Travels in East Moreton, 1859 (#6): South Brisbane

(Extracted from the Moreton Bay Courier, 5 March 1859)

The Western Suburbs of South Brisbane, in common with other up-river localities, are well worthy a place in your journal amongst our other Sketches of East Moreton; and a lover of the picturesque and beautiful would find a day had been well spent were he to take a stroll amongst the cultivated grounds lying on the south-west bank of the Brisbane River, in the direction of Boggo, and the interesting parish of Yeerongpilly.

In sketching some particulars relating to the south bank of this charming river, I with premise my remarks by observing, that South Brisbane, or rather that portion of it lying opposite to the hospital and ferry approaches was, in the penal period of this colony, cultivated by the convict population of the settlement; and large quantities of maize and sweet potatoes were taken off the land, for the sustenance of the people employed thereon. But in the year 1842, after his Excellency Sir George Gipps had visited this portion of his government, the settlement of Moreton Bay was thrown open to private enterprise; and the convict population gradually withdrawn.

In that year, and for a considerable period afterwards, the attentive observer would have frequently to witness the marked peculiarities pertaining to those revolting exhibitions connected with the convict discipline of those days. Frequently, at the hour of noon, after the Court had closed its sittings, the suppressed shriek and groans of the felon would be heard by the occasional passer-by, issuing from beneath the archway in Queen-street.

South Brisbane c.1867. (John Oxley Library)

At the same time the new chum, landing for the first time upon these beautiful but fearfully polluted shores, would very probably have presented to his gaze other associations that at once would recall to memory the tales of other days, heard of this terrible Pandemonium. The armed sentinels, the convict constable, dressed in brief authority, walking with unwilling step the doubly convicted felon to the presence of the Commandant, there and then to answer for some act of disobedience, or previous nights’ irregularity, committed very likely when in company of some old pal who, arriving overland with some Jackaroo squatter, had come down to the Bay to spend in drunken recklessness the earning of previous months, perhaps years.

Turning from the sad reflections engendered by these reminiscences of the olden time, what hopeful thoughts of the future progress of this infant township must have entered the minds of many wayfarers to this portion of the Australian island continent. Walking from the old wharf to the hill above the Commissariat stores, what a scene of enchantment met the astonished gaze. The public buildings, (then in a good state of preservation) grouped or scattered around; the Commandant’s and Government gardens laid out with tasteful elegance, abundantly filled with trees, shrubs, and botanical specimens, brought from many and varied climes, and kept in a high state of preservation by labor exacted from unwilling hands, all spoke, trumpet tongued, to the contemplative mind, of the productive capabilities of this sunny land. But, alas, those who have lived since that day, “When young Hope filled the mind with youthful joys,” have had to regret the passing away of those bright anticipations; and marvel, after 17 years passed in the strife and battle of life, to see so little of their early hopes realised. However, “such is life,” ever hoping, ever striving, unwilling to be deceived.

But my brains have evidently gone wool gathering in my attempt to commence this sketch. Instead of taking your readers over the water, here I have been standing under the “old flag staff!” Ah, that was a flag staff! None of your barber’s pole sort of thing whereon to display the flag of the greatest nation, as Jonathan says, on earth. Yes! a regular star-gazer; set all ataut-o, with topmast, yard, cross-trees, and gear that a sailor loves so well to expatiate upon; the apology for which, at present stuck up against the office of the Resident, makes me sometimes almost wish that some of the fast young men of 42 were here, just to absquatolate with it and stick it up in front of Newstead. Where am I now? Gossiping under the old flag staff! Well, whilst we wait for the boat to take us over the river, let us for a few moments take a retrospective glance of things that were upon the bank upon the opposite side. We catch sight of a very extraordinary piece of naval architecture, built for all the world like an immense spittoon, which upon due enquiry we shall find is intended for the river traffic: and which subsequently enjoyed the sobriquet of “the kill time punt,” trading between Limestone and Brisbane. In close proximity stood the proprietor’s house of accommodation for travellers, and those thirsty souls, at frequent times assembled around their drays on the south side, while beyond and around was the deserted clearing, the decaying stalks of the last maize crops rattling in the breeze like the musical bones of an ethiopian serenader. Just for a moment let me detain you whilst I describe my first Sunday afternoon’s visit to this memorable spot, accompanied by Messrs. Harris and Underwood (then keeping a general store in a wing of the convicts’ barracks.) We were ferried by “Davie,” the boatman, with some four or five others, in a little cockle shell of a dingy, from the north to the south side. Passing up the road leading from the water side, in the direction of the accommodation house, we were at once in the midst, pel mell, of bullock bows and yokes wielded and hurled in fearful proximity to our persons. Yells of fiendish blasphemy were uttered on every side, whilst a woman, with her front teeth knocked out from the blow of a bullock yoke, stood shrieking for help in the midst of this rum maddened throng. The Chief Constable, poor old White, in vain assayed to stop the murderous affray, assisted by his meagre staff of convict constables; and it was not until the military guard from the barracks reached the spot that the riot could be suppressed. These matters were far from unfrequent occurrences. Only a short time previous, I was informed a man had been found killed on the South side, by whom, I believe, was never ascertained. Such was the advent of my first visit to South Brisbane. The change, outwardly, since that day appears marked; but the Christian man sorrows that even at the present the curse of these colonies reigns like a spirit fiend supreme in our midst, and daily laughs over the dying and the dead, around whom he has thrown his deadly coils.

South Brisbane in the 1860's, with part of Botanic Gardens
in foreground. 
(John Oxley Library)

But come away from those memories of the past, and let us saunter like two old fast familiar friends, with that congeniality of soul between us which permits us to admire the beautiful works of God, and ponder over man’s mission during his sojourn in their midst.

Passing from the Ferry steps towards Mrs. Greenwood’s, South Brisbane Hotel, we turn to the right before reaching that well-known hostelry, and wend our way towards the town boundary; passing in the hollow the first weather-boarded house built in Brisbane, the property of the late Mr. David Buntin, a passenger per Edward, schooner, John Chambers, master, in Sept., 1842.

What a train of recollections glide through the memory with a railway pace as we pass that well-remembered spot, close to which I your correspondent pitched his tent in the winter of 42. Poor Davie! Early and late did I see thee, with praiseworthy self-reliance, toiling to erect that home; and then, in after years to die the death thou didst, makes one shudder to think that thou art only one of many thousands who have fallen beneath that fell destroyer, strong drink.

Let me for a minute recall to memory the first Saturday night passed beneath that roof tree, when the labors of the day were o’er, and a few of us, for the first time, assembled to congratulate the proprietor upon the accomplishment of his ambitious desires. Can I forget the hope expressed by each, and all of that little gathering, when we spoke of the future, anticipating as we did, a prosperous one, but, oh, can I forget the closing scene of life’s sad history connected with that little band? No!
I stand alone in the banquet hall deserted;
These light all fled their garlands shed,
All but me departed.
But, dear me, how I have wandered about and from the subject of this sketch. I appear to have started on my journey to Boggo and before I reach the town boundary, have come to an anchor upon some old stump; and whilst I have from that quiet resting place cast a look around the clearing, fallen into a brown study; and instead of describing to your readers what I saw only a few weeks ago, I drop into a gossiping yarn of what I saw or remember, perchance, before many of them were born. Well, well, I know old age is garrulous and very tiresome, and that twaddle of all kinds should be strictly confined to the Upper House. Not having the slightest chance of ever filling the dignified position of Government nominee, it becomes me not to interfere with their prerogative. I will, therefore, try once more to make a fair start in the direction pointed out at the beginning of this article.

View of South Brisbane, c.1869. (John Oxley Library)

The whole of the clearing upon which the township of South Brisbane is situated, is commanded a short distance from the river bank by a gradual ascending ridge, presenting beautiful sites for the future erection of villa residencies; the scenery from several commanding positions in this neighbourhood is very charming. The valley of the Brisbane stretching out on either hand conveys at once to the vision of a spectator the various improvements carried out upon the opposite bank of the river. The substantial and imposing wharf and stores of Messrs. John & George Harris, the Steam Saw Mills of Mr. William Pettigrew, and the cluster of buildings in the vicinity, the Episcopalian Church of St. John, with its adjoining parsonage, the Government Resident’s office, Immigration Barracks, Survey Office, Hospital, Supreme Court House, and Crown Law Offices; and the varied buildings belonging to private individuals scattered over a large space of ground; whilst almost immediately beneath, the eye for a moment rests upon the capacious wharves and stores of the Steam Navigation Company, and Messrs. Robert Towns & Co., at which the busy scene of maritime activity is presented to view.

Pettigrew Saw Mills, William Street, 1861. (J. Oxley Library)

Passing along the high ground at the rear of the suburbs we overlook the cottage and grounds of Mr. Taylor Winship, the builder of two of our river steam fleet; and which were launched from the building premises adjoining. A small craft has been for some time on the stock, designed, I believe, for a steam ferry boat; a description of conveyance much needed in our traffic across the river. And as we may anticipate under the Municipalities’ Act the formation of a market upon the reserve at North Brisbane, set aside years ago for that purpose, I trust the time is rapidly approaching when the authorities under the Act will devise means to make the ferry between the two localities easy, safe, and expeditious, to the utmost extent of our most sanguine anticipations. However much we may cavil about the presumed benefits to be derived from this measure this one thing is certain, that the ferries, wharves, markets, water supply, and other important matters, will be placed under the control of the residents themselves; and though they may at first feel rather strange in devising measures for the successful carrying out of these progressive go ahead demands, the fact of the people themselves having a voice in the matters will go far towards setting them thinking; and this will, no doubt, be the means of accomplishing this and many other equally important operations.

I rest for a moment, and let us take a retrospective glance of this ferry question. It is now some sixteen years since the Government commenced leasing the ferry to the highest bidder. I find, by reference to some memorandums in my possession, that during the period they have been so disposed of, the ferry rent accruing from that between North and South Brisbane has conveyed into the Treasury Exchequer, the sum of nearly £3000; the dues averaging something like £190 per annum. The yearly increasing traffic between the North and South sides, imperatively demands some more extensive arrangements than the present very questionable mode of crossing; and so soon as the market place on the North side is opened, as a public mart for the buying and selling of our agricultural productions, the same must be carried out, or the community will have just and reasonable matter of complaint against the Municipality. It will be the people’s own fault, if this, with other matters, are not then speedily attended to.

Ad featuring gardening tools,
Hockings, Queen Street (JOL)

A few minutes’ walk from the town boundary brings us to the Rosaville Nursery grounds of Mr. A. J. Hockings; and though but a very short period has elapsed since that person commenced operations in the horticultural field the results evidenced in the productions of the Nursery are very creditable to him, and the parties employed in carrying out the arrangements. As a matter of course, the fruit and other trees are, comparatively speaking, of but an infant growth, yet the number of young grafts and stocks promise an abundant supply for those parties who, at a future period, may require their gardens and allotments of land to possess something more pleasing to their sight than rows of cabbages, patches of potatoes and other things, which though very useful and necessary in themselves, do not at all times give a favorable impression to visitors of our botanical abilities. To those who really have the desire, and the means at their disposal, to improve their freehold properties, I should certainly suggest to them a visit to this locality.

Beyond Mr. Hockings’ grounds the bank of the river is laid out and cultivated by the proprietors thereof to a very profitable extent. At Hill End, the turning point of the long reach of water above Brisbane, the spectator, in the ridge at the back of this property, obtains a very charming view of the river reaches. Above and below this very pretty spot, part of the Hill End property is cultivated by Mr. Way, another of our Moreton Bay nursery gardeners and able horticulturists. Having no desire to make invidious comparisons between the parties employed in this field of industry, I must refrain from pointing out the many beautiful productions I saw in that place; but again advise your renders, who have a love for the beautiful, and can admire the interesting specimens of forest, lawn, shrubbery, and fruit trees, to stroll out in the direction of Messrs. Hockings and Way’s grounds; and I feel satisfied, they will return home well pleased with their inspection, and with a far better idea of the capabilities of Moreton Bay in producing so many useful and really beautiful specimens of tropical and the more homely trees and flowers of the temperate zone.

Above Hill End we get on to the Boggo road, running parallel to the river, and in the immediate neighborhood of a busy farming population. The dense scrub bordering the river is fast disappearing beneath the sturdy stroke of the axe; and the patches of cleared grounds that meets the eye in this direction promise a speedy transformation in the hitherto monotonous aspect of our upriver scenery.

The parish of Yeerongpilly is being fast taken up, and placed to your account in the future productiveness of this district; and though many a toilsome hour has to be spent by the sturdy occupiers of this and neighboring localities in their praiseworthy determination to make for themselves and families a home, yet the good time is coming when they will in a correct feeling of pride look at their goodly possessions, and tell their children how the field was won from the bush lawyers, scrub-creepers, figtree fixings, gum-tree stickers, and other forest incumbrances that, until their removal was accomplished, marred the husbandman’s efforts to bring his bit of land under crop for their use and benefit.

But, as I have run this gossiping sketch out to the extent of my stock of paper, I must crave your permission to finish my Random Sketches of East Moreton in a future issue of your journal, trusting that the finishing article will be found by many of your distant subscribers and readers worthy of their perusal and attentive consideration, should they feel disposed to visit the new colony of North Australia for the purpose of looking out for a home, in this favored land, as I will therein endeavor to point out. I feel satisfied from my long experience, and the benefits I have witnessed secured by others in their sojourn here, that amongst the many inducements held out to immigrants in the other colonies of Australasia, this northern portion of the great island continent has equal if not far superior claims to their attention, some of which I will point out, I hope satisfactorily, in my next and last sketch of East Moreton.