Museum of Brisbane

Sunday Stories | How did Brisbane get its name?

Sunday Stories | How did Brisbane get its name?

Brisbane is named after its river, which General John Oxley named after the Governor of New South Wales in 1823, Sir Thomas Brisbane.

In 1823 Queensland did not exist, rather it was known as the northern end of New South Wales. It is this area that Oxley explored following orders from Sir Thomas Brisbane to locate a suitable, secondary location for a convict settlement.

During his travels, Oxley encountered two shipwrecked ticket-of-leave convicts who had been living with a local Aboriginal group periodically for several months. On their advice, Oxley located and charted the wide-mouthed river, naming it after Sir Thomas Brisbane.

In 1824 the Moreton Bay Penal Colony was established, initially at Redcliffe before moving to the present-day William ad Queen streets in Brisbane’s CBD. Following a gradual close of the penal colony from 1839, Brisbane was proclaimed open for free settlement in 1842.

Sir Thomas Brisbane never resided in the city that took his name however the city pays tribute to this history with the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium in Toowong. Astronomy was his greatest passion, believed to be the reason he lobbied for the job of Governor of New South Wales, so that he could charter the stars of the Southern Hemisphere.

And this is exactly what he did, publishing ‘A Catalogue of 7385 Stars, Chiefly in the Southern Hemisphere’ prepared from his observations between 1822-1826.

Image: Jessie Drummond, General Sir Thomas Brisbane 1894, After Sir John Watson Gordon c1848, Oil on canvas, Gift of the Town Council of Largs, Scotland, 1954, City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane.