The site was part of more than 46 acres (18.6 ha) owned by Graham Lloyd Hart and subdivided from 1888 as the City View Estate with allotments of one to two acres facing north from “Swan’s Road”. By 1895, the land was offered again for sale as residential lots in the Taringa Park Estate. Dr Orr purchased three and a half allotments on Swann Road (then known as Swan or Swan’s Road) in 1897. Within a few months, titles were transferred to his wife, Henrietta. In 1911, four additional allotments behind Rothley, in Hill and Victoria Streets, were purchased by Henrietta Orr.
At this time, Taringa was emerging from its farming past and developing as a semi-rural Brisbane suburb. The arrival of the train line from Ipswich in 1875 and the opening of Taringa Station (initially named West Milton) made the elevated ridges of the district a popular choice for businessmen and professionals wishing to commute to the city. Early residents of note included Thomas Morrow, who established the Morrows Biscuit Factory and George Marchant, a temperance champion and philanthropist.
Dr Orr obtained his medical qualifications in Dublin in the late 1880s before immigrating to Queensland where he married Henrietta Bird in 1894. He later became the Assistant Surgeon for the Department of Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat surgery at the Brisbane General Hospital
Dr Orr commissioned the prominent firm of Hall and Dods to design his new home on Swann Road which was named ‘Rothley’. Construction cost £985 – which was a very expensive house for the time. The brick construction and terracotta roof added considerably to the building’s cost and this was probably a factor in the choice of timber of many of the firm’s other clients. Of more than 20 surviving houses designed and built by Dods in Brisbane, this is one of the few remaining of brick construction. However, two of his other early houses, ‘Lyndhurst’ (1896), London Road, Clayfield and ‘Wairuna’ (1896-98), at Highgate Hill featured some brick elements.
Robert Smith (‘Robin’) Dods and Francis Richard Hall formed their architectural partnership in 1896 after jointly winning the design competition for the new nurses’ home at the Brisbane General Hospital. Dods, thought to be the principal designer of the partnership, studied and worked in Edinburgh and London during the 1880s and 1890s where he was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement which emphasised a respect for craftsmanship and designing to suit local conditions.
Dods became particularly known for his reinterpretation of the Queensland vernacular home. His designs emphasised simplicity of detail, fine proportions and a dominant roof. His houses were designed for the climate, to allow maximum cross ventilation for the humid Brisbane climate and often featured large, occupiable verandah spaces he called ‘piazzas’ with the best climatic orientation and vertical timber louvres to provide operable enclosure. The houses were predominantly lowset to create a more immediate relationship with the landscape and had non-traditional layouts that sometimes relied entirely on verandahs for circulation. The principal rooms were connected by large doors and the house featured timber joinery extensively and artistically. Often, the houses have a service wing that is commodious and well-designed, an unusual consideration for the time, with spacious and practical kitchens, bathrooms and laundries. These elements were to have a lasting impact on domestic design in Brisbane and elsewhere in Queensland. The interwar period saw a trend towards more asymmetrical housing designs and a preference for bungalows with a closer relationship to the ground and the use of constrasting colours and materials.
Rothley has all these elements and strongly bears Dods’ signature. When built, Rothley featured a pedimented entry hall and vertical timber louvres to protect the verandah’s piazza on the western side of the house. One of the large, front rooms has an unusual corner fireplace with a three tiered, timber mantelpiece. An attached service wing was built at the rear of the house containing the kitchen, pantries, laundry and servant’s room. In 1911, four additional allotments behind Rothley in Hill and Victoria Streets were purchased in the name of Henrietta Orr.
The Orrs sold Rothley in 1920 and their advertisement in the Brisbane Courier on 6 January 1920 described the house as “a handsome brick residence with tiled roof and 2 acres” situated on “a splendid high position on the apex of a ridge, directly opposite the residence of George Marchant Esq”. It went on to mention the house’s hall, generous verandahs, gas and hot water, bush house and “splendid gardens”.
Building cards and development approvals show that Rothley has had alterations since its construction. A shed was approved in 1954 and alterations to the dwelling approved in 1979. A development approval in 2015 included modifications to the dormer windows and the first floor layout, changes to the enclosed verandah and a new pavilion extension to the rear.
In 2016, Rothley remains a large private residence and is an early, rare and substantially intact example of Dods’ domestic work. It remains on the same lot as that purchased by Dr Orr in 1897.