One of the oldest cities in Australia, Brisbane was founded upon the ancient homelands of the indigenous Turrbal and Jagera peoples. Named after the Brisbane River on which it is located – which in turn was named after Scotsman Sir Thomas Brisbane, the Governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825 – the area was chosen as a place for secondary offenders from the Sydney Colony. A penal settlement was founded in 1824 at Redcliffe, 28 kilometres (17 mi) north of the central business district, but was soon abandoned and moved to North Quay in 1825, opening to free settlement in 1842. The city was marred by the Australian frontier wars between 1843 and 1855, and development was partly set back by the Great Fire of Brisbane, and the Great Brisbane Flood. Brisbane was chosen as the capital when Queensland was proclaimed a separate colony from New South Wales in 1859. During World War II, Brisbane played a central role in the Allied campaign and served as the South West Pacific headquarters for United States Army General Douglas MacArthur.
Today, Brisbane is well known for its distinct Queenslander architecture which forms much of the city's built heritage. It also receives attention for its damaging flood events, most notably in 1974 and 2011. The city is a popular tourist destination, serving as a gateway to the state of Queensland, particularly to the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, popular resort areas immediately south and north of Brisbane, respectively. Several large cultural, international and sporting events have been held at Brisbane, including the 1982 Commonwealth Games, World Expo '88, the final Goodwill Games in 2001, and the 2014 G-20 summit. In 2016, the Globalization and World Cities Research Network ranked Brisbane as a Beta world city.
Indigenous Australians are believed to have lived in coastal South East Queensland for 32,000 years, with an estimated population between 6,000 and 20,000 individuals before white settlement. At this time, the Brisbane area was inhabited by the Jagera people, including the Turrbal group, who knew the area that is now the central business district as Mian-jin, meaning "place shaped as a spike". Archaeological evidence suggests frequent habitation around the Brisbane River, and notably at the site now known as Musgrave Park.
The Moreton Bay area was initially explored by Matthew Flinders. On 17 July 1799, Flinders landed at what is now known as Woody Point, which he named "Red Cliff Point" after the red-coloured cliffs visible from the bay. In 1823 Governor of New South Wales Sir Thomas Brisbane instructed that a new northern penal settlement be developed, and an exploration party led by John Oxley further explored Moreton Bay.
Oxley discovered, named, and explored the Brisbane River as far as Goodna, 20 kilometres (12 mi) upstream from the Brisbane central business district. Oxley recommended Red Cliff Point for the new colony, reporting that ships could land at any tide and easily get close to the shore. The party settled in Redcliffe on 13 September 1824, under the command of Lieutenant Henry Miller with 14 soldiers (some with wives and children) and 29 convicts. However, this settlement was abandoned after a year and the colony was moved to a site on the Brisbane River now known as North Quay, 28 km (17 mi) south, which offered a more reliable water supply. The newly selected Brisbane region, at the time, was plagued by mosquitos. Sir Thomas Brisbane visited the settlement and travelled 45 kilometres (28 mi) up the Brisbane River in December 1824, bestowing upon Brisbane the distinction of being the only Australian capital city set foot upon by its namesake. Chief Justice Forbes gave the new settlement the name of Edenglassie before it was named Brisbane. Non-convict European settlement of the Brisbane region commenced in 1838. German missionaries settled at Zions Hill, Nundah as early as 1837, five years before Brisbane was officially declared a free settlement. The band consisted of ministers Christopher Eipper (1813–1894) and Carl Wilhelm Schmidt and lay missionaries Haussmann, Johann Gottried Wagner, Niquet, Hartenstein, Zillman, Franz, Rode, Doege and Schneider. They were allocated 260 hectares and set about establishing the mission, which became known as the German Station. Later in the 1860s many German immigrants from the Uckermark region in Prussia as well as other German regions settled in the Bethania- Beenleigh and Darling Downs areas. These immigrants were selected and assisted through immigration programs established by John Dunmore Lang and Johann Christian Heussler and were offered free passage, good wages and selections of land.