The Australian government recently announced budget cuts that will almost certainly negatively impact further development by the National Library of the collection of books, newspapers, photographs and journals currently available free of charge to Australian researchers. On one of my forays into Trove’s newspaper collection I came across a bit of buried treasure, an article that illustrates the wealth of information in these collections and the importance of maintaining and developing them. The article appeared in a Sydney newspaper in 1923, at a time when Queensland (and Brisbane in particular) had come of age, when the wisdom of populating the under-developed northern precincts of Australia by means of immigration seemed to have been been settled once and for all. The article, ‘Among Remarkable Australian Records’ by A. Meston, contains important historical information about the early history of Queensland prior to separation. It appeared in The World’s News, Sydney NSW, 12 May 1923 (National Library of Australia, Trove digitised newspapers and more, <http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper>, pages 3-4, digital image, accessed 25 Feb 2015).
Meston’s article is based upon archival material relating to Moreton Bay in the years 1832-1849 ‘previously lost beyond recall [because] various agencies were at work…to ensure [its] disappearance… a large amount of careful research by somebody…the early evolution of the great Northern State of which settlement at Mor[e]ton Bay was the starting point.’ The intrigue concerning the archival material – which Meston says came into his possession but doesn’t say how – refers to the determination of Britain’s Colonial Office to continue transporting convicts to Australia against the wishes of the NSW colonial parliament, and that parliament’s quandry over using convict labour to populate the under-developed north, which would not attract the ‘right kind’ of immigrant, vs funding immigration schemes from the motherland to ensure a regular stream of ‘suitable’ immigrants. Amongst the historical information in Meston’s article is a reference to the original spelling of Morton – named by Captain Cook after the Scottish Earl of Morton in whose name there is no ‘e’.
Rich in detail, the article is quoted here in full because it neatly packages an almost year-by-year account of an obscure period of early Queensland history, and because immigration remains controversial in contemporary Australia:-
“The first proposal to start a penal settlement [at Morton Bay] came from Commissioner Bigge, in May 1822, and he estimated the expense of the establishment for a thousand men at 27,292 pounds, apart from the cost of buildings. But not until 1822 was Surveyor Oxley sent north by Governor Brisbane to find a site for a settlement to relieve the overcrowding [of convicts] at Port Macquarie. Oxley went first to Port Curtis, and came back south to Morton Bay, where he discovered the Brisbane River on December 2, on information received from two white men he found living with the blacks.
Settlement first started at the present Redcliffe, stayed there only a few months, and removed to the present site of Brisbane. The records show the largest number of prisoners in 1822 – 1128 men and 30 women, the free people including 38 men and 13 women. They were guarded by 100 soldiers, there being usually one soldier to ten prisoners.
In 1837 the prisoners were reduced to 300 men and no women, and in 1839 they were all removed, so that Brisbane was clear of the penal element in 1839, except about 60 men left to look after the buildings and Government stock, and they too were finally removed, leaving only a few ticket-of-leave and time-expired men among the early settlers; and the majority were good colonists, some of their descendants prominent citizens today .
Governor Darling visited Morton Bay in the end of 1827. He objected to the settlement and proposed a site called ‘Dunwich’ on Stradbroke Island, and later on it was proclaimed a penal settlement; and in the following year there were 30 acres under cotton, the first grown on the present area of Queensland, but there were then plantations of cane and cotton at Port Macquarie. In May 1825 Governor Brisbane had visited the penal settlement on the Brisbane River and decided on the site there as suitable. He said “The establishment of penal depots is the best means of paving the way for free populations”. He was also careful to advise that the Commandant at Morton Bay should have his wife with him.
One of the Commandants, Captain Logan, who held that position for four years, and discovered the Logan River, was out with a party of prisoners and a couple of soldiers, exploring on the Upper Brisbane River, when he was found murdered, and his horse also killed. The body was found face downwards in a shallow grave. He was killed by his own men, but the deed was credited to the blacks. He was the most severe of all the Commandants, and on the news of his death reaching the settlement the prisoners spent the night in cheering and singing. In January 1831, Governor Darling sent Mrs Logan’s claim for a pension to Sir George Murray, and finally, years afterwards, on September 2 1843, she was granted an annuity of 70 pounds.
In 1842 Morton Bay was thrown open to free settlement, and the returns for 1844 show a population of 437 free and 71 bond, with 17 stations on the coast and 26 on the Darling Downs, showing 660 horses, 13,295 cattle and 184,651 sheep. The report says “There is no doctor, lawyer or minister on the Darling Downs”, which Cunningham had discovered in 1827.
Very conspicuous is the name of that tough old warrior, Dr Lang, and the amazing battle he fought with all sorts of officials, including the Colonial Office in London; his final letter to Earl Grey, on November 1849, shows that the veteran old campaigner was ‘real wild’ when he wrote to complain of ‘the rudeness and neglect by the paltriest underlings of your Lordship’s department, who, like the Sultan’s mutes, regularly strangle every honest man and every honest measure connected with the Colonies. Your Lordship has for three years been virtually knocking at the gate of futurity for the President of the United States of Australia”. Truly those grand old fighting patriots of the early days had hard battles to fight.
Gladstone decided to start a new colony at Port Curtis, to be called “North Australia” and sent Colonel Barney in charge. The colony was started by Gladstone in 1846 and broken up by Grey in 1847. In the meantime, Mitchell had returned to Sydney from his explorations north to the Belyando, Maranoa and Warrego, and Leichhardt had come back victorious from his trip to Port Essington.
Stapylton, the surveyor, and his assistant Tuck, had been killed by the blacks at Mount Lindesay, and two of the aboriginals were taken to Sydney, tried there and brought back to Brisbane and hanged on the windmill tower, still standing on Spring Hill [as it still stands today]. Their names were ‘Merridoo’ and ‘Noogamill’ and old blacks told me 30 years afterwards that those two men had nothing to do with the murder. William Gregory and Mary Shannon were killed by the blacks about 30 miles from Brisbane, and everywhere there was war between the black and white races.
In 1847 Ben Boyd, of New South Wales, brought 66 kanaka men and four women from three of the islands in the Pacific. The Attorney-General decided that ‘none of the party were stolen, and they were all going back’. Boyd went down again to the islands, and was killed on the island of Guadalcanal, what was reputed to be his skull being all that was recovered.
Kennedy’s fatal expedition along the Cape York Peninsula had ended in the death of all except ‘Jacky’, Carron and Goddard; and Captain Gray was killed by the blacks on Bribie Island in Morton Bay, and two cedar cutters, Phemy and Collins, were killed by the blacks on the Tweed River. These are only a few of the stirring and tragic events of the [eighteen] forties.
Some of the early proposals for colonising are curious reading today . Dr Lang had a ‘Cooksland Company’ to grow cotton at Morton Bay, and the Manchester Cotton Company approved of Lang’s scheme. That company had a cotton plantation in the sixties, on Nerang Creek, 50 miles from Brisbane. Lang wrote to the Colonial Office to say he could take 500 families of foreigners, and was told that there was an objection to foreign communities. Lang asked for an 18-pound bounty on ‘Fortitude’passengers, the same as allowed on foreign vine-dressers, but that was also refused.
Lang and the Colonial Office were never on friendly terms. A Mr Belt wanted to bring out a lot of Germans, if they were given 15 pounds in land scrip, they paying their own passages. Colonel Barney wanted a colony in North Australia for ‘exiles’ to grow cotton and sugar. The Colonial Office offered to send Barney 210 ‘exiles’, half ticket-of-leave, half conditional pardon. The wives of the exiles were to go, but none from Tasmania, as they were ‘too bad!’
Dr Lang’s band of German Lutheran missionaries, 11 men, 8 women and 11 children, arrived at Morton Bay February 8 1838 and settled at Eagle Farm, six miles from Brisbane, but both that and the Church of England mission under Rev. Handt failed entirely to have any influence on the aboriginals. In four years the German mission had cost 1298 pounds, and were finally nearly starved. A Roman Catholic band of three missionaries had no better results on Stradbroke Island, and all three missions were abandoned.
The first sale of Brisbane land, on July 15 1842, realised 4637 pounds 10s for 13-1/2 acres.
In 1848 100 Chinese coolies were sent to New South Wales, indentured for five years, at 2-1/2 dollars per month, and 21 boys at 1-1/2 dollar and Earl Grey wrote to Fitzroy to say “Step it up if you can”.
In a letter from Grey to Fitzroy, September 28 1849, he says “Guard against any mistakes with Dr Lang”. About the same date he wrote to Fitzroy to say “No more convicts shall be sent to any part of New South Wales”.
Colonel Dumaresq (‘Doomarric’) wrote to the Colonial Office on December 2 1828 about a company to grow tobacco in Australia. This was probably the ancestor of the Dumaresq family, who held two well-known stations near Glen Innes, the ‘Molle’ and ‘Ferrucabad’, though my spelling may not be correct. The Dumaresq River bears his name.
A bag of cotton wool sent to the Colonial Office on December 23 1828, from Morton Bay, was pronounced to be ‘excellent’. Some cypress pine roots, sent in the same year to London, brought 5 pounds each, probably used for veneers. In 1833 a Major Sullivan offered to organise a company to colonise East Australia.
In August 1844, Eyre offered to do two years’ exploration in north-east Australia, at a cost of 5000 pounds, and on November 12 1845, offered to go in search of Sturt and Leichhardt, as he thought both were lost.
Surveyor Burnett, whose name is borne by the Burnett River, which he discovered, went about 30 miles up the ‘Wide Bay River’, now the Mary, in July 1847, but the first white men up that river in a boat were Andrew Petrie and Stuart Russell, when, in 1842, they went for ‘Duramboi’, the escaped convict Davis, who had been out 14 years with the blacks.
The Cooksland Association asked for 20,000 acres at 1 pound per acre and a lease of half a million acres. The Colonial Office even refused to receive a deputation on the subject.
The A.A. Company of New South Wales, calmly asked for a monopoly of the coalfields of Morton Bay, a request the C[ommanding] O[fficer]. Regarded as ‘preposterous’.
Sir Gordon Bremer wrote to Gipps, on August 30 1839, with reference to growing sugar cane at Port Essington. On July 16 1839, Lord Normanby, in reply to Macarthur, on steam to Australia, said he must “refer it to the Government of New South Wales”.
Contemplate the steamers in Australian ports today . The Customs Commissioner’s report of September 9 1848 considered there was no need for a free port at Morton Bay, as “only a few coasters trade there, and only 20 gallons are in bond”. And think of Brisbane trade today, after only 74 years.
On May 11 1839, Governor Gipps was advised by the Colonial Office that transportation to New South Wales was to be discontinued, and the last vessel with prisoners, the Eden, arrived in 1840.
On September 15 1842 Governor Gipps sent a report to Lord Stanley on New Caledonia, and said “The Island is very worthy of the attention of the British Government”. But the British Government had all Java twice in its possession, and threw it away again, and could have owned all New Guinea, except the Dutch portion, if the action of M’Ilwraith had not been ignored by Lord Derby. And it is well to remember the fool’s bargain Britain made over Heligoland. Too true is that saying of Carlyle that ‘the incapable man, in a responsible position, is the most dangerous criminal in the world’.”