Brisbane’s first purpose built museum, completed in 1879 in William Street, was considered high above any flood levels that might threaten Queen’s Wharf. Modelled on sixteenth century Italianate buildings, the museum was designed by FDG Stanley, the government architect.
The museum’s collection had moved periodically since its inception through the auspices of the Queensland Philosophical Society in the early 1860s– from the former convict windmill on Petrie Terrace, where water damage was a problem, to the former Prisoners’ Barracks in Queens Street. Two rooms in Parliament House were made temporarily available for geological specimens in 1871 before the collection was consolidated in the old Post Office in Queen Street in 1873, moving to William Street in 1879. As the museum’s collection developed over the next 20 years, it outgrew this site and was relocated to the former Exhibition Building at Bowen Hills in 1899.
What had been the William Street museum building opened its doors again to the public in April 1902 as the free Public Library of Queensland. One newspaper report of the opening noted that there was nothing pretentious in the interior of the building, much that was convenient and a degree of comfort. Lending of books was not allowed and those researching or just passing time were restricted to daylight hours as there was no provision for gas or electric lighting. Illumination was provided through a skylight on the roof.
As interest in Queensland history grew, material from the John Oxley Library (JOL) collection was consolidated to the William Street Library from 1931. Space was again a problem. In 1953 the JOL occupied only 650 square metres of space on the first floor.
To celebrate the Centenary of Queensland in 1959 an extension, designed by a group of government architects, added an exhibition hall and reading rooms. A wall mural and sculpture were located on the wall of this extension.
Space was again an issue prior to the removal of the State and John Oxley Libraries to a redeveloped site across the Victoria Bridge, on the southern side of the Brisbane River. Through converted for changing uses and renovated in 1964-65, little evidence of the original fittings remains.
Read more on the Queensland Heritage Register