Simple items of tin used in early Queensland houses often came from the local tinsmith. Allen Cooper, himself a master builder and an expert in colonial restoration explains; “Examples of local sheet metal workers and tinsmith’s skills that can be seen around Ipswich range from Gutter Acroteria, Ridge Cresting, Roof Finials, Ridge End Cap Treatments, Roof Ventilators, Rainwater Heads, Window Hoods and of course Fascia Boards, similar to the ‘Centurion Skirt’ frieze on Mona Cottage. The list goes on forever, in fact everything that was produced in Terracotta, Cast and Wrought Iron could be produced cheaper and of course at a much lighter weight, in sheet metal. I have seen roof finials mimicking the archetypical Queen Ann Terracotta finials even down to applied floral decoration, such were their skills. Now sadly it’s all disappearing, both the physical examples (rusting away) and the skills in manufacturing. Remember all you see at first glance may not be what it appears, they were very skillful.”

Unfortunately the roof crests and finials are often the first to be discarded when hasty repairs are made to the roof – erasing the scrolling shadows they traced across corrugated roofs and the delicate silhouettes they gave to the skyline. The Australian House – Homes of the Tropical North records these noteworthy examples, with photographs by Ray Joyce and text by Balwant Saini the book’s focus includes many fine details of cut tin ridge caps, window awnings as well as some inventive, highly decorative roof finials.

Roof ventilators permitted heated air to rise out of the roof cavity, producing a flow of air which cooled the building and these can still be seen atop old commercial buildings around Brisbane. A practised eye can differentiate the local handmade type from later imports. R.C. Verney & Sons factory in Fortitude Valley combined tinsmithing with jam making. “Verney’s ventilators were the most popular in Queensland and many are still in service. Verney’s business, which united the production of canisters and items of tin and steel with the manufacture of jam, appears odd today but such combinations were not unusual at that time.” Ian Evans – The Queensland House.

Perhaps one of the best known examples of the tinsmith’s repertoire is the window hood which provided shade to any window not protected by the verandah, these are often embellished with various patterns cut simply from the sheet metal by hand with a pair of tin snips. Graeme Gillespie was one of Brisbane’s last working tinsmiths, his shop Smith & Robertson at Woolloongabba was well known to heritage architects and builders. Apprenticed to the firm as a plumber in 1948 at 15 years of age, he spent his working life at the premises on Logan Road, which dated back to the 1850’s. Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s there was an upsurge in the restoration of early Queensland houses and many home renovators were seeking to replicate heritage detailing. Importantly, many of the tools and machinery at Smith & Robertson were the same rollers, brakes, guillotines, edging and grooving machines made in 19th Century USA, that had mechanised the trade over a hundred years before and now facilitated the authentic replications this skilled maker produced.

Our own house c1906 has examples of 19th Century design such as the placement of the kitchen stove in an alcove that extends outside the buildingproper – to lessen the risk of fire the alcove is sheeted in corrugated iron with a flue and chimney cap of tin. Most charming are the acroteria, decorative cut-outs rising from each corner of the guttering, when backlit by the ubiquitous Queensland blue sky the design reveals a ‘blue’ bird in flight’.

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