For thousands of years the river and surrounding land was the traditional country of the Turrbul and Jagera people. The area that became known as Gardens Point was originally covered in thick scrub and known by the traditional owners as 'Meanjin', meaning 'place shaped like a spike'. In 1825 the Moreton Bay penal settlement was established on the northern bank of the river. The land nearest the point was cleared to grow much needed food for the struggling convict settlement.
In 1855, overgrown and unused for almost twenty-five years, the land was subdivided into town allotments, but the people of Brisbane petitioned the Sydney-based government in protest against the sale. Despite New South Wales' growing hostility over the Moreton Bay District's campaign to become an independent colony, the request was heeded.
After Queensland achieved separation from New South Wales in 1859 one of the first acts of Queensland's new Parliament was to provide the colony's first governor 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.