Separation Day: the “true birth of Queensland”

10 December 2016 is the 157th anniversary of Sir George Ferguson Bowen, first Governor of Queensland, proclaiming the State of Queensland.

Sir George Ferguson Bowen, first governor of Queensland. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 3790

Sir George Ferguson Bowen, first governor of Queensland. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 3790

Governor Bowen arrived in Brisbane, with his wife Lady Diamantina Bowen, on 9 December 1859.  He disembarked at the (City) Botanic Gardens and with his party travelled along George St and Queen St to Adelaide House, the first Governor’s residence.  Adelaide House, overlooking the Brisbane River at Petrie Bight, was built by Andrew Petrie for Dr Hobbs and was to become the temporary residence while the Government House at Gardens Point was under construction.  It was from the balcony of Adelaide House that Queensland was proclaimed.

Adelaide House or The Deanery, Ann Street, Brisbane, ca. 1882. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 21925

Adelaide House or The Deanery, Ann Street, Brisbane, ca. 1882. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 21925

The image (above) of Adelaide House was taken in 1882, some 13 years after the Proclamation of Queensland.  Imagine the scene in 1859, before the excavations to Adelaide St below, with sweeping views towards the crowded wharves lining the Brisbane River, and crowds cheering Governor Bowen’s announcement.

Imagine too, the December weather. The heat was noted in early reports of this event, mentioning that it was “90 degrees in the shade and a dusty journey along George St”. 90 degrees fahrenheit equates to a warm 32 degrees celsius.  The streets were not bitumen like today, clothing was worn in heavy layers and the only air-conditioning was from a passing breeze.

December 10 became an official holiday throughout Queensland, and it was celebrated in many ways over many years.  Sports carnivals, cricket matches and race meetings were popular events. Trips to the seaside – Sandgate and Redcliffe and Wynnum for the Brisbane folk – were undertaken, and country train stations reported record crowds travelling on special excursion trains.

Separation Day was to remain a public holiday for 60 years, until 1920.  With Federation in 1901, national matters were overtaking state concerns, but people did not want to give up a holiday, even though Queensland had moved on from a pioneering colony in the 1850s and 1860s to a modern and prosperous state of the new Commonwealth of Australia.

The Proclamation can be read in full, from page 1 of Queensland Government Gazette, No 1, published by authority on Saturday, 10 December 1859.

Read the Proclamation in full on Text Queensland

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Katy Roberts - Library Technician, State Library of Queensland

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