Brisbane’s earliest surviving house dates from 1846 when it was built as a simple single storey dwelling for pastoralist Patrick Leslie who had pioneered settlement in the Darling Downs region.
Leslie only lasted there a year, selling it in 1847 to his brother-in-law Captain John Wickham, one time officer of the Royal Navy and senior government official of Moreton Bay. During his time with the Navy he was part of the ship’s crew of HMS Beagle, the vessel that took Charles Darwin on the investigative trip whose outcome would rock the world of religion. Subsequently a faithful model of the ‘Beagle’ is on display at the house that Darwin himself has been a guest in.
It was during Wickham’s residency that the house was added to substantially, with extra rooms and a wraparound verandah, as well as becoming a social hub in its capacity as a kind of unofficial government house. Yet it was not to be a happy house – Wickham’s wife died in 1851 and he spent 6 years as a widower there before remarrying in 1857 with the expectation that he would be the first Governor of Queensland. When George Bowen was chosen instead, overcome with bitterness Wickham packed up and returned with his wife and family to England.
Various other owners and tenants followed, including the merchant George Harris and his wife Jane who resided there as both owners and tenants for 27 social years. In 1918 it was sold to the City of Brisbane Council, whereupon it became the residence of their first superintendent of parks and gardens, esteemed landscape gardener Henry (Harry) Moore. Henry was responsible for many of Brisbane’s public scapes that still define the city today, such as the first rock gardens (including those along River Terrace in Kangaroo Point) and the designs of both Newstead and New Farm Park.
In 1932 Queensland’s Royal Historical Society took over three rooms and by 1939 an act had been passed to ensure the preservation of the property.
As with the majority of Brisbane’s prominent historical properties, the house was occupied by American forces during World War II and afterwards was opened to the public as a historical museum.
Today it is fully restored with period furniture, a resident ghost that allegedly turns the toes of the lady’s Victorian boots in the bed chambers inwards, and a small consortium of volunteers who themselves are living relics.
Visiting hours are Mon-Thu 10am-4pm and Sun 2-5pm, with a small admission fee. Scones and tea can be taken a la Mrs Harris on the verandah on these days.