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Government House

  • 600275
  • 170 Fernberg Road, Paddington


Also known as
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
Backhouse, Benjamin Joseph
Gailey, Richard
Queensland Works Department
Construction periods
1865–1953, Government House (1865 - 1953)
1865–1953, Government House - Main house (1865 - 1953)
1910, Government House - Lodge (1910 pre ? - 1910?)
1910, Government House - Garden/Grounds (1910 -)
1923, Government House - Staff housing 1 (Chauffeur's cottage) (1923 - 1923)
1935, Government House - Garage (1935 - 1935)
1937, Government House - Staff quarters (1937 - 1937)
1948, Government House - Office/Administration building (1948 - 1948)
1959–1960, Government House - Swimming pool (1959 - 1960)
1959–1969, Government House - Tennis court (1959 - 1969)
1959, Government House - Staff housing 2 (gardener's cottage) (1959 - 1959)
unknown, Government House - Natural landscape
Historical period
1840s–1860s Mid-19th century


170 Fernberg Road, Paddington
Brisbane City Council
-27.46379269, 152.99077395


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

Government House, Bardon, demonstrates the evolution of the government in Queensland, and is particularly important as the official residence of the State Governor since 1911, and the place for many vice regal functions including Royal visits. It is the Queensland's symbol of British colonisation of Australia.

The creation of an animal 'Sanctuary' and the 'Woodland Walks' by Sir John and Lady Goodwin contribute to the early appreciation of native flora and fauna in Queensland.

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

The main house, built in 1865 and originally known as Fernberg, is the only remaining substantial residence and villa estate, of almost original proportions, in Brisbane from the 1860's.

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

The residence, as a result of extensive additions in the 1880's, is regarded among the finest examples of a Victorian Italianate villa in Brisbane. Other buildings built in the grounds following the conversion of the house into a vice regal residence contribute to the understanding of the Governor's role and the complex of necessary auxiliary services.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

Government House is important for its strong aesthetic qualities that symbolise the wealth and influence of its residents. The residence's setting, situated on a wooded hilltop position with a tower, has been a significant landmark since its construction. The layout of the grounds, particularly the formal gardens and the surrounding bushland contribute significantly to the intrinsic character of the property.

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.

Government House, Bardon has had important associations with the governors of Queensland since 1911. The house and grounds contain evidence of the contribution of each of the vice regal couples and also records the changes that were made for Royal Tours.

The residence is important for its association with several prominent architects who have contributed to the evolution of Government House; Benjamin Backhouse (1865), Richard Gailey (1880s) and the Department of Public Works (1937). The house also has important associations with several early successful settlers in Brisbane. Among these were John Heussler, who built the house in 1865 and was prominent both in business and public life in Queensland and John Stevenson, a pastoralist, stock and station agent and member of the Legislative Assembly, who epitomised the success of the 1880s boom time by changing an 1860s villa to an Italianate Mansion.


The land on which the Government House stands was originally granted as two separate portions. Portion 223 was bought in May 1860 by John Christian Heussler, who also purchased the adjoining portion 291 two years later in partnership with George Reinhard Francksen. In 1864 Francksen died and the land passed to Heussler. At that time the landscape in this outlying suburb of Brisbane may have been close to undeveloped natural bushland.

Hon Johann (John) Christian Heussler M.L.C., 1820-1907, was a native of Germany who emigrated to Victoria, Australia in 1852. Due to poor health he moved to Brisbane 1854 and established the mercantile firm Heussler and Co. Over two decades Heussler became a highly respected business man and citizen of Queensland. He was recognised as a founding member of the Queensland Club, Consul for the Netherlands, German Consul, and Emigration Agent for German shipping companies. In 1866 he was appointed to the Legislative Council.

Heussler is believed to have built his home Fernberg in 1865, giving it a name of German origin that meant "distant mountain". The design of the house is attributed to Benjamin Backhouse, an architect responsible for several substantial commissions in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Local examples of his work include other villa residences such as Baroona (QHR 600289), Cinta (QHR 600054), Riversleigh and Bishopsbourne (QHR 600254). Due to financial difficulties, Heussler was forced to leave the property in 1872 and for the next five years Fernberg was leased. In November 1877 the estate was advertised for sale. The house and grounds were described as being:

Built of brick and stone, being four stories high, having below kitchen and servants' room; on the ground floor spacious drawing, dining, and breakfast rooms; on the first floor three large bedrooms, and one large room on the second floor. The roof is covered with slates, the verandahs and balconies being spacious, and presenting a delightful retreat for the enjoyment of pure air, shade and widespread and charming view.

The grounds are all enclosed, the timber having been thinned so to give the place a park-like appearance, and there is a shrubbery and garden around the house.

The property was transferred to George and Nathan Cohen in 1878, neither of who resided in the house. John Stevenson, a successful pastoralist, stock and station agent and member of the Legislative Assembly, bought Fernberg in the mid 1880's and commissioned architect, Richard Gailey in 1888 to design extensive additions and alterations to the house. The scheme was a major undertaking which more than doubled the size of the original house, and altered the building from an 1860's villa to an Italianate Mansion. The new section had stuccoed detailing, faceted bays and the main entrance was orientated northwards and marked by a tower. These additions made the residence very close to the road, however following the "straightening" of Fernberg Road, the original road became the driveway. The road was transformed into a winding avenue that led to both the front and side entrances. In 1890 a fountain, gates and gate pillars were erected in the grounds that were well established with trees and shrubs. Various other outbuildings and structures were also developed on the property and included: a coach house, five stall stable, harness room, tool room, man's room, laundry, gymnasium, aviary, fowl house, closets, bush house, glass house and asphalt tennis court. The 1890's economic depression brought an end to Stevenson's fortune and by 1895 the property was mortgaged to William Pattison and Walter Russell Hall. Two years later Hall, a well-known philanthropist who had made his fortune from gold at Mount Morgan, took possession of the residence however he chose never to live at the property.

The decision to lease Fernberg as a temporary Vice-regal residence was made in February 1910 following the formal dedication of the original Government House (QHR 600118) as a University on 10 December 1909. At the same time, plans for a new Government House to be erected at Victoria Park were being prepared, however work on the new House never progressed beyond the construction of footings. In June 1911, despite reports that the residence was too small, the government purchased Fernberg. Alterations and renovations carried out immediately included painting, new floor coverings, the installation of electric light, metalling, gravelling, and rolling of roadways and fencing. Several buildings from the former Government House site were moved to Fernberg in 1910-11 to provide accommodation for offices, a billiard room and apartments for the Private Secretary and ADC. A lodge and servants' quarters were also relocated to the site. A chauffeur's cottage was built in 1923, and a commodious timber garage erected in 1935.

Formal gardens were initially developed in 1910, primarily for the purpose of providing functional spaces for Vice-Regal garden parties and fund-raising events. Generally the selection of plant material in these garden areas was exotic, mostly ornamental and some native trees. Surrounding the gardens was the original bushland that covered about 70% of the entire grounds. In comparison to the formal gardens, the bushland received very little attention except for the successive clearing of the understorey plants and later of sapling and shrub regrowth. In 1928 "woodland walks" were created by Governor Sir John and Lady Goodwin through the bushland behind Government House. Paths were created, foot bridges constructed and various native plants introduced, such as jacarandas, wattles and poinsettias.

In September 1936, suggestions to relocate the Governor back to the original residence were raised by the then Governor, Sir Leslie Wilson. Despite serious consideration, the Premier and Cabinet rejected the idea and instead proposed substantial additions to Fernberg thus settling the issue of a permanent Government House. Governor and Lady Wilson were both intimately involved in the plans for additions that were designed by the Department of Public Works. The extent of the 1937 additions included construction of a new eastern wing that contained a large reception room, billiards and supper room and a new bedroom with ensuite. To give coherency to the entire building, the entire exterior of Fernberg was painted cream. New maids' quarters and a laundry were built separate to the main house.

Minor internal alterations were carried out on Fernberg in the mid 1940's after a change of Governor and in anticipation of visits by various members of the Royal Family. Pressure for additional accommodation for the Governor's private staff in the late 1940's resulted in the construction of a single storied brick Auxiliary Building. This building replaced the earlier timber building that had been relocated onto the site in 1910 and was subsequently moved to another site in Bardon. In 1950 a brick Administration building and a new coverway with port cochère were erected. The entire complex was painted white at this time.

In 1953 a balcony with a concrete staircase leading to the ground level, was constructed, opening off the Reception Room. Doors and windows in the Billiards Rooms were altered so that they opened out onto a terrace beneath the balcony.

Additional residences for staff accommodation were introduced in 1959, 1984 and 1986. A tennis court and swimming pool were built in 1959-60. Air conditioning services were first introduced in 1957 and were extended in 1978. Refurbishment of the original section of Fernberg, referred to as the Guest Wing, was carried out in 1981-82. A new Guard House was constructed in 1987 and substantial internal works involving the refurbishment of the reception areas were also carried out in the same year. The main house underwent major external refurbishment and painting again in 1992.

Late in 1992 one hectare of Government House grounds was taken over by the Department of Transport as part of the widening of Kaye Street. The result of these works is the construction of substantial retaining walls along the western perimeter of the property.

The Governors

In the period 1910-37, when Fernberg was considered a temporary Government House, it served as the home for five Governors.

1909-14 SIR WILLIAM MACGREGOR, Scottish born governor who signed the University Act providing the newly inaugurated University of Queensland with a home. He reputedly chose Fernberg because of the grounds in which it stood.

1915-20 SIR HAMILTON JOHN GOOLD-ADAMS, Irish born governor who played a prominent role in Queensland's politics during his appointment.



1932-46 SIR LESLIE ORME WILSON, Queensland's longest serving governor who prompted major additions to Fernberg.

Following the declaration of Fernberg as the permanent Government House, the following Governors have resided at the property:

1946-57 SIR JOHN LAVARACK, first Australian born governor

1958-66 SIR HENRY ABEL SMITH, Queensland's last English born governor





1992-97 HER EXCELLENCY MRS LENEEN FORDE, first female governor


Fernberg is situated on a rise that is approximately 100 metres above sea level overlooking the city in the south-east and Mt Coot-tha to the west. The 15 hectares of grounds comprise formal, ornamental gardens around the main house, ancillary administration, staff and maintenance buildings, the whole of which is surrounded by native bushland. The site is bounded by Fernberg Road, Kaye Street, Baroona Road and Murruba Street.

The Main House

Government House is basically a two storied building with a basement level. Stylistically the building demonstrates Victorian Italianate characteristics such as asymmetrical massing, a prominent tower employing classical motifs, a balustraded roof parapet, bracketed eaves, segmental arch openings and a stucco wall finish.

The earliest section of the house is the 1860s wing which is located at the southern most part of the house. The formal entry to the house is via the 1880's section of the house and the 1937 addition form the eastern wing of the house.

Internally the main focus of the building is its large central foyer that has a large fireplace, timber panelled dados and an intricately carved timber staircase, over shadowed by a large stained glass window depicting a life size Robert the Bruce. The principal rooms located at ground level are the formal reception and dining rooms, and the Governor's study. Each of the rooms is substantially intact however their decorative schemes have been subject to several refurbishments. Original furniture from the Old Government House still remains in these rooms.

At the upper level are the private bedrooms of the Governor and several guest bedrooms that are located in the southern (earliest) wing of the house. These guest rooms were subject to major renovations in 1981-82 and currently are furnished to reflect Australian interiors prior to 1900.

The principal rooms in the basement level of the house are the investiture room, billiard room, private dining room and the kitchen. The interiors of these areas have been greatly altered and some alterations to the original layout have occurred.

Original joinery, partitions, openings and fittings remain extensively through the entire house.

The Grounds

The Government House grounds consist mainly of two different types of gardens; formal and natural bushland. The formal gardens comprise about 25% of the property with the rest being bushland.

The formal gardens include the developed garden areas as well as the drives, paths, retaining walls and steps. Generally, the selection of plant material in this section is exotic and decorative, with some old remnant native trees. There is extensive use of mown grass surfacing in these areas.

The bushland areas are characterised by the presence of remnant Eucalypt forest and the lack of extensive built development. Several paths meander through the area. Several gullies feed into a slightly larger stream in the bottom south eastern corner.

The Ancillary Buildings

The Lodge (built <1910, relocated to site from Old Government House) is a timber building located next to the vice-regal entrance gates. The building, which has two projecting gables, has been extensively altered over a long period of time.

The Chauffer's Residence (built 1923) is a spacious timber house with a gabled roof. The building has a verandah attached to two sides and has a faceted bay at the front.

The Garages (built 1935) are a timber structure with a galvanised iron roof crown with a fleche and weathervane. The garage contains space for seven cars in three separate rooms, and several other small rooms.

The Staff Accommodation (built 1937) is a two storied brick and concrete building located south-west of the main house. The building is substantially intact despite several refurbishments.

The Administration Cottage (built 1948) is a single storied brick building containing several offices, bedrooms and sitting room for the Aide-de-Camp, the Personal Assistant to the Governor and some guest accommodation.

The Gardener's Residence (built 1959) is a standard public service D Type residence.

The Butler's and the Chef's Residences (built 1984 and 1986) are recent constructions as are the two staff garages located nearby.

Image gallery


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