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History of the House

Queensland achieved separation from New South Wales in 1859. Governor Bowen was appointed the colony's first governor, and one of the first acts of Queensland's new Parliament was to provide him with a 'fitting' home. The building had to serve two distinct purposes – as a private residence for the governor and his family and as an official state office, it would be the hub of colonial life in the early days of Brisbane.

The newly appointed Government Architect Charles Tiffin designed the building in 1860. He incorporated a number of adaptations to the Greek revival style to better suit it to the local climate. Tiffin was a significant figure in Victorian-era public architecture in Australia, and went on to design over 300 Queensland buildings.

The House was built by Joshua Jeays, who punted the huge loads of sandstone used for its construction down the Brisbane River from his Goodna quarry. Jeays was also an alderman in the first Brisbane Municipal Council and later served as mayor. The House was completed in May 1862 at a total cost of £17,000, and was praised as a 'structure… highly creditable to the colony'.

More than simply serving as a vice-regal residence, Old Government House played an important symbolic role in the early years of the colony. Its grand design and location high on the promontory at Gardens Point made it an impressive sight for visitors and immigrants arriving by ship: as they circled the point, it came into view as a stately palace against the backdrop of Brisbane's ramshackle wooden huts scattered throughout the bush. It was a bold exemplar of the colony's potential prosperity.

Eleven governors and their families lived in the House over a period of almost fifty years. Many key moments in Queensland's early development took place within the walls of the Governor's library. The House and its gardens saw some of Brisbane's most magnificent social events with countless balls, receptions, dinners and garden parties taking place. But as Queensland's population grew, it became increasingly apparent that the House was simply too small to accommodate the extensive hospitalities demanded of it. In 1909 the controversial decision was made to move the governor out and a chapter in the life of the House came to a close.