Government Printing Office

Original 1862 timber building and 1865 brick extension behind. SLQ 61128.

The Queensland Government Printing Office was located between William and George Streets from 1862 until 1983. In that time, new buildings were erected and old ones demolished as the demands on the Office changed.

From 1859, the new colony’s building program began with Government House. The Government Printing Office soon followed.  The Brisbane Courier reported in March 1862 that the new Government printing office had been handed over in full working order to the Government Printer. The building was designed by Queensland’s first Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin. It was a two storey building of hard wood with nine rooms including a composing room 50 feet by 30 feet (15 metres by 9 metres) and cost £1,153. Inside were six superior presses dedicated to the work of printing, not just Hansard (the record of parliamentary proceedings) which was first published in 1864, and Votes and Proceedings,  but also, according to Wikipedia,  ‘postage stamps, Government Gazettes, Acts of Parliament, annual reports of departments, survey maps, text books, electoral rolls, school readers, and banknotes’.

The growth in Government printing meant that the building was altered twice in the first two years. In 1865 an additional L shaped, three storey brick and stone building, again designed by Tiffin, was erected to the rear of the original building. Included was a small engine room with workshop. A detailed description published in the Queenslander in October 1866 presented a very clear picture of the setup of the expanded printery. Its new steam driven printing press, recently imported from England, could print 1200 sheets an hour.

By 1872 the work of the printery had increased to such an extent that the Government Printer requested a new building. Designed by FDG Stanley, who became Colonial Architect that year, and built by John Petrie, the building cost £5,331/3/6. It was completed in 1874. The new William Street building was  an L shaped brick building with the front wing replacing the original timber building. The second wing extended on to what was the site of the original convict era Commandant’s cottage and kitchen (demolished circa 1861), wrapping around the south-eastern side of the 1865 building. The building was fitted initially with gas lights. By 1883 was the first government building to have the Edison’s incandescent lights installed, as a trial.

In 1879 the Government Printer’s residence was established in what had once been the Evangelical Chapel. From 1861 it had been used as the Telegraph Office, hence Telegraph (later Stephens) Lane. The engine room, enlarged in 1880, was demolished between 1884 and 1887 to make way for extensions. Three new buildings – a three storey brick building along Telegraph Lane, a two storey brick engine room and a two storey brick Lithograph office – were attributed to architect JJ Clark and built by John Petrie at a cost of £21,043. The engine room with steam engines and generators, completed in late 1885, supplied electrical power to the Printing Office machinery only initially. By 1886 it was supplying power to Parliament House as well via underground cables. Small changes were made to the older buildings over the next ten years or so, including a concrete plinth to protect the foundations of the William Street building when the level of the street was lowered in 1892.

In 1901 the old Evangelical Church/Telegraph Office/Government Printer’s residence was demolished to make way for the construction of the Land Administration Building (now the Treasury Hotel). George Street had become more important than William Street and, between 1910 and 1912, a three storey brick extension wing was built on George Street to connect the 1887 Telegraph/Stephens Lane building and the Lithograph Office in a U shape around the engine room. This last printery building was the new public front for the Government Printing Office. On the parapet above the main entrance are two free standing devils with a devil’s head carved in relief, directly above the entrance. Traditionally devils are a symbol of the printing trade, generally accepted as representing the printer’s apprentices. In 1912 electricity was connected to all the buildings on the site by the Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company. Various improvements were made to the existing buildings over the next decades and small building works undertaken.

A 1965 master plan for the area between William and George Streets would have seen everything demolished between the Land Administration Building and Parliament House. Only the Executive Building from this plan was built, between 1968 and 1971. A second master plan in 1974 for the same area saw the very contentious demolition of the Bellevue Hotel (in April 1979), although the Mansions and Harris Terrace were retained.

The Government Printing Office moved to new premises in Woolloongabba in 1983. A number of buildings were demolished in 1986 to make way for a four storey annex connected to the Executive Building and a four storey underground car park. The only buildings to remain were the William Street building, the George Street/Stephens Lane building and the section fronting George Street. Until late 2016m the William Street section was the Public Services Club and the section fronting George Street was used by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. From January 2017 the former Government Printing Office was included within the construction site boundary of the Queen’s Wharf  redevelopment being undertaken by Destination Brisbane Consortium. Currently inaccessible due to that redevelopment, the heritage listed buildings are to be repurposed and open to the public once the Queen’s Wharf Brisbane is completed.


Brisbane Courier, 10 April 1883, p. 5.

Read the Queensland Heritage Register citation for the Government Printing Office (former)

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