The Military and their Compound

 The military

During the 17 years of Moreton Bay’s convict settlement, military detachments were drawn from the Royal New South Wales Veterans’ Corps, and the 40th, 57th, 39th, 17th, 4th, 28th, and 80th Regiments.

The regiments that arrived at Moreton Bay after the termination of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), including the 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment (1825-32) which had served in the Peninsula Wars (1807-1815). Another regiment with service in the Peninsula Wars was the 40th Regiment (2nd Somersetshire) which also served in the ‘100 Days’ campaign of 1815 and was present at the Battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo. In the 1830s, one of the last regiments to arrive for Australian service which still contained many Waterloo veterans within its ranks was the 28th Regiment (North Gloucestershire), which served in Australian colonies 1836-42. The 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment served in 1827. The 17th (Leicestershire) Regiment from 1830-35; the 4th (King’s Own) Regiment in 1835-37;  and the 80th (Staffordshire Volunteers) Regiment in 1839-42.

They soldiers deployed in Moreton Bay acted as convict gaolers alongside convict overseers. There are many reports of boredom with heavy drinking and smoking as a result. In all some 600 soldiers served in Moreton Bay during the convict period, of which some 40 were officers.

The military system during this time was still very much based on an autocratic structure. The soldiers were from the lower classes. The officers basically bought titles as lieutenant and captain, something that was only affordable to the upper classes. The purchase of ranks was not always the case, some were able to move through the ranks based on merit. Officers were often not attracted to service in the  convict settlements as life was rather rough with little or no entertainment and other perks. Place like Moreton Bay where at the bottom of their lists. These places therefore often attracted officers who could not afford to buy into the system and used these placements to improve their rank.

Military historian Rod Pratt noted that the average age of the officers servicing in Brisbane was  36½ years old.

These leaders all being military men, their view was based on discipline and punishment

The commandants of the penal settlement were:

Henry Miller, 40th Regiment, 9/1824 – 2/1826. He was a veteran of the Peninsula War, the War of 1812, and the Battle of Waterloo.  He in 1825 established first the Red Cliffe and 8 month later moved the penal settlement to the Brisbane River. He later settled in Australia and died in Hobart in 1866.

Peter Bishop, 40th Regiment ,8/1825 – 3/1826. He was a veteran of the Peninsula War and the Battle of Waterloo. He arrived 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 but he also only stayed a few months in the penal settlement.

Patrick Logan, 57th Regiment, 3/1826 – 10/1830. He was a veteran of the Peninsula War and the final stages of the War of 1812, and although he missed Waterloo, served in the army of occupation in Paris later during 1815. Logan was killed in October 1830 near Mount Beppo.

With indwelling numbers of prisoners, the commanders following Logan have left little impressions behind them. They were:

James Oliphant Clunie, 17th Regiment, 2/1831 – 10/1835. He was a veteran of the War of 1812. As a military man he of course showed the same level of discipline, however in contrary to Logan he was mild-mannered and consequently the violence among the military and the convicts decreased.

Foster Fyans, 4th Regiment, 10/1835 – 12/1837. He previously was acting commandant at Norfolk Island in early 1834. He was a veteran of the Peninsula War. He was a Commandant by accident. He wanted to retire to the civil service, however, it took 2 years before that happened and in between he was the ruler in Brisbane. He was a solitary and rather eccentric man and there was a return to a harsher regime. He wrought chairs for his Sydney patrons and friends.He later settled in Australia where he died in 1870.

Sydney John Cotton, 28th Regiment, 6/1837 – 4/1839. He was a veteran of service in India with the 22nd Light Dragoons, 1812-22, before transferring to the 3rd Regiment, and in turn to the 28th Regiment. He later exchanged into the 22nd Regiment and saw service in the Indian Mutiny in the 1850s where he wrote books of his experiences. Cotton had a long and distinguished army career and retired with the rank of lieutenant-general and Comptroller of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.

George Gravatt, 28th Regiment, 4-7/1839. Mount Gravatt was named after him by surveyor Robert Dixon.

Owen Gorman, 80th Regiment, 7/1839 – 3/1842. He is an uncommon example of a soldier who rose from the ranks to junior officer status in this era. He enlisted in the 58th Regiment as a private in 1817, rose to Quartermaster, before transferring to the 80th to take up his lieutenancy in 1836.

Under Commandant Logan military barracks were built for 200 personnel. However, it never reached full capacity at its peak in 1831 there were just over 140 military. This dropped to around 20 at the end of the convict period in 1841. At this time the re organisation of the British Military system meant that Australia as a self governing colony should look after its own defense. This was not feasible, certainly not 1000 kms away from Sydney,  in the fledgling free settlement of Moreton Bay.

Sydney Cotton deserves extra attention as he was the first commander that took Brisbane more seriously. According to Tom Petrie, he was considered the best commander by the prisoners. All the others treated the settlement as a temporary place. He believed that the place had potential and that any discussion about replacing the settlement to somewhere else should be stopped. He also wanted to see better landlines. Until that time only the river was used for transport. His vision was to have a set of roads as spokes in a wheel with Brisbane at its centre. He had lines of roads ploughed to the various agriculture, timber getting and other government stations. The next step to turn them into proper roads failed. He never received the permission of the government in London, to put this plan into action.

Once settlement started and the local Aboriginal people were forcefully removed from their land, they started to fight back. Under pressure from the squatters who increasingly took more land the number of military staff was increased to around 50 and even to close to 100 in 1847. The military were purely a tool in the hands of the squatters and they never intervened on behalf of the Aboriginal people. After many massacres the military resistance of the Aboriginal population was largely broken. In 1850 the last British Military left Brisbane. A local militia took over their position.

The Old Barracks

A site, 300 yards away from the convict barracks,  had been reserved, as instructed by Governor Brisbane for  the military barracks. The first ones being constructed in 1825 as two slab huts. They were for the sergeant, the corporal and 12 privates Separate huts were build for the married couples. They stood on the corner of what is now Queen Street and North Quay, the site of the present Brisbane Square. However, it rapidly became clear that they were not sufficient for the new troops that arrived with Captain Bishop in August 1825.  A few temporarily wings was added to the existing structure. Over the next few years a few more permanent buildings were erected here as well. After the closer of the penal settlement one of the building was used as a church and another one became a carpenter’s shop.

However the Old Barracks were insufficient and the initial plan for the New Barracks was to use the hospital that was being built in 1827 and built a new hospital elsewhere. Commander Logan in 1829 repeated the plan to use the hospital next door for the New Barracks. However, the final decision was to built new barracks opposite the old one.

During the Commander ship of Logan, Lieutenant William Bell was in charge the military company. At that time he was seen by the convicts  as one of the more humane persons at the settlement.

During the early period of the free settlement one of the stone building was used as a school and another one as a carpenter’s shop.

2nd Lumberyard

In 1831 , when the New Barracks were built, the old site became the second lumber yard, the other one being where the current Queens Garden are situated.

In the context of British convict settlement lumberyards were working areas that were provided as a part of serving convict sentences, to facilitate lumber (timber) and product production and to provide convicts with skills training. The yard was the site of Moreton Bay’s first public execution in 1830.

The New Barracks

It was not until 1831 that new barracks were build on the other side of Queen Street where now the Treasury Building (Casino) is situated. It could accommodate up to 100 soldiers. Furthermore they build a guardhouse and a house for two subaltern (junior) officers.

After the end of the the penal colony, the barracks were also used to house the first immigrants that arrived in 1848 on the barque Artemisia. They brought cheap labour in the form of poor emigrants to Queensland, mainly for the squatters on the Darling Downes.

By the 1860s the barracks had deteriorated to such an extent that they were described in the local press as “wretched and dilapidated hovels… repugnant and harrowing and an abominable shed”. 

The 12th (East Suffolk) Regiment of Foot vacated the barracks  in 1864, when the Green Hill Barracks were built. This wasn’t appreciated by the town folk. The emerging township heavily depended on the military for law and order and moving them outside the settlement would make the town less safe. The soldiers  were also needed in fire fighting. There had been several serious fires in these years. The many timber building were a serious fire hazard especially when there was no fire fighting service set up in the town.

The existing buildings were renovated (?) and occupied by the Registrar-General, Treasury and Engineer of Harbours.  In 1874 a single-story building for the Registrar-General replaced the barracks anticipating a government redevelopment of what had become known as Treasury Square.

Green Hills Barracks

Next the the goal which was erected in 1858, a site on western edge of the ‘Green Hills’  was selected for the construction of the new ‘Green Hills Barracks’ for the British Imperial garrison based on specifications from the British War Office in London. The new barracks consisted of a guard room, a barracks block and officer’s quarters.

The barracks expanded in subsequent years to include a military hospital, a commanding officer’s residence and a magazine, however, after the British soldiers went back to Britain in 1869  the barracks rapidly lost their military function. In 1875 it became the police barracks and the military hosp[ital was turned into Lunatic Reception House.

Once Australia started the build up their own military force the barracks, in 1885, were re-occupied by the army and received the name Victoria Barracks. It now became the headquarters of the Queensland Defense Force. It was mainly used as an administrative base, the majority of the soldiers being recruited on a part-time basis. A new guardhouse was built at the entrance of Blackall Street on Petrie Tce. The old guard house was converted to sergeants’ quarters, building material for the renovation came from the cell blocks of the old goal which was now being demolished.


After Federation in 1901 control of the site went to the newly formed Australian Army. It is still an operating military base in the 2020s.

For more on the military history in the early days of the Colony click here.

Victoria Barracks 2019
Victoria Barracks 2019

The Commander’s Compound

The building of Brisbane TOC

Convict History of Brisbane TOC