The building known in the early twenty-first century as National Trust House reflected the growth and adaptability of Queensland to a greater extent than any other building in the Queen’s Wharf precinct. Constructed in 1865-66 as the colony’s first purpose-built accommodation for immigrants, the building was converted firstly to offices and laboratories for the Department of Agriculture and then re-converted into offices for other government organisations. In January 2017 the building was closed and bracing installed to protect it as construction of the new integrated casino development, Queen’s Wharf Brisbane, commenced adjacent to it.
The first immigrants directly from overseas to what is now Queensland arrived in the Artemesia on 15 December 1848. As more immigrant vessels followed, the capacity of the town to provide an accommodation base for those who had spent months at sea was sorely stretched. A journalist in 1863 commenting on the temporary three-shed depot being used at South Brisbane noted that, by comparison, ‘the most uncomfortable cell in the Brisbane gaol must appear almost an earthly paradise’.
Plans for a new Immigration Depot, consisting of two, multi-level wings at right angles to each other between William Street and the river were prepared by Charles Tiffin, the colonial architect. The building was constructed in sandstone (for the footings) and brick by contractor John Petrie in 1865-66. The three levels in the rear wing accommodated single women in the upper level, married couples below them and single men in what is today the building’s basement. With space at a premium, luggage was stored in a shed adjacent to Queen’s Wharf. Immigrant ships arrived according to no particular schedule and at times the Depot was overcrowded. By the 1880s, complaint were being made about the state of disrepair in the Depot and plans for a new complex at Kangaroo Point, known as Yungaba, were drawn up.
Around the same time, the newly created Department of Agriculture required office space.With immigrants from 1887 landed at Kangaroo Point, the former Immigration Depot in William Street could be put to other uses. In 1898-1890 the William Street wing was extended at each end and an additional, rendered brick first floor added to the now-extended street frontage before the then Department of Agriculture personnel move in. In the twentieth century, additional office buildings, since demolished, were constructed in William Street (towards Margaret Street) as the importance of support for primary production in Queensland increased and more office and laboratory space was needed.
A gradual removal from William Street of what was by then Department of Primary Industries commenced in the 1950s. By 1989 the Department had vacated the precinct. The ground floor of the former 1865-66 Immigration Depot was refurbished for use as the offices for celebrations of the Centenary of Federation before the National Trust moved into the building in 2002. The Trust relocated to 25 Mary Street early in 2017.
Read the Queensland Heritage Register citation for this building.