What a Man Found When He Got Here

Mr. Dowse, though unfortunate in his trip in the pilot boat, was lucky in finding shelter for the first night under so hospitable a roof, for the general experience met with was a camp under a friendly gum tree, or in some disused and likewise dilapidated outhouse. They might perchance find a shelter in some dirty corner of that portion of the old convict barracks not leased to the storekeepers, and graciously set aside by a considerate Government as a temporary depot.

For all the advantage taken of this generosity, however, the place might almost have been closed altogether. In 1843 house accommodation may be said to have consisted entirely of the several buildings erected under the authority and inspection of Government officials during penal times, and many of these had fallen into such disrepair as to be almost untenantable.

The voyage itself, even if made on a steamer and blessed with fine weather, was wearisome and tedious. If, perchance, the trip look more time than had been anticipated, the state of the ship's larder invariably bore evidence of it, while the "inner man" was not totally unconscious of the prolongation. Supposing the new comer did arrive safely and without being half starved, the welcome he received was such as to impress him with the fact that life in the Settlement was not "all beer and skittles."

There was no such institution us an eating-house, nor, indeed, many facilities for getting provisions at all, The first question to be decided was whether he would take up his abode under the overspreading and friendly branches or in an allotted space in the dirty barracks. If he chose the latter he could in his spare moments witness the pleasurable.(!) sight of a public flagellation at the triangles - the old mode of castigation could not be forgotten in those days - in the archway. With such surroundings it is not surprising that the impressions generally formed of this depot were not of the highest.

One effect of these exhibitions was that those who decided to remain in the barracks until they had raised a bark hut for themselves were not long in bringing their unpretentious residences into existence. It is related that one gentleman on arriving here asked to be allowed to occupy for the night, with his family, an old boat-shed which then stood near the site of the Victoria Bridge, for there was no room in the barracks, but this was refused, it being considered, no doubt, that the indulgence of such a luxury as a camp in a tumble-down boat-shed might have a demoralizing effect upon the applicant's energy.

The disheartened party at length camped under a tree on the south side, exposed, as the man himself put it, "to the ribaldry and orgies of dissolute teamsters who made the locality their camping ground." The imaginings of the new chum regarding accommodation are not easy of description, and if he chanced to be fastidious in the matter of food, the articles he found on the shelf of the pioneer storekeeper were calculated to knock all that sort of sentiment out of him.

Briefly, the provisions available were a bad second quality, four, salt junk of the consistency of the material comprised in the upper of a blucher boot, tea which from its "strength" gained the appropriate though vulgar appellation of "posts and rails," and sugar which might easily have been mistaken for something else. But once here he had to make the best of it, for "bloated capitalist" was a term then unknown in the Settlement. Indeed, had he possessed the wherewithal the experiences incidental on a return trip were not such as would find much favour.

First Land Sale in Brisbane

In August of 1843 the survey of Brisbane Town had been completed - at any rate, so much so that the Government decided to hold another sale of lands, this time in Brisbane. The auction took place on the l1th of August, and - will it be believed?- there were not sufficient lots offered to meet the demands of the purchasers. It was, of course, anticipated that buyers of the land sold, would improve their properties, but, as on the previous occasion, things did not come up to expectations.

On the strength of the sales one or two were bold enough to speculate in felling and sawing timber, but they did not immediately make their pile; they gained a certain amount of consolation, however, by the misfortunes of such men as the one who engaged in the somewhat absurd speculation of procuring shells from the Bay and converting them into lime. The age of brick and stone residences had not arrived.

Trading under Difficulties

The mode of transacting business, small though that business was, was by no means easy, since coin of the realm was almost an unknown commodity in the little Settlement and a paper currency of an extremely flimsy character the order of the day. Of course there was no such institution as a bank, and consequently monetary transactions involved considerable risk and inconvenience.

One could not as now mildly suggest to a storekeeper, were he displeased with the wares given him, that he would go elsewhere ; nor yet could he hope to bring the "merchant" to terms. No; there was practically no competition ; the customer was made a secondary consideration to the seller. A man could not even got his “screw" in cash; he had to be content with somebody else's I.O.U.'s, which might or might not be worth their face value. If he were successful in negotiating them, and it was necessary for him to receive change when making a purchase, he did so in other dirty pieces of paper which were perhaps more doubtful than the ones he had disposed of.

Those who had banking accounts in Sydney - for, as has been stated, there was yet no branch here - gave cheques when their I.O.U.'s reached a respectable sum, and were presented for collection; but owing to the flimsy nature of the bills many of them were lost or were accidentally destroyed, and as a result the issuer profited by the loss of others. When all this is considered, and it is remembered that the cheques sent to Sydney were only cashed at a discount of 20 per cent, and the remaining sum sent on by a skipper which service had also to be paid for - it will be recognised how difficult the transaction of business was.

There were persons who made a practice of issuing I.O.U.'s written on tissue paper, and of making them payable only in Sydney. The reasons for this are obvious. In the first place orders of such a character were difficult to preserve, and if kept safely gave the drawer additional time.

Mr. Coote gives some idea of the system. He says:-"The absence of a bank and the want of silver led to the adoption of a system of what were called 'calabashes'-orders drawn upon some agent of the drawer, payable at various dates after presentation, and often for very small amounts.

If the drawer were a squatter of anything approaching to established character the order would remain in circulation for some time; and I remember so late as 1860 I received in change at a hotel in Toowoomba an order for 13s. 6d., drawn upon a Sydney firm by a late Colonial Treasurer, which order was then three years old, and in the multitude of its endorsements looked like a collection of autographs, not of the most intelligible kind. Considerable loss was sometimes sustained by the holders of these documents, who compensated themselves occasionally by high charges for discounting them for the first possessors."

The Blacks

And so things dragged on, with nothing to relieve the monotony of the routine of the Settlement except occasional reports from the interior of some, fresh outrage committed by the blacks - for in 1842 they had begun to be troublesome, and at this time were becoming very bold. These natives stuck up the teams generally in the vicinity of Helidon, and were by no means particular whether or not they had to commit murder.

Mr. Pugh relates how on one occasion a cavalcade of ten drays was attacked while passing through some scrub at Helidon, and the armed party of seventeen persons accompanying them were courageous enough to leave the drays and all they contained to the mercy of the sable plunderers. Things became so bad that a small detachment of soldiers was stationed near Helidon, and these for three years or so acted as escort to the drays carrying supplies.

This period of military supervision was one of terrible slaughter, scores upon scores of the aborigines falling victims to the white man's gun. One of the men who assisted in putting many of the unfortunate blacks out of existence told the writer several incidents which if repeated here would scarcely be regarded as pleasant reading, nor yet redound to the credit of persons even now living. That the blacks were exasperating at times by reason of their depredations goes without saying, but that the chief and more serious trouble was oft times caused by the bad conduct of the white is a statement which more than one old colonist has substantiated.

According to the old resident referred to, the theft of a few stores or the killing of a few sheep by the blacks was I avenged by wholesale shooting down by the whites - in fact as many blacks as could be found, whether offenders or not were swept away. This got so bad at last that for shame’s sake a number of whites were arrested. The writer's informant was one of eighteen who were arrested in the vicinity of Tent Hill, but on being brought before a magistrate - a squatter whose name he gave and who is now alive - their denial was regarded as sufficient to disprove the charges preferred against them.

We decide to Agitate

By and by the people who had grown sick of so constantly petitioning, with only the result of being as many times ignored, decided to do as other districts were doing, and agitate. They saw that if they did not take some united action and indeed shift for themselves they would probably find Brisbane Town no longer the recognized headquarters of Moreton Bay but a veritable deserted village. With this object in view the "Moreton Bay District Association” was formed in 1845.

The few who undertook the duties of management had a most difficult task for, be it remembered, any money expended or any works carried out had to come out of the subscriptions of members, for no aid was expected from the Government. Still they agitated all the time.

The funds so subscribed were for the most part expended in works which really should have been carried out during penal times, in payment of rewards for the discovery of roads and in the building of bridges. A matter which claimed much attention at the hands of the association was a survey of the Bay and this they employed and paid Captain Wickham to do.

That such an association should be expected to do a work of this kind was most unjust, considering that during those years the revenue derived from the place had steadily increased. To the credit of the people be it said that notwithstanding all the drawbacks, Moreton Bay continued to forge ahead, and through the instrumentality of the District Association, noticeable improvements were made, culverts were built, the few roadways were patched up in a way, and here and there rude bridges were stretched across, creeks which had previously impeded traffic.

The Birth of the "Courier"

Early in 1846 Mr. Arthur Sydney Lyon, a gentleman of much ability, arrived in the Settlement with the object of ascertaining whether its condition would warrant the establishment of a newspaper. Appearances certainly did not augur well for such a venture, but the fact was apparent that a newspaper would make itself felt where the expression of private opinion could not, and that through its instrumentality Moreton Bay might be better and more prominently brought under the notice of the South.

The response to the canvass made for support was of a most encouraging nature, and after due consideration be arranged with the late Mr. (afterwards Hon.) James Swan, who was then in Sydney, to publish a newspaper, to be called the Moreton Bay Courier. Accordingly Mr. Swan came here, and while laying the foundation of the printing profession also established what is now recognised as the leading Queensland journal, the Brisbane Courier. The Moreton Bay Courier made its first appearance on the 20th June, 1846.

It was printed in the upper story, or to better describe the place a garret, of a building at the corner of Albert and Queen streets, afterwards known as the North Star Hotel. The place was burnt down in 1868, however, and was replaced by the present Australian Hotel, built by the late Mr. Hayes. The paper was naturally small (double crown), but its "get-up" was a decided credit to all concerned, and would put to shame many of the provincial publications of the present day.

The promises of support were faithfully carried out, if we may judge by the amount of advertisement matter which appeared in every issue, while the proprietor fearlessly fulfilled the mission which was set forth in the motto-" I am in the place where I am demanded of conscience to speak the truth."

In starting on its career it reminded its readers that it had "been established in compliance with the almost unanimous wish of every resident of character, property, and intelligence in this extensive district," and that its presence had long been rendered necessary by reason of "the unfounded impressions that prevail elsewhere respecting the climate, capabilities, and resources of this colony."

How history does repeat itself ! In fact "the commercial importance of the community demands its introduction. Churches, schools, stores, shops, inns, dwelling-houses, and erections for various purposes have rapidly risen; settlements have become villages, villages towns." These few sentences were certainly of a grandiose character, and tended to imbue the struggling inhabitants with an air of importance and to raise them somewhat in the estimation of each other if of no one else.

But let us continue the quotation.

" We commence our labours at a crisis highly interesting and important. Our home and colonial dynasties are happily changed. The weight of tyranny, misrepresentation, and neglect under which the colonists have long bitterly complained of is about to be removed. Instead of men (Governor Gipps) whose tenures of office were marked by carelessness of the welfare of those entrusted to their control, strong prejudices in favour of their own too often hastily formed opinion, excessive obstinacy in adhering to them when once expressed, and querulous impatience of their contradiction, rendering their admitted great talents worse than negative in their influence on our destinies, Ministers have wisely substituted a Secretary of State (Hon. W. E. Gladstone) and a Governor (Sir Charles A. Fitztoy) whoso past careers justly entitle them to our confidence and respect.

The great stay of our social fabric, the pastoral interest, is fluctuating and unsettled ; the all-important question of colonial policy, the tenure of waste lands, is not yet determined. On the other hand the odious pound-an-acre minimum is not yet blotted from the Statute-book. . . . To place a reserve of 20s. upon land in many cases not worth 1s. is opposed to the simplest economical principles anticipated by the land fund; and is a stretch of power as unwise as it is arbitrary and unjust. The land fund, too, is still withheld from the control of the people's representatives. We have the mortification of seeing this highly important branch of revenue squandered by a herd of overpaid official drones in a manner that too plainly bespeaks them ignorant of our wants and careless of our welfare."

These opening expressions of feeling succinctly but plainly denote the disadvantages under which the people laboured, and at the same time show the opinions held concerning those of whom the Courier was " demanded of conscience to speak the truth." The result of this " straight" talking had the desired effect, for in a remarkably short time this small branch of the Fourth Estate made its presence felt outside its own little circle, and Moreton Bay began to be regarded as something more than an outcast community. Once this fact was established Brisbane went ahead, comparatively, by leaps and bounds.

An Unprofitable Experiment

Simultaneously with the appearance of the Courier we find an attempt being made to further develop trade between the "head of navigation" (Ipswich) and the Settlement. Up to this time a barge had been employed to carry what produce there was from the few stations and the Government yards. This trade had been gradually increasing, until now it may be said to have attained fairly large proportions.

At all events, for the half-year ending 1845 the return showed 615 bales of wool, 465 sheep skins, 1 cask of tallow, and 12 hides. As a matter of fact, water carriage had at first met with scant support owing no doubt to the little additional expense entailed, but by-and-by this wore away, as may be inferred from the figures quoted.

Whether this success justified the substitution of steam for manual power was questioned at the time, and taking the experience of its originator, John Canning Pearce, as a basis for reasoning, we may safely conclude that there were some persons whose power of foresight was much ahead of this always unfortunate speculator. But John was confidant and did his best, which after all without the assistance of others was of little avail, for the speculation turned out to be very different from the little gold mine of which John Canning Pearce had fancied himself proprietor.

There was a class of people who prognosticated a brilliant future both for the little steamer Experiment and the hamlet of Ipswich; but this was composed chiefly of those whose only wish was to bring to a successful issue their pet scheme of " wiping out" Brisbane Town and making Cleveland Point the headquarters of commerce. Ipswich, they argued, could be made the connecting point between the interior and Cleveland (the Brisbane being unnavigable for vessels!) which would be made the port, and all produce would be carried direct to the vessels without being landed at Brisbane Town. In fact Brisbane must be ignored. " Man proposes, God disposes," was never hotter exemplified than in this case, as we shall see later on.

As was natural the initial trip of the Experiment excited considerable interest among the townspeople of the two places, and her departure from Brisbane on the 25th June was witnessed by the majority of the residents, who gathered on the banks of the river. The boat had a select partly onboard, whose pleasure was somewhat marred by the person intrusted with the steering of the boat not having previously made himself acquainted with the waters he was to navigate.

The Experiment reached Goodna safely enough, but she soon afterwards grounded, and all efforts to got her off failed. Much against the will of the party and greatly to the chagrin of the Ipswichians, who had at the appointed hour assembled en mass and awaited her arrival, she remained hard and fast until daylight next morning, when she floated off with the tide. When the Experiment did reach Ipswich her appearance elicited some expression of enthusiasm. The return trip was made without stoppage, and had the success of the undertaking depended on the encomiums showered upon the spirited speculator, John Canning Pearce would truly have been a happy man.

But it didn't. Like many others who had launched out to assist in opening up the district Mr. Pearce soon felt how difficult it was with so limited a community to depend upon to make either a "pile" or even a living. The fares and freightage were certainly moderate, and especially so when we consider the disadvantages and inconveniences which at this time were inseparable from such a venture. A "saloon" passage cost only 6s. and a fore cabin one 2s. less; while ordinary goods were carried at 7s. 6d. per ton and wool at 2s. A few months later, however, freight was reduced to 6s.

As a storekeeper, too, Mr. Pearce was equally unsuccessful - in fact, he had had best luck while managing a station. Encouraged by the hope of good times coming, and imbued with the desire of all true pioneers to leave the place better than be found it, he succeeded in keeping his head above water for some time, but the odds were too great, and Pearce ended his days as clerk in the Brisbane Gaol.

But we are anticipating. At the time when Mr. Pearce was essaying to further open up trade between the two towns the Hunter River Company, too, began to extend their operations by putting on another steamer, the Sovereign, to do a fortnightly trip. With these increased facilities Brisbane became more attractive to the Southerners, and with the influx of population the producing and consuming power of the place increased correspondingly.

As pointing to this we find the company lengthening their wharf, connecting their two sheds by an arch, building a brick cottage for their agent, and enclosing the whole with a high fence to prevent the intrusion of bullock-drivers, who had contracted a dangerous habit of camping with their teams close to the stores and imperilling the contents by their fires.