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History of Moreton Bay Convict Settlement and Penal Colony

Brisbane Convict Era

On 17th May 1770, James Cook discovers Moreton Bay. Lieutenant John Oxley, Surveyor General of NSW, received instructions from Governor Brisbane to search for new penal establishment. On the 23rd October 1823 Oxley left Sydney in search of new settlement and surveys Moreton Bay on the 25th November of that year. On 12th September 1824, Moreton Bay Settlement was established and the location of Humpybong, Redcliffe had been chosen as the site, but proved to be infested with malarial mosquitoes and difficult to defend. Commandant Henry Miller’s experience with some of his soldiers dying of malaria in Spain while serving with Wellington's army played a part in his decision to move to another area. He was also worried that the Aborigines might attack the penal colony in force after raiding the fledgling settlement's stores for sugar and flour.

In May 1825 Captain Miller selected the triangle of land bounded on two sides by the Brisbane River and the escarpment which is now Wickham Terrace. He considered the area to be defendable as well as providing a natural barrier against escape by the convict population.

It also had a water supply in the form of a now non-existent creek later named Wheat Creek. The Ngundari, Jagura aboriginal groups lived around this part of the river but were removed from the North side but continued to inhabit the South Brisbane area.

Moreton Bay Settlement

Only hardened criminals, and recidivist prisoners were sent to the Moreton Bay Convict Settlement. It acquired a reputation for violence, and death from disease. In 1831, convict numbers peaked at 947 but fell away to 374 in 1835 as the convict settlement closed.

The majority of convicts wore a leather hat, the product of leather workers in the Old Lumber Yard, and wore a grey jacket painted with the word 'Felon'. Convict labourers worked in chain gangs of 15 men. The convict blacksmith made and fitted leg irons and a leather cuff was fitted to each ankle to prevent chaffing sores.

Between the two irons, a length of chain was attached and a rope so that the chain could be held high and not drag along the ground. All up the leg irons and chain weighed about eight kilos. Convicts wearing leg irons wore trousers buttoned at the side, so that they could be removed at night.

The Official Regulations for Penal Settlements, issued by, Governor Darling in 1829, stated:

As an aversion to honest Industry and Labour has been the Chief Cause of most of the Convicts incurring the penalties of the Law, they shall be employed at some species of Labour which they cannot evade. The Convicts are to be employed exclusively in Agricultural operations, when Public Buildings or other Works of the Settlement do not absolutely require their Labour.

It has consequently been directed that the Spade and Hoe shall be substituted for the Plough, which will greatly diminish the demand for Horses and Oxen, and be the means of keeping the Convicts constantly and usefully employed. Convicts under Colonial Sentence shall be steadily and constantly employed at Hard Labour from Sunrise till Sunset, One Hour being allowed for Breakfast and One Hour for Dinner during the Winter Six Months; but Two Hours will be allotted for Dinner during the Summer.

James Backhouse, a visiting Quaker missionary in 1836, described the settlement as a place 'where some of the most vicious portion of the population of Great Britain and Ireland was placed'. He also observed that all male prisoners arriving at Moreton Bay continued wearing irons for nine months. At the expiration of this time, the irons were removed, unless they have been sentenced to wear irons for the full period of their imprisonment or they misbehaved.

The overseers were chosen not for good behaviour but because they were brutal men who terrorised the other convicts to maintain strict discipline. The convict overseers' sentences were shortened by one year for every two years they performed the job. Overseers could request the flogging of members of the chain gang if they misbehaved or did not fulfil their work quota. Overseers were quartered in separate huts rather than in the Convict Barracks, since they were hated and risked being murdered in their sleep.

Captain Clunie was followed by Captain Fyans in 1835, Major Cotton in 1837, and by Lieutenant Gravatt and Lieutenant Gorman in 1839. Cotton and Gravatt are commemorated in the names of Mount Cotton and Mount Gravatt.

The First Stone Buildings

During the tenure of Captain Patrick Logan, the first stone buildings of the Moreton Bay Convict Settlement were erected.

The sketch of the Convict Barracks is signed by a W.C. Looker. Commissariat Officer William Looker (1793-1872) entered the Commissariat Service as a clerk attached to the Treasury in London, worked as a Senior Audit Clerk in Canada and was commissioned Deputy Assistant Commissary-General on 15 July 1826.Looker served at Moreton Bay from November 1830 till January 1835. Looker's drawings were made as part of an official report sent to London to show the development of the Convict Settlement.

Captain Patrick Logan arrived in 1926 and enlarged the Convict Barracks and built a gaol and the Convict Hospital. In 1831. The Military Barracks were built in 1828, designed to accommodate the 100 soldiers who garrisoned the Convict Settlement. Captain Clunie Commandant at the time saw a need for more guards, so larger Military Barracks were built. After the Convict Settlement closed and Brisbane was opened up for free settlement, the stone Military Barracks were used as the Registrar-General's Office.

The Commandant's Residence was a prefabricated wooden cottage, constructed in Sydney and sent by ship to be erected at Redcliffe and later moved to William Street. The cottage had brick chimneys and a freestanding brick kitchen to reduce the risk of fire, which was a constant hazard in these timber buildings.

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The Convict Barracks and the Female Factory

The Convict or Prisoners' Barracks were built from 1827 to 1830 to house up to 1000 convicts. Built of stone, it was the largest building in the settlement. Its location determined the future layout of Queen Street. It was used in the free settlement from 1860 to 1868 as a Court House and home for the first Queensland Parliament.

In a large fenced area in front of the Convict Barracks, convicts made their own uniforms, leather caps and boots as well as soap and candles for the whole settlement. They also made nails and iron bolts which were used on rough pieces of furniture made from local timber for the Officers' Quarters and Soldiers' Barracks

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The Female Factory was built in 1829 on the site of today's General Post Office in Queen Street. Letters from Commandant Clunie and Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay refer to the necessity of enclosing the Female Factory behind a wall to protect the women from harassment.

Lack of security at the Female Factory was highlighted when Captain Richards of the ship Governor Phillip and clerk William Holden, accompanied by two drunken officers, broke in one night and with a a bottle of rum and secured the sexual favours of the women.

Also involved was Dr Cowper who was the Resident Surgeon. After being spotted in 'compromising positions', the Commandant, who felt that the doctor should have known better, dismissed him.

As many as 138 women convicts lived and worked under hot, unsanitary and cramped conditions in this small building with an outside kitchen and one lavatory. The women were employed to pick oakum from frayed ropes for use in caulking the settlement's boats. They also made ropes and rough convict clothing from cloth woven by convicts at the Parramatta Female Factory. For many female convicts, prostitution was the only escape once they had completed their sentence.

The Female Factory later became a gaol and still later a police court in the free settlement. In the early days, the compound yard on 'Gaol Hill' was the scene of the annual distribution of red woollen blankets to Aborigines who lived in the area. In 1871 the new Brisbane GPO was built on the site of the Female Factory and Gaol Hill was leveled.

The Commissariat

The Commissariat Officers' Quarters, built in 1828, was formerly known as the Old Parsonage. It housed Chaplain Vincent, his large family and servants. Worship services for officers and other free persons were held in the hall of the house.

In 1830 the building was divided into two apartments, which were occupied by Commissariat officers and surgeons. The Moreton Bay Settlement required a great deal of equipment, which was stored in the Commissariat Store and also stored in the Lumber Yard. The first Commissariat Store was a barn located next to Mr Parker's hut near the corner of Elizabeth and Albert Streets.

Parker was the settlement's Superintendent of Agriculture. The timber barn like structure was built after the establishment of the settlement, but soon the old store was not large enough to fulfil the settlement's requirements A new Commissariat Store was built some time between 1827 and 1829 and the old store was retained as a barn and slaughterhouse.

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The new Commissariat Store was erected between William Street and Queens Wharf Road, being handy to the wharves and the river. It was built of dressed stone with two feet (600 mm) thick walls to prevent forced entry. Tools, seeds, grain and various other provisions were stored inside the building. Goods were unloaded from ships at King William's Wharf serviced by what is now Queens Wharf Road and carried up to the Commissariat Store.

Goods were stored in the Commissariat Store until requisitioned by the various departments. Grain was stored on the top floor for export to other settlements. The cutter Regent Bird, was used to transport supplies to the stores at Dunwich and the pilot station at Amity Point and upriver to Ipswich.

The Hospital and Surgeon's Cottage

The Convict Hospital, built during the stewardship of Captain Patrick Logan, on North Quay had a grim reputation. The death rate was higher than that of any other penal settlement in Australia bought about by malnutrition and tropical diseases. There were recorded convict deaths caused by infected wounds from severe floggings. The Resident Surgeon was required to be present at the floggings that took place at the wooden triangle set up on Queen Street, outside the Convict Barracks.

Convict Hospital

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The Georgian colonial style Surgeon's cottage on North Quay was built in 1831 at order of Governor Darling to provide accommodation for the Resident Surgeon. A tank situated near Tank Street was the water reservoir for the settlement. Water in the tank became polluted, which would have contributed disease in the settlement.

Logging gangs from South Brisbane floated the cedar and hoop-pine tree trunks across the river to the sawpits situated where Herschel Street joins the Riverside Expressway. The Brick Kiln close by, was started in 1826 and was used to fire bricks for various buildings in the settlement. The alignment of North Quay, William Street and Queen Street evolved from the location of the buildings and tracks which ran through the settlement.

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