The rise and fall of the Coal King’s castle

Brynhyfryd – pronounced Brin-Huv-Rid – was a three-storey mansion built for coal king Lewis Thomas in the 1880s.

Designed by Ipswich architect George Brockwell Gill and Welsh for ‘pleasant view’, Brynhyfryd featured imported marble fireplaces, Welsh slate floors and roofing, electric lighting, cedar joinery and stately verandas.

It was fitted with a hydraulic lift to move food and other items between floors. The 49 rooms included a large library, dairy room and music room.

The surrounds featured a billiards room, stables, gardener’s cottage and sprawling gardens with hothouses filled with exotic plants.

Brynhyfryd had its own vegetable gardens, dairy cows and chickens and the Thomas family was almost entirely self sufficient.

The last member of the immediate Thomas family, Lewis’ wife Ann, died in 1930 at age 93. Brynhyfryd was put up for sale but the depression meant no one could afford to buy it.

It was eventually sold to Rylance Collieries in 1936 and was demolished in 1937 after mine excavations under the building left it unstable.

The hill was cleared by private developers in 1973. Years of inactivity and the creation of makeshift mountain biking trails followed before the land was acquired by council for $1 in December 2014.

A jewel in the crown for Ipswich ecotourism

Now known as Castle Hill Blackstone Reserve, the Mary Street reserve has been reinvented in recent years with 16km of mountain biking trails, 4km of walking trails and new historical markers, viewing platforms, parking and toilets.

The Class 3-rated walking trails lead people to hand-dug mine shafts, the footings of the famous Brynhyfryd and even evidence of coal fires deep underground.

Walks include the Lewis Thomas Historical Trail (1.5km), Blackleg Gully Circuit (1km), Mango Track (750m) and Central Track (830m).

The mountain biking trails are among the best in the state and the reserve itself is a reminder of Ipswich’s proud mining history.

Lewis Thomas

  • Born on 20 November 1832 in Tanyrallt, Wales.
  • Son of Thomas and Mary Thomas.
  • Worked in woollen mills from age nine.
  • Moved to the lead mines of Esgair and Bwlch Gwyn before the coal and iron mines of South Wales.
  • Migrated to Australia in July 1859 to try his luck at the Victorian gold fields.
  • Relocated to Queensland in April 1861.
  • Mined coal deposits at Tivoli in 1866.
  • Opened Aberdare Colliery at Blackstone and a mine at Dinmore in 1870.
  • Founded the United Welsh Church and Blackstone Ipswich Cambrian Choir.
  • Minister for Bundamba from 1893 to 1899.
  • Member of the Queensland Legislative Council from 1902 until his death in 1913.
  • Only child Mary married Thomas Bridson Cribb, grandson of Benjamin Cribb.

Learn more about Ipswich heritage, history and heroes.