Uncover the History Behind the Extravagant Palma Rosa in Hamilton

Photo credit: Briony Masters/Queensland Heritage Register

One of the most prestigious homes in Hamilton, Palma Rosa has been a landmark property in the suburbs for over 130 years now.

Located at 9 Queens Road, Hamilton, the heritage-listed home had several uses over the years. From being a private residence, the grand home has also been a social hub for race days, a private hospital, a United States military headquarters, and an art gallery plus club rooms for the English Speaking Union.

History of Palma Rosa

Back view of Palma Rosa, at Hamilton, built by Andrea Stombuco Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative number: 92286

Built in 1886-1887, Palma Rosa is one of the most flamboyant residential designs by prominent Brisbane architect Andrea Stombuco.  

Stombuco used to be involved in various business enterprises such as stone quarrying at Capetown in South Africa, before emigrating to Victoria in 1851. After trying his luck on the goldfields, he established himself in Victoria as a sculptor, monumental mason, builder and architect, and found a patron in the Roman Catholic Church.

Stombuco’s Works

Drawing of a house by the architect, Stombuco. Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative number: 201423

His works included a number of Catholic churches in Victoria and most of the stonework of Ballarat Cathedral. In 1869 he was officially appointed as Catholic Diocesan Architect for Goulburn in New South Wales.

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In 1875, Stombuco moved to Queensland on the advice of Rev. Patrick Dunne of Goulburn. By then, he received a number of important architectural commissions from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brisbane, James O’Quinn.

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His works in Queensland included St Joseph’s Christian Brothers’ College on Gregory Terrace, St Mary’s Presbytery at Ipswich, St Francis Xavier Church at Goodna, part of All Hallows at Petrie Bight, and St Patrick’s Church at Fortitude Valley.

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He also designed St Joseph’s Christian Brother’s College at Nudgee, working alongside his eldest son, Giovanni Stombuco, whom he took into partnership in 1886. His other prominent non-Catholic works include St Andrew’s Anglican Church at South Brisbane and Her Majesty’s Opera House in Queen Street.

When it comes to houses, Stombuco also designed several large houses in Brisbane. These include the Friedenthal at Eagle Farm for WH Heckelman and Rhyndarra at Yeronga for W Williams.

Sans Souci

Photo credit: Shiftchange/Wikimedia Commons

Stombuco obtained title to the Hamilton site in 1886. At that time, the property comprised 3 roods 19.2 perches. He designed the home 1886 which was constructed in 1886-87 by Brisbane contractors JAM O’Keeffe, A Petrie (who supplied the stone) and J Watson (presumably of the plumbing firm Watson Brothers), and builders Bell & McLaughlan.

Stombuco originally named Palma Rosa as Sans Souci which means ‘without care’. It is, however, unclear if he built the home as a speculative venture or whether it was intended to be a family home.

If the family occupied the house at all, it was for a brief time since during the 1890s, when Queensland’s boom economy crashed, Stombuco left Queensland for Perth. His wife and son remained in Queensland, but Stombuco never returned and died in Perth in 1907.

Palma Rosa’s Different Uses

Portrait of Sir Arthur Palmer. Photo credit: Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 3065

When Stombuco left Queensland in 1890, the house which was then known as Palmerosa became a rental property. Prominent  Brisbane jeweller Lewis Flegeltaub briefly occupied the residence until 1891.

One of the longest occupants of the home was Arthur Cecil Hunter Palmer. He was a civil engineer and the second son of Sir Arthur Hunter Palmer. Together with his wife, they lived in Palmarosa from c1904 to c1934.

The Palmers were famous in Brisbane society for their race-day verandah parties at Palmarosa. Overlooking the Albion Park Racecourse, ‘bookies’ were said to have visited the house to take bets.

During the Second World War, the house was occupied by United States military personnel from 1942 to c1945.

In 1951 the residence was converted to a boarding house. Then, in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the place was converted to a private convalescence hospital. It was at this time that the name Palma Rosa was being spelt as two words.

Palma Rosa Now

Photo credit: Google Street View

The last organisation to use the house was the Queensland branch of the English Speaking Union (ESU). ESU Queensland acquired Palma Rosa in 1972 and used it as club rooms and art gallery.

In 2010, Palma Rosa was sold for $3,715,000 despite protests from the former members of the union. To date, the house once again functions as a private residence.