Pre-1893 Floods in Brisbane and Ipswich

For Brisbanites, the floods of 1893 have gone down in history as being the most destructive to hit their city. There were, however, many different flood events to hit Brisbane and Ipswich before that time. The following article was written by JJ Knight in the aftermath of the 1893 floods as a reminder of those earlier deluges, all of them still within living memory.

Charlotte Street (from the corner of George Street) during the flood of March 1864. SLQ.

Queenslander, 18 March 1893

'Some Early Day Floods.

The recent floods afforded an excellent opportunity for a controversy as to the extent of former day inundations as compared with the trio which visited Brisbane last month. Thus, while some affirmed that at least one flood of bygone days (1841) equalled in magnitude the latest visitation, by far the majority have declared that the disaster of 1893 occupies the premier position. Of course, what are now high lands were in 1841 depressions subject to the action of ordinary high tides (thanks to the creeks which at that time crossed some of the present principal thoroughfares), while a large volume of water which now finds its way through dredged channels would in days gone by have been almost sufficient to cover parts of what were described by Dr. Lang as "the alluvial flats of Brisbane." There can, however, be no question as to the fact that the floods of 1893 were the highest in the recollection of the white inhabitant.

It is interesting, too, to note how while one section has systematically abused the Stanley and other tributaries of the Brisbane River another has laid the blame at the doors of those who ignored the just claims of Nature and fixed the site of the city on what has practically been proved to be part of the river bed. As a matter of fact, when the site of Brisbane was selected its liability to flooding did suggest itself to the mind of the discoverer (Oxley), but it was quickly dismissed as improbable. Oxley found the country looking its best, and "there being no appearance of its being flooded, no mark being found higher than 7ft. above the level, which is little more than would be caused by the floodtide at high water forcing back any unusual accumulation of waters in rainy seasons," the gallant lieutenant may be exonerated from all blame in the matter. Besides, Oxley had been sent out to search for a site not for a city but for a penal settlement, one of the chief recommendations for which would be the presence of fine agricultural country. Oxley never dreamt of a Stanley or a Lockyer (though he had found and named the Bremer), as is shown by his own words:
"I felt justified in entertaining a strong belief that the sources of the river will not be found in a mountainous country but rather that it flows from some lake which will prove to be the receptacle of those interior streams crossed by me during an expedition of discovery in 1818!" 
From the remarks of Oxley just quoted it is apparent that for some years prior to 1823 no flood had occurred in the Brisbane. In 1825, however, the penal settlement was visited by an inundation, and the fortunate circumstance that Major Lockyer was examining the upper reaches of the river at the time served to dispel Oxley's illusion about an interior lake. Lockyer had on the 21st September camped at a place "which, from the colour of the soil, was named Redbank," when the first effects of the flood were felt. For a day or two previous heavy rain had fallen, but on the day in question it had cleared up. In the early morning Lockyer had noticed that the water level had risen 1ft. within an hour, and its discoloured appearance indicated that a flood was coming down. "The rapidity of the current increased every hour, and the river had risen upwards of 8ft. by 11 o'clock" - three and a half hours after the first rise had been noted. 

Lockyer was compelled to camp for a day or two. He then made another start, but travelling by boat was extremely difficult, and after four days' exertion a narrow escape from losing his boat and provisions caused him to decide to pursue his investigations on foot. The tributaries of the Brisbane must have been doing their best to sweep out of existence the one dark spot in Northern Australia known as Moreton Bay if we may judge of the experience of Lockyer on his memorable trip. Lockyer's idea as to where these tributaries were is as amusing as Oxley's opinion as to the source of the river. He says: 
"I think it very probable that the large swamp into which the river at Bathurst loses itself occasionally overflows, and is the cause of the tremendous floods that at times take place on the Brisbane River!"
It would thus appear that inundations here were known to Lockyer if they were not to Oxley, and his remark that "on our way we had many proofs of a small flood; a large one must be terrific," plainly demonstrates that Lockyer was possessed of information concerning the place which in later years would have been extremely useful had it been available. 

The next flood I can trace was that of January, 1841. Unfortunately no complete records were kept, but Mr. John Kent, who died many years ago, took the level of the Bremer and found the rise to be 55ft. What the rise in the Brisbane was I am unable to discover, but the late Mr. John Petrie in my many interviews with him often alluded to "the great flood of 1841." The rainfall here was nearly 20in., and if we add to this the 55ft. rise in the Bremer and the water from the Stanley, which was heavy, we can readily understand that the inundation was a serious one. There is an anecdote about a coloured man named Cassim (who died a few years ago at Cleveland, where he kept a hotel) coming down from Ipswich on a pumpkin to report that the place was out of provisions, but in the absence of reliable records I take the story with the proverbial grain of salt. 

Heavy floods followed in January, 1844, and December, 1845, and the intervening years to 1852 were marked by minor deluges. Even the opponents of Dr. Lang gave him the credit of being a far-seeing man, and that he was not misjudged in this respect is shown by his views as to the eligibility of the site, which I am led to quote even at the risk of offending property owners on the south side. The doctor had experienced difficulty in crossing the river, and complains thusly:
"So late as the month of December, 1846, I had to wait from 9 o'clock in the morning to nearly 4 in the after-noon till I could get my horse ferried over from Brisbane town in the miserable apparatus even then available for the purpose. In this way a local interest was established on the south side of the river, where the Government was moved to lay off and sell building allotments at a somewhat lower minimum price - in a perfect swamp, however, liable to fearful inundations."
The veteran then goes on to designate South Brisbane as "unsafe" and "insalubrious," and urges the Government to place on the river a good punt, and thus aid in the concentration of the population on a spot in the immediate neighbourhood in the highest degree salubrious and beyond the reach of inundations. 

The flood or, to be more correct, the floods of 1852 were in many respects similar to our latest experience. Rain set in on the 16th March and continued until the 20th, when extreme wet gave place to extreme heat. This rain caused a considerable fresh in the river, and Stanley-street, among other low-lying places, was covered. The Courier in its weather report on the occasion remarked that "Stanley-street might be more appropriately called Stanley Creek!" Anyone standing on the roadway at McGhie, Luya's, and looking at the level of the ground on each side of the street, will be struck with the slight difference that exists between the river level and that of the bank. However, the flood subsided, only to be followed a fortnight later by one of greater dimensions. Rain recommenced falling on the 8th April (Thursday), and was accompanied by heavy squalls. This sort of thing continued until Saturday, when there was a lull, and it was expected that the worst had been seen. Doubts were dispelled on Sunday when the rain again tumbled down, and the Stanley and Bremer waters came down, bringing with them casks of tallow from John Smith's boiling down works, wool, produce of all kinds, trees, and other debris. 

Only the other day a resident of the forties gave to a well-known gentleman in this city his recollections of the '52 inundation. These were committed to paper and kindly handed to me. The narrative reads:
"On the occasion of the 1852 flood the water came up Albert-street above Elizabeth-street. It covered the late Mr. William Sheehan's property in Queen-street, long known as the site of St. Patrick's Tavern, and crossing Queen-street it went into Adelaide-street at the Albert street corner, now known as the saleyards. From Sheehan's property down to the north side of Edward-street was under water, as well as the bulk of the land fronting Queen-street and lying between Edward, Adelaide, and Creek Streets. On the river bank the water entered the old building known as the Colonial Stores, and the flood mark was fixed at the foot of the arch, which in those days existed over the steps leading from near the present Queen's wharf up to St. John's Church, between the Colonial Stores and the present Museum Building. South Brisbane was all under water, the only part visible being two ridges, which looked like whalebacks standing out of the water." 
As a matter of fact, however, the '52 flood was not nearly so high as that of eleven years before, and it is possible that the old colonist errs when he says the water crossing Queen-street from St. Patrick's Tavern (which, by the way, stood where the People's Cash Store is now located) went into Adelaide-street. Other old residents assert that the water never crossed Queen-street at the point in question, and I incline to the belief that the water at the Albert-street corner of Adelaide street got there up the creek which flowed from the river at Creek-street, thence by a serpentine course under Alfred Shaw and Co.'s premises, along Adelaide-street, and terminated in a chain of waterholes between the present Town Hall Reserve and the old Reservoir. 

Be this as it may, the fact remains that the 1852 experience was a mere flea-bite, though there is no denying it did a deal of damage to property. The Condamine was in heavy flood about the same time, and - strange coincidence - a similar state of affairs existed in the South. In view of a suggestion which has been made by a correspondent the following proclamation issued in 1852 may not prove uninteresting:
"The Governor-General directs it to be notified that, in consideration of the distressing circumstances attending the recent inundation of the village of Gundagai, his Excellency, with the advice of the Executive Council, has been pleased to sanction an arrangement by which holders of allotments in that village which are liable to inundation will be permitted to obtain land in some other situation and of a like value as nearly as may be estimated."
This concession was not extended to Moreton Bay, probably because we were not in such a plight as our Southern neighbours. On the occasion referred to the valley of the Murrumbidgee was converted into an inland sea; the town of Gundagai was swept away, only seven buildings remaining out of seventy-eight, and eighty-nine persons out of a population of 250 perished. 

May of 1857 saw a big rise in the Brisbane and the consequent flooding of streets, but this was a mere circumstance to that which occurred in February of 1863. On this occasion the inundation was heralded by a terrific cyclone which played great havoc along the coast, and caused the captains of the immigrant ships Everton and Wanata to choose the open sea rather than remain at anchor in the Bay. Two days later (the 15th) the waters from the Upper Brisbane came down, and sent the Brisbane up to the 1841 level. 

Another flood followed in 1864, but this was scarcely equal to the one of the previous year; 1869 and 1875 also witnessed floods, but it was not until 1887 that we really began to realise the area drained by the river and its tributaries. If any doubts existed with respect to this the occurrence of 1890 would set them at rest, and I make bold to say that not one out of every hundred persons would even then have thought the Brisbane capable of such a surprise as was furnished by the three floods of last month. It is of course a moot point what the next will be like, but it is a painful fact that high as the last floods were they did not reach the boundary shown on the geological map which marks the original bed of the Brisbane River. Indeed from a study of the map in question it would seem that Nature is slowly bat surely taking revenge for the encroachments made on her preserves by the civilising agency of man. 

Drifting away from floods in the Brisbane it may be remarked that other towns in the colony have at various times had awful experiences, and it is not a little remarkable that these have been coincident with our own. To go into them fully, however, would take more time and space than can at present be devoted to them, but in passing it may be mentioned that the Fitzroy has shown an especial aptitude for breaking out of bounds. The largest of the earlier floods there, I believe, happened in 1862, '63, and '64. In the first year the trouble was caused by a phenomenal rainfall (22½ in. in thirty-nine hours), which sent the river up on the 1st April 20ft. above spring tides, and enabled the Messrs. Archer to sail seven miles across country on a rescue expedition.'

Mount Coot-tha (1929)

Brisbane Courier 1 July 1929 



Mount Coot-tha has been appropriately termed the "Mount of Beauty." All who have stood on its crest have been impressed with the grandeur of the panorama that it gives of city, river, bay, and mountain ranges. Contrasting with the natural scenery. Mount Coot-tha itself Is beautiful. Even in the long-gone days, When the place that was to be Brisbane was an unbroken vista of trees; when nothing but virgin bush was to be seen from the eminence where thousands have since looked on to and beyond the city; when smoke from aboriginal fires was the only intrusion in the picture of nature. Mount Coot-tha must have presented a wildly beautiful scene.

Mt Coot-tha, 1910. Queensland Historical Atlas.

Mount Coot-tha was once a favourite ground of the blacks, who hunted marsupials and birds, and very often found hives of native honey there. From such discoveries the mountain owes the origin of its present name. "Coot-tha," in the native dialect, meant "dark native honey." This meaning is applied to the word in "Tom Petrie's Reminiscences," where the author gives its pronunciation as "Ku-ta"; other translations interpret it merely as "honey." The name by which the mount was known to early settlers, and by which it Is popularly called to-day, was "One Tree Hill." This was derived from the fact that an arboreal monarch once stood on the summit in solitary splendour. In the early '40's a dense forest of large trees grew on the top of the hill, and with their thinning-out, the giant tree became more conspicuous year by year because of its isolation and great size. So the ridge became "One Tree Hill." The big tree was killed by careless picnickers lighting fires at its base. Frequent blazes scorched its trunk, and sapped its life, and one day the stark old tree had to be felled.

The attractions of "One Tree Hill" as a recreation and picnic ground were recognised from the days when civilisation began to penetrate the country around Moreton Bay. Many of the first residents found it a delightful retreat. But the mountain's timbers were exploited for some years before Mount Coot-tha was definitely made a park reserve. According to the Assistant Under Secretary for Public Lands (Mr. C.W. Holland), the land was originally set apart under the Crown Lands Alienation Act of 1868 as a reserve for timber for railway purposes. A survey was made in 1874, and the reserve was found to contain an area of 1476 acres. In 1880 the reservation for timber for railway purposes was cancelled, and an area of 1500 acres was permanently reserved for a public park. A deed of grant upon trust, "for the appropriation thereof as a public park for the recreation, convenience, health, and amusement of the inhabitants of the city of Brisbane in our said colony, and for no other use and purpose whatsoever,” was issued to Sir Charles Lilley, Sir A.H. Palmer, Sir Samuel Griffith, and the Hon. H. E. King.

Subsequent changes' placed the following gentlemen on the trust, in succession: - Sir Thos. Mcilwraith, Mr. John Stevenson, Sir Hugh Nelson, Sir Alfred Cowley, Hon. Albert Norton, Mr. E.H. Macartney (Queensland's Agent General-elect), Dr. E.S. Jackson, and Sir Robert Philp. Mr. H. W. Radford, Clerk of the Legislative Council, acted as hon. secretary to the board of trustees, and took a keen interest in the reserve. Afterwards Messrs. C. W. Costin and C. R. Gregory, each in turn Clerk of the Legislative Council, acted as hon. secretary. Grants were made by the Government to the trustees for roads, erection of shelter shed, fencing, salary of caretaker, &c. The name was changed from "One Tree Hill" to "Mount Coot-tha." by notice published in the "Government Gazette" of August 10, 1883. In 1919 the trustees surrendered their trust in favour of the Brisbane City Council, which was then appointed as trustee.

With the growth of the city Mount Coot-tha reserve also has expanded. The area has grown, by additions from time to time, to a little over 2567 acres. The Brisbane City Council is about to apply to the Land Administration Board for the grant of an additional area of 35 acres of Crown land, formerly held as a quarantine reserve, in the direction of Indooroopilly, and, if it is obtained, the acquisition of another 10 acres of privately-owned land that lies between will make the total area of the Mount Coot-tha reserve 2612 acres. But the reserve has grown in other respects. Roads have been improved, a fine new kiosk at the peak of the hill has replaced the rustic structure that formerly stood there, and a pretty look-out tower has been built. Indicative of the number of vehicles that now run to the city's favourite observation point is the fact that one-way traffic is about to be introduced between the Summit and Simpson's road, Paddington.

One of the Moreton Bay fig trees that stand at the top of Mount Coot-tha was planted by King George V. (then Prince George), and his brother, the late Duke of Clarence (then Prince Albert), during their visit to Brisbane in 1882. On that occasion the late Sir Thomas Mcllwraith and Earl Clanwilliam also planted trees. To-day the historic fig trees spread a kindly shade for visitors, and add to the quiet beauty of the surroundings. Mount Coot-tha's altitude of 746ft., and its proximity to the city - it is about four miles from the General Post Office - makes it a very valuable asset to "Brisbane. But other features - the Summit and the Devil's Slide, the broken dams, and the stony gullies, where water used to run, the cool shady slopes, and the bubbling streams, the stately trees, and pretty shrubs, have endeared the whole reserve to those who love to commune with Nature. In all parts of Australia, and, Indeed, abroad, there are people who are glad' that, owing to the prevision of public-minded men. "Brisbane has Its Mount Coat-tha."

The Brisbane River of the 1820s

Brisbane Courier, Saturday 22 March 1930, page 10



RECENT issues of "The Brisbane Courier" have referred with a certain amount of pride to the fact that the P. and O. Coy. have decided to extend the service of their fine steamers to Brisbane. When one considers that less than a century ago men frequently waded across the Brisbane River at various spots between the present site of the Victoria Bridge and Queensport it can be realised that the work of improving the river has been one of great magnitude. Many years ago I was told by a gentleman then engaged in the pilot service at Brisbane that on one occasion at low tide he waded across the river from Queensport to Pinkenba. I had it from an ex-convict that during the years of the convict settlement in Brisbane, that is, after the year 1825, the soldiers when off duty were in the habit - at low tide - of wading about in the shallow pools of water where the Victoria Bridge now stands, and catching large quantities of fish. They caught the fish with their hands, and put them into bags or baskets slung over their backs.

Moreton Bay Settlement, 1835. John Oxley Library.

It was my experience, more than half a century ago, to make the acquaintance of an old man - a time-expired convict - who was one of the first contingent of prisoners in 1825 to quit Redcliffe and ascend the Brisbane River in a cutter. This man was well educated, as was evidenced by the fragments of old manuscripts which he had written and placed at my disposal for perusal. He exacted from me a promise that I would not divulge the contents of his notes so far as they related to the convict system, but their perusal conveyed particulars of some dreadful incidents in the administration of the penal affairs of the settlement.

The writer of those notes was an ardent lover of Nature, and the beauties of the scenery along the banks of the river probably appealed to him in a manner that was lost upon his fellow prisoners. He drew vivid pictures of the scenes of enchanting beauty which unfolded themselves as each successive reach of the river came into view. To use his own words: "It looked as though some race of men had been here before us, and planted this veritable garden of Eden." The convicts were being conveyed to a prison from which possibly the majority would be re-leased only by death, and yet the gate-way to that prison lay between river banks lined with foliage whose beauty it were almost impossible to describe. Skirting the water's edge for miles on each side of the river was dense vine-clad jungle, festooned with the blue and the purple convolvulus, while on the tidal brink grew the beautiful salt-water lily - its flower white as alabaster, its glorious perfume filling the air with fragrance. Kingfishers - some scarlet breasted, others white, all with backs of azure blue - darted hither and thither, while anon the solitude was disturbed by the raucous laughter of the kookaburra.

But the conditions of an earthly paradise were not to continue indefinitely, for in the course of time - particularly after the abolition of the convict system, and with the advent of free colonists in the Brisbane area - there came the inevitable day when

"The sound of the axe
Was heard in the land"-

when the war of devastation - man versus Nature - called by most people the march of progress - began, and the beautiful jungles were swept away. A few giant Moreton Bay fig trees were spared for some years longer. One of these stood in William-street, where now is the residence of Mr. Tom Mulcahy, of the Home Secretary's Department. Another grew on the present site of the Treasury Buildings. Prior to the erection of these buildings that grand old tree stood sentinel over the Chief Secretary's office - a small one-storied building, where some of the most important laws in force in Queensland first saw the hand of the Parliamentary draftsman. It was under the shadow of that old tree that Sir Thomas McIlwraith - then Premier - signed the historical telegram to Mr. H. M. Chester, police magistrate of Cooktown, instructing him to proceed post haste to New Guinea to hoist the Union Jack on the shores of Port Moresby, and to proclaim the annexation of New Guinea in the name of Great Britain. Incidentally it may be stated that McIlwraith's action was repudiated by the Imperial Government, of which Gladstone was the head.

One of the most enchanting spots within the Brisbane area was an immense jungle in the western portion of South Brisbane. It began at about the spot where the Victoria Bridge now stands, and it followed the course of the river right away to Hill End, along the whole length of what is now the Montague-road. This jungle was a tangled mass of trees, vines, flowering creepers, staghorns, elkhorns, towering scrub palms, giant ferns, and hundreds of other varieties of the fern family, beautiful and rare orchids, and the wild passion flower. While along the river bank were the waterlily in thousands, and the convolvulus of gorgeous hue. What posterity lost by the destruction of this magnificent jungle in all its pristine glory only those who were privileged to see it can form any conception. Here at our very door we had a wealth, a profusion, of botanical beauty which can never be replaced by the hand of man. Too late have we recognised the desirableness of conserving these glorious works of Nature. The Lamington plateau and Mount Tamborine certainly are beauty spots, and rich from a botanic point of view, but it is not every city dweller who can get to them. A few weeks ago there appeared In the "Courier" a letter from the pen of Mr. Fred. W. Taylor, dated North Tamborine, February 18, in which these words occur:
"On ascending the mountain (Tamborine) from the Tamborine station one travels through avenues of wonderful scrub, with palm trees waving their proud plumes to the whispering breeze, and there are vast reserves of virgin scrub prolific in orchids, staghorns, &c., on stately forest trees." 
These words would have applied with equal truth to the magnificent stretch of primeval foliage at West End had the early residents of Brisbane exercised sufficient foresight to preserve to posterity that magnificent botanical heritage.

It was during the destruction of this jungle that evidence of the brutal convict system was brought to light, for, amid this primeval grandeur, there were found the skeletons of several human beings, rusted leg-irons still encircling the bones. Obviously the convicts had escaped from the settlement - either by crossing the river on logs or by wading across at low tide. They preferred to die in this veritable garden of Nature rather than continue to live amid all the horrors of the convict system. But while all lovers of Nature must deplore the destruction of these enchanted spots, there is consolation in realising that after all such destruction was the first step in the direction of a free settlement, which displaced the brutal and degrading convict system.'

The State of Brisbane Cemeteries in 1868

By 1868, Brisbane was facing a cemetery problem. The burial grounds that had opened during the 1840s were either getting too full (Paddington) or not used at all (West End). Either way, these places were now in the centre of rapidly-growing urban centres and new cemeteries were needed. These opened during the 1870s at South Brisbane, Balmoral, Toowong and Lutwyche, and the old cemeteries were closed.

The letter below, sent to the Queenslander in 1868 by a concerned citizen, spelled out the problems with management at the Paddington Cemetery a few years before it was finally closed. 

North Brisbane Burial Ground, c.1870. Qld State Library.

The Queenslander, 3 October 1868


SIR: The time has arrived when a determined effort should be made to put an end to the constant fear and dread the citizens of Brisbane have been living in for years past of disease breaking out, in consequence of the general receptacle for the dead still being tolerated in their very midst.

If there is one thing more disgraceful to us as a community than another, it is undoubtedly the present condition and surrounding circumstances connected with the burial of the dead in this city. The cemetery reserve at present in use, is a long straggling piece of land chopped up into tiny divisions, and presents the appearance of a chessboard, only not quite so regular, thus divided in accordance with the various religious denominational differences existing amongst us. To any right-minded person it is revolting enough that these differences should drive men to such extremities as to make it necessary to follow it up, even to the very grave; but this might be tolerable if it resulted in good order being observed in matters relating to burials, but, unfortunately, the very reverse is the case. With but one exception there is but little regard to even decency in their management. The fences are dilapidated, the graves dug without regard to any order or proper depth, the grounds covered over with saplings, shrubs, and weeds, no pathways attended to - in fact they are in the wildest confusion. Added to all this, in the vacant spaces between the several burying grounds, night soil is frequently emptied, and dead cattle left to rot on the surface, as was pointed out only a few weeks ago by you in a local paragraph.

At times the stench from the whole combined is so bad that the wonder is that half the city has not, ere this, been swept off with disease. The knowledge of these facts is not of recent date, for they were known and legislated upon in 1865; but how it is that the then determination of the Government and the Parliament has not been acted upon is passing strange. Mr. Blakeney introduced the bill, and Mr. Herbert, in speaking on the second reading, said, in reference to the last clause, which set forth that the present Brisbane cemetries should be closed at the beginning of the following year, (see Hansard, 1865, p. 33.):
"The last clause of the bill had not been framed too soon. In the Public Health Bill which he was about to introduce, there was a general clause giving the Governor power to close cemetries when they became inconvenient to any contiguous population. This was, however, a general clause; and, under the circumstances of the present case, he thought the North Brisbane cemetries required urgent attention, and that speedy remedial measures were necessary."
A similar testimony was borne to the necessity of thus dealing with the above subject by Mr. Western Wood, in the Legislative Council, on moving the second reading. Although it was found necessary to alter the wording of the clause in respect to the early date first mentioned for the closing of the present cemeteries, from fear that a suitable site for the future cemetery might not be found, and the necessary improvements be effected by the time specified, still it was nevertheless determined that at the earliest possible date they should be closed. Why this determination has not been adhered too is a question in which the citizens are deeply interested.

Since then the sites for cemeteries on both sides of the river have been chosen. Trustees were appointed for that on the South side, who, with very praiseworthy promptitude, sought and obtained the funds sufficient to put a substantial fence round the whole reserve. The cemetery reserve on the north side has been cleared and stumped, and now only requires to be fenced, and trustees appointed to carry out the intention of the Legislature, and thus relieve the inhabitants of this city of the nuisance and cause of dread on this subject. The public having been thus led to regard the speedy closing of the present cemeteries as a thing settled, it can hardly be expected that more than the minimum of care and attention should be bestowed on them, and hence their present miserable condition. Surely sufficient has now been said to induce our city members to take the matter up and see to its final issue.


Cleveland Point (John Dunmore Lang, 1854)

Cleveland was proclaimed as a township in 1850. While it is a quiet suburb today, during the 1850s there was discussion of making this area the capital of the future colony of Queensland. There was shipping access there, but of course Cleveland eventually lost out to Brisbane. The following letter highlighting some of the logistical problems facing Cleveland at that time was written by prominent Queensland development advocate John Dunmore Lang in 1854.

Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 26 August 1854

AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM ('listen to the other side')


To the Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier.

Sir, - Having been one of a small party of the democracy, or, as our fallen friends delight to call us, the rabble and the mob, who made an excursion to the township of Cleveland during the present week, I beg to trouble you... with a few observations on that locality, first, as the site of a town, and secondly, as a rival shipping port to Brisbane and Ipswich.

I have no hesitation, therefore, in acknowledging that the impression produced upon my mind by the view of Cleveland Point and its vicinity was decidedly favourable. The locality is not only well chosen as the site of a town, but is highly interesting and romantic; its principal feature being a point of land, considerably above the water level, projecting into the Bay, and shooting out into its waters a long narrow spit of land, like the bony projection from the head of the fish called the Snapper. This spit of land has evidently been a reef of rocks on which the soil has accumulated on both sides in the course of ages from the washings up of the sea in northerly and southerly gales, the direction of the spit being east and west; and it is equally evident that, at no distant period, it has been one of the numerous islands in the Bay, the narrow neck that joins it to the mainland being scarcely elevated above high water mark. From the point already mentioned, as well as from the narrow spit, the view is singularly beautiful ; the numerous islands, and lightly wooded shelving shores of the Bay, with Moreton Island and the Glasshouses in the distance to the northward, forming a picture on which the eye delights to rest.

Cleveland, 1885. BCC, Brisbane Images.

To the south-ward, the channel between Stradbroke island and the mainland reminded me of Long Island Sound in the Bay of New York, although it is consider-ably wider than that narrow Sound. And one can scarcely gaze on such a scene without anticipating the time when a numerous agricultural population will be settled all along the shores of the Bay, and numerous steam-boats will be paddling along the now silent waters of this in-land sea, and maintaining a perpetual intercourse between the small towns and villages on its shores and the capital of the province.

There is much good land along the shores of the Bay, and as the principal object of my visit was to ascertain the general capabilities of this part of the country for the settlement of an agricultural population, with a view particularly to the cultivation of cotton, I was gratified to find that my anticipations on the subject were much more than realized. Besides the land at present available for agriculture around the Bay, there is a vast extent of land in all parts of it in process of formation, from the gradual deposits of sand and mud from the waters of the Bay in the numerous mangrove swamps that line the coast in all directions ; and there is also much land originally of the same character, now permanently abandoned by the sea, but still so strongly impregnated with saline matter as to be utterly useless at present either for man or beast.

Now it is precisely this description of soil - land on the sea-coast and strongly saturated with salt - that the cotton plant chiefly affects, and that produces the finest description of cotton. And I have no doubt whatever that when this species of cultivation becomes general and extensive, as it is sure to do in a few years hence at farthest, in this district, the salt marshes along the shores of the Bay will be in great requisition, and a numerous agricultural population, cultivating the cotton plant, and exporting the produce in as large quantities as the present export of wool, will be settled all along the Bay. For such a population - in the southern portion of the Bay - a town on Cleveland Point will be indispensably necessary, and such a town will accordingly grow up with the surrounding population as a matter of course. The proprietors of allotments in this township may there-fore rest assured that they will come into use and prove valuable at no distant day.

But to force up a town into premature existence, like a hot-house plant, in any locality whatever, when there is no country population within a moderate distance either to require or to support it, is the grandest absurdity imaginable. But this is precisely what has been attempted at Cleveland, and it only shews with how little wisdom the squatting world, including although it does the veritable aristocracy of the country, is governed.

The first indication of civilization and refinement, in approaching the township of Cleveland, is a brickfield, belonging to a practical brickmaker, who it seems has hitherto supplied all the material of that kind required for the construction of the city of Cleveland; and it is worth mentioning, for the comfort of all who are in any way interested in the stability and permanence of the future city, that the bricks made in that locality are of a very superior quality, and are worth at least a pound a thousand more than those made in certain other localities. At some distance from Mr Maskell's brickfield, (the intervening line of bush-road leading through a beautifully wooded and richly grassed country that might almost be mistaken for the vicinity of a Ducal palace in the old country,) appears the first house in the town of Cleveland. It is an eight-roomed, substantial, commodious, brick-built, verandah cottage, with all the requisite appurtenances of a kitchen, and other outbuildings for the Democracy, on a much lower level towards the Bay ; the cottage itself being situated on the elevated point of land already mentioned, and commanding a beautiful view of the Bay with its fine scenery all round.

But every leaf was at rest, and I heard not a sound from the uninhabited mansion. It looked like one of those haunted houses that one sometimes sees in England, and that nobody will occupy for fear of "the ghost"; and when we reflected that it would probably cost from £1,500 to £2,000 to erect such a cottage, with all its appendages, in Sydney, and that it would rent, if there, at £200 a year, our party named it "Bigge's Folly," and rode on. At short distances towards the Point, we passed two other substantial brick cottages, each intended for two or more families of the Democracy, but both uninhabited like number one. We then crossed the low neck that joins the narrow spit to the mainland and rode onward to the jetty, where we found a whole suite of buildings for the future town, including a well built, substantial, capacious store, to which, as it was quite empty, our party gave the name of "Bigge's Vacuum.' Before the era of the Italian Torricelli, European philosophers used to tell us that "Nature abhorred a vacuum"; but here was a proof of the contrary, the capacious store at Cleveland Point being " a perfect vacuum," and no mistake. It was not very kind, however, in our friend Mr.- when contemplating this uninhabited town, (which really reminded one of the enchanted city in the Arabian Nights' Entertainments), to say that "a fool and his money were soon parted." An Englishman has a right to do what he will with his own ; and if any Englishman who has made his money at the public expense in the easy way the Squatters make theirs, chooses to build an uninhabited town in any part of this territory, what is that to Mr. -? Every Squatter, without exception, has "a preemptive right" to indulge in all such follies without let or hindrance.

Cleveland will never compete as a watering place for Brisbane and Ipswich, or for the inhabitants of the interior generally, with Sandgate, to which the access from Brisbane is so much more easy. Around Cleveland Point the shores of the Bay are generally muddy and the water very shallow ; the tide ebbing a long way out, and leaving a great extent of dry land, from which unpleasant exhalations arise, at low water. I was told indeed at Charleston, in South Carolina, in America, that the exhalations arising from land left dry by the efflux of the tide, did not constitute malaria, and were not prejudicial to health. But it would be quite as well for people visiting the coast either for health or for pleasure, not to make the experiment. At Sandgate, which I happened to visit in 1851, the shore is shelving and perfectly free from mud, the beach being composed in some places of sand, and in others of shingle. It is beyond all comparison a more suitable locality for a watering-place, such as will be indispensably necessary in this warm climate by and by ; and the building ground being situated much higher above the sea level and fronting the widest part of the Bay, it will be still more favourably situated for the sea-breeze. A good road from Brisbane to Sandgate, and the erection of a hotel, for families and invalids from the southern colonies, in that locality, are desiderata at present in this part of the territory.

As to Cleveland being ever a rival shipping port, competing for preeminence with Brisbane and Ipswich, the idea is absurd. Beautiful as the situation confessedly is for a subsidiary town, it affords no protection for shipping, and no facilities of any kind for the loading or unloading of vessels. The Bay, it must be recollected, is not less than sixty miles long, and twenty broad to the northward; and vessels lying off the Point are exposed to the full force both of the northerly and southerly winds that are frequent in the Bay, the only protection being from easterly or westerly winds. Besides, the water is very shallow, and the navigation, from rocks, and sand or mud banks, very intricate. Although I do not pretend to be an authority in such matters, I am confident, from what I saw at Cleveland Point, compared with what I have myself seen effected for the navigation of the river Clyde in Scotland, that it would take at least four times the amount to form anything like a proper harbour for shipping at Cleveland Point that it would take to remove every obstruction at present in the way of the navigation of the Brisbane River, and to render that river navigable for the largest vessels. Besides, there are whole miles of natural wharves already formed along both banks of the Brisbane River, whereas it would take an enormous outlay to construct anything of the kind at Cleveland Point. The Jetty at that Point, if carried out for about a hundred yards farther, towards the deep water, as is proposed, would form a very good landing place, both for passengers and goods, for small coasting steam-boats trading between the Bay and the Capital, although even for such vessels it would scarcely be available in bad weather; for I have been told that in such weather, the sea makes a complete breach over the present Jetty, and if carried out farther, it would only be the more exposed. No doubt if a few millions sterling were to be expended in the construction of a harbour at Cleveland Point, and if a Tram-road were formed between Cleveland and Ipswich, "the Squatters' Mistake," (for that I think ought to be the proper name for Cleveland), might compete with Brisbane as a shipping port. But these ifs are very awkward conjunctions; and the Squatters, who are interested in upholding the character of Cleveland should recollect the sage advice of the authoress of the famous Work on Cookery, "first catch your fish."

These remarks, which I trust will not prove altogether valueless in certain quarters, will doubt-less be received the more willingly by the intelligent and candid reader, when I add that I was myself strongly prepossessed, on my first visit to this district, nearly nine years ago, with the idea that a shipping port and commercial capital for the Moreton Bay country should be looked for either in the northern or in the southern part of the Bay - either at Toorbul Point, opposite Point Skirmish on Bribie's Island, where Flinders found a land-locked harbour, or at Cleveland Point. I am satisfied now, however, that Brisbane is destined to be the future Capital of this district, both commercially and politically; and the sooner the question is set completely at rest, the better will it be for all parties concerned. The blundering and delays of our incapable Governments - for the evil is of old standing, and by no means peculiar to the present regime - in the laying out of the sites for towns, and in the adoption of the requisite measures for carrying out proper plans, in this important particular, when once resolved on, have occasioned incalculable inconvenience and loss to the inhabitants of these colonies, from Geelong, in Port Phillip, to Moreton Bay; and the procedure of the authorities in this respect will remain a monument of folly to future generations. At Maitland there are three towns where there ought only to have been one. So are there also at Geelong, and so are there here. In all the three localities, it would have been perfectly easy for the Government to have formed one noble town in the proper place, and to have prevented the erection of a single house any where else in the neighbour-hood till that town had been fairly formed.

About a hundred and twenty years ago, old General Oglethorpe, a philanthropist of his day, formed a colony in Georgia in America ; and the cities which he formed - one of them a hundred miles up the Savannah River, - are built upon his original plans to the present day; having broad streets with lines of trees along the pathways, and noble squares at proper intervals throughout. What a wretched contrast most of our Colonial cities and towns present to this noble idea, and how indignant our posterity will feel at their forefathers entailing upon them inconvenience and disease from the faulty construction of our cities and towns ! For as the democracy will then have obtained a good government of their own, our posterity will scarcely know how to put the saddle on the right horse in these matters.

I am, Sir,
Yours, &c.,


Brisbane, 17th August, 1854.