History of Government house

History page title.

Since the mid-19th century, the Fernberg Estate has developed from private ownership into a key State asset.

Fernberg circa 1870's
Johann Heussler at "Fernberg" - 1864
The house known as Fernberg (German for ‘distant mountain') was one of the first homes built in Paddington, Brisbane. It was erected in 1864/65 by Johann Heussler, a Brisbane merchant and later a member of parliament. Situated on two parcels of land bought in 1860 and 1862, the house was designed by local architect, Benjamin Backhouse. It was constructed of stone excavated on site and combined with a cement and lime mixture.

The Heussler family occupied Fernberg until 1872 when reverses in the sugar industry and the high cost of upkeep forced foreclosure on the property by the mortgagee. Records from 1878 show the property being owned by the Cohen brothers.

Fernberg circa 1880's
The Stevenson Years 1882-1890s
In 1882, Fernberg was purchased by John Stevenson, a member of parliament. Stevenson commissioned architect, Richard Gailey (known for the Empire Hotel in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane Girls' Grammar School, and the Baptist Tabernacle, Wickham Terrace), to extend Fernberg. Under Gailey's supervision, the house more than doubled in size and changed from an 1860s villa to an Italianate mansion. During the course of the project Stevenson also installed, on the main stairway, the stained glass window depicting Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland (1306-1329).

Stevenson lost his considerable fortune in the financial crisis of the 1890s and, in 1894, the title to Fernberg was transferred to his mortgagees, two directors of the Mount Morgan gold mine in Central Queensland - William Pattison and Walter Hall. With the death of Pattison in 1899, Hall became the sole owner of Fernberg. He does not appear to have lived in the house, and Stevenson and his wife continued to occupy the home. In 1901, the title to Fernberg was transferred from Hall to Adelaide Palmer, Stevenson's sister-in-law.

Transformation to Government House

Governor Sir William MacGregor moved to Fernberg in 1910, as a temporary measure, after the former Government House was handed over by the Government to form the nucleus of Queensland's first university. It was planned to build a new Government House in Victoria Park. Plans were drawn and foundations laid, but the project did not proceed, and the Queensland Government purchased Fernberg as a permanent Government House in 1911 for £10,000.

When Sir William MacGregor moved to Fernberg, the house was badly run down. An early record shows the works undertaken to bring the house and property up to an acceptable standard:

* conversion from gas to electric lighting;
* repair to roadways and drains;
* extensive repainting;
* improvements to water pressure;
* building a garage and fowl yard;
* repairing the roof and the cow shed.

No structural work was undertaken on the house until 1937 when a wing was added, incorporating the drawing room, investiture room and a first floor bedroom suite. A new building for the domestic staff was also constructed in the same year.

In 1948 the administration block, known as The Cottage, was built, and in 1987 the building was extended and modernised, and a new guard house constructed. In 2001 a multi-function building (the Pavilion) was built adjacent to the tennis court to replace an old change shed and to provide additional flexibility for hosting events at Government House.

To complement the natural bush vegetation in the south-east corner of the estate, two connected ornamental ponds with an associated gazebo were constructed in 1992. The Government House grounds cover an area of some 14 hectares.

Fernberg circa 1890's

New Gov house image
Architect's drawings of a new Government House in Victoria Park prepared in 1910. The project did not proceed.
Adelaide House
Adelaide House, temporary home of Queensland's first Governor, Sir George Bowen. Bowen lived here from December 1859 until 1862. The building is now The Deanery in the grounds of St. John's Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane.
First Government house
The first purpose built Government House in Queensland was designed by colonial architect, Charles Tiffin, and built at a cost of £12,000. This classical revival style residence was home to eleven of Queensland's Governors.
Governor Sir William MacGregor officiates at the dedication of the then Government House to the University of Queensland, on behalf of the people of Queensland, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of responsible government in Queensland, 10 December 1909.