Newstead House is Brisbane’s oldest surviving residence and was completed in 1846 for the Darling Downs pioneer Patrick Leslie and his wife Kate [nee Macarthur] and family.
On 9 April 1845 in company with his brother-in-law John Clements Wickham, Patrick Leslie attended a land sale in the old convict barracks in Queen Street, Brisbane. Patrick Leslie purchased two blocks of land in the name of his father, a Scottish laird. Each was of 17 acres at an upset price of one pound per acre. Wickham bought an adjoining block of 25 acres.
As the leader of the squattocracy advocating a new colony based on Moreton Bay using convict labour, Leslie declared that he would farm Newstead Cottage, supplying fresh fruit and vegetables to Brisbane. This idea was short-lived and, convinced that Cleveland would soon bypass Brisbane in influence, Patrick, Kate and William Leslie returned to the Darling Downs, selling to J. C. Wickham RN and his wife Anna, Kate Leslie’s sister.
John Clements Wickham, Police Magistrate and later the Government Resident of the Moreton Bay Settlement, had ‘come ashore’ after a distinguished career at sea as an officer of the Royal Navy. He is especially remembered as a member of the Ship’s Company of HMS Beagle, joining a young Charles Darwin on the latter’s well-documented journey of discovery and revelation. Wickham later commanded HMS Beagle, undertaking significant exploratory work in northern Australia.
For this reason, the homestead displays the most faithful model of HMS Beagle, crafted by the artist and antiquarian Maurice McLeary. Limited edition prints of this remarkable ship, signed and numbered by Maurice McLeary and illustrator Brian Stewart are available for sale at Newstead House.
A widower following Anna’s death in 1851, Wickham married Ellen Deering in 1857 and fully expected to be offered the position of first Governor to the new colony of Queensland in 1859.
This was not to be and Wickham, Ellen and family returned to the United Kingdom; bitter, disillusioned and without a pension for services rendered over the previous twelve years.
Following the Wickham family’s departure from Newstead, the by now extended home was rented out; first to Attorney General of Queensland Ratcliffe Pring and then to George Harris; shipowner, merchant, onetime Consul General for the United States of America and member of Queensland’s Legislative Council.
George and his wife Jane [nee Thorn] would reside at Newstead for twenty-seven  years, first as tenants, then as owners and then, sadly as fortunes waned, as tenants again. During this time four children were raised in a home that came to epitomise an elegant emerging Brisbane Society.
This all changed in 1878 when James Taylor, Toowoomba identity, father-in-law to Edith Maud Harris and now the owner of Newstead, began to subdivide the Newstead Estate, creating in the process the present-day suburb of Newstead.
In the years that have followed, Newstead was either owned or leased to an assortment of individuals and institutions…herbalists, the Robbins family conducted a Botanic Institute from its wide verandahs, it became the official residence of the Council’s Superintendent of Parks, a museum and first headquarters of the [Royal] Historical Society of Queensland and, during World War II, was requisitioned as living quarters for American service personnel working nearby at Camp Luna Park [the Cloudland of later years].
In 1939, the Queensland Government passed the Newstead House Trust Act, resulting in the preserving via legislation of Newstead House as Brisbane’s oldest remaining example of domestic architecture. This was one of the first occasions – if not the first – when Australia’s built environment was saved by an Act of Parliament.
Today the homestead is painted and furnished in the exuberant style of the late Victorian period. A 40 page illustrated history of Newstead House is available at a cost of $5.50 [plus postage].