Digging Up The Past—Sir Charles Lilley’s Trowel

In the heart of the Main Building there once was a beautifully crafted and engraved sterling silver trowel on display in a maple case. It is the most obvious clue to a Grammar mystery which has yet to be unraveled.

In February 1883, Brisbane Girls Grammar School and Brisbane Grammar School students joined to celebrate the foundation of Brisbane Grammar School. Following this celebration, the assembled company moved to a site further along Gregory Terrace where the foundation stone for the new girls’ school was to be laid.

Sir Charles Lilley was invited by the Board of Trustees to officiate. Prior to the formal cementing of the stone, Sir Charles was offered a glass jar to be used as a time capsule. In it, he placed copies of local papers, coins of the day, and a scroll.

We are fortunate today to know the precise details of this event because reporters from The Telegraph and The Queenslander were present. However, despite all the evidence and witnesses, the location of the foundation stone is now unknown. If it were not for the newspaper commentaries and the trowel, the laying of the Girls Grammar’s foundation stone might never have happened!

After the ceremony, Sir Charles was presented with a mallet and the trowel as a memento of the day. Inscribed on the trowel are the words:

‘Presented by the trustees of the Brisbane Girls Grammar School to the Hon. Sir Charles Lilley, Kt., the Chief Justice of Queensland, on the occasion of his laying the foundation stone of the school, 28th February, 1883.’

In 1946, Sir Charles’s grandson, Alan Lilley Cran, donated the sterling silver, bone handled trowel to the School. It is an evocative reminder of both the long and proud heritage of the School and the vagaries of history.

Mrs Jenny Davis and Mrs Kristine Cooke (Harvey, 1967)
Librarian—Special Collections and Director of Information Services