Botanic Gardens, Old Government House & Parliament House

Brisbane Botanic Gardens

The Brisbane Botanic Gardens are historically important as a significant, non-Aboriginal cultural landscape in Queensland having a continuous horticultural history since 1828 without any significant loss of land area or change in use over that time.

Much of the present-day Botanic Gardens was surveyed and selected as the site for a Public Garden in 1828 by the New South Wales Colonial Botanist, Charles Fraser.  During the convict period part of the land was used for planting crops.

When Fraser re-visited Brisbane Town in mid-1829 he was very happy with what Hopson the gardener had achieved.  Fraser wrote that the garden covered approximately fifteen acres of land, had a six rail fence, the walks had been finished, and most of the garden was used for crops. The crops included European vegetables, yams, sweet potatoes and arrow root.

By 1836 there was a wide selection of vegetables and fruits growing in the gardens including sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cabbages and other vegetables for the prisoners. Bananas, grapes, guavas, pineapples, citrons, lemons, shaddocks etc. grew well and sugar cane was grown for fencing. Coffee plants, bamboo and Spanish reed had also been introduced by this time.

The Moreton Penal Settlement closed in 1842 with free settlement commencing shortly afterwards.

The City Botanic Gardens was officially opened in 1855. That year the Botanic Gardens’ curator Walter Hill was appointed as the first superintendent. He began an active planting and experimenting program. This included:

  • trialling crops and plants from around the world to determine their suitability for growing in subtropical climates;
  • introducing mangoes, pineapples, pawpaws, custard apples, sugar cane, tobacco, ginger, coffee and many types of nuts and grape vines to Queensland ; and
  • establishing ornamental plant collections in the gardens for visitors to enjoy.

Early building work in the area included a Superintendent’s cottage in the late 1850s, a platform for a battery of cannon in the early 1860s, a stone and iron fence around Queen’s Park in 1865-66 and a drinking fountain in 1867.  The fountain was designed by Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin and later became known as the Walter Hill fountain.

Scientific activity was complemented by public recreational use of the Gardens.

Since the opening of the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens in the mid-1970s the Brisbane Botanic Gardens has become principally a recreational venue.  Redevelopment of the Gardens in the late 1980s saw the introduction of new recreational structures and restoration work on the former Queen’s Park fence. Other redevelopments included building an information centre and converting the former curator’s residence into a restaurant. Plantscaping and developments continued in 1989 with the construction of the Mangrove Boardwalk and the Riverstage.

 Old Government House

The site for Government House was chosen in 1855. To prevent the sale of the 30 acres of land at Gardens Point, as town allotments, the citizens of Brisbane successfully petitioned that the land be reserved as the future site of a ‘town Government House’.

Old Government House was built from 1860 to 1862 to the design of Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin.  In 1860 funding of £10,000 was allocated by the new Parliament of Queensland, and due to the priority given to housing the state’s first Governor, (Old) Government House was the first major public building which the Parliament planned.

Governor Bowen, his family and suite took up residence in May 1862; the first of 11 governors to reside in the house.  Government House provided family accommodation, public reception areas and government offices for the Governor of Queensland.  The house was carefully designed to take advantage of its sitting on a promontory, with rooms planned to make the most of river breezes.

There have been many alterations and additions to the building throughout its history.  A rear kitchen and ancillary buildings were added to the main building in 1872, a covered balcony on the first floor on the northeast side of the building in 1873, and a main entrance ‘porte-cochere’ in 1878. In 1895, the house was completely re-decorated.  Old Government House was extended with a Billiard Room on the northern corner of the building in 1899.

As part of Queensland’s 50th anniversary in 1909, the state government controversially gifted Government House to the University of Queensland as its foundation building, and moved the Governor to a temporary residence while a new Government House was designed and constructed in Victoria Park. Many of Brisbane’s finest houses were submitted for consideration as the temporary Government House, and in February 1910, the government selected and signed a three year lease for Fernberg.  The planned move from Government House to Fernberg was timed to coincide with Sir William and Lady MacGregor’s June 1910 tour of North Queensland. When Governor MacGregor passed through the gates for the last time on 6 June, the house immediately became known as Old Government House.

Despite the government’s assurances that the purchase of Fernberg would ‘not in any way interfere’ with the plans already underway to construct a new Government House in Victoria Park, its construction was abandoned by 1912 due to lack of funds.

In 1973 the National Trust of Queensland moved into the building and remained in residence until 2003 when they moved in to the old Immigration Depot (now National Trust House). Old Government House now sits amongst the grounds of the Queensland University of Technology.

Parliament House

On 6 June 1859, Queen Victoria approved the creation of a new colony to be called Queensland. On 10 December of the same year, Sir George Ferguson Bowen arrived in Brisbane as the new colony’s Governor and officially proclaimed the Colony of Queensland.  From December 1859 to April 1860, Queensland was governed by an Executive Council. Queensland Parliament met for the first time on 22 May 1960 in the old convict barracks in Queens Street, roughly opposite the site of the current Myer Centre.

The building of the official Parliament House started in 1864, and the first stage of building was completed in 1868.  Work continued on extending the building until its completion in 1889.  The Aldine History of Queensland boasted in 1888 that “the Parliament Buildings, occupying a portion of the Government grounds south of the Botanical Gardens are superior to those of any of the Australian group”. Parliament House was designed by the same architect who drew the plans for (Old) Government House, Charles Tiffin, who also designed the Customs House, the Old Ipswich Court House, the Lands Office and Sandy Cape Lighthouse.  The new Parliament made housing the new State Governor a priority building project, with work starting on (Old) Government House in 1860

In 1979 a new Parliamentary Annexe was built, and restoration of Parliament House began.  During the restoration, the zinc roof was replaced with copper, and a porte cochere added.