From the original villa built by German-born merchant Johann Heussler in 1865, to today’s contemporary Government House, the story of Fernberg — the official residence of Queensland Governors since 1910 — is inextricably linked to The history of this state.
Among the most enterprising early residents of Brisbane was Johann Christian Heussler. Born near Frankfurt in 1820, he was working as a merchant in England when he decided to pursue business prospects in Australia. Settling in Brisbane in 1854, Heussler quickly established a successful business as a wine merchant with prestigious premises in Queen Street. By 1862, Heussler had purchased 16-hectares of bushland in Paddington. Heussler commissioned Benjamin Backhouse to design and build a grand villa, later called Fernberg — meaning ‘distant mountain’ in German. Completed in 1865, the mansion was finished with cement and lime, and featured a slate roof, airy verandahs, a kitchen and servants’ quarters in the basement, drawing, dining and breakfast rooms on the ground floor, three bedrooms on the first floor, a large room on the second floor, and an attic in the small tower above a handsome sandstone entrance.
Just seven years later, in 1872, Heussler faced bankruptcy and consequently lost the house to his creditors. Over the next 12 years, the house was acquired by a succession of owners (including Sir Arthur Palmer, one of the colony’s early Premiers) until, on 21 October, 1884, it was purchased by Scottish-born merchant and pastoralist John Stevenson. In 1888, Stevenson engaged prominent architect, Richard Gailey, to design additions which, upon completion in 1890, doubled Fernberg’s original size, and transformed it into an imposing, Italianate mansion with an iconic four-story belvedere. Gailey’s additions also included a large foyer with a fireplace and a fashionable tiled floor, timber-paneled dados, a carved cedar staircase, and a magnificent stained glass window depicting Scottish hero, King Robert the Bruce.
The depression, drought, and collapse of the pastoral industry in the 1890s ended Stevenson’s good fortune. The family continued to live in the house until the Queensland Government leased Fernberg in February 1910 (and eventually purchased it in June 1911) as a temporary vice-regal residence, the then-Government House at Gardens Point having become the nucleus of the newly-formed University of Queensland. In 1910, Sir William and Lady MaCgregor became the first of 16 vice regal couples to have resided at Fernberg.
For almost three decades, the building remained as a temporary Government House. In 1937, the Department of Works constructed a new, three storey wing on the eastern side of the building, signalling the end of Fernberg’s status as a temporary Government House. To this day, the grand hill-top estate continues to serve as the official residence of Queensland Governors.
In 2015, two lifts, a new porte-cochère constructed of local timbers and porphyry, and other improvements were installed. These extensions preserved the heritage value of, and, particularly for people with disabilities, enhanced access to, the House. These important changes ensured that Fernberg will remain a Government House for all Queenslanders and a place where visitors feel warmly welcomed.
Tours will detail Fernberg's progression from 1865 villa into a contemporary Government House
Tours will detail Fernberg's progression from 1865 villa into a contemporary Government House.