A Special Birthday

The day had arrived, it was official: the district of Moreton Bay would no longer be part of New South Wales - it would be its own colony, named Queensland in honour of Queen Victoria.

Early map of Brisbane Town by Henry Wade (1843-01-01/1843-12-31) by Surveyor-General's Office, New South WalesQueensland State Archives

The opening of the district for free settlement in 1845 had resulted in a growing determination among residents to secure complete separation from New South Wales.

With the government located in distant Sydney, the people of Moreton Bay felt increasingly neglected. 

Although the passing of the Australian Colonial Government Bill in 1850 made it legally possible for a separate colony to be created, disagreement among the settlers over possible boundaries and whether free or convict labour should be encouraged delayed matters for almost 10 years.

The Proclamation of Queensland, Office of the Governor of Queensland, 1859-12-10/1859-12-10, From the collection of: Queensland State Archives
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Officially the ‘order made by the Queen in Council… for creating the territory of Moreton Bay into a District Colony under the name of Queensland’ was signed on 6 June, 1859 but it did not become a reality for the people of Moreton Bay until six months later.

View of Brisbane taken from the Old Windmill in Spring Hill (1862-01-01/1862-12-31) by Department of the Premier and CabinetQueensland State Archives

Despite the heat and humidity, on 10 December 1859 the streets of Brisbane were crowded with over 4,000 people, almost the town’s entire population. The crowds eagerly awaited the arrival of the Sir George Bowen, Queensland’s first governor.

Portrait of Sir George Ferguson Bowen (1868-01-01/1868-12-31) by Colonial Secretary's OfficeQueensland State Archives

Sir George and his wife, Lady Bowen, sailed down the river towards the Botanic Gardens where they disembarked to a welcome reception, a 21-gun salute and a cheering crowd. 

St John's Deanery, Brisbane (1958-01-01/1958-12-31) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

They then made their way towards the balcony of St John's Deanery, where Sir George took the oath of office and publicly read the Proclamation of Queensland for the very first time. 

The Proclamation of Queensland (1859-12-10/1859-12-10) by Office of the Governor of QueenslandQueensland State Archives

A public holiday was declared for 10 December and the people of Queensland celebrated their state’s birthday and its separation from New South Wales on that day until 1920, when national matters gained priority over state affairs.

According to anecdotal evidence, Her Majesty would have liked the newly created colony to be named British Columbia. Other suggestions were to call it Cooksland in honour of Captain James Cook. It was thanks to Colonial Secretary Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton’s suggestion that ‘the colonists would find particular pride’ in Queen’s Land and with that it became known as Queensland instead.

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