Commissariat Store Museum – The Birthplace of Brisbane

If you’re looking to dive into Brisbane’s history (which admittedly isn’t very deep), to the place where life in the city all began, then look no further than the Commissariat Store Museum. Built by convicts, this important heritage building in Brisbane tells nefarious tales of Brisbane in its infancy. The museum also houses important artifacts and provides a window into the past through interactive storytelling.

The museum sits in contrast to development going on today

I’d been to the Commissariat Store Museum before, but as it was roughly ten years ago, I thought it was about time I returned, particularly as it’s widely considered the birthplace of Brisbane.

A Brief History of this Heritage Building in Brisbane

Reoffending convicts stationed in NSW were sent to QLD’s Moreton Bay region. In order to store and distribute provisions to the soldiers and convicts for this purpose, the Commissariat Store was built. Completed in 1829, the building was constructed by convicts from the stone on Kangaroo Point Cliffs known as the Brisbane tuff.

Leg irons from back in the day

When Moreton Bay was open to free settlement in 1842, the Commissariat Store became a storehouse, a haven for immigrants and later a lockup and police barracks. In the 1960s, it was occupied by the Queensland State Archives and it’s been owned by the Royal Historical Society of Queensland since 1981. Today, it’s one of the most important heritage buildings in Brisbane.

My Visit

I’m happy to say nothing has changed since I’ve last been – no barricades, added tourist shops or higher entry fees. It was a hot, late spring day as I entered the building around noon on a Friday, and it was luck that I was able to revisit this time, being in between jobs. The Commissariat Store Museum is only open Monday to Friday.

The entrance to the Commissariat Store Museum

It was also very quiet inside the museum, which to me is both a good and bad thing. Not much atmosphere for video and photos but plenty of time to absorb my surroundings. I entered at street level, had a brief chat with the lady at the counter, paid my $10 and made my way down the stairs to the second floor of this convict-built heritage building in Brisbane.

Artifacts of Note

The second floor is basically where the majority of the museum’s artifacts are kept. Quite a few of these are related to other areas, such as nearby St Helena Island, Boggo Road Gaol and there’s also a connection with a few overseas inventions. The following are just a few artifacts of note:

Artifacts uncovered as a result of the city’s 2011 floods

The Boggo Road Gallows Beam

Although Queensland became the first Australian state to abolish capital punishment (in 1922), 39 people were hanged from this beam in nearby Boggo Road Gaol between 1885 and 1913. If you’re interested to learn more about this grisly affair, and Boggo Road Gaol in general, you can check out a ghost tour of the gaol I experienced on my other blog, here. Unfortunately, the gaol is now closed to the public.

Brisbane’s grisly gallows beam

A Replica of Queensland’s First Flag

I thought it was pretty cool that Queensland had a flag! Also known as the ensign of Brisbane, the flag was designed by an ex-convict of Brisbane in 1859 and a replica is housed inside this heritage building in Brisbane.  

Didn’t know we had a flag. Looks bloody familiar!

The Edison Street Tubes

World-renowned inventor Thomas Edison designed electrical street tubes to create the world’s first underground electricity mains. So what does this have to do with Brisbane? They were trialed in London, then a few American cities, followed by Milan and then good old Brisbane. Brisbane was the first (and only) city in the Southern Hemisphere to install the Edison Street Tubes, which powered the city’s Parliament House.

The Edison Street Tubes

Tour Guides at the Commissariat Store Museum

I remember the last time I visited, you could enjoy the services of a knowledgeable tour guide (volunteers) for free. As I mentioned, it was super quiet on this day, but there was one other couple in the museum and they had a guide. I could have joined, I guess, but I was enjoying just strolling about on my own. Additionally, I didn’t need to know too much history to write this post, as I’ll leave that up to you to discover. However, guides are there if you need them.

My Wanders

I like exploring old buildings on my own and it was interesting looking through the windows – which contain wooden sills embedded into carved stone – that were designed to keep convicts out, not in. The old stonework inside this heritage building in Brisbane also provided some cool respite from the city’s muggy November weather. Inside, there were many historical artifacts belonging to various parts of QLD, but I was more interested in the history connected with the city and the Commissariat Store Museum itself.

The old carved wooden windows with bars – designed to keep convicts out, not in

There are some nice paintings to look at, and some interesting old photographs of the city which I enjoyed. The second floor is not a huge space, so after getting my fill of hodge-podge history, I descended to the first floor of the Commissariat Store Museum. I was a little disappointed when I entered, as the space barely contained anything but a few scattered chairs and tables that looked like they were occasionally used by the Royal Historical Society of Queensland.

The Commissariat Store Museum’s ground floor

However, there was one exhibit on this floor worth looking at:


In order to get visitors immersed in city life in the 1800s, this heritage building in Brisbane has an interactive exhibition on the ground floor. Here, you meet a young lad named Tom Petrie, who ended up in Brisbane as his father was in charge of the penal settlement. You can ask Tom questions and he’ll respond with a little story. Take a look at my video at the end of this post to get a better idea, and to see what question I asked.

Which question would you ask?

The interactive exhibit of Tom Petrie

Some More Historical Tidbits

The ground floor of the Commissariat Store Museum also reveals some of the common convict slang at the time, which you might find interesting (I did). As you walk out, there’s also a picture of Captain Patrick Logan, who oversaw the construction of the Commissariat Store. Allegedly he was a strict captain and dealt out punishment willy-nilly. Perhaps it was not surprising then that he was murdered sometime later in the surrounding Esk district.

Convict slang is not so different to language used today! (At least in my neck of the woods)
Captain Patrick Logan

From here, you can exit this second oldest heritage building in Brisbane (the windmill on Wickham Terrace holds the top honours) and view the front of the building in all its glory. It’s a pretty cool building to see from afar, and it certainly looks interesting juxtaposed with all the madcap development Brisbane is experiencing in the run-up to the Olympics.

The Ground floor view of the Commissariat Store Museum

The Museum Store

Visitors may be interested in the small museum store that’s located on the top floor by the entrance. Here you can purchase books on ‘Lost Brisbane’, which depict Brisbane’s history in various stages from the 1860s up to the present. You can also purchase books on the region’s aboriginal history, postcards, pens and even some old irons dating back to goodness knows when.

The small museum ‘store’ located by the entrance on the top floor

My Thoughts Overall

If you’re a history enthusiast and you’d like to find out more about the history of Brisbane, the Commissariat Store Museum is a must-visit. Even though I wouldn’t call it the most exciting museum in the world, it’s considered by many to be the birthplace of Brisbane, as it’s the oldest continually inhabited building in the state. In all, I thought the museum was worth a visit.

Another good reason to pay this heritage building in Brisbane a visit is that it’s located smack in the middle of the city. It’s close to everything and guides are free!

A Few Fast Facts

  • The Commissariat Store Museum is wheelchair friendly, having a lift that accesses all three floors. However, there are about five steps to navigate at the entrance.
  • The top floor of the Commissariat Store Museum was added in 1913.
  • The closest train stations are South Brisbane and Central, which are both approximately 20 minutes walk. However, the Commissariat Store Museum is also accessible from ferries and buses, both of which have nearby drop-off/departure sites.
  • The museum opening hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10am to 4pm.
  • Admission is $10 for adults, $8 concession, $5 for students and there’s a family pass for $20.
  • As the building is not air-conditioned, you’d best visit from April to October.
  • Group tours are available. Find out more on the Commissariat Store Museum’s website.
  • Brochures on the history of the site are available upon entry and are free.
  • Guides are free.
  • Two hours is enough time to absorb all the Commissariat Store Museum has to offer.

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