A History of Brisbane

By Tim Lambert

19th Century Brisbane

In 1823 the government of New South Wales was hoping to found a new prison colony to remove the worst of the convicts from the Sydney area. They sent the Surveyor-General John Oxley (c. 1785-1828) with a ship to explore the coast.

When he sailed into Moreton Bay Oxley came across 2 convicts who had been shipwrecked some months previously. Fortunately, the local Indigenous Australians were friendly and they helped the two Europeans. The 2 convicts showed Oxley a previously unknown river.

He named it Brisbane after the Governor of New South Wales then, a Scot named Thomas Brisbane (1773-1860). (Thomas Brisbane was governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825).

In 1824 the government founded a prison colony by red cliffs north of the river. However, in 1825 the prison was moved to the site of modern Brisbane. The Old Windmill was built in 1828 and convicts built parts of the Commissariat Store in 1829.

However, in the following years, settlers continued to flock to Australia and there was increasing pressure to allow them to live in Brisbane. So in 1842, the region was opened to free settlers. Soon a flourishing community grew up in Brisbane.

The oldest house in Brisbane is Newstead House, which was built in 1846. It was built for a man named Patrick Leslie (1815-1881) although in 1847 he sold it to John Wickham. Newstead House then served as an unofficial government house.

In 1859 Queensland was made a state. Brisbane was made the capital. The city grew rapidly and many historic buildings were erected. Old Government House was built in 1862 and Parliament House was ready in 1869. Meanwhile, the Queensland Museum was founded in 1862. From 1865 Brisbane was lit by gas. Bowen Park opened in 1867.

The Cathedral of St Stephen was dedicated in 1874. Customs House in Brisbane was built in 1889.

The first railway station in Brisbane was Roma Street Station, which opened in 1876. From 1885 horse-drawn trams ran in the streets of Brisbane. After 1897 they were replaced by electric trams, which ran until 1969. However, in 1893 Brisbane suffered disastrous floods.

20th Century Brisbane

By 1900 the population of Brisbane was about 130,000 and continued to grow rapidly. However, in 1900 there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in Brisbane.

The University of Queensland was founded in Brisbane in 1909. The first students were admitted in 1911. Brisbane Arcade opened in 1923. City Hall in Brisbane was built in 1930. Petrie Tableau, a metal sculpture by Stephen Walker was added in 1988. Meanwhile, Brisbane Airport opened in 1926. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary opened in 1927. Story Bridge opened in 1940. It was designed by Dr John Bradfield.

On 26 and 27 November 1942 fighting broke out between American and Australian troops in Brisbane. One Australian was killed and it became known as the Battle of Brisbane.

After the Second World War Brisbane flourished. St Andrews War Memorial Hospital was established in 1958.

Griffith University was founded in Brisbane in 1971. The first students were admitted in 1975. (The university is named after Sir Samuel Walker Griffith 1845-1920). Also in 1971, the Queensland Maritime Museum was founded. Botanic Gardens opened in 1976. Brisbane Planetarium opened in 1978.

However, in 1931 Brisbane again suffered from floods. Brisbane suffered more flooding in 1974.

Meanwhile, on 8 March 1973, 15 people were killed in Brisbane in an arson attack. Two drums of diesel oil were placed in the Whisky Au Go Go Club and ignited.

On a happier note, Alma Park Zoo in Brisbane dates from 1973. Furthermore, Brisbane hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1982 and the Expo in 1988.

In recent years landmark buildings have been erected in Brisbane. They include Riverside Centre, built in 1986, and Waterfront Place, built in 1989. Meanwhile, the Myer Centre was built in 1988. Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre opened in 1995.

21st Century Brisbane

Brisbane Museum opened in City Hall in 2003. Riparian Plaza followed in 2005. The Aurora Tower was built in Brisbane in 2006. It is 207 metres tall and contains 69 storeys. At present, the Aurora Tower is the tallest building in Brisbane. Also in 2006, The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art opened.

Then in 2008, Brisbane Wheel opened. The Gateway Bridge was built in Brisbane in 1986 but a duplicate bridge was built in 2010. The two bridges were renamed Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges.

However in 2011 floods again struck Brisbane. Thousands of homes were flooded.

Today Brisbane is the third-largest city in Australia. It’s a flourishing city with many tourist attractions around the city and in the surrounding area. Furthermore, Brisbane is an important port, exporting wool, wheat, and fruit. In 2020 the population of Brisbane was 2.3 million.