Moreton Bay Prison’s past

Ground plan of Prisoners' Barracks, Moreton Bay, 1838
Ground plan of Prisoners’ Barracks, Moreton Bay, 1838

Congratulations to Queensland State Archives achieving its 50 kilometre mark. All that storage – all those stories. Should Moreton Bay’s firstborn white child Amity Moreton Thompson’s application for land be selected? Despite plaintive ‘Choose me, Choose me’ urgings, a more comprehensive document has won my heart.

The Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, listing recidivists sent here between 1824 and 1839, contains background information on well over 2200 people. The register is divided into a comprehensive but incomplete index, one hundred pages of main folios describing each person by original conviction and colonial trial and finally, if the volume is turned upside down, a description of each person by native place, age, height, hair, complexion and eye colour. The main section contains a number followed by name, ship to NSW, trial place and date in Great Britain, and, after 1826, the offence plus the length of sentence and trade or occupation. The facing page details the court, place and date of trial in NSW, offence and sentence and a remarks column which helpfully indicates when the prisoner left the settlement, absconded or supplies a death date. As each batch of residents was added, the addition was prefaced by arrival date and coastal vessel which brought each shipload to their place of exile. Such comprehensive material on each convicted individual breathes life into these historic pioneers.

Dr Jennifer Harrison (historian)

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