The original dwelling at Jimbour was a primitive hut built by Henry Dennis. Later a residence was built by Richard Scougall.
It was a wooden slab house which was burnt down in 1867. After the fire the Bells built a new residence in stone. This was a two-storey building, built principally of blue stone and cedar. It was finished in 1870 and was occupied by the family until the present Jimbour House was completed. The lower storey of this original blue stone house still stands at the back of the main House and now serves as staff quarters.
The work of building the present Jimbour House, a lofty and handsome sandstone mansion of two stories, was started late in 1874.
Although no conclusive evidence in the form of plans now remains, it seems likely that the architect was Richard Suter, of the firm of Suter and Voysey. He was a prominent architect of his day, having designed major buildings on the Darling Downs including Talgai and (possibly) Glengallan, as well as extensions for the Queensland Club of which Joshua Peter Bell served as President.
The principal building contractor (who assisted with the design work) was Joseph de Warren.
Building proceeded under the general direction of Harry Ensor, the superintendent of the property, who supervised the whole of the building operations from start to finish.
The cedar was obtained from the Bunya Mountains and brought down to Cattle Creek where it was sawn, dressed and worked up as it now appears in the building. Other timbers used in the building were spotted gum, blue gum, ironbark, bunya, cypress, hoop pine, and some satin wood.
The stone and sand were procured from Bunjinnie, about six miles from Jimbour House. The lime was all burnt from limestone on the property within a mile of the site. The slates for the roof were imported from Ireland.
The building operations, which lasted about two years, were all done by day labour and the best tradesmen procurable were engaged on the work. There were about ten stonemasons, nine carpenters and sufficient labourers to keep the skilled workmen occupied.The total number of men employed in quarrying, timber getting, carting and handling other raw materials was about 200.
In 1877 Joshua Peter and his family took up residence in the new house, which had taken two years to build.
The cost of the building was about £30,000 – a significant sum when it is realised that the skilled tradesmen were paid only £3 /10 per week, the labourers £1, and the hours of work were from daylight until dark.
The furniture was largely constructed on the property out of the good quality cedar then obtainable in the Bunya Mountains.
Jimbour was modern in its day and the designers strove for comfort and convenience. Gas and water were laid on. The gas was generated from coal won from a mine on the property and water was pumped to the top of a forty foot tower by the first windmill erected in Queensland.
There was quite a little town at the station homestead – a church, school, butcher, blacksmith, a general store, men’s quarters and housing for married employees. In the old days 200 people lived and worked on the property, with 45 shepherds tending 300,000 sheep.
Most of these buildings were taken away or demolished after the resumption of Jimbour by the Crown in 1907-11. From that time, with the coming of the railway, the village was moved to its present location 2 km from the House and movable buildings were acquired by some of the new settlers on lands formerly part of the property.
Three of these buildings still remain and are in use today: the Station Store, the Chapel and the Water Tower. The Bell Family Monument also remains.
There were originally 24 rooms in the house. The area of the floor space in the building is approximately 23,000 square metres.
It is not known whether it was intended to extend the building scheme to include kitchen and staff quarters. Plans of the building, if still in existence, cannot be found.
Kitchen and staff facilities were made available in the old bluestone house which had constituted the second original homestead, with a covered way for communication between the two buildings.
The house is designed on a lavish scale. The rooms are spacious and the ceilings high. Those in the main rooms were richly decorated by heavy cornices and there were elaborate gas chandeliers.
A characteristic feature of some of the rooms is a curved portion which opens by French lights on to the balcony or verandah as the case may be.
A restricted veranda, which runs practically the whole length of the building in front, is a feature of the architecture. Lofty stone pillars in the colonial style form a picturesque colonade and wide, semi-circular stone steps lead down to the garden.
On the other side all the rooms open on to long, wide corridors, which run the full length of the building, both upstairs and downstairs. In the middle of each corridor is a fireplace and there is a fireplace in nearly every room.
Most of the mantel pieces over the fireplaces are in cedar but, in the main rooms, there are somewhat more elaborate ones made from white sandstone. All visible woodwork, other than the floors, is of cedar.
In the so-called ‘Blue Room’ there are two drawings.
W. A. Russell purchased Jimbour House and the surrounding property from Charles Whippell in 1923, and decided to renovate the mansion which had been neglected for so long.
At that time the previous owners had been living in a few of the downstairs rooms. A partition had been erected in the main entrance hall, cutting off the upstairs completely.
The slate roof was in bad repair and leaked in many places during wet weather. As a result, most of the ceilings both upstairs and down had either fallen in or were in a dangerous condition.
Many of the upstairs windows were broken, and no attempt had been made to keep them in repair. Birds roosted in the upstairs rooms. The task of renovating the building was a difficult and expensive one. The whole house had fallen into a very bad state of repair and looked like settling down to slow decay and ignoble dissolution, as had happened to many of the old homesteads in the settlement area.
The sight presented to the casual visitor was sad and depressing in the extreme. The garden, which had once been the pride of the countryside, had become a wilderness of rank growth.
Skilled tradesmen were retained to work on the renovation. A new kitchen was built. The ruined original homestead at the rear of the House was reconstructed and the top storey taken off.
Suitable furniture, in keeping with the architecture of the building, again filled the rooms and the gardens were redesigned.
The initial renovation took twelve months to complete, after which it was decided to have a formal re-opening of the House in November, 1925.
The work done between 1923 and 1925 was not intended to be a final restoration of the House. Rather, it served to make the building habitable and provide a basis for more detailed work as time passed.
One of the difficulties confronting Wilfred and Millicent Russell was that they had none of the original plans, and little information as to how the various areas of the House had actually been used in the short time that Sir Joshua Peter Bell had been alive and lived there with his family.
Within the House, the next stage of restoration had to await the arrival of Hilary Russell in 1944. Many of the French Window panes were covered with film which obstructed the entry of light. The polish on the cedar had turned black, obscuring the cedar beneath it. The floors were unpolished in in some cases stained black. And ceilings had been replaced by plaster board or covered with wooden battens. In addition, some areas (including the original family quarters of the Bell family) were partitioned to provide staff accommodation.
These defects were remedied on a room by room basis. It has been possible to acquire some of the original furniture (including the over-mantel mirrors in the main room). In addition, new technology has enabled walls to be stripped of wall paper, and improved lighting.
The final major restoration project was the restoration of the Northern façade of the House, in conjunction with the construction of the Northern garden, which was awarded a commendation by the Australian Institute of Architects Architect John Walsh described the work in the following terms:
In 1923 David’s grandfather purchased the derelict house and began a program of restoration. At this time a brick kitchen block was added to the northern side of the house and over time the original open verandah was enclosed and a mixture of exposed services, air conditioning, heating, water and electrical, were also added. Deborah and David’s brief was to remove all the unsympathetic additions, restore and renew the northern verandah, construct a new kitchen block and upgrade various services both within and around the house.
Deborah’s ability to make key decisions, her aesthetic eye and understanding of architecture quickly enabled us to formulate the brief and move the project forward. Working with garden designer Darryl Mappin, Deborah at the same time worked up the garden design and plant species to in every way enhance and complement the architecture.
Master planning for the precinct involved the location of the new kitchen block immediately to the east of the existing Bluestone staff quarters. This new kitchen block was designed with similar forms and aesthetics to complement the existing building. A new covered way, replicating the original demolished when the brick kitchen was added in 1925, connects the new kitchen block with Jimbour. The new covered way is located such that a new northern courtyard is created allowing for the reopened north verandah to provide both an attractive prospect from, and aspect to, the house. Architecturally the new covered way is based on the southern garden arbours.
The restoration of the two storey timber northern verandah was the most challenging aspect of the project. We were aided by heritage consultant Ivan McDonald. In accordance with Burra Charter principles and utilising knowledge of typical historic construction details, historic photographs, examination of remnant work and examination of the “shadows” of removed work detailed measured drawings of the original verandah were created. Much of the existing fabric and structure remained but was covered or had been removed and stored elsewhere on the property. Where necessary new materials were installed utilising the same species and profile as the existing. The 19th century period colour scheme is based on paint scrapings and tonal comparisons from historic photographs.
The slate roof to the house and verandah were repaired and replaced. The repairs were carried out using slate from the same geological layer as the original Welsh Penrhyn slates and installed using traditional slating tools and techniques. Generally, roof slates were replaced on an individual basis although one area of severely-deteriorated roofing above the northern verandah was re-laid with new slate. The reopening of the verandah allows both levels of the house to cross ventilate while the addition of clear roll up plastic blinds protects from winds and creates a winter sun trap. The four historic brick-lined in ground water tanks located in the northern courtyard now hold water from the Bluestone building roof for garden purposes. All roof water from Jimbour and the new kitchen block is captured in a 95,000L water tank adjacent to the house. A solar hot water system provides hot water to Jimbour and the new kitchen.
All significant works at Jimbour are designed in accordance with the overall conservation plan prepared by Allom Lovell Architects in 2001 and updated by Ivan McDonald as works proceed.
• Jimbour Master Plan 2004 PDF
• Station Store 2004 PDF
• Summer House 2011 PDF