- The Queensland Parliament passes the Federation Enabling Act, paving the way for Queensland to join the proposed Federation of the Australian colonies.
- On 1 December, the world’s first Labor Government is sworn into the Queensland Parliament.
- Cyclone Mahina destroys a pearling fleet in Princess Charlotte Bay on Cape York and kills about 400 people.
- The first contingent of Queensland soldiers leaves for the Boer War in South Africa.
- A great drought begins and lasts until 1903 (five years).
- Sleet and snow is recorded in George Street, Brisbane (23 July).
- The Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act is passed. The legislation includes extensive clauses that restrict the rights of Aboriginal people, including controlling their finances. Other sections of the Act permit the Queensland Government to deport Aboriginal people to missions and reserves where they could be forcibly incarcerated. The Act also gave the government the right to exercise guardianship over all Indigenous children in the colony.
- The first Edison motion pictures in Queensland are shown in the Brisbane Exhibition Building.
- ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is performed for the first time in the North Gregory Hotel at Winton.
- Queen Victoria grants the Queensland Coat of Arms, the oldest State Arms in Australia, to the Colony of Queensland.
- South East Queensland is affected by three cyclones in February resulting in severe floods.
- Jackie Howe shears a world record 321 sheep in 7 hours 40 minutes at Isis Downs.
- Queensland Labor Party forms—first May Day procession by workers at Barcaldine.
- Queensland's first major industrial dispute between shearers and wealthy squatters lasts six months.
- The Cairns-Kuranda Railway opens to the public.
- Central Queensland organises a petition to separate from Queensland and form its own representative government.
- Gleaming with Corinthian columns and a dome, Queensland's first permanent Customs House opens in Brisbane.
- Breakfast Creek Hotel is completed.
- Divorces hit double figures (11) for first time.
- The Queensland Premier, Sir Samuel Griffith, is elected President of the Federal Council at its meeting in Hobart.
- The first barrel of Bundaberg Rum rolls off the production line. In 1961, the company chooses a polar bear as its corporate mascot, to represent that their product will 'ward off the coldest chill of winter'.
- Queensland, Victoria and South Australia object to New South Wales’ plan to adopt the name ‘Australia’ for the colony.
- Yungaba Immigration Centre opens in Brisbane.
- The Queensland Premier, Sir Thomas McIlwraith, joins part of Papua New Guinea to Queensland to prevent a European takeover.
- The first Fire Brigades Act and the Brisbane Fire Brigades Board is established. The Brisbane Fire Brigade was formed the following year and Brisbane got its first full-time fireman in 1889.
- Local government is established with the Divisional Boards Act.
- The first electric light is switched on at a public demonstration in William Street, Brisbane.
- Queensland introduces the Rabbit Nuisance Bill 1878 which empowers Rabbit Boards to erect fences preventing the incursion or migration of rabbits.
- Henry Majoribanks Chester arrives on Thursday Island as the first Government Resident.
- On 29 November Queensland’s first official flag is unfurled, featuring an imperial crown inside a Maltese Cross.
- The first Ekka is held in Brisbane.
- Queensland's first Indigenous land rights claim results from a petition by a Scottish Roman Catholic priest.
- The Education Act 1875 establishes the basis for Queensland’s system of free primary secular education.
- Queensland’s first permanent bridge is built. Designed by Robinson and L’Anson, the bridge was constructed from wrought-iron lattice girders on cast-iron cylinders,
- Missionaries aboard the Surprise arrive at Erub (now Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait—an event still known as the ‘Coming of the Light’.
- Mosman, Clarke and Fraser discover reef gold in the Townsville Hinterland at a place they name ‘Charters Tors’, which later became Charters Towers.
- Free primary education is introduced in Queensland, the first in Australia.
- The new Parliament House in George Street is used for the first time.
- James Nash discovers gold on the Mary River near Gympie, which sparks a gold rush.
- Queensland Treasury banknotes are issued for the first time.
- Queensland's first rail line opens between Ipswich and Grandchester.
- Cobb & Co. opens its first Queensland coach route between Brisbane and Ipswich. The first run starts on 1 January 1866.
- Captain JM Black, a business partner of Sydney merchant Robert Towns, chooses Townsville as a convenient shipping port.
- The first Queensland vs. New South Wales cricket match is played.
- Queensland's first women's hospital is opened on Leichhardt Street in Spring Hill, indicating the state's growing prosperity and population.
- Captain Louis Hope opens Ormiston, Queensland’s first commercial sugar mill located in the Redland Shire district.
- The turning of the first railway sod in Queensland is performed on 25 February by Lady Bowen, wife of Sir George Bowen, the first Governor of the colony. The decision was made to run the line from Ipswich to Bigge’s Camp, now known as Grandchester.
- The Kanakas (Melanesian people from South Pacific) arrive in Queensland to work in Queensland's cane fields (until 1904).
- Ipswich Grammar School is established as Queensland’s first grammar school following the Grammar Schools Act 1860.
- Warwick and Maryborough officially become municipalities.
- Explorers Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills die near Cooper Creek after successfully crossing the continent from south to north.
- In April, the first telegraph line in Queensland is established, revolutionising communication in the colony. The first line linked Brisbane to Ipswich and later extended to Sydney.
- The first Queensland elections are held. Robert George Wyndham Herbert assumes the role of Queensland’s first Premier on 22 May.
- The Queensland Parliament sits for the first time.
- The Alienation of Crown Lands Act 1860 is passed in order to open lands for selection.
- The first Queensland stamps are issued.
- On 10 December, Queensland's first Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, and his wife Lady Diamantina, arrive in Brisbane. The proclamation establishing the Colony of Queensland is read to wild applause from the balcony of Government House (now the Deanery of St John's Cathedral).
- On 6 June, Queen Victoria signs the Letters Patent, approving Queensland becoming a separate colony to New South Wales, with its own representative government.
- Municipality of Brisbane is proclaimed and first Brisbane Council election is held—John Petrie becomes the first mayor.
- The first issue of Ipswich Herald is released. One of the main aims of the Ipswich Herald was to promote Ipswich’s claims to be capital city of the Moreton Bay colony as separation from New South Wales loomed. Today, known as The Queensland Times, it is the oldest provincial newspaper still published in Queensland.
- The Archer brothers trek through the Fitzroy Valley and settle at Gracemere, near Rockhampton.
- The first wool is shipped from Moreton Bay to England.
- The Port Curtis settlement is established. In 1853 it becomes a permanent settlement and is renamed Gladstone.
- Queensland's first newspaper, the Moreton Bay Courier is published. This later became The Courier, then the Brisbane Courier, and since 1933 The Courier-Mail.
- The Moreton Bay district is officially opened to free settlement.
- German missionaries establish the Zion Hill Mission (now Nundah) to bring Christianity to the Aborigines in Brisbane.
- Explorer Andrew Petrie and his family arrive on the ‘James Watt’, the first steamer to enter Moreton Bay.
- The Commissariat Store and the Old Windmill are built in Brisbane, and today are the only remaining convict-built structures in Queensland.
- Botanist Allan Cunningham discovers the Darling Downs and a gap through the Great Dividing Range, which allows access to the Darling Downs from Brisbane.
- The Moreton Bay convict settlement, established in Redcliffe in 1824, is transferred to the banks of the Brisbane River near the northern end of the Victoria Bridge.
- Explorer John Oxley travels up the Brisbane River and camps at Breakfast Creek, near present-day Newstead House.
- New South Wales Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane sends explorer John Oxley to find potential new penal sites.