In 1864, just five years after the Colony of Queensland was established, members of the Brisbane community keen to educate their sons and daughters began fundraising to create the township’s first secondary school. The Grammar Schools Act 1860 granted any municipality able to raise £1000 an additional £2000 to build a school and provide ‘the advantages of a regular and liberal course of education’.
Mr A J Hockings was the first name on the subscription list, and by 1867 the fund held over £2000. On 26 February 1868, Brisbane was honoured with a royal visit, as Prince Alfred laid the foundation stone at the School’s first site in Roma Street. The following year, Headmaster Thomas Harlin and a teaching staff of four enrolled 94 students. The aspirations of the young settlement had borne fruit and Brisbane had its own Grammar School.
As Brisbane and its rail network grew, Brisbane Grammar School looked for a cleaner, quieter site to educate a growing number of students. In 1881, BGS moved to Gregory Terrace and boys assembled in the Great Hall for the first time. A new headmaster, Reginald Roe, had arrived in 1876 and the School’s academic reputation flourished under his leadership, with senior boys winning university places at Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. School House for boarders opened in 1887, the same year rugby union replaced Australian Rules as the school’s favoured football code.
The new century heralded in statehood for Queensland, and two World Wars that would have a lasting impact on the BGS community. In happier times, Headmaster Frederick Bousfield had dedicated new science laboratories in 1912, with a stirring speech in Latin. In 1924 he was still serving as Headmaster when the War Memorial Library opened, commemorating the 1020 Old Boys who served and the 175 who died in The Great War.
The following four decades were a period of challenge and renewal. On the sporting front, the Greater Public Schools competition began in 1918, and BGS dominated gymnastics, tennis and swimming in the early years. BGS also claimed the first cricket premiership in 1919. Throughout the 1920s the School took up its third football code, playing GPS rugby league, until the GPS reverted to rugby union in 1928.
The tumultuous events of the 1930s and 40s took their toll on the School community. After the hard times of the Great Depression, 2300 Old Boys served in The Second World War, with 258 losing their lives.
By the mid-1950s, renewal had begun. Generous benefactor Frank Walker provided a new gymnasium in 1953, and the whole BGS community raised money for the war memorial pool, opened in the following year. BGS entered a golden era of sport, with three premierships in cricket (1954-56) and our first ever in rowing (1955) and rugby (1958). New science laboratories opened in 1960 and our future looked bright.
The School’s centenary in 1968 ushered in an era of spectacular educational change. Boys enjoyed a new library and assembly hall. They experienced Asian languages, international exchanges, outdoor education, computer technology and formalised pastoral care. New sports joined traditional ones, including a fourth football code, soccer. The creative and performing arts flourished and new places and spaces accommodated BGS’s growing numbers. The Correspondence School (1993), Northgate Playing Fields (1997), Indoor Sports Centre (2000), Middle School (2003) and the magnificent Lilley Centre (2010) expanded our facilities. Community service through public purpose projects, the Cape York Institute for indigenous education, and overseas leadership and service partnerships expanded our horizons.
It all started with the aspirations of a small community in a tiny colonial outpost. It was all achieved by the great maxim of the Roman poet Horace, Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus. Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.