Although the large home ‘The Fort’, located at the end of Fort Road, Oxley, presents an impressive sight overlooking the Brisbane River, there has never been any military ownership of this building. Two cannons once located at the front of the building were purchased from the army in 1958, but by 1972 these had been removed to become part of a military museum.
In the 1860s, Henry Lucock, a pioneer settler and future registrar of births, deaths and marriages in Oxley, had initially taken up the land for his brother. At that time there was no railway, and transport to Ipswich was by boat up the Brisbane River, or by horse and coach along Ipswich Road.
In about 1873, Henry William Coxen was travelling by boat to Ipswich, and when passing the property on which ‘The Fort’ was to be situated, it reminded him of a similar position of a fort in Bombay, India. Coxen purchased the land from Henry Lucock, and the home he built on it he named ‘The Fort’. Henry Coxen had two sons and two daughters; one was Mrs. Hassall, and on her wedding day, he gave her a home, ‘Eddystone’, which he had built on the property next door, on land now owned by Margaret Green. In about 1905 Henry Coxen and Mr Hassall had a dispute about the boundaries of the property, and subsequently the Hassalls sold out to people named Pratten. Later the Prattens inherited a property near Oxley Creek, and they moved there. An Englishman, Bill Bright, a carpenter by trade, then either bought or rented ‘Eddystone’. He refused to join a trade union and the trade unionists made working life so difficult for him, that he and his family moved back to England. The property was then bought by the Greens in 1924.
There was another house situated further down the hill called ‘The Slopes’. Its land had a river frontage and was bounded by Blackheath Road. Henry Coxen went to live there after he sold ‘The Fort’ to the Corkrans. It was at ‘The Slopes’ that Henry Coxen died in 1915. He had been raking leaves and rubbish and burning them on a little fire, when he became ill. When his housekeeper found him, he was leaning on the rake, and she helped him to the tank stand near the house. She then ran to Mr. Christensen’s dairy on Cliveden Avenue to obtain help. Together she and Mr Christensen managed to move Henry Coxen into his bed where he died that evening. At the time of his death, one of his sons, Walter Coxen, was at sea on his way to the Great War. Walter Coxen, was a ‘very gentlemanly, nice looking man, and a real soldier’. He entered military service after leaving school. Family research indicates that he eventually rose to the rank of Major-General following the Great War or the First World War as it later became known.
In 1906, Henry Coxen sold the property ‘The Fort’ to Olivia’s father, Thomas Knight Corkran. His parents were Irish, aristocratic and prosperous. ‘The Fort’ stayed in the Corkran family until 1955, when ownership passed to the Catholic Passionist Order. Thomas Corkran sent his three sons to France to be educated at a Marist Brother’s school, and he himself, also journeyed home to England several times.
Olivia’s eldest brother was the postmaster at Chinchilla. She went out there with him on a holiday, and visited her sister, whose husband had a grazing property outside Yuleba. The prickly pear was so thick at the railway station it was difficult to find a way through it, and in addition, her brother-in-law found it practically impossible to clear it off his property. When cleared and burnt, the prickly pear would spring up again. Eventually, the government procured the insect, Cactoblastis cactorum, and the prickly pear was eaten out.
There were several gates or entrances to ‘The Fort’ property. There was the one directly above the house on Fort Road, one further along Fort Road, and yet another from Eddystone Road that came up by the stables (see map). Olivia Corkran explained that while the original entrance to ‘The Fort’ was nearer to the stables, the Corkran entrance came between two large bunya trees, which were later struck by lightning and removed. Her father would drive in the front gate and unload his guests at the front door. He would then drive through the gate to the stables just above ‘The Fort’ itself, unharness his horses and place the buggy and sulky in the stables.
When walking to and from the Oxley railway station the family always used present-day Eddystone Road, locally known as Coxen’s Lane. It did not have an official name, so Mr. Green’s mail would be marked ‘road unknown’. One day, however, he put a sign marked ‘Eddystone Street’ on the fence of ‘The Slopes’, the home below ‘Eddystone’. This really surprised the Misses Smith then living at ‘The Slopes’, when they came home later that day.
The original house known as ‘The Fort’, was built by Henry Coxen and contained fifteen rooms including a hall, a lounge, dining room, six bedrooms, bathroom, storeroom and kitchen. The section at the rear end of the house, i.e. the kitchen, appeared newer than the rest, but in fact, it was built at the same time. There were cedar doors and some double walls in the house. Also located in the house were two huge rooms for the men. The kitchen was lined with fibro-cement, though Henry Coxen had not lined the ceiling in any of his houses –The Fort’, ‘Eddystone’, or ‘The Slopes’. The ceiling was lined at ‘The Fort ‘ only after the Corkran’s moved in, and where their breakfast room, complete with built-in cupboards was situated, the Passionist Fathers later located their dining room. Thomas Corkran built a laundry separately at the rear of the house. When the Passionists bought the property, they then connected the laundry to the rest of the house. Under the house, Henry Coxen had constructed something like a cellar. He had various items sent out from England and stored them in the ‘cellar’ for coolness, but the Corkran family during their ownership, located a small separator in the ‘cellar’ and used this area as a dairy.
Thomas Corkran ran a number of dairy cattle at ‘The Fort’, as there were no milk deliveries in the area. In those days there were large grassy patches on the hill and many of the trees had been cleared, so that most of the thick vegetation of later years was re-growth. Even though the milkman did not deliver to ‘TheFort’, the butcher, the baker, and the grocer, came all the way from Sherwood. In the small valley within the grounds of ‘The Fort’ there was a dam and a well, originally dug by Henry Coxen. Thomas Corkran had them cleaned out and re-slabbed several times so that in drought he could water the cattle when the tanks at the stables were dry. In addition to the dairy cows, the Corkrans had some horses accommodated in quite a large stable.
Next to ‘The Fort’ on the corner of Cliveden Avenue and Fort Road, there was a house belonging to one of Thomas Corkran’s daughters, Mrs. G. L. Hogan. She had been given the land when she married, and her husband later built a home there. On the house being sold for removal, she returned to reside at the ‘The Fort’. When she died she left her share of the house and land at the corner of Fort Road and Cliveden Avenue, to her brother and to her daughter, and in turn they gave that corner piece to the Passionist Fathers.
After taking up residence at ‘The Fort’, the Passionist Fathers built a toilet block and constructed four bedrooms running out at right angles to the house. During his residence, Henry Coxen had built a shed down from his front gate for the horses and carriage. After the Passionist Fathers bought the property, Brother Anthony and Father John removed about three quarters of the shed to a position about one hundred yards east of the house, and during 1974, it was used as a lecture hall.
This description of ‘The Fort’ at Oxley reveals that during the period of its three occupants – the Coxen’s, the Corkran’s and the Passionist Fathers – constant change occurred to the grounds and the main building, thus adding to the history of what is possibly one of the oldest timber buildings in the suburb of Oxley.
“‘The Fort’ at Oxley and its Early Owners”, adapted from a talk by Olivia Corkran. Published in The Dynamic and the Genteel, edited by Ralph Fones. Oxley-Chelmer History Group Papers IV, 2004, pages 10-13. Reproduced with permission.
This and other books about the area are available from the Oxley-Chelmer History Group Inc, 59 Dudley Street, Sherwood 4075.