Discover the layers of Brisbane’s oldest surviving residence Newstead House, now part of the living history of Brisbane city, operating as a house museum for you to enjoy.
After the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement closed and land was subdivided and offered for sale, brothers-in-law Patrick Leslie and Captain John Clements Wickham purchased adjoining allotments on the riverbank overlooking Bulimba in April 1845. Leslie also purchased an adjoining lot to the west along Breakfast Creek. Leslie was in financial difficulties at this time and purchased his 34 acres in his father’s name; Scottish Laird William Leslie.
Patrick Leslie’s brothers George and Walter had already established grazing runs on the Darling Downs at ‘Toolburra’ and ‘Canning Downs’ in 1840. Patrick was the first European to bring flocks of sheep to the Downs following advice from Allan Cunningham of the potential of the region. Patrick Leslie was intent on establishing a small farm on his property on the Brisbane River which he named Newstead. He set about building a small two storey house, which was cut into the hill on the western side, but giving the appearance of a single storey house from the river. He and his wife Kate and son moved into the house in mid-1846. By October, he returned to live on the Darling Downs, leaving the house to be run by employees and in 1847, sold Newstead to Captain JC Wickham. The sale allowed him purchase property on the Downs.
Wickham was Police Magistrate at the time and was living in the former Commandant’s Cottage in George Street. He was about to build his own home near Newstead House, so the opportunity to acquire a new house was advantageous to him and his wife Anna – Kate Leslie’s sister. Both were daughters of Hannibal Macarthur of ‘The Vineyard’ at Parramatta. The Wickhams then extended the home.
Wickham had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy under Philip Parker King (son of NSW Governor Philip Gidley King) and from 1831 – 1836 he was second in command on the Beagle where a young Charles Darwin was the naturalist. Newstead House boasts a model of the Beagle crafted by Maurice McLeary.
Philip Parker King’s son, named Philip Gidley King in honour of his grandfather, also married one of Hannibal Macarthur’s daughters, Elizabeth in 1843. George Leslie married Emmeline Macarthur in 1848, so there were strong familial links.
Anna Wickham died in June 1852, and another sister, Emma Chester Master and her husband Francis, moved to Newstead to assist the Wickham family. In April 1853, Captain Wickham was appointed Government Resident, and Newstead House then became the unofficial Government House. It hosted the Governor General, Sir Charles Fitz Roy on his 1854 official visit to the colony where separation from New South Wales was high on the agenda.
While Wickham had been an advocate for separation, the actual event led to the abolition of his position. The Letters Patent for the new Colony of Queensland were signed by Queen Victoria on 6 June 1859, and the new governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen arrived on 10 December. Wickham was denied a government pension, and he and his new wife Ellen left Queensland for England in January 1860. Patrick Leslie had returned to England the previous year.
Newstead House was briefly occupied by the Attorney General before being offered for sale in September 1862. George and Jane Harris moved into the house in December 1862. George was a successful merchant with a store at North Quay and a fleet of ships. He was a Member of the Queensland Legislative Council and his wife Jane was the daughter of George Thorn, MLA and businessman of Ipswich. Her brother was later Premier of Queensland. The Harrises later purchased Newstead, although it was legally entwined in the estate of Captain Wickham who had died in 1864.
Harris employed architect George Cowlishaw to plan repairs and additions to the house beginning in 1865 incorporating a major redesign by 1867 resulting in the elite residence we have today. The Harris family lived a lavish lifestyle at Newstead, although selling and leasing it again by 1876 when Harris became insolvent. James Taylor of Toowoomba was the new owner. Harris’s elder daughter Edith married James Taylor’s son Condamine in 1883 and another daughter Evelyn married R G Casey, manager of George Thorn’s former property, Normanby Station. Their son RG Casey became Governor General in 1965.
James Taylor subdivided housing allotments around Newstead House in 1878, and further subdivisions occurred in 1888 and 1890. The Harrises left in April 1890 after 28 years, and George died the following year.
The departure of the Harris family was the end of an era for the house in that no subsequent owners or tenants occupied the dwelling for any substantial length of time. The Brisbane City Council began negotiating with the owner in 1915, Mrs Heaslop to purchase the property, which was formalised in 1918.
The new Superintendent of Parks, Harry Moore and his family moved into Newstead House in 1917. Moore’s appointment occurred during the time of the nascent town planning movement in Australia, which advocated the inclusion of parklands into urban design. He redesigned the grounds and Newstead Park was officially opened In January 1921.
From May 1932, the Historical Society of Queensland occupied the house establishing a museum. In 1939 a trust was established for the management of the house. Through the support of the Governor, Lord Mayor and the Queensland Historical Society, Newstead was the first property in Queensland, and likely Australia, to be protected by an Act of Parliament – Newstead House Trust Act 1939.
From late 1942 through to the end of WWII, Newstead House was occupied by men from the Photographic Detachment of the 832nd Signal Service Company, Signal Section of the Unites States Army Services of Supply. The house was used as a barracks for the men, while nearby Cintra House housed the photographic laboratory.
The Queensland Women’s Historical Society occupied part of the house from 1951 until 1967. Between 1968 and 1970, there was a major restoration project undertaken by the Department of Public Works in preparation for the property to operate as a house museum. The house was opened to the public in February 1971.
The Friends of Newstead House formed in August 1974 and first met at the house in March 1975. The committee utilised the celebration of the house’s 130th anniversary in 1976 to embark on a fundraising campaign to begin restoration of the dining room and gentleman’s library. The Royal Historical Society relocated to the former Commissariat Stores in William Street, in October 1981, allowing for further restoration of the house, which is ongoing.