Woodlands of Marburg – 174 Seminary Road, Marburg

This grand, two-storey rendered brick residence with its wide, ornate verandahs was constructed between 1889 and 1891 for saw-miller and sugar cane grower Thomas Lorimer Smith, his wife Mary and their family of 11 children. Surrounded by landscaped grounds that include stately trees and an olive grove, Woodlands was designed by Ipswich architect George Brockwell Gill.

Born in England in 1852, first owner Thomas Lorimer Smith joined his father in a milling partnership that provided sawn timber from the Rosewood scrub area to Ipswich and Brisbane timber yards. In 1881 Thomas Smith married Mary Stuart and, following the death of his father and the general depletion of timber stocks in the area, diversified into growing and processing sugar cane.

Thomas Smith commissioned the design of this hilltop residence in 1888. Its architectural features, such as the imposing tower, mark it as the work of newly arrived, London-trained George Brockwell Gill, at the time an employee of Ipswich architect Samuel Shenton. Gill’s design featured eight family bedrooms, eight fireplaces and allowed for two bedrooms for servants. Sandstone for the foundation cellar was quarried locally. The bricks were made in nearby Marburg. Red cedar trees felled on land owned by Smith at Wivenhoe was used to create the rich interiors of the sitting and dining rooms.

From his lookout tower, Thomas Lorimer Smith could survey an estate which at various times included farms, a sugar mill and tramway, rum distillery, saw-mill, dairy herd, vineyard, landscaped garden and orchards of fruit trees and olives. Following the late nineteenth century financial downturn and a severe drought, in 1905 the Woodlands Estate was put to auction. Thomas Smith retained the residence and surrounding 162 hectares. He died in 1931.

The Corporation of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane purchased the reportedly near-derelict site in 1944 for the Society of the Divine Word, missionaries who had been evacuated from the then war-torn New Guinea. Woodlands was restored and its grounds today include the dormitory buildings constructed for the Society’s St Vincent’s Seminary. The half-Olympic size swimming pool and Grotto are also from this period.

Ipswich Grammar School, the owner of Woodlands from 1986 to 2002, adapted the site to cater for personal development courses and extension activities for its students. It served also as a corporate retreat and conference venue.

The current owners operate Woodlands of Marburg as a function venue that welcomes visitors not only to the grand residence constructed by Thomas Smith, but also to enjoy the surrounding gardens and other buildings, such as the Tommy Smith Café and the Bush Chapel, the latter Marburg’s St Boniface Church relocated to the site in 2006.