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Old Government House

  • 600118
  • 2 George Street, Brisbane City


Also known as
University of Queensland; Government House
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
21 October 1992
Government administration: Government house
6.4 Building settlements, towns, cities and dwellings: Dwellings
7.2 Maintaining order: Government and public administration
Tiffin, Charles
Jeays, Joshua
Construction periods
1862, Old Government House core
1899, Billiards room added
unknown, Alterations during the 1870s including addition of first floor verandahs
Historical period
1840s–1860s Mid-19th century
1870s–1890s Late 19th century


2 George Street, Brisbane City
Brisbane City Council
-27.47727833, 153.02902605


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

Old Government House demonstrates the evolution of the government in Queensland, and particularly the changing role of the Governor in Queensland from 1860 until 1910. The house was the first major project completed by the newly formed colony of Queensland. The former Government House is an important element in the government precinct of George and William Streets.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

Old Government House is unique, as the only purpose built Government House in Queensland and as a rare surviving example of the domestic work of the Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin. The house contains many rare finishes and fittings, particularly the internal joinery.

Criterion CThe place has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Queensland’s history.

The house has the potential to yield further information, by archaeological investigation, of aspects of domestic life in Queensland from the 1860s. The kidney lawn, though changed in shape, may have evidence of early planting schemes and may provide evidence of the early work of prominent botanist and Botanic Gardens curator, Walter Hill.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

Old Government House displays the characteristics of a well appointed nineteenth century house, particularly in its demarcation of zoning for public and private use, and the evidence it provides of many early domestic facilities.

The building is a fine example of nineteenth century domestic architecture influenced by classical revival styles modified for a tropical environment. The design of the house is a creative accomplishment, in that the private and public aspects are well integrated to form a cohesive building.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The building is of considerable aesthetic quality, employing well proportioned, classical design features, with exceptional fittings and finishes. The immediate environment including the Kidney Lawn, rear garden and several remnants of gardens in the vicinity promote the picturesque qualities of the villa form of the house. Several large established trees add to its aesthetic qualities and are visual links to the nearby Botanic Gardens. The house retains an important link with Parliament House, along the former carriageway where early planting and gate pillars.

Criterion FThe place is important in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period.

The building is a fine example of nineteenth century domestic architecture influenced by classical revival styles modified for a tropical environment. The design of the house is a creative accomplishment, in that the private and public aspects are well integrated to form a cohesive building.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The house has strong associations with the Queensland for its role in the evolution of the Queensland Government. It retains strong associations with many groups, including the National Trust of Queensland, the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland.

Criterion HThe place has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history.

The house has special association with a number of prominent Queenslanders, including all the Governors who lived at the house, the architect, Charles Tiffin, Walter Hill, as well as with the University of Queensland which used the house as their first site, and with the National Trust who have been associated with the building for over twenty years.


Old Government House was constructed from 1860 to 1862 to the design of Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin at a cost of £17,000. It served as the home of the various Governors of Queensland from its completion in 1862 until 1910 when it became the inaugural of the University of Queensland.

Queensland became a separate colony in 1859, when Governor Bowen was appointed to govern until electoral roles were established. Robert Herbert was then elected as the first Colonial Secretary, a position akin to the present day Premier. In 1860 funding was allocated by the newly formed Parliament of Queensland for the construction of Government House. This was to be the first major public building which the Parliament planned.

A site was chosen for the house adjacent to the Botanic Gardens which had been established on the site of a government garden in 1855, when the curator, Walter Hill, was employed. Originally, the intention of the government was to construct a larger Government House in the country and therefore Government House was smaller than other Government Houses of Australia. It was described by the architect, Charles Tiffin, as the most economical vice regal residence in the Australian Colonies. £17,000 was allocated for the construction of the building, which was a major undertaking for a small colony of only 30, 000 settlers, facing an uncertain economical future.

Charles Tiffin was born in Newcastle, England and emigrated to the colonies in the mid 1850s, when he arrived in Victoria. He was appointed to the position of Clerk of Works for Moreton Bay in May 1857. Tiffin was responsible for the designs of a range of public buildings, the first of his major projects being the Ipswich Court House, extant in 1995. After separation, Tiffin became Queensland's first Colonial Architect.

Government House provided family accommodation, public reception areas and government offices. The house was carefully designed to take advantage of its siting on a promontory. The formal entrance and function rooms faced the river, away from the growing township; the offices were located to the north-east of the building; family quarters were on the south west and the rear north west of the building, housed servant's quarters and kitchen areas. By June 18, 1862, the Queensland Daily Guardian, reported that Governor and Lady Bowen had been in residence at Government House for one month, and that the building appears to be well adapted in point of coolness and ventilation to the climate of this colony; the rooms being large, lofty and airy, and furnished in a plain but exceedingly tasteful manner.

The house demonstrates an early understanding of ventilation principles in sub-tropical climates, in which Tiffin was known to be interested. Features of the house like the ventilated lantern, the large number of french doors, and the sliding doors on the ground floor, suggest a concern for air movement in the building.

The grounds surrounding the building were laid out by the director of the botanical Gardens, Mr Walter Hill, and it is understood that Lady Bowen also took a great interest in the gardens The grounds were thought to reflect the highest credit on Mr Walter Hill. A detailed description of the areas on each side of the house (comprised) a raised terrace, half moon and crescent shaped, neatly covered with sods of grass, and traced out in various designs for the cultivation of flowers and plants.

Governor Bowen remained at Government House until 1868, when he was recalled to England and Colonel Samuel Blackall became the new Governor of Queensland. Many alterations were made during the 1870s which saw the house adopt a more tropical form, most obviously with the addition of first floor verandahs, thereby distinguishing it from Government Houses in other states. Functions organised by the various Governors became larger to accommodate the larger population, and a prefabricated supper room/ballroom was erected on the lawn to the south west adjacent to the drawing room. In 1895, the house was completely redecorated. Old Government House was extended with a Billiard Room on the northern corner of the building in 1899.

The Federation of Australia, meant a reduction in the role of the Governor, but the real diminishing of their powers came about in around 1910 with the abolishment of the Upper House.

A committee was formed by the Premier, Mr Kidston, to select a site for a University in Queensland, and their recommendation was the Domain which was the grounds of the, then, Government House. In 1909 the House was dedicated to the new university, with five acres around it set aside for both a university and a technical college, with the remaining area given over to the Botanic Gardens. The Governor, who was then MacGregor, moved out of the house in 1910, to what were thought to be temporary arrangements at Fernberg, Paddington. By 1914, the new grounds of the University and Technical College were deemed unsuitable, and bids were made for the return of the Governor to the house, but these were unsuccessful.

Though the University transferred to St Lucia in 1945 it still retained many rooms in the former Government House. As the State Government retained the ownership of the former Government House, it was put to use by various official departments, and suffered from deterioration. In 1973 the National Trust moved into the building on the basis that they would gradually become the custodians of the entire building. Extensive alterations were carried out by the State Works Department, which again caused damage to the original fabric of the building. By 1982 the National Trust had assumed control over most of the building. The Technical College became the Queensland Institute of Technology, which in turn became the Queensland University of Technology and remains on the site surrounding Old Government House.


Old Government House is a substantial sandstone building of two stories, situated adjacent to the Botanic Gardens, amidst the buildings of the Queensland University of Technology. Surrounding the building are several important gardens featuring large established trees.

A driveway which, in earlier times, provided access between Old Government House and Parliament House is apparent along George Street into the QUT grounds on the road adjacent to the Botanic Gardens. Along this route are early sandstone fence pillars, plantings and road forms.

Old Government House is symmetrically planned with the principal entrance from the south east, facing away from the Brisbane CBD toward the river. The two storeyed section of the house has a square plan, with two bays projecting from the sides of the house, emphasised by the addition of two storeyed semi-circular colonnaded spaces.

The galvanised iron, rib and pan roof is gabled over the principal entrance but hipped elsewhere, including the projecting bays. A one storeyed extension at the rear of the building, houses the former servants' quarters and men's billiard room. Generally openings throughout the building are protected by timber shutters.

The south eastern elevation, housing the principal entrance, features a central projecting bay, with a pedimented gabled roof. The principal doorway is through a sandstone porte cochere bounded by four large square sandstone columns, with a cornice above and hipped roof featuring iron cresting. The round headed arched entrance door opening is flanked by two round headed arched window openings on the ground floor and above these on the first floor are three square headed arched windows separated by pilasters. To either side of the entrance bay are two storeyed verandahs; arcaded on the lower floor on paired cast iron ionic columns. The upper floor verandah has simple cast iron columns with a cross braced iron balustrade.

The verandahs continue around the sides of the building and abut the projecting bays on the east and west facades of the building. The projecting bays feature semi-circular porches with verandahs above. The porch is defined by a number of large ionic columns, made of cast iron on the western side and sandstone on the eastern. The verandahs above the porches, carry the detail of the general house verandah.

The billiard room is attached to the southern end of the western facade. The entrance bay to this section projects from the face of the building slightly and features a central doorway, protected by a hipped iron awning supported by large carved corbels. Flanking the opening are two small elongated windows openings. Centrally located above the doorway is a decorative parapet detail, featuring a rectangular stone section with a carved cartouche with date '1899', which is flanked by scroll and leaf mouldings in the corners between the stone section and the parapet. Surmounting the rectangular section is a shallow arched entablature.

The rear, southern elevation, has a one-storeyed rendered parapeted facade, with regularly spaced pilasters, a wide cornice and a solid parapet with balustrade featuring a chain motif, surmounted by spherical finials at the corners. A courtyard is accessed via an arched opening in this wall, which features a double arched timber door. Past the opening is a wide covered walkway from which the former kitchen and servants' quarters are accessed. The walkway leads to an internal courtyard, providing natural lighting to several of the interior spaces, including the stairwell.

Through the principal entrance of the house is an entrance hall on either side of which are french doors leading to the adjacent verandahs. This room provides entrance to the central hall through three double half glazed timber doors with transom windows; both the doors and the above lights feature etched glass panels. The central hall is the principal room of the house from which the other major rooms are accessed. The central space of this room is demarcated by four wide archways, two plaster arches within the space and two large timber arched doorways leading to the drawing and dining rooms flanking the hall. The doorways have large timber sliding doors, housed within the walls. The former dining and drawing rooms, flanking the hall, have a number of french doors opening onto the verandahs.

The half turn open well stair with landing is at the northern end of the hall and has fine cast iron balusters and timber handrail which forms a wreath at the base of the stairs. A round headed arched stair window is flanked by round headed arched mirrors of similar size. On the first floor a mezzanine gallery, forming a void above the central section of the hall below, features a large skylight, comprising a number of etched glass panels and ventilation panels within elaborate timber framing. On the first floor in the gallery, is another plaster archway demarcating the stair area. From the gallery are accessed the principal first floor rooms.

Generally, the interior of Old Government House has timber floors, protectively covered in some places with masonite boarding. The walls and ceilings are plastered, and many rooms feature reconstructed colour schemes. Large cornices are features in the principal rooms, whilst less extravagant ones are found in the rooms with formerly, more private uses. The internal joinery is of the highest quality cedar, with six panelled moulded doors and fine architraves and skirting boards. The french doors leading onto the verandahs are glazed with two panels of glass, and have operable transom windows above. Introduced lighting within the space is generally surface mounted in central areas of the walls. Throughout the building are original uncovered patches of an early decorative painting scheme.

The gardens and grounds around the building, provide a picturesque setting for the house, and include features such as the kidney lawn, the rear garden and a number of beds adjacent to the rear garden and the current QUT library. The open lawns allow the house to be appreciated in its villa form. The kidney lawn, between the house and the Botanic Gardens, features several established trees, including a hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii), a bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii) and palm trees. These sparsely placed trees ensure that the house maintains a visual relationship with the Botanic Gardens and beyond. A pony tail tree (Beaucarnea recurvata), adjacent to the Botanic Gardens, is a particularly significant remainder of an earlier scheme. A fence and gateway to the east of the kidney lawn is also an element of the early garden, and the bougainvillea growing over it is particularly significant.

On the opposite side of the house is the rear garden which is a lawn with border planting. To the south are several garden beds, now separated by paved areas, which feature many original elements of the Government House garden, including a clam-shell fountain and associated planting and several large figs, a kauri pine (Agathis microstachya) and an ivory curl flower tree (Buckinghamia celsissima).

Image gallery


Location of Old Government House within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
20 February 2022
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