Moreton Bay Penal Settlement 1824 to 1842

Established in 1824 the penal settlement at Moreton Bay was a place of secondary punishment to house hardened criminals and recidivist prisoners.

Layout of Brisbane Town, Moreton Bay
Layout of Brisbane Town, Moreton Bay

The first commandant of the new settlement was Lieutenant Henry Miller of the 40th Regiment (1824 to 1825). During the time of the settlement nearly 2400 men and 145 women lived at depots stretching from Stradbroke Island to Limestone (Ipswich), including Cowper’s Plains, Eagle Farm and environs of the present city of Brisbane. They were under the control of military commandants with detachments numbering up to 100 soldiers.

Elevations and plans for conversion of Prisoners' Barrack
Elevations and plans for conversion of Prisoners’ Barrack buildings, Moreton Bay, July 1839

The Moreton Bay penal settlement was closed in 1842 when the Moreton Bay area was opened to free settlement, with Brisbane Town as its centre. The colony of Queensland was separated from New South Wales in 1859.

Many significant records documenting this period of Moreton Bay’s life as a penal settlement are held at Queensland State Archives. Of great interest to researchers is The Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay (Series ID 5653) which identifies each person under sentence, the ship of transportation to New South Wales, occupation and full details of original and colonial sentences.

Extract from the chronological register of convicts at
Extract from the chronological register of convicts at Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, 28 December 1826

A snapshot of convict life is provided in the Book of Public Labour Performed by Crown Prisoners (Series ID 5645), colloquially known as Spicer’s Diary. In 1828 the Brisbane Town superintendent of convicts Peter Beauclerk Spicer compiled a journal describing penal settlement life during that year. Excluding Sundays, the daily entries detail that day’s distribution of labour, numbers of hospital patients, buildings in progress and visits to Dunwich to collect new arrivals or despatch convicts to Sydney.

Register of a daily account of public labour performed by Crown Prisoners at Moreton Bay'
Register of a daily account of public labour performed by Crown Prisoners at Moreton Bay, 26 May 1828 – 15 September 1828

All the architectural drawings of the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement and archival records of Queensland’s convict era have been digitised and made available online. In 2012 these records were officially listed on the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO) Australian Memory of the World Register.

Discover more about the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement at Moreton Bay convict records 1824-1842.

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50 Responses

    1. Although we hold limited records in our collection on the initial convict settlement at Redcliffe, we do have a collection of records on the early convict settlement in the Moreton Bay region, which covers the time period of the initial settlement at Redcliffe and the subsequent settlement at Brisbane. More information on these records is available on our website – The records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office New South Wales however may be helpful for any further research into Redcliffe. You can access records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office New South Wales through the State Library of Queensland and State Records New South Wales.

  1. Jackqueline

    Wonderful thanks for sharing, during this time there was the Mission at Zion Hill (now Nundah) do you hold any maps of this area? My husband comes from Mr Wagner.

    1. Hi Jackqueline. Thank you for your question. I used this web resource to verify dates of the naming of the mission, Zion Hill Mission (1838-1848) , and there is a map sourced from the State Library of Queensland on the web page. QSA does not seem to have any early maps showing the mission in the years prior to 1850, so I recommend you contact the Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying using this email address and request to look at the early survey plans. Kind regards, Joanne.

    1. Peter Lawler

      Was a natural progression following Allan Cunningham’s discovery of Cunningham’s Gap. His glowing reports of the country of the Darling Downs led early Settlers into the area. There was a push in early settlement by the need to avoid being charged for the land by the colonial government of NSW and attempts to define the limit of settlement was ignored.

      The reason Brisbane was set up is that it was believed to be escape proof, by being too far from settlement. However with the arrival of settlers into the Darling Downs and pressure brought by them to be able to use Brisbane as a transport hub ( the story of that is another issue) and the ignoring of the area of prohibition into the Convict area it was seen as an impediment.

      The process of becoming a free settlement was slow and can be better understood as a gradual decline of the convict element and a growth of the free settlers. Gibbs the last commandant fo the convict settlement tried settlers in the Helidon Area for massacring Aboriginals there ( beginning of the frontier wars in Queensland see Frank Uhr report in the RHSQ).

      Your question really deserves a bigger answer but basically, a combination of escapes from Brisbane destroying its reputation as an escape-proof prison combined with the outward growth of early settlement areas meant that the original purpose was redundant.

  2. Kerrie Brown

    I am looking for any records of the soldiers under Millers command during the early settlement of the penal colony. I am descended from Pvt. William Cox and his wife Hannah whose daughter Mary was born soon after their arrival. Any advise of where to look for his possible records would be much appreciated.

  3. kerry Broadbent

    I am looking for information on warders who worked on Saint Helena Island. Many of my descendants worked as warders at convict prison

    1. Thanks for your comment Kerry, we may hold some records that will help with your family history research. It’s best to send research questions to QSA using our online enquiry form so we can provide you with some advice and help you with your research.

      1. Hello – QSA does not hold much in the way of genreal infomration like this but there is a lot of information and a number of books available about life in Moreton Bay, for convicts and free setllers, at your local or state library.

    1. Hello – we don’t have very much specific information regarding the initial convict settlement at Redcliffe. The records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office New South Wales may be helpful for research into Redcliffe. You can access records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office New South Wales through the State Library of Queensland and State Records New South Wales.

  4. Sonya Coghill

    Wild White Men, a book on the escaped convicts whom were rescued by the Natives,some residing with them for over 12 yrs. very interesting indeed.

  5. Valerie Applegarth nee Talbot

    My Grandfather William Talb o was a warder in the early 1900’s at St. Helena Island. My Father Malcolm decided to give himself a day off school and hipped on to the barge that took supplies. When he was walking up from the jetty, an
    prisoner said to Grandfather, “Our boy comes Mister Torbut. “How do you knowBilly?”. “He walks like you.” He was called Billie Burketown because he had murdered a missionary up that way. Grandfather had a lot of sympathy for some of the prisoners. “Poor wretches” he called them. They had never had a chance in life. They made him feathered slippers to go over his boots to sneak up on the bad prisoners. Grandfather Will finished his time when St.Helena closed working at Boggo Road.

    1. Laraine mall (nee Davies)

      My Grandfather, Thomas George Davies drove the launch/barge from Brisbane across Moreton Bay to St Helena Penal Colony sometime after 1913. Your Grandfather possibly knew him. I’m trying to find out any information regarding these trips and if my Grandfather took these provisions in his own launch “Malwa” or he was supplied a boat to take these provisions. Any information would be gratefully received.

  6. allison christian

    I am looking for a journal – say by Henry Miller – that could be used for a middle primary school HASS unit. What I am looking for is several entries around a major event where the writer puts forwards his feelings about how they feel the penal settlement is going, any problems or hopes for the future that they speculate. I like what I am seeing here – but need a primary source for the purpose of the task if this is possible please.

  7. Michelle Melville

    I have been told by a family member that was doing the family tree that she had a historian find out that my relative a convict had a child with an Aboriginal lady, and I have had no hope at all finding out any more information unfortunately and my family member has passed away. Any ideas on finding out this information?

  8. Lisa E

    Hello QLD Archives,

    Is there any chance of obtaining a higher resolution image of the penal settlement map? Or am I able to view this map and take a photo in person? I would like to read the fine detail on the map, which I am unable to on this page.
    Thanks for your help.

  9. Liz Robinson

    I’m interested to find more detail regarding the policies (particularly relating to punishment) as defined in the book by Sir George D’Aguilar. Allegedly this was the source document for military punishment at the time of Moreton Bay colony establishment. As there is a town, a highway, a mountain range and a national park named after him I’d love to know if he made any significant contribution to the settlement! He doesn’t appear to have ever been to Australia.



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