Born in Nottingham in 1844, the third son of a lace manufacturer, Edmund Harris Thornburgh Plant landed penniless in Queensland in 1861 after spending some time in California. Eventually
he made his way to Ravenswood where he and Thomas Jackson established the Vulcan Mill, a crushing battery for the burgeoning goldfield. Soon enough the rush had shifted north west to the Charters Towers goldfield and seeing the opportunity Plant moved the equipment and built the Venus Mill (1872) on the banks of Millchester Creek. Plant and his partner George Jackson
had established the Venus Mill within six months of gold being discovered.
With the development of the goldfield came progress and Plant became involved in many other mining, pastoral and even sugar cane interests but based himself in Charters Towers. Here he became a member of many public boards, served on the Dalrymple Divisional Board, and was eventually appointed to the Queensland Legislative Council in 1905.
He married Elizabeth Ester Hodel (1872) and together they had six children. In 1888 the family left on a trip to England and on their return construction began on Thornburgh House on Plant’s Ridge, overlooking the mill he owned on Mosman Creek.
Completed in 1890, Thornburgh House was described at the time as “the handsomest and most convenient dwelling house in the North”. Influenced by the Victorian architecture of the time, Plant engaged architects Walter and Oliver Tunbridge to design a grand and stately villa, and Page and Sherlow to build it. He named it after his mother, whose maiden name was Thornburgh.
The two-storey building of rendered masonry has a roof clad in corrugated iron and deep verandahs on three sides supported by timber posts, linked by cast iron friezes and cast iron panels. Between the two storeys are valances of timber lattice. On the ground floor are two large rooms with bay windows – the former dining and drawing rooms.
High plaster ceilings, ornate cornices and imported carved mantelpieces feature in this part of the stately mansion. The main staircase is graceful with cast iron metal balustrades supporting a curved timber handrail. French doors lead from most rooms onto the verandahs and many rooms have fireplaces. The house also has a basement which at the turn of the last century housed a children’s play area, a cellar and storerooms. All the joinery was cedar.
In 1919 the magnificent house, for so long a center of social life in Charters Towers, was sold to the Presbyterian and Methodist churches to become a boarding school. By this time Mr Plant was 75 years old, gold mining had suffered a decline and he retired to his property in Ingham. He died in Sandgate in 1926.
Since being transformed into a boarding school by the combined churches the house has gone through many ups and downs. For many decades the verandas were enclosed to accommodate students and fittings were lost to educational needs. In 1992 it was entered into the State Heritage Register and since then considerable maintenance has gone into the property.
Thornburgh House, is currently undergoing renovations so it will stand proud and magnificent during Blackheath and Thornburgh College’s centenary celebrations next year.