The leadlight windows and brick facade reflect the history of the Criterion Hotel.
The leadlight windows and brick facade reflect the history of the Criterion Hotel. Sophie Lester

Warwick characterised by elegant churches, grand schools

WARWICK, a commanding regional town, is on the western side of the Great Dividing Range and near the headwaters of the Condamine River.

It has long been characterised by elegant churches and some grand private schools, giving the centre a certain monumentalism.

Situated in the southern Darling Downs, it is 140km south-west of Brisbane.

The first European to sight the Darling Downs was Allan Cunningham, botanist and explorer, in 1827.

Acting on Cunningham's discovery, a northern New South Wales pastoralist Patrick Leslie, set off in that direction in 1840 to find fresh grazing lands.

Leslie chose a site west of Warwick for his Canning Downs station.

Joined by his two brothers, the Leslies became the first permanent European settlers, and others soon followed.

Upon the settlement of the district the New South Wales government commissioned Leslie to choose a town site and Lands Commissioner, Christopher Rolleston, named the proposed town site Canningtown.

It has been suggested that Leslie and other settlers may have supported the name Warwick, after the fifteenth century figure, Warwick the Kingmaker, in Edward Bulwer Lytton's The Last of the Barons (1843).

The name was gazetted in May 1847.

A town was laid out by the colonial surveyor James Burnett in 1849 and allotment sales began the next year.

Warwick was set on the path of being a regional centre with the opening of a slab courthouse in 1849, which several religious groups used for worship for some years.

The first National School opened in 1855, while Church of England, Presbyterian and Methodist churches were erected in 1857-58. Warwick was proclaimed a municipality in 1861.

In the following year a more substantial courthouse was erected and the Warwick Mail began publication.

Annual Warwick agricultural shows began in 1868, a few years before the railway from Toowoomba reached there. In 1881 the line fed into the Granite belt area around Stanthorpe, putting Warwick in the centre of a fertile agricultural region with improving freight transport.

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