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Family and children

Old Government House ca 1869

Lady Bowen and children, ca 1865. Image courtesy State Library of Queensland.

Victorian era society placed a higher value on family life than any previous generation. The family home was seen as a sanctuary, a place providing privacy, comfort and a refuge from the public world. Because Government House also served as a state office and reception venue, it was designed to ensure that the private apartments were physically separate from the public rooms. The nursery and bedrooms were all upstairs, and it was in these rooms that many of the most intimate moments of family life would have taken place.

A number of vice-regal families brought children with them to Government House – four were even born in the House. Their childhood experiences would have been quite different from those of today, though as the governor’s children they would certainly have enjoyed a more privileged upbringing than the vast majority of others born in Queensland in the 1800s.

The children were looked after by a nursemaid who made sure they were bathed, clothed and put to bed each night. To help them wind down from the day’s bustle she sometimes read them a story in the night nursery, a time known as ‘The Children’s Hour’. During the day the children took lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic and practised their musical instruments.

Games of make-believe and hide-and-seek would have been played in the gardens, with dolls, card games and nursery rhymes keeping the children occupied indoors. Many children were invited to Government House to celebrate birthdays with cake and party games, or simply for afternoon playdates with the governor’s children.

And of course, there were the many four-legged and feathered residents who helped create a homely environment in what was essentially a temporary residence. Each governor had at least one pet during his six-year term in Queensland. Governor Blackall’s dog Soda was in attendance for many of the family photographs and the Kennedys were fond of horses. The Lamington family famously kept a menagerie of animals including a kangaroo, three dogs, several horses and birds including cockatoos, magpies and a cassowary that ate whole apples.