were purchased by Edward David Miles, of Charters Towers. After his death in 1922, the property was sold to G.W. Whatmore of Centennial Hall Ltd, later Willoughby Trust Ltd. After Whatmore’s death in the late 1920s, Nyrambla was converted to flats by his family and the amount of land around the house was further reduced by subdivision to its present size of around 80 perches. The Brisbane architectural firm of Hall and Prentice was commissioned to oversee the conversion, accepting the tender of builders Cunningham and Jones in July 1929.
Lord gives a lengthy description of the brick, slate roofed house and its grounds, which at that time included two large garages and a two-storied wing at the rear of the house containing maids’ rooms, breakfast room and a kitchen. The house featured several fireplaces, 6 bedrooms, a cedar staircase and verandahs on three sides with ornamental ironwork. A two-storey, brick stable building at the back of the house had been replaced by a new house at the time Lord was writing.
During World War II, the house played an important role in the Allied war effort as it was occupied by the Central Bureau, a group of Allied service personnel who worked on breaking Japanese codes. A plaque on the house was donated by a group of Americans who returned to Nyrambla in 1988 for a wartime reunion and reads:
Central Bureau, an organisation comprising service personnel of Australia, USA, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, both men and women, functioned in this house from 1942 till 1945. From intercepted enemy radio messages, the organisation provided intelligence which made a decisive contribution to the Allied victory in the Pacific.
A second plaque recognises the contribution of “the service given by the men and women of the Royal Australian Corps of Signals at this site during World War II…..They passed this way”.
Title deeds indicate that the property has remained in the possession of descendants of the Whatmore family. It has recently been converted from flats back into a private residence.