Paul Budde's History Archives

The British decision makers: Bathurst, Bigge, Cook, Flinders, Oxley, Brisbane

The idea for what became Brisbane emerged in 1817 when the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies the Third Earl of Bathurst, Henry Bathurst, based in Downing Street London, held a commission of inquiry into the convict transportation to NSW. Bathurst was worried NSW was no longer seen as a deterrent and authorised lawyer John Thomas Bigge to investigate options. The administration of the Colony of New South Wales had received severe Parliamentary criticism during Lachlan Macquarie’s governorship, and this stirred the pot in London. In January 1819, John Thomas Bigge was appointed a commissioner to inquire into the state of the Colony. Together with his secretary Thomas Hobbes Scott, Bigge arrived in Sydney on 26 September 1819. Bigge finished gathering evidence February 1821 and on 10 February, sailed back to England. He was in direct conflict with Governor Macquarie who had been able to establish a more humane convict system that was working well. Bigge totally ignored the local situation and arrogantly planted the British stamp on his visit and subsequent report. He severely undermined Macquarie by siding with hardliners such the wealthy landowner John Macarthur and his business friends.

While there were increased discussion over convict systems, plans on how to continue the system were rather opposite. One based on reform rather than punishment and the other harsh punishment.  Bigge favoured the tougher approach. When Thomas Brisbane arrived he didn’t find it too difficult to implement Bigge’s plan. For starters it allowed him to rid Sydney of the more rebellious convicts with a record of reoccurring crimes. The military commanders were happy with the focus on punishment as we will see in further chapters.

Consequently, Bigge also recommended the investigation for the best place of settlement for a new penal colony for hardened criminals known as ‘old lags’ and re-convicted prisoners. Possible sites included: Port Curtis, Port Bowen and Moreton Bay. Later the reopening of Norfolk Island was added to the list to the list. This would lead to a conflict within the British government that increasingly favoured the reopening of Norfolk over Moreton Bay.

The British authorities in Australia also aimed for an increase of free settlers. They were planning for a period beyond convict settlement and in Sydney there was a push for change. Also, these ideas were behind to push to look for new settlements. 

 In 1822 Lord Bathurst instructed the Governor of NSW Thomas Brisbane to avail himself: “of the experience and services of Mr. Oxley, the Surveyor- General, and of any other officer whom you may deem competent for the Service”. And he was also given the explicit message to investigate  to explore the potential sites for a free settlement, possibly along the river. The “West Side of the River at the termination of the Sea Reach was seen as a potential site. This would the following year become known as the site next to the Breakfast Creek. However, it would take 17 years of military rule before free settlers were allowed to arrive.


NSW Surveyor General John Oxley


On October 21, 1823 Lieutenant John Oxley left Sydney and sailed in the cutter Mermaid north as far as Port Curtis (the site of Gladstone). On the way back – on November 29th – the ship entered Moreton Bay. They anchored at Point Skirmish at the entrance of the Pumice-stone River (Pumice-stone Passage). From here they surveyed the area at Red Cliff Point.

The reason Morton’s Bay was included in the selection was because this bay was visited by Captain Cook when he passed the area on 15 May 1770, he named the bay in honour of Lord Morton, president of the Royal Society. He earmarked it as having potential for settlement. On the beach in Redcliffe there is a monument to commemorate James Cook’s sighting and naming of Moreton Bay.

The shores are in general low and covered with mangroves off which extend considerable mudflats, dry at low water, but to this remark the shores in the vicinity in Red Cliff Point are an exception.

Captain Cook Monument - Redcliffe

The small flat stone is from the ruins of the ancient Abbey of Whitby, Yorkshire, England overlooking the old seaport of Whitby from where Captain James Cook sailed on his voyage of discovery. Marker at Redcliffe.


It was convicts who ‘discovered’ Brisbane River

Convict History of Brisbane TOC