Old Government House

Brisbane, Queensland

Old Government House was home to the first governor of Queensland.

Exploring the Old Government House in Brisbane

Old Government House was erected between 1860 and 1862, in the wake of Queensland's newfound independence from New South Wales. Serving dual roles as a private abode and the seat of governmental power, it bore witness to pivotal moments in Queensland's until 1910, housing eleven governors and their families.

Situated within the Queensland University of Technology's Gardens Point campus, Old Government House was resurrected as a museum in 2009, inviting visitors to explore the works of acclaimed Australian artist William Robinson alongside other treasures. Today its significance is underscored by its inclusion on the Queensland Heritage Register.

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The Historic Gardens of Old Government House Brisbane

Old Government House was designed specifically to offer the resident governor a view of the adjacent Botanic Gardens. Established in 1855, the gardens, spanning 9 acres, owe much of their beauty to Walter Hill, a botanist trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The Government House entries in Horticultural Society competitions were celebrated for their quality and variety.

As well as many ornamental gardens, there was a large Kitchen Garden which provided most of the produce that the house required. With vegetables, fruits, and grains cultivated with meticulous care, the Head Gardener ensured a self-sustained lifestyle.

Creating Old Government House Brisbane

The land upon which Old Government House Brisbane stands traditionally belongs to the Turrbal and Yugara peoples. Charles Tiffin designed the building in a Greek revival style, adapted for the subtropical climate. Construction commenced in 1860 and was overseen by local builder, Joshua Jeays. Jeays used materials like sandstone from his Goodna quarry. By 1862 the project was completed at a cost of £17,000 and hailed as being "highly creditable to the colony." It then served as both a private residence and the official state office for Governor Bowen, Queensland's first governor.

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Governor Sir George Bowen

Governor Sir George Bowen and his family arrived in Brisbane in 1859. While waiting for the construction of Old Government House, they resided in Adelaide House. In April 1862, they moved into the newly completed Government House, marking its official use. The first public event held there was a grand ball on June 16, 1862, in celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday. The event was a grand affair attended by 300 to 400 guests, showcasing the grand nature of the new residence.

Just over a month later, Lady Diamantina Bowen gave birth to their daughter, Agnes, believed to be the first child born in the building. Lady Diamantina took a particular interest in developing the gardens surrounding Old Government House, collaborating with Walter Hill, curator of the adjacent Brisbane Botanic Gardens, on various projects.

Initially illuminated by candles and kerosene lamps, the house saw modernisation in the late 1860s with the introduction of gas lighting. However, there were initial challenges with the gas pipes, leading to limitations in simultaneous usage. In 1866, the house faced a threat during the Bread or Blood riot, necessitating the swearing-in of government officials as Special Constables to aid the police.

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Other Governors at Old Government House

Over almost five decades, the House, perched high on the promontory at Gardens Point, was home to eleven governors and their families. The Governor's Library was witness to many crucial moments in the decision making of these governors. Moreover, the House hosted numerous social events, including balls, receptions, and garden parties, which underscored its importance in Brisbane's social scene.

Over the years, modifications were made to the building, including the addition of verandahs and a roof over the balcony in 1873. By the late 1870s, concerns arose about the adequacy of the house for large-scale entertainment purposes.

Several extensions were made, mainly to the service areas, and larger gas pipes were eventually installed to improve lighting. Despite the availability of electricity in Brisbane by the late 1880s, fitting it into Old Government House was deemed too costly. Around 1900, a billiard room was added at the request of Lord Lamington, and interior renovations took place between 1985 and 1996.

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The Last Governor at Old Government House

By 1909, Old Government House, nearly fifty years old, was considered too small for the Governor's residence. Consequently, it was designated to become the nucleus of Queensland's first university, the University of Queensland, in December 1909. The last resident governor, Sir William MacGregor, relocated to Fernberg in Paddington as a temporary measure while a new Government House was planned for Victoria Park. However, the project was eventually abandoned, leading to the purchase of Fernberg as the permanent Government House of Queensland in 1911.

From Government House to Historical Landmark (1910–2002)

Following its tenure as the residence of Queensland's governors, Old Government House underwent a transformation. It became the University of Queensland's inaugural building from 1910, hosting the first classes in 1911. Initially accommodating 83 students and a small teaching staff across multiple faculties, the House underwent adaptations to suit educational purposes.

However, by the 1920s, it became evident that the House was unsuitable for educational needs due to structural issues like termite damage and leaking roofs. Consequently, the University of Queensland gradually relocated to its current site at St Lucia. Subsequently, the Queensland Institute of Technology (QIT), later known as Queensland University of Technology, used the Old Government House until the 1960s, when it's Gardens Point campus became more established.

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Meanwhile, the Old Government House was then used as the headquarters of the National Trust of Queensland from 1972 to 2002. Recognised as a significant historical site, it was Queensland's first heritage-listed building in 1978.

Throughout the 1980s, the National Trust conducted lots of repair work on the building, to maintain its historical and architectural integrity. However, it wasn't until 2002 that Queensland University of Technology (QUT) assumed custodial responsibility for the House. QUT carried out their own renovations, culminating in the reopening of Old Government House to the public in June 2009.

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