Nehemiah Bartley: Who was the Man Who Owned ‘Bartley’s Folly’ in Hamilton?

Did you know that an elegant house once stood at the highest point of Bartley’s Hill Reserve? Bartley’s Folly was constructed in 1860 for Nehemiah Bartley, a merchant and author, as a gift to his wife, Sarah Sophia Barton who sadly, refused to live there.

Oliver Jonker

After arriving in Brisbane, Nehemiah Bartley wanted his family to live at the highest point of Hamilton so they could enjoy unrivaled views of the area. He had Bartley’s Hill built. However, his wife Sarah could not love the place as it was isolated from people and surrounded by dense bushland. She feared they would be attacked by Aboriginals so she refused to live in it.

Thus, the home was nicknamed Bartley’s Folly, and the name stuck even after Mr Bartley sold the property. Mr Bartley highly objected to the term “folly” as he felt it stressed his misjudgements. However, as he expressed in a piece of news daily in 1879, he actually made a £400 profit on the sale of the property. 

Bartley's Folly
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland
Bartley's Folly Misnomer

Who was Nehemiah Bartley? 

Nehemiah Bartley was born in 1830 in New Cross, London, and was raised by an aunt as he lost both his parents as a young boy. In 1849, he sailed to Tasmania and settled in Hobart, where he became a gold trader. 

Mr Bartley then lived in New South Wales from 1851 to 1853, as he wanted to gain experience on a sheep station. He also worked in a bakery, a store, and as a teller in the Bank of New South Wales in Sydney.

Nehemiah Bartley
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Nehemiah Bartley
Photo Credit: University of Queensland Library

He moved to Queensland in 1854 because he loved its outdoor life and called Brisbane the “prettiest country town.” Mr Bartley had a very active life in Queensland and traveled the area extensively.  

In 1858, he married Ms Barton, a stockbroker’s daughter and the sister of the first Prime Minister of Australia, Edmund Barton. The couple had two sons and three daughters. 

In his travels, Mr Bartley collected enough materials to write a book, “Opals and Agates,” which provided the backgrounds and stories of the people he met and the events he witnessed. 

Nehemiah Bartley book
Photo Credit: University of Queensland Library

Mr Bartley was preparing another book, “Australian Pioneers and Reminiscences,” when he died so suddenly. He was living in Sydney at that time. According to his obituary, he suffered internal pain in his stomach which he blamed on a scone but the cause of his death was heart failure. He died in his home in Domain, now part of Sydney’s central business district.

Mr Bartley’s other book was published posthumously. 

Nehemiah Bartley Obituary
Photo Credit: National Library of Australia

What happened to Bartley’s Folly?

In 1920, Bartley’s Folly was demolished to make way for a water reservoir to improve the water supply in the area as the population of North Brisbane expanded. The Brisbane Board of Waterworks bought the property. 

Bartley's Folly
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

With the formation of the very first Brisbane City Council in 1925, considerations were raised to acquire Bartley’s Hill to maintain its natural beauty.   

During World War II, it’s believed that the reservoir was converted into a temporary wartime shelter given its proximity to the encampments at the racecourse. 

Today, Bartley’s Hill is a heritage-listed site.