History of Queensland Day

History of Queensland Day

After much agitation by various groups and factions in Queensland in 1851 a petition was sent to Queen Victoria urging that Moreton Bay should receive the same concession for separation as had Port Phillip. This request was not granted then, but three years later the request met with a more favourable reception and in 1855 an act was passed in the Imperial Parliament to give the British Government power to constitute a new colony. There were delays and the matter was almost forgotten until eventually the territory north of the 29th parallel was proclaimed a separate colony.

Leonida Caldesi: Queen Victoria, 1857, Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 2931295

The Prime Minister, Lord Derby invited Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Secretary of State for the colonies to ask Queen Victoria to give the new colony a name. Several years ago The Royal Historical Society of Queensland received from the Royal Archives copies of the correspondence relating to her choice of name. Her handwritten suggestions were given – Queensland and Saxonland – fortunately the name Queensland was adopted and the original Letters Patent document was signed by her on 6 June 1859, Perhaps the citizens were unaware of the new name until the steamer Clarence sailed into Brisbane on 10 July 1859 with the word ‘Separation” painted on its hull and was greeted by a jubilant crowd, a 14 gun salute, and fireworks.  The new name of Queensland was later commemorated in a verse:

Queensland’s an apt and happy name

As mortal wisdom well could frame

Pre-eminent today she stands

A land of queens: a queen of lands!

The day is now celebrated each year as Queensland Day in recognition of the event.  The Letters Patent of 1859, with the Order-in-Council of 1859, are Queensland’s primary founding documents. They comprise the legal mechanism for the separation of a new colony of Queensland from the Colony of New South Wales, and for the appointment of the first Governor. The Letters Patent appeared in the New South Wales Government Gazette on 29 November 1859 and in the first issue of the Queensland Government Gazette on 10 December 1859, the day the new Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, arrived in Brisbane.


It was Theophilus Parsons Pugh, however, who early in 1859, saw the significance of the time when he wrote:

Portrait of T. P. Pugh – John Oxley Library image number 79175

Few dependencies of the British crown ever started into isolated being with more brilliant prospects, or looked forward to a future more calculated to inspire a privileged people with hope and energy. With an area equal to that of France; with millions upon millions of unalienated acres; with an intelligent and thriving population; with an infinity of wealth in internal resources; there can be no wonder that our hearts beat high with the glorious anticipations which animate us. Pupillage is odious; no careful mother holds the leading-strings; and we therefore long to shake off all the shackles save those which bind us as loyal Britons to our loved and sovereign Lady. Infantine though we be, we only wait the opportunity to show ourselves strong in energy, great in enterprise, and gifted with an intelligence fully equal to the task of self-governance. Soon – very soon, we hope – the new nameless colony will be proclaimed by Her Most Gracious Majesty; and then – our destinies are in our own hands. If we use wisely and well the gifts which God and nature have showered upon our splendid territory, we cannot be otherwise than a happy and prosperous people.  It is for us to eradicate the infamy of the past by making to ourselves a name which shall be honoured among the colonies of Great Britain – to transform a spot which was once regarded as a ‘hell upon earth’ into a fair and smiling Eden:


A glorious fortune points us proudly on,

Nor should we linger on our hopeful way;

Upon our favour’d land their gleams the dawn

Of what shall prove a brighter, better day.

Jean Stewart

Past President

The Royal Historical Society of Queensland

Tickets for 2018 Queensland Day Dinner