Paul Budde's History Archives

The start of the Moreton Bay Convict Settlement and Penal Colony at Red Cliff

In September 1822, the House of Commons accepted the report tabled by Bigge and Lord Bathurst instructed Governor Brisbane as mentioned above to start investigating the best place for this new penal settlement.

The Governor Brisbane had decided that only married officers with families were to be sent as commandants to the outer settlements.

On 12 September 1824 Lieutenant Henry Miller of the 40th Foot Regiment was formally appointed to establish the Moreton Bay. However, Miller had already taken charge of the preparations as he had arrived in Sydney a couple month earlier.  During that period, he organised six months of provisions, including sheep, goats, pigs and poultry. They left Sydney on the 29th of August and arrived in Moreton Bay in the brig Amity on the 10th of September.

Brisbane’s instructions to Oxley were as followed: “The spot which you select must contain three hundred acres of arable land and be in the neighbourhood of fresh water. It should lay in the direct course of the mouth of the river, be easily seen from the offing, and of ready access. To difficulty of attack by the natives, it ought to join difficulty of escape for the convicts”.

Brisbane also gave Oxley detailed instruction regarding a survey of the river and its shores and possible establishing its source.. So the possibilities of the river were of interest from the very beginnings.

Apart from the military Commander Henry Miller and Surveyor General John Oxley passengers of the Amity included Allan Cunningham, the King’s Botanist, with their respective servants, and Assistant Surveyor Hoddle. Other members of the 21 strong military contingent included Lieutenant Butler who oversaw the small contingent of the 40th Foot Regiment, consisting of a sergeant, a corporal and sixteen privates. Commissariat Storekeeper, Mr. Walter Scott, who was also to act in the capacity of a surgeon, together with an assistant, were also on board. Some of the above-mentioned people also brought their wives and children with them. In all they included 11 women and 8 children.

The twenty-nine convicts who accompanied the expedition were trades people such as carpenters, sawyers and brickmakers as well as other skilled seamen and labourers.

It is interesting to see how detailed the instructions from higher hand were. This is what Brisbane instructed to Miller: “not a moment is to be lost in constructing huts for the soldiers and convicts. Those for the troops are to be placed in a commanding situation three hundred yards distant from the huts intended for the others. The former should be enclosed by a strong palisade and ditch to secure them from assaults. As soon as this has been effected a store, a guard house and a goal ought to be erected. Shortly after your disembarkation you are to establish a Signal Station on some height seen from the offing.. . “

They spend a couple of days looking for the right site, investigated both the islands as well the mainland. On the 15th of September they agreed on the site, pegged it out and started to build a log-walled penitentiary consisting of a guard house, jail, soldiers’ barracks and prisoner’s barracks surrounded by a stockade of timber posts and pickets. There were no buildings, except huts. The only link to civilisation was the occasional arrival of a ship from Sydney into Moreton Bay.

The plaques below are all at the Settlement Monument in Redcliffe

Map of Moreton Bay Convict Settlement

Map of Moreton Bay Convict Settlement


First military contingent to Moreton Bay - 1824

List of the first military contingent and their wives and children – 1824


First convicts of the Moreton Bay Settlement - 1824

First convicts of the Moreton Bay Settlement – 1824

It was in these surroundings that Miller’s wife Jane gave birth to a son, who was afterwards christened Charles Moreton Miller, the first European child born at Moreton Bay and the first Queenslander.

However, the beach side at Red Cliff Point proved to be unsuitable with poor anchorage, little fresh water, many mosquitoes and hostile Aboriginals.

Later that month Oxley and Cunningham surveyed for two weeks the river on board the Amity. They met an Aboriginal group at the mouth of a creek approx. 9th kms from the mouth of the river. After they had breakfast at the site a minor conflict with the aboriginals arose after one of them grabbed Oxley’s hat. Oxley named it Breakfast Creek in remembrance of the incident.

They explored what is now called Western Creek at Milton and noted that this could be a potential area for the settlement.  There is also a plaque at North Quay opposite Marketon Street indicating that Oxley landed here. However, historici have debunked this story. They continued to Termination Hill and from here on they continued and named the Bremer River, they did not explore it. (It was Captain Patrick Logan who in either late 1826 or early 1827 investigated the Bremer River. He discovered deposits of limestone at the site of what was to become Ipswich). 

The Amity with Oxley and Cunningham on board left Moreton Bay on the 17th of October.

He left Moreton Bay via the South Passage and became the first European sailor known to do so.  This also became a game changer for the potential of a settlement on the river as the discovery of the South Passage made the trip to the river much faster.

The Amity arrived back in Sydney four days later. They had also brought with them a stack of wood from new pines they had discovered along the river. They are the Hoop Pines and received the official name as Araucaria cunninghamii in honour of  the botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham. A stand of them have been replanted in the Roma Street Parkland.

The next person to explore the river was explorer Lieutenant Edmund Lockyer who was asked to lead an expedition In August 1825 to explore the upper reaches of the Brisbane River. On 2 September, Lockyer sailed from Sydney in the cutter Mermaid, arriving at the settlement of Brisbane on 7 September. Leaving the Mermaid at Brisbane, he travelled in a small boat up the river. Lockyer saw coal in deposits on the banks, becoming the first person to identify coal in Queensland. He also explored the Bremer River along Ipswich developed. Non of the early explorers reached the source some 330km upstream at Mt Stanley. Lockyer called the mountain range in the area of where he thought the source was the Brisbane Mountains, others the Blue Mountains.

Back to 1824, Communication between the Mother Country – as Governor Brisbane called it – and NSW was often difficult. By now the British Government had decided to reopen Norfolk and to not continue with Moreton Bay. This of course created a problem in Australia. Governor Brisbane wrote back that he would visit Moreton Bay and report on its suitability as a penal colony.

On November 9th, the Amity left Sydney again bound for Moreton Bay. This time with Governor Brisbane, Oxley and other officials keen to visit the new settlement.  Accompanied by John Oxley he also cruised the river to a site 9 to 10 miles from the mouth of the river (Breakfast Creek).  Oxley suggested to move the settlement at Red to this spot, the Governor agreed with that. At time the Red Cliff settlement was formed there was not enough information about the river. This had only become clear after Oxley and Cunningham two week long trip over the river in October. Also at that time the southern entrance to the Bay was unknown, which provides easy access to the river. They stayed overnight on the river before turning back. 

Brisbane reported back to London that in his opinion Moreton Bay was an ideal site and was needed as a penal colony as Port Macquarie was no longer suitable for maintaining convicts as the area was receiving larger numbers of free settlers, which made convicts escapes via the new  settlements in the Hunter Valley easier. He also concluded that Norfolk Island was not suitable for large number of convicts and would be used only for the most hardened criminals.

It looks like London reluctantly accepted the reality as there was no further follow up from the British authorities.


Red Cliff - remnants of the kiln and weir - 1824

These are the only archaeological remnants of the Moreton Settlement. Some stonework from the kiln in the front and the weir-back in the back.


Henry Miller – the real founder of Brisbane

Convict History of Brisbane TOC