Let us now return to matters more immediately affecting the Settlement. During the six months following the execution of the two blacks the survey of the proposed town, together with that of Limestone (which name, by the way, was shortly afterwards changed to Ipswich), had advanced somewhat. Indeed, it was announced that the land would shortly be thrown open.
In the meantime, however another matter, which threatened to and actually did to a great extent mar the prospects of Brisbane Town, sprang into existence – namely a controversy as to the eligibility of the site for a town. By Brisbane's detractors its distance from the mouth of the river and the bar and the entrance of the stream were represented as being insurmountable obstacles. In casting round for another site this particular section of the community had hit upon Cleveland Point, and every claim that could be put forward in favour of this site against that of Brisbane was launched out.
Partly in consequence of this, and partly to gratify his own curiosity, Governor Gipps decided to see both places before issuing the proclamation. The Governor, accompanied by Colonel Barney, journeyed in the Shamrock and landed here on the 24th March, 1842, The party had on the way however, called at Cleveland Point, but the visit proved highly detrimental to the interest of that place, as owing to shallow water the Shamrock was unable to get anywhere near the land.
While the ship's boat was scarcely more successful the Governor and party therefore essayed to wade, and, after floundering about in the mud for some time, unceremoniously scrambled ashore, by which time his Excellency had quite made up his mind that Cleveland Point was unsuitable.
He appears to have been more favourably impressed with Brisbane, though less so with the surveyor's plans. The roads were too wide, too much land had been wasted in reserves, and the allotments were too small - he wished them to be a quarter of an acre. As a matter of fact the whole design had to be altered. This it appears was a common trick of Governor Gipps, for in every other instance where he had anything to do with the laying out of a place he acted in exactly the same manner.
His argument in favour of narrow streets was that the buildings on either side of such thoroughfares would keep out the sun! Mr. Andrew Petrie actually came to loggerheads with the Governor over the foolish proposition, and to mark his condemnation of the opinion of others, the Excellency ordered the width of all streets in Ipswich as well as in Brisbane to be reduced to 66ft.
Eventually the surveyors, after a good deal of trouble, were allowed to make the principal thoroughfares about 80ft. Looking at Governor Gipps's grabbing propensities it is a matter for wonder that the Queen's Park escaped being cut up into town lots. It was somewhat extraordinary, too, that he allowed the road along the river bank to remain on the plan, but this had evidently escaped his notice, for when some little time afterwards he was asked to cut up the road into lots, he unhesitatingly gave the necessary authority.
After a few weeks' delay, consequent upon the alteration of the plans, we find Moreton Bay at last thrown open for settlement, and the first sale of its lands advertised to take place in Sydney on l6th July, 1842 - three years alter its abandonment as a penal establishment. Directly this sale was announced quite a number of Sydney men availed themselves of an opportunity of viewing Brisbane Town, and afterwards returned in order to attend the sale.
The land offered at the auction referred to consisted of one section in North Brisbane - that comprised in the block bounded by Queen, George, Elizabeth, and Albert streets - and a section in South Brisbane. The sale was largely attended, and the result exceeded the expectations of the most sanguine. The land was put up at the upset price of £100 per acre, but no less a sum than £250 was obtained for one group, each of which was 30 perches, in North Brisbane; while the eight lots fronting Queen street realized a total of £1340.
These prices were regarded as astonishing under the circumstances, for be it understood no guarantee has been given that Moreton Bay, or rather that portion of Moreton Bay in which was located the ground offered for sale, would become the headquarters. The Governor's views regarding the relative merits of Moreton Bay and Cleveland Point had no doubt much to do in promoting the feeling of security which characterised the purchasers, but in going the length they did many of them burned their fingers, and badly too.
The commercial crisis which prevailed in Sydney shortly afterwards had a most disastrous effect on trade, and thus we find business again revolutionized. As a result of this many of the lots either became forfeited or changed hands at very low figures. As an instance of this we need only remark that the lot at the corner of Queen and George streets which had been sold for so large a sum reverted to the Government owing to the purchaser failing to meet his bills, and on again being offered it was knocked down at the upset price of £26!
At very brief intervals this particular allotment passed through different hands until eventually it was purchased by the bank (Westpac) which now has its premises on the site at a price equal to about the cost of the buildings at the time they were erected thereon.
The despatch of the steamer Shamrock by the Hunter Steam Navigation Company shortly after this first sale was also regarded as of some significance, notwithstanding that the fares were £8, £6, and £4, and freight £1 per ton, with the carriage of wool standing at the same figure per bale The undertaking, however, scarcely came up to expectations, as we shall see a little further on.
(Following on from Andrew Petrie's exploration of Fraser Island contained here.) At daybreak three shots were fired as a signal to Duramboi, who shortly afterwards turned up accompanied by a blackfellow who carried remnants of a watch. It transpired that this piece of jewellery had belonged to a shepherd, who, with a mate, had fallen a victim to the revenge of the natives on a station at Kilcoy.
Duramboi on being questioned concerning this, related how some station hands had given to the blacks flour with which strychnine had been mixed, some fifty or sixty natives dying a horrible death as a result. Terrible as this may appear, there is ample evidence in support of the truth of it. A Select Committee was at a later period appointed to inquire into this poisoning of blacks, which it was alleged was a common practice of not only shepherds but others when the aboriginals made too frequent visits to the station.
It is only fair to state, however, that the annihilation of the blacks by poison has been attributed to another cause. One writer says with regard to the Kilcoy incident, "according to the account of the squatters it would appear that some sheep, diseased and scabby, had been dressed as usual with arsenic, which, with corrosive sublimate, is the ordinary remedy for scab. These sheep had been rushed by the blacks, and a number of them carried off, and it is supposed the arsenic caused the death of some of the thieves." This light and airy view was not generally endorsed.
But to return to Duramboi's history of the watch. So incensed were the natives at the death of so many of their friends that they decided to kill every white man they came across. The murder of the two shepherds, Duramboi said, had been perpetrated by four of a tribe—old brother Zrombugongo, Twarr, Wungoe Wungoe, and Buckabolu—who first tortured their victims, killed them by degrees, and wound up the proceedings by feasting on their flesh.
Naturally the watch was a curiosity, of which neither head nor tail could be made. Mr. Russell states that even Davis (Duramboi) himself, while knowing what it was, had forgotten how to open one. When it stopped, believing it to be dead, it was buried in the sand. Mr. Petrie, anxious to secure such a memento, gave the black a tomahawk for it, and both were highly satisfied with their bargain.
After some exploring, during which several other specimens of timber were added to the collection, a start was made homeward. Nothing of special interest occurred until Fraser's Island was reached, when coming upon a tribe of blacks, Mr. Petrie, by the aid of Bracefield and Davis, asked what had become of the white man's bones (meaning Captain Fraser's).
In explanation it should be stated that some time previously the Stirling Castle (the vessel which had carried Mr. Petrie to Sydney) had become a wreck in the vicinity of the islands, and all who reached the beach, with the exception of the captain's wife, had been killed by Bracefield's tribe.
The preservation of this woman is attributed to Bracefield, who subsequently enabled her to escape from the tribe, though had she treated many as she behaved to her preserver it is questionable whether she would not have perished. She eventually reached England.
It seems from one account that after the wreck the mate Brown, Captain Fraser, and his wife were separated by the blacks. Three weeks afterwards Mrs. Fraser, it is said, fell in with her husband, who at the particular moment was dragging a load of wood for the aboriginals. He was much fatigued, and implored his wife to assist him. She had neither the strength nor liberty to do this, being similarly employed, and the old gin to whose care she was consigned kept strict watch over her.
She was compelled to leave him, but later, seizing an opportunity to get away, she went to the spot where she had left him, only to find him speared in the back. He expired at sundown. A week later the mate Brown was roasted by fire brands being held to his legs, and was eaten. In reply to Mr. Petrie's question about the white man's bones the blacks led him to a spot some two miles away, but the bones seen there were found to be those of a blackfellow.
Further search proving equally unsuccessful the party again embarked, and after a trying cruise, during which they encountered a gale, they arrived in safety at the Settlement. But a journey accomplished under such difficulties was not entirely void of amusing incidents. For instance, Mr. Petrie says of Mr. Russell in his diary:—"Mr. Russell got quite sick, so much so that he threw up his breakfast, and some of his chat went with it. Only a few ejaculations escaped his lips: a repetition of 'a beastly boat,' 'a beastly sail,' etc., during all the night and following days. Before quitting a trip fraught with exciting incidents and a succession of valuable discoveries let us inquire into the antecedents of our old friend Duramboi.
With the closing of the year 1842 we turn over another page in the convict era ; for we find the last of the Commandants (Gorman) withdrawn, and an officer endowed with the more pleasing appellation of police-magistrate substituted. The gentleman so appointed was Captain Wickham, R.N., a man who subsequently did a great deal in pushing Moreton Bay to the front.
Simultaneously with this appointment two Crown lands commissioners were installed - Dr. Simpson and Mr. Christopher Rolleston, the former presiding over the district of Moreton Bay, the latter having charge of the frontier of the Darling Downs.
As yet settlement had not been very rapid, and owing to the continued monetary depression in Sydney, due to over speculation and land mania, things looked very black. How history does repeat itself, to be sure! From 1838 to the end of 1843 trade was extremely bad in the South. During brief intervals, certainly, the prospect of increased trade brightened, but this had only the disastrous effect of making business men anticipate and trade on possibilities and thus leading them deeper into the mire.
From February to December, 1843, a period of eleven months, no fewer than 600 merchants in Sydney took advantage of the provisions of the Insolvency Act ; while in 1843 a meeting was held " to take into consideration the alarming and depressed state of the monetary affairs of the colony, and to devise measures of immediate relief."
Naturally Moreton Bay, favoured though it was in the eyes of speculators, shared in this depression, and matters were practically at a standstill. The few merchants (?) who had cast their lot in the old convict barracks whiled away their time on empty cases or concentrated their thoughts on friendly games of cards, only to be occasionally disturbed by a " bullocky" who required a cake of " baccy" and a bottle of rum, to be paid for by a dirty piece of paper, which might be worth the amount stated upon it or not - probably not.
In this "happy go easy" style did things jog along? The Micawber-like residents were, however, about to be astonished. Notwithstanding the financial depression and the fact that the undertaking had previously proved unremunerative the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company announced their intention of re-establishing steam communication between Brisbane Town and Sydney. This they did in December, 1842.
The indomitable pluck of a mere handful of men who thus risked their money in an undertaking which they could not have anticipated would be attended with more than very ordinary success is commendable. Certainly no more hazardous speculation could well have been found than the despatch of steamers for Moreton Bay, for, in addition to the lamentable condition of trade and consequent remote prospect of anything approaching extensive patronage, very little of the waters was known; indeed the company did not even possess a chart.
The directors were not inclined to stick at tritles. They had, as previously stated, essayed to open up steam communication with Moreton Bay, but in making the attempt the directors secured the condemnation of the majority of the few shareholders. Indeed, the latter held a meeting, and in very strong terms expressed the opinion that the company's vessels "should not go to so dangerous a place as Moreton Bay." It will readily be understood how bitterly the directors were reproached when after five months' trial the Shamrock had to be taken off the Moreton Bay route and placed on that between Sydney and Melbourne.
The shareholders, though plucky, were fickle-minded, for three months later we find them declaring that the Melbourne route was " dangerous at that time of the year, as well as unprofitable", and consequently Moreton Bay people were much relieved to see the Shamrock again laid on their waters. The objection of the shareholders was to some extent removed by the presence of a manuscript chart of the Bay which the company obtained from Mr. Dixon, the surveyor, in lieu of a first-class passage for himself from Moreton Bay to Sydney.
The second attempt proved more remunerative, and consequently no more inconvenience was experienced by the sudden total stoppage of steam communication. Things actually began to " boom," if we may judge by events, for not very long after the company were fairly established here the trade was sufficient to warrant the erection of a wharf and sheds where Parbury, Lamb, and Co.'s wharf (Southbank) now is. It should perhaps be explained that previous to the erection of these improvements the "wharf" consisted solely of the trunk of a huge tree, quite 6ft. through, and laid parallel with the river.
This was always covered at high water. The fact of South Brisbane being thus made the headquarters of the shipping resulted - in some little attention being directed to that portion of the town. Several small stores followed in the wake of the company's enterprise. Unfortunately alike for the company and the south side speculators one of their number could not see further than his nose, and the short-sighted policy of this particular one had a disastrous effect at a later period on the future of those around him.
It was in this wise: The water frontage of the company was not sufficient for their requirements, and they accordingly opened negotiations with their neighbour with a view of purchasing the ground adjoining. With the true instinct of a money grabber he set the value of the land at three times higher than anyone else would have done. Naturally the company objected.
Previous to this they had been in the habit of fastening one of the lines of their vessels to a large tree which flourished on this neighbour's allotment, to which proceeding he did not object at first, but seeing, that the ship-owners were not likely to give his price he determined to make things lively in the hope of gaining his point - and this he did to perfection.
First of all he objected to the vessels overlapping his frontage, then he invented other quibbles, but still finding the company obdurate he one night, when everything was quiet, severed the line which fastened the Shamrock to the tree, and thus caused a considerable amount of trouble.
This was more than human nature could stand; and rather than gratify the desire of so unpleasant a neighbour, and unwilling to put up longer with such inconvenience, the shipping company purchased, I believe, the ground where now stand the head office of the A.U.S.N. Company (Eagle Street river frontage) - previously portion of the roadway surveyed from the bridge to New Farm - and transferred their business from the south to the north side.
There is no doubt that the foolish act of this one man greatly retarded the advancement of South Brisbane. How far the objector benefited by the proceeding can readily be imagined.
It may not be regarded as being out of place to here state that the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company was initiated in Sydney in 1839, but was not really formed until some twelve months after wards, when, as we know, the people were suffering from a financial panic, consequently some difficulty was experienced in obtaining the necessary capital.
The first steamer of the fleet, the Rose, arrived in Sydney in 1841, and the event, we are assured, created quite a sensation there. Her dimensions were:- Length, 146ft.; breadth, l9ft.; depth, 11ft.; while her tonnage was 172. She was followed by the Thistle, 175 tons, and in October by the Shamrock, 211 tons, the latter making the passage in 123 days - a performance regarded as truly wonderful in those days.