Brisbane Open House
West End
Saturday // 10am to 4pm
Pre-booked guided tours only

A part of Brisbane’s architectural heritage revealed.  “Toonarbin” is really two buildings. On the inside is one of Brisbane’s oldest homes. Built in the 1860’s by prolific colonial Architect, Benjamin Backhouse, it was sold by him in 1868 to the renowned master mariner, Captain Henry O’Reilly. Three generations of O’Reillys lived there, expanding the original 8 acres to 24, extending right down to the Brisbane river; and then subsequently reducing it by subdivision. In 1926 the family sold the property to the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Duhig then further subdivided the property and undertook extensive work on the original house, turning it into a Convent for the Sisters of Mercy and fully cladding it with the red brickwork that is very evident today. In fact, the exterior of the building had substantially defined the building until fairly recently, for until its restoration over the past 5 years it had been largely known only as “the Convent”, with the interior building almost forgotten, hidden as it is by the imposing exterior.

The original building is on three levels and is of triple-brick construction with 400mm-thick external walls, founded on large porphry blocks. It also has 300mm-thick internal walls, all covered with cement render. All ceilings are lath and plaster, with decorative plaster ceiling roses and cornices. There is extensive use of red cedar doors, architraves and skirtings throughout. The house originally had twelve fireplaces; ten of these remain. While some of the original cedar joinery had been removed to allow for its conversion to a Convent, that has now been reinstated. Leadlight windows and doors and Art Deco ceilings installed by the Church have been retained.

From 2008 until the present time, this building has been extensively restored. It is now a private residence. The interior has been returned – as far as is possible – to the original Georgian “manor house” that it once was. The exterior has remained virtually untouched. The grounds, now much reduced, are still in the process of landscaping.

Tour Tips

No wheelchair access // No photography inside

Booked out


Prior to 1868
Benjamin Backhouse