Early Customs History

But the year 1846 was marked by other incidents indicative of real progression, notwithstanding the gross neglect of Moreton Bay's member and the consequently small share of representation which it had. In the same month that the races were held Moreton Bay rose to the dignity of a port of entry, and a Customs officer and a staff of six with all the bumptiousness of office took up their residence here shortly afterwards.

What was the direct cause of this sudden recognition of Moreton Bay is not very apparent, and what so large a staff found to do when they got here is a question equally unanswerable, seeing that the revenue up to the 5th of July, 1847, did not amount to £20, while the expenses for the same period came to £875 odd! It may have been of course that the various Government officials here were lonely for the want of someone to assist them in doing nothing. However, though the staff was expensive the event was regarded as of some importance, and the honour of their presence was duly appreciated by those who for years had been striving to push things.

The gentleman to whose lot fell the honour of being the first Customs officer was Mr. W. A. Duncan, who arrived here from Sydney on the 13th July, and with the next visit of the steamer came Mr. Thornton (the tide surveyor), a coxswain and a boat's crew of four. Mr. Duncan took up his official quarters in a small cottage in Queen street, while the Commissariat Stores did duty as a bond. Here goods described as being "for home consumption," on which duty was chargeable, could be stored for three months, but if left in longer they were liable to be sold.

Whether it was for the want of something better to do, or whether it was that the regulations under which this new department worked were not sufficiently explicit or pliable, is not very clear, but it is a noteworthy fact that Mr. Duncan came frequently to logger-heads with the Sydney merchants, and he was not infrequently reminded by those that his ascendency to the position of Customs collector from that of a salesman in a small stationer's shop was an injustice to those over whose head he had jumped.

From the determined stand the Sydney merchants took against the introduction of what they dubbed "a useless official," however, we are inclined to believe that the Customs officer was "more sinned against than sinning." Mr. Duncan was a staunch Roman Catholic, and as such took a great interest in the affairs of the Church.

It was he who built Darra (the now renovated residence of the Archbishop), and as a result of this the hill now known as Convent Hill was called "Duncan's Hill," and his name is still before us in Duncan-street. He eventually added to his duties of Customs officer those of caretaker of the first Catholic Church. Years afterwards he was promoted to the post of Customs officer in Sydney, where he died a year or two ago.

Early Racing Days

Notwithstanding the periodical incursions of Governor Gipps on the little Treasury of the community and the prevalence of hard times, chiefly consequent on a serious drought in '45, the residents were withal a pleasure loving set - and, by the bye, their successors have not degenerated much! Who among the very old residents cannot recall the genuine sport at New Farm, and the attendant " liquoring up" at Bow's or McAdam's?

Foot races were run in the streets, and occasionally a private horse race would be decided in the same place. Indeed the great sporting pastime of the early days was horse racing, which had its inception at Cooper's Plains. Impromptu races were held there at intervals, and the success which attended these was in marked contrast with the efforts of the owner of the ‘Experiment’.

In 1846 the sporting propensities of the people had so developed that it was decided to hold a three days, meeting at New Farm. The events were not numerous, neither were the prizes of considerable value, nevertheless the interest taken in them was keen in the extreme. The attendance on the 16th, 17th, and 18th of June was (to use the words of the Courier) " not only numerous, but boasting more than an average of respectability," whatever that may mean.

The racecourse, too, was graced by "a goodly number of the fair sex dressed out in holiday attire," which, we are assured, " with the bright costumes of the gentlemen-jockeys gave a most animated appearance to the scene." We are still further assured that "it only wanted a band of music to add to the harmony of the proceedings, and make the mirth and excitement complete."

The First Census

The first general census was taken in 1846 and from this it would appear that the population of the county of Stanley (exclusive of Darling Downs, where there were some 659 persons) was 1599, of which 1123 were males. There were 489 married persons. Of the 1599, 1156 were born in the colony (the majority being children), and the "free" persons among the remainder numbered 213.

The total was made up of 129 holding tickets-of-leave (one of whom was a woman), 8 were in private assignment, and 81 described as being "in Government employ." Perhaps some of our readers may be further interested in the social conditions of the people at this early period, and for the benefit of these we give all available particulars in the subjoined tables :




Church of England


Church of Scotland


Wesleyan Methodists


Other Protestants


Roman Catholics




Pagans and Mahomedans







Under 21



Unable to read



Read only



Read and write






Over 21



Unable to read



Read only



Read and write







Commerce and trade










Domestics male


Domestics female




Mechanics and artisans




Legal profession


Medical profession


Other educated persons


All other occupations


Residue of population




The number of houses within the county was 255, 41 being of stone or brick, and 214 of wood. Of these, however, 50 were in course of erection, and 6 uninhabited. The small population were distributed over a wide range of country, as will be seen by the following table :




North Brisbane



South Brisbane






Squatting Stations



Military and Government






The First Electoral Roll

Moreton Bay had been included in a constituency, but, as will have been inferred, the settlers' "voice" in public affairs amounted to little more than a barely audible squeak. A voter's qualification was the possession of an estate in freehold in lands or tenements, situate, of course, within the district, of the clear value of £200 above all charges and encumbrances, or the occupancy of a house rated at a rent value of £20 a year.

There were only fifty-six in this district who could boast of such wealth as would secure to them the voter's qualification. This electoral list is unique

in its way, and as such may be given. It was as follows : Thomas Adams, David K. Ballow, Arthur Binstead, David Bow, John Burgess, John Boyland, David Bunton, Kersey Cannan, Richard Cannan, John Campbell, Richard G. Coley, William M. Dorsay, Robert Davidson, Robert Dix, George Edmondstone, Andrew Graham, John Gregor, Thomas H. Green, Jacob Goode, John Harris, Thomas Horsman, William Handcock, James Hill, Henry G. Isaac, John Kelly, Edward Lord, Benjamin Lee, Henry Lynch, Patrick Leslie, George Little, Louis F. Layard, John McConnel, David McConnel, Thomas Moore, John Ocock, Richard F. Phelan, David Peattie, Andrew Petrie, Daniel Petersen, William Pickering, John Richardson, Robert Rowland, John Shepherd, William Sheehan, Michael Sheehan, Daniel Skyring, George M. Slade, John Smith, George Thorne, William H. Thomson, Henry Wade, John C. Wickham, Alex. Wright, James Warren, John Williams.

Moreton Bay Defined

On the 26th July we find matters so far advanced as to warrant the Government in defining the boundaries of Moreton Bay as follows :-" Moreton Bay shall be construed to extend from the 30th deg. of south latitude in the south to the 26th deg. of south latitude in the north, including with such ports all inlets, rivers, bays, and harbours within the same, and one league to seaward."

An Unpopular Governor

It will have been observed that Governor Gipps was by no means popular with the people of Moreton Bay ; but their dislike was as nothing compared with that of those in the South. Indeed, his reign throughout had been an unhappy one, not because of any want of ability or integrity on his part, but mainly by reason of his peremptory and proud disposition. Towards the end of 1845 this disposition brought him into even more unpleasant collision with the elective Legislative Council; and the fact of his health breaking down combined with the embarrassed condition of the country did not improve matters.

Right up to the very time of his departure, we might say, this undesirable wrangle and acrimonious controversy was continued, and it appeared that the efforts of one side were directed mainly to outwit the other. On the 12th June, 1846, Governor Gipps's bill to renew the Border Police Act was, after two nights' debate, rejected, and in its place an address that was nominally a vote of censure on the Government policy in reference to the Crown lands question was carried. The Governor's reply "that he was happy to say that this address was one which required no reply, and he did not intend to give any," brought matters to a crisis.

By this time it was well known that in a week or so the Governor would leave for England, and the Council thereupon resolved to transact no mere business until his successor should have arrived. In the meantime committees had been appointed by the Council, and as it was thought that a good deal of the business could be carried on through these, the Council adjourned until 21st July.

In this attempt to ignore his Excellency the Council were checkmated by the Governor, who on the next day (13th June) prorogued the House until the 25th August, and by this means prevented the sittings of the committees. Governor Gipps, whose condition had become so alarming as to cause great doubts as to his recovery, left Sydney on the 11th June, and the following extract is a fair specimen of Press eulogiums showered upon him :

“In running our Constitution

Sir George has spoilt his own”

"With Sir George in health at the head of the Government we had many quarrels. His Government now forms matter of history. Deprecating his measures we feel pity for the man, and we cannot but regret that he has wasted his health and energies in vainly combating a power to which oven the most despotic and irresponsible must succumb.

Scattered and dispirited, or if concentrated only formed into contending sects and parties, denied all participation in the management of their affairs, as was the ease with the colonists on his Excellency's arrival - scarcely a whisper of disapprobation reaching his ears through the medium of the old nominee Council, whom he ruled and swayed as he pleased - it is not to be wondered at that in secret he undervalued the colony and colonists. . . .

That there was a limit, however, to their forbearance which even he could not pass in safety he has, unfortunately for himself and for the colony, long since discovered.. . .

He carne among us as a professed Liberal redolent of all those delightful theories of universal freedom, toleration, and progressive equality, oftener, alas ! found in theory than in practice. A few years of irresponsible authority, exercised over a people incapable at estimating the consequences of his acts, rendered his Excellency the veriest stickler for prerogative.

Arbitrary and despotic in his own government, the rights of the Crown usurped the attention which the boasted Liberal had before declared due to the right of the people. His government is, however, at an end. Regretting the decay of his health we rejoice at his departure"

There is an outspokenness about those farewell words which does the Courier credit. As a proof of its sincerity on this question we have only to remark that it chronicled the result of Mr. Duncan's attempt to establish a local testimonial fund in the following terms :- "For the honour of Moreton Bay we are proud to record Mr. Duncan's want of success." It only remains to be added that on reaching England Governor Gipps was appointed commanding engineer at Woolwich in the place of Colonel Barney - a gentleman with whom the reader will be duly made acquainted.

Sir Charles Fitzroy

Governor Gipps, as Governor of New South Wales, was succeeded by Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy, who arrived on 2nd August, 1846. Sir Charles, in character, was quite the reverse of his predecessor, good-tempered and amiable, yet careless of government, and always glad to be rid of State troubles. With such a man it is not to be wondered the Council had a good deal of their own way. Consequently they were greatly delighted with the change.

It is well, perhaps, that his temper was even, for State affairs were in a chaotic condition, attributable to the great friction which had existed between Governor Gipps and the Council, and the contradictory opinions which prevailed on the question of the land laws, to say nothing of the bitter ill-feeling which had sprung up on the subject of transportation. However, he managed - by letting the Council "rule the roost" - to get along smoothly, although with the Colonial Office on one side and the Council on the other the task was about as difficult a one as a man of his nature could accomplish.

Business Bad

Turning to matters which may be considered more local we find our storekeepers reporting trade uncommonly bad, one or two of their number, together; with the only publican on Kangaroo Point, seeking solace in the friendly provisions of the Insolvency Act. About the only empty buildings, however, were inns, from which fact it may reasonably be assumed that the trade in this respect had been overdone.

Boiling down and salting seemed to progress though, for "Tinker" Campbell was led to make substantial additions to his plant. But he, too, it is said, went too fast, and consequently shortly after he had made the additions the works were transferred to another firm of the uncommon appellation of Smith and Co. "Tinker," however, commenced a new establishment at Ipswich.

There had been not a little sickness in the community during this year ('46), and the drought, which caused a shortage of water, was blamed for a good deal of it. The necessity which thus arose caused residents to prospect for water, those in North Brisbane being almost entirely dependent on the somewhat extensive waterhole which at that time was located on the Town Hall Reserve (Present site of City Hall). Several good supplies were struck, and one of these was somewhere near Parbury, Lamb, and Co.'s wharf, South Brisbane (Southbank).

The Government, still with an eye to the State purse, showed their appreciation of its discoverer by generously giving him (for a small consideration of course) a three years' monopoly of the contents together with two roods of land adjoining, the only stipulation being that "he would not charge more than the inhabitants had voluntarily paid him."

Our Products Admired

In the meantime Moreton Bay was unconsciously attracting attention from as far south as Port Phillip, and not only attracting attention but exciting the interest and admiration of our far-off neighbours. The information was conveyed in the following paragraph which appeared in the Port Phillip Patriot:-"We observe in the shops of some of the confectioners in town, pineapples and bananas of a very superior description ; these fruits are grown at Moreton Bay, to the northward of Sydney. The price demanded for the pineapples is a guinea per couple!"

The idea of selling pineapples at so high a figure will probably disturb the risible faculties of Queenslanders at the present day, and will cause local growers, who would consider themselves lucky to get a guinea for a hundred, to sigh for the good old times that come again no more. At any rate the paragraph, to say the least, was suggestive of the capabilities of both soil and climate, and was a damaging contradiction to the wail of those squatters who a couple of years afterwards avowed that the land would grow nothing but sheep and cattle.

The Failings of our Force

Contemporaneously with the growth into importance of Moreton Bay a marked increase in the work of the police magistrate was noticeable. Be it said, however, that the crimes committed were not of a heinous nature, but consisted chiefly of petty larceny, drunkenness, and desertion from hired situations while in many cases the offenders were ticket of leave men or soldiers. The articles purloined were generally a camp oven, an axe, or some other such portable property, although one or two of the more fastidious of the skulks (that was the name by which the thieves were known) walked off with odds and ends of jewellery.

One who was evidently bent on taking anything that was neither too hot not too heavy annexed a pair of window sashes from a building in South Brisbane. As usual, black trackers were placed on the scent of the thief, but, as on many previous occasion, nothing came of it. With regard to this particular case, however, it is worth recording that the blacks tracked the man to a cottage some distance away. As the traces stopped here, and the house "was occupied by a person in a respectable station of life," no further attempt was made to recover the stolen property.

Truly the police were a considerate body of men in those days. Was it because some of the members of the ‘foorce' were ticket of leave men themselves a fellow feeling making them wondrous kind? This sort of thieving became far too frequent, and the failure of the police to arrest the offenders caused the Courier to "come down upon" these limbs of the law somewhat severely.

This is how the question was summed up -

"We have been asked what are the constables doing for their pay? and we have been as frequently puzzled for a reply. It appeals to us that these officials require some sort of stimulus to quicken their detective powers They show great zeal in getting up cases entitling them to money - they hate a most fanciful mode of peeping through the key holes, but we are of opinion they could be much better employed in looking after some of the ' skulks ' "