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Queensland’s first penal colony was established on the Redcliffe peninsula in 1824 by a group of soldiers, convicts and government officials.
The year prior to the arrival of the settlers aboard the brig vessel ‘Amity’, Surveyor-General of NSW, John Oxley voyaged to Redcliffe under orders from Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane to find a suitable location for European settlement in Moreton Bay.
Upon their arrival on the peninsula, the brave group of settlers spent the next 8 months constructing numerous buildings at Red Cliff Point – Oxley’s desired location, about 200 metres back from the water.
Amongst the structures were soldier barracks, a jail, the Commandant’s House, and other smaller buildings and houses. Despite making good headway, the increasing scarcity of food and water put a stop to their peninsula settlement plans, prompting them to abandon the site and relocate the penal encampment along the Brisbane River (where the Brisbane CBD now exists).
Though a short-lived venture, it forms the bedrock of Moreton Bay Region's colonial past. Today you can experience Redcliffe history brought to life along the 1.7km Redcliffe Convict Trail. Put your walking shoes on to discover 9 areas of historic interest and listen to Redcliffe settlement stories.
The Redcliffe history walk starts from Redcliffe Jetty, taking you north to Rotary Park and then south-west following Humpybong Creek towards Redcliffe Museum off Anzac Avenue, before sending you east, back towards the waterside to finish off the trail in Sutton Street.
Each stop along the trail is complemented by a Redcliffe Convict Trail audio track accessible online, describing the site’s significance and contributing other illuminating details.
The Amity’s landing site by Redcliffe Jetty marks the beginning of the walking tour. The Amity sailed into Moreton Bay on the 12th of September 1824, anchoring 1.2 km off the Redcliffe shore.
AUDIO TRACK: While you’re here, listen to the Landing Site audio track which includes an extract of John Oxley’s 1823 letter to Governor Brisbane outlining why Red Cliff Point was the best Moreton Bay option for the establishment of a penal colony settlement.
In Oxley’s view communication with those at sea was easy from Red Cliff Point, the chosen spot posed far less landing difficulty than other Moreton Bay landing sites, and the country to the west of the point would be able to communicate with the interior. However, he did stress the site was better poised to become a naval post or depot for stores rather than principal settlement site.
Shaped to represent the sails of the brig Amity, the First Settlement Memorial Wall in Rotary Park commemorates early Redcliffe history. All the first convicts and colonists who arrived on the peninsula in 1824 are listed here.
Aboard the Amity were Oxley, Lieutenant Henry Miller – the newly appointed Commandant of Moreton Bay Settlement, 21 soldiers who brought their wives and families, and 29 convicts whose labour was required to build the new settlement (and who hoped through hard labour they would be gifted a Ticket of Leave).
AUDIO TRACK: Listen to the First Settlement Memorial Wall audio track to hear Commander Miller express his disappointment about the chosen settlement location.
Stop 3 marks the former site of the Commissariat Store, which was eventually moved to Brisbane. The first store was a temporary hut built by the convicts and soldiers located nearby the Amity’s disembarkation point.
The Commissariat Store acted as the procurement and distribution depot for all the colony’s food, seed, tools, timber, clothing and equipment. Due to its precious contents, the store was guarded day and night and its goods tracked by Commander Miller.
Later on, a more permanent store was constructed under the supervision of surgeon and storekeeper, Walter Scott. Upon relocation of the settlement to the banks of the Brisbane River, The Commissariat Store was dismantled and likely rebuilt in Brisbane, taking a little Redcliffe history with it.
AUDIO TRACK: Listen to the Commissariat Store audio track detailing why it was vital to the settlement and hear Governor Brisbane’s instructions to Commander Miller. Another track can also be played, it notes the store’s incomplete construction 2 weeks after landing.
Stop 4 takes you to the source of the penal colony’s freshwater supply – Humpybong Creek.
A handful of men had been charged with finding a freshwater source upon landing at Red Cliff Point while the rest of the crew and passengers stayed on-board the Amity. After 2 days of searching, they returned triumphant having discovered Humpybong Creek lagoons.
AUDIO TRACK: While you’re here, listen to the audio track recounting Oxley’s description of the land in and around Red Cliff Point.
Here, creekside in Corscadden Park is where the settlers discovered a rich source of good-quality clay, right along the banks of Humpybong Creek.
According to Redcliffe history, this is where Queensland’s very first bricks were produced.
Though the penal colony was short-lived, enough bricks were made within its 8 months of existence to construct a blacksmith’s forge and free-standing shop, pave the soldier barracks floors, construct a deep well and build a more efficient brick kiln.
Some of the bricks found their way to the new settlement site along the Brisbane River after Red Cliff Point was abandoned. These bricks were put to use in the relocated Commandant’s Cottage – used to construct its chimney and kitchen, while other bricks were incorporated into the chimneys of Redcliffe’s colonial-era homes.
In these early days of Australian colonisation, brick was preferred to stone as it was viewed as a prestigious building material.
Nearby the Humpybong Creek brickworks also existed a weir which was constructed to dam the creek.
AUDIO TRACK: During your time here listen to the Stop 5 audio track describing how the settlers made and moulded bricks.
Diverge off the Redcliffe Convict trail to Redcliffe Museum, across the creek from Stop 5. A footbridge is within sight of Stop 5 which will take you straight to the back of the museum.
At Redcliffe Museum you can admire remnants of Moreton Bay Region’s past amongst other intriguing, preserved historical items.
The soldier barracks were located nearby Stop 6, at the lower northern section of where John Street now exists.
Uniformed, gun-carrying soldiers were hired to manage inmates instead of prison wardens during the early days of colonial settlement. Redcliffe history attests these men relied on harsh discipline to maintain order. To protect them (and their families) from retribution from disgruntled convicts their barracks was situated away from the convict barracks.
9 of the 21 colonial soldiers brought their wives to start a new life in Redcliffe, 7 of these couples had children, while 2 wives were pregnant upon arrival, destined to give birth at the settlement.
As was common practice in these times, it is assumed the soldiers’ families lived with them in the barracks along with the other 12 unmarried soldiers. Housing them all together was a way for the military to save on costs.
AUDIO TRACK: While you’re here, listen to the Stop 6 audio tracks – one detailing Governor Brisbane’s safety concerns and push for the immediate establishment of the barracks, and another sharing botanist, Allan Cunningham’s observations of the soldiers’ efforts to build a garden.
This site marks the location of the 5-room, pre-fabricated cottage residence of Lieutenant Henry Miller, Commander of the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement.
Despite his wife being heavily pregnant at the time, Miller brought his young family with him on his pioneering journey. Fortunately, fortune favoured the bold on this occasion – his wife made Redcliffe history, successfully giving birth to Charles Morton at the penal colony on 5th November. Charles was the third addition to the family, the newborn brother to Henry Junior and Mars Morphett.
As life became increasingly arduous by early 1825, a plan was formulated to relocate the settlement to Brisbane. The Commandant’s Cottage was dismantled and rebuilt at the new site which today is home to the William Street heritage-listed Government Printing Office constructed in 1874. The strikingly gothic building functioned as the state printery for 120 years.
AUDIO TRACK: Listen to the Stop 7 audio track while you’re here. Cunningham discusses the obstacles faced during the construction of the Commandant's Cottage.
When it came to discipline, the whipping post was an integral feature of every colonial penal colony. Red Cliff Point’s whipping post stood 3 metres tall and existed at this site until 1932.
Whipping punishments were severe, utterly brutal and completely unforgiving – men would be stripped naked and tied to the post, their backs flogged raw for minor misdemeanours and at any small sign of disobedience. No mercy was shown even if men were still healing from previous beatings. Usually, 50 to 100 lashes were met out at a time.
These barbaric proceedings were witnessed by other prisoners to dissuade them from toeing the line. A doctor was present only for the purpose of reviving the convicts should they faint from the excruciating torment. Once revived, the torture would continue.
AUDIO TRACK: Hear local Redcliffe resident, Allen Taudevin, recall what tangible remnants of Redcliffe history he discovered buried at the base of the whipping post.
Stop 9, where the Ambassador Hotel now stands, is where the Convict Barracks is thought to have been erected by the prisoners themselves.
Quarrying stone was time-consuming so very thick timber slabs were used as a substitute. The prison cells were 2m tall, 3.3m wide and 5m long.
A brick floor, believed to have belonged to the original convict barracks kitchen, still exists as part of Ambassador Hotel’s flooring, with more Red Cliff Point colony bricks thought to have been used in the hotel’s construction.
AUDIO TRACK: The Stop 8 audio track is a replicate of the Stop 1: Landing Site audio track.
Before heading home, take a detour to the John Oxley Memorial located on the bayside of Marine Parade between Redvue Apartments and Mono Komo Hotel. The obelisk memorial commemorates Oxley’s landing and also features a tribute to Matthew Flinders who led the first circumnavigation of Australia.
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