Penal Colony and Early Settlement History

During some of the earliest chapters of Australian exploration, it was decided that a second penal colony should be established at Redcliffe in 1824 to house the most recalcitrant of Sydney’s convicts. It was moved to the site of Brisbane the following year. By 1829 there were almost 1000 prisoners, more than 100 of whom were women, but by 1839 only 107 convicts remained.

The penal era ended in 1842 when the Moreton Bay area was opened to free settlement, with Brisbane Town as its centre. Today, only the Windmill Tower and the Commissariat Store, both built by convict labour, still stand as markers of those times. The colony of Queensland was separated from New South Wales in 1859 and Brisbane, with a population of 6000, was made the capital.

It quickly underwent the first of its many booms, with more than 35,000 new settlers flocking here between 1860 and 1865 and the city as you now see it began to evolve. Marvel at just how far Brisbane has developed in such in a relatively short window of time … our Greeters will transport you back to those wild, colonial times and the early days of statehood. Experiences may include:


Commissariat Store

The Colonial Stores Building and Commissariat Store Museum

Built by convicts in 1829, the Commissariat Store is the second-oldest building in Brisbane and now a museum with one of the most unusual exhibit items in the city – a jar of fingertips. They belonged to convicts sent to the penal settlement on the island of St Helena in Moreton Bay and are macabre evidence of the self-mutilation practised to escape their sentences of hard labour.

The Commissariat Store is the only convict-built structure in Brisbane still occupied and was built as a food and clothing store for both the military and convicts. You can see the feared cat-o’-nine tails used to flog convicts, leg irons, a convict cap, a straightjacket and implements made by the prisoners in their attempts to escape.

Spring Hill Windmill

Windmill Tower

Brisbane’s oldest building can claim a unique place in Australia’s history, having been the site of brutal punishment in the convict era and used to broadcast the first television signals in the Southern Hemisphere in 1934. Built by convicts in the late 1820s, it is not just the longest-surviving convict building, but also the oldest windmill in existence in Australia.

In 1861 the mill became a signal station, and from 1866 to 1894 a gun was fired from the windmill at 1pm every day to announce the time.

National Trust House

National Trust House

Once the Immigration Depot, National Trust House was for many the final stop on a journey that had taken them halfway around the world. Built in 1865, the The Immigration Depot was the first home for immigrants who answered the colony’s call for settlers, and who lived there while they searched for work and lodgings. 

In 1887 a new and much larger Immigration Depot, Yungaba, was opened at Kangaroo Point and in 1890, the old Immigration Depot became the offices of the newly formed Department of Agriculture. It is now the home of the National Trust of Queensland and a number of other natural heritage and community organisations.

Newstead House

Newstead House

Newstead House represents one of the first occasions – if not the first – when Australia’s built environment was saved by an Act of Parliament. In 1939 the Queensland Government passed an act to preserve Newstead House as Brisbane’s oldest remaining example of domestic architecture. 

Newstead House was built in 1846 as a residence for Scottish settler Patrick Leslie but was soon acquired by Captain John Wickham.  Newstead House then became home to a series of judges, politicians and merchant ship owners, including George Harris, Consul General for the United States of America and member of Queensland’s Legislative Council.