In 1849, Scottish immigrants from the ship SS Fortitude arrived in Brisbane, enticed by Rev Dr John Lang's promise of free land grants. Denied land, the immigrants set up camp in Bowen Hills. A number of the immigrants moved on and settled a suburb, naming it, Fortitude Valley, after the ship on which they arrived. A post office was established in 1887.
In the 1890s, Thomas Beirne opened a business on Brunswick Street. His business thrived and, after extension, he travelled to England in 1896, leaving his manager of two years, James McWhirter, in charge. Soon after his return, McWhirter established a competing drapery business opposite Beirne's in 1898. Beirne and McWhirter became keen rivals and are credited with establishing the Valley as a hub of commerce from the late 1890s.
In the late 19th century, commercial activities in Brisbane were divided along religious lines, with Protestant shopkeepers setting up along Queen and Adelaide Streets in the central business district, and shops operated by Roman Catholics in Stanley Street, South Brisbane. However floods in 1893 and 1897 wiped out many shops, and owners in that area decided to move and set up operations north of the river in an area free of flooding. The area they chose was Fortitude Valley.
Owing to its proximity to the central business district and the close concentration of public transport in the area, the Valley became the largest non-CBD shopping precinct in Australia through the 1950s and 1960s.