Paul Budde's History Archives

Brisbane Town

On 11 February 1842, Moreton Bay was officially declared open for free settlement. The 2nd and 3rd offending convicts – for which the penal settlement was established – were send back to Sydney. Instead 55 ‘ordinary prisoners of the Crown’ were send to Brisbane to assist in setting up the free settlement. Twenty two were assigned to the surveyors – see below – three were employed at the hospital, one to the pilot crew at Amity Point, four as boat crew for the settlement, the rest were assigned were needed.

While transportation to NSW was officially stopped in 1840,  it continued to other parts of the colonies. The majority of British convicts were now increasingly put on hulks on the Thames,. Interestingly however, during the 1840s, convict ships from Britain continued to be diverted from Sydney. In 1849 a change in government in Britain led to yet another overturn in policy. As a result, a convict transport was sent directly from Britain to Moreton Bay, but the change in policy proved to be short lived. With transportation to all of the eastern colonies drawing to a close, the last direct shipment for Moreton Bay left Britain in April, 1850.

After the 1853 penal servitude act, only long-term transportation was retained and it was finally abolished after the penal servitude act of 1857. Some convicts were still transported for a while after the 1857 act. The last transportations took place in 1868. However, there are no records indicating that convicts still arrived in Brisbane after 1850.

The Municipality of Brisbane was gazetted on 25 May 1859 as proclaimed by the Governor of New South Wales and the official papers arrived in Brisbane on 7 September 1859. Because of the delay in communication between England and Queensland the official papers for the separation  of Queensland from NSW took longer to arrive so the Queensland Proclamation took place in December that year, after the Brisbane Town was already officially established.

The arrivals of the surveyors

In 1839, in preparation for the opening of the settlement, six surveyors including Robert Dixon, James Warner, Henry Wade and Granville Slapylton were sent from Sydney to draw maps of the district and prepare town plans so the land could be put up for sale. The proposed street plan was for square blocks of 10 chains( 200 m). It also included a range of gardens: the military gardens and Dixon’s garden behind the Military Barracks; Whyte’s garden to the northwest of the Prisoners Barracks, through which Burnett Lane now runs; Reverend Handt’s garden and Kent’s garden to the rear of the Chaplain’s house and Commandant’s house; the Commandant’s garden; and Paget’s garden and Dr Ballard’s garden adjacent to the Hospital.

There was some initial disagreement as visiting NSW Governor George Gipps was still opposed to the free settlement being built at the riverside. Others suggested Cleveland Point to him.  On arrival in March 1842 he was totally bogged down in the mud at Cleveland Point, so that plan got rapidly abandoned. However in Brisbane he was not happy with plans of the surveyors.  He thought that the roads were to wide, that he thought the reserves to be a waste of land and that the allotments were too small. He wanted the plans to be changed but he received opposition from the Superintendent of Works Andrew Petrie. Gipps wanted the streets to be not wider than sixty feet however, Petrie didn’t want to give in and in the end he agreed to 80 feet.

Dixon and Commander Gorman didn’t go on together very well which led to the dismissal of Dixon. While Dixon was an excellent surveyor he was not a town planner. Surveyor Henry Wade modernised Dixon’s plan in order for it to be more relevant to town planning . He developed the CBD street grid as it still exists and developed rectangular city blocks that were suited for businesses and housing (rather than for farming). he also imagined in his plans the parks that later became the City Botanic Gardens and Roma Street Parkland. Following an official complaint against him, Wade was laid off in 1844 and left Brisbane two years later.

In July the first land auctions were advertised and  comprised of the block bounded by Queen, George, Elizabeth, and Albert streets – and a section in South Brisbane. The auctions were held in Sydney. There was significant interest from the people here and the land was sold well above the reserve price.

The town plan allowed the subdivision of allotments to the river’s edge. The first ones in North Brisbane, South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point. A ferry linked the opposite sides of the river from 1842.  By that time the town had just under a thousand inhabitants.

They also surveyed the lands beyond the townships and on one of these expeditions Stapylton was killed by Aboriginals.

Back in 1825, Commandant Henry Miller of the penal settlement had selected the triangle of land bounded on two sides by the Brisbane River and the escarpment which is now Wickham Terrace.  At the survey of the town in 1839 surveyors marked the city boundary to the north along what is now Boundary Street in Spring Hill.  Over time a fence was built from what is now North Quay over Spring Hill (Boundary Street) to Petrie’s Bight.

This  boundary was revised in 1856, expanding it from Petrie Bight (Eagle Terrace) out to Boundary Street (now Boomerang Street in Milton. Boundary Creek marked the extension of the city’s new boundary.

In 1859 August Gregory was appointed as Queensland’s first Surveyor General.

The arrival of the first settlers

The first settlers that arrived came on their own, either attracted by business and land opportunities or  as squatters. These are people who occupied a large tract of Crown land in order to graze livestock. Initially often having no legal rights to the land, they gained its usage by being the first settlers in the area. They in particular went into the fertile area of the Darling Downs.

Already in the early 1840s agriculture products started to arrive  in Brisbane from these squatters, before this town was officially declared open for free settlers. They were rapidly followed by business people supplying the various services for the squatters as well as town services such as pubs, labourers, wharfies, prostitutes, etc. This added to the frontiers atmosphere of those early years.

By 1844 there was still only one general store, though other commercial business included two milkmen, a sawyer, a butcher and a blacksmith. There were also two hotels in Queen Street,  Bow’s (Victoria Hotel) an the Sovereign Hotel and as could be expected of a frontier town, Brisbane society was predominantly masculine. Law and order was both rough and very public, with floggings being conducted in the main thoroughfare of Queen Street until 1847; hangings continued as a public spectacle in Queen Street until 1855.

Apart from the buildings from the convict era the new buildings from the settlers and immigrants were not more than slab huts. The convict buildings were used for many decades for public activities (courts, police, government clerks, land office, etc, even to house the first parliament). The roads were not much more than tracks, nearly impassable after rain. Flooding was a reoccurring event especially of the low laying parts of the settlement. Overcrowding and lack of hygiene were major issues in the first few decades of the period of free-settlement. The healthcare system remained appalling as it was in convict times.  Most newcomers had little resilience against the tropical diseases. Infant mortality stood at 50%. Fresh water supply remained a problem, again as it had been in convict times. The so called fresh water reservoir was now known as ‘the hole of death’. Water was also  carted from Breakfast Creek and swamps in Woolloongabba. It was not until 1866 before a more sustainable solution was established through a pipeline from the newly created Enoggera Dam.

Constructing Enoggera_Reservoir ca. 1864

Constructing Enoggera_Reservoir ca. 1864

The first sponsored immigrants from England arrived in two batches. In late 1848 the British Government  brought in 240 settlers and looked after them on their arrival. A month later more than a 1,000 Presbyterians sponsored by the Scottish Revered Dr John Dunmore Lang arrived.  His abrasive personality and high-handed approach was not well received by the authorities. Furthermore he was actively lobbying for a separate state and the Government in NSW was not interested to make that happen. Immigrants paid Lang for a block of promised land through his Cooksland Colonization Company. Lang had never completed such transactions with the Government. George Dickens for example had paid Lang £100 for 80 acres that he never received (Sharyn Merkely writes about this in her book Brisbane Burns).

On arrival of the three ships the Fortitude, Chasely and Lima the (NSW) government officials in Brisbane  refused any assistance. The immigrants saw all of Lang’s promises disappearing in hot air. Lang had to scramble to provide accommodation and food for the newcomers. John Wickham (see below) took pity on these new arrivals and arranged they could put up tents and build slab huts. They spread out  over the town, concentrating in Bulimba, Petrie’s Bight and Bell Valley. The current name of the latter is Fortitude Valley, renamed after one of the three ship these immigrants arrived on (Fortitude, Chasely and Lima). John Wickham knew well that the free settlements needed lots of workers and most indeed did receive work after their turbulent arrival. However, most of them held a lifelong grudge against Lang.

Some of the earliest land purchases around Brisbane were made in the area just north of the main settlement area in what is now Spring Hill. In the early days the area between Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley was known by the somewhat oxymoronic name of Valley Hill and remained covered in virgin forest. After butcher George Edmonstone had removed his sheep from Windmill Hill, the area became the most desirable residential area in Brisbane, and the Edmonstones were among the first to move there. Early subdivision of the area in the 1850s saw the gazetting of Wickham  Terrace (see below) and Gregory Terrace.

Gregory Terrace was named after Queensland’s first Surveyor-General, Augustus C. Gregory and was the northern perimeter of Brisbane Town from 1859.

The Spring Hill area had rapidly become the excusive part of town and was one of the first areas to have a reliable water supply in Brisbane, first from the natural spring that gave its name to the suburb and then in the 1870s from the reservoirs built behind the windmill on Wickham Terrace.

Spring Hill Water Reservoirs - 1871

Spring Hill Water Reservoirs – 1871

The new settlers did want to forget the origin of the settlement as soon as possible and rapidly the name Moreton Bay was replaced by Brisbane Town, for a while however, both names continued but eventual Moreton Bay started to refer to the district. This lingered on till independence in 1859, when Queen Victoria personally insisted that the name for the new colony had to be Queensland.

Population statistics vary across sources but they followed roughly the following growth pattern At its height the penal colony had a population of around 1200 people, around 90% being male. In 1846 the population stood at close to 1500 people, now approx. a third were women. At independence in 1859 there were 7000 people and 5 years later the population stood at approx. 12,500. By this time there were three village, North Brisbane (around the original settlement), South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point Village (together these last two village had a population of approx 350 people at that time). The 1864 census recorded 2456 buildings in Brisbane, of which 16% were of brick or stone. 

Further north Ipswich had been growing significantly challenging North Brisbane as the most important settlement in the most northern part what still was NSW and also the Darling Downs (Drayton, now part of Toowoomba) had become a prominent settlement. During the convict era river transport took place by row boats. Such a trip would take around 12 hours from Brisbane to Ipswich. Punts flowing with the tide would take several days.  In 1846 the first paddle steamer steamer service started to operate from Brisbane to Ipswich along the Brisbane and Bremer rivers. The trip could take four to seven hours.  The railway that arrived in 1875 was great transport improvement.

South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point

The river was a big divide and South Brisbane had  much better access for ships coming from Ipswich. In the early years it had more buildings than North Brisbane (83 to 75), but half of North Brisbane’s were stone while all but one on the other side were timber. It rapidly developed itself as a frontiers town (with all the relevant ‘entertainment’ and crime attached to it).

South Bank, close Kangaroo Point, saw the first primitive wharfs, basically logs place next to the river bank. Where they were tied to the ‘famous’ Macintyre Gum Tree. After a dispute with owner, the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company built, in 1845, close to that spot a river wharf and stores. A few years later they moved their wharf to North Brisbane. Over the following decade more wharves were built from Petrie’s Reach to Town Reach.

By 1850 it had five ship wharves. The first ship built in Brisbane,  the cargo schooner Selina, was at the wharf in Kangaroo Point in 1847. It was launched at Petrie’s s Bight where the Howard Smith Wharf is now. It first trip was to deliver timber to Sydney. However, the ship never reached its destination. A year later it was found at what is called Wreck Point near Rockhampton, without crew, waterlogged and the mast cut out, but with its cargo intact, a total mystery.

South Brisbane was basically a service centre with stores, pubs, brothels and workshops used by  the people coming and going to Ipswich and the Darling Downs. There was a big social divide between South Brisbane and North Brisbane, the South being the poorer part, house prices here were a fraction of those on the other side of the river. The same applied to Kangaroo Point. It was not until a bridge was built that this situation started to change, but also this was not as simple as it should have been as we will see below. 

The latter area, well known for its good agriculture land saw the arrival of squatters already from around 1840 and the land grab could hardly be managed by the NSW Government. By 1854 all the land here had been sold.

 

Frog’s Hollow

A special mentioning here is needed for Frog’s Hollow. This was the area directly linked to the centre of the old settlement and the emerging CBD. It basically was the precinct enclosed by Elizabeth, Alice, George and Edward Street. In the centre was a tidal swampy depression and a creak running through the area. The area already flooded at a high spring tide, so imagine the situation at the regular real floods. No wonder that the site was well known for the nightly loud concerts of frogs.

On the 14th  January 1841, the settlement was largely flooded as the river reached a maximum level of 8.43m at the gauge, it is the highest flood level recorded to date. This reminded of a description  from historian Margaret Cook: A River with a City Problem.

Frog’s Hollow was the most disreputable area of Brisbane. Over the decades following the convict era it became occupied by legal and illegal pubs, brothels and  gambling places. One of the most notorious gambling dens was on the corner of Elizabeth and Albert Street. Frog’s Hollow also housed a range of workshops and stores as well as the  Red Light District. The majority of police arrests took place in this part of the town.

Perhaps the most infamous part within this already seedy part of the town was a row of nine shops, known as ‘Nine Holes’ situated between Charlotte and Margaret Street. These narrow dwellings had a shop room in the front and a sort of cellar room behind it and were occupied by Chinese immigrants. They were the most run down and unsanitary lodgings in town. While this area was also known as the Chinese Quarter there were only a relative very few Chinese living in this part of town.

If we talk about the floods of Brisbane than this part was always the centre of the disaster. The area attracted the poorest of the poorest  and as their numbers grew, the area became more and more densely populated and over the years the floods caused more and more misery and damage.

A start without money

Before the State of Queensland was established in 1859, most proceeds from land sales, taxes and (gold) mining royalties went to NSW. There was hardly any money for public works or public buildings anywhere in Brisbane, let alone in the poorer areas. It was often left  to the early settlers to get money together for fixing the roads as well as for looking after the social needs of new immigrants.

The handful of better to do settlers became the defacto rulers of the settlement. The divide between them and the ordinary people was great. They looked after their own interest and had little regard for the rest of the population.  Furthermore, there was a lot of infighting between the rulers as they foremost wanted to secure their individual interest.

This hampered the development of a more civil society. There was no regard for the rights of the Aboriginal people and many were killed by the settlers. Crime was high as poverty stricken people roamed – often drunk – the street. With an unbalanced gender population prostitution was high, there were many brothels and  it were often Aboriginal women who where abused, often for the lure of alcohol (rum).

In 1827, the first Chief Constable appointed to – the at that stage still convict settlements – was ex convict John McIntosh. His task was basically to try and capture escaped convicts, often tracking on foot along the Queensland Coast.  In late 1833 he was followed by another ex convict, Richard Bottington. The first non-convict police officer, William Whyte, was appointed Chief Constable in 1836. The Police Act of 1838 provided for appointment of police magistrates and justices to suppress riots, tumults, and affrays in towns. In 1840, the police force of Brisbane Town consisted of one Chief Constable William Whyte;  a bush constable and four convicts employed as assistant constables. Most of the early policemen were ex soldiers. There was at the time no police training or police manual so trained soldiers was the next best option.

Pre-Governor John Wickham

A name very much linked to the period between 1842 (end of the convict settlement) and 1859 (independence of Queensland) is Captain John Clements Wickham. In 1843, after his retirement from the Royal Navy, Wickham was made Police Magistrate. Wickham was first officer on HMS Beagle during its second survey mission, 1831–1836. The young naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin travelled as an ‘extra’ on the ship.

After the last Commander of the penal settlement Owen Gorman had left, Andrew Petrie became some sort of a caretaker of the place. On his arrival  Wickham was charged with looking after the general government interest and was the Representative of the Governor. He had a handful of conscripted men as his assisting force. Wickham was generally  well liked by the emerging free settlers community. By 1850 his team consisted of a district constable (the 2nd highest in command in the colony), a watch house keeper and nine constables.

Under his leadership – between the 1840s and 1850s – the free settlement of Moreton Bay saw further reforms, legal, governmental, social and policing. A Police Magistrate, Court of Petty Sessions opened in 1846, a new Police Force was organised in 1850. While changes to the act were made, the structure and the work of the police force in Brisbane remained more or less the same over the next few decades. The Convict Barracks were renovated in the 1850s, to serve as a court and later as a Supreme Court (and after separation as Queensland first Parliament).

In 1853 Wickham was officially appointed Government Resident of the Moreton Bay District in the Colony of New South Wales.  He had taken office in the old convict barracks and it was here that he also preceded over minor crimes, major ones had to be referred to Sydney. On Sundays the courtroom acted as a church. He resided at Newstead House, Brisbane.

Wickham Street was named after him as this was the bridle track he rode to the courtroom, and rode back at night along this route. Wickham Street is an extension of Queen Street all the way to Breakfast Creek in Newstead.  Since that time four more streets have been named after him, as well as Wickham Terrace.

Wickham retired in 1859, when the Moreton Bay District was separated from NSW, forming basis of the Colony of Queensland. He left as the Queensland and NSW governments disagreed over who was responsible for his pension, Wickham moved to France, where he died.

Zion Hill Mission in Nundah (1838-1848)

This was the first mission in what later became Queensland and its aim was to bring the Christian faith to the Aboriginal population.

However, Zion Hill was also  part of a plan instigated by John Dunmore. Lang to facilitate settlement in the Moreton Bay area. Lang was a Scottish-born Australian Presbyterian minister, writer, historian, politician, and activist. He was the first prominent advocate of an independent Australian nation and of Australian republicanism.

The German mission was unusual in many ways. It was a combined Lutheran/Presbyterian/Pietist effort with Moravian inspiration. It had an unusually large number of staff for a Protestant mission – two ordained priests accompanied by ten laymen, eight spouses and 11 children. Despite is size it failed in its mission and it was disbanded in 1848.

However, it played a more successful role in facilitating the settlement of Moreton Bay. Some of the Zion Hill missionaries became pioneer farmers imprinting their names on the modern Brisbane map: Rode Road in Chermside and Wavell Heights, Zillman Water Holes, Zillmere, and Zillman Road in Hendra, Gerler Road in Hendra, Franz Road in Clayfield, Wagner Road in Clayfield, Nique Court at Redcliffe, Haussmann Courts and lanes in Meadowbrook (Loganlea) and Caboolture. They are remembered as the first free settlers of Queensland, producing the first free-born settler children in Queensland.

The mission also established its own school for the children and as such this became the first (not officially recognised) private school in the colony. The school also taught Aboriginal children, however, their attendance was sporadic and very irregular. The school teacher was Reverend Christopher Eipper and his assistance was the Reverends Schmidt.

 

Squatters take possession of the Darling Downs

Convict History of Brisbane TOC