Skip links and keyboard navigation

Old Museum Building

  • 600209
  • 480 Gregory Terrace, Bowen Hills


Also known as
Exhibition Building; Concert Hall
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
21 October 1992
Education, research, scientific facility: Museum
8.2 Creating social and cultural institutions: Cultural activities
8.3 Creating social and cultural institutions: Organisations and societies
Addison, George Henry Male
Construction period
1891, Old Museum Building (1891 - 1891)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century
Arts & Crafts


480 Gregory Terrace, Bowen Hills
Brisbane City Council
-27.45162105, 153.02957572


Street view

Photography is provided by Google Street View and may include third-party images. Images show the vicinity of the heritage place which may not be visible.

Request a boundary map

A printable boundary map report can be emailed to you.


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

Designed and built as an exhibition hall in 1891 and then converted to a museum, the Old Museum is significant as a symbol of nineteenth century scientific, industrial and agricultural innovation. The size and the style of the building epitomise the enthusiasm and celebration of exhibitions during the Victorian period and the peak of Brisbane's 1880s building boom.

The building is important as a symbol of the Queensland Museum for 86 years and for demonstrating the evolution and development of the public museum.

The Concert Hall has played an important role in the artistic life of Queensland and is significant for its constant use for cultural purposes. The venue is an important surviving civic auditorium, that demonstrates the development of choral and orchestral music performance in Brisbane from the 1890's to the 1930's.

The building represents the confidence of the 1880s economic boom and is among the most substantial public works built during that period.

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

The building is important as one of only two exhibition buildings built during the nineteenth century still standing in Australia.

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

The building's fabric records the typical form of the nineteenth century museum.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The use of polychrome brick, with maximum effect, its form, scale and detail contribute to the considerable aesthetic significance of the building which in turn reflect significantly on the visual character and quality of its surroundings.

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

The building and its grounds are important for the role they have played in the community as a place of recreational activities firstly with the Acclimatisation Society gardens in 1863, more firmly with the Exhibition Building, and then the Museum at which time the gardens were considered an integral part of the whole complex.

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 hall also has an association with the development of the Queensland Art Gallery.

The Old Museum is an important example of work by the well-known architect GHM Addison, that demonstrates his skill in design and adaptation to the circumstances of the building's brief and its time.


Among the first Europeans to use the site now bounded by Bowen Bridge Road, O'Connell Terrace, Brookes Street and Gregory Terrace, was by the Acclimatisation Society of Queensland in 1863. The Society used the site to grow and propagate the plants and seeds sent from other parts of the colony and around the world. They built an office and boardroom, bush-house and glasshouse, and had an orchard and gardens for decorative plants. Various introduced animals were kept and grazed on the site. It seems the plantings were extensive and quickly developed - by 1871 the Society's garden was seen as a place of public institution and recreation. In 1887 the creek in the lower area, where the railway now runs, was damned to form a series of decorative ponds. The Society played an important role in the beginnings of commercial agriculture in Queensland, and introduced or trialed many crops including mango trees, ginger plants, sugar cane, olive trees and choco vines.

As Brisbane developed, the Society's grounds came under some pressure from other prospective users. In 1875, 23 acres of land was leased as an exhibition ground to the Queensland National Agricultural and Industrial Association. Brisbane's first Exhibition Building was opened at the junction of Gregory Terrace and Bowen Bridge Road on 22 August 1876. When the timber building was destroyed by fire in June 1888, a competition was immediately organised to design a more permanent Exhibition Building on the same site. The competition was held and prizes were awarded, however a new building did not immediately proceed. Financial difficulties and the possibility of importing a prefabricated building from England delayed the project until 1890. The passing of the National Association and Acclimatisation Society Act in 1890 legally allowed the National Association to become owners of the land they occupied and also empowered them to borrow money from the Government to erect its new building.

The original design competition had been won by the architect GHM Addison, who proposed a building estimated to cost around £20 000. Amendments to the original brief meant that in 1890 the new Exhibition Building was redesigned by Addison and a T-shaped building, accommodating an exhibition hall, concert hall and basement dining room was built.

The foundation stone was laid on 25 April 1891 and the entire building was expeditiously completed by August of the same year. The building was built of brick with a corrugated iron roof. The glazed bricks were locally manufactured by James Campbell, who also produced the terracotta elements. The roof framing and iron were imported from England. The Concert Hall occupied the shaft section of the T shaped building with the Exhibition Hall located at the top. On the northern side of the Exhibition Hall was a colonnaded verandah, with access to the hall through french doors. Half the area beneath the Exhibition Hall was a large open dining room with an adjacent kitchen. The basement was built of dark glazed bricks with the upper walls being red and cream bricks. Both the Exhibition Hall and the Concert Hall had projecting porte cocheres - the Concert Hall one decorated with terracotta tiles. An openwork terracotta parapet ran along the tops of the brick walls, punctuated by the caps of abutments that ran up the walls. The principal facades of the Exhibition and Concert Halls were each marked by a pair of towers.

Addison's original drawings show a brick boundary wall topped by metal railing, with densely planted shrubberies behind the wall. However this treatment of the grounds did not immediately proceed and the surroundings remained in a fairly undeveloped state until plans for the grounds were prepared in 1897 by Leslie G. Corrie, architect for the Queensland International Exhibition. These plans showed a formal layout of carriage drive, pathways, shrubbery, flower beds and a fountain. Bush houses abutting and extending from the northern side of the Exhibition Building framed and terminated the avenue approach from the exhibition grounds. The main entrance remained from Bowen Bridge Road with the carriage drive running in front of the Concert Hall porte cochere, around into the porte cochere of the Exhibition Hall then curving out to the gate on Gregory Terrace. Shrubberies existed along Bowen Bridge Road and Gregory Terrace between the fence and drives. A formal arrangement of grass-edged flower beds, with a fountain as the centrepiece of one, were laid out within the curve of the carriage drive.

Records indicate that the National Association continued to experience financial problems following the erection of the new building. In 1897 the responsibility of repaying the government loan, combined with the depressed economic conditions of the 1890s, caused the Association to go into liquidation and the government to take over ownership of the building.

In 1900 the Brisbane City Council, following the purchase of the Concert Hall's purpose built organ, leased the hall from the Government and organised a program of regular concerts and civic functions. At the same time, the Queensland Museum decided to move to and adapt the Exhibition Hall for a museum, after twenty years in a comparatively smaller purpose built building in William Street. Tenders for altering the Exhibition Hall into a museum were called in March 1899 and involved the construction of a gallery within the main hall, addition of a line of windows in the main northern wall to light the new gallery and modifications to the basement dining room to provide offices, preparation and storage spaces. The boundary wall and fence along Bowen Bridge Road and Gregory Terrace were completed soon after and the grounds around the building were developed as an ornamental strolling garden. From 1897 to 1929 John Jordan, Curator of the Museum Gardens, is thought to have played an important role in the design and development of the grounds. Photographs from the period show the gardens as well established, with a layout and planting character recognisable as very similar to that existing today.

In 1930, following the opening of its City Hall auditorium, the Brisbane City Council vacated the Concert Hall and the space was converted to an art gallery. Further alterations involving the enclosure of the Museum's porte cochere were also carried at this time. The space was occupied until 1974 when the collection was moved to a temporary location in the city while a purpose built gallery was completed on the South Bank precinct. The Queensland Museum then expanded into the space and remained in the building until 1987 when they also moved to the South Bank precinct.

Several outbuildings have been constructed in the Old Museum grounds, particularly during the 1960's. The main ones are:

- A bomb shelter, built of brick during World War 2

- A large steel shed, built 1968

- The conservation buildings, built of stud construction in the 1960s and 70s

- The spirit store, built of brick in the 1970s

- The education building, built of brick in the 1970s

- The demountable building, put up in the 1970s

Since the Queensland Museum moved out of the building, it has been the temporary home of the Queensland Youth Orchestra, the Restaurant and Caterers Association and various other short term activities. Only minor changes have been made to the building to accommodate these uses.


The Old Museum Building is prominently located near the corner of a 1.5 hectare site at the intersection of Bowen Bridge Road and Gregory Terrace. The freestanding building is orientated roughly north-south and is surrounded by well laid out gardens and numerous outbuildings.

The building is basically a single storied structure containing both a mezzanine and basement level. Externally the building exhibits many characteristics of the Romanesque architectural style such as boldly articulated walls constructed in contrasting bands of red and cream brickwork, strongly modelled semicircular openings and numerous polygonal turrets. The principal facade of the building is symmetrical and its three dimensional form creates a striking profile by the use of parapeted gables and a pair of cupola roofed towers. Stucco string courses, copings and finials decorate the polychromatic brick walls. Terracotta relieves the walls in a few places such as the central arch of the Concert Hall porch and the spandrel above it. The terracotta openwork parapets that originally topped the walls, have mostly been removed. The base course of each wall is constructed of dark glazed brickwork.

The building is mostly lit by arch headed windows with timber multi-pane sashes in both the arched and Diocletian type form. The large window at the western end of the Exhibition Hall has fixed coloured leadlight glazing in timber frames, reinforced with iron bars in traditional fashion.

The building's two main wings were originally roofed with corrugated galvanised iron, of which none has survived. The domed tops of the towers at the front of the Concert Hall are roofed with sheet metal, which may be the original.

The building's interior has been more radically altered than the exterior, although it generally retains the form it acquired during the museum conversion. The Concert Hall's interior retains its original volume and general form, although much of the fabric of the galleries has been removed, along with the organ, stage and raking auditorium floor.

The Exhibition Hall interior retains the form it attained during the 1890s' conversion into a museum space including the gallery floor level, clerestory windows, ceiling lining and roof ventilation system. Public toilets have been constructed at the eastern end of the hall. The original port cochere has been enclosed to form a lobby. Roller doors and partitions have been introduced at the north-east and south-east corners of the ground floor level.

The basement level, located directly beneath the Exhibition Hall, displays the form it had after the museum conversion. The space is divided into various rooms with half-glazed timber partitions. Glazed floor lights with cast iron frames are set into the floor of the hall above. A trolley track and trapdoor have been installed to allow specimens to be moved up into the Exhibition Hall.

The grounds surrounding the Old Museum Building essentially retain the same character and layout they had when they were first developed. Additional outbuildings, introduced as a result of accommodation pressures, have partially intruded on the gardens and their condition has declined generally due to limitations on resources.

Image gallery


Location of Old Museum Building within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
14 November 2022
  1. Is your feedback about:
  2. (If you chose ‘website’ above)

    Page feedback

    1. How satisfied are you with your experience today? *
  3. (If you chose ‘service’ above)

    Feedback on government services, departments and staff

    Please use our complaints and compliments form.