Paul Budde's History Archives

Henry Miller – the real founder of Brisbane

The Battle of Waterloo sealed the fate of Napoleon. As a result, Great Britain was able to devote more attention to its growing colonial empire. In March 1823, the 40th Foot Regiment was ordered to go to New South Wales under the command of Lieutenant Miller (one of the heroes of Waterloo). Miller was born in 1784 in Londonderry, Ireland. The start of Australia coincided with the Napoleon era in Europe. After that was concluded in Waterloo, many of the senior officers ended up in Australia as governors, surveyors, explorer, commissariats and other in relation to our story the include, Governor Brisbane, Surveyor John Oxley, Commanders Henry Miller and Patrick Logan.

Captain Henry

Commander Henry Miller

 Thomas Brisbane had decided that only married officers with families were to be sent as commandants of the out-settlements, and he formally appointed Lieutenant Henry Miller to establish the Moreton Bay penal colony.  Together with his family he arrived in Sydney on 16 December 1823.

As mentioned above he established the settlement in Moreton Bay but decided that this was unsuitable. In February 1825, the decision was made to move the settlement to a site on the river.

Miller now had to find a new site and together with Port Jackson pilot John Grey, he explored the river area in more detail.

However, rather than the Breakfast Creek area, Miller selected the triangle of land bounded on two sides by the Brisbane River and the escarpment which is now Wickham Terrace. As a military man he saw the potential of the site. He came just out of the war and there were many conflicts still ongoing, the perceived threats at that time could come from France and Russia.

The settlement was finally moved to this new site in May 1825

Miller considered the area to be defendable as well as providing a natural barrier against escape by the convict population. Defences were also established at Amity Point and Dunwich on Stradbroke Island, guarding the entrance of the river. The meandering river was also seen as strategic important from a defence point of view. The various convict, military and administrative buildings were consequently also built with security, surveillance and defensibility in mind.

He realised the potential of flooding and laid out the city, using the ridges in the landscape. This is still visible in the CBD. The convict compound along what is now Queen Street and the ridge running parallel with river, along what is now William Street are good examples. However, what he most probably had not foreseen was the fact that the tropical rain storms would create havoc and that the creeks and the ponds in the settlement would rapidly inundate areas beyond the ridges.

Sadly, Henry Miller had a very short term. When Thomas Brisbane heard that he had not followed Oxley’s orders to establish the settlement at Breakfast Creek, he called him back to Sydney. In August 1825 he was replaced by Captain Peter Bishop who arrive in the Lalla Rookh with a detachment of troops and 28 convicts, all 2nd offenders while in the colony  Bishop became the second Commandant of the penal colony.

Oxley Landing Spot Breakfast Creek 1823

Plaque at Breakfast Creek. Oxley might have landed at Breakfast Creek three times. Once in 1823 and twice in 1824 the third time together for NSW Governor Thomas Brisbane.

Ironically, some faction Thomas Brisbane worked with in Sydney were unhappy with the governor. Malicious and vicious representations regarding Brisbane’s administration were made to the government in London. This group of people included Frederick Goulburn, the colonial secretary, who very actively boycotted orders from Brisbane. Consequently Brisbane – like his predecessor Lachlan Macquarie under similar circumstances – was called back early to Britain and left Sydney in November 1825.

Later consensus vindicates Miller’s choice for the settlement as the Queens Wharf – Roma Street site is much better suited than Breakfast Creek.

Oxley Monument North Quay

Oxley Monument at North Quay opposite Makerston Street. He didn’t land here but perhaps Henry Miller did.

There is no indication that Oxley landed at this site. So, if anybody climbed the embankment at North Quay where the obelisk is, it was not Oxley, but it could have been Grey and Miller.

From Sydney Henry Miller went to Van Diemen’s Land. On 30 December 1840, his wife died in Hobart, aged 53, and on 23 August 1842 Captain Miller married again to Miss McQueen, of New Norfolk. He died at Hobart on 10 January 1866. His second wife died in 1891 and is buried at Hobart with her son, Ernest George Miller, who died in 1887, aged 37 years. Captain Miller’s grave at Hobart in course of time fell into disrepair.

As far as I know the only place in Brisbane that has preserved his name is Miller Park next to the Commissariat in Williams Street. According to information from the The Royal Historical Society of Queensland throughout its history the site has been a grassy thoroughfare between William Street and Queen’s Wharf Road, however from the 1850s onwards it also provided access to the Commissariat Store’s middle floor through a doorway cut through the western wall. This was to avoid access to the ground floor of the building which continued to be used as a store. During its renovation most of a wall which predated 1838 was replaced although one section of the original wall was left adjacent to the former State Library driveway next door.

Miller Park William Street

Henry Miller is only remembered in the name of this park, next to the Commissariat Store from 1829.

Take 2 The Moreton Bay Convict Settlement and Penal Colony on the river

Convict History of Brisbane TOC