Condition of Immigrant Ships

Immigrants arrived in quick succession, but the circumstances which attended their landing formed a deep contrast with those which had characterised those sent out by Dr. Lang. Indeed the Immigration Board were kept almost continuously sitting, for never a ship arrived but what some serious complaints were lodged against those connected therewith. Disease, too, was imported, and, what is worse, was allowed to be introduced into the Settlement and Ipswich, with almost disastrous results in one or two instances.

The first to arrive after the Duchess of Northumberland was the Maria Soames with 281 immigrants on 4th July, 1852. She was followed by the Argyll (the doctor and two immigrants of which were drowned in the Bay on the 30th July owing to the capsize of the ship's boat in a squall when proceeding to the quarantine station); the Meridian (284 immigrants) on 11th August ; and the Rajahgopaul (351 immigrants, fifteen of whom died of typhus and influenza, while others carried the disease to Ipswich) on the 10th September.

These completed the list for 1852. 1853 opened up well in the matter of immigration, no fewer than two vessels, the Parsee and America, adding 818 souls to the population in one day - 10th January. It must be confessed, however, that the fact of only thirty-eight unmarried adults being among this large number said very little for the selection of the people if that selection was intended to meet the requirements of the district.

Very serious charges were made against the owners of the America, which hailed from Liverpool, and at the inquiry which followed it was conclusively proved that not only was the vessel unseaworthy but the immigrants had been half starved. As a result the owners were heavily fined. The same state of affairs existed in the forecastle. Indeed things were so bad that two of the sailors a few days before the vessel's arrival in Moreton Bay constructed a raft of a ladder, two casks, and some poles, and cast themselves adrift at midnight during a heavy squall.

When men face the elements on a rudely constructed raft rather than remain in comparative security under the rule of a captain it may be taken for granted that things were really bad. The two men succeeded in making Fishermen's Island, and were then brought on to town. Their names were Robert Williams and Edward Edwards.

The 28th of February saw the arrival of the Agrícola with 246 souls, which entailed a further inquiry on the part of the local Immigration Board. In fact there was no body of men in Brisbane kept so busy at the time, and the secrecy which they maintained regarding their investigations secured for them the not unmerited title "that unholy inquisition."

Notorious Norfolk Island Convicts

Many of my readers are doubtless acquainted with Mr. R. B. Sheridan, of Maryborough fame, but few perhaps know how he immortalised himself. Let me relate the incident. Information which startled the populace of Brisbane, and which in effect was that nine convict pirates were meandering in Moreton Bay, reached the Settlement on the 1st April.

These convicts, it subsequently transpired, had escaped in an open boat from Norfolk Island under the following circumstances :- It was at this time the custom at Norfolk Island to employ a large boat manned by convicts with a guard consisting of military and police in unloading vessels that might go there with stores, etc. On the 11th March, 1853, such a boat had been employed in unloading stores from the Lord Auckland, which lay at anchor off the island, and on the evening of that day the boat had brought a load to the island, and was about to return to the ship at 8 pm so that the men might sleep aboard and be ready for work again early next morning.

The crew consisted of the coxswain, a freeman named Forsyth, and nine convicts whose names or sobriquets were Joseph Davis, Patrick Cooper, Jeremiah Sullivan, John Mitchell, James Clegg, Thomas Clayton, Denis Griffith, "Ginger" Murray, and Robert Mitchell. The guard consisted of three constables named Henry Bordmore, Charles Cooper, and another, and three soldiers of the 91th Regiment, who were armed with pistols and bayonets. The constables had no arms.

As the boat was about to leave the island the anchor became fouled in some way, and it was necessary for the coxswain to call all the men aft. They came, and immediately fell upon the soldiers and disarmed them. They then pulled the boat away for about four miles until they came to a place about a quartet of a mile from the shore at another point of the island.

Here they ordered the soldiers, coxswain, and police to get out and proceed through the surf to the shore. The soldiers, the coxswain, and two of the constables did so, when just at that moment one of the men called out that there was a boat near upon which the convicts put off at once, the coxswain, finding himself sinking, clung to one of the oars, and was taken in again.

Constable Bordmore had kept his seat when the order was given to leave the boat, and was not displeased to find he was to have the coxswain's company. The convicts then pulled away from the island to the south - west and kept to the oars all night. About an hour after daylight they lost sight of the island. They had on board some biscuits, some potatoes, and a little water, but as the supply was limited all were placed on allowance. They now set sail, and were at sea fourteen days, during six of which they were becalmed.

On the 25th March they sighted Moreton Bay, and got in through the South Passage at about 7 o'clock at night. Here they caught some fish, and it is said none of them knew where they were. They then proceeded to Stradbroke Island, where they met with two blacks who at their request showed them where there was a white man. The convicts drawing their pistols presented them at the constable and coxswain, and ordered them to remain where they were while they themselves proceed with the blacks. As a further precaution, one of the convicts was placed on guard.

The blacks then conducted the eight convicts to the camp of a Manilla man named Fernando, who had been fishing in the Bay. To him they said they belonged to a schooner that had been wrecked hard by, and that they wanted his boat to assist in saving some articles from the wreck. He however refused to lend the boat to them, whereupon they requested him to go to their ‘captain’ indicating the spot where the constable and coxswain had been left. He did so and was soon informed of the truth and returned to his camp where he found the convicts had carried off all his rations, ammunition etc, and had put off his boat.

On nearing their own boat the pirates sent on shore two of their number to bring off the other runaway who had been left in charge of the constable and his mate. These two on landing were seized and secured with ropes. The others in the boat fired some shots but they had no effect and deeming it useless to carry the matter further, they pulled away leaving their comrades in captivity.

Those on the island were compelled to remain until the 28th March, when Timothy Duffy, one of the Bay fishermen arrived on the scene with his boat and crew of blacks. When informed of the circumstance, Duffy as may be expected, was more than astonished. During the enforced imprisonment on the island, one of the convicts who had been secured had managed to free himself one night and escaped. When Duffy heard of this, he sent some of his natives to track him, which they did and brought the desperado into camp again that night. The three were then brought to Brisbane in Duffy’s boat and lodged in gaol.

Next morning early the Customs boat with an armed crew was despatched in pursuit of the men who were still at large. Chief constable Sneyd rode to German Station and gave warning to the residence there, and afterwards scoured the country in the vicinity of Cleveland. In the meantime the runaways were intent upon following up their business with promptitude.

When The Brothers (steamer) was going out a strange sail had been observed during the day and at night the mate of the vessel reported to the captain that a boat full of men was lying on oars astern. Captain Allen thereupon hailed the boat, which immediately pulled off without answering.

The men on watch aboard the Agricola also noticed a boat with muffled oars prowling round the ship the same night. On the 30th March they boarded the Acacia (bound for Sydney) at the river bar and represented themselves as seamen who had escaped from the wreck of a vessel near Wide Bay. They remained on board to breakfast, and inquired of some of the Harbour-master’s men who were aboard for the purpose of helping the vessel out of the river, which was the entrance to Brisbane. This was pointed out to them, and they left at dark pulling for the river and disappearing inside Luggage Point.

It may seem strange that their true character was not suspected on the Acacia, especially since their clothing was plentifully decorated with broad arrows, but this omission is to some extent accounted for by the fact that the prisoners had turned the few garments they wore. They must have lain in wait for the Harbour-master’s men near the mouth of the river, for directly the latter entered, the supposed wrecked sailors pulled over and coming alongside, seized the painter and secured it to their own

While some were doing this, others pulled out their pistols and covering the officials, ordered them to strip and pass into their or rather Fernando’s boat. This they did. The pirates then got into the Government boat and stripped also handing to the victims their own clothing and dressing themselves in the others. After this they stated who they were and mentioned their intention of attempting to seize the Acacia after they first visited the pilot station.

They asked several times for volunteers to show them the way and as none offered, were about to select one when they changed their minds and pulled away, passing round Fisherman’s Island. The harbourmen’s paddles were taken leaving them with only a few pieces of timber to work their way to Brisbane. When they did reach the Settlement next day they presented rather and extraordinary figure and lost no time in ridding themselves of their unmerited brands.

The convicts carried out part of their threat, and visited the pilot station. Arriving here they related how some strange men had boarded their vessel which lay in the bay and robbed them of £200 ‘and they did not intend returning until they had captured the robbers’. Believing their story, Mr. Watson invited them to partake of some refreshment before they proceeded further and on the way to the house he remarked that he had seen a strange boat the day before and having some suspicion about it had pursued it for some distance without result.

The pilot was leading the way into the room when one of the pirates pushed him forward on to the sofa, and the remainder had him covered with their weapons before he knew where he was. He was kept in this position while the robbers rifled the premises, taking away all the wearing apparel, provisions and a sum of money; in fact they took everything useful they could lay hands on. Among other things they manipulated several bottles of rum, and indulged in a slight carouse before they left.

During these proceedings, some of Mr. Watson’s children accompanied by one of the men came towards the place, and not standing when called upon were fired at, fortunately without effect. The convicts then staved the pilot boat and departed. A temporary patch was put on the boat by Watson and his men which enabled him to come up to town and add his tale of trouble to those of Fernando and the Harbour-master’s men.

On the arrival of the harbour masters men the Customs boat under Mr R.B. Sheridan had set out and was to be followed by the steamer Swallow, which had been loaded for Ipswich, but which was immediately chartered by Captain Wickham. Some delay was caused by the engineer of the Swallow refusing to risk his precious carcass but eventually this difficulty was got over, and the vessel left.

Neither Sheridan nor Wickham, however could find any trace of the pirates, and returned. No sooner had they done so than it was reported that the men had been seen at the south end of Stradbroke Island on the 3rd April, with their boat drawn up among the mangroves apparently waiting for the high sea, which was running, to calm, and escape by the boat passage. The Customs boat under Mr Duncan and Mr Sheridan was again sent out, and mounted men were despatched to the Tweed, for the pirates had told the pilot that if they failed to secure the Acacia they would go on to the Tweed or even Newcastle rather than be disappointed.

But this expedition was no more successful than the last, and folk began to think that the pursued were much smarter than the pursuers. On the 9th May, too, it was reported that the convicts had been seen making for the northward, whereupon an armed crew of volunteers from the steamship New Orleans (a vessel which had arrived from Europe via America and was lying at anchor) and the Customs men again set out but they might as well have remained at home.

Three days later, however a fisherman named Eugene Lucette arrived in the Settlement with the boat taken by the runaways from the Harbour master’s men. He stated that he and his boat's crew of blacks had seen the convicts land and haul up their boat among the mangroves near the mouth of the river on the south side, and afterwards go into the interior. He thereupon seized the boat.

Another party of eleven was organized with Messes Duncan, Sheridan and Chief Constable Sneyd at the head, and these set out for the spot indicated by Lucette. Here the services of blacks were secured and the pirates' tracks were followed until night. Next day they resumed the search and came upon the runaways about eight miles from Brisbane. Contrary to expectation the men surrendered quietly and were brought on to the Settlement in triumph.

They stated that they had been without food for several days, and had run to the northward after robbing the pilot station, intending to land at Wide Bay, where one of then number had been before, but they were deterred by the hostile demonstration of the blacks. They then made their way back to go into the interior.

They were all brought up at the Circuit Court on the 10th May, and each sentenced to fifteen years transportation beyond sea. It transpired that the men were desperate characters, the records of some of them being as follows - Cooper, under sentence of ten years, John Mitchell, two sentences of ten years each; Clayton, three times transported for life, Davis, one sentence of fifteen years and one sentence for life for piracy, Sullivan, one sentence of ten years and another of sixteen years.

The three first men apprehended had in the meantime been forwarded to Sydney to be dealt with. They were ordered to Van Dieman's Land, but while on the way Clegg slipped his irons, jumped overboard, and succeeded in reaching the shore although the sea was swarming with sharks.

Next morning it was ascertained that he had landed, and representing himself to be a shipwrecked sailor had been supplied by the whalers with provisions and clothes, and had bidden them an affecting farewell. He was not at liberty long, however.

Steamship New Orleans

To say that the Moreton Bay people were astonished when on the 12th April, 1853, it was stated that a steamship of 761 tons, the New Orleans, had arrived from England via America and Torres Straits is somewhat understating the case. And how they did boast of their importance! But their "blow" after all only amounted to an incipient squall, for the great things which the vessel was expected to do did not come off, and the effort to do them resulted only in injury to the dignity of the place.

It was intended to bring the vessel up the river, and thus in a practical manner proclaim to the world that there was more than 8ft. of water on the bar, and that if the Brisbane River was "a chain of sandhills for four miles up" there was a sufficient channel to admit a vessel of 761 tons. How the Cleveland Point advocates did clap their hands, and how their opponents prayed when the New Orleans went aground before she had got many yards, causing her captain to state that the task of taking the vessel to Brisbane was impossible!

To their credit be it said, however, the Brisbane people blamed the captain rather than the unnavigable state of their river, and declared that while his vessel only drew 8ft. there was over 9ft. of water at the place where she struck! How they managed to reconcile the statement that there was a foot of water to spare with the fact that the New Orleans ploughed into the soft mud and remained there is difficult to conceive, but it was taken for granted that they were correct, and that the captain took his vessel out of the channel.

However, the fact of the ship not being able to get up did not prevent some of her passengers visiting the Settlement or residents visiting her. One of the results was that while the passengers greatly disturbed the peace of the place and a few free fights were thrown in to give a "tone" to the occasion, someone boarded the New Orleans and carried away over £200 in gold !

Local Improvements

The gold fever having to some extent subsided business resumed its normal condition, and if one may take the amount of building going on at the time as indicating anything it may be said that confidence had been restored. Quite a large number of houses were being erected, and here and there a shop might be seen going up. While Pettigrew started his saw mill on 30th June, George Harris was building a store on the river bank, and horse punts at both ferries furnished easier communication between the two sides of the river.

The local sawyers, with an eye to the main chance, struck for a higher rate of wage in consequence of the great demand for timber, and got it to the extent of 3s. per 100ft. Even the police determined in a body that they were worth more than was being paid them, and announced their intention of resigning in a body unless the bench of magistrates secured for them an increase; and they too were successful.

With the increase of business came, as a matter of course, increased difficulty in financing; but this did not long obtain, for on the 7th June the Union Bank of Australia opened a branch here under the management of Mr. J. S. Turner, and on 20th September the Bank of New South Wales commenced operations in Ipswich, Mr. E. B. Cullen filling the managerial chair.

With a love for the beautiful as well as the needful a few local horticulturists formed themselves into a society and held their first exhibition in the old School of Arts on the 12th July, and on the 5th of the same month the Brisbane Exchange was started. Immigrants came in a steady stream, the Florentina landing 245 on 25th April and the John Fieldon 306 on 11th June.

The Misfortune of Cleveland Point

A sale of Crown lands, extending over two days - the 9th and 10th November, 1853 - excited some interest, and placed no less a sum than £15,000 in the coffers of New South Wales. At this time there was a great demand for land, and the Government were roundly abused for not putting up more, it being asserted that £200,000 worth could readily be sold if offered.

Land in the new town of Sandgate brought an astonishingly high sum, and Cleveland Point was largely in evidence, lots there fetching big prices, presumably because a couple of stores had been built in furtherance of the threat of the squatters that in future all their wool and products would be shipped from Cleveland instead of Brisbane.

At the time of which I write Messrs. Robert Graham and Co. had finished their store and had received a large quantity of wool and tallow ready for shipment. The pioneer vessel was the Countess of Derby, a barque of 329 tons, but her captain, guided more by bravado than discretion, attempted to enter by the South Passage, and wrecked his ship on a spur within a mile of where the Sovereign had broken up some eight years before.

The occurrence was most unlucky for the prospects of Cleveland, and while it might not affect the question as to whether that was an eligible shipping place, the fact that so many ships had passed through the northern entrance and loaded and discharged at the Brisbane River anchorage without the slightest accident could not fail to be contrasted with the first attempt to ship at Cleveland Point.

Of course the squatters ridiculed the idea of the loss of one ship affecting their prospects, but they looked very glum when on the 10th January, 1854, a second ship, the Courier, a barque of 236 tons, took fire two days before sailing for London, and was burnt to the water's edge. Out of about 400 bales of wool only twenty or thirty were saved, and it was due to the presence of mind of R. B. Sheridan, who cut the vessel's moorings and moved her to shallow water while she was burning, that some fifteen tons of coconut oil was rescued.

Even when Governor Fitzroy visited a few months later it rained "cats and dogs" on the day appointed for his trip to Cleveland, and not only was a good dinner spoiled but also the tempers of the promoters whose ardour, like their clothes was damped beyond drying. This combination of strange coincidences was too much for Robert Graham and Co., who, after the loss of their second vessel, decided to give Cleveland Point best, and removed their building to Brisbane. Generally this may be said to have given Cleveland its quietus for some time.

Police and Prisoners

Either the police arrangements were very defective, or prisoners were even more clever in days gone by than they are now, for it is a notorious fact that no criminal could be reckoned as caught in the strict sense of the word until he had been tried and placed in the gangs. Constantly did prisoners escape from the lockup - so often indeed did this occur that a grave scandal was occasioned - but I am inclined to the belief that the rickety old structure which did duty as a gaol had more to do with this, than any shortcomings on the part of the authorities.

A somewhat sensational escape was that of Sippey, an aboriginal, who had been committed for trial from Callandoon for the murder of a German woman on Easton and Robertson's station, and who had succeeded in eluding capture for a considerable time. On the night of 10th November, 1853, a violent storm occurred, and it was during the noise of thunder and heavy rain that Sippey managed to get away.

In consequence of his wild habits he was kept alone being locked up in a passage attached to the cells and which was generally used as a chapel. This passage had a grated window looking upon the inner yard where a turnkey kept guard. The blackfellow with the greatest ease removed a bolt from one of the cell doors, and, climbing up by the door, used this implement to enlarge the airhole until wide enough to admit his body, when he passed through dropping to the ground.

Climbing up the partition wall by means of a shed most conveniently built as it were for the purpose he crawled along the wall across the women's yard and, having dropped himself over the outer wall made off in the darkness.

He was observed, however, by some of the females, who gave the alarm. Black trackers and police immediately set out, but Sippey had a good start, and besides was an expert at dodging. He was tracked to John McGrath's station, at Moggill, where he had had breakfast, after which it transpired he fell in with a young fellow on horseback. At the blackfellow's request the rider allowed him to get up behind.

The two had not ridden far when the scoundrel threw the young fellow off the horse and, dismounting beat him in a most savage manner over the head and knees with a waddy. Not content with this he tried to break the lad's legs across his own and finally took off his spurs and putting them on his own heels rode off, leaving his victim insensible. On recovering the unfortunate youth crawled to a station close by and related his story.

In the meantime Sippey had made for Ipswich and crossed the Bremer. Arriving at Davidson's station he changed his tired horse for a blood mare which was standing in the stockyard, and was not heard of again until he passed through Drayton.

All attempts to capture him here, however, proved futile, and the notorious fellow succeeded in joining his tribe. Once there it was a difficult matter to take him, but in December this feat was accomplished by a Mr. Goodfellow and in the May following, Sippey was sentenced to three years for assault, the charge of murder falling through owing to the absence of a material witness.

"Old Tom's" Attempt to Civilize Sandgate

While on the subject of crime - and unfortunately there was plenty of it at the time of which I write - I may relate an incident which affected a well known old colonist, and which concerns even some who are now living in Brisbane. Among the first purchasers of land at Sandgate was "Old Tom" Dowse, and at the end of November he betook himself there with his sons to reside on his property. On the 3rd December a party of about thirty blacks made their appearance and made an effort to get into Tom's tent for the purpose of obtaining tobacco and other supplies.

Tom and his two sons drove them off but fearing they would return, and being perfectly cognisant of the treacherous character of the natives, they immediately packed up, and, placing their goods in their boats, prepared to leave at about 2 o'clock in the morning. Before they could get away the aboriginals turned up in large numbers. Tom was unfortunately overtaken in the water by one of the blacks, who struck him down with a waddy, inflicting a wound on the back of the head.

One of the sons fired, and the blacks apparently cleared, but at this moment the other called that he was wounded, a spear having passed through his leg. The son then fired at a black, who was in close quarters, and who was about to strike his brother. The black was seen to fall, but whether he was killed was never discovered.

In the scuffle they had only secured one oar, and with this they managed to reach the mouth of the river, from which place they walked to Eagle Farm and gave the alarm. A boat's crew were at once sent out to secure the other boat, which they did, as well as some of the stores which had been left. Nothing could, however be seen of the blacks, who had evidently made for the infested region of the Pine River.

Kangaroo Pointers Again

Crimes, like other troubles, never come singly. Even the first month of the new year (1854) witnessed a murder at Douglas's soap factory, Kangaroo Point. The victim was Stephen Swords, who was knocked on the head by a mate named John Hanley.

Swords, with two others, had been drinking at Hanley's hut, and it was suspected that Hanley, though sober at the time, was suffering from some mental trouble. This opinion was given rise to by the fact that a paper was found on the murderer which was dated 21st January - the day before the crime.

It consisted of a rambling declaration that a conspiracy had been formed to take his life, and also referred to his wife, who it stated had left him and was living with another man. The Judge evidently took this view of the matter, for though he sentenced him to death he afterwards recommended commutation to five years on the roads.

Visit of Governor Fitzroy

The arrival of H.M.S. Calliope in Moreton Bay on the 20th March, 1854, was an event of no small interest to residents, since the noble vessel brought to the settlement of Moreton Bay no less a personage than Governor Fitzroy. The Governor took up his abode at Newstead, but did not make his official entry into Brisbane until the 23rd March.

The Valley was liberally decorated with flags and improvised decorations, and in the evening some of the houses were illuminated with lanterns worked into the letters "V.R." and in the form of a crown in a manner that would shock some of our Republican enthusiasts of the present day. The Towns Police Act, too, was utterly ignored, and guns and other firearms were let off ad lib.

During his stay Sir Charles Fitzroy visited Ipswich, the Downs, and actually German Station, but as previously recorded fate decreed that he should not see Cleveland, for heavy rain set in on the day appointed, and the Clevelandites were not only disappointed but had a banquet thrown on their hands.