The History of O’Neill’s Cottage, the home of the Queanbeyan Art Society
O’Neills cottage was built near the banks of the Queanbeyan River in 1880 by Samuel Austin and William Moore for John James Wright. Mr Wright had been a founder of the district hospital, Queanbeyan’s first Member of the NSW Parliament from 1874 to 1877, and later became Queanbeyan’s first Mayor in 1885.
John Wright had arrived in Queanbeyan from Ireland in 1843 and was soon appointed postmaster. He started a small store here in 1849 and eventually became a very wealthy Queanbeyan and NSW businessman and landowner. However, like many of his contemporaries, he lost most of his businesses and properties in the 1890’s depression. He passed away at the Mill House in Queanbeyan in 1904.
The land on which the cottage stands was originally purchased by Mrs Emma Rowley (nee Hunt) who arrived in the colony in 1832 and who came to Queanbeyan in the early 1840’s.
The cottage’s first occupants were James O’Neill and his wife Mary (nee Afflick). James was from an old and respected Queanbeyan family. He was the son of John O’Neill and Anne Townsend both from Ireland, where James was born. James was a mail contractor and coach proprietor. Mary had lived at Gundaroo before marrying James.
The O’Neills had to move out of the cottage due to flooding in 1891. James had been ill in bed at the time and he died a few months later aged sixty three years, leaving Mary and their eight children.
The cottage’s next occupier was August Ferdinand Hellmund, a native of Berlin, Germany – and coincidentally, a well known painter-signwriter.
There are two distinct types of brickwork in the cottage as it presently stands. The original brickwork in the left half of the house, is laid in English bond and the bricks used here are said to have been made by brick maker William George, who lived at the time on the local Garrvowen Estate and after whom George Street was named. The price of the bricks was equivalent to $4.00 per thousand. Brick work in the right half of the building, constructed in 1902, has been laid in American bond.
On the eve of the cottage’s demolition, the Queanbeyan City Council was urged to reconsider the demolition order and the offered it instead to the Queanbeyan Arts Society (QAS) to develop as their Art Centre. The QAS accepted the challenge and in 1980 the QAS Trust was formed and took over a 20-year lease from the Council. With the help of monetary donations and voluntary labour, the cottage was restored. Donations of $200 and over or 20 hours voluntary labour are acknowledged on a plaque fixed to the inside front wall.
In 2007 the Gallery had an $80,000 renovations extension made possible by grants from the Queanbeyan City Council ($37,500) and Department of Transport and Services ($37,200) with QAS contributing $12,000.
In 2008 QAS paid for the $3,000 new pergola on the back of the Gallery and the Queanbeyan City Council paid for the $9,000 paving, graveling and planting the grounds.
In 2018 the completion of a ‘working gallery’ extension was made possible by grants from the NSW Government, Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council and the Queanbeyan Art Society.