The Brisbane homes which almost became Government House
(Cumbooquepa, South Brisbane, now part of Somerville House; image courtesy of Brisbane Open House, photography Andy Yip)
Completed in 1862, Queensland’s original Government House on Gardens Point served eleven successive Governors until it was decided in 1909 that the House would provide a suitable nucleus around which to build a university.
(Old Government House, Gardens Points)
The lack of a dedicated ballroom had also become critical — the furniture had to be moved and the carpets rolled up every time there was a vice-regal function!
With the university set to open in 1910, the rush was on to find new vice-regal accommodation. In 1909 plans were drawn up for a new Government House in Victoria Park at Kelvin Grove, but even if that were to be built, temporary vice-regal accommodation would still be needed.
This resulted in an urgent search for a temporary Government House, with five of Brisbane’s finest houses seriously considered before Fernberg was rented:
Kinellan, New Farm
Kinellan in New Farm was built as a single storey home in the early 1860s by Queensland’s first colonial Treasurer, Sir Robert Mackenzie. Named after one of his clan’s residences in Scotland, the house became a two-storey building in the 1880s, surrounded by magnificent gardens. It was demolished in 1929 but the name lives on in Kinellan Point on the Brisbane River.
Merthyr, New Farm
(Image courtesy of Griffith University)
Merthyr, also in New Farm, was built in the 1870s by Queensland Premier, Sir Samuel Griffith. He named the home after his Welsh birthplace, Merthyr Tydfil. Its large, high-ceilinged ballroom was immensely appealing to those searching for a temporary Government House! The house was demolished in 1963.
(The ballroom at Merthyr; image courtesy of Griffith University)
Wybenia, New Farm
(Image courtesy of the State Library of Queensland)
The third house considered was Wybenia, a Federation-style residence built in 1906 for Brisbane’s ‘Pearl King’, James Clark, who had made his fortune in the pearling industry. Clark acquired the New Farm riverside site because pearl luggers used to moor there. The house no longer exists but was on the site of today’s Merthyr Bowls Club.
Cumbooquepa, South Brisbane
(Image courtesy of Brisbane Open House, photography Andy Yip)
The final residence given serious consideration was the beautiful home built on Vulture Street in 1890 for The Hon. Thomas Blacket Stephens MLC. It was named Cumbooquepa, the local Indigenous name for the waterholes which existed on the property at the time. Today, it is listed by the National Trust, and the girls’ school, Somerville House, has been its proud custodian for more than a century.
The Queensland Government secured a three-year lease over Fernberg in 1910, and purchased it for £10,000, although it wasn’t until the 1930s the Government abandoned plans to find or build another Government House, and Fernberg became the official residence of Queensland Governors.