The First Steamer in Moreton Bay

The year 1837 marked two important events in the early history of Brisbane - the arrival of the Petries, and of the fist steamer which ploughed the waters of Moreton Bay. It has previously been stated that the bungling of works had been lamentable In this respect things had become, even worse, until the Commandant decided to end it by petitioning for the services of a foreman.

Mr Andrew Petrie, who at this time belonged to the Royal Engineers, was chosen for the position and the little steamer the James Watt - which by the way, was the pioneer steamer in Hobson’s Bay in the same year - was chartered to convoy the new official and his family.

The James Watt left Sydney late in July, and early in the following month arrived at Amity Point, a brief inspection of the place being made. The little vessel then steamed on to Dunwich, which had been made the timber depot of the Settlement.

Here Mr. Petrie superintended the loading of the vessel with cedar on behalf of the Government, and his first commission thus executed he placed his family - one daughter and four sons - and then few belongings in the pilot boat manned by convicts and started at the break of day for the penal establishment. On the way they called at St Helena, and managed to reach Brisbane town after dusk the same evening.

They landed at the Kings jetty (now the Queen's wharf) which, it may be here remarked, was the only landing place on the river if we may except one which had at considerable expense been elected at Eagle Farm but which was quite useless owing to the fact that between it and deep water a sand bank, the presence of which had not been discovered until after the structure had been completed. But wharves were not required in those days, since the largest vessel that had plied the river had been the Foster Fyans a cutter of some 18 or 20 tons.

The arrival of the foreman of works and his family did not elicit any great outburst of enthusiasm as a matter of fact little or no preparation had been made for then reception. They were eventually housed in the Factory which had just previously been vacated by the women, and a terrible hole it was. After a tedious sea trip and having been 'cribbed cabined, and confined’ for so many hours in a small boat, they were too wearied to complain indeed had they done so it would have availed them nothing. They resided here for several months.

The first matter to claim the attention of Mr Petrie was of course the windmill and in conjunction with this work he contrived to commence the erection of a dwelling for himself. This he built in what is now Petrie’s Bight, and it remained standing until a few years ago, when it was pulled down, partly because a portion of it was on the road line and partly because the ground it covered was required for the more palatial premises which now adjoin Messes Quinlan Gray and Co. When the Settlement was thrown own open Mr Petrie purchased the house and much of land which surrounded it.

The Discovery of Mount Petrie

Following closely on the arrival of the Petries, was the departure of Captain Fyans, whose successor was Major Cotton, of the 28th Regiment. One of the first visits of inspection which the new Commandant decided on making was to Limestone. He was accompanied by Dr Alexander (the medical officer to the 28th Regiment), Mr Andrew Petrie, an orderly, and a convict attendant. Limestone was reached by boat without difficulty, and as the visit was merely one of inspection the stay was not protracted.

Mr. Petrie the return journey suggested that they should travel through the bush to Redbank, where had been established a sheep station. Redbank was reached safely enough and emboldened by their successes - for Mr Petrie had come across some new species of timber - it was again suggested by the foreman of works that 0xley Creek, where convict sawyers among other things converted huge blue gums into gun carriages, should be called upon. The idea of making the trip as comprehensive a one as possible was seized by the Commandant who gave his consent to the extension of their journey to permit of the third place being visited.

Accordingly they set out for Oxley Creek, the intention being, when they had seen how matters wore progressing there to make again for a stated point on the river where those in the boat had been instructed to wait for them. But the party were a long way out of their calculations, and the trip, which was meant to be a brief one, was " long drawn out" and anything but sweet. They certainly succeeded in finding the camp at Oxley Creek, but in endeavouring to strike the river on the return trim they became bushed.

In that glorious state of uncertainty which belongs to those who have been lost in the wilds the party pushed on and on for two days and nights. In the meantime those at the Settlement had been made acquainted by the men in the boat with the fact that the Commandant and his followers were missing the crew had waited until they were tired at Oxley Creek. Search parties were at once despatched, and the firing of guns together with the skill of the black trackers being without result the general and hasty conclusion arrived at was that the party had met with a fate similar to Logan's.

On the third day, however, the lost ones managed to strike a mountain, which Mr Petrie ascended in the hope of catching a glimpse of one of the many windings of the river. And this hope was gratified. After a brief rest the party again set out, and with the knowledge of their position thus acquired by Mr. Petrie they managed to strike the river at Lytton.

They walked along the bank of the river for some distance and fortunately fell in with a boat belonging to the Settlement, which brought them on in an exhausted state. It subsequently transpired that one of the search parties had tracked them to the mountain which had been ascended by Mr. Petrie, but after this, all traces had been lost. The mountain referred to was called Mount Petrie - a name which has stuck to it ever since.

The Results of Mr Petrie’s Excursions

For several months Mr Petrie was not again tempted to take his walks abroad, but the desire to extend his acquaintance with the timber products of the country proved too strong to allow his Mount Petrie experience to damp his ardour. Accordingly in 1838 he embarked in an excursion, in which he was accompanied by his son John, who is known to nearly every resident of Brisbane at the present day, and is at the head of the firm of Petrie and Son.

This time we find him out Maroochy way procuring what are regarded as having been the first specimens of bunya pine seen by those in the settlement. In several ways did Mr. Petrie demonstrate the capabilities of the district, not the least important being the discovery of coal at Tivoli while on a visit to Redbank station.

So impressed was he with the importance of this find that he sent two sample casks to Sydney, and after the test it was pronounced highly satisfactory. At a later period, it may be mentioned, a tunnel was run into the hill and a plentiful supply obtained for the penal establishment.

It may also be remarked that Mr. Petrie found, though some time after his discovery at Tivoli, the black diamond at Redbank and Moggill, and mines at these places were in subsequent years worked by the veteran John Williams. The value of such discoveries was not apparent in those bygone days, it is now that the trade has grown to such dimensions, and forms so important a part in the commercial world, that we can realize their importance.

The Home of the Freeman

In the meantime matters in the Settlement continued much in the same groove, now and again a convict escaping to relieve the monotony of every day work and punishment. Very little was done in the way of exploration, and nothing but cultivation was carried on. In this way, then, we come to the year 1839, a year which may be truly regarded as the turning point of our career, and the starting place of our growth.

Consequent upon the explorations of Allan Cunningham - for Cunningham had discovered the Darling Downs in 1827 and roads leading thereto from both sides of the Range at later periods - Moreton Bay began to commend itself to the Southern selectors, one or two of whom brought their flocks.

Thanks to Dr. Lang and his immigrants, a very strong feeling against the transportation system had sprung into existence in Port Jackson, and at the time of which we write the promoters of the movement had attained the wished-for end. Since Sydney and Moreton Bay were part and parcel of New South Wales both were similarly affected.

It was in May that the heavy cloud which had hovered over the Settlement for sixteen years lifted and revealed to view not the exclusive haunt of the felon, but a home destined for the freeman. In this month all criminals (with their Commandant, Major Cotton), except those whom it was considered necessary should remain to assist in surveying and such other Government work, were removed, Lieutenant Gravatt assuming command of those left. Three months later Lieutenant Gorman was appointed to the position.

In a despatch from Governor Gipps to Lord Glenelg, dated 1st July, 1839, was the following:-

"The whole of the women, fifty-seven in number, have been withdrawn, and the male convicts reduced to ninety-four, a number which will be barely sufficient for the custody and protection of the property of the home Government, particularly of the flocks and herds, which cannot be advantageously disposed of until the country shall be opened to settlers,".

The military department consisted of four subalterns and twenty-six men, and the females connected were four and children eight. In thus entering on a new era of our existence let us divert somewhat and take another glance at the Settlement from the top of the Windmill.

What a picturesque scene greets the eye as we find our way up the narrow staircase to the summit of the Windmill tower! The beauty of the sinuous river wending its way through the valley is heightened by the little village calmly reposing at our feet. Who would have ventured to predict that this village was destined to spread on both sides of the placid stream, and within fifty or sixty years blossom into a city, a great commercial centre?

To the west our vision meets with a large tract of unbroken undulating country, with Taylor's Range as a background for a wild yet grand scene. But to the south what a contrast is there in the large areas of cultivated land, cleared by the hands of the convicts, and covered with prolific crops of maize, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, and other agricultural products!

Standing in relief at intervals are large trees, the existence of which is a matter of speculation, until we are reminded that they in their solitary grandeur are alone left to mark the scenes of cruel lash-wielding. From here, carrying the eye towards Kangaroo Point, nothing is seen but an almost uncultivated waste.

Examining the Settlement a little more closely, we observe the strange medley of convict buildings with which we have already been made acquainted, but which since then have been beautified by garden plots of tropical and semi tropical trees, shrubs, and fruit.

Between Mr. Andrew Petrie's house and Creek Street is a large area of cultivation attached to the quarters of the Foreman of Works, with groves of luxuriant orange, lemon, lime, and quava trees occupying that portion of it which is now the site of Messrs. D. L. Brown's and Messrs. Parbury, Lamb, and Co's. establishments and wharves.

Bringing our view again to the right, we are struck with the picturesqueness of the gardens which surround the various official residences in Queen Street, where the Government Gardens (now the Queen's Park) with their fringe of sugarcane seen within the lines of a high paling and three-rail fence furnish striking evidence of the fertility of the soil in that direction. The walks following the river and traversing the grounds were indeed a wonder and delight. But the time was approaching for a change of all this.

The Commandant's quarters, situated where the Government Printing Office now stands, were similarly beautified, the chief object of attraction being the row of guava and lemon trees and the trellis-work canopy bearing some excellent vines which shaded the gravelled walks. Similar horticultural adornments were to be seen at the commissariat quarters and military barracks, which stood on the site of the present Treasury Buildings.

The last places we see, or at any rate which attract the eye, are the hospitals on the present Supreme Court and Lands Office grounds, the surroundings of which are by no means out of keeping with those of the other penal institutions. Glancing then round the Settlement at this turning point of its existence, we cannot but be struck with its beauties, and in descending the staircase of the Windmill we are most favourably impressed with the character of the surroundings.

How Speculation was Encouraged

But any hopes of immediate rise to prosperity were destined to be sadly disappointed by Governmental hesitation. Beyond withdrawing the convicts the nominee Government of New South Wales could not be roused into further action, and the act of throwing open the place was so long delayed that it was a matter for I wonder when the event really occurred.

Though the Settlement had practically been abandoned as a penal depot, a speculative individual who took it into his head to try his luck here had, even late in 1840, to first obtain a permit before he dared approach the town nearer than fifty miles.

Regarding this Mr. Patrick Leslie said, when writing to Mr. Henry Stuart Russell, " The Penal Settlement was a close one, and no one could go there except by permission of the Government." In 1841, if he wished to open a store, permission had to be sought, and if this were granted he had to conform to stringent conditions and fix his tent pegs on land which he could neither beg, buy, nor steal.

The Murder of Staplyton

It was in June of 1840 that Governor Gipps authorised a trigonometrical survey of Moreton Bay, and he did this with the apparent object of throwing open the lands. Messrs Dixon, James Warner (our late Sergeant-at-Arms) and G. C. Staplyton were intrusted with the work and, according to instructions received, began a survey of the coast, the wisdom of which was questioned, as it was generally regarded as a loss of valuable time. Messrs. Dixon and Warner governed one party on the coast, while Stapylton and his men were sent inland and found their way to Mount Lindsay.

He had not been here long when he sent some of his men to erect a temporary bridge, he with the others, named Dunlop and Tuck, staying to perform some job in the vicinity of the camp. While working here they were surprised by the blacks, who cruelly butchered Staplyton and Tuck and left Dunlop for dead.

The others on returning were horrified to find what had occurred during their absence. Poor Staplyton's body was mutilated beyond recognition, Tuck's head and face had been battered almost to a pulp, while no trace of Dunlop could for some time be found. Eventually, however, they discovered him in the dense scrub, whither he had crawled.

He was breathing, but it being considered certain that he would die they left him where they had found him to expire, and hurried off to the Settlement to apprise Commandant Gorman of the terrible tragedy. On receipt of the news a party were at once despatched to Mount Lindsay and on getting there to their astonishment they found Dunlop, who had crawled further into the scrub, still alive. Tuck's body, and what was left of Staplyton - for his head had been severed from his body and portions of the latter devoured by the savages - were carried to the Settlement for interment.

Dunlop was made as comfortable as it was possible to do under the circumstances, and again once more astonished everybody by recovering. The burying ground in these days was in the vicinity of Roma and Quay streets, and here the mortal remains of the poor fellows found their resting place. It may be mentioned that some of the tombstones of soldiers were allowed to remain on the river bank in a neglected state for many years. Eventually, however, they were removed to Toowong Cemetery, where they are still preserved.

We Begin to Grow

The premature notion of a coast survey was shortly after this sad event, knocked on the head, and the efforts of the chainman were devoted to what was regarded of more vital importance - the survey of the Settlement into town and country lots. This change of policy had a stimulating effect, and the announcement of the first sale of lands was anxiously looked for by the Sydney people.

In cutting up the land the surveyors allotted streets one chain and a half in width, ran a road along the river from Queen Street to New Farm, and did not overlook the importance of reserves. Some of these were in the centre of the town, one known as Brisbane square being formed by Edward, Queen, Creek, and Adelaide streets. How well their efforts in this respect were seconded we shall presently see. It has been said that 1839 saw the turning point ; towards the end of 1840 we began to grow to a noticeable extent.

Bold Speculators

In view of the unsettled conditions which prevailed at Moreton Bay about this time it is not a little surprising to find even one man willing to embark in a speculation so precarious as that of opening a store. John Williams first figured in our history as the skipper of the John and Edward, schooners, the first traders - if we may use such a term. The redoubtable John next turns up as the applicant for permission from the Colonial Secretary "to open a store at Brisbane Town, Moreton Bay, for the sale of articles of general consumption with the exception of spirituous liquors and wines."

In due season a reply graciously granting the request came, and with it the announcement that " the Government cannot secure to you any land there." The privilege was regarded as a great concession, and John was duly thankful, though it can be by no means said that he was faithful to the conditions of agreement, which prohibited the sale of intoxicants.

The writer was fortunate enough in securing an interview with one of the two men who constructed the first tenement in South Brisbane. From conversation with this old settler (John Davidson) it transpired that Davidson and his mate, who had made their way into the Settlement from the Downs, intending to take the first Government boat that arrived here for Sydney, met Williams on the arrival of the Edward and asked for a passage. Williams on hearing their request said, "Now I think this will turn out a good place, and if you will stop with me I'll pay you. There's money to be made here, boys."

The pair agreed to stay, whereupon Williams set them to work unloading some weatherboards he had brought with him in the Edward. This done, bush posts were sunk into the ground and soon the weatherboards were nailed on and the four walls of a humpy formed, The place was thatched with reeds obtained from what was afterwards known as Coombes' Swamp, but now called Hill End. The place was stocked with a few things Williams had brought from Sydney, and John did all the trade that was to be done with the few "bullockys" who had their camp opposite where Hardgrave’s Buildings now are.

The truth of John's remark to Davidson, that there was "money in it," very soon began to manifest itself, and in an incredibly short time he found that his humpy was not sufficiently large to meet the requirements of the squatters and their men. Accordingly Davidson's services were again requisitioned, and he was instructed to cut some slabs - which he found at Burnett Swamp - and erect a "barracks" 50ft. long, which he did just about the intersection of Grey Street with Russell Street. This place was the " hotel" for squatters and their men, who slept in rows, and many a wild scene has been enacted within its walls.

Presently, however, others began to think with the old veteran, and sought and obtained permission to open "stores," thus breaking down the " monopoly" to some extent. Among the first to settle in the north side - though they did not build their own houses - were William Pickering, George Edmonstone, Thomas Gray, James Powers, David Bow, George McAdam, John Richardson, Robert Little, P. Phelan, W. Holman Berry, and a few others. The majority of them obtained leases of the lower floor of the old convict barracks in Queen Street, which they themselves converted into shops.

It is true there were more tradesmen than customers, but somehow things began to look up, and the rush on the stocks of rum and other spirits caused George McAdam to apply for permission to open a "pub." George was evidently a loyal subject, and showed his gratification at receiving the necessary authority by styling his inn the Sovereign. It was located somewhere near the present hotel of that name, but a little nearer Queen Street. The opening of the place was made the occasion for general rejoicing on the part of the teamsters, who, however, were placed at some disadvantage owing to the river separating their camp from the drinking shop.

Encouraged by the success of McAdam, David Bow ran up another hostelry in a remarkably short time, and with inclinations none the less loyal than his friend McAdam he named it the Victoria. The two places were some years afterwards burned down, and on the latter being re-erected it was designated the Globe. As most folk know this in turn has been pulled down to make room for a building more in keeping with the times. Many recollections are associated with the old Victoria, within whose walls much of the 'agitation which resulted in separation from the mother colony was hatched.

The First Execution

It is necessary at this point to refer to an earlier occurrence - the murder of Staplyton and Tuck. In May, 1841 news reached the Settlement that two blacks, Merridio and Neugavil, had been arrested for the crime, and on the 14th of this month, which was exactly twelve months after the commission of the deed, the two were brought before Mr. Justice Burton in Sydney.

It will be remembered that scarcely anything had been left of Staplyton, and as it was considered that difficulty might be experienced on the point of identification in connection with the case the aboriginals were arraigned on a charge of murdering Tuck.

The evidence adduced at the trial was considered complete, and accordingly they were sentenced to death. They were perfectly indifferent to their fate, for when Baker, the interpreter, communicated the verdict to them they are reported to have said with perfect equanimity, " Let them hang us !" It is extremely doubtful whether these two were the only men implicated; indeed Mr. John Campbell relates how, while looking for a run some time after the execution, he fell in with some blacks.

It was explained to him by his guide that some of these dusky warriors had been implicated in the murder, that those who had suffered the extreme penalty of the law were innocent, and that one he pointed out and named was the real criminal. But this is anticipating history.

Strange to say the two were despatched to Moreton Bay, where the execution was ordered to take place, and late in the month of June the notorious couple landed here. While there had been executions of a kind there was no legally qualified hangman, and consequently this gruesome but very necessary official for the vindication of the law journeyed with his victims from Sydney. The town had triangles but lacked a gallows. The task which devolved on the worthy Foreman of Works was not, however, a difficult one, and a temporary " extinguisher" was soon brought into existence.

Between the period of convictism and 1841 there had been no use for the Windmill, which had accordingly in the meantime been partially dismantled, and the disused arms made convenient timber for a staging which for the purposes of the execution projected from the balcony. A pole was run out from a window above, and to this was fastened the fatal rope. The blacks having been pinioned they were placed on the staging, and without much ceremony or regard for the depth of drop were, on the 3rd July, launched into eternity amid the howls of an astonished and demonstrative mob of blackfellows who had assembled about the hill to see the sight.

The atonement for the murder of the two surveyors was thus the occasion of the first execution by hanging that took place in Brisbane. The executioner was evidently well satisfied with the arrangements made for carrying out the death penalty, for on leaving for the South he assured Mr. Petrie that the improvised gallows was "quite equal to the affair in Sydney," for which compliment the worthy Foreman of Works was of course profuse in his thanks.

A Victim to Logan's Rule

How Logan's name does crop up ! No doubt some readers will hazard a query as to the personality of Baker, the interpreter. And it would scarcely be regarded as a correct thing to " skip over" him, since in a previous chapter it was promised that some of the few convicts who escaped both the tyrannical rule of Logan and the savagery of the blacks would be alluded to in their proper places. Baker's place comes in here.

Baker had the misfortune to be transported from Sydney to Moreton Bay during the reign of Logan, and on getting here was still more unfortunate in his experience of the Commandant's cat-wielding propensities. He preferred facing the dangers of the bush to living under the rule of brutal terrorism without making an effort to escape it. Benefiting by the misfortunes of others he decided that to attempt to reach the South would be madness. He therefore went in the direction of the Upper Brisbane.

Here he fell in with a tribe of natives, who, to his utter astonishment, recognised in him a likeness to one of their number named Boraltchou, who had some time previously quitted this life. By degrees Baker learned that one of their superstitions was that, when they died they were "scraped" and returned to their friends not black but white.

The probabilities or possibilities of such a thing were not matters which Baker would have cared to discuss, even had he possessed a more intimate knowledge of the language of his not-to-be-denied relatives. Accordingly he quietly acquiesced in till the proceedings, which endowed him not only with the personal belongings and adornments of the chief Boraltohou but also with the name of that worthy.

He resided with the blacks for several years, and his return to civilisation was brought about in a somewhat curious manner. Moppy, alias Multuggorah, who was the chief of the tribe, and who was a well-known character with the squatters, had occasion to visit the Settlement one day, and being somewhat of a favourite the Commandant presented him with the orthodox brass breastplate bearing the inscription, " Moppy, King of the Upper Brisbane Tribe." Proudly bearing this acknowledgment of his superiority round his neck he set out to join his dusky companions.

On his arrival at the camp the blacks were naturally much exercised as to what the decoration of their chief might mean, and to elucidate the mystery the services of Baker, or Boraltchou, were immediately requisitioned. They were a democratic race, and upon his interpreting the few words on the plate they became highly indignant, and there and then insisted on Boraltohou handing it back to the Commandant under pain of death.

At about this time several squatters had settled in the neighbourhood of the Upper Brisbane, and with possible capture on the one hand and probable death on the other the position was a very awkward one for Baker. However, of the two evils he chose the lesser, and accordingly set out presumably to fulfil the mission of the blacks, but really to deliver himself up. The result was that he received manumission, and his services were utilised in interpreting. Baker lived for some years longer, during which he behaved remarkably well.