The first building on the Ormiston estate was a slab hut, which was erected in 1853. The slab hut remains today, on display as the house’s kitchen. The gaps in its rough timber slabs are covered by metal strips and fastened with hand wrought nails. A cedar ceiling and verandah were added at a later date and rooms for maids were later built beside the hut.
Work on the main house commenced in 1862, using some craftsman and materials from overseas, and some local materials. Overseas materials were believed to have been transported to Australia aboard the famous clipper ship, the Flying Cloud.
The house was built in three stages, and although the exact date of commencement is unknown, it can be determined from diary of Claudius Whish that the first section was completed by 1862. The second and third sections of the House were both completed by 1964-1865.
Ormiston House displays the simplicity yet elegance of early colonial architecture. The wide verandahs, large doors, fireplaces, security shutters, French lights and highly decorative ceilings combine to make this one of the finest remaining examples of colonial architecture in Queensland.
The bricks were baked locally, the name of the foreman Cowan being marked on one of the bricks which can still be viewed today. The roof, originally shingled, was replaced with corrugated iron (heritage gauge and heritage length) and restored by Colorbond in the same gauge and length in 1993. Shutters, architraves, door frames are of solid cedar and the door panels are mahogany. The door knobs are of oxidised brass in the beehive design. The cypress floors have been extensively restored. The verandahs were originally of flagged verandahs. At a later stage, the verandahs were concrete, until they were replaced with Helidon Sandstone during restoration. Twin Doric columns supporting the wide verandah roof were cut from local cypress and pine and shipped to England to be turned.
The ceilings in the first section of the house were originally of calico and in the second stage, lathe and plaster. The metal zinc ceilings were installed during the ownership by the Macartney family.
Ormiston House was one of the first houses in Queensland to have a flushing toilet. It also boasted gas lighting, and remains of the carbide gas pipes can be seen in the drawing room, study and pantry.
After Hope’s departure from Ormiston, the property was tenanted for several years. It was purchased by John Arthur Macartney F.R.G.S. in 1913.
Macartney was an explorer and prominent pioneer pastoralist in Central Queensland and the Northern Territory. Although he was an extensive landowner, he was renowned more for exploration and in recognition of his achievements he was made a Fellow of the Royal Geological Society in 1885. He made many improvements to the house, notably the pressed metal ceilings. After he died in 1917 it was left in the care of his daughter Flora and her widowed sister.
After Flora died in 1955 her great-niece took over the property, and in 1959, the property was again sold. The new owners were the Discalced Carmelite Order, who are still the current owners today.