The story of Australia — XLVII.
Redcliffe chosen for first settlement
Matthew Flinders was again destined to visit the coast of Queensland. His work of exploration had been so highly valued that the Imperial Government in 1801 appointed him commander of the Investigator, with instructions to make a circumnavigation of Australia.
As we are telling the story of our own State it is only necessary to record that he discovered Port Curtis, which he named in honour of Admiral Sir Roger Curtis, who had commanded at the Cape of Good Hope, and Port Bowen, which is now called Port Denison, and on which stands the town of Bowen. It is important to remember these facts, as the discovery of these ports led indirectly to the establishment of the first settlement on the shores of Moreton Bay.
Influx of convicts
But strange to say nearly 30 years elapsed before Moreton Bay attracted the attention of the authorities in Sydney. During these years there had been a large influx of convicts into the colony, and it had become necessary that some sort of classification should be adopted to prevent the worst class of criminals mixing with those not as bad.
It was proposed that only convicts of good character should be placed in the settled districts, and that the insolent and incorrigible should be removed to other penal settlements. Consequently it was desirable to find a place along the coast where an establishment might be formed for the handling of bad cases.
These changes were made during the administration of Governor Brisbane. Educated convicts were sent to Bathurst, and twice convicted to special penal settlements. This provision resulted in the settlement of Moreton Bay district and the discovery of the Brisbane River.
On October 21, 1823, Lieutenant Oxley was dispatched by Governor Brisbane to examine Moreton Bay, Port Curtis, and Port Bowen, on the east coast, and to report on their suitability for establishing a convict settlement. He sailed in the Mermaid, and was accompanied by Lieutenant Stirling and John Uneacke.
On reaching Port Curtis he made a thorough survey of the country around its shores, and came to the conclusion that it was unsuitable for the purpose, while he was in the locality, he discovered and named the Boyne River. Owing to bad weather, he did not proceed to Port Bowen, but went south again, and entered Moreton Bay on November 29, 1823, anchoring at the mouth of the river, which Flinders had named Pumice stone. From this date, the history of the settlement began.
White man with Blacks
When the boat had been safely anchored the men on board noticed a party of natives on the beach. To their surprise one of them appeared much larger and lighter skinned than the rest. Oxley sent a boat ashore, and was surprised to find a white man, who hailed him in English. The next day Uneacke took down his story in English. He elicited from the man, whose name was Thomas Pamphlet, that he and three others — Richard Parsons, John Finnigan, and John Thompson — had been sent from Sydney in a large open boat seven months before to the Five Islands (Illawarra) to obtain cedar.
They encountered rough weather, which drove them, as they thought, to the southward as far as Van Diemen’s Land. They were travelling northward, however, and were eventually cast ashore on Moreton Island. John Thompson died from exposure, but the others were saved. They had been kindly treated by the natives, and lived with them ever since. The other survivors had, a few weeks before the arrival of the Mermaid, set off to walk to Sydney. He had gone about 50 miles, but, becoming footsore, he had returned to the tribe. Finnigan also returned, and was at present on a hunting excursion with the chief.
Finnigan returned the following day, and corroborated Pamphlet’s statement. These men gave valuable information to Oxley. They stated that they had crossed a large river, which ran into the south of the bay.
Oxley and Stirling, accompanied by Finnigan, started next morning in the whale boat to verify the statement. The river was found, on December 2, 1823, and Oxley explored it for many miles. He named the stream the Brisbane River, in honour of Governor Brisbane. Oxley felt “justified in believing that the sources of this river were not to be found in a mountainous country; but rather that it flows from some lake, which will prove to be the receptacle of those inferior streams crossed by me during an expedition of discovery in 1818.”
Oxley, in his eagerness to discover the river mentioned by Pamphlet and Finnigan, had not forgotten the object of his visit to Moreton Bay, and on the day following the meeting with these men explored the western side of the bay.
He landed at Redcliffe Point, and decided that this was the best site for the proposed settlement. The Mermaid reached Sydney on December 13, and Oxley received the congratulations of the Governor.
The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 19 May 1935, p. 31