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University of Queensland

Presented to

The Fryer Memorial Library of

Australian Literature


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Dimity Dornan is a qualified speech pathologist and
wcwks in private practice in Brisbane. Her special interest is hearing-inq>aired pre-schoolers and their parents.
She has recently returned from a Churchill Fellowship
in Canada where she studied the treatment of deaf childroi. The Petrie Family is her first book.
Denis C r ^ lectures in history and media studies at the
University of Central Queensland. His first book, The
Press in Colonial Queensland, was published by UQP in
1989. He is also the author of Academia Capricomia: A
History of the University of Central Queensland and is
currently researching a history of the popular press in

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Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

T>mit\)T>oYmn'T>enis Cr\)[e
drawings by
Sue Hayne and Peter Dornan

University of Queensland Press

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

First published 1992 by University of Queensland Press

Box 42, St Lucia, Queensland 4067 Australia
Dimity Dornan and Denis Cryle 1992
This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing
for the purposes of private study, research, criticism
or revievsr, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no
part may be reproduced by any process without written
permission. Enquiries should be made to the publisher.
Typeset by University of Queensland Press
Printed in Australia by The Book Printer, Victoria
Distributed in the USA and Canada by
International Specialized Book Services, Inc.,
5602 N.E. Hassalo Street, Portland, Oregon 97213-3640

Cataloguing in Publication Data

National Library of Australia
Doman, Dimity, 1945The Petrie family: building colonial Brisbane.
Includes index.
1. Petrie family. 2. Queensland - Genealogy. 3. Brisbane (Qld.)
Genealogy. I. Cryle, Denis, 1949-

. II. Title.

ISBN 0 7022 2346 8

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The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of

Richard (Dick) Joseph Crist. Without his encouragement,
research, wisdom and literary heritage this book would not
have been attempted.

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Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family



Moreton Bay
Bimya country
Wide Bay
Petrie Bight: The early years
Partnership: The rise of the Petrie firm
Tarang-giri: The Bribie Island Aboriginal
10 Town and council: Years of achievement,
11 " Petrie's Pocket Borough'': The northern

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Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


Sydney, 1836
Map of Moreton Bay showing settiement prior to 1842
Map of Andrew Petrie's exploration 1837-1841
Map of Andrew Petrie's coastal exploration to Wide Bay,
Map of Albion - Clayfield area
following page 98
J. D. Lang
Scots Church, Sydney
Andrew Petrie
Sydney Town c. 1831
The Australian College
fames Watt
Andrew Petrie's portable writing desk
Portable writing desk showing sloping writing area
Dr Ludwig Leichhardt
Allan Cunningham
Mt Beerwah
John Petrie
Residence of John Petrie
Walter RoUo Petrie
James Davis
Henry Stuart Russell
Mary Petrie's work box

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Staff of John Petrie

Andrew Petrie's residence and workshops
Brisbane 1844
Miss Selina Petrie
Andrew Petrie
Thomas Petrie
Elizabeth Petrie (nee Campbell)
William Pettigrew
Desk at which Constance Petrie wrote Tom's reminiscences
RoUo Petrie
RoUo Petrie under tree
Minnie Petrie
Constance Campbell Petrie
Dr Hobbs' property
Newstead. House c. 1950
John and Andrew Petrie Jnr
Bulimba House 1905
St John's Pro Cathedral 1850
Cleveland Court House c. 1871
Group including Miss Isabella Petrie outside Petrie Bight
Aborigines, Brisbane District 1869
Aboriginal bag presented to Tom Petrie
King Sandy or "Keri-WaUi"
Brisbane photographed from Bowen terrace
Aborigines, Brisbane District 1890
Aborigines, Bribie Island 1894
Aborigines presented with blankets outside GPO
Aborigines, Bribie Island 1890s
Queen Street 1859
Mayor and First Aldermen of the City Council
Wickham Terrace 1865
John Petrie's offices
Great Fire 1864
Joint Stock Bank, Brisbane
Bank of Australasia c. 1909

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Royal Brisbane Hospital 1878

John Petrie and John Sinclair
Petrie employees outside ParUament House c. 1880
GPO 1889
George Barney Petrie's inlaid table
Family headstone
Dimity Doman and family headstone
Supreme Court c. 1890
Customs House c. 1891
Andrew Lang
John Petrie & Son
Sir Thomas Mcllwraith
Brisbane floods 1893
Brisbane floods 1893 (Alice Street)
Brisbane floods 1893 (Albion)
Constance Campbell Petrie

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The authors particularly wish to thank: Mr Peter Doman,

who assisted in many special ways including drawing the
maps and some line drawings. Mrs Sue Hayne, who executed
the majority of the line drawings. Michelle McDonald for her
contribution to the preparation of the manuscript. Dr Jennifer
Harrison, research historian, who assisted considerably with
the genealogy research.
We would also like to thank the following people: Mr Robert Longhurst and staff of the John Oxley Library; Queensland State Archives; Mrs Marie McCuUoch, research officer
for the Queensland Family History Society Inc.; Queensland
Parliamentary Library; Mitchell Library (NSW State Library); Municipal Libraries of Queensland; Fryer Library;
The Queensland Family History Society Inc.; Royal Historical Society of Queensland; Queensland Women's Historical
Society; Catholic Archdiocesan Archives; Mrs M. Haynes,
Church of Latter Day Saints, Genealogy Department; University College of Central Queensland; National Trust; Newstead House Tmst; Mr John Biggs; Mrs Rae Bovil; Mrs E.
Boulton; Mrs Margaret Cameron; Mrs Jean Casswell; Mrs
Marjorie Crist; Mrs Hazel Cryle; Mrs Libby Connors; Mr
Sean Cousins; Mrs Amelia Cotton; Mrs Aileen Cryle; Mr
Mark Cryle; Mr Rod Dornan; Dr Raymond Evans; Mr Jim
Feinges; Dr Rod Fisher; Mrs Helen Gregory; Mr Mark Hastings; Mrs Eunice Hood; Sr M. Julius; Mr Ron Knaggs; Mr
Gerry Langevad; Mrs J.J. Leadbeater; Mrs Jean Murray; Mr
Mac Offner; Dr Ross Patrick; Prof. John Pearn; Mr Andrew
Donald Petrie; Mr RoUo Petrie; Dr Lyndall Ryan; Mr John
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MacKenzie-Smith; Dr J.G. Steele; Mr Gordon Tilly; Prof.

John Tyrer; Prof. John Ward; Mr and Mrs Bmce Watson; Mr
Stuart Weir; Dr Ronald Wood; Petrie family members; Relatives, friends and acquaintances of the authors who have assisted in many ways.
Note: The Family Tree was compiled using information
from family members, monumental inscriptions, the Queensland Govemment Births, Deaths and Marriages Index.
Information on births, deaths and marriages was extracted
also from Old Parish Registers in Edinburgh and Fifeshire,
and augmented with Census data and monumental inscriptions.

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In late 1830, the Reverend John Dunmore Lang, a young

Presbyterian clergyman, departed the convict colony of New
South Wales on one of many return trips to the United Kingdom. Since his arrival in Sydney as a missionary six years earlier, Lang had established a small Scots church in the
notorious Rocks area of the township. During this period, he
had become convinced that the system of transportation of
convicts to New South Wales had done little to remedy the
reputation of the population for immorality. An evangelical
Protestant of unusual tenacity, Lang was to become a leading
advocate of free emigration to eastern AustraUa in the following decades. His visit of 1830-31 coincided with important
changes in imperial land and immigration policy. The land
grant system which had created a wealthy eUte in the Australian colonies was to be replaced by sale at auction. At the
same period. Emigration Commissioners, appointed in London, began offering concessions of 20 pounds per family for
town immigrants willing to make the long voyage to Australia. Lang's private effort concentrated on his native Scotland and more especially on the recruitment of skilled
tradesmen from Edinburgh, Greenock and Glasgow, where
wages were considerably lower than in London.
By 1830, Scottish urban centres were experiencing social
and economic problems associated with industrialisation.^
Lang, however, was less concerned with promoting pauper
emigration than with selecting craftsmen to construct a Presbyterian College in Sydney. Upon reaching London in early
1831, he wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies,

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

Viscount Goderich, setting out a detailed scheme for "the migration of industrious married mechanics" to New South
Wales and requesting that a substantial loan of 1500 pounds
be advanced by the British govemment to cover the cost of
passage.2 Originally, he intended to sponsor twenty to forty
pauper children but this part of the plan was not carried out.
Lang was well aware that free emigration to the Australian
colonies had been hampered by the failure of most new arrivals to complete their work contracts. Consequently, he confined his recruiting activity to respected Presbyterian
employers and churchmen.^ On the basis of personal recommendations from these contacts, Lang selected a group of
fifty-two Scottish mechanics and their families who were willing to accompany him to Sydney.
In mid-1831, Andrew and Mary Petrie, with a family of
four children, travelled from Edinburgh to the port of Greenock where their long sea voyage would begin. A native of
Fifeshire, Andrew Petrie was the second son of Walter Petrie, a weaver from Kettle parish and Margaret Hutchison of
nearby Markinch.^ Independent by nature, he had migrated
from the village of Kingskettle to Edinburgh in search of
work. It was here that he met and married Mary Cuthbertson, the only daughter of Joseph Cuthbertson and a woman
two years his senior, in December 1821.^ During the first five
years of their marriage, Andrew and Mary had three sons,
John, Andrew and James, but remained restless and moved
residence on a number of occasions from Canongate (1822) to
Toll Cross (1823) and Portobello (1825).^ Now in their early
thirties, they were a spirited couple, strongly built and adventurous - in short, well suited to Lang's colonial requirements. Andrew Petrie had spent four years in Edinburgh
working for a prominent builder and architect known to
Lang. In the passenger inventory,^ he was listed as a carpenter along with seventeen other men, most of whom were single. Colonial experience would reveal that Andrew was also a
skilled stonemason (nineteen of Lang's recmits were listed as
masons) and had at least a rudimentary knowledge of surveying and architecture. Other trades represented among Lang's

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mechanics included cabinetmakers, blacksmiths, coopers

and plasterers.^
Using the loan money which Goderich had made available,
Lang had chartered the Stirling Castle, a vessel of 350 tonnes,
and set out to remedy problems of hygiene and demoralisation associated with long sea voyages. He stipulated that
water-closets and portholes be provided as well as full adult
berths for most of the thirty children on board. This latter decision may explain why Lang did not proceed with his simultaneous proposal for pauper immigration. Among the Stirling
Castle children were four Petrie boys: John (aged 9 years),
Andrew (7 years), Walter (5 years) and Tom, who was a baby
of 4 months. James, who was born between Andrew and Walter, died at an early age. He was not the last child which the
family was to lose. The motivation of their parents to emigrate must have been strong, for the risks of infant mortality
on the long journey were considerable. On average, one in
five children perished during the voyage.^ The Petrie family,
more fortunate than most large free emigrant groups, survived without loss. However, four other children on board the
Stirling Castle were to succumb to outbreaks of disease. In
the case of Andrew and Mary, it would appear that child mortality was a "push" factor in emigration rather than a deterrent, for their third son James had died twelve months before
the sea voyage.^
After leaving Greenock on 1 June 1831, the Stirling Castle
headed south towards the African coast. According to the
skipper. Captain James Fraser, the first month of the journey
was This situation altered abruptly in the first
week of July. At 7 degrees north of the equator, an outbreak
of measles claimed five lives. Lang's precautions averted further losses but the vessel was placed in quarantine on arrival
at the Cape of Good Hope. A highlight of the journey were the
two marriage services, one of which, J.D. Lang's, was celebrated before departing the Cape. His wife Wilhelmina, a devout and educated Presbyterian, was well suited to Lang's
ardent temperament and proved to be a supportive companion during his long colonial career. A cousin of the Lang fam-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

ily, she was travelling to Sydney as a missionary when Lang

made her acquaintance. In addition to instilling resolve into
his flock and courting Wilhelmina, Lang used the lengthy sea
voyage to draw up plans for the Australian College in conjunction with the master builder, George Ferguson. Initially,
four buildings of simple stone construction were planned for
the Jamieson Street site. Andrew Petrie, armed with knowledge of architecture and surveying, may well have taken part
in these deliberations. Although the Retries and Fergusons
hailed from different Scottish cities, the two families became
closely acquainted during the trip. The Fergusons had no
fewer than seven children, some of whom befriended the Petrie boys. That the Petrie-Ferguson connection continued
upon arrival in Sydney serves to confirm Petrie's elevated
status as a skilled worker within the Stirling Castle group.
Mary Petrie, still nursing her youngest, Tom, befriended
wives of the clergjmien and tradesmen. She also made the acquaintance of EHza Fraser, the wife of the captain, whose extraordinary survival was pubUcised five years later when the
Stirling Castle was wrecked off the Queensland coast.
For the staunch Presbyterians of the Stirling Castle, the
idleness and demoralisation which accompanied emigrant
voyages to Australia were to be scmpulously avoided. In addition to family Bible readings and strict observations of the
Sabbath, male passengers devoted a considerable portion of
their time to study and self-improvement. A Scottish preoccupation with moral and intellectual enlightenment transformed the Stirling Castle into a floating Mechanics'
Institute. 12 The four clergyman recmited by Lang for the
Australian College presided over these sessions as instructors. Five days of the week were spent studying aspects of
arithmetic and geometry which would assist skilled craftsmen. With many of his fellow workers, Andrew Petrie had attended evening classes at institutions like the Edinburgh
School of Arts. Moreover, the Scots, unlike English and Irish
emigrants, benefited from a solid parish system of elementary schooling. 13 The five-month sea joumey provided an opportunity to improve their skills. Along with mathematics.
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Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

poHtical economy was offered twice a week during the final

leg across the Indian Ocean. As many as thirty mechanics
tackled Adam Smith's enlightenment text, the Wealth of Nations. Smith's observations about the division of labour in advanced societies and the growth of specialised crafts would
have strengthened the "elite" mentality among his emigrant
readers. According to the Wealth of Nations, the superior
wages commanded by artisans were justified by their lengthy
periods of apprenticeship and training. Based on "natural
laws" of commerce and individual self-interest. Smith's political economy appealed to entrepreneurial Scots and emigrants who were keen to estabUsh themselves as independent
When the Stirling Castle berthed in Sydney Harbour on
Thursday, 13 October 1831, Lang's immigrants were warmly
greeted by the press. Amid considerable excitement at the
prospect of substantial free emigration, the Sydney Gazette described the newcomers as "the most important importation
the colony [has] ever received" and provided a full passenger
list in its editorial column.i^ Even the Sydney Herald, rarely
generous towards Dr Lang, confessed that "we are not a little
proud that, by the persevering energy of our respectable
townsman, so large a body of respectable emigrants have
come to our shores" .i^ Lang's own Account of Steps Taken in
England publicised the venture locally and estabhshed his
reputation as an immigration pioneer. On the basis of the Stirling Castle experiment, Lang submitted proposals for the establishment of a Board of Emigration to the new Governor,
Richard Bourke, and appeared as a witness before the Select
Committee of 1834 into immigration. His achievement lay
primarily in dispelling colonial pessimism about the ability of
indentured immigrants to complete their contracts on arrival.
Previously, most had adopted the convict practice of drinking
their wages in the public houses which proliferated in Sydney. According to Coghlan, male immigrants had paid back
no more than 2 per cent of their advances and single women
nothing at all.i^ The success of the Stirling Castle contribution lay in a distinctive Scottish blend of skilled craftsmanProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


ship and staunch moral education. Before the passengers disembarked, Lang took the precaution of circulating a temperance pledge to which a significant number, including Andrew
Petrie, were signatories.!'^
The Retries arrived to find an impressive harbour sheltering a township of 16,000 people, predominantly of convict origin. A scattered settlement stretching 2.5 kilometres from
Dawes Point along George Street, the Sydney of 1831 was
still dominated by govemment buildings dating from the
Macquarie era. Beyond these were windmills and white brick
houses covered with plaster and roofed with shingles. Andrew Petrie would have noticed the distinctive sandstone
which was readily available for local construction. One unpleasant legacy of intensive small-scale quarrying around
Sydney was the "brickfielders" - clouds of thick powder
which beseiged householders during the dry season. The contrast with established Edinburgh was striking. Sydney
streets were dusty and ill-lit. Cases of drunkenness and petty
crime abounded in the Rocks area where the Scots church
was located. Reporting the assault and robbery of an unsuspecting Stirling Castle immigrant near King's Wharf, the
Herald noted ironically that "he may be considered to have
paid his footing on landing at Botany Bay" .i^
The new immigrants lost no time in purchasing materials
for the erection of the Australian College. Located in Jamieson Street in close proximity to the Scots church, the site was
quickly cleared and prepared for the construction of four
buildings which would house the different faculties of the institution. Each of the faculties was to be led by the Presbyterian clergymen who had accompanied Lang. Within a week
of their arrival, the Herald stated that Jamieson Street had
been cleared from George to Prince Streets and that the college was proceeding with the "utmost rapidity".i^ Four attractive two-storey buildings, three of which survived for
more than a century, were planned for the college. Under the
terms of their contract, Petrie and his fellow workmen were
guaranteed wages of 2 pounds for a six-day week, with the
condition that they repay their passage money in weekly deProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

ductions from their eamings. The negotiated deductions

were as much as 1 pound, or 50 per cent of their wages.
Under this arrangement, single tradesmen were able to pay
back their 25 pounds passage money in the space of six to
eight'months. As a married immigrant with a large family,
Andrew Petrie incurred a heavier debt of 75 pounds and
could expect to continue repayments for eighteen months or
as long as two years. By January 1832, Petrie, setting aside
half of his wages, had retumed 8 pounds to his employer.^o
In the 1830s, free immigrants from Britain began to perceive the colonies as a "workingman's paradise", with the
prospect of high wages and increased social mobility. Skilled
tradesmen Hke those of the Stirling Castle stood to benefit
most by immigrating. Yet even members of this group were
to face periods of adversity. Only two-thirds of the families in
Lang's vessel completed the payment of their passage
money. At 2 pounds per week, wages were good by Scottish
standards, but these were offset by the high cost of colonial
living. As one prominent Sydney contractor stated later in the
If his family be very large and young, he (the skilled immigrant)
cannot do more than live. House rent and food are very expensive and water must be purchased. The expense of living is double what it is generally throughout Scotland and the greater part
of the Northern Districts of England.^i
J.D. Lang, eager to publicise his efforts, was inclined to
overlook these material difficulties in his emigration writings.
Family accommodation required 10 shilhngs a week or half of
Petrie's net wage. The alternatives to cottage accommodation were the seedy Rocks hotels and boarding houses which
the Presbyterian immigrants viewed with distaste. Lang, in
his History of New South Wales, wrote how his "married men
rented suitable cottages for their families wherever they
could in the neighbourhood and the unmarried either boarded
with them or with such other famihes of their own class as
they could" .22 In the early years, the Presbyterian newcomers depended upon mutual support and co-operation. Sixteen
of the Stirling Castle tradesmen purchased allotments of land
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


in Sydney and entered into partnership as a constmction

firm.23 Petrie's partnership with George Ferguson, the master builder of the Australian College, enabled him to take on
private projects and complete his repayments to Lang over an
eighteen-month period.
Like most of Lang's business ventures, the Australian College project was surrounded by controversy. His success in
procuring a loan for his own project attracted considerable
criticism from Sydney emancipists who had been unable to
proceed with the Sydney College for want of funds and labour. The Stirling Castle workmen were soon implicated in the
controversy surrounding their employer. One of Lang's
publicised motives in introducing skilled labour was to displace convict tradesmen, some of whom were commanding
wages of 7-8 shillings per day. By intervening in the Sydney
labour market, Lang hoped to reduce their wages and intemperance. The prospect of competition from free immigrants
aroused considerable resentment among indigenous workers. As Lang recorded:
The Scotch mechanics per the Stirling Castle were for months
after their arrival regularly assailed from the houses of the lower
class of Emancipists as they passed to and from their work at the
breakfast and dinner hours with such observations as these "There go those bloody emigrants who have come out to take the
country from us!"24
Despite the recommendations of the Bigge Report ten
years earher, Sydney's native bom remained heavily concentrated in the building trades where wages were lucrative.
Emancipists (ex-convicts) had, during the Macquarie period,
achieved prosperity and passed family businesses on to their
sons, some of whom had risen to managerial positions in the
convict estabUshment.25 Unlike the Stirling Castle group,
however, emancipist tradesmen had not inherited a strong
sense of ritual and tradition associated with the British
trades. There were few building manuals or guidelines available to them. Moreover, the status of the colonial workforce
was based on monetary considerations rather than craft elitism. During the 1830s, a relatively prosperous decade, ten-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

sions between the native and emigrant groups fluctuated according to the number of annual arrivals in the colony. In
1832, when as many as 560 free emigrants arrived, the native-born expressed open hostiUty towards the "new chums",
most of whom would remain in the township rather than seek
employment as rural labourers.
Amid local criticism, Lang placed regular advertisements
in the press announcing the establishment of an educational
college along the administrative lines of the Scottish high
schools. The Australian College offered an elementary education for boys at a cost not exceeding 8 shillings per annum.
Subjects were divided into four faculties (English, Geography
and History; Mathematics and Accounting; Classics; and Science), each under the direction of a competent instructor .26 In
addition to separate classrooms for each subject, teachers
were to be provided with accommodation at an additional expense to Lang of 700 pounds each. These dwellings were also
intended for college boarders, but Lang's financial problems
delayed their construction. During the Retries' seven-year
stay in Sydney, John, Andrew and possibly Walter attended
the Australian College. Whether their parents paid the extra
fees for classics and science is unclear; however, the older Petrie boys received a sound basic instmction in English, Writing, Book Keeping and Arithmetic under the supervision of
such men as Henry Carmichael and John McGarvie. Despite
the difficulties of its building program, the Australian College
educated some 500 Sydney pupils in its first five years. Subsequently, its Hmited finance and faciUties fostered discontent among the teaching staff, some of whom were to defect
to rival institutions.
A further contribution by the early staff and supporters of
the Australian College was the foundation in March 1833 of a
Mechanics' Institute (later called the School of Arts) for the
dissemination of useful knowledge among the working
classes. To this end, scientific equipment was to be purchased and a substantial subscription Hbrary acquired. From
the first, the influence of Scottish Presbyterians was preponderant for, in addition to the leadership of Lang and Car-

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



michael, one-third of the Stirling Castle workmen became

members of the new institution. Governor Bourke was sufficiently impressed by its aims to approve a grant of land and
provision of premises on Church Hill.27 A pubUc meeting convened in the same month at the Sydney Court House attracted 200 people. Andrew Petrie, who was elected to the
founding committee, took an active part at this gathering and
successfully moved that George Ferguson, the college master
builder, be appointed Auditor of Accounts.28 Subscriptions
were 12 shillings per annum and life membership 5 pounds. A
significant concession of 50 per cent was offered to the sons
of members.
Andrew Petrie, along with other Stirling Castle workmen,
intended that the instruction provided would be of a practical
and elementary nature. However this was not to be the case.
Within a year of its foundation, the School of Arts was largely
run by a middle-class management and pubhc lectures catered predominantly for this group rather than the interests
of Sydney tradespeople.2^ Even though Lang had diplomatically withdrawn from its leadership, the emancipists viewed
the new institution with suspicion. Correspondents to the
Monitor criticised the Scots community for its clannishness
and suggested that the School of Arts had been founded
solely for the welfare of their own countrymen. The association of the School of Arts with the AustraHan College during
the first year of its existence was sufficient to arouse hostility
from the Sydney College faction. Ethnic factors also played a
part. The Scottish immigrants had benefited from a superior
school system in their homeland and exhibited higher literacy
levels than their Irish and English counterparts.30
The preoccupation of the School of Arts with temperance
among the membership highlighted social differences between sections of the Sydney working classes. Free emigrants who, like Andrew Petrie, had signed a pledge to
restrict their use of spirits were among the institution's
staunchest supporters. The task of setting a sober example to
the local populace was problematic, given the significance of
rum and other spirits in the colonial economy. Prior to Gover-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

nor Macquarie's administration (1809-20), rum had been the

main form of currency in Ueu of wages. In 1831, the Sydney
liquor trade was still the largest source of import revenue, rising ahead of population growth.3i To cater for this thriving
market, sixty licensed hotels were trading in Sydney, while
twice that number sold sly grog to soldiers, civilians, convicts
and fringe-dwelling Aborigines.
During the 1830s, Presbyterians, with the support of Govemor Bourke, launched a moral crusade against drunkenness.32 Education and temperance were becoming closely
associated as an increasing number of church and private
schools sought to instil sobriety and discipline into their
youth. Whether this was wholly successful in the case of Andrew Petrie's family is unclear, especially for the Moreton
Bay years when his sons mixed with emancipist tradesmen
and publicans. Nevertheless, Andrew himself remained a
staunch teetotaller. In addition to the moral example set by
skilled immigrant males, wives and mothers were expected
to exercise vigilance over their famiUes. Lang's preference
for family immigration was closely geared to these moral concerns. At this period, "currency lasses" (first-generation native-born women) and female immigrants were attracting
considerable attention from middle-class exemplars. A growing tendency among native-bom girls to withdraw their domestic labour in favour of marriage encouraged the
authorities to subsidise the emigration of working-class girls.
In order to shelter the newcomers from pubUc houses and
prostitution, respectable families like the Retries were expected to board and employ female servants.33 Mary's background suggests that she was as committed to moral
improvement as her husband. In 1833, Mary gave birth to a
sixth child, Isabella, the first and only Petrie girl of her generation. By contrast with the older boys, Isabella did not receive
formal schooling in Sydney and had to rely on domestic and
rehgious instmction imparted by her mother, in the home.
Sydney provided the Retries with a closely-knit Scottish
community. To supplement his limited income from the constmction of the AustraUan College, Andrew entered into
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



partnership with George Ferguson. Under Governors Darhng and Bourke, free emigrants were encouraged to compete
for govemment contracts which had formerly been undertaken by convict workmen.3'i By 1833, the government
Lumber Yard, which housed the skilled convicts was broken
up and the site was in demand for the newly-formed School of
Arts.35 Lang, in his History of New South Wales, recorded that
Stirling Castle families, by pooling their resources, were able
to purchase town allotments and operate a stonemasonry
business for private and public buildings. Although neither
Ferguson nor Petrie was Hsted as a stonemason in the passenger inventory, it is clear from the erection of the Australian
College and subsequent projects that both were proficient not
only in carpentry but also in stonework, which was favoured
for pubUc buildings. Good stonemasons and quarrymen, especially from the Scottish east coast, were in local demand.
Competition from emancipists, who resented the newcomers, was intense. Many of the former were Irish ex-convicts
who had httle in common, socially or culturally, with the
"new chums". The govemment, preoccupied with the economy, was not inclined to embark upon grandiose schemes.
Most of the 9000 pounds expended on constmction in 1833
was for repair work to existing buildings.3^ The scope for
skilled craftsmen was thus restricted. Lang's optimistic reports on the rapid success of his immigrants must be treated
with some caution. Petrie appears to have taken eighteen
months to pay back his passage money, during which period
work at the Australian College had slackened. By September
1833, when Ferguson and Petrie dissolved their partnership
by mutual consent,37 he was free of his debt to Lang and preparing to strike out alone in business. Yet the government's
ambivalent policies on convict labour and the emancipists' resourcefulness proved decisive obstacles to Petrie's entrepreneurial ambitions during the Sydney years. Instead he chose
to enter govemment service and became attached to the military establishment.
Andrew Petrie's prospects were complicated by his family
responsibilities. Single men, who were preferred in most coProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

lonial occupations, could live more cheaply and enjoyed

greater mobility. A lengthy petition signed by Petrie and
other free immigrants complained to the Secretary of State
that skilled Sydney tradesmen were receiving no more than 6
shilhngs a day while the cost of living was three times that
back in England.38 However, opportunities did exist in govemment departments for free immigrants, who were increasingly preferred to convict clerks. Andrew's connections with
the School of Arts may have been instrumental in securing
him a position as clerk in the Commissariat under the direction of Major James Laidley. In this capacity, he visited many
convict sites and was able to demonstrate his talent for energetic organisation. His wage was still 6 shillings a day, but
this was more regular than seasonal contracts. Petrie's appointment brought him into direct contact with the convict
labour force at the Hyde Park Barracks and with Emancipist
tradesinen who competed for govemment contracts. By
1834, the Commissariat, which distributed rations to the govemment gangs, had been merged with Ordinance, a construction unit responsible for the maintenance of miUtary,
police and convict buildings.
On the vexed issue of convict reform. Governor Bourke
considered that road gangs around Sydney would prove more
effective than the terrors of secondary transportation. Of the
secondary detention centres, Norfolk Island and Moreton
Bay had become infamous for the arbitrary cruelty practised
on convicts who were shipped there for a second offence.
Prisoners awaiting this ordeal were initially confined on a
hulk anchored in Lavender Bay, Sydney Harbour. On Goat
Island, situated near the Balmain peninsula, they were forced
to work in irons under strict supervision. Aborigines convicted of capital offences in the magistrates' courts were also
sent to Goat Island. Petrie's supplementary appointment as
Convict Superintendent on Goat Island during 1834-35
brought him into contact with mral blacks and convicts
deemed incorrigible by the miUtary.39 Although this responsible position eamed him only 2 shillings more per week, Andrew gained invaluable experience for his years at Moreton
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



Bay. He emerged as a competent if controversial manager of

convicts with a more liberal approach than most of his contemporaries. Like Governor Bourke and J.D. Lang, Petrie beheved that convict discipline should be firm but not
excessive. British and colonial critics were arguing with increasing effect during the 1830s that the excesses of the
penal system bmtalised both gaoler and gaoled. The appointment of a civil overseer on Goat Island, instead of a soldier,
was symptomatic of changing official attitudes. Under
Bourke's regulations, convict superintendents, like private
settlers, were legally responsible for the welfare of prisoners
imder their supervision.'*'' Shortly after Petrie's appointment,
a schoolmaster was attached to Goat Island for the instruction of convicts. Under Bourke, prisoners were taken off the
hulk and housed on the island albeit in cramped quarters. Escape was difficult because of the steep cliffs and dangerous
currents surrounding the island. The most enlightened reform which occurred dm^ing Petrie's term as Superintendent
was the decision to remove the leg-irons of prisoners quarrying stone on the island.
The duties performed by Andrew Petrie, as enumerated
by Bourke to Glenelg, included the inspection of huts, fencing, provisions and irons, as well as clerical duties.'^i In addition to his practical experience, Petrie brought to the position
strong views on temperance and work. Gambhng, trafficking
and indecent language were strictly forbidden in the iron
gangs, while the Superintendent was expected to read prayers during his Sunday visits. Conditions for the convicts remained wretched, with a high incidence of scurvy and disease
aggravated by relentless toil, inadequate rations and poor accommodation. Floggings were used to curb insolence or laziness. In 1833, an estimated 5800 floggings were
administered to the male convict population of New South
Wales.^2 During Petrie's term as overseer, persistent reports
of brutality to assigned country servants encouraged the Sydney press to investigate discipline on nearby Goat Island. One
Gazette journalist who visited the island in November 1834
was surprised when informed by Andrew that floggings of up
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

to thirty lashes were by no means a daily occurrence.^3 jjjg report of local penal conditions was less lurid than that of other
Sydney newspapers. Petrie informed the same source that,
with the exception of one recent incident, he had not condoned flogging on the island during his three-month term.
Using his contact with the Commissariat, Andrew was able to
organise a daily issue of vegetables to the 150 convicts who
were under his supervision.
Petrie's views on convict disciphne attracted both praise
and criticism from the local press. The Herald, anticipating a
return to the mihtary supervision of convict gangs, criticised
civilian overseers and singled out the Commissariat practice
of allowing convicts free time after 3.00 p.m. as inimical to
good order. The rival Australian subsequently rejected the
Heralds allegations of inefficiency.^^ When the Gazette
printed complaints about the Goat Island gangs, Petrie wrote
to the paper defending both himself and his workers. In correspondence, he was at pains to estabUsh that "the work performed by the gang under my superintendence has been
equal in every respect, both in quantity and quality, to that
performed by any other set of men in government employ" .^^
Petrie's unshaken belief in moral reform through physical
labour echoed the Presbyterian views of J.D. Lang. Andrew
considered convicts, even the most fractious of them, to be no
less redeemable than their fellow men.
Prior to his dismissal in December 1835 for his humanitarian views on discipline, Andrew also acted as Overseer of
Works on the island.^^ ^ s early as 1826, the western side of
Goat Island had been designated as the site for a gunpowder
magazine. Under Andrew's direction, convict gangs quarried
local stone for the construction of the arsenal, 30 metres long
and 10 metres wide. Its walls were to be of hewn sandstone
and its vaulted ceiling of stone, with a tiled roof.'*'' Time has
since vindicated Andrew's views about his workforce, for the
Goat Island complex, completed after his departure in 1838,
remains. In spite of heavy work commitments, Andrew Petrie continued to take an active part in pubhc affairs. He became a spokesman for respectable Sydney emigrants who
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considered themselves victimised by the monopoly which

earher settlers enjoyed under the old land grant system. A detailed petition signed by Petrie and eighteen other emigrants
was despatched to Glenelg in December 1835.^^ The authors
of the petition indicated their common aspiration to purchase
land allotments outside Sydney with a view to farming. The
appeal of agriculture to the Stirling Castle group is unclear,
but the dociunent does articulate in detail the frustrations and
difficulties of free emigrants during the 1830s. Support for
land grants to free settlers can be traced to J.D. Lang, who
was to pioneer this system for small capitaUsts by the middle
of the century.
One reason given by emigrant families for their inability to
purchase land was the high cost of living in Sydney. This expense left them with little additional savings. Wives and children shared the vicissitudes of the new life. Andrew's official
duties meant that management of the domestic economy was
almost entirely left to Mary Petrie. Profiteering, whether it
be in spirits or foodstuffs, had long been condoned at Botany
Bay. Even water was sold by the bucketful and only made
available to those users who continued to purchase it during
winter months. Shopping was done at market stalls supplied
by farms near Sydney. Mary Petrie's transactions with unscrupulous traders would have been difficult enough without
having to budget for the sharp price increases which occurred
in late 1835. Meat was expensive with beef and mutton selling at 7-8 pence per pound. Salt butter was 2/6 per pound and
Indian corn 10 shillings a bushel. Other basic items like tea
and bread were less expensive, but the family's diet was unbalanced, with little protein available.
The tasks of purchasing, preserving and preparing food
for a large household, as well as attending to her small children, occupied much of Mary's time. One option for established families was to employ domestic servants, whose
labour would free their mistresses for shopping and visiting.
Convict women from the Parramatta Female Factory were a
cheaper source of labour than free emigrants. The Retries'
habit of surrounding themselves with elderly and neglected

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

servants at Moreton Bay may have been practised in Sydney,

although economic necessity and close support from the
Presbyterian community made this less essential. For the
children, a nurse or nanny was the most urgent requirement.
By 1835, when Mary gave birth to her seventh child, Wilham,
the Retries appear to have moved away from Lang's Scots
Church in Jamieson Street and were living close to the city
centre. They remained c'.ctive in Presbyterian affairs, attending the new church in Kent Street where the resident clergyman was a fellow Stirling Castle immigrant and teacher, John
McGarvie. Mary Petrie, a strongly built woman, participated
actively in choral work and church affairs. The church provided her with social and moral support, especially in cases of
personal loss. The deaths of young children through diphtheria, dysentery or scarlet fever were constant sources of anxiety for colonial women. Mary's children had survived the
ordeal from Scotland better than most. Since that time, she
had given birth to two more children, Isabella and William.
Isabella, who was two years older than William, bore the dark
robust features of the matemal Cuthbertsons. William, like
Andrew Jnr, was less physically robust than the other boys.
He survived an outbreak of measles during 1835, but was
never a healthy infant.
During 1835, Andrew Petrie's services as a builder were in
growing demand as construction work quickened in and
around Sydney. In the new wave of public building, 62 000
pounds was allocated by the government to major works projects. The arrival in December of Major George Bamey, a
distinguished military engineer, marked a significant tuming
point in Andrew's career. Bamey proved to be a more forceful and supportive employer than Major Laidley. Under new
civil service arrangements, Barney assumed dual control of
civil constmction and defence works.^^ A new Ordinance Department was created, to which local civil officers were recruited. Official sources do not reveal the precise nature of
Andrew's appointment, but it is probable that he was recommended to Bamey by other Stirling Castle immigrants who
served in the same department. Petrie's working relationship

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with Bamey was in some respects comparable with that

which existed between himself and J.D. Lang. Both of these
benefactors could be strict and overbearing yet, in private,
they respected Andrew's industry and paid him tribute in
later years. For his part, Petrie shared the restless energy exuded by both of these men, and acknowledged their contribution in a variety of ways. Shortly after leaving Sydney for
Moreton Bay, Petrie named his last child "George Barney"
after his superior. Subsequently his first grandson was
named "Andrew Lang".
Andrew's reputation with convicts and his experience on
Goat Island proved indispensable to Barney, who considered
that the system of control established by the military over
convicts had been a failure.^'' The new Colonial Engineer intended upgrading Fort Denison and constructing new military barracks at Paddington. However, before undertaking
these projects, he initiated work on a new Govemment House
and gaol at DarUnghurst. Goat Island, where Petrie had
served, was designated as a major stone quarry for this purpose. Stone from the island was in such demand that as early
as 1826, fears were expressed that it would be quarried away.
For Barney's purposes, large stone slabs up to 10 metres in
length were transported by boat to the mainland. Petrie's
knowledge of conditions on the island and his navigation
skills, presumably acquired both in Scotland and Sydney, recommended him for such a task. His managerial talents were
also in demand for engineering works which Bamey initiated
to shape Circular Quay and build a tunnel and reservoir for
Sydney's water supply.^i Most of this constmction work was
performed cheaply by available convicts. At the same period,
projects like the Newcastle Breakwater and the dredging of
the Parramatta River were revived in what was to be the
most vigorous spate of colonial building since Macquarie. Petrie contributed to a range of Barney projects and demonstrated his practical skills as an organiser, surveyor and
On the basis of Andrew's contribution, Barney recommended him for the position of Clerk of Works at Moreton
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

Bay. A repository for secondary offenders, Moreton Bay was

regarded with impatience by Bourke as an expensive and inefficient outpost. With the convict system undergoing rapid
change, it was anticipated that at some time in the following
decade, the settlement would be broken up and its inmates
returned to Sydney. Although the evil reputation of Moreton
Bay had since been eclipsed by excesses on Norfolk Island, it
remained an uninviting destination for free emigrants. From
the point of view of Ordinance, lack of regular repair work
had reduced Moreton Bay to a semi-dilapidated state. As Barney confided in a London despatch:
In reference to the Outstations viz Bathurst, Moreton Bay and
Norfolk Island, they are too isolated to be brought into any District, neither can the work be done by Contract. It becomes necessary to retain a Foreman of Works . . . but I do not propose as
yet to place him upon the permanent Establishment. At Moreton
Bay, an Officer of the Line holds the appointment of Superintendent of Works, but... it is essential that a practical man should
be employed.^2
In addition to practical experience, Petrie's reformist attitudes to secondary offenders influenced Bame/s decision.
Captain Foster Fyans, the Moreton Bay Commandant, acknowledged in correspondence with Bamey that the service
would benefit by the appointment.^3 pyans had previously
been responsible for cmshing a convict revolt on Norfolk Island before transferring to Moreton Bay and was keen to retire from service with a grant of land. He had done httle to
improve physical conditions at the settlement and left for
Port Phillip before Andrew and his family arrived.
The motivation for the Retries' decision to leave Sydney
invites speculation. After a period of six years, most Stirling
Castle immigrants had bought land and settled. For Andrew,
the lure of new building resources was a probable consideration. He knew that Moreton Bay and the Clarence supphed
Sydney with much of its finest cedar and softwood. He had
gained some experience with convicts, but knew less about
the Aborigines who were still a formidable group in the outside districts. As a builder, he may have employed individual

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Aborigines on a casual basis but the prospect of wild blacks

was a daunting one for most white families. Mary's reaction
was probably mixed, as it had been in Edinburgh six years
earher. She was leaving behind the Presbyterian community,
but also the memory of her recently lost son, William, buried
in April 1837 at only 2 years of age.^ For the older boys,
John, Andrew Jnr., and Walter, there was undoubtedly a
sense of excitement as they boarded the steamship James
Watt for the lengthy coastal voyage to Moreton Bay.


Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Moreton Bay

In early August 1837, the Retries left Sydney on board the

James Watt for the isolated penal settlement of Moreton Bay.
It was the first steamer to enter the Bay, carrying its passengers only as far as Stradbroke Island. Here they remained for
the night, before starting on the final leg of the sea journey to
Brisbane. The new Superintendent of Works began his
northern career immediately with an inspection of the Pilot
Station at Amity Point. He also visited Dunwich, where the
island's store and lumberyard were located. In addition to the
task of maintaining convict buildings in a reasonable state of
repair, Andrew Petrie was to play a part in the local timber industry. At Dunwich, by now a decUning outpost, he supervised the loading of timber for Sydney by convict workmen.
Much of the cedar had been cut from the banks of the Brisbane, Albert and Logan Rivers by convict gangs under arduous conditions, and unceremoniously dumped on the island.
By 1842, when the penal colony was disbanded, most of the
best cedar in the district had either been pit sawn and sent to
Sydney or lay rotting on local river banks.i
Its commercial potential aside, the arrival of the first coalpowered steamer at Moreton Bay aroused the curiosity of the
coastal Aborigines. Tom Petrie subsequently recalled how
the entry of a steamer into the Brisbane River caused considerable trepidation among the Turrbal tribe.2 In 1837, ten
clans of between fifty and a hundred members inhabited the
islands and catchment area of the Brisbane River where food
was relatively plentiful. At the Pilot's Station on Stradbroke
Island, a measure of co-operation had grown up between conProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Moreton Bay


victs and the local tribe, based upon the exchange of rations,
alcohol and Aboriginal women.3 Aboriginal men, sometimes
uniformed, manned the pilot boats and were also in demand
at the main settlement for their physical strength and boating
At daybreak on the following morning, the Petrie family
and their possessions were loaded aboard a pilot boat on the
final leg of their joumey. The profusion of mangroves which
concealed the Brisbane River entrance had made its detection difficult for new arrivals. Surveyor-General Oxley had relied on information from castaway timber cutters when he
first explored the Bay in 1823. The Retries' trip, accomplished in mild August conditions, was not without charm, although it proved more protracted than anticipated. The
hazards of navigating the channel and sand bars necessitated
an eight to ten-hour river voyage for all arrivals at the mainland settlement. At the mouth of the river, they passed Fisherman Island, a popular fishing spot for the Aborigines.
During his later excursions into Moreton Bay, Andrew Petrie
would invariably camp here and supplement his food supply
with fish generously provided by the Aborigines.
For the younger Petrie children on board, Tom (6 years)
and Isabella (4 years), the lengthy confinement became tedious. The older boys, John (15 years), Andrew jnr (13 years)
and Walter (11 years) may well have taken their turn at the
oars. Keen sportsmen, they later excelled at rowing and
spent much of their time on their father's boats and punts.
The scenery of the Upper Brisbane reaches rekindled
Andrew's interest in the native forests. He became an authority on the trees of the region and instilled a lasting enthusiasm
for the subject in his sons. During an earlier ascent of the
river, Oxley had noted in his journal how:
The Scenery was particularly beautiful; the country on the Banks
alternatively hilly and level but not flooded; the Soil of the finest
description of Brushwood land, on which grow Timber of great
magnitude and of various Species, some of which were unknown
to us, among others a magnificent Species of Pine was in great
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Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Moreton Bay


The species which impressed Oxley was the Hoop Pine

{Araucaria Cunninghamii) which towered above the dense
river foliage. Petrie, hke Oxley before him, was well aware of
its commercial potential for ships' masts and building materials. Indeed, the presence of pine stands had been an important factor in deciding the location of the settlement at
Redchffe and subsequently at Brisbane. Significantly, the
first export to Sydney in 1825 had been a consignment of pine
Delayed by the tides, the pilot's boat finally discharged the
sleepy passengers on Queen's Wharf below the Commissariat Stores. The Retries' first thought was of accommodation,
a scarce commodity in a penal settlement lacking public
houses or an immigration depot. The only quarters available
were in the Female Factory, which had been recently vacated
by the women prisoners. The decision to remove the convict
women beyond the main settlement to Eagle Farm was both
an attempt to revive agricultural production and to segregate
them still further from the male population. Despite persistent precautions, soldiers and officials had been able to
breach the security of the Factory.^ Conditions had been
overcrowded and unsavoury in its two stone rooms, where
some thirty to forty convict women and their children had engaged in laundry work and in the manufacture of small items
like soap and caulk. Andrew, who was eventually responsible
for demoUshing this building during the constmction of the
Queen Street GPO described it as "a terrible hole".^
The Retries were forced to stay at the Factory for a period
of eighteen months, during which time Mary fell pregnant
and gave birth to their last child, George. Mary was no
stranger to harsh colonial conditions. Tom, their fourth son,
was only 4 months old when they boarded the Stirling Castle,
while William, their fifth son, had died in Sydney. The removal of women convicts to Eagle Farm and the termination
of female assignment meant that Mary was deprived of domestic help during this critical time. Her isolation from female company would have been complete had it not been for
the families of a minority of miUtary officers. She was re-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane




Female Factory: elevation, plan, and section. The main building was erected
about 1829, and enclosed with a fence. The fence was replaced by a wall after Dr
Cowper and two others broke into the factory for a drinking party with some of
the women. From Plan 26 (1838), Moreton Bay Plans, Queensland State Archives.

pelled by the morbid curiosity which invariably drove this

group to witness public hangings and punishment. Mary's
stay at the abandoned Factory undoubtedly strengthened her
humanitarian beliefs. According to Thomas Dowse, a free
immigrant who reached Moreton Bay in 1840, floggings were

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Moreton Bay


Picture of Moreton Bay Settlement Area after arrival of Petrie Family.

1 4 BARN

still administered near the Factory entrance,'' an assertion

supported by Isabella Petrie in her reminiscences.^
The sight which greeted Andrew Petrie on his arrival in
Brisbane in 1837 was not a prepossessing one. The main settlement consisted of only nine buildings of variable condition.
Situated along the north bank, near present-day Wilham and
George Streets, were the Commissariat, the Commandant's
Cottage and the Military Barracks amid substantial gardens.
On the west side of what would become Queen Street were
the Hospital, Surgeon's Cottage, Lumber Yard, Convict
Superintendent's Quarters and the imposing Convict Barracks. The latter (now the site of Lennons Hotel), constructed
ten years earlier by Logan had housed up to 900 convicts at
one time. By 1837, only 150 male convicts and seventy females remained in and around the settlement, for the admin-

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^ ^^ ^

fn-M-wn--n-n^n ?"
iliiiiiuil ii.MHi>iglifliB|iuiiii|fuiu|Uii,




Individual buildings at Moreton Bay Settlement in 1837. Adapted from Susannah Evans' Historic Brisbane and its Early Artists (Brisbane: Boolarong 1982)

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Moreton Bay


istration had decided to dismantle the penal estabhshment. A

solid stone building which later served as Queensland's first
Parliament House, the Convict Barracks dommated the settlement and determined the future layout of upper Queen
Andrew Petrie's engagement as Foreman of Works was a
civil appointment and marked the beginning of the transition
to free settlement. Petrie remained, nevertheless, a govemment official, like the military officers, and not a free settler.
The focal point of his responsibilities was not the Barracks
but the Lumber Yard on North Quay. Here convicts awaiting
the expiry of their sentences were engaged in practical trades
alongside volunteer ticket-of-leavers from Sydney. Their
tasks ranged from boat-building and carpentry to the manufacture of clothing, boots and nails, for the settlement was expected to be self-sufficient. Shortly after his arrival, Andrew
was supervising some fifty workers at the yard, approximately one-third of the settlement's workforce.
One of Petrie's early assignments was to examine the
windmill situated on the hill above the settlement. Under the
administration of Logan (1826-1830) and Clunie (1830-35), it

Lumber yard, north and west sides of the quadrangle: elevations and plans. This
was the soldiers' barracks until 1831. From Plan 28 (1838), Moreton Bay Plans,
Queensland State Archives.

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

had been converted to a treadmill and was employed as a severe form of punishment for infractions of penal disciphne.
According to the Reminiscences. Andrew discovered that the
mill had been incorrectly assembled and rectified the error,
thereby relieving the convicts of their burden.^ This statement has been contested, however, by govemment historian
E.G. Heap, who points out that the windmill was operational
during most of the 1830s. 1 In 1836, prior to Petrie's arrival,
it was repaired after being struck by lightning. The workman
responsible was George Webb, a convict mechanic sent from
Sydney for that purpose.n In the absence of a competent resident mechanic, Petrie may well have decided to overhaul the
windmill, which continued in use sporadically until the end of
the decade.
Whatever his role in repairing the windmill, Andrew Petrie was dissatisfied with the calibre of his early convict workmen. At the end of 1837, he wrote to his Sydney superior.
Major Barney, complaining of the inefficiency of his workmen and requesting that three house carpenters, one ship's
carpenter, two brickmakers and four surveyors be despatched from Sydney after providing proof of their training. 12
Petrie justified his request on the grounds that the settlement
buildings were in a dilapidated state and asked that a further
twenty-five labourers be placed under his charge. Although
Barney appears to have acceded to his request, support from
Sydney was far from automatic, given the impending closure
of Moreton Bay as a penal settlement. An energetic officer
and exacting workman, Petrie was soon to be caught up in
faction fighting between rival Sydney departments. Locally,
he and his family occupied a somewhat anomalous social position between the close-knit mihtary hierarchy and the convict population.
In the course of his early duties, Petrie also visited Limestone (Ipswich), Dunwich, Logan River and Amity Point to
report on work and buildings. In order to distract his young
family from the oppressive atmosphere of the Factory and
the settlement, he would sometimes combine work and leisure. When Andrew went on tours of inspection to Eagle
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Moreton Bay


Farm, the family accompanied him on the old convict spring

carts which conveyed laundry for the female prisoners.i3 On
another occasion, Mary and several of the children journeyed
with him in a whaleboat to Ipswich, where they visited the
Thornes and remained several days.i^ According to Henry
Stuart Russell, George Thorne, a former mihtary officer, and
his wife Jane were generous hosts to their infrequent
visitors. 1^ Thome subsequently built the first hotel at Ipswich. It was during one of his early river trips from Brisbane
to Ipswich that Andrew placed beacons on various rocks and
shoals to assist navigation.i^ The detailed knowledge of the
river which Petrie and his sons acquired would prove a valuable asset in later years.
In Brisbane, Petrie was able to consohdate his authority by
befriending the new Commandant, Major Cotton, who had
replaced Fyans in late 1837. Cotton had previously served at
Hobart as acting engineer and architect. He was quick to recognise Petrie's diligence and entrusted him with the leadership of several official excursions beyond the settlement. One
such journey to Bribie Island was later recorded by Andrew
Petrie in a letter of 1861. i^ After persistent reports from Aborigines that shipwrecked seamen were living with blacks at
the north of the island, Cotton despatched Petrie with a rescue party to the site of the wreck. Petrie, who hoped to salvage its cedar cargo, was in a quandary for, although he was
keen to lead the party, he was not under Cotton's jurisdiction
but under Colonel Barney's. Reassured by the Commandant
on this point, he set out for the island in the government cutter Regent Bird with two boat crews and four soldiers.
Like most early explorers, Petrie was dependent upon precise information supphed by Aboriginal guides and convict
runaways. The name Bribie, first recorded in 1836, was derived from an early convict who frequented the island.i^ In
this instance, Petrie was accompanied by Samuel Derrington,
who had hved among the Bribie Island blacks until his recapture a few weeks previously. Derrington assured Petrie that
he could speak the languages of the northern coastal tribes
and had travelled as far north as Port Curtis during his

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

eleven-year stay in the bush. The Bribie Island tribe spoke a

dialect of the Kabi language group. Tom Petrie subsequently
acknowledged their aggressive reputation and considered
them to be a separate tribal group (the Ngunda). Then- affiliation was not with the Brisbane blacks, who feared them, but
with those of the north coast, Fraser Island and Mary River.
In the following decades, Bribie Island was to become the
starting point for intensive coastal exploration by both Andrew and his son Tom.i^
On the evening of their departure from Moreton Bay,
Petrie's party reached the wreck and attempted a landing.
Conditions were rough and dangerous. After they succeeded
in gaining the beach, high winds threatened to capsize the
boats and blow away their tents. Petrie was critical of the
soldiers' conduct during the crisis and was alarmed shortly
afterwards to find his sentry asleep in close proximity to a
group of Bribie blacks, some of whom had helped themselves
to the party's axes. The disappearance of the shipwrecked
crew may have aroused Andrew's suspicions. Fearing the intention of the Aborigines, Petrie spent an uneasy night on the
exposed beach. The foUowmg day, the expedition retreated
to the mainland side of the island (Pumicestone Passage) to
avoid the squalls. Andrew sounded the channel at the south
end of the island to a depth of five fathoms and named Point
Toorbul on the adjacent mainland. He was yet unaware that
another Kabi group, the Ningy Ningy, and not the Turrbal
tribe, occupied this coastal strip as far south as Sandgate and
Redcliffe. Subsequent trips strengthened Petrie's conviction
that Toorbul Point would prove a suitable site for a township
and pastoral port.20
Petrie's unauthorised expedition met with sharp disapproval from Colonel Bamey, who disputed Cotton's authority
to delegate tasks to any officer of his own department. Barney issued a reprimand to the Foreman of Works and cancelled his pay for the period of absence from the settlement.
Cotton, who considered his own authority to be paramount,
was adamant that Petrie's services were required for salvage
and investigative operations.21 After a protracted dispute.
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Moreton Bay


Governor Gipps himself was forced to intervene. In May

1838, he wrote disapprovingly to Cotton:
The Foreman of Works (Petrie) is an Ordinance Officer acting
under the orders of the Commanding Engineer and he is employed and paid not for purposes of penal discipline but for superintending the construction and repairs of Public Works or
Buildings. The Commanding Engineer (Bamey) has the undoubted right to stop his pay when employed otherwise than on
his duties and therefore the Commandant should not take him
from them except in emergencies.22
In spite of these reprimands, Petrie's mobile occupation
and friendship with Cotton encouraged further exploration
beyond the settlement. One excursion to Ipswich, undertaken in the same year, ended in near disaster when their
small party became lost in the bush. At Petrie's instigation
they had continued the joumey overland from Ipswich to
Redbank Station and on to Oxley Creek, where a gang of convict sawyers was employed. When the party failed to return
to the Brisbane River as planned, the boat crew retumed to
the settlement and sounded the alarm.23 A repetition of the
Logan episode in which the Commandant had been killed by
the blacks was widely feared. Petrie, whose curiosity had
been largely instrumental in their becoming lost, made
amends by ascending a vantage point at present day Belmont
and using the river to re-establish their location. This point,
some 310 metres high, was named Mt Petrie at the same time
as nearby Mt Cotton. According to the Reminiscences, Andrew cut his name into a tree at the top of Mt Petrie but this
relic was destroyed inadvertently at the turn of the century.
Andrew Petrie's early excursions, undertaken at the risk
of official censure, bore a curious resemblance to Tom's later
escapades around the settlement. The bureaucratic wrangling which was the feature of his father's five-year period in
service helped to shape the anti-Sydney and anti-government
anecdotes of the Reminiscences. In mid-1838, when tensions
peaked between Bamey and Cotton, Petrie received a directive from Sydney informing him that his position was purely
temporary and did not, in consequence, entitle him or his

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

family to rations under the Ordinance regulations .2'* Instead

he would be expected to pay for maize issued at the Commissariat. Sporadic food shortages were intensified by the
withdrawal of convict labour from Moreton Bay. The failure
of the wheat crop in 1838 meant that maize remained the
local staple, while delays in shipping from Sydney created
shortages of such essentials as tea and sugar. Tom wrote
that, on one occasion when a vessel was overdue, his father
called for volunteers among his men to work the treadmill,
"as it was calm weather and the mill was slow in its work" .25
Humorous anecdotes in the Reminiscences about the poor
quality of provisions fail to conceal the serious prospect of
malnutrition and disease, especially when supporting a large
family. If starvation was no longer the real threat as it had
been for the convicts, the absence of a balanced diet was nevertheless an ongoing problem. The lack of basic items like
milk, eggs and butter was critical for young infants.26 The
death of William, the Petrie's seventh child, could only have
heightened parental concern about nutrition and hygiene. At
Moreton Bay, the maize meal staple was supplemented by locally grown vegetables and fmit. Tom attributed the family's
continuing health to his mother's inventive recipes, though
their fare was undoubtedly predictable. At first, Mary's improvising virtues in the kitchen were constrained by the limited facihties. Lacking their own house and garden, the
Retries could not yet guarantee themselves a steady supply of
market produce and were forced to rely on the goodwill of the
Commandant and the officers.
The knowledge, shortly after their arrival, that Mary was
pregnant brought food and accommodation matters to a
head. George, the fifth surviving son, was bom during the
twelve-month sojourn at the Female Factory. A resident surgeon, Dr Ballow, and Mrs Ballow, acting as midwife, were
available at the settlement. Hospitalisation was far from
being accepted practice at this period and Mary may have
preferred the privacy of the Factory to the crowded convict
hospital at North Quay. Built in 1826 by convicts, this small
building had housed many victims of the Logan era. Despite
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"F=i -i I r J

'< . / ^ ^

' " J1



p j r . " *c y . / r



r - b in-r-LTU j. ^^


Foreman of Works' quarters (Andrew Petrie's house): elevations and plan. Petrie
supervised the erection of this house, and continued to live there after the closure
of the penal settlement. From Plan 54 (1838), Moreton Bay Plans, Queensland
State Archives.

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

a decline in child mortality by 1838, the risks of contagious

disease were still considerable. The North Quay building remained the only hospital for Brisbane and the Darling Downs
until after Separation.27
The question of permanent accommodation for his family
preoccupied Andrew Petrie throughout 1838. By this time,
he had surveyed a river site beyond the Factory and was supervising the constmction of a substantial dwelling. The precise date of completion is unknown, but the family appears to
have occupied the new stone premises by the end of the year.
The cottage, overlooking Petrie Bight, was closely modelled
on the Surgeon's Quarters, with double brick walls and two
rooms to the width of the house. The floor was elevated and
the walls 12 foot 6 inches (4 metres) high with cedar doors
and windows.28 Its constmction was not without incident.
One of the workmen was speared by Aborigines sheltering in
the thick bush along the Brisbane Riverbank. In addition,
Petrie's strategic position as Foreman of Works invited criticism that he was diverting government resources and labour
for his own purposes. A confrontation which occurred in the
Lumber Yard during October was indicative of resentment
against him in some quarters. While supervising at the Yard,
Petrie was challenged by Barrack-Sergeant Lowrey, who,
after abusing him in front of the workmen, accused him of
using government materials and men for the construction of
his house. Petrie, who had a quick temper, retorted that
Lowrey was "a dammed har" and ordered him out of the

The accusations were serious: Petrie was forced to defend

himself in writing to the Commandant and to Sydney. Fuelhng the controversy were items of furniture for the new
house - a work box and writing desk, looking glass and picture frames. Lowrey contended that these had been built on
the Petrie Bight premises by William Booth, a Yorkshire convict serving out his term at the Lumber Yard. Booth's visits
to the Petrie home had aroused the suspicion of military officials. In a letter to Cotton, Petrie explained these visits and
their purpose at some length:
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Moreton Bay


With regard to the (furniture) articles, I have to state that being

fearful lest my son, who has attained the age of 16 might imbibe
habits of idleness from want of some employment, I was desirous
that he should learn the cabinet-making business. Afraid of putting him at the lumber yard and having his morals corrupted, I
procured your sanction for prisoner Booth (cabinet maker) to repair to my quarters during his own time (at noon and when the
business of the day was over).3o
Petrie was exonerated shortly after when Cotton confirmed the arrangement in correspondence with Sydney.3i
Andrew's letter, unlike the Reminiscences, confirms his misgivings about his sons attending the Lumber Yard and reveals his association of manual labour with moral
improvement. In his acclaimed work. The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes has shown that homosexuahty was common
among local convicts who, imlike the military, did not enjoy
clcindestine access to convict women.32 Petrie's arrangement
with Wilham Booth to visit overnight has also been used by
historian Francis O'Donaghue as evidence of relative leniency in the settlement.33 However, the fact that military officers seized upon it in an attempt to discredit Petrie suggests
that it was a relatively rare occurrence. Moreton Bay,
Hughes reminds us, was among the harshest of the secondary
pimishment centres. Like his predecessors. Major Cotton
was a strict disciplinarian who, after leaving Austraha, was to
play an active part in severely suppressing Sepoy rebelhon in
Cotton's twenty-month period at Moreton Bay marked the
beginning of a transition from penal establishment to free settlement. By the end of this period, the convict estabhshment
was to be phased out and only a maintenance party retained
to help surveyors prepare land for sale. In his mid-term of office. Cotton was instructed to forward a report to the govemment on the eligibility of Brisbane as a future sea-port town.
Alert to these developments, Petrie participated actively in
the framing of the 1838 Report, recalling how:
We carefully surveyed the banks of the river, principally downwards, and afterward came to the conclusion, framing our report
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

accordingly, that there was no part of the river and its banks
more favourably suited for a town than where the City stands.35
As new Commandants came and went, Petrie's vigorous
activity around the settlement continued unabated. His
knowledge of the river and surveying experience were invariably respected, though not always heeded. Yet the basis of
his reputation as the "Father of Brisbane" was laid in this
transitional period. Confident of Brisbane's commercial potential, Andrew Petrie drew up a series of town plans for
North Brisbane. 36 He had shrewdly aligned the frontage of
his Petrie Bight house with the main track from the settlement (Queen Street), confident that it must one day become a
major thoroughfare.

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Bunya Country

The decision to abandon Moreton Bay as a penal colony was

accompanied by a decline in building activity. Andrew Petrie
thus found more time.for short exploratory trips beyond the
settlement. For, as he explained to his Sydney superior. Colonel Barney: "The Pubhc Works are not anything retarded
for my being away . . . as I point out the work for each man
. . . during my absence and having a steady overseer there
never has been any complaints." i
Such statements, which earned him occasional reprobation from Sydney, could scarcely conceal Andrew's personal
liking for exploration and adventure. Petrie's official justification for his excursions was largely commercial, for the
northern districts of New South Wales were becoming a valuable source of timber. His objective was to locate and identify
forest giants which covered the river banks and open ranges
to the north of Moreton Bay. According to Archibald Meston,
some 600 species of Queensland woods were identified in the
first fifty years of white settlement.2 Complementing the timber trade was a flourishing botanical industry between Britain and the colonies. In addition to cedar planks, which were
shipped south from Moreton Bay and the Clarence, new plant
specimens were conveyed to Sydney and subsequently to England where they were eagerly sought at auction. In 1841,
after a series of trips to the Glasshouse Mountains and the
Maroochy River, Andrew Petrie dispatched a shipment of
forty-four Pine plants to Sydney, and reported the discovery
of several new pine species. The most impressive of these
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

was the Bunya Pine, which he proudly named Araucaria

When Ludwig Leichhardt came to Moreton Bay and
visited Petrie, he shared his host's admiration for the "noble
and gigantic Bunya", whose "umbrella-like head overtowers
all the trees of the Bush" .3 J.D. Lang visited Moreton Bay in
1842 to gather material for his emigration work, Cooksland,
and was supplied with valuable information from his former
employee. After enumerating the various species of Moreton
Bav Pine to Lang, Petrie meticulously described the features
of the Bunya-Bunya Pine, optimistically indicating its commercial potential:
This tree grows to an immense height and girth. I have measured
some ordinary sized trees, 150 feet high, and about iava feet diameter. They are as straight and round as a gim barrel. The timber grows in a spiral form, and would answer admirably for ships'
masts of any size. This Pine bears a great strain transversely, one
of its superior qualities; also there is no sap-wood nor knots in the
barrel, the lateral branches being never above two or three
inches in diameter and growing from the outer rind of the tree.^
However, Petrie also recognised that the Bunya tree (Aboriginal "Bonyi") was highly prized by the Aborigines, for it
bore cones as large as a man's head and provided a plentiful
supply of large nuts. Bunya nuts were not part of the blacks'
regular food supply, although they were sometimes buried or
ground into meal. Rather, they were a dehcacy which occurred triennially in a restricted area of southeast Queensland, 100 kilometres in length and between 25 and 26 degrees
in latitude. This region, first penetrated by whites during the
years of penal settlement, was known as the "Bunya
country". Harvesting the cones was traditionally the work of
select individuals who scaled the massive trees with the aid of
vine slings. An early Woodford settler, Charles Archer, considered that the blacks, by eating the nuts before they ripened, prevented the number of trees from increasing.^ One
hundred and fifty years after its discovery by whites, the
Bunya Pine continues to invite speculation because of its distinctive scarring and environment.^ Petrie's laborious quest
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Bunya Country


for Bunya roots took place in the forests between Caboolture

and Maroochydore. On the basis of pioneering excursions,
undertaken during 1839-41, Petrie gave his name to the
Bunya and made out a convincing claim to have been "the
first white person who risked his life with others in procuring
the first plants of this tree'' .'^
Andrew's claun was a substantial one, given the physical
danger which such a quest involved. Seasonal migration to
the Btmya country by Aborigines (from as far as northem
New South Wales and Wide Bay in southeast Queensland)
was a source of anxiety and confusion to early white observers. The unprecedented size of these gatherings encouraged
convict anecdotes of cannibal orgies involving several thousand participants. Henry Stuart Russell, who visited Wide
Bay with Petrie in 1842, gave credence to these rumours in
his Genesis of Queensland.^ Andrew Petrie himself denied
popular allegations of cannibahsm, while his younger son,
Tom, the first recorded white person to attend a Bunya gathering in the mid-1840s, provided a more accurate description
of the event:
He (Tom) travelled from Brisbane with a party of about one hundred (Aborigines), cotmting the women and children. . . The
tribes were all assembling from every part of the country, some
hailing from the Burnett, Wide Bay, Bundaberg, Mount Perry,
Gympie, Bribie and Frazer Island, (iayndah, Kilcoy, Mount Brisbane and Brisbane. When all turned up there numbered between
Lasting for six weeks of the late summer months, the
Bunya feast has been compared to a colonial parliament,
council of war, sporting meet and period of mourning. For the
Aboriginal tribes who responded to the messengers and
smoke signals despatched by the host tribe, it was indeed a
major cultural event. The location of the triennial feast
varied. When young Tom attended in the mid-1840s, it took
place in the Blackall Ranges. Twenty years later, 400-500
blacks gathered at Dumndur near Woodford, lo Not only were
the Bunya trees considered sacred, but the creeks and mountains surroundmg them were steeped in Aborigmal mythol-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

ogy and folklore. By night, dark spirits kept visitors at a distance. A climax of these feasts was the inter-tribal fights between warriors of the host tribe and their chaUengers. In
most instances, fatalities on each side were restricted to one
or two young males, although there were undoubtedly occasions when old scores were settled and adjacent camps became "a thorough battlefield" .n For whites like Andrew to
seek out the Bunya Pine forests was not only to risk physical
danger, but to confront the taboos of an ancient regional culture.
White contact with the Bunya Pme dates from 1829 when
John Graham, a convict absconder, returned to Brisbane
town and informed Alan Cunningham of his find.12 Andrew
Petrie's source of information was, in all probability, Samuel
Derrington, the convict escapee who accompanied him to
Bribie Island in 1837. Piecing together information available
in the settlement, Petrie proceeded north with a small party
which included his eldest son, John, still in his teens. Petrie's
map, recording his earhest exploration, was sent on to Sydney but has not survived. It is likely that, after camping on
Bribie Island, where he recruited Aboriginal guides, Andrew
crossed from Point Hutchison to the mainland and journeyed
overland to the Maroochy River. This approach to the Bunya
country, used on subsequent occasions, differed from that of
most early white explorers who preferred the ranges and hinterland to the mangroves and forests of the Mooloolah and
Maroochy rivers. Accomphshed through swampy and difficult terrain, this leg of the journey occupied the party for the
best part of a day. The search on land for the Bunya made it
inevitable that the party would encounter Kabi blacks, some
of whom had never seen whites. Nevertheless, the return of
Graham, Derrington and five others from the district before
1838 suggests that the Maroochy blacks were not as inhospitable as was popularly believed. The most dangerous part of
Petrie's journey was undoubtedly his entry into the pine forests in search of small Bunya plants. Here the party, scattered and immobilised, was most vulnerable to sudden

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Map of Andrew Petrie's exploration 1837-1841 (Adapted from Dixon's map 1842)

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

Andrew adopted the Aboriginal name Mooroochedor

('' Place of Swans'') for the river which he had discovered, and
located impressive forests of Bunya Pine and cedar along its
banks. According to Aborigmal oral tradition, the party then
travelled west and ascended the Blackall Range,i3 gfter gaining local knowledge of further Bunya stands inland. On this
and other occasions, Petrie was able to solicit aid and information from the Kabi. For the Aborigines, as Henry Reynolds makes clear, i'* did not always respond aggressively to
white newcomers. Indeed, they demonstrated considerable
curiosity towards small exploring parties whose mobility was
less threatening than permanent occupants. White equipment, be it compasses, tools, rifles or rations, was closely
scmtinised, along with accompanying animals. Petrie's exploration constitutes a noteworthy case in contact history because of the special significance which the Aborigines
attached to the Bunya Pine. When he sought to procure cones
from the fully grown trees. Aboriginal guides protested that
the pines were the property of local tribesmen. As Tom explained:
Each blackfellow belonging to the district had two or three trees
which he considered his own property, cind no one else was allowed to climb these trees and gather the cones . . . The trees
were handed down from father to son, as it were, and everyone
knew who were the owners.i^
Aboriginal reaction to Andrew's request was governed by
long-standing behefs which forbade all but the owners from
harvestmg the Bunya. Charles Archer, who observed the
custom at Dumndur, was pleased to record that "the blacks
have acquired some idea of the rights of property".!^ Private
ownership was a rare occurrence among Aborigines and testified to the Bunya's ritual importance. Petrie, however, was
determmed to secure a few of the precious cones with an
offer of rations and tools. This was the first in his series of expeditions to the Bunya country. By mid-1840, Andrew reported to Bamey that he had travelled some 200 kilometres
by sea and a further 400 kilometres by land in efforts to locate
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Bunya Country


it.i^ Each attempt was fraught with misunderstanding between races, and proved no less difficult than the first.
Official duties in the settlement kept Petrie from returning
immediately to the Maroochy River. Instead, he made a series of shorter excursions to the Caboolture and Pine Rivers
during late 1840. Commercial considerations made it preferable to locate Bunya plants and trees close to Moreton Bay. As
most trees were to be found near the source of coastal
streams, Petrie and his men were usually forced to leave their
boat crew and proceed overland on the final leg. On the
Caboolture River trip, their success was smaU:
I procured one small plant. . . the only one in the scrub and there
is only one large tree and another about 20 feet high . . . When
' about this age, you would take them for a different species of tree
having very little resemblance to one at full growth. 13
Petrie's official report confirmed an interesting episode of
the Reminiscences, in which he cut a sample of wood from the
trunk of the large Bunya tree which was growing on the
Caboolture River bank (near the location of the old bridge).
According to the Reminiscences, his Aboriginal guides,
Tunbar and Dimdawaian, "showed they did not like this at
aU, complaining that they had piloted the party to see the
tree, not to cut i t . . . they almost cried in their distress, saying the tree would die of its wounds. Mr Andrew Petrie had
to assure them that it would not, and he promised supplies of
tobacco."!^ Andrew sought to calm his guides' immediate objections, but was unmoved by the Bunya's ritual significance.
Aboriginal custom dictated that any such act would provoke
a formal challenge from the traditional owner. On his return,
Petrie had the block of wood polished as a souvenir and kept
it in his possession. "Petrie's Pine" was regularly displayed
at the settlement and contributed to Andrew's status as a
local explorer. Henry Stuart Russell, who reached Moreton
Bay in 1842, echoed local conversation when he wrote:
You've heard of the Bunnia-Bunnia which the blacks here talk so
much about; Petrie is the only white man who has looked for it
and found it; he has a bit of wood, you know; it's called Petrie's
Pine, and mighty proud of the discovery he is.^o
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

While confirming the central episode mvolving the cutting

of the Bunya tree, Tom's account of the Caboolture trip in the
Reminiscences differs in other respects from Andrew Petrie's
contemporary report. It is clear that the party did not proceed
entirely overland in this instance, but reached their destination by boat. Tom's recollection, based on oral information
supphed by the North Pine blacks, confused the Caboolture
excursion with a separate overland trip to the Pine River, undertaken in the foUowing month. On this occasion, 6 November 1840, at 11.00 a.m., Petrie left Brisbane with a small
party and a pack buUock. After a slow and drenching journey
in heavy rain, the party reached the river on the third day.
When Tom later settled in the district, the Murrumba blacks
informed him that his father and brother John, had camped
near the kippa ring, Nindur-ngineddo. For the Aborigines,
this was their first sight of a bullock, an animal of imprecedented size, and they recalled the chains "all same as
croppies (convicts) so that fellow not run away" .21 On the
upper reaches of the Pine River (Petrie called it the Eden in
memory of the river in his native Fifeshire), the party camped
and located "100 trees in the scrub growing from 6 inches
and 3 feet 9 inches diameter and 20 to 150 feet high . . . small
plants are very scarce and difficult to find" .22 After an uncomfortable and frustrating search, Andrew Petrie separated
from the party and, accompanied by a black guide, climbed
nearby Mt Cuthbertson to fix their position. Petrie gave it
Mary's family name. Cuthbertson Creek, which begins near
the mouth of the Pine, and Point Hutchison, after Petrie's
mother's family name, were further evidence of his pervasive
presence in the region.
After the limited success of his shorter trips, Andrew Petrie again ventured north to the Maroochy River in May 1841.
The two lengthy reports of his joumey which have survived
provide detailed information about his movements and his encounters with Aboriginal groups.23 On the first day (12 May),
his party reached Fisherman Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River and camped there for the evening. Petrie relied on
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Bunya Country


the blacks' wilhngness to supplement his supply of rations

and induced them to go on fishing late into the night:
There were eight or nine fishermen, each taking their firestick
and going into the water and surrounding the school of fish with
his Tow-row . . . One of them caught 38 mullet in his haul, the
others had 20 to 30 each. I salted some of the fish and filled a
small harness cask with them, which provisioned our party a fortnight.2'1
Delayed by the tides the following moming, the party
reached the northern tip of Bribie Island in the aftemoon.
Here Andrew attempted to induce a sturdy black to accompany them, "as the two I brought from the settlement were
afraid to go among the Northem Blacks without one of
Bribie's going along with them" .25 However, when they were
setting up camp on the exposed beach, the Bribie black
bolted with a blanket and other camp items. Petrie set out in
pursuit along the passage but, by the time their boat reached
the Aboriginal camp, the mhabitants had retreated into the
bush. Next morning, he returned and pursued the blacks into
open forest, firing a number of shots to intimidate them. His
determination to prevent pilfering was evident:
I let them understand if any of them would steal anjrthing from
our party, however trifling, that we would hunt them till they delivered them back. I always take the precaution never to allow
any strange blacks near our camp.26
After procuring two other Bribie blacks to accompany them
as interpreters and guides, Petrie crossed to the mainland,
leaving the boat crew to return to Bribie Island. Here they
would await the main party for five days, anchored offshore
as a precaution against attack.
On 15 May, Petrie's land party of five men began the difficult ascent of the Maroochy River to the Bunya forest. Aboriginal women digging for roots in the swamps sighted them
and alerted other members of the tribe. By the time his men
had reached the forest and begun their late afternoon search,
ahnost a hundred Maroochy blacks had gathered around
them, invisible in the scmb. All of the rifles, except Andrew's
had been left with the lookout in a nearby clearing during the
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

search for plants. Even so, Petrie was having difficulty enlisting the aid of a Bribie black and "hit him several times with
the muzzle of (his) rifle before he would find plants" .27
Shortly afterwards, Petrie became entangled in the prickly
lawyer vines which hung from the trees and was unable to
prevent his helper's escape. Alarmed by calls around him, the
Bribie black had risked the threat of Petrie's rifle in a bid for
safety. One explanaton for the intense fear, exhibited by
Petrie's Aboriginal guides in encounters with local blacks,
was their awareness of the taboo surrounding the Bunya
Unnerved by the appearance of the Maroochy tribe, the
lookout opened fu-e on their advancing leaders, narrowly
missing one of them. On hearing the shots, Andrew and the
others quickly left the forest, expecting trouble. Most of the
Maroochy blacks had retreated after the shots, but a group of
four warriors stood their ground. Petrie's cool manner and
control of his men helped to prevent a confrontation. Both
groups agreed to lay down their weapons. With a settlement
black, Andrew approached the leaders, one of whom identified hknself as Goo-Wa-Boo-Wally. Shortly afterwards, the
Maroochy blacks offered Petrie a catch of fish and accompanied him to his camp on top of a nearby hill.
Andrew's party, still ill at ease, took two hostages including Goo-Wa-Boo-Wally as a precaution against attack while
John Petrie and one other member retumed to the Bunya forest and secured additional plants. "I found that we had collected about 70 Bunya plants," observed Andrew, "(but) a
great number had the tap root broken by the unskilled way
that the blacks puUed them out of the ground."28 Hampered
by the fear of his guides and suspicion of his hosts, Andrew
nevertheless demonstrated the ability to protect his men
from injury on his expeditions. By a combination of decisiveness and intimidation, he gained the loyalty of the convicts
and settlement blacks under his command. Yet his favourable exploration record was not entirely his own doing. The
northern blacks whom he encountered were more curious
and co-operative. Goo-Wa-Boo-Wally, who had confronted
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Bunya Country


Petrie on this occasion, was a case in point. After travelhng

some distance with the whites towards the coast, Goo-WaBoo-Wally offered to construct canoes to ferry Andrew's
party across the Maroochy River in exchange for his freedom. Petrie acceded to the request, despite the murmurings
of his men, and promised the blacks two tomahawks if the canoes were ready for the following moming. The Maroochy
warrior returned at the appointed time and presented Petrie
with "a splendid new bark canoe, lined with tea-tree bark
with cane gunwhales and thwarts" .29 Convinced of his
captor's importance, he was eager to exchange names, a ritual act of friendship to which Petrie assented. When Andrew
became separated from his son, John, during the crossing,
Goo-Wa-Boo-Wally called out to his tribe at Petrie's bidding,
to let John depart safely in the second canoe.
Andrew Petrie's temerity as a collector of bunya and other
pine specimens was matched by his enthusiasm as a surveyor. One further objective of his trips was to compile information for Robert Dixson's map of the Moreton Bay district.
During the Maroochy trip of 1841, Petrie's habit of falling behind the rest of his returning party to take sketches and bearings of the coasthne exposed him to considerable risks. On
one occasion, he spent an hour taking bearings of Point Cartwright before overtaking the rest of the party. Tramping
back along the soft sand, laden with equipment, Petrie and
his guide. Jack, were repeatedly threatened by a group of
hostile blacks who fell back when confronted with Andrew's
rifle. Prior to this, he had exhibited his weapon to curious
blacks by shooting water birds at long range. After reaching
Point Hutchison (Caloimdra), Andrew continued his work
while the party rested, sounding Pumicestone Passage and
crossing to Petrie's Head, a vantage point off the coast from
which he was able to fix important mainland features.
Before retuming to Brisbane, Petrie made an unsuccessful
search inland for more Bunya plants. Leaving a boat crew in
Pumicestone Passage, he travelled west to the Connondale
Range where further Bunya stands were known to exist.
After noting "a quantity of magnificent Pines differing from

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

any others I have seen" near Mt Bammbah,3o petrie returned

to Bribie Island by the large Glasshouse Moimtains. Although the party was weary, Andrew, John and one other unidentified member decided to ascend Mt Beerwah, the tallest
and most westerly of the Glasshouses in order to take bearings of the surrounding country. Andrew, who had sprained
his ankle, was only able to climb 100 metres before leaving
the other two to complete the assault. John Petrie's imknown
companion was almost certainly a convict, for Aborigines
feared the powerful spirits which were thought to dwell on
the summit and would have refused to accompany him. Rising to 300 metres, "Biroa" (as it was known to the Aborigines) was considered a vivid remnant of the Dreamtime which
linked surrounding mountains and rivers in an elaborate and
didactic mythology.3i Petrie's Aboriginal guide, Jack, insisted that "Biroa" was the legendary domain of Brocalpin, a
great spirit which had wrenched the mountain from its position inland to the present site and showered stones from its
peak. A curse was supposed to befall anyone who defied the
rock faces and steep cliffs.32
According to Tom's Reminiscences, the Retries had ascended Mt Beerwah on an earher expedition and left a bottle
containing their names on the summit.33 Andrew's terse official reports make no mention of the earlier ascent, although it
is clear that he travelled some distance inland and visited several of the Glasshouse peaks during the search for plants. His
main physical limitation as a land explorer was a recurring
right-knee injury which plagued him from the beginning and
may have prevented him from successfully scaling Beerwah.
Whether one or two attempts were involved, the Retries'
claim to have been the first white party on Beerwah has never
been seriously challenged, unlike Tom Petrie's later exploration on Buderim. When John, the constant exploring companion of his father, established himself in Brisbane, he named
his impressive residence Beerwah, in memory of their adventure. There was still the Aboriginal legend to be reckoned
with - the ancient belief that the destmctive power of mountain spirits would eventuaUy be unleashed on those who had
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Bunya Country


dared to awaken them. The ascent of Beerwah, like the collection of Bunya plants, marked Andrew as an interloper.
Years later, tribal elders explained to young Tom Petrie that
the transgression of these ancient taboos was the cause of his
father's loss of sight.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Wide Bay

No sooner had Petrie returned from the Maroochydore expedition of May 1841 than he learnt of the imminent arrival of
squatters at Moreton Bay. Already a small group of Darhng
Downs settlers, including Henry Stuart Russell and Arthur
Hodgson, had breached the 80 kilometre hmit around Brisbane town and advanced to South Brisbane via the Ipswich
road. Access to the main settlement at North Brisbane was
still officially restricted prior to 1842. James Porter, a Petrie
employee, wrote that:
When the Downs pioneers made their way over the range and arrived on the South bank of the river I have heard the Petrie family say, that quite a commotion was caused and it was only after
considerable delay that permits were granted by the Commandant (and) they were allowed to cross to north Brisbane.i
Shortly afterwards, squatters intent on occupying the
Bunya country arrived by boat from Sydney. Among the first
to reach Moreton Bay in mid-year were Evan Mackenzie,
Frederick Bigge and John Balfour.2 They arrived to find a
derehct township of 200 people, predominantly composed of
ex-convicts with a handful of govemment officials. In the absence of any hotel, the officials accommodated squatters on a
temporary basis. The only alternative was an unpleasant sojoum in the Queen Street Female Factory. When a second
wave of squatters including the Archer brothers, approached
Moreton Bay overland in late 1841, govemment officers were
hard put to provide shelter for their guests. As a gesture of
hospitality, Andrew Petrie undertook building extensions at
his Petrie Bight residence to accommodate the newcomers.

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Wide Bay


Officials like Petrie and John Kent were more than hosts to
the squatters. They provided them with valuable information
about the surrounding country and even placed men at their
disposal in the search for nms. The 80 kilometre limit on pastoral occupation around the township encouraged pastoralists to push well beyond the Pine River. After a short period
of exploration, the Mackenzies occupied Kilcoy in the Brisbane Valley, while the Archers, who had crossed the Condamme River in their four-month trek, took up Dumndur,
southwest of Movmt Beerwah, by August 1841. In all probability, John Petrie acted as a guide for the Mackenzies during
these proceedings. The Archers, experienced land explorers,
were less likely to depend on local support. Their discovery of
the Petrie bottle on Beerwah in subsequent months suggests
that they had acted independently of the Foreman of Works.3
Andrew Petrie became well known and respected by the first
generation of squatters for his exploration of the Bunya country. Yet his sea-coast itinerary was hardly suitable for squatters overlanding sheep. Most settlers preferred to travel
inland and avoid the thick scrubs and river crossings of the
Maroochy district. By January 1842, the Archers, dissatisfied
with the circuitous route via Limestone, blazed a track from
Dumndur, east of the D'Aguilar Range to Nundah mission
and on to Brisbane town. For the Aborigines of the Glasshouses and the Brisbane Valley, pastoral occupation was far
more threatening than Petrie's forays into the Bunya forests.
The squatters usurped pasture and water, and were not always conciliatory as subsequent incidents on Kilcoy and Colinton confirmed. At Kilcoy, 110 kilometres northwest of
Brisbane, the Dallambara tribe inflicted injury on
Mackenzie's station workers and pilfered stock.^ By contrast, the Archers, who hved in close proximity to an important Bunya site, were rarely harassed by the blacks during
their four-year stay.
Like pastoral settlement on the Darhng Downs, occupation
of the Bunya country was undertaken during a sharp mercantile and financial slump throughout New South Wales. One
economic consequence for race relations, was the reluctance
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

of pastoralists to buy Aboriginal goodwill with generous provisions of rations and gifts. A second effect for the Moreton
Bay township was an increase in free population as bounty
immigrants travelled north from Sydney in search of einployment. Thomas Dowse, a free immigrant who spent his first
week in Brisbane in an old boatshed on the south side of the
river, recalled the abandoned air of the settlement and the
overgrown government gardens along the river.^ The Sydney
administration, in a bid to raise finance, was preparing to
bring Brisbane town land to auction as soon as possible. To
finalise these arrangements and obtain local information,
Govemor George Gipps himself undertook a two-week trip to
Brisbane in early March 1842. His arrival, amid considerable
local excitement, was to prove a critical moment in Petrie's
While local sources have acknowledged the historic encounter between Gipps and Petrie, its significance for the Petrie story remains unclear. Temperamentally, the two men
appeared to have shared much in common. Both were humane, hardworking and practical. Gipps was aware of
Petrie's mdependence and impatience with the strictures of
military disciphne. During the previous year, Petrie and
Gipps had been parties in a furore over the publication of
Robert Dixon's unofficial Moreton Bay map.^ Andrew's role
in supplying Dixon with details of surveys taken during his
Bunya expeditions may have earned hun the disapproval of
Gipps and of Commandant Gorman. Certainly, Andrew Petrie was prepared to contest the decisions of his administrative superiors. A well known example was his disagreement
with Gipps during the 1842 official visit over the proposed
width of Brisbane streets. Petrie's active supervision of local
surveys during 1838-40 had given him considerable authority
on the vexed question of town planning. Gipps has since been
taken to task by early Brisbane historians for decreeing that
the township's main thoroughfares should be restricted to a
width of 20 metres (66 feet). J.J. Knight contended that the
Govemor's sole concern was to maximise profits at the forthcoming land sales^ while W.H. Traill, in his Historical Sketch
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Wide Bay


of Queensland, considered Gipps' decision more suited to an

Enghsh village than to the sub-tropical city that Brisbane was
to become.^ After considerable dispute, both during and after
Gipps' visit, Andrew Petrie had the road plans altered to a
width of 24 metres (80 feet). The outcome was a reluctant
compromise, for, as Traill mefuUy observed: "With streets
thus restricted and laid out on the 'grid-iron' plan, it would be
too much to expect any particular beauty in the business part
of Brisbane."9
In 1842, doubts persisted about Brisbane's future as a regional commercial centre. After Gipps' abortive landing at
Cleveland en route to the settlement, the squatters' bid to estabhsh a rival port proved unsuccessful, but many still regarded Ipswich as the future regional centre. Accordingly,
the Governor travelled upstream with Petrie who pointed out
to him obstructions to navigation near the junction of the
Brisbane and Bremer Rivers. Well before official action was
taken, Andrew proposed a dam across the Brisbane River
and showed Gipps a plan for a dredge punt to improve navigation, lo
The end of convict settlement at Moreton Bay created dilemmas for the Sydney administration. Like his predecessor
Bourke, Governor Gipps was grappling with the colony's
most contentious issue - that of frontier expansion. The
problem went far beyond maintaining an 80 kilometre limit
on pastoral stations around Moreton Bay. Squatters, bent on
occupying the entire continent, were pushing beyond the settled districts and challenging the govemment's system of
pastoral licences and occupation provisions. By 1842, no
fewer than forty-five stations had been formed to the north
and west of Brisbane. Gipps, alert to the prospect of racial
clashes, was keen to question local missionaries and officials
about the activities of the squatters. Since the MyaU Creek
murders of 1838, he had become especially concemed for Aboriginal tribes who were being driven off stations and butchered by stockmen. Following the recommendations of a
British parliamentary committee, Gipps had established a
protectorate at Port Phillip to reserve lands for Aboriginal
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

use. He came to Moreton Bay in 1842 with the intention of estabhshing a local protectorate to the north of Brisbane."
Petrie's knowledge of the surrounding country and his familiarity with the Aborigines were factors influencing the
Governor's decision.
Petrie proved to be a more congenial informant on the Aborigmal question than on the township's street plan. Colonel
Barney, who accompanied the Govemor on his Moreton Bay
visit, knew of Andrew's Bunya excursions and recommended
him to Gipps. Petrie's Pine, the celebrated rehc of the Caboolture trip, provided a talking point with the Governor, who
questioned his officer on its significance and commercial
worth. Andrew's explanation of the Bunya's ritual and territorial value to the Aborigines probably confu"med Gipps in his
decision to declare the district a reserve. Convinced of the
Bunya's ritual importance, Gipps gazetted a substantial reserve stretching up the Sunshine Coast to the Maroochy
River and west to the Great Dividing Range. 12 A proclamation of 14 April 1842 declared that:
It having been represented to the Govemor that a district exists
to the Northward of Moreton Bay, in which a fruit-bearing tree
abounds, called Bunya, or Bunya Bunya, and that the Aborigines
from considerable distance resort at certain times of the year to
this District for the purpose of eating the fruit of the said Tree: His Excellency is pleased to direct that no licences be granted for
the occupation of any Lands within the said District in which the
Bunya or Bunya Bunya Tree is fovmd . .. His Excellency has
also directed that no Licenses to cut Timber be granted within
the said District. 13
Petrie's role as a local informant in the Gipps experiment
was undeniable, yet his opinions were not necessarily heeded
by the Governor, as the Queen Street episode shows. In all
probability, Gipps had decided upon a reserve and Petrie's information merely helped to determine its location. To criticise Petrie for "obstructing progress", as E.G. Heap has
done,!^ is both a futile and erroneous exercise. The industrious Foreman of Works was still convinced of the Bunya
Pine's commercial possibilities, despite its relative inaccessiProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Wide Bay


bihty. Gipps' reserve effectively blocked commercial exploitation of the Bunya by withholding hcences to cut timber in
the district. Moreover, Petrie was not the only local resident
interviewed by the visiting Governor. Gipps spoke with the
German missionaries and had long conversations with
Thomas Archer, who was in Brisbane delivering wool from
Dumndur. Archer was able to confirm Petrie's statements
and wrote to his mother that the official interview "consisted
principally m questions relative to our station" .i^ On the basis
of his observations about the private ownership of trees and
the co-operation of Aboriginal pastoral labour, Archer appeared favourably disposed towards the establishment of a
mission in the Bunya country. In the meantime, the Archers
and their neighbours continued to squat in the KilcoyWoodford district.
Speculation about Andrew Petrie's role in the Bunya proclamation of 1842 is based primarily on the Governor's instructions to Petrie for a full report on the Maroochy River. In
early May 1842, with Moreton Bay on the brink of free settlement, Petrie made preparation for what would be his longest
and most eventful sea voyage. In the wake of Gipps' proclamation, pastoralists were keen to explore beyond the Maroochy district for a new northern river with access to the
hinterland. Petrie's excursion became the pretext for exploration of the Wide Bay district in the company of several new
chums, one of whom was Henry Stuart Russell, the future
pioneer of Burrandowan station. Russell's lengthy account of
the trip in his Genesis of Queensland confirmed the extent to
which Andrew was prepared to aid the early squatters while
still attending to his own official duties.i^ After Petrie indicated his willingness to extend the sea voyage, the company
searched in vain for a boat which was both large and sturdy.
After some delay, a five-oared whaleboat, equipped with a
sail, was procured. Accompanied by three free settlers (Russell, Wrottesley and JoUiffe), five ticket-of-leavers and two
Aboriginal guides, Petrie set out from Brisbane at daybreak
on 4 May 1842. On this notable occasion, John Petrie, who
had been a constant companion on early trips, did not join his
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute




C ' ^ V J Nlary P

v>., "-\
/ Tiaro
(meets Davis and wild blacks)

J\ Wide Bay

S* " ''V


^ ' S r - ; : Tin Can Bay

Mt. Bauple

V l i J ^ *

^ ^ " Brown's Cape

/.' (Double Is. Point)

L. Cootharaba
L. Cooriabah '


Maroochy R[.Maroochydore
^.'pt. Cartwright

Mts. i



';^^Mmity Pt.

Cleveland Pt.
(Ipswich) {

Map of Andrew Petrie's coastal exploration to Wide Bay, 1842

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Wide Bay


father. A valuable inclusion was Dalaipi (Ulappah), a stocky

north Pine black of 40 years, who was to become a close acquaintance and trusted adviser of the family in following decades.
On the fu-st day out, Andrew made for a famihar destination, Bribie Island, which they reached at dusk. Unable to discern the passage, his party was forced to stay the night in the
boat. On the following day, around 2.00 p.m., the Maroochy
River was sighted, but low tide and a heavy surf on the bar
prevented their entry. Nor could Petrie force a landing at
nearby Madumbah Island. At the risk of neglecting his official instructions, Petrie decided to press north and, after sunset, reached what is now Noosa Head. The southerly winds
which aided their progress continued to make landing hazardous. When the party eventually overcame a heavy swell,
they were stu-rounded by a group of twenty to thirty Aborigines, who helped them ashore. Petrie, who had heard reports
of murdered seamen on this stretch of the coast, took the precaution of keeping his loaded rifle at hand and, that evening,
took hostages as a matter of course. He was, by now, beyond
familiar coastline and anxious to make contact with David
BraceweU, a convict who had absconded from Moreton Bay
three years earher.
While the inexperienced Russell recovered from recurring
bouts of sunstroke and sea-sickness, Andrew Petrie despatched Dalaipi and a local hostage with a note for BraceweU.
Named "Wandi" by the Aborigines, BraceweU (also
BracefeU and Bracefield) had absconded from Moreton Bay
on three separate occasions, returning each time to the
Cootharaba region where he had been adopted by a local
warrior, Eumundi. Petrie had known BraceweU briefly before his last escape from a surveying party in July 1839.
When BraceweU appeared on the beach in the company of
Eumundi and two other blacks, Andrew, advancing towards
them, was stmck by his visitor's altered appearance.
"Bracefield, when we met him, had the same appearance as
the wild blacks," wrote Petrie. "I could only recognise him
(as a European) from having known him before." i^ Short and

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

wizened, BraceweU had not lost his fear of the settlement and
the lash. Andrew, assuring him that he would not be punished
on this occasion, noted that "he could not answer me for
sometime; his heart was fuU, and tears flowed, and the language did not come readily to him" .i^
Whether BraceweU could be persuaded to retum to white
society or whether he simply agreed to guide the party northwards is difficult to verify. Petrie clearly saw himself as
BraceweU's liberator, both from convictism and from the
blacks, some of whom he continued to regard as untrustworthy. That evening, as they ate, BraceweU recalled
the drama of Eliza Fraser and the Stirling Castle survivors.
This weU publicised episode, which gave Fraser Island its
name, had occurred two years before Petrie reached Moreton
Bay. BraceweU's claim to have participated in the rescue of
Ehza Fraser was of special interest to his listener, for Andrew
had saUed from Scotland on the Ul-fated Stirling Castle and
had been acquainted with the Erasers. BraceweU, who was
recovering his grasp of English, explained to the party how,
during a Bunya feast, he had spirited Mrs Fraser away to
their presesnt location where she was rescued by a party of
Moreton Bay military, i^ At the end of their conversation, Andrew asked BraceweU and his black companions the names of
the surrouding peaks. He named the site Cape BraceweU in
memory of the encounter and called the district Eumundi
after BraceweU's adopted father.
BraceweU's claim to have rescued Eliza Fraser, though not
totally discredited, is open to question. Petrie's companion,
Henry Stuart RusseU, unaware of the convict capacity for
fabrication, remained fully convinced of the veracity of
BraceweU's accounts.20 Surviving copies of Andrew's exploration journal are more ambivalent. An extract, reproduced
in J.D. Lang's Cooksland a few years later, attributed the deed
to John Graham, another absconder who retumed with Ehza
Fraser and was rewarded by the authorities.21 The presence
of several escaped convicts in the Noosa-Wide Bay area at the
time of the rescue raises the possibility of coUaboration between BraceweU and Graham. The key figure in any scenario
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Wide Bay


was not the duninutive BraceweU, but his adopted father Eumundi, a noted warrior, who may have been able to effect the
rescue, albeit for undisclosed purposes.22 It is essential to
add, however, that convict escapees tended to avoid one another and other whites in the bush for fear of betrayal and recapture. Andrew, famUiar with attempts by returned
convicts to ingratiate themselves with authority, may have
been content to use BraceweU's knowledge of the Wide Bay
district and seek to confirm or dispute his version of the rescue at some later point. Taking BraceweU on board, Petrie
sailed north on the morning of 7 May. As they approached
Double Island Point, Russell, uneasy, observed "signal fires
rising rapidly in every direction from native camps, doubtless
teUing the news of our arrival and the surrender of
BraceweU" .23 Far from withdrawing, the blacks continued to
approach the party at beach landings. Most of these encounters were amicable, extending in some cases to a ritual exchange of names. RusseU, who was a stranger to this custom,
noted that "Petrie's features were immovable" during the
proceedings: "I suppose he was used to it and had lost the fun
of the thing." 2"^ It was more likely that Andrew had come to
vmderstand the mutual obligation to barter involved in such a
contract and was unsure of the whites' capacity to fulfil it.
In the days that foUowed, the party continued to benefit
from BraceweU's knowledge and assistance. After pointing
out the hitherto unknown southern passage between the
mainland and Fraser Island, BraceweU sought the aid of local
Aborigines in locating a river which would take the party inland. Before continuing their search among the mangroves
and shoals of Wide Bay, Petrie camped on Fraser Island.
After his conversation with BraceweU, Andrew was keen to
locate the remains of Captain Fraser and his crew, but acceded to his companions' desire to press inland. He was nevertheless greatly unpressed by the splendid stands of cypress
pine which grew on the island. Two decades later, Tom Petrie, Andrew's younger son, returned to Wide Bay to undertake a more detailed exploration of its coastal forests.
Later again, in 1913, Tom's son Walter RoUo Petrie, who was

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

a noted sUviculturalist, came to Fraser Island as an official of

the Forestry Department. No fewer than four generations of
Retries were to be associated with the district in various
capacities, including RoUo Petrie, Tom's surviving grandson.
After scaling the high dunes of the island to take bearings,
Andrew was able to discern the elusive Mary River, which he
named the Bamey after his Sydney superior. The party immediately crossed the passage and reached the river mouth
around sunset. They had reached the northem hmit of the
Bunya country. Ever on the lookout for new forest species,
Petrie observed examples of the cone-bearing Kauri Pine and
noted the find in his joumal. He likened it to the New Zealand
species and added that "the blacks made their nets from the
inner bark of the tree" .25
Both Andrew and the squatters were keen to ascend the
Barney (Mary) River as far as possible. In the foUowing days,
they foUowed it a distance of 80 kilometres, stopping only
when shingle and rocks barred the passage. At this spot, near
present-day Tiaro, Petrie intended dividing his men and leading the squatters inland to Mt Bauple where they would obtain a commanding view of the surroimding country. This
plan miscarried, for the party was surprised and agitated to
learn of the presence of a large number of armed blacks who
recognised BraceweU and told him angrily that "whitefeUows" had poisoned a number of their tribe. This was the
first report of the infamous Kilcoy poisoning during which as
many as fifty blacks were reported to have died from swallowing arsenic. Although it was not the Bunya season.
BraceweU told Petrie that twelve tribes had gathered for a
corroboree re-enacting the Kilcoy tragedy and had sworn to
kiU any white men who approached their territory.
Petrie's determination to locate James Davis, another mnaway known to be Uving with the Wide Bay people, almost
cost him his life. BraceweU urged him not to risk the attempt
himself and, leaving Andrew and the main party, accompanied Dalaipi and two of the boat crew in search of Davis.
Bracewell's bush skills and knowledge of local dialects
proved to be an invaluable asset. When he and his companProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Wide Bay


ions were detected and threatened by local blacks, BraceweU

sought to placate them with claims that Petrie's party was
weU-armed and was innocent of the Kilcoy poisoning. At sunset on 11 May, the advance party retumed to the river camp
with the reluctant Davis. Known to the blacks as
"Duramboi", Davis was a young Glasgow convict who had
absconded from Moreton Bay in 1829 at the height of
Logan's oppressive mle. Consigned as blacksmith to the
Moreton Bay Lumber Yard, Davis was stronger and more
athletic than BraceweU after an uninterrupted thirteen years
among the blacks. Andrew recorded his vivid unpression of
his arrival:
I shall never forget his (Davis') appearance when he arrived at
our camp . . . He had quite the same manners and gestures that
the wildest blacks have got. During the whole of our conversation, his eyes and manners, were completely wild and he looked
at us as if he had never seen a white man before .2^
Using BraceweU as an intermediary, Petrie informed
Duramboi that Moreton Bay was now a free settlement and
that he would not be punished for absconding. Fearing
treachery on BraceweU's part, Davis remained wary throughout the interview, but offered valuable information about the
intentions of the blacks. Before vanishing abruptly into the
bush, he warned Andrew of an imminent attack during the
night. Petrie, alert to possible desertion by the boat crew, decided against proceeding inland. Instead, the whole party retreated to the boat, where they remained the night in a state
of nervous expectation. Dalaipi, the Moreton Bay black who
had aided BraceweU in the bush, appeared no less agitated,
and feared for his own hfe as well as those of the whites. At
daybreak, Davis unexpectedly retumed with evidence of the
Aborigines' intentions - a watch taken from one of
Mackenzie's murdered shepherds. Like BraceweU, he had
advised the assembled tribes against attacking the party by
making them understand that "spears were nothing compared to guns" .27 The behef that guns and their owners possessed magical powers, comparable with those of the
"turrwan" or great Aboriginal men, was widespread among
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

blacks in the early phase of contact.28 Davis' influence,

strengthened by talk of heavy white reprisals, confirmed his
standing among the local tribe as a warrior of some importance. After his adoption by Pamby Pamby, who beheved
him to be a retuming spirit, Duramboi had been thoroughly
initiated into Aboriginal customs and hunting skills. After
gifts to his adopted father, persuasion and assurances by Petrie and BraceweU, Davis prepared to leave with them for
"Meginchen" (Aboriginal for Moreton Bay). Was Davis
being called to the cifterlife from which he had come? The section of the Gin Gin tribe which had adopted him appeared to
beheve so. Unhke Andrew, who noted the event in his usual
cursory style, RusseU recorded scenes of intense emotion at
Davis' departure. He wrote that the entire tribe foUowed the
boat for some distance along the river bank and called upon
Davis to return .29
With no fewer than thirteen men on board, the boat descended the Bamey (Mary) River and reached Fraser Island
on 16 May. Impressed by the forests and Aboriginal food resources, Petrie compared it favourably with Moreton Island.
Judging that he could gather sufficient information on the
Bunya coimtry through BraceweU and Davis, he did not attempt to enter the Maroochy River. The joumey south was
slow with high seas and a waterlogged boat obstmcting their
progress. In a flash of humour at his companion's expense,
Petrie recorded that:
Mr Russell and some of the boat's crew got quite sick, so much
so that the former threw up his breakfast and some of his chat
went with it. Only a few ejaculations escaped his lips, a repetition
of a beastly boat, a beastly sail. . . during all the night and following days.30
Like most early squatters, Russell preferred overland travel
when he retumed to Wide Bay a few months later. Yet Aboriginal reports of fine grassland west of Mt Bauple gave him
good cause to be satisfied with the expedition. Finally, on 22
May, after a protracted absence of three weeks, Petrie's
weary crew entered the Brisbane River and rounded Kangaroo Point. According to Tom Petrie, then a youth of 11 years
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Wide Bay


squatters surrounded the party at Petrie Bight and besieged

them with questions.3i Young Tom, exhibiting a precocious
affinity with the blacks, was fascinated by the gestures and
appearances of BraceweU and Davis.
On their retum, the two mnaways were in great demand
because of their prolonged contact with northem tribes.
Squatters like Russell were inclined to view the northem
blacks as dangerous cannibals and their credulity encouraged
returned mnaways to embroider their personal accounts. According to John Archer, who was present at these early conversations, Davis and BraceweU were "much given to
exaggeration in their stories, partly I suppose from habit and
partly to suit the palates of their hearers who are in general
inimical to the blacks" .32
Thus the preconceived view of the Bunya tribes as primitive savages persisted into the years of free settlement. In one
respect, the stories bore a semblance of truth. The Wide Bay
tribes were relatively numerous and had been forewarned of
white intentions. After their return, Davis and BraceweU
were granted tickets-of-leave at Petrie's request and found
work in the district. Davis soon turned his back on the past
and shimned any further publicity. The Retries, who hoped to
gain valuable information about the Aborigines from the two
ex-convicts, were soon disappointed. Tom Petrie, lamenting
the stubborn silence of Davis, recalled that "in those days
men were more for fun and devilment than for writing
people's lives" .33 Davis set up a blacksmith shop at Kangaroo
Point and earned sufficient money to buy land in north Brisbane, where he later opened a crockery store. BraceweU, less
fortunate, worked briefly for Stephen Simpson, the new
Commissioner for Crown Lands, before he was accidentaUy
kiUed by a fallen tree.
The inexplicable silence of Davis and the premature death
of BraceweU deprived officialdom of valuable intermediaries
on the explosive racial frontier. Without such men to act as
negotiators, Gipps' dream of a Bunya Reserve would be
doomed to failure. Already the arrival of pastoralists and the
KUcoy poisoning threatened the original inhabitants and kin-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

died a powerful urge for revenge. When German missionaries, based at Nundah station, attempted to extend their work
further north, they encountered open hostUity. Stephen
Simpson, reporting to Sydney on the outcome of Petrie's expedition a few weeks later, confirmed the hostUe intentions of
the blacks, after shepherds had been fataUy speared on the
stations of John Balfour and Fredrick Bigge, just south of
KUcoy. Commenting on the outbreak of Aboriginal hostility,
Simpson confirmed that: "Plunder does not appear to be so
much their object as the destruction of life which they effect
by proceeding in small parties without giving the least warning of their approach."34
Northern squatters, still at odds with Gipps over the prosecution of stockmen for murder at Myall Creek station, were
now preparing to organise an armed mounted force to protect
their mns and workers. By the close of 1842, Gipps, in the
face of imperial criticism, was under pressure to dismantle
the Port PhiUip Protectorate and discontinue further experiments.35 Simpson, the local Lands Commissioner, argued
that squatters were not encroaching on the elevated Bunya
forests. On the basis of Andrew Petrie's observations during
the Wide Bay expedition, Simpson proposed that the reserve
be relocated on Fraser Island, where the blacks appeared numerous and well fed.36
Petrie's accounts of the Kilcoy poisoning confirmed the
fears of Nundah missionaries who, on the basis of oral Aboriginal testimony, denounced the action as premeditated
mass murder. According to them, arsenic had been deliberately mixed with flour and left in empty huts. The squatters
insisted in their defence that the blacks had merely "rushed"
sheep which had been treated with arsenic for scab.37 In
Cooksland (1847) J.D. Lang, after visiting Moreton Bay, republished Petrie's Wide Bay journal in support of the missionaries.38 On retuming to Sydney, he had written to Petrie
for further information about the incident but found him
"rather shy about giving it - which as an old employee of
Govemment, I thought quite natural" .39 Lang, an outspoken
critic of the Gipps administration for its failure to investigate
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Wide Bay


the matter, did not entirely absolve Petrie. Although Stephen

Simpson retumed to the Mary River a year after Petrie, he
chose not to proceed with a local investigation. Had he done
so, it remams unlikely that any Aboriginal witnesses would
have been caUed to testify before it. Discriminatory legal procedures, combined with the sinister use of poison, ensured
that no effective action would be taken. Petrie family members responded variously to the incident. Unlike his father,
Tom Petrie, who heard both sides of the story in his youth,
never doubted the criminal intentions of Mackenzie's shepherds.* By the time Tom visited the Bunyas in 1846, Aborigines had long since deserted the Kilcoy site, but reUved the
tragedy in a macabre pantomime which Tom had the opportunity to witness.
The Wide Bay expedition and the Kilcoy episode demonstrated Andrew Petrie's wUlingness to assist the early squatters. When Petrie opted to remain at Moreton Bay, on his
own account, his social ties with pastoralists were reinforced
by co-operation in business. If Andrew had suspicions about
the poisoning, it is unhkely that he would have openly accused Evan Mackenzie, a guest at Petrie Bight and important
local entrepreneur. For their part, the first generation of
squatters acknowledged Petrie's exploratory achievement
and strongly upheld his claim to have been the first white
man to locate and identify the Bunya Pine. In his Genesis of
Queensland, Henry Stuart RusseU, who had accompanied
Petrie on the 1842 expedition, claimed that he had met a visiting botanist, John Carne Bidwill, at Kilcoy station when he
was returning to Wide Bay. Russell added that he had offered
to lead him to hilly country west of the Maroochy district,
where Bidwill secured several specimens of Bunya Pine
which he despatched to London.'^i In consequence of this action, Russell contended, the Bunya was officiaUy named Araucaria Bidwilli, and Petrie's authentic claim overlooked.
Thus the row of Bunya Pine in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens
were planted at Separation in BidwiU's honour. Bidwill's excursion may have been as early as 1841, but it did not precede
Petrie's expedition of 1840.^2 Thomas Archer, a more reli-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

able source than RusseU, wrote unequivocally of the Bunya

Its botanical name, the Araucaria Bidwilli was given to it because
Mr Bidwill is supposed to have been the first white man who
brought it into notice. But this is a mistake. The tree was first discovered by Mr Petrie, the Govemment Engineer, on his expedition when he ascended Mount Beerwah and found the
Mooroochie River. He however was not a scientific botanist, and
only reported his discoveries in the colonies, whereas Mr Bidwill
sent the cone to England and thus got the credit of being the discoverer of the tree.'^3
The BidwiU incident, coupled with the subsequent refusal
of the New South Wales govemment to recognise the place
names which Petrie had adopted on his Wide Bay joumey,
combined to frustrate any prompt recognition of Andrew
Petrie's achievements. One of the aims of Tom's Reminiscences, written at the turn of the century, was to confirm the
testimonies of Russell and Archer and to uphold his father's
reputation as a neglected pioneer of southeast Queensland.


Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Petrie Bight:
The early years ^ ^

Andrew Petrie's mobihty as an official and explorer exposed

his young famUy to periods of isolation and anxiety. Mary,
who had given birth to three more chUdren since arriving in
the colonies, was often left to fend for herself in the early
years. Andrew's influence as Superintendent of Works ensured that the Petrie Bight residence provided her with relative comfort after the squalor of the Female Factory.
However, the location of their cottage beyond the settlement
left the family vulnerable to predatory Aborigines and convicts. Petrie Bight, at the bottom of Queen Street, was stiU
very much in the bush during the 1840s. The adjacent district, known as York's HoUow, was an important meeting
place for Brisbane blacks, who hunted and fished near the riverbanks of "Tumamun" (Petrie Bight). Visits by the aggressive Bribie Island people prompted mtermittent fighting on
the outskirts of north Brisbane throughout this period.
Isabella, the Retries' young daughter, later confirmed the
real danger that had existed when the menfolk were away.
On one occasion, a whole tribe gathered in front of the house
and threatened the women. Mary, brandishing a gun, was
able to prevent them from entering, i Anecdotal evidence suggests that the lure of rations was an incentive for the blacks to
engage in occasional pilfering on the premises. Isabella, in
her reminiscences, recalled one childhood incident when she
disturbed two blacks stealing potatoes from the wash house
and was almost stmck by a boomerang thrown by one of the
intmders.2 However, Mary and her children did not harbour
disdain for the Turrbal people. For the most part, they purProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

sued a policy of concUiation and established strong emotional

bonds with individual tribal members, both male and female.
A major dUemma for the large Petrie household was the
scarcity of domestic servants in a settlement where female
assignment had been discouraged. Convict women, housed at
Eagle Farm after 1837, had performed manual tasks like
laundering for the wives of free settlers and mUitary. The closure of the Moreton Bay convict settlement in 1842 presented
Mary with a problem. Her satisfaction at the demise of a system which she disliked for its arbitrary cruelty was offset by
the loss of labour and female company. Mary's predictable
biUwark against solitude was her strenuous domestic routine,
interrupted only by short periods of religious observance.
Like Andrew, Mary may have taught herself to read, but
there is no evidence that she could write. She did not keep a
joumal nor engage in popular middle-class pursuits such as
piano-playing, although singing was a popular pastime
among the Petrie womenfolk. One of Mary's prized possessions was a large wooden box, inlaid with local timbers,
which survives until this day. Used for sewing or storage, the
box was one of many craft items treasured by the family. The
Petrie household of these years was characterised by industry and modest hospitality.
While Andrew's managerial skUls were in demand around
the settlement, Mary's energies were focused on a host of domestic matters, the most immediate being child-rearing and
food preparation. Her resourcefulness was evident in the
grooming of Aboriginal female servants for the care of the
young children. Local white opinion of women was low; Aboriginal women suffered doubly from unsubstantiated accusations of cannibalism3 and infanticide.* During the convict
period, prostitution involving both black and white women
had become established at Moreton Bay. Concubinage had
been commonly practised by members of the military, including the departing Commandant, Owen Gorman (1839-42). As
a devout married woman, Mary was stiU an anomaly in the
settlement. Strong elements of moral instmction
characterised the mistress-servant relationship. The AborigProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Petrie Bight


inal women engaged by Mary proved to be capable domestics

and nannies. IsabeUa, who was raised by a black nurse,
praised the fidehty and devotion of their Aboriginal servants,
one of whom visited her at Sandgate twenty years later.^
Along with the threat of disease, fear of drowning was
common to colonists of aU ages. Andrew, for example, despite regular river expeditions, had never leamt to swim. The
location of the Petrie property, above the river with a creek at
the southern end, intensified this anxiety. Several of the children narrowly escaped drowning. Young Isabella recaUed
paddUng out of her depth near what became the Eagle Street
Wharf, and calling out to her black nurse who "turned hke a
snake" and seized her by the hair in the nick of time.^ Afterwards, both lay for some time on the riverbank, exhausted
and frightened. Her brother Tom, who spent a good deal of
his youth playing water games with Aboriginal chUdren, recaUed a narrow escape whUe crossing the Brisbane River. Returning from a fishing trip on Kangaroo Point, Tom was
severely stung by a school of jelljrfish and had to be carried
ashore on the back of an Aboriginal companion.^ The Retries
had good reason to value the knowledge acquired by Aboriginal people. Aborigines, old and young, taught famUy members basic survival skiUs and saved their lives on several
The family's close proximity to the Brisbane River possessed advantages as well as dangers. For Mary Petrie, it was
useful for washing clothes, a laborious task which might occupy an entire day in the pre-machine age. Eventually, she
was able to engage a woman living at Kangaroo Point to assist her on a casual basis. Tom remembered their employee
mostly for her drinking sprees, but added that "a kinder and
cleaner woman one could meet nowhere when away from
drink . . . She was a good cook and an excellent washerwoman and could do up shirts with anyone."^ In keeping with
the morality of the time, intemperance was nevertheless a serious faihng, and more so in this woman than in her sawyer
husband. Any benevolent intentions which Mary may have
harboured towards her charge were thwarted, however, with
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

the news that the washerwoman had been sold by her husband to another emanicipist in exchange for a horse and carriage! Both white and black women were regarded by the
predominantly male popiUation as objects of barter, a practice which compounded the ever-present ser'-^ant problem.
When Caroline Chisholm despatched Irish orphan girls to
Moreton Bay a few years later, there were reports of an orgy
on board the vessel from Sydney.^ The middle-class ideal of
marriage was still far from established in the settlement.
Traditional divisions between male and female work were
strengthened in the household by the involvement of Andrew
and his sons in heavy manual labour and stonemasonry. Even
so, colonial wives often engaged in outdoor work maintaining
the orchard or dairy. A solidly buUt woman, Mary was not
averse to strenuous physical effort. In time, the property
boasted a large orchard along the banks of the river; groves of
orange, lemon, lime and guava trees stood alongside peaches,
figs and mulberries.i As the garden grew, Mary employed
several elderly ex-convicts to maintain it. Some of these men
had never recovered from the mental and physical effects of
their long imprisonment. Mary's benevolence was rewarded
in the case of Martin Crawley, a former convict who regularly
brought supplies of vegetables to the house from his Breakfast Creek garden after his release.n Crawley, who had been
reunited with his famUy, never forgot Mary's intervention,
which had saved him from a flogging on several occasions.
According to Tom, Mary had also provided aUing prisoners
with extra rations, unbeknown to her husband or the authorities. 12
The Petrie children did not always benefit from their
mother's generosity. Their gardener, "Old Ned", was in
Tom's opinion "an awful man to swear and a cross old man"
if he caught them taking fmit or watermelons. Tom, who had
several bmshes with him, contended that "he always kept a
horse pistol loaded with slugs with which to shoot the blacks
when he caught them steahng".i3 Andrew was at times no
less severe on Aborigines who crossed the river and helped
themselves to vegetables on Sundays, when the men were off
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Petrie Bight


duty. At Nundah station beyond the settlement, missionaries

clashed with the blacks for very similar reasons. A local clergyman. Rev. Handt, reported in 1841 that older men could be
induced to cut bark or wood in retum for suppUes of mutton,
flour or tobacco, but that younger males saw no need to do
so.i"* Their hunting and food-sharing habits stood in direct
contrast to the strict Protestant work ethic of the white settlers.
The success of colonial famUies depended heavily on the
unpaid labour of wives and chUdren. By the 1840s, colonial
famUies were aheady larger than their British counterparts,
with average births per marriage rising to four despite the
onset of economic adversity.i^ The preponderance of males
in the Petrie household also represented a valuable economic
asset. The elder boys - John (20 years in 1842), Andrew (18)
and Walter (15) served unpaid apprenticeships in their
father's workshop. More fortunate than their younger brothers and sister, they had gained a formal education at J.D.
Lang's Sydney College. In keeping with patriarchal Scottish
assumptions, John, the eldest surviving son, was groomed as
the future heir to the family constmction business. That he
did not inherit his father's Christian name suggests that several sons may not have survived the early years in Edinburgh.
John was bom in 1822, shortly after his parents' marriage.
Since the age of 17, John had accompanied his father on exploring trips around the settlement at Moreton Bay.
Andrew's reports of their journeys confirm the high expectations which he placed on his son and an unfaihng emphasis on
physical strength and stamina. In this respect, Andrew jnr
was eclipsed by John and Walter, who subsequently established a reputation in the settlement for their rowing prowess. At 20 years, John was a pugnacious 173 centimetres taU
with dark eyes and brown hair. By contrast, Walter was
blond, blue eyed and easy-going. In 1842, he joined his elder
brother in their first business venture. Several months before
the first Brisbane land sales, John and Walter applied for permission "to erect certain Slab Buildings on the Crown Lands
at Brisbane Town";i6 they were looking to enter the river
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

trade by providing a wharf and woolstore for the squatters at

nearby Kangaroo Point.
John's omission from the eventful Wide Bay expedition of
1842 was linked to this precocious business activity. By the
time of his father's retum, John had conceived an ambitious
project, to establish wharf facUities upstream at Redbank,
where Captain Chambers, a Moreton Bay trader and skipper
of the Edward was constructing an inn for the Limestone
squatters. The other prominent identity who participated
with the Retries in the project was John WUhams, an ambitious emancipist who had arrived at Moreton Bay in December 1841 and squatted on land at South Brisbane. WUhams
operated the early Kangaroo Point ferry near Petrie Bight
and was later prominent in developing coal deposits along the
river for commercial purposes. Acting on advice from Andrew Petrie, who had investigated coal seams at Redbank
several years before, WiUiams undertook an ambitious arrangement to supply steamers of the Hunter River Steam and
Navigation Company with local coal, thereby chaUenging the
Newcastle-based monopoly of the Australian AgriciUtural
Company over coal supphes in the colony, i^ The Retries, who
maintained business contacts with both the emancipists and
the squatters, agreed to erect a wharf and store on the site.
Although a contract was eventually signed for local coal supplies, the Redbank venture foundered. The economic depression which gripped New South Wales in the early 1840s
precipitated a slump in coastal trade. Moreover, the upper
reaches of the Brisbane River proved too shallow for coastal
steamers. WUhams, hardest hit by the failure of the venture,
was forced to sell his ferry, public house and coal barges.
More fortunate, John and Walter were able to dismantle the
wooden buUding which they erected at Redbank and ship it
downstream to a Kangaroo Point allotment leased by their father. It was not the last disappointment in John's long business career. The Retries, father and sons, had chosen a
difficult time to commence their local business operations.
Along with town traders, squatters from Moreton Bay and
the Darling Downs were adversely affected by plunging wool
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Petrie Bight


prices and a decline in trade. Although the volume of local

wool exports was rising, the price of wool halved by 1843,
faUing to 1/1 d per pound, and did not improve for the rest of
the decade. One expedient practised throughout New South
Wales at this time was the boUing-down industry in which
cattle and sheep were slaughtered for meat, tallow and hides.
Andrew Petrie's association with the squatters influenced
their decision to establish a local boihng-down works on Kangaroo Point. John CampbeU, one of the squatters involved, recounted in his reminiscences of Moreton Bay that:
Mr Petrie had just removed from Six Mile Creek a large store
which was in every way suited to my purpose but it then lay in
pieces upon Kangaroo Point which, as the land had been all
cleared but had only one house on it, was the locality chosen, i^
After construction delays, the building was reassembled near
the wharf opposite Petrie Bight and rented to Evan Mackenzie as a slaughterhouse and meat-salting complex.
The local boUing-down mdustry proved to be more productive than the Redbank venture of the previous year. With financial backing from Mackenzie, CampbeU expanded his
Kangaroo Point operations and employed the Retries on
building works to a total value of 3000 pounds. Mackenzie's
unsavomy enterprise provided useful work for the local unemployed and kept the squatters solvent. In 1844, when 296
casks of tallow were exported from Moreton Bay, the Kangaroo Point trade was fast overtaking that of South Brisbane,
largely because of Mackenzie's influence as agent for the
Hunter River Steam Navigation Company. To the chagrin of
South Brisbanites, river traffic and drays from the Downs
were being redirected to the Kangaroo Point wharf, i^ When
the boUing-down project faltered, Sydney finance and shipping swung back to South Brisbane. The Retries, who stood
to gain by the commercial expansion of Kangaroo Point and
North Brisbane, were soon caught up in these local rivalries.
By 1846, North Brisbane was expanding, with half a dozen
hotels and as many trading outlets. The decision to estabUsh
a Customs House above Petrie Bight at the end of the decade
was much criticised by South Brisbanites and by visiting

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

traders who complained of its awkward location beyond the

township. Like the boUing-down works, the Customs House
consohdated the north of Brisbane and enabled the Retries to
exert significant influence through their buUdmg enterprise
and business connections.
During the formative years of the family business, Andrew
encouraged his sons to take an active part in developments on
Kangaroo Point. The Petrie building, transported from
Redbank, was a visible symbol of their contribution. By the
mid-1840s, John was also part-owner of two blocks of land
with his brother Walter, and shared a third with the local pubhcan, W.H. Berry.2 The allotment on which the boilingdown works stood had been purchased cheaply for 6 pounds
because of its polluted state. Despite its economic value,
Mackenzie's enterprise created environmental problems on
Kangaroo Point and in the Brisbane River, where carcasses
and blood were dumped after slaughtering. The Retries, on
the opposite bank, reaped both the advantages and disadvantages of boiling-down. The chUdren wovUd discover that Petrie Bight was now a far less pleasant place to fish or swim.
After 1845, when John Campbell set up a new boUing-down
works on the other side of Kangaroo Point near a tidal creek,
the situation at Petrie Bight became more tolerable. However, the industry had prematurely scarred the peninsula and
discouraged further settlement there. In addition, substantial
tracts of open forest in York's HoUow (Fortitude Valley) were
cleared to fuel the boihng-down works. During the difficult
1840s timber, cheap and avaUable, remained the main building material at Moreton Bay. The Retries, specialists in
stonemasonry, were forced to follow this trend. The absence
of lucrative government contracts and substantial private
construction at this time temporarily hmdered the firm's advance to pre-eminence in the Brisbane buUding trade.
The younger children observed these events at a distance.
Unlike their older brothers, Tom (12 years in 1843), Isabella
(10 years) and George (5 years) had little recollection of either
Edinburgh or Sydney. Nor had they received the formal education available to their brothers at J.D. Lang's College.
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Petrie Bight


Apart from mdimentary parental instruction, they enjoyed a

local "bush education" in the company of Aboriginal servants
and children. Tom, the oldest of the three, exhibited a strong
affinity with local tribes and spent much of his youth in their
company. Isabella accompanied him on early adventures to
York's Hollow and beyond to Nundah Station, where missionaries stmggled to impart their religion and reading skiUs
to black children. Later, when IsabeUa was required at home,
Tom would have the same nomadic influence on young
brother (ieorge. On several occasions, Tom's parents received premature reports of his death and despatched parties
to search for him. Yet the knowledge acquired by Tom on
these trips proved a sound education for him in later years.
More so than Isabella or George. Tom grew up "a bit of a
myaU", to quote W.R. Petrie's expression.21 His adventurous
spirit was not infrequently a source of concem to his parents.
While IsabeUa, a taU handsome girl, was being groomed for
pubhc hfe and George took to carpentry, Tom remained the
rebel of the family. His precocious fondness for the tobacco
leaf was one habit which he shared with Aborigines and exconvicts. On his own admission, he received "many a
thrashing" from his father for this indulgence. As a lad, he
was pipe-smoking at the butcher's shop when seized and publicly beaten by his father .22 Tom responded to threats of physical punishment by "absconding" in the best convict
tradition. Taking his pipe and tinder-box, he went off to join
Aboriginal friends at their Bowen HiUs camp. There, according to Tom,23 they constructed a humpy and after a meal of
fish and crabs retired to the new shelter. An hour later, there
was a commotion outside, with dogs barking and much shouting. Tom felt his leg grabbed in the dark and he was hauled
out unceremoniously by his elder brother John. Rescuing his
hat before his father arrived, Tom escaped again and ran off
at full speed. On reaching the house, he stood in his bedroom
ready to chmb out on to the roof should his father come up.
Mary, however, had intervened and asked that he be left
alone. Tom, relieved, retired to bed but kept out of his
father's way for a few days until Andrew's anger subsided. In
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

these emotive exchanges, Mary acted as the mediator, sheltering Tom when possible from Andrew's paternal wrath.
As the local white population grew, social pressure encouraged the family to segregate Tom from his black companions.
Contrary to accepted wisdom, there had always been other
white chUdren to play with around the settlement, but Tom
continued to seek out Aboriginal company. Beneath expressions of concern in the white community about the possible
drowning or injury to lost chUdren lay deep-seated prejudices
against the blacks. Many settlers beheved them to be
treacherous and lazy. Tom's father treated the Turrbal tribe
better than most, but espoused the staunch Protestant values
of free immigrants and clashed with his younger son when he
displayed little interest m the family business. Occasionally,
Andrew would relent and aUow Tom to mn errands to surrounding stations or to accompany timber-getters to distant
localities. Nettie Palmer, reflecting on the inconsistency of
colonial parenting, wrote of "people straining passionately at
gnats and swallowing camels without noticing, that is, clinging to a few famUiar taboos and conventions in the face of an
enormous unknown" .2* When Tom travelled with cedar-getters by boat to the Logan River district, the party ran short of
water and narrowly escaped drowning in the swollen river.
After surviving on oysters, they retumed as far as Cleveland
Point. Tom and Wongginpi, his Aboriginal companion, poled
the cedar raft behind the boat. Between St Helena Island and
Wynnum, the party were able to catch the northern tide and
eventuaUy sighted a Customs Department boat which had
been sent to look for them. Exhausted, they reached Brisbane
after an ordeal lasting several weeks. In the meantime, Andrew and Mary were harbouring grave doubts about the wisdom of their decision to aUow Tom these liberties. Even in the
company of the Aborigines, it was, as Tom acknowledged,
"an act of madness to venture out in such a small boat so
badly prepared" .25 For Mary, these absences revived the
anxiety associated with Andrew's and John's expeditions.
IronicaUy, Tom's trips, accomplished at considerable physical risk, were reminiscent of his father's journeys and exProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Petrie Bight


panded the family's already substantial knowledge of local

buUding resources.
Despite Andrew's strictness, Tom preserved favourable
memories of his childhood at Petrie Bight. For, along with the
adventurous company of black companions hke Neddy,
Wongginpi and Dalngang, he was also a favourite of squatters and travellers who were entertained at his father's house.
At the age of 12, Tom coUected local plant species for the
noted explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt. Retuming from the
Bunya cormtry, Leichhardt caUed at Petrie Bight to share his
experiences with Andrew. John "Tinker" Campbell, a Darling Downs squatter and close friend of the family, recalled
one exchange between the two men on the subject of geology.
CampbeU wrote:
I well remember some conversation between Mr. Petrie and the
Doctor (Leichhardt) respecting the petrification of wood in the
district, Mr Petrie asserting that he could take him to a tree out
of which chips had been cut with an iron axe - a tomahawk and therefore, since the penal settlement was formed, which
were already turned to stone. This hypothesis Leichhardt strenuously denied, asserting that it would take ages for wood to turn
into stone. For my own part, I felt rather inclined to think Mr Petrie right, as petrified wood is common aU over the country.2^
Andrew, an authority on local timber and stone, was a selftaught man and lacked the scientific training of his eminent
visitor. A passion for exploration and conversation united
men like Petrie, Leichhardt and Henry Stuart Russell. When
RusseU undertook further exploration of Wide Bay for pastoral purposes, he reported to Petrie on the nature and extent of
his inland discoveries. Tom remembered Russell best for his
keen sense of humour. In later years, the friendship was consohdated by the marriage of Tom's first-bom, Minnie, to
RusseU's nephew. Major Phillip Pinnock of Brisbane.27
The arrival of squatters from the hinterland to coastal settiements lUce Brisbane was often a celebrated social event.
After the purchase of supplies and despatch of business, the
visitors usually engaged in bouts of drinking m and around
local hotels. By January 1846, there were aheady five or six
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

of these establishments in Brisbane, mcluding the Bush Commercial Hotel on Kangaroo Point and Bow's Victoria Hotel in
Queen Street.28 Bent on escaping long periods of tedium in
the bush, tiie squatters estabhshed the first local racecourse,
an improvised affair which began at the old Female Factory
(now the GPO) and proceeded down Albert Street to the
Botanic Gardens with a series of intervening fences and
ditches. Tom, impressed by their horsemanship, recalled a
race in which one young squatter recovered from an early fall
in the mud to outdistance his three competitors in a tied finish. Despite his teetotalism, Andrew continued to act as host
to reveUing squatters and even had a slaughterhouse established on the property to provide them with fresh meat. Mary
and IsabeUa were often hard put to provide meals for unexpected arrivals. Practical jokes were the order of the day
among their high-spirited guests. Tom recalled that:
When they (the squatters) tumed up at the old home on the Bight,
they slept on stretchers in the addition to the house and when one
of the number was found fast asleep by the others, he would be
tied down and then quietiy carried out into the bush one hundred
yards away and there left to the mercy of the mosquitoes. The
victim was generally one who did not care to join in the fun.29
The Petrie boys were apt to play similar pranks on local
townpeople, with variable consequences. One of their unsuspecting victims was an old hand of then- father called
Dalley. Dalley was often dmnk, and on this occasion was
found asleep in the yard by the older boys who decided to
lodge him for the night in a coffin procured from the family's
carpentry shop. On the foUowing moming, the boys returned
to observe Dalley musing upon his noctumal burial!3o Drinking was the leveller common to aU classes at Moreton Bay
and more especially at election time, when the squatters provided casks of beer in exchange for votes.
A further source of amusement to the Petrie boys was the
antics of the blacks, some of whom became the butt of pranks
by visiting squatters. One of their favourites was "BUly
Bong", an Aboriginal whose facial contortions and broken
Enghsh never failed to amuse. Tom, who was a genuine adProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Petrie Bight


mirer of Aboriginal ways, marveUed at their ability to mimic

people and animals, a talent which they displayed in corroborees. Even the austere J.D. Lang, when he observed Brisbane
blacks imitating the pious Nundah missionaries, was forced
to remark that "aU this would be extremely amusing were it
not exceedingly profane" .3i Tom was sufficiently intimate
with black chUdren to join them in taunting their elders. Nor
were the local Aborigines averse to poking fun at convicts,
mUitary manoeuvres and the penal system. Tom recounted to
his son, Walter RoUo, a macabre episode in which Turrbal
blacks, after watching a hanging which had not been properly
performed, re-enacted a species of gaUows humour at the
executioner's expense. Contemporary social historian Keith
Willey argues that the hard, dry humour of squatters and convicts, lacking in sentimentality and contemptuous of women,
was significantly influenced by the Aboriginal male's peculiar brand of wit.32 Tom was not the last Australian bushman
to acknowledge their fundamental resUience in the face of adversity and discrimination.
The Aboriginal talent for mimicry wasrivaUedonly by the
Petries' white cockatoo, a mischievous bird which, during its
long life, became one of the best known of its species in colonial Queensland. Tom devoted an entire chapter of the Reminiscences to "Old Cocky", which he associated vividly with
memories of post-convict hfe.33 In reality, these were difficult
times; as late as 1846, the family house, built by Andrew, was
still being leased annuaUy from the govemment. Yet the
vicissitudes of business and famUy hfe could be temporarUy
erased by the arrival of visitors or the antics of their handsome bird, which taunted people and animals alike. A present
from a prison overseer, "Cocky" inherited the convict propensity for swearing and could imitate the human voice with
uncanny accuracy. In this way, it was reputed to have
brought the ferry man across from Kangaroo Point on a false
errand and ahnost succeeded in backing a horse and cart into
the river by rehearsing the usual instructions. "Cocky"
would chase visiting squatters and could mimic Aboriginal
singing and dancing by "bobbing his yellow-crowned head up

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

and down and jumping in a sort of dance" .3'^ When he

mounted guard over the sick bed of family members. Cocky
would keep unwanted visitors at a distance, including the
family doctor! A survivor in the best Petrie tradition, "Old
Cocky" was an ultimate part of a nostalgic past which could
only be guessed at by later immigrants to the settlement.

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1848 was to be a year of prolonged drama for the Petries, a

period of intense emotion, unparallelled since their decision
to emigrate. Misfortunes, distinct from social and economic
developments in the settlement, shook the household and
threatened hard-won gains. Moreton Bay of 1848 was not yet
experiencing the excitement of gold discovery or a wave of
mass immigration. With the renewed advance of the squatters, it was clear that pastoralism would continue to dominate
the local export economy. Whether Brisbane would retain its
favoured position as the regional port, however, was uncertain. The precocious growth of Ipswich and the emergence of
a road system to the coast heightened speculation about a
rival township at Cleveland Point.i
While critics dismissed the Brisbane River and adjoining
bay as unsuitable for navigation, the Petries continued to promote the river traffic and Brisbane's commercial future in
preference to road transport and Cleveland. In mid-1847, the
first vessel of local construction, the Selina was launched by
Miss IsabeUa Petrie from the Petrie Bight workshops. Selina
Petrie was a close relative of Andrew's, possibly a sister who
had migrated to the colonies at a later date. A few months
later, Petrie punts supplied Walter Gray's new Ipswich store
with merchandise and retumed with Darling Downs wool.
Whenever possible, building materials were transported in
the same manner. Since convict days, stone had been brought
down the Brisbane River from Ipswich and Woogaroo
(Goodna), while timber was lashed together and rafted on the
tides. The main point of contention at this time did not conProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

cern the lower reaches of theriverbut the shallow channels in

the vicinity of Breakfast Creek and Eagle Farm. Sea-going
vessels were unable to negotiate the river at aU and proceeded only as far as Dunwich before transferring their passengers and cargo to smaller craft. In keeping with its role as
advocate of the Brisbane River, the Petrie firm undertook
several buUding contracts during 1848. A tender for the erection of a Harbour Master's residence at Moreton Island was
duly completed whUe, later in the year, ferry wharves and
wooden ramps were constructed at North and South Brisbane.2 Significantly, John Petrie, who achieved local acclaim
at the rowing regatta of January 1848, figured prominently in
these concerns. His father, Andrew, received little or no mention either in the Moreton Bay Courier or in contemporary
govemment despatches.
Andrew Petrie's movements during 1848 are less easy to
identify. According to the Reminiscences^ he visited the Darling Downs, travelling beyond Ipswich along the Grantham
road as far as Drajrton, a smaU settlement noted for its cedar
forests and deposits of clay (subsequently the famUy acquired
several aUotments of land at Drayton).* In aU probability,
therefore, a search for buildmg materials was the prime purpose of this visit, although Andrew may have spent time at
neighbouring Westbrook station. It is unlikely that his visit
was a protracted one. Despite the reports of Henry Stuart
RusseU and other squatters moving into Wide Bay, Petrie did
not journey further inland to the Bunya Mountains where the
most spectacular forests of Bunya Pine were to be found. Although it was not of historic importance, Andrew's 1848 trip
was the probable catalyst for the attacks of sandy Wight
which beset him upon his return to Brisbane. For the Petrie
famUy, this unexpected and insidious disability emerged at a
critical moment when the basis of the family's material security was being laid.
An eye infection, sandy blight was aggravated by prolonged exposure to sunhght. Its most common strain was
trachoma, a chronic viral conjunctivitis brought to the colony
from India by soldiers in convict days. At Moreton Bay or on
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the Darling Downs, where conditions were often hot and unhygienic, sandy blight could reach epidemic proportions. In
one outbreak in 1828, no fewer than 231 cases were recorded
by the Brisbane Convict Hospital.^ According to Ross Patrick^, trachoma remained a leading cause of patient admissions in Brisbane untU 1872, surpassed only by tuberculosis.
The Aborigmal population was also exposed to the disease
which, even in its endemic form, could inflict corneal scarring
and blindness. Blankets distributed annually to the Aborigines from the 1840s may have aggravated its transmission.
That Andrew should have contracted the affliction weU
after his years of strenuous exploration was ironic. Explorers
like Mitchell and Kennedy were exposed to debUitating bouts
of sandy blight during their expeditions. W.H. Corfield, a
North Queensland settler, described a severe attack which
deprived him of sight for several days and forced him to ride
helpless in a dray.'^ Little was known about the causes of infection diuing the nineteenth century. The most common
remedy was to apply cold tea-leaves to the smouldering eyes
until nitrate of silver (or caustic) could be obtained from a doctor. Ludwig Leichhardt, who had visited Petrie, was known
to carry a phial of "eye water" as a necessary precaution.^ Its
relative success in alleviating sandy bhght would have recommended it to Andrew and Mary Petrie. As a mason, Andrew
was famUiar with eye complaints generated by quarry dust
and stone-chipping. Sandy bhght was more serious. When his
eyes did not respond to common cures, he was forced to seek
medical aid for what had become a debUitating attack.
The decision to consult a local doctor proved unrewarding.
Tom, at age 17, led his suffering father to the old Convict
Hospital in upper Queen Street. This buUding was stUl the
only medical centre in Brisbane, and remained so for another
twenty years until the Petrie firm began constmction of the
present Herston facUities. By 1848, it had opened its doors to
civUians, including free settlers from the Darhng Downs. The
resident surgeon was Dr David Ballow and his only coUeague
at this time was Kearsay Cannan. It was BaUow who treated
Petrie family members on his regular visits to Petrie Bight
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

durmg the late 1840s.9 Andrew presumed that the staff would
be competent to treat what was a relatively common complaint. However, this optimism was misplaced. According to
Tom, who was present on this occasion, the consultation
ended disastrously when, contrary to Andrew's advice "not
to cut anything", the doctor proceeded to catch the skin of his
eye with a pair of tweezers, whUe another cut through it with
a sm-gical instrument in an effort to remove the scum which
had formed around his sight."' Tom, who watched the ordeal,
recorded his indignation at his father's treatment and subsequent distress. Drunkeness, a common problem among early
medical men, may have provoked the blunder, although there
appears to have been more than one staff member present.
Caustic was afterwards applied to Andrew's eyes and he was
discharged with promises of a speedy cure. Whether this improvised surgery was the disputed source of permanent damage is difficiUt to estabhsh. Nevertheless, Tom and his
successors beheved this to be the case and remained convinced that Andrew's precious sight might have been saved
by different hands.
Andrew, after retuming from hospital, walked the room in
agony during the night, until one of his eyes burst. Tom did
not describe the terrible sequel in detail, though it was
traumatic for the entire household. Under these circumstances it woiUd be too much to expect chnical objectivity of
family sources. At best Andrew's medical treatment had
been totally ineffectual. Thomas Dowse, a local resident and
friend of the Petries, stated simply in his reminiscences that
"Mr Petrie was afflicted with a severe attack of opthalmia
which unfortunately refused to yield to the prescribed
remedies" .11 It is difficult to conceive that such gross medical
incompetence would not have become common knowledge in
the small settlement. Whatever the case, Andrew's vision
continued to deteriorate to the point where he totaUy lost the
use of one eye and could scarcely see with the other. At age
50, his condition was rapidly deteriorating into complete
Throughout early 1848, Mary Petrie suffered in the face of

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renewed misfortune. Hard on the heels of Andrew's trauma

came the unexpected disappearance of their third son, Walter. In late AprU of that year, Walter was to take charge of
one of Petrie's punts travelling to Ipswich after the captain
feU Ul. The Petrie boys were experienced navigators and had
made this joumey on previous occasions. However, Walter
never reached the Kangaroo Point wharf, where the punt was
waiting for the turn of the tide. At 8 o'clock that evening,
crew members came to the family house, inquiring as to his
whereabouts. In spite of his failing vision, Andrew was sufficiently concemed at this turn of events to seek out his son in
the township. Before departing on that rainy evening, Walter
had informed his father of his intention to visit friends and
supply himself with tobacco from the settlement. With Tom
acting once more as his guide, Andrew tried several residences before learning that Walter had left town for the punt
some hours ago. Unable to gain further news, they returned
home. Mary, fearing for her blond, blue-eyed son, beheved
him drowned, but Andrew hastened to remind her that Walter was a powerful 22-year-old and an exceUent swimmer. In
the long hours that followed, Andrew's loss of sight was
deeply felt and his judgment faltered under the strain. To
make matters worse, an unfounded rumour that Walter had
mn away circulated in the settlement.
On the following moming, Wednesday 26 April, the search
for Walter intensified. Parties of workmen and volunteers
scoured the river bank and tracks without success. Tom, who
had taken Walter's place guiding the punt, could think only of
his lost brother and watched every floating object on the
river, expecting to see his corpse. 12 Eventually Mary's fears
were vindicated. More by chance than design, Petrie's workmen stumbled on the body close by, in uncleared land near
the present intersection of Queen and Creek Streets. The discovery was an example of Mary Petrie's matemal insight into
the welfare of her son. Before Andrew despatched his men to
the spot, Mary appeared at the door of the house and was said
to have called after them: "You wUl find my poor boy in the
creek!" Isabella tried to draw her mother away, but Mary in-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

sisted on watching the men descend and retum to the house.

Before they could teU Andrew the sad news, she exclaimed:
"I know what has brought you! You have found my boy!"i3
Tom, who had reached Ipswich by this time, did not witness
this event at first hand, but was a party to his mother's grief
before and during the funeral. As forty-eight hours had
elapsed, Walter's body was aheady decomposing. Andrew,
who refused to accept the inevitable, was unable even to
touch his son for the last time. Nor did he wish his wife to see
the corpse in this state, but Mary would not be excluded. The
sight proved too much for her. She caUed out: "That is not my
boy" and fainted.
At the inquest two days later, Patrick Kelly, one of Petrie's
workmen, testified that he had found Walter's body floating
face upwards in shallow water.i'* By this time, the circumstances of the previous Tuesday evening had been reconstructed and local gossip about Walter dispeUed. Mary's son
had indeed been drowned in Wheat Creek, a smaU stream
which gave its name to Creek Street. It was in this same
creek that John Petrie's son, also named Walter, was to
drown nine years later. Wheat Creek, an agricultural site in
convict days, was sufficiently wide to necessitate a bridge between Petrie Bight and the northem Brisbane township. It
was now clear that, when Walter returned to the punt from
the township, he had taken a short-cut across another bridge
closer to the river. This makeshift structure, consisting of
three logs covered by slabs and dirt, was in poor condition
and had partly subsided into the creek. Hurrying on that
dark, rainy evening, Walter missed his footing and shpped on
the exposed logs, plummetting headlong into the creek and
str&ing his head on the slabs which lay exposed at low tide.
Had the creek been fuU, Walter stood a good chance of survival, for he was physically robust and a strong swimmer. As
it was, he lay unconscious with a broken neck m the darkness,
unable to call out to passers-by. The tides which were to carry
his punt upstream then washed the body some distance up
the creek where it lay concealed by thick foliage. In a melan-

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choly but poetic passage of the Reminiscences, Constance

wrote that:
The water which knew him so well and in which he had learned
to swim, rose slowly and lapped against the stalwart young form
as though to rouse it. Then, gaining no answer, and growing
bolder, the tide lifted and carried the lad up the creek to where he
was afterwards found. 15
Families fashion myths, and never more forcefully than in
the face of adversity. The twin tragedies of 1848 - Walter's
drowning and Andrew's blindness - mark a critical moment
in the Petrie story. The loss of Walter, perpetuated in name
by his nephews, attracted more attention in the press and
community than Andrew's plight. Yet it was the latter which
proved to be of greater significance for Brisbane's history and
growth. In the decades which foUowed, two powerful yet contradictory myths grew up in the wake of Andrew Petrie's bitter experience. The first was that of the blind patriarch of
Brisbane town - a rugged survivor who, from his base at Petrie Bight, remained active around the expanding township
for a further twenty-four years. Friendship and respect
turned to veneration as generations of Brisbane immigrants
and townspeople observed Andrew, armed with a cane, negotiating the masonry of new structures, stUl the unofficial superintendent of public works. 1^ Early writers, from Thomas
Dowse to J.J. Knight, described the years which followed the
personal tragedy of 1848 as the most productive and important of the family's long material contribution to the capital.
No less fascinating than the myth of the blind patriarch
was the Aboriginal raterpretation of Andrew's disability,
based upon his early career as an explorer of the Bunya country and near north coast. This explanation came to be associated with Tom's side of the family rather than with John or
his municipal-minded descendants. The Turrbal and Kabi
peoples considered Andrew's blindness to have been the
work of malevolent forces. Blindness was a scar such as he
had inflicted on the Bunya Pine in his commercially motivated search for plants and samples. If Andrew's family attributed his handicap to medical bungling, the Aborigines
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

considered outbreaks of disease, individual or collective, to

be the work of turrwan (great men) or spirit forces.i^ Sorcery
was thus one weapon available to those prestigious owners of
Bunya trees whom Andrew had offended. Whether this explanation was also directed at local Aborigines who suffered
in trachoma outbreaks is unknown. There remained a second
line of Aboriginal thought linked with the spirit of Beerwah,
the taUest Glasshouse Mountain. The ascent of Beerwah by
the Petries, like the cutting of the Bunya Pine, had been a
source of trepidation among Andrew's Aboriginal guides.
The revenge of Brocalpin, the mountain spirit, may weU have
been invoked to explain his disturbing fate. John Petrie, who
had accompanied his father on that occasion, was untouched
by the legend and named his Albion home Beerwah in memory of their adventure. Yet Tom, hving beyond the settlement and in closer contact with the tribes of the near northem
coast, was sufficiently sensitive to recaU their viewpoint in
conversations with his immediate family.

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The family crisis of 1848 did not elevate Tom Petrie to a position of responsibUity comparable with that of his elder
brothers. Tom's bush skUls were put to use by his family and
the local settlers, but his youth and restless temperament distanced him from an active role in the family business. At the
age of 18, he was entrusted with messages for newly formed
stations beyond the township. One of these was Whiteside, a
pastoral property established on the Pine River by Captain
Francis Griffin. The scene of Aboriginal attacks on white
shepherds during 1846-47, Whiteside was situated in immediate proximity to Tom Petrie's future home, the present Petrie
township. However, another eventful decade would elapse
before Tom occupied his Murrumba property.
In contrast with Tom's designated meaning ior Murrumba
("A Good Place"), the Pine River, inhabited by a clan of the
Turrbal (Brisbane) tribe, was the scene of regular skirmishes
in the early days of white settlement. When two of Griffin's
shepherds were speared on Whiteside in September 1847,
Tom was asked to guide troopers in a fruitless pursuit of the
aggressors. 1 During the foUowing decade (1846-56), fatal collisions between white settlers and the blacks intensified.2
The Moreton Bay Courier, campaigning for Native Police protection around Brisbane, estimated that as many as fifty
white lives had been lost in the Pine-Caboolture area by
1854.3 In addition to isolated shepherds, timber-getters, who
were attracted to the dense forests of cedar and beech along
the river, clashed with the blacks. In the same month as the
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

Whiteside spearings, three cedar-getters were attacked by

Aborigines wielding spears and waddies.
The invidious reputation of the northern blacks was the
subject of detailed explanation in Tom Petrie's Reminiscences. In later life, Tom, on the basis of personal knowledge
and Aboriginal oral evidence, undertook a sustained defence
of the local Aboriginal reputation. He linked the attacks of
1847 to an alleged poisoning by Whiteside shepherds.'* This
episode, overshadowed by the Kilcoy incident five years earher, would have been sufficient to promote a lasting distrust
of white newcomers. A recent local history casts doubt on the
Aboriginal claim that three of their tribe died after eating poisoned damper on Whiteside.^ Yet Edgar Foreman, on the
basis of conversations with the Whiteside owner, repeated the
aUegations of a local poisoning and went so far as to designate
its location on Rush Creek.^ Foreman's account exonerated
Griffin from blame and attributed the incident to a theft from
a shepherd's hut. Tom Petrie, more knowledgable than Foreman, believed that white settlers bore a share of the blame for
these violent incidents. In reaching his conclusions, Tom was
prepared to accommodate Aboriginal oral evidence as well
the white viewpoint. Thus the kiUing of a Bribie Island settler, an incident discussed in the first chapter of the Reminiscences'', could only be understood once the deceased's abuse
of his Aboriginal servant was disclosed.
Tom tolerated rather than sanctioned revenge kiUing,
knowing that legal redress or protection was rarely available
to Aborigines. An incident which took place in late 1849 near
the township demonstrated the difficulty of sustaining good
relations with the local tribe. After a report of stock losses
and of an impending attack on the township, the military attacked an Aboriginal camp in the late evening. One of those
injured was Wamgul, an Aboriginal boy employed by the Petries to look after their bullocks. Tom and John set out for
York's HoUow to investigate the report, arriving shortly after
the soldiers .8 The sound of musket fire in the night air
brought them mnnmg to the scene in time to prevent further
casualties. It was not the first time that the York's HoUow
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camp witnessed reprisals against the Turrbal people. On this

occasion, however, the presence of the Petries proved a serious embarrassment to the officers concemed. Tom and John
were summoned as witnesses before an official inquiry into
the shooting of four Aborigines.9
The day after the shooting, Tom set out to locate the bullocks and bring in the injured blacks. He was able to speak
with the frightened Aborigines in their own language and
track the bullocks which were in the habit of straying down
the creek. It was largely because of Tom's testimony at the
inquiry that disciplinary action was taken against two of the
soldiers.I*' The Courier, covering the investigation, played
down the blunder by stressing the bad reputation of the
York's HoUow camp and denouncing "the extreme duplicity
and treachery of the native blacks" .n The racism of the Courier and the aggression of the soldiers jeopardised the success
of the Retries' conciliatory policy. Andrew Petrie and his family had already demonstrated the economic value of their approach by recruiting Aboriginal women as domestics and
young male workers for casual labour beyond the settlement.
Tom was subsequently to renew this experiment on the Pine
River, where he was heavily dependent on Aboriginal labour
for timber-getting and stock work.
As the white labour force at Moreton Bay fluctuated during the 1850s, Aborigines continued to play a role as
labourers in and around the township. News of gold discoveries in Cahfornia sparked a considerable exodus of the white
population across the Pacific. The trend continued with optimistic reports of finds near Bathurst in New South Wales. In
September 1851, Thomas Dowse, a local auctioneer, recorded in his diary that the impending departure of local residents was causing anxiety among tradesmen.12 Tom Petrie,
on the strength of letters pubhshed in the Courier, decided to
try his luck on the southem fields. In the company of local
companions, he left Brisbane by steamer and travelled to the
Turon diggings in the Bathurst district where he prospected
unsuccessfully before retuming north. It was the begmning
of a new phase in Tom's career as a wanderer and explorer.
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

In his early twenties he travelled widely through eastern Australia and, in the next five years, visited Victorian fields such
as Sandhurst, Goulburn, Beechworth, Tarrengower, Fryer's
Creek and Maryborough. The much-prized gold ring which
he wore after his retum was the only personal souvenir of
these nomadic years. Although he faUed to amass quick
wealth, Tom, like many diggers, never completely abandoned his interest in prospecting. His mining career paralleUed his father's interest in the development of local coal
The detaUs of Tom's early years as a gold digger remain
obscure. He visited Victoria at an exciting time - the era of
Eureka and of Chinese immigration. Yet the Reminiscences
have little to say about this period of his life. Tom's abihty to
emulate the egalitarian ways of the diggers without imbibing
their racism was a noteworthy feature of his temperament.
Yet he does not appear to have been influenced by their radical repubhcanism and retained his respect for the squatters as
a class throughout his life. If Tom's own account of these
years is surprisingly slender, the recollections of a traveUing
companion, James Porter, provide some insights into their
southern years. Porter, a youthful apprentice with the Petrie
firm, also took part in the Bathurst rush of 1851. Two years
later, he returned to Brisbane and was re-employed by the
Petries before deciding to try his luck in Victoria. According
to Porter, he planned to accompany Tom there in May 1855
but was delayed until the end of the year and subsequently
joined him on the Ovens field after a long overland trek from
Sydney. 13
With Tom, Porter obtained employment on pastoral properties en route to the diggings. After earning good wages on
the field for almost a year, the two men were able to purchase
a small claim for themselves. By the close of 1856, however,
Tom was suffering from a protracted bout of illness and was
keen to return north. Conditions on the field were unsavoury
and the miners had to rely heavily on patent medicines to cure
a variety of work-related illnesses. In early 1857, Tom left the
Ovens and gold digging for Moreton Bay. Contrary to acProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



cepted belief, Tom had intermpted his southern prospecting

on previous occasions to retum home. The reasons for these
joumeys were in all probability personal ones. In 1855, his
mother was dying from a lengthy Ulness.i* Tom was also
courting a Scottish neighbour, Elizabeth Campbell, and hoping to establish himself in Brisbane with southem gold.
One dramatic episode of the Reminiscences which confirms
Tom's presence at Moreton Bay before 1857 was the graphic
account of DundaUi's hanging outside the Brisbane Gaol.i^
Condemned to death in January 1855, DundaUi, a Bribie
black, epitomised the ferocious northern savage in the eyes of
the press and the white community. The betrayal of DundaUi
by members of the Brisbane tribe was a source of recrimination among the black community. As he mounted the gallows, DundaUi appealed to Tom and members of his own
tribe to avenge him. The authorities, anticipating a rescue
bid, had posted police and troopers around the scaffold. The
execution proceeded, but not according to plan. The hangman miscalculated and was forced to physicaUy intervene to
secure his victim. On his first attempt, DundaUi's feet
touched the ground, whereupon the executioner swung his
prisoner's legs upward and tied them to his pinioned arms in
a macabre and horrible death pose.i^ Tom, who had been an
unwiUing witness at the first local Aboriginal executions fourteen years earher, relived his boyhood revulsions in the brutal
clumsiness of DimdaUi's hanging. Public executions were an
important social ritual in Brisbane, attracting large assemblies of black and white spectators. Although Tom considered that the Aborigines viewed hanging without trepidation
in the early years of settlement, DundaUi's reaction on the
scaffold suggests that the blacks had come to fear executions
as an ahen and undignified form of punishment.
Race relations had not improved during Tom's absence
from Brisbane. Skirmishing persisted on the Pine River and
along the near north coast. In February 1857, a party of
cedar-cutters clashed with Aborigines on the Caboolture
River in a confrontation which left one white dead and another severely wounded. Several Bribie Island blacks, includ-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

ing one named Ballow, were suspected of committing the attack. Tom was later told by Aborigines that the cedar-cutters
had panicked and opened fire without cause.i^ Nevertheless,
the incident served to confirm the poor reputation of
DundaUi's tribe.i^ Shortly after the Caboolture River incident, Tom, StiU unaware of the skirmish, encountered the
same Bribie blacks during an expedition in the bay. On Febmary 21, he departed Brisbane in search of a boat at
Humpybong, the site of the abandoned Redcliffe settlement.
The party which included Tom's younger brother George Petrie and a black guide, carried provisions for five days but was
out of the settlement for almost a fortnight. During this time,
as on previous occasions, fears for their safety mounted. So
alarmed had the Petrie family become that an expedition,
sanctioned by Andrew himself, set out to punish the Bribie
people. 19 Bad weather and flooding diverted Tom's party and
forced them to depend upon the Bribie blacks for food. Despite their reputation in the settlement, the Aborigines
proved to be trustworthy and hospitable. They offered his
party bangwall, a fern root, and supplied them with crabs,
oysters and fish when their rations ran out. Tom found the
diet more agreeable than George, whose weakening condition encouraged them to cross back to the mainland at the
earhest opportunity. They were about to depart when the
search party reached the island. Twelve days after leaving
the settlement, Tom's smaU group retumed, to the relief of
his friends and family.
Hearing of the Caboolture River skirmish and recognising
the Aboriginal suspects as his hosts, Tom attempted to put
their version of the incident. Using information which he
gleaned from Aborigines during the trip, he related their version of the Caboolture clash. Accordmg to the Aborigines,
one of the timber-cutters had precipitated the confrontation
by firing on them at close range without warning. The Courier, however, baulked at this account of the events. Referring obliquely to Tom's testimony, the editor contemptuously
We are informed that an attempt was even made . . . to palliate
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the outrage by putting a different construction on it and insinuating that the whites were the aggressors. We do not attach much
importance however to any excuses put forward by the natives.20
That Tom rewarded the same blacks for their part in his rescue and later employed them in his timber-cutting operations
was consistent with the conciliatory spirit of the Reminiscences. He contended, in retrospect, that the good qualities
displayed by the blacks were often ignored by white colonists
and their intentions misconstmed. The Courier, commenting
on Tom's unexpected retum, could only observe that he enjoyed remarkable immunity from the aggressive north-coast
In spite of scepticism about his Aboriginal views, Tom retained his former popularity in family and social circles. He
enjoyed close relations with his brothers, George and Andrew, and courted Ehzabeth CampbeU, the third sister of
James CampbeU. The Campbells, a large immigrant family
from Perthshire, became acquainted with the Petries after
their arrival at Moreton Bay in 1853. In the foUowing year,
they purchased land near Petrie Bight and organised the joint
baptism of their own son, John Dunmore, with John Petrie's
first-born, Andrew Lang.21 In the decades to come, the Petrie-Campbell connection was to become increasingly competitive. CampbeU began his Moreton Bay career as a
plasterer, but was later to diversify his activities with notable
success. From a social and business viewpoint, the Scottish
Calvinist values of both families, coupled with their mutual
interest in buUding and construction, made the match between Tom and Elizabeth a desirable one. Now twenty-eight,
Tom was looking to remain in the north but was restless with
town hfe. His career in the goldfields had only strengthened
the urge for an independent existence on the land.
Advice to the newljrweds was forthcoming from a number
of sources. Initially it was Charles Tiffin, the Government Architect, who suggested to Tom the possibihty of taking up
pastoral property near Brisbane. Tiffin, who was a close associate of the family, subsequently became a relative through
marriage in the following generation.22 Tom's next move was

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

to approach a childhood Aboriginal friend, Dalngang, and his

father, Dalaipi. Dalaipi enjoyed a long association with the
Petries, having accompanied Andrew on the celebrated Wide
Bay journey. He was known to be both reliable and influential, especiaUy over the North Pine clan of which he was an
elder.23 Dalaipi's contribution to Tom's venture was critical,
for only he could provide the powerful patronage required in
the district where white newcomers were unwelcome.
In 1859, on the eve of Separation and a southern pastoral
rush, Tom set out for the Pine River-Caboolture district with
Dalngang in search of suitable grazing territory. On the North
Pine, near the site of the present raUway station, Tom found
the land promising but, despite the urgings of Dalngang that
the ground (Yebri) belonged to his own father, Tom was
aware that it formed part of Whiteside station, occupied by
the Griffin family since 1843. Tom's choice was further complicated by the close proximity of bora rings {Nindurngineddo). Whether Dalaipi or local blacks would have
sanctioned the occupation of a religious site is questionable,
even if Tom were permitted to observe kipper ceremonies at
a distance. The Reminiscences have suprisingly httle to say
about the bora rings, except in the context of an earher expedition to the Pine by Tom's father Andrew.2'* Perhaps
Andrew's earlier presence had in some way sanctioned the
return of his son. The larger ring, located near the present
junction of what are now Dayboro and Redcliffe roads, was
the first to disappear; the smaller ring on a ridge behind the
Murrumba homestead was preserved and remained visible at
the turn of the century .25
On nearby Sidelong Creek, Tom and Dalngang encountered John Griffin, who was loading timber by the Pine River.
Griffin, who was heavily armed, claimed that the land nearby
was useless for grazing because of constant Aboriginal
poaching and encouraged Tom to apply to his mother. The
Reminiscences record that Mrs Griffin, pleased with the prospect of a neighbour, was prepared to negotiate the transfer of
a substantial portion of Whiteside stretching from Sidelong
Creek to the coast .2^ It is difficult to conceive that the GrtfProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

J.D. Lang (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Scots Church, Sydney (Courtesy Mitchell Library)

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Andrew Petrie (Courtesy John Oxley Library)
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Sydney Town c. 1831 (Courtesy Mitchell Library)

The Australian College (Ferguson Memorial Library)

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Andrew Petrie's portable writing desk (Courtesy Dr J.G. Steele)

Andrew Petrie's portable writing desk, opened to show sloping writing area (Courtesy
Dr J.G. Steele)

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Dr Ludwig Leichhardt (Courtesy

John Oxley Library)

. L^-^-^ir ^m

Allan Cunningham (Courtesy

John Oxley Library)
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Mt Beerwah, Glasshouse
Mountains (Courtesy John
Oxley Library)

John Petrie (Courtesy John

Oxley Library)
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Walter RoUo Petrie

(Courtesy Rollo Petrie)
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James Davis (Courtesy John

Oxley Library)

Henry Stuart Russell (Courtesy

John Oxley Library)
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Believed to be Mary Petrie's work box (Courtesy Royal Historical Society of Queensland)

Staff of John Petrie, building contractor; photographed behind his home at the
comer of Queen and Wharf Streets. (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


Andrew Petrie
Baadel, cattle drover
Bavory ithe only baker)
Benateads, aawycta
T. Richortson (tho only general stort)
Krom the bricks of this old house the
first VVcsleyan Church WBB bnilt.
6. Convict Barraoks (afterwords Court
7. W, Keot tdrDggiKt shop)
8. Pitzpntrick (the Finit Chief CoRfitable}
fl. The Lock-up
10. The Constables' Place lonly two in B.II<
U. Slates' Post OPHcc (oWi
12. Hlmes' Pioeapiile (ianlf n
lit. Charch of England
14. The Hospital


1844, from a drawing by C . F, Gcrler

'. Mort. niilktoan
;. Wright's Hotel
'. The General Cemetery
. Tread and Windmill
'. Edmouston'ii Paddock
I. Old R. Jonee
. Dr. SiinpHUB (the first ComiiiitiaioQeri
I. Old Major frior
I. The Gaol
. tikTririg's Beehives isoft gaodK shoiD
I. Hayes, milkman
I. Brothers Fraser iflrst bousesi
. The Catholic Church
i. McLean's Blacksmith's Shop
I. Edmontston's ithe only batcher)
I. Bow's Hotel
. Taylor Shappart

. Montlfeui (a liiu
. .
. W. Pickering mow Bank o( K.b-W.)
- Sergeant Joner>
. Soldiers' Barracks
. Officer De Wintoii
, Commission Stoics
I. Queen's Wharf (the imly (iRei
, UapLaia Wickham'ti OfHce
I. Commissioner T. Kent
. The Oomniiisionev'sCloidoii
;. Captain Coley
i. Government Gardens
Father Haiilfy (the only Prici-ti
;. Saw Pits ilate Gas Works, now Adelaide
S.8, Co.i
i. (jueen Street
'. The Boat House i.d Doatman's House
i. The First Tombstone (two Rrave-i

Brisbane 1844 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Miss Selina Petrie, after whom the first

boat built in the Moreton Bay District
(by the Petrie firm) was named (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Andrew Petrie (Courtesy John Oxley

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Thomas Petrie (Courtesy John

Oxley Library)

' *"^?'*

Elizabeth Petrie (nee Campbell)

(Courtesy Rollo Petrie)
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1 1 * ^ ^iw-^v...


^Mt iSSf




^"^ ^^^V^^H^^^^^I

'^ ^ ' " i - ''""" v^^^'-ij^rjssjj

Pr^~' -

Murrumba, Tom's house (Courtesy Ted Halliday, Courier-Mail)

William Pettigrew (Courtesy

John Oxley Library)

Desk at which Constance Petrie

wrote Tom's reminiscences (Courtesy Rollo Petrie)

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Rollo Petrie (Courtesy


Rollo Petrie under tree

on his property at Petrie
where Cobb and Co.
Coach made its first stop
en-route for Gympie
(Courtesy Rollo Petrie)
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Minnie Petrie, eldest daughter of

Tom Petrie (Courtesy John Oxley

Constance Campbell Petrie (Courtesy

John Oxley Library)
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Dr Hobbs' property c. 1878 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Newstead House c. 1950. Built by Petrie firm 1846. (Courtesy John Oxley

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John and Andrew Petrie Jnr (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Bulimba House 1905 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

St John's Pro Cathedral 1850. Built by Petrie Firm 1850. (Courtesy John Oxley
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Cleveland Court House c. 1871. Built by Petrie Firm in 1852 as store for Messrs
Bigge. (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Group including Miss Isabella Petrie outside Petrie Bight House, about to accompany her father to welcome Govemor Bowen on his arrival (Courtesy John Oxley

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Aborigines, Brisbane District 1869

(Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Aboriginal bag presented to Tom

Petrie (Courtesy Rollo Petrie)

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

King Sandy or "Keri-Walli" (Toorbul

Point or Ningi Tribe) (Courtesy John
Oxley Library)

Aborigines, Brisbane District 1890

(Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Roaling Baths
at end of
Alice Street

Harbours and

E. Bamett's



Main Street


Charlotte Street

Brisbane photographed from Bowen terrace, 1881

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Old To)

k, Cre'=''

Cobb & Co.


(Wickham Terrace)

Brisbane Gas

Excelsior Hotel
(now Oriental

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Aborigines, Bribie Island 1894 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)


Aborigines presented with blankets outside GPO (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Aborigines, Bribie Island 1890s (Cotirtesy John Oxley Library)

Queen Street 1859 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Mayor and First Aldermen of the City Council (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Wickham Terrace 1865 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

John Petrie's offices c. 1880 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Great Fire 1864 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Joint Stock Bank, Brisbane. Erected in 1860 on the west side of Queen Street
between Edward Street and Creek Street, by John Petrie (Courtesy John Oxley

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Bank of Australasia c.1909 (Courtesy John Oxley library)

Adderton, now All Hallows's Convent (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Royal Brisbane Hospital 1878 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

John Petrie and

(Courtesy John
Oxley Library)

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Petrie employees outside Parliament House c. 1880 (Courtesy John Oxley

GPO 1889 (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

George Bamey Petrie's inlaid table (Courtesy Royal Historical Society of Queensland)

Family headstone, Toowong

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ y^



S/^P^""' ^^^1


%/^''.~ ^ ^ ^ B

^ *


DIED J , . ,
A d o 71 YEARS.



fii.ovED M^^:,^^ ,

D i



o . t o , , . ^, ,^^. ,^,_
AOEO 61 V , 3

"o -laEn rirTi, r,,,..,,,.



1 "= ""--.-*.,.,
^ ^^^^^^1
1 .^, * " " * ^Aiis.^ig
>J , ' - * ' ' TEI TTllM , - . s s 3 ^ ^
^ i M HILDA Ros^lHifr^

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ K _ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ H ^ ^ ^ ' ' " vE*a&

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ H ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ s ^ . - ^ "''

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Dimity Doman andfemilyheadstone, Toowong Cemetery

Supreme Court c.1890 (Courtesy John Oxley library)

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Andrew Lang (Courtesy

John Oxley Library)

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ri> i j i i
Whytecliffe (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Mooloomburram 1930. Now "The Hall" at St Margaret's School. (Cotirtesy John Oxley

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

JOHN PETRIE & SON, Monumental Marble and Stone Works, comer Amelia
and Brunswick Streets, Valley, Brisbane; near Cemetery gates, Toowong, and at
b hnders Street, TownsviUe. The Largest Stock in the colonies to select from h??nwxJlcT.^^''- ^"""^ ^'^^ ^ ^ ^ook of Designs on application to P.M
DOWNES, Manager. (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Sir Thomas Mcllwraith

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Brisbane floods 1893 (comer of Albert and Elizabeth Streets) (Courtesy John
Oxley Library)

Brisbane floods 1893 (Alice Street) (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

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Brisbane floods 1893 (Albion) (Courtesy John Oxley Library)

Constance Campbell Petrie.

Portrait by Oscar Fristrom.
Photograph by Greg Wilson.
permission of David Gibson,
Board of Tmstees of Newstead

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



fins, who had fought for the land, would relinquish part of
their property so easily to a young newcomer. Whether they
were influenced by Tom's friendship with Dalaipi and the
Aborigines, or simply sceptical about his long-term prospects
and prepared to let him squat for a preliminary period, is uncertain. It remains the case that Tom did not have legal title
to the property in the earliest stage of his occupation.
Acting upon verbal assurances from the Griffins, Tom
formed his Pine River station with assistance from Dalaipi
and a dozen Turrbal blacks. The Aborigines were shown how
to split fences and encouraged to undertake stock work
around the property. Dalngang, Dalaipi's son, could already
ride a horse and several of his companions were entrusted
with the task of ferrying supplies to and from the Brisbane
township. The remainder assisted Tom in timber-cutting and
helping to erect a slab hut.
Tom called his station Murrumba, meaning "a Good
Place"; for most white settlers, however, it remained a dangerous location. Episodic conflict on the river and the coast
intensified prior to Separation, with the arrival of several Native Police detachments. In one incident during 1858, Lieutenant Williams led the 4th detachment against local blacks
accused of killing bullocks on neighbouring Whiteside.'^'' In
the stand-up fight which followed, one trooper was speared
eight times before the others could assist him. The black police exacted bloody revenge for the loss of their companion,
killing six members of the local tribe and wounding two
more. In the same period. Lieutenant Wheeler commenced
operations with eight troopers at nearby Sandgate, a small
fishing village popular with the Bribie blacks. One local
source claimed that he disciplined Aborigines by "firing a
few volleys of blanks over their heads" .^^ The notorious reputation which Wheeler later acquired suggests that the 5th
detachment was engaged in more destructive work. In 1860,
five blacks were shot on Whiteside by Wheeler's men.^s A
Dumindur Aboriginal told Tom Petrie that Wheeler fired at
blacks on sight in the bush.^'' Tom's own attitudes to the Native Police presence were ambivalent. On the one hand, he
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

condemned Wheeler in the Reminiscences and claimed to

have saved a group of Aborigines from his troopers. On the
other, he evinced views favourable to the Native Police at an
investigation in 1861 and claimed no knowledge of the Sandgate officer.3i
Tom's statements before the 1861 inquiry are at variance
with the humanitarian views evinced in the Reminiscences
forty years later. Chaired by squatters, the committee was
keen to exonerate the Native Police and discredit missionary
efforts in Queensland. Liberal critics of the force were highly
critical of its brutal methods, but Tom did little at this point in
time to expose it. While he acknowledged that a mixed force
of white and black might be preferable, Tom upheld the arguments of the squatters that white police were ineffectual in
tracking Aborigines in the bush. Tom did not resort to the
Native PoHce as his neighbours continued to do. Yet the pragmatic thrust of his statements suggested that no long-term solution to frontier conflict, other than Aboriginal decimation,
appeared possible at this time. In no sense was Tom a reformer or philanthropist in the mould of Exeter Hall. How
was this inconsistency possible? In part, it could be attributed
to his dislike for public controversies, and to his knowledge of
ongoing local conflicts. Whether Griffin or other squatters exerted pressure on Tom to give favourable evidence is difficult
to ascertain; it is nevertheless the case that in 1861 Tom did
not yet possess legal title to the Murrumba property.
In the absence of a constructive policy framework, the
squatter committee attributed Tom's good relations with the
blacks to longstanding friendship with local headmen. Tom's
recognition of Dalaipi's role in the establishment of
Murrumba tends to confirm this view. An interesting supplement to the 1861 evidence is the reconstructed dialogue of
the Reminiscences between Tom and the ageing Dalaipi. The
personification of the "Noble Savage", Dalaipi, by rejecting
alcohol and tobacco, exerted a steadying influence on the
Murrumba workforce. His exchange with Tom confirms the
intractable situation developing between black and white.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



Dalaipi: When the white man came among us, we were hunted from
our ground, shot, poisoned and had our daughters, sisters
and wives taken from us. Could you blame us if we killed
the white man?
Tom: But my father [Andrew] said the black fellows killed poor
whites who never did them any harm.
Dalaipi: That is nothing. If a man of one tribe killed someone of a
second tribe, the first person in the former that the others
came across was killed for revenge. That is our law.^^
The conversation ends on a conciliatory note with Dalaipi acknowledging Tom's kindness and their family friendship.
Dalaipi's view of the Petries concurred with that of white observers who attributed to Tom and his family an exceptional
position in colonial frontier society.
Not only did Aborigines provide Murrumba with pastoral
labour, they accompanied Tom on a series of timber expeditions to the north coast. Throughout eastern Australia, the
practice of employing Aboriginal guides in search of the forest giants was widespread. Aboriginal knowledge of the local
terrain and environment was invariably superior. Since the
1840s, logs from the Pine River district were despatched to
Sydney for the construction industry. By the following decade, William Pettigrew had estabhshed a steam-powered
saw mill to meet the growing demand for timber around Brisbane. The Moreton Bay Pine {Araucaria Cunninghamii)
which gave the Pine River its name constituted three-quarters of all timber used in Brisbane buildings. The Petries also
used the pine for their family punts.^^ Bullock drays carried
logs to a siding near Murrumba Creek where they were
lashed and rafted to Brisbane via Sandgate. The small-scale
operations of the early timber industry were well suited to
bushmen like Tom Petrie and James Davis, a half-caste son
of Duramboi, who had drifted from the township to the PineCaboolture district.34 Co-operation, on a casual basis, grew up
between individual Aboriginal males and the white timbergetting population. During the 1860s when the timber trade
flourished. Aboriginal guides were recruited to assist bullock
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

drays through the swamps and undergrowth of the Maroochy, Mooloolah and Noosa River forests.
Tom Petrie's participation in the timber trade began in
1860 when he, with a body of local blacks, accompanied Brisbane merchant William Pettigrew to Tin Can Bay, Maryborough and Fraser Island.^^ Pettigrew, drawing on Tom's
experience, relied on Dalaipi's name and Dalngang" s tact to
placate the numerous Fraser Island blacks. Tom was following the example of his father who, twenty years earlier, had
travelled to Wide Bay by boat in search of new timber species. Since childhood, he had heard from Davis and from Andrew about the magnificent northem forests. The party was
not to be disappointed. Impressed by the immense quantity of
Kauri Pine on Fraser Island and the adjacent mainland,
Pettigrew laid plans to establish a mill at Dundathu, 11
kilometres below Maryborough on the Mary River.
Dundathu was the local Aboriginal term for the Kauri Pine.
By 1863, Pettigrew, who was a major supplier for the Petrie
company in Brisbane, had made several trips to Maryborough to supervise the clearing of land and the installation of
machinery. The advent of a second steam-powered plant and
regular transport between Maryborough and Brisbane was a
significant technological departure from the old milling methods and opened up the Bunya country to rapid exploitation.
By the end of the decade, Dundathu was processing 3.3 million square feet (306 SOOm^) of timber a year at a handsome
annual profit of 15 000 pounds.^^
The state of the early Queensland timber industry receives
little systematic attention in the Reminiscences. Yet both its
economic impact and its environmental impact were critical,
especially on the outskirts of large settlements. As the population of Brisbane rose rapidly in the 1860s, timber supplies
were depleted. By 1864, no pine could be had within 9
kilometres of the township, and there was no cedar to be
found within a radius of 16 kilometres.^^ Since convict days,
the industry had been wasteful. One timber cutter remembered leaving 400 logs to rot on the banks of the Brisbane
river when the price of pine fell suddenly.^s Flooding along
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the Pine and other local rivers accounted for further losses,
since timber was left lying on the banks for months after logging. In some instances, competing groups of timbermen engaged in needless felling of forest tracts simply to thwart
their opponents. Farming immigrants, who took up selections around Brisbane and Ipswich, continued the wanton destruction of softwoods by ringbarking, clearing and burning.
Tom Petrie's knowledge of the bush recommended him to
Brisbane merchants, as it had to Ludwig Leichhardt two decades before. In association with Pettigrew, he undertook a
series of exploratory trips with Aboriginal companions in
search of cedar. Valuable hardwoods like cedar and beech
were being cut along the Pine and at Dayboro to meet an expanding southem market. In 1862 Tom journeyed north in a
whaleboat to the Mooloolah and Maroochy Rivers, where his
father and brother had previously sought out the Bunya Pine.
On this occasion the party clearly intended staying for some
time, as a number of the Aborigines with Tom were accompanied by their wives.^^ In addition to the North Pine blacks,
Tom followed Andrew's practice of taking on Bribie Island
people, some of whom had assisted him during the mishap of
1858. On their second day out, Tom left the coast and
climbed Buderim Mountain in the Mooloolah hinterland. The
Aborigines accompanying him believed him to be the first
white man on the mountain, although this was, strictly speaking, incorrect. Eight years earlier, Richard Jones, who was
one of Andrew Petrie's Wide Bay party, had been on
Buderim looking for timber on Pettigrew*s behalf.^ Tom's
1862 visit proved to be more productive than that of Jones.
With the assistance of Aboriginal axemen, he cut a substantial quantity of cedar but baulked at the task of transporting
his logs down Buderim's steep slopes. Delaying this operation, Tom returned to the coast and on the following day proceeded north to the Maroochy River where he hoped to locate
more accessible hardwoods.
Tom was now close to the Bunya scrub which Andrew and
John had penetrated at considerable risk. Disembarking upstream, he encountered a large band of Maroochy (Kabi) AbProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

origines, some of whom had never before seen a white person. Sensing danger, Tom called on one of his party,
Wanangga, to conciliate.*^ Wanangga informed the Maroochy people that Tom was a turrwan (great man) and impressed them with stories of the white's firepower, as
Andrew's guides had done. With the aid and protection of his
blacks, Tom remained on the river to cut cedar. This operation, involving several arduous trips to and from Murrumba,
took place on Petrie Creek, a tributary of the Maroochy,
which extends inland as far as present-day Nambour. The
parallel with Andrew was once again apparent, although the
latter had been more cautious in obtaining small specimens of
the Bunya Pine upstream. While the river Maroochy is attributed to Andrew, Petrie Creek, which flows into it, is associated with Tom and the 1862 visit.
Tom's activities as a cedar-cutter at several north-coast locations are confirmed by a business entry in William
Pettigrew's diary. "^^ Pettigrew noted that Petrie had cut 222
cedar logs on Buderim and a smaller quantity at Mooloolah.
Petrie is also credited with establishing Pettigrew's coastal
depot at Cotton Tree in that year and organising the removal
of his Buderim cedar by bullock dray along what is now King
Street to the coast. The Reminiscences provide only sketchy
information on the business relationship between the two
men. Tom was not a capitalist or entrepreneur in the mould
of Pettigrew. Rather, he was one of several scouts despatched by Pettigrew to survey the north coast. Acting on
Tom's advice, Pettigrew concentrated his operation on the
Maroochy River, laying several kilometres of railway line and
employing two bullock teams in hauUng the local hardwood.
He also purchased a timber lease of 280 hectares (640 acres)
on Buderim Mountain. With the completion of the Dundathu
mill near Maryborough, Pettigrew was laying the basis for a
lucrative large-scale industry. His Brisbane mill was estimated to have employed as many as 600 workers.
The sacred Bunya Pines, located on nearby mountains and
in rugged terrain, were as yet largely untouched. In the early
years, Pettigrew, who was famihar with their location at
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



Melum, Cooroy and the north branches of the Maroochy, followed the Petrie practice of regarding the Bunya as a prohibited tree.'*3 Tom, hke most individual timber-cutters, was
careful to avoid cutting down Bunyas, although he appears to
have taken back several small plants to beautify Murrumba.
The threat to the Bunya country and its people was, however,
significantly increased by the decision of the new Queensland
govemment in 1860 to rescind Governor Gipps' protective
legislation and issue yearly licences over areas of up to 1
square mile.** Trouble was inevitable when white timbermen
breached the natural defences provided by the coastal
swamps and penetrated the hinterland. Racial co-operation in
the timber industry was by no means guaranteed. At Noosa
and Eumundi, where the timber trade was also expanding, relations between blacks and whites were soured by the illtreatment meted out to the local tribe. According to George
Harris, who hauled 400 000 feet (122 000 metres) of cedar
from Noosa, "many of the timber-cutters went in fear of their
lives and carried firearms at all times" .*^
The excitement of Tom's timber excursions should not obscure the difficult situation of his wife, Elizabeth. In the early
years of their marriage, Elizabeth remained for a time with
her family in Brisbane until adequate accommodation in the
form of a slab hut could be erected. It is not clear exactly
when she left Brisbane for their Pine River property. Certainly Elizabeth was living on Murrumba before the homestead was constructed in 1864. By this time, she had given
birth to three daughters, Mary Helen (Minnie), Matilda Jane
and Catherine Jessie. Elizabeth's temperament appears to
have been well suited to Tom's extroverted nature. She could
ride a horse and proved resourceful in the strange new environment. Family members later recounted that she would accompany her husband from Murrumba to Brisbane, carrying
their first daughter in a basket which Tom had fitted to the
Elizabeth's situation could be compared with that of
Tom's mother, Mary, during the Moreton Bay years. She
was often isolated for prolonged periods, notably in 1863
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

when Tom spent much of his time at Maroochydore. Like

Mary, she relied on Aboriginal women for domestic labour
and company. Dalngang's wife was among her earliest companions. Later, when immigrant labour was available, Elizabeth employed a white maid on the property. A wOman of
strong Presbjrterian principles, she had to come to terms with
the Aboriginal lifestyle and their familiarity with Tom.
Ehzabeth's role in managing the property in Tom's absence
remains unspecified in the Reminiscences. It is inferred that
Dalaipi remained on the property on these occasions. There is
also evidence that Tom's brothers, Andrew Jnr and George
spent time on Murrumba in the early years. Andrew in particular appears to have maintained communication between
Brisbane and Murrumba, as well as helping out around the
property. Of all his brothers, Tom was closest to Andrew, although the two were strikingly different.*^ Gaunt and quietly
spoken, Andrew complemented Tom's restless and extroverted nature.
One social difference between the two brothers lay in the
extent of their family responsibilities. In each generation
there were bachelors or spinsters like Andrew Jnr, but the
majority, including Tom, married and began large famihes.
Motherhood in the bush was exacting for Ehzabeth. Isolation
from medical care could be critical for mother and child.
There were, however, no recorded mortalities among her
young children. In Tom's absence, Elizabeth was usually
confined to the station for it was still not considered safe for
her to venture out alone. The closest female neighbour to
Murrumba was Mrs Griffin, now aged and infirm, on Whiteside. Occasional family visits from Brisbane interrupted the
predictable rhythms of station life. Tom's sister, Isabella,
with her two young girls, was among those who made the
trip. When Isabella moved to live at Sandgate she was within
closer travelling distance of Elizabeth and Murrumba station.
Constmction of the homestead in 1864 marked an important moment of occupation and provided overnight accommodation for visitors and passers-by. Positioned on a shght rise
facing east, the new homestead afforded a view of the sea. It
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



was an imposing Queenslander with wide verandahs designed to catch the welcome breeze. The interior reflected
the skilled craftsmanship associated with John Petrie's successful Brisbane firm. Furnishings included cedar chests and
tables, sturdy four-poster beds and carved dining room
chairs, some of which were family wedding presents for the
young couple. Heirlooms like the inlaid wooden box which
formerly belonged to Tom's mother were cherished for their
sentimental value. The solid trappings of domesticity were
symbolised by the old rocking chair of Grandmother Petrie,
in which Tom nursed his daughters to sleep by singing them
Aboriginal songs. Around the homestead, Tom had begun to
plant a garden of Hoop, Kauri and Bunya Pines as well as
giant weeping figs, jacarandas and poinciana trees. Well
tended, the garden continued to flourish for almost a century,
impressing travellers and visitors with its tranquillity.*^
The earnings from Tom's lucrative cedar trips were invested in the Murrumba property. Apart from stock outlays,
he spent more than 500 pounds in a bid to gain freehold title.
The declaration of the Redcliffe Agricultural Reserve in 1862
threatened to encroach on Tom's holdings. At the first land
sales held in the district, Tom protected his run by purchasing 325 hectares.*^ Apart from a small 5 hectare portion for
which he applied later in the decade,^ this constituted the
total extent of his grazing property at this time. There was little resistance to Tom's purchase. Although the Redcliffe Agricultural Reserve was designed for land-order immigrants
arriving after Separation, the first wave of selection did not
reach the Pine River district until the Land Acts of 1866 and
1868. Even then, there were serious obstacles to be overcome. Edgar Foreman, accompanying his family to the district in the mid-1860s, was confronted at the river crossing by
a large party of threatening blacks. Tom Petrie's fortuitous
appearance placated the Aborigines and ensured Foreman a
safe passage. Petrie's wilhngness to protect selectors increased his popularity. Acknowledging Petrie's conciliatory
presence. Foreman recorded that: Tom Petrie's name had a
great deal to do in those days with the protection from danger
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

to the whites from the blacks. Right from Maryborough to

Brisbane if you were a "brother belonga Tommy Petrie" you
were alright.^^
Early Pine River settlers imitated Tom's example by tuming to timber-cutting instead of agriculture. According to
Wilham Pettigrew, many of the north-coast selections were
taken up solely for their timber potential.^^ When the Foremans failed at farming, Edgar took up cedar-cutting, hauling
large quantities by bullock from the Dayboro Ranges. One of
the major attractions of the timber trade was the promise of
good wages. Bullock drivers earned up to 250 pounds annually in this physically demanding occupation. The other economic alternative after 1867 was gold-digging. Exciting finds
at Gympie (Nashville) prompted an exodus north by farmers,
timbermen and the Brisbane unemployed. Tom, now a man
of family and property, did not participate in the rush. He did,
however, visit the field and played a part in opening up the
difficult land route from Brisbane to Gympie. In the early
years, fortune seekers preferred to travel to the diggings by
steamer, disembarking at Maryborough and completing the
joumey overland. The rugged Bunya country was forbidding
terrain to most newcomers. Even experienced travellers like
John Bidwill, the botanist who usurped the official title of the
Bunya Pine from Andrew, had been unable to penetrate it
and perished in the attempt. During his timber excursions,
however, Tom had cut a trail from Murmmba to
Maroochydore. This route, extended by the ex-convict Davis,
became the present day Gympie Road. During the gold msh
days it was lined with grog shanties and carried the famous
Cobb and Co. coach service. Murrumba stables became the
first stop for coach travellers from Brisbane, while Tom assisted Cobb and Co. officials by recommending other locations along the route where teams could be changed.^^
Tom was no less influential locally in directing traffic
through the area. He was responsible for blazing the Old
Northern Road from North Pine to Brisbane and developed
road communication with nearby Redcliffe. So great was
Tom's influence in this regard that he was sometimes acProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



cused by disgmntled settlers of conniving to bring all

through-traffic past his own front door.^* Initially most of the
goldfield traffic crossed the Pine River upstream at Young's
crossing. At North Pine, near the present railway bridge,
Tom operated a punt until a second bridge was constructed.
By providing such local necessities as roads, ferries and
postal services, Tom was encouraging the growth of the Petrie settlement and the social status of Murrumba.^^ Like his
brother John in Brisbane, Tom was an obvious candidate for
local govemment bodies and shire boards on which he was to
serve for many decades.
The Murrumba station, dwarfed by massive growths of
bamboo and pine avenues, became an established social centre in the manner of Petrie Bight. Tom, who had always admired the lifestyle and hospitality of the squatters, was now
in a position to emulate their example. Horsebreeding and
racing were important activities on Murrumba. Picnics and
meets were hosted in the paddocks of the property. Tom's
daughters became competent horsewomen. His eldest, Mary
Helen, accompanied her father on his tours of the property. ^^
By 1872, Elizabeth had given birth to six daughters. The last,
Constance Campbell, was to research and record her father's
Reminiscences in the early years of this century. Murrumba
was not simply a man's world. It was inhabited by women devout, energetic and above all deeply attached to the station.
Until her death in 1938, Mary Helen, Tom's eldest, returned
regularly to visit her sisters Ida and Jessie Petrie and renew
her childhood attachment to a "good place".

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

The rise of the
Petrie firm
The misfortunes of 1848 - Andrew's blindness and Walter's
accident - had important repercussions for the household at
Petrie Bight. When confronted by personal misfortunes, immigrant families sometimes preferred to leave the district or
return to Britain. The Petries were sufficiently established to
wish to remain at Moreton Bay but were not yet prosperous.
Andrew's perseverance and foresight ensured that the household continued to function effectively. Indeed, the success of
the family business dates from mid-century, when practical
necessity obliged Andrew to include John as his business
partner. Andrew's decision to register the firm under his
son's name represented a significant concession on his part.
He had determined that the eldest would inherit the business,
establishing a tradition which has remained in the family.
Andrew's intentions were reflected in John's education and
upbringing. As the eldest, he had received the benefit of a formal education as well as training in carpentry and stonemasonry. Moreover, he had accompanied Andrew in his early
exploration of the Bunya country and proved his resihence as
a sportsman and competitor. In temperament he was close to
his father and evinced the same forceful dispositon and organisational capacity. The younger sons, while not neglected,
enjoyed a different relationship with Andrew. With the exception of Tom, who began a new life as a gold-digger and
grazier, they were destined to relative obscurity within the
firm. Significantly, neither Andrew Jnr nor George married
or branched into other business pursuits.
John's importance within the family was confirmed in SepProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



tember 1850 by his marriage to Jane McNaught. Business

considerations played a part in the decision, for Jane was the
daughter of Margaret and of David McNaught, head foreman
of the Petrie business. The McNaughts, devout Presbyterians like the Petries, hailed from Dunbarton in Scotland. Jane
was to bear John no fewer than ten children and play an essential part in consohdating her husband's social position. To
maintain daily contact with his father, John had their new
home built on a vacant allotment near the Petrie Bight residence. He became the public business figure and supervisor
on the job. In private, however, Andrew's experience and age
continued to weigh in his favour. It was he who retained responsibility for the Petrie Bight workshops. Each moming
except Sunday, Andrew rang the bell to assemble his men
and give them their daily instructions. He regularly visited
carpenters, blacksmiths and stonemasons on the site to inspect the quality of their work. Andrew insisted that their
tasks be performed properly and would examine their articles
by touch. He encouraged pride among his craftsmen and did
not tolerate poor workmanship. On his daily rounds, Andrew
carried a cane which he was capable of wielding when
roused. The tapping of the stick as he went on his rounds
served as a timely warning of his approach.
For new arrivals at Moreton Bay, the Petrie workshops exuded self-sufficiency and Protestant industry. Steeped in
Scottish craft tradition, the Petries were nevertheless on
good terms with a wide cross-section of their employees. The
reminiscences of James Porter, who arrived at Moreton Bay
in July 1849, tend to offset the perception of Andrew as an unflinching patriarch. Immediately after their arrival. Porter's
father and younger brother were employed by the Petries at
the rates of 24 shillings and 2 shillings and sixpence per week
respectively. Four months later, James was also apprenticed
to the Petries as a carpenter, "receiving half-a-crown a week
and my board, while father had to keep me in clothes and find
me tools" .^ The Petrie practice of providing lodgings for their
workers obviated the need for other accommodation while
ensuring careful supervision. Expectation of hard manual
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

labour and modest remuneration were tempered by the prospect of self-improvement and technical instruction. Porter recalled:
You may depend my education was not much but Mr Petrie had
a tutor attending the younger members of his family at night and
I participated in what instruction was going. Mr Petrie being
blind, when I had any spare time got me reading for him and
varied this by instructing me in rudiments of geometry. Thus I
spent my time working from 10 to 12 hours a day, then in the evenings acquiring what little education I ever received .^
Porter's reminiscences confirm Andrew's role in the family business after his blindness and his ongoing interest in his
employees. While he was receiving his mdimentary instruction, Porter gained entry to the family circle and became
friendly with Tom Petrie, who was almost the same age.
After several years on the southern goldfields, Porter returned to Moreton Bay where he was re-employed by the Petries during 1854-55. On Andrew's recommendation, he
subsequently obtained a position with a surveying party on
the Brisbane River. Writing of his experiences fifty years
later. Porter recorded his high opinion of "old Mr Petrie, to
whom I am indebted for doing everything in his power to forward me intellectually" .3
The Protestant behef in hardwork and sobriety received a
new impetus at Moreton Bay with the arrival in 1849 of 600
immigrants on the Fortitude, Chaseley and Lima vessels. Like
the Stirling Castle families in Sydney, these Moreton Bay immigrants struggled hard to establish themselves in the early
years. When the land order provisions upon which Lang's
scheme was based broke down, the Fortitude-Chaseley people
squatted unceremoniously on the timbered slopes of York's
Hollow near Petrie Bight. The parallel between the situation
of the new arrivals and the Retries' own experience in Sydney
was a striking one. Economic hardship, official indifference
and a suspicious reception from the resident population were
the lot of many Lang immigrants. Most of the local arrivals
who possessed capital elected to stay in the township as shopkeepers and merchants. The Petries were well'placed to proProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



vide the newcomers with shelter and employment. Rudimentary housing was organised in the form of slab cottages. Timber was plentiful, but had to be laboriously pit-sawn at the
family workshops.
The timely arrival of the Lang immigrants helped to arrest
a decline in Brisbane's population following news of gold discoveries. In the early 1850s, its population remained static at
between 3 and 4 thousand, as British and German immigrants
reached the north. The respectability of the Lang group,
symbolised by their top hats and bonnets, was in striking contrast to the moleskins and the rough manners of the emancipists. The Petries played a significant part in this moral
revival by constructing places of worship for the various denominations. These new structures, though rudimentary,
helped to diminish the harsh lines of the penal settlement. As
early as January 1849, the firm was engaged in erecting a
Methodist chapel in Albert Street;* an Anglican parsonage
was begtm shortly afterwards and plans were drawn up for St
Stephens, a sandstone cathedral constructed by the firm in
the following year. Consistent with a growing emphasis on
self-improvement and sobriety was the organisation of the
first Brisbane Temperance Society in rnid-1849 and the announcement of plans for a small School of Arts building. As a
committee member, John Petrie assisted in its design, although the building was erected by Samuel Gould, a bricklayer and Fortitude immigrant, who was one of the Retries'
few rivals at this time.^
The Presb5^erian denomination with which the Petries
were affiliated had not been idle. Reverend Charles Stewart,
who accompanied the Fortitude to Moreton Bay, was appointed minister of the United Presbyterian Church. When
Stewart convinced a committee to oversee the constmction
of the first Presbyterian church at Grey Street in South Brisbane, John Petrie was a useful source of advice. He later
served on the Presb5d:erian Board of Trustees. With John
Richardson, the Petries also negotiated the transfer of land
and property from the Evangehcal Church (a coalition of
Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians) to the Presbyterian
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

sect.s While church activities consohdated John's social and

business connections, Jane Petrie also found it a valuable
source of contact and support on domestic and personal matters. Within the first decade of her marriage to John, she gave
birth to five children - Amelia Mary, Andrew Lang, Walter,
John and Isabella. Their names faithfully perpetuated those
of the previous generation. Like most women of the colonial
period, Jane experienced the pangs of maternal loss. Her
third child, Walter, died within years of birth, suffering a fate
remarkably similar to that of Mar^s Walter. At a tender age,
Jane's Walter escaped the attention of his nurse and drowned
in Wheat Creek as his uncle had done ten years earlier. The
tragic coincidence was not lost on John's family, who ceased
to use the name thereafter. The name Walter continued on
Tom's side, however, through his first son.
Regrettably the Petrie women do not appear to have kept
a written record of family life. One significant event which
has survived was the dual baptism of 1854 involving Andrew
Lang and John Dunmore CampbeU. Andrew Lang was John
and Jane's first son and business heir, while John Dunmore
Campbell was the first-born of Scottish immigrants James
and Isabella Campbell, who arrived in the previous year. Ties
between the Petries and the Campbells were to prove important, not only through marriage on Tom's side but also for
John's family, establishing a business rivalry which continued for the rest of the century. The original immigrant,
James Campbell, began his Moreton Bay career as a plasterer
before branching into building supplies and the timber trade.^
The Petries and the Campbells, with other like-minded Protestant immigrants of the 1850s, were laying the basis for an
urban middle class founded on hard work, piety and material
In addition to religion and commerce, many of the new immigrants took an active part in local pohtics. Members of the
Lang group were prominent opponents of transportation and
indentured labour schemes. Presbyterian clergyman Rev.
Stewart participated in anti-transportation meetings as early
as 1850, while John Richardson, who had acted as an agent
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Partnership 115
for Lang's ships, was a sharp critic of the squatters after his
election to the Legislative Council in 1851. When Richardson
vacated his seat three years later, J.D. Lang came from Sydney to confront the squatter candidate, Arthur Hodgson, for
the seat of Stanley Boroughs. As poUtical differences between town and country became more pronounced, the Petries were caught between two polarised camps. During the
1854 election, when the Fortitude-Chaseley immigrants campaigned actively on Lang's behalf, the Petries remained aloof
and abstained from requisitioning either candidate.^
In poUtical matters, John Petrie was strongly influenced by
his father's views. During his years in Sydney, Andrew had
experienced the difficulties of competition with cheap labour
at first hand and was sympathetic with the emerging town
faction. With other Stirling Castle immigrants, he signed a petition protesting against the New South Wales squatters' monopoly of land and labour. Twenty years of colonial life had
meUowed but not eradicated these opinions. In private, Andrew expressed support for the new immigrants but took
care not to antagonise the powerful Darling Downs squattocracy with whom he was weU acquainted. By comparison
with Richardson, Campbell or the Cribbs, the Petries remained reticent on divisive political issues. Father and son eschewed the radical UberaUsm of the Fortitude Valley faction
for an image of practicality and benevolence.
In keeping with their rising status, the Petries became associated with wealthy Lang immigrants like WUliam
Pettigrew and Dr WiUiam Hobbs. Pettigrew, a devout Presbyterian who had acted as agent for the Fortitude vessel,
achieved rapid local success as a merchant and entrepreneur.
He began his Moreton Bay career by working as a surveyor
for Stephen Simpson at Woogaroo.^ By 1853, he possessed
sufficient capital to erect a steam sawmiU in WiUiam Street
capable of processing 7500 square feet (700m2) of timber per
day.i The advent of steam in the timber industry, in preference to pit-sawing, promised to accelerate the constmction of
wooden houses in the township and the exploitation of native
forests. Pettigrew's career experienced a temporary setback
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

in August 1853 when the sawmiU caught fire and suffered

3000 pounds damage. Brisbane builders, including the Petries, responded by opening a subscription Ust to fund repairs
to the damaged machinery. ^^ Subsequently, Pettigrew became a major supplier of fine timber to Petries' craftsmen.
Like the Petrie-CampbeU connection, the Petrie-Pettigrew
link proved to be a longstanding one, characterised less by
family ties and affection in this instance than by mutual selfinterest. William Pettigrew served on town and shire councils
with both Tom and John. He was an influential spokesman, a
good organiser and a keen supporter of John Petrie's municipal projects.^2
While Pettigrew was laying the basis for a lucrative timber
industry, the Petries were also expanding their supplies of
stone. When the Roma Street quarry, which dated from convict times, was worked out, John Petrie purchased 5 hectares
of land at Albion (North Brisbane) with a view to establishing
a quarry and brickworks there.^^ From this locality, stone
could be transported up Breakfast Creek to the river and the
township. Using the river as a major form of transport, the
Petries were able to guarantee a more regular supply of materials than their competitors. Good quality stone was also
available upstream at Woogaroo near Ipswich. Timber and
stone were rafted in both directions along the Brisbane River
from the Bay or the Ipswich region. The headlands and islands of Moreton Bay provided coral and oyster shells which
were burnt for Ume and transported to Brisbane aboard the
Isabella, a Petrie cutter.i*
One of the largest vessels in the Petrie fleet was the 50
tonne Jenny Lind. Skippered by George Holt, the Jenny Lind
participated in the expanding Brisbane-Ipswich river traffic
during the 1850s with steamships like the Experiment and
Raven. The Jenny Lindhad neither steam nor sails, but simply
floated up the river laden with provisions for Ipswich storekeepers and squatters, retuming on the tide with a cargo of
taUow, wool or coal. The river joumey, lasting between three
and four hours, was both exhilarating and treacherous. As
Holt recalled: "There was a long steer-oar at the stem with
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which I guided her course and I can tell you that in those days
the navigation of the river was a tickUsh job.''^^ The responsibiUties of the skipper were reflected in his high wage of 30
shilUngs per week, sufficient capital for Holt to later purchase
and operate his own punt. The rafting of stone was more hazardous still. On more than one occasion, punts owned by the
firm sank with loss of life. Living and working in close proximity to the river enabled family members to develop a high
degree of navigational knowledge and expertise. The boats
and punts which the firm had at its disposal allowed it to imdertake speciaUsed govemment contracts like the construction of Brisbane wharves and a breakwater at Cleveland. ^^
Many of the early stone structures along the river edge were
put in place by the Petries, using mdimentary engineering
devices and Aboriginal divers. Tom's prowess as a diver, recorded in the Reminiscences,^'^ matched that of John as a
rower, while Andrew's early surveys of the Brisbane River
made him a valuable source of information on the subject for
future generations. The state of river navigation was the
topic which Andrew addressed in occasional letters to the
press. He advocated deepening the channel at Eagle Farm
and the construction of a rock wharf at Breakfast Creek.
Taxed with inconsistency over his views on the potential of
Cleveland Point as a port, Andrew reserved the right to modify his opinions on the basis of updated information. ^^ On numerous trips around Brisbane, he had taken soundings of the
channel and recorded measurements of the river and coastline. Many years after he had lost his sight, Andrew continued to address the public in correspondence over proposed
improvements and flood mitigation of the Bremer River. ^^
These letters reflected his vision for Brisbane as a sub-tropical city geared to water transport, aquatic leisure and the natural environment.
Among Andrew Petrie's longstanding admirers in later life
was Dr WUliam Hobbs, a capable surgeon who arrived with
the Fortitude in 1849. Hobbs, like CampbeU and Pettigrew,
became a business associate of the Petries and an influential
figure in Brisbane. He was superintendent of the old Bris-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

bane Hospital and an amateur scientist, who pioneered an altemative to cod-Uver oU and established a dugong farm in
Moreton Bay for this purpose. One of the more wealthy and
conservative of the Lang immigrants, Hobbs was later made
personal physician to the Queensland Governor and a Legislative Councillor.2o j ^ .^^s he who, in 1853, commissioned the
Petries to construct Adelaide House, a fine two-storey house
in Ann Street, which survives today as the Deanery to St
John's Cathedral. As the leading local buUding firm, the Petrie firm played an important role in the constmction of eUte
Brisbane homes. Prior to this project, it had upgraded Newstead House (1847) for Captain Wickham and built Bulimba
House (1849-50) for the McConneUs.^i Adelaide House, constructed of porphry stone with a slate roof and interior of
Helidon sandstone, exhibited an elegance not previously seen
in the township. Planned in the style of gracious English
homes with timber verandahs and attic windows, it was buUt
on an allotment which ran down from Ann Street to the river.
In the absence of altemative accommodation, Adelaide
House became the Queensland Governor's first residence at
the end of the decade.
During the 1850s, when the nucleus of an urban middle
class was established, Hobbs became the Petries' family doctor and tended Mary in her closing years.^^ The exact nature
of Mary's prolonged infirmity remains unknown,^^ although
she may weU have contracted influenza when an epidemic
broke out in Brisbane at the close of 1852. Andrew Jnr appears to have suffered from a similar complaint but recovered. Indeed, Mary's illness may have been contracted while
nursing sick members of the famUy. According to the newspaper report, Mary ebbed away, watched over by Dr Hobbs,
Andrew and IsabeUa. Religion, a powerful force in Mary's
life, became the primary consolation for a difficult pioneering
existence. The family's grief at Mary's death was echoed in
the distress of an old convict, Martin Crawley, who came to
mourn her death. According to IsabeUa,^* Crawley, who had
been kindly treated by her mother, asked to see her coffin and
paid a moving tribute to his "poor old mistress who, many a

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



time saved me from trouble" .^^ Mary was buried at Milton

Cemetery in mid-1855. She had lived fifty-nine years, seventeen of which were spent in the colonies.
John's children had no recoUection of Mary, their paternal
grandmother, but retained strong impressions of their grandfather, who remained active and alert for another decade. Andrew Lang, John's eldest son, recalled the excitement of
growing up at Petrie Bight - the loading and unloading at the
wharves, the arrival of bullock and horse teams, the hissing of
the steam engine harnessed to the circular saws. By the late
1850s, the Petries benefitted from increased government
spending on local pubhc works. As Separation approached,
the Sydney administration initiated several new projects including the Ipswich Gaol (1856-57), Brisbane Immigration
Barracks (1858) and the Brisbane Gaol (1859-60).26 In each
case, the contract was awarded to the Petrie firm. Prior to
this, government work guaranteed only smaU sums for temporary repairs. The new contracts were far more challenging
and lucrative. In 1857, 20 000 pounds were set aside for the
construction of a new Brisbane Gaol.
To meet these commitments, the Petrie firm expanded
both its labour force and network .of supplies. Difficulties associated with these larger contracts were exempUfied dtn-ing
the construction of the Ipswich Gaol before Separation. In
December 1856, the foundations had already been laid and
the stone dressed when the Clerk of Works, Alex Beazeley,
detected faulty workmanship and ordered that part of the
work be pulled down.^^ John Petrie, who appeared to be on
poor terms with Beazeley, showed no enthusiasm for making
up lost time. By March 1857, Beazeley addressed a series of
curt letters to Petrie on the subject and threatened to suspend
govemment advances "untU more satisfactory progress is
made" .28 In addition to the clash of personalities on this occasion, the Petries encountered a series of practical problems
with the Ipswich contract. The poor quaUty of local stone
forced them to send up supplies from Brisbane, but some of
their punts were delayed in the bad weather and one sank
with materials on board. Although the Ipswich Gaol was duly

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

completed to the satisfaction of Beazeley's successor,

Charles Tiffin, the Petries chose to confine their activities to
the Brisbane and the coastal area after this experience. The
only other significant Ipswich contract, the design and constmction of the Presbyterian Church (1400 pounds), attracted
local criticism when the buUding was shown to be structurally
Shortly after the completion of the Ipswich Gaol, the Petries were busy renovating the Immigration Depot in Brisbane. Increasingly, the firm was able to commit itself to
several local projects simultaneously, without incurring delays. In late 1858, its tender of 25 000 pounds for the new
Brisbane Gaol was accepted in Sydney.^o By far the largest
single project yet undertaken, it progressed ahead of schedule during the lengthy construction period. Concem about the
state and location of the gaol had been voiced in the press during most of the decade. The Female Factory, which had reverted to its former use as a prison, was declared totally
inadequate with respect to security and space, whUe the Convict Barracks in Upper Queen Street were to be converted
into temporary accommodation for the Queensland pariiament. The choice of the new gaol site reflected the policy of
removing prisoners from the centre of the township while retaining them as gang labour. Segregation of male and female
prisoners remained a high priority in the gaol's design but the
gender imbalance of convicts (475 male to 75 female in 1860)
continued to pose problems untU the women were removed to
Toowoomba ten years later.^^
The Gaol Reserve was located on the thoroughfare which
became known as Petrie Terrace. The exact circumstances
surrounding the choice of name remains a matter of speculation, but it is clear that the Petries left their mark on this undeveloped area of the township. Early town maps indicate
that the family did not own land in the vicinity and show the
road without a name.^^ jt is probable, however, that the name
was adopted unofficiaUy around the Separation period when
Retries' workmen constructed the gaol and erected barracks
for the imperial troops.^^ The unprecedented scale of the gaol
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Partnership 121
project, involving the removal by bullock dray of some
300 000 bricks over a distance of 5 kUometres, is especiaUy
noteworthy for the origin of the Terrace. Arguably it was this
major overland operation, from northside quarries to Milton,
which helped shape Petrie Terrace and which accounts for its
Although the public works undertaken by the Petries in
the late 1850s were of limited aesthetic value, they were an
important source of employment for Brisbane's working
men. As in other centres, the Brisbane buUding trades were
highly stratified, with stonemasons and other skUled craftsmen enjoying the most favourable wages and conditions. By
1858, the pool of skUled labour employed at the Petrie Bight
workshops constituted the nucleus of a local Eight Hours
movement. SkiUed workers like James Spence and D.F.
Longland, who had spent a decade with the firm, figured
prominently in the Brisbane short-hours movement. After
the inauguration in 1856 of an eight-hour day in Sydney and
Melbourne, the Brisbane Labour Alliance, the first local organisation of its kind, took up the same cause at pubhc meetings and in letters to the Courier.'^ Brisbane workmen argued
persuasively that the intense sub-tropical heat justified this
historic concession. Until 1857, local stonemasons worked a
minimum of ten hours per day. However, in February of that
year, the Petries and a rival contractor, Joshua Jeays, agreed
to reduce their working day to nine hours. In March 1858, the
Petrie firm became the first Brisbane employer to grant the
eight-hour day.^^
The exact nature of local workers' participation in the
eight-hour day decision is uncertain. However, there is evidence that both Andrew and John were favourably disposed
to the Brisbane Labour Alliance from its inception. According to Leggatt,36 many Scottish immigrants retained vivid
recoUections of the appaUing industrial conditions in factories
at home. Although their wages were not as high, the Petries
were by this time sufficiently established to be able to match
concessions by southern employers in the building industry.
Personal relations between masters and men were fostered
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

by company cruises and picnics. In the case of the Petrie

firm, immigration and marriage played a determining part.
One leading identity in the Brisbane Labour AUiance was
John Petrie's brother-in-law and foreman, James McNaught.
In late 1857, McNaught chaired an important meeting of the
AUiance at which the formal proposal for the eight-hour day
was drafted.37 A combination of shorter hours and wages
placed Retries' skilled workers in an enviable position at the
end of the decade and laid the basis for a local "labour
John Petrie's nomination as the first Lord Mayor of Brisbane was intimately bound up with his popularity among the
working class. Many Brisbane residents were aware that the
Petries were among the earhest and most established of the
immigrant famUies. Moreover, they had seen the Petrie firm
expand throughout the decade and associated it with stability
and prosperity. John, who inherited his father's sense of civic
responsibUity, accepted the chaUenge of municipal leadership. An interesting preliminary to the council elections of
1859 was the local debate over the desirabihty of incorporating the forthcoming Brisbane Council into New South Wales
or Queensland legislation. The Petries threw their support
behind moves for prompt incorporation and, in January 1859,
signed a petition to this effect.^^ However, with Separation
approaching, a significant section of the population, led by
the Cribbs, argued for a delay untU the Queensland govemment could pass its own Municipal Act. After several months
of public meetings and petitions, incorporation proceeded
under the aegis of New South Wales, and council elections
were scheduled for October.^^ In all, thirty-seven nominations were received. Among the more prominent candidates
with John Petrie were rival contractor Joshua Jeays, South
Brisbane manufacturer T.B. Stephens and successful merchants like Robert Cribb, Patrick Mayne and George
Edmonstone. When the poU result was announced on 13 October, John Petrie topped the poU with 352 votes ahead of
Mayne (274 votes) and T.B. Stephens (203 votes). At the first
council meeting, Mayne's proposal that Petrie be appointed
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



mayor was unanimously carried.* It was generally agreed

that John, as a long-time resident and successful builder, was
weU placed to identify and resolve practical problems confronting the township.
Because the proclamation of the Municipahty of Brisbane
preceded the Separation of Queensland by only a few weeks,
one of the first duties of the council was to organise a reception for Govemor Bowen. In anticipation of Bowen's arrival,
a committee had been convened during mid-year and Andrew
Petrie was invited to attend as an honorary member.*^ Andrew impressed upon the Reception Committee the need to
include all classes of the community in the Separation ceremonies. His arguments were echoed in a series of letters to
the Courier by enthusiastic working men.*2 Since almost aU
the other committee members were middle-class professionals, the Petries, with support from the Labour Alliance and
the Eight Hours Movement, co-ordinated popular support at
the first round of Separation celebrations in November. With
an excited populace, Andrew Petrie and his workforce participated in a large gathering at the Botanic Gardens and a
steam excursion on the river to commemorate the event .*3
Separation marked a new peak in the family's popularity.
Shortly after Andrew had been invited to join the Reception
Committee, John was sworn in as Lord Mayor amid the banners of Brisbane working men. AU family members took part
in the reception preparations for Govemor Bowen. Their
commitment reflected the famUy's longstanding interest in
local affairs but also confirmed the loyalty to Crown and Empire prevalent among Brisbane's skiUed tradesmen. Petrie
craftsmen helped to constmct a temporary landing stage and
a triumphal arch for the new Governor. Isabella Petrie,
John's sister, became involved in the event as a member of
the female welcoming party for Lady Bowen. A rare photo of
Isabella, taken at the time of Separation, shows her holding a
flag outside the family home prior to the celebrations. George
Petrie, the youngest family member, was no less animated by
the Govemor's approach. Subsequently, George enrolled in
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

the Volunteer Defence Force and served as Second Lieutenant of the Brisbane contingent.**
In the absence of a Government House, accommodation
had also been arranged. Adelaide House, the fine Petrie
building constmcted for WiUiam Hobbs, was leased to the
govemment for this purpose. On 21 December 1859, Governor Bowen arrived to the sound of a twenty one gun salute. A
crowd of 4000 people, the largest Brisbane gathering up until
that time, attended to cheer and celebrate. As the Govemor
disembarked, John Petrie in his municipal robes came forward to greet him, while IsabeUa and her delegation approached Lady Bowen. Adorning the lawns of the Botanic
Gardens were the pavUions and banners of several hundred
workmen, each wearing a scarf and badge to distinguish him
by occupation.*^ James Spence, Retries' foreman, who had
recently contested the councU elections, was a prominent figure among the crowd. After John's welcoming address, Govemor Bowen replied with a special word for the working class
of the township. Bowen praised the British tradition of municipal govemment and stressed that "everyone was a
workingman". The rhetoric of classlessness appealed to sections of the skilled working class. Celebrations followed with
fireworks and illuminations during the evening. It was a
memorable interlude which encouraged the Petries to forget
the hardships of the past and to embark upon an optimistic
period of unprecedented achievement.

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The Bribie Island
Before Andrew Petrie's death, his sons had established different hfestyles and distinctive reputations. While John enjoyed prominence as a respected member of the urban middle
class, Tom preferred life on the land as a grazier. Although
his friendship with the blacks was weU known, Tom rarely
brought groups of Aborigines into Brisbane when he visited
for supplies or on business. He saw little future for them in
Brisbane, for he beheved that fringe-dweUing was undermining their vigorous commimal culture. One exception was during the DtUce of Edinburgh's tour of Queensland, when Tom
was asked, at short notice, to organise an Aboriginal welcoming party for the royal visitor!^ After hasty arrangements, he
decided to position warriors, in ceremonial decoration, along
the streets of Brisbane where the procession was to pass. The
rest of Tom's party formed a bodyguard of welcome at the
entrance to Government House. In all, sixty Aboriginal men
took part in the exercise which culminated in a corroboree in
George and Queen Streets. The majority of those participating were not members of the Brisbane clan, of which only a
handful were ahve, but recruits from North Pine, Sandgate
and the islands. For Tom, their enthusiastic demonstration
provided the townspeople with a far more edifying spectacle
than the annual distribution of blankets in Queen Street.
Since the 1840s, when north-coast tribes periodically
visited Brisbane, the prospect of trade and acquisition exercised considerable appeal for the Aborigines. The decline of
the Brisbane clan encouraged neighbouring groups to move
closer to the township and set up fringe camps at Fortitude
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

Valley, Enoggera and Breakfast Creek. Operations by Native

Pohce on the Pine River and at Sandgate may have accelerated this trend. SimUar movements were occurring in the far
northern Bunya country where local tribes moved to the
Gympie goldfields to beg and steal.2 Fringe camps were unstable communities, wracked by alcohohsm and ill-health. The
Reminiscences, in particular, lamented the situation of the
urban blacks:
Most people speak and think of the Aborigines as a lazy, dirty,
useless, unreliable lot. It is unfair to pass judgement upon them
because of what they appear to be now. They were not always so
and the white man is accountable for their deterioration.^
For Aboriginal males, the timber industry offered one altemative to fringe-dweUing. Although the rewards for their
services as guides were meagre, Aborigines were able to
demonstrate their environmental knowledge to their white
employers. Tom's party of between twenty and twenty-five
men, recmited for the Maroochy expeditions, became known
as "Petrie's blacks". These Aborigines, drawn from a crosssection of tribes, believed that the initial "P", marked on
their arms, would provide them with a measure of immunity
against white aggressors.* Their quasi-tribal markings also
established ownership, for they could be identified aroimd
Brisbane and retumed to Murrumba by the authorities. It was
well known that Tom discouraged his black workforce from
drifting into town. Instead he offered casual station work and
arranged for blankets to be supphed locally at Murrumba
rather than in Brisbane. Aboriginal women were also employed at the homestead and provided with rations when
traditional food became scarce.
Apart from general remarks about the susceptibihty of
Brisbane blacks to alcohol, the Reminiscences provide little
specific information about the surviving Aboriginal population in southeast Queensland. How devastating were arsenic
and the rifle in depleting then- numbers? Archibald Meston's
population estimates for 1870 suggest that the war being
fought between races was intermittent rather than continuous.^ As a young man, Meston came to Brisbane and spoke
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Tarang-giri 127
with Tom Petrie about local Aboriginal languages. He was
later convmced that Petrie's information to WiUiam Ridley
about the Turrbal language was in reality based upon at least
four dialects which Tom had learnt as a boy. After several interviews, Meston accompanied Tom to Moreton Bay where
they visited Aboriginal communities on Bribie and
Stradbroke Islands. Crossing from Toorbul Point, Meston
encountered a large group of "fine men and women" on
Bribie; he estimated the total population to be between 150
and 200. The Stradbroke communities were equally healthy
and, if anything, larger. These island communities, blessed
with a relative abundance of native food and sheltered from
regular pohce patrols, became a focal point for renewed missionary activity.
One measure of Aboriginal resUience on the mainland was
the traditional Bunya feast. During the 1860s, white observers put the number of participants at about 500. By the mid1870s this figtu-e dwindled to 300, but there were stiU
substantial Aboriginal communities at Dumndur, Mount
Brisbane, ImbU and KenUworth. The 1875 feast, the last recorded gathering of its kind, was notable for several new developments. The first of these was the introduction of a
corroboree based upon the horse rather than indigenous animals. The second was the extension of traditional taboos surrounding the gathering and distribution of the nuts to include
prohibitions upon their consumption. On this occasion, bunya
nuts, a highly prized food source, were mundha (forbidden) to
Aboriginal women.^ Any transgression was supposed to be
punished by sickness and cancerous sores. The location of
the 1875 feast at Dumndur was significant, for this station,
like Bribie Island, was shortly to become the site of a reserve
experiment. Optimistic observations about inherited property rights vested in the Bunya trees encouraged Catholic
missionary Duncan McNab to beheve that Aborigines would
become freeholders and independent farmers.
The impetus for the reserve movement of the late 1870s
began outside Brisbane on G.F. Bridgeman's Mackay plantation.'' Bridgeman's success in employing Aborigines as field
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

labourers, at a time when the Melanesian trade was uncertain, encouraged the Douglas government to estabhsh an Aboriginal Commission composed of clergy and civil servants.
Bridgeman, like Tom Petrie of Murrumba and Henry Wood
on Durundur, was a practical man with sound experience of
the land and of Aboriginal management. The decision to gazette reserves on Durundur and Bribie Island was based
largely upon Bridgeman's success. However, the Mackay reserve continued to attract the bulk of attention and funding
from the commission throughout its existence .^ McNab, unlike his feUow commissioners, beheved that the Aborigines
would become self-sufficient and that the reserve system
should be extended throughout southeast and northem
Queensland. A Scottish convert to Cathohcism, he entertained high hopes for Durundur. By contrast, Bribie Island
was problematic from the first because it did not appear to
offer strong economic incentives. Nor was there a resident
figure as competent as Bridgeman to resolve ongoing problems.
In late 1876, McNab approached Tom Petrie to enlist his
aid in estabhshing the local reserves.^ McNab knew that
Petrie's reputation among the black and white communities
would do much to legitimate the activities of the Aboriginal
Commission. Tom's success with the Aborigines on the Pine
River led enthusiastic observers to proclaim him a "colonial
Livingstone" and Murrumba a future model mission. i Despite the promptings of McNab and others, Petrie never intended mnning his property as anything other than a pastoral
station. He was sceptical of McNab's Utopian vision and wary
of land claims by local selectors should a reserve be gazetted
in the Pine River district. The Tom Petrie of 1876 was not the
nomadic spirit of pre-Separation years. The upshot of the
McNab-Petrie interview was a compromise. Tom agreed to
assist in settmg up a reserve on Bribie Island, but not in the
capacity of resident manager. McNab, who regarded Petrie's
involvement in the reserve movement as essential, was disappointed but persisted and lobbied the Queensland govemment with some success. In October 1876, after Aboriginal

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Tarang-giri 129
leaders at Bribie and Durundur petitioned the Governor, reserves of 1000 hectares were set aside for grazing and agricultural pvuposes.
Tom's first task was to select suitable land for the Bribie
site. In May 1877, he came to Brisbane to secure a boat and
set out with an Aboriginal crew on a four-day exploration of
the island. McNab had aheady intimated that poor soU and
swamps along the Pumicestone Passage would make the
choice a difficult one. Fresh water and good soil were essential if the reserve were to prosper. After close scmtiny of the
mainland side, Tom selected an elevated site 16 kilometres
up the passage, known as "Tarang-giri", or "White Patch".
It was surrounded by 80 hectares of grassland, which he
hoped would prove amenable to the cultivation of sweet potatoes, bananas and melons.^^ Petrie's only white companion on
the trip was Frederick Redman. Appointed by the commissioners, Redman was to be responsible for the day-by-day
mnning of the reserve, whUe Tom's role was confined to
monthly or three-monthly visits.
Petrie returned from Bribie to find fifty blacks gathered on
Murrumba, including a number of Bribie Island people. The
occasion for the gathering was the annual blanket distribution. Petrie took the opportunity to direct Durundur and
Maroochy blacks back to their locaUties, but issued Bribie
people with what blankets he had. By mid-1877, some fifty
Bribie people, mostly fuU-bloods, had returned to the island,
where they began erecting huts.^^ A dozen more came from
the Pine River and Fortitude VaUey to join them in the following months. In his first report to the commission, Petrie considered that a good start had been made but concluded on a
cautious note. He argued that the success or failure of the reserve ultimately depended on the labour of the young adults,
many of whom preferred the company of other blacks in the
The natives seem to be in a healthy condition, they have still their
blankets, which in part accounts for it and are contented enough,
but as soon as they know there are some of their companions
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

about town all this work may turn out quite useless. Could they
not be compelled to leave Brisbane?^^
Throughout mid-1877, Petrie continued to perform most
of the groundwork for the reserve. After the blanket distribution on Murrumba, he returned to Brisbane to purchase a
boat, net, harpoons and rations with funds supplied by the
commission. Duncan McNab hoped that with this equipment
the Aborigines would achieve a modest income from fishing.
The Bribie site which Tom had selected was a noted fishing
spot where dugong, turtle and porpoise could be found. Porpoises, which foUowed schools of fish into the Passage, were
considered exceptional by the blacks for their intelligence
and assistance. Surplus fish and oil products from the reserve
were to be sold on the Brisbane market. To avoid contact between reserve blacks and the township, Tom undertook personally to transport the catch to Brisbane. During June-July
of 1877, a sum of 7 pounds 11 shillings was raised in this manner.^* In contrast, the Durundur reserve population had
earned six times this figure by performing ring-barking and
station work.^^ It was clear from the outset that the Bribie reserve would remain more heavily dependent on government
support than its mainland counterpart.
Duncan McNab, who crossed to Bribie in late August, recorded the positive influence which Tom was able to exert
during his monthly visits. On this occasion, Petrie remained
for several days to direct fishing operations and instmct Redman, whose management was faltering. McNab recorded little progress in agriculture but remained optimistic about the
Aborigines' capacity to support themselves with their fishing
equipment. He was keen for Petrie to stay on for a fuU month,
"as they have unhmited confidence in him and readily obey
him" .16 McNab, engaged in teaching the reserve chUdren English, was less impressed by the lethargy which descended
after Tom's departure. He leamt from Redman that some of
the fishing catch had been sold on the mainland without
Petrie's knowledge and that the money had been spent on
spirits and tobacco. McNab, with Tom's support, recommended to the commission that Redman be given disciphnary
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



powers over Aborigines on the reserve and that the Vagrancy

Act be enforced against those who strayed from the island.
These stem measures suggest that aU was not well on the Reserve. If Archibald Meston's population estimates are accurate, many of the Bribie people did not join the reserve but
preferred to camp near the southem tip of the passage opposite Toorbul Point. Here they could find employment with
white fishmg crews or simply escape the island for extended
periods. It was a practice over which neither Tom nor Redman had much control.
If McNab voiced admiration for Petrie during his August
visit, Tom viewed the missionary labours of the CathoUc clergyman as ineffectual. According to the Reminiscences,
McNab enjoyed little success with the Bribie blacks and did
not improve matters by reprimanding Prince WUham (Nilapi)
for pipe smoking during Sunday mass. NUapi, standing on his
authority as a tribal elder, retorted that he would smoke
where and when he wished.^^ Tom related a humorous sequel
to this exchange in which he encountered NUapi, Bible in
hand, mimicking McNab's gestures and sermons, to the evident amusement of his black audience. ^^ On this and other occasions, Tom's sympathy lay more with the blacks than with
the clergy. Since the days of the Nundah mission, he was critical of the missionaries' faUure to learn the Aboriginal language or accept their culture.^^ The Reminiscences repeatedly
acknowledge the resihence and powers of observation associated with Aboriginal humour.
There were nevertheless times when Tom himself was
held at a distance by sections of the reserve population. Resistance to management centred upon the continuation of
traditional rituals and the hngering authority of the elders.
One such episode, reported in the Courier,^^ concemed the
death and burial of Captain Abraham, a senior member of the
reserve community. The prestige of the deceased was such
that blacks from Durundur crossed to the island to pay their
respects. Following the example of the Bribie people, they
cut themselves in ritual mourning untU blood ran freely. Petrie, informed of these events by Jim, one of the reserve AboProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

rigines, tried to obtain Abraham's skin for the Brisbane Museum. Since his chUdhood days, Tom had evmced an anthropological fascination with Aboriginal burial practices.^! As a
boy, he had been accepted by the Brisbane blacks after receiving portions of skin from a tribal elder. The gift proved to
be important, for it enabled the recipient to assume the social
role of the departed.22 Had the Bribie blacks bequeathed
Abraham's skin to Petrie, he may have exercised greater authority on the island. On this occasion, however, Tom's curiosity was not weU received. So incensed were the blacks
about the proposal that Tom had to abandon the attempt, and
Jim, his go-between, was forced to leave the community for
several weeks.
Petrie's report of early 1878 struck an uncharacteristic
note of gloom about the reserve's prospects. He arrived at
Bribie on 3 January to find "very httle work done since I was
there on the 1 November".2^ It was to be a short visit, for
Tom was having problems with a drought on Murrumba. He
found the reserve almost deserted and Redman in a state of
anger and frustration. Most of the inhabitants had departed
to the mainland, leaving only eight elderly men and women.
Petrie, who set out in pursuit, was told that some were in
Brisbane and the remainder at Caboolture. In his report to the
commissioners, he was adamant that the pohce take prompt
I find little good can be done with them unless some stringent law
is made and enforced to keep them out of Brisbane and orders
given to the police at the different stations where they get drink,
to order them away to their home.2*
For Bribie blacks accustomed to crossing to the mainland for
hunting and ceremonies, the constraints of the reserve life
had become irksome. Tom justified his caU for disciphnary
action as the sole remedy to mm addiction and acts of violence against their own kin.
The depleted reserve limped on for another year before
funding was abmptly withdrawn. In the meantime, McNab
reproached his feUow commissioners for their failure to support his calls for Aboriginal land rights. With his defection in
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December 1878, the Aboriginal Commission engaged in

demoralising displays of pubhc acrimony.25 Not only had the
Bribie reserve failed as an economic enterprise, but its mamland counterpart was facing mounting pressure from the local
white community. Ironbark and bloodwood trees on the
Durundur reserve could be cleared at a handsome profit to
white occupants.26 Timber-getters and selectors, supported
by John Pettigrew (WUham's partner in the lucrative
sawmilling business), petitioned parliament for the ahenation
of Durundur reserve land. The Pettigrews exerted considerable influence on Queensland Premier Macalister and the
Liberal administration, John as parhamentary member for
Stanley and WUhams as both a Legislative CouncUlor and
Caboolture alderman. Along with these economic pressures,
political expediency played a part in the demise of the reserves. Tom placed the responsibUity for their cancellation
on the shoulders of conservative squatters and parliamentarians like Arthvu- Hunter Palmer and Thomas McIUwraith,
who used the issue in a successftU campaign against Liberal
extravagance. Historian Raymond Evans, who has documented the rise and faU of the reserves, rightly observes that
the advent of an entrepreneurial Palmer-Mcllwraith ministry
spelt disaster for Aboriginal welfare.27 Tom's personal protest to the new Colonial Secretary in the Reminiscences confirmed Palmer's reputation as an unflinching Social
My father (Tom) asked what was to become of the old men and
- Oh let them go and work like anybody else," was the reply.
"What is to happen to the boat and fishing net?"
- "Oh, let them have those."28
The closure of the Bribie reserve has in some quarters been
attributed to Tom's bleak report of January 1878.29 It was
not, however, his final assessment of the situation. Despite
the failure of McNab's scheme, Tom and the remaining commissioners entertained hopes that the Bribie reserve would
continue to serve as a refuge for the older population. Petrie
and Redman laboured throughout 1878 to redress the situa-

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

tion. By November, Tom reported with cautious optimism

that there were twenty Aborigines resident at the reserve
with an additional floating population of thirty.3
When fish supplies became irregular during that year, the
women set to work planting pumpkins, potatoes and corn.
The reserve had been spared major outbreaks of disease,
with only four elderly persons dying during its existence.
Tom remained unequivocal about the future of the settlement:
In furnishing an asylum for the old, in breaking off the wandering
habits of the young and teaching them habits of providence and
industry, it is succeeding to a degree that justifies the expenditure involved in its maintenance.^^
Petrie's report was published in the Brisbane Mail of January 1879 at a time when the reserve experiments were on the
verge of collapse. Yet it cannot be seen as prejudicial to their
existence. While Tom did not share McNab's evangehcal optimism, he considered that the white population and its govemment bore some responsibihty for the coUapse of the
Aboriginal social system. The Courier V7d& not antagonistic to
Tom's view of the Bribie reserve as a retreat for the aged, yet
it showed little fight on the issue. It pubhcised rifts in the
commission, criticised impractical missionaries and printed
detaUs of the Zulu war raging in Africa.32 fhe spectre of the
"murderous savage", erected by early colonial editors, returned to haunt the Bribie community in a moment of crisis.
Petrie was left with the difficult task of informing reserve
residents about the government's abrupt decision. The older
women wept at the news and confided their fears to him. This
is one of the few episodes of the Reminiscences which puts a
clear case for Aboriginal women.^^ Tom's relations with the
Aborigines focused almost exclusively on male friendships.
The gender segregation observed by members of the Petrie
family was in aU probability a contributing factor to their social success with the blacks. At the closure of the reserve,
however, Tom expressed sympathy for the womenfolk who,
when their husbands were dmnk, were frequently mistreated.
In spite of declining male authority. Aboriginal women re-

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mained helpless victims of circumstances, and followed their

menfolk to the fringe camps. Their situation had been exacerbated by the Aboriginal practice of giving women to sailors
and fishermen in exchange for material rewards. In his 1878
report, Petrie alluded to cohabitation practices between
white oyster crews and Bribie women in return for free passage to Brisbane for their husbands. A few women, like
Alma, adapted to the situation. A woman of striking physique. Alma was according to Meston: "A fine character who
lived near Toorbul Point and had charge of some lights in
Bribie passage. She was married to a white man and had a
highly inteUigent good looking family who survived her."^*
The traffic in Aboriginal women around the Bay islands
and at Sandgate helped spread venereal disease through the
black popiUation and explains the smaU number of chUdren
on the Bribie Reserve. From the outset, there were no more
than nine Aborigines under 21 years at White Patch and their
number had declined to two by 1879. Half-caste chUdren
were not always welcome in the black community. Infanticide, attributed to the mainland tribes, does not appear to
have been a major cause of population decline on Bribie. One
woman hving on the reserve had three half-caste children in
her care.35 The hmited evidence available in administrative
reports tends to uphold Eipper's earlier pessimism at the
Nundah mission concerning the mistreatment of Aboriginal
women and the rapid depletion of the youthful black population.36

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Town and
council: Years of
Once the celebrations of 1859 had come to a close, John Petrie and the council were confronted with the difficult task of
establishing and planning the new Queensland capital. An
early Brisbane resident, Nehemiah Bartley, observed that
John's "honest sonser face" exuded his determination to address a range of practical problems.^ Transport and communication were among the most pressing. In reality, the
township of 5000 inhabitants comprised several small settlements separated from each other by the river and a dearth of
good roads. At the tune of Govemor Bowen's arrival, complaints were voiced about the poor condition of North Brisbane thoroughfares hke Wickham Terrace and George
Street. Holes and stumps were a common sight on Brisbane's
primitive 5 kUometre road system, while swamps and creeks
posed ever-present hazards to town traffic. One of Lady
Bowen's first public comments was directed at the unsavoury
Brisbane water supply. The old reservoir, dating from convict times, formed a large lagoon in the area bounded by
Roma, Ann and George Streets. It had faUen into chronic disrepair and leaked steadily onto the surrounding roads. In
short, every aspect of local govemment required prompt attention. Even the councU's venue in the Queen Street police
barracks proved unsuitable. John Petrie was able to secure
the use of the Court House untU more permanent quarters
could be constructed.
Despite an increase in public building activity prior to Separation, resentment of longstanding neglect by Sydney administrators remained high. The Queensland parliament,
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Town and council 137

grappling with a serious debt problem, was in no position to
be generous and could manage only 100 pounds for annual
council expenses. The council, which performed its duties
unpaid, appointed a property valuer to enable it to collect rate
revenue as soon as possible. As Mayor, Petrie wrote to the
Colonial Secretary, Herbert, asking for land grants to help
cover the cost of urgent repairs to the reservoir.2 In the meantime, the precarious state of councU finances forced John to
approach Brisbane banks with an urgent request for assistance. After negotiations mvolving his personal credit, John
was able to secure an advance of several thousand pounds
and establish a financial base for the council's operations.^ It
was estimated that expenditure for 1860 would amount to
1000 pounds, most of which was to be spent on the reservoir
and upon drainage works.
The councU's program of improving river transport and
communication in its early years reflected the Retries' priorities for Brisbane. While John appeared the prime mover in
these projects, Andrew's influence was often felt behind the
scenes. Writing to the Colonial Secretary in 1860, John complained about the insuperable problems encountered by river
traffic and requested the immediate purchase of a steam
dredge to clear obstructive bars in the lower Brisbane
reaches.* Much of this work, hke the levelling of Seventeen
MUe Rocks, was subsequently performed by the Petrie firm.^
In his second term as mayor, John supported a pubhc petition
to the Queensland government for the purchase of a smaU
steamer so that maU could be relayed quickly from larger vessels in Moreton Bay.^ Since the days of the Redbank venture,
John had been interested in promoting a local steam navigation service, fuelled by Ipswich coal, to rival the monopoly
held by southern interests. In 1861, with fellow councillor
T.B. Stephens and other Brisbane merchants, he provided financial backing for a new business venture, the Queensland
Steam Navigation Company. The Queensland Steam Navigation Company epitomised the buoyant economic optimism of
the colony in the early 1860s. Operating with nominal capital
of 60 000 pounds, its directors planned a regular steam serProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

vice between Brisbane and Sydney with future links to the

northern Queensland ports.
In the absence of bridges connecting North Brisbane to
Kangaroo Point and South Brisbane, the council assumed responsibility for river ferry services. One ingenious proposal
emanating from the mayor involved ferry concessions to "all
children attending the National or denominational schools"
and "to any person going to or coming from his or her proper
chapel" on Sundays.'^ Both these proposals reflected John's
abiding concern with the moral improvement of the population. In the same period, the council was promoting the river
as a source of leisure. In mid-1861, John advocated the construction of a floating pubhc baths.^ Erected on punts by the
Petrie firm, the complex contained a bath 12 metres long and
4 metres wide with four dressing rooms and a platform covered in calico. 9 Moored near the North Brisbane ferry approach, it was damaged and sank during flooding in the
foUowing year.
John's leadership of the first councU was sufficiently vigorous to ensure his re-election as mayor. By 1861, however,
when he began his second term, opposition was emerging to
John and the "Queen Street faction" of Mayne, Warry and
Edmonstone over higher levels of expenditure and the Petrie
firm's role in securing councU contracts.i John's dual position as mayor and Brisbane's leading contractor exposed him
to criticism from business rivals, one of whom, Joshua Jeays,
was outspoken at council meetings. Jeays had worked as a
builder in Brisbane since his arrival during the early 1850s.
After Separation, he successfully tendered for the erection of
Govemment House, undercutting Petrie's tender by 500
pounds. In this instance, John had to be content with smaller
contracts for the Govemor's stables and guardhouse.^^ This
rivalry extended into council meetings, where Jeays insisted
that councU contracts be awarded to the lowest bidder. This
policy clashed with John's preference for quality workmanship, but its growing support in the council was understandable, given the precarious state of its finances.
By 1861, competition in the Brisbane building trades was
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Town and council


increasing; there were at this time an estimated 1700 skilled

workers in the township, of which almost hah were self-employed. Most of these aspiring tradesmen worked on an individual basis and rehed heavily on sub-contracting among
themselves. One of the difficulties of this small-scale activity,
compounded by the council's economies, was the regularity
with which contractors reneged on their agreements. Disruption to employment during 1861 brought complaints from the
Eight Hours Committee and prompted calls for closer control
of the building industry and the creation of more public works
to absorb imemployment.12 John Petrie, who had argued for
the payment of securities by council contractors and for
safety precautions during blasting operations, ^^ remained a
popular figure among workers because of the firm's reliability and support of the short-hours movement. Both John and
his foreman, James Spence, were active in advocating the extension of the shorter working day to other trades. In a letter
publicised at the 1861 gathering, John Petrie confirmed that
the majority of his men were already working the eight-hour
One criticism of the Petries, emanating in part from their
commitment to good wages, was the allegation that they submitted inflated tenders. Critics claimed that, in the absence of
organised competitors, the Petries could ask their own price
for large projects. The furore which erupted over the firm's
repairs to the Windmill during John's second term was confirmation of this resentment. The old WindmiU, of special interest to modem Brisbane residents, had been associated
with the Petries since their arrival in 1837. Prior to the 1861
modifications, Andrew had undertaken a series of mnning repairs on the mechanism during the days of the convict administration. Charles Tiffin, the Colonial Architect responsible
for plannmg the 1861 alterations, put their total cost at 550
pounds. Included in Tiffin's recommendations were such
tasks as "removing the old arms and wheels inside . . . putting in new doors and windows . . repairing the stone and
brickwork" .15 The Petries, at Tiffm's request, undertook extensive modifications to the WindmUl. Five floors were introProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

duced, with a winding staircase which led to the roundhouse.

A high flagstaff was also mounted on the WindmiU toflysignals from Lytton on receipt of shipping news. When the bill
for these repairs came to 643 pounds, Herbert, the Colonial
Secretary, questioned the wisdom of "employing Mr Petrie
in future to perform similar repairs" .^^ Dissatisfied with this
criticism, John took the step of submitting the dispute to arbitration. Prominent local architects Benjamin Backhouse and
Thomas CowUshaw presided and found for Petrie, leaving
the Queensland govemment to pay part of the court costs. On
this occasion, the thorough workmanship of the firm ensured
the Windmill's survival to the present day. In the recent bicentenary year, 1988, further renovations were undertaken
by the present-day John Petrie. i''
The WindmiU dispute strengthened the hand of the antiPetrie faction on the council. When municipal elections were
conducted in early 1862, Petrie again topped the poU but, despite his popularity out of doors, he was not re-elected mayor
by the council. Resentment of expenditure on North Brisbane
at the expense of the other settlements weakened Petrie's position. Instead, T.B. Stephens, a mUd-mannered South Brisbane merchant, was elected to the council leadership.
Stephens took immediate steps to reduce council expenditure, which had risen rapidly during John's two terms. John's
political ambition, unlike that of his successor, did not extend
beyond municipal pohtics. Although he served as Retuming
Officer for North Brisbane, John showed httle inclination to
contest a seat in the Queensland legislature. He was content
to devote his time and energy to the family business. Nevertheless, he was to remain on the council for another six years,
during which time he gained a reputation as a redoubtable,
and at times obstructive, critic of council policy.
In the early 1860s, Brisbane enjoyed a building boom as
the population of the colony trebled in five years. Queensland
had become the focus for optimistic immigration rhetoric promoting a "workingman's paradise". Among the newcomers
were skilled craftsmen who joined the Petrie firm or competed with it. The news of his famUy's colonial success
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Town and council


brought WiUiam Petrie, a cousin of John and Tom, to Brisbane from Elgin, Scotland. Wilham, a carpenter by trade,
married Louisa Wainwright, a widow, at Nundah station before moving to Sydney to start his own business.^^ Other Petrie relatives known to have emigrated from Scotland around
this time include David Petrie, a printer who took up residence in Fortitude VaUey,!^ and Charles Petrie, a young
cousin of Andrew Snr, who married Mary Rice and finaUy
settled in Victoria.20 An important recruit to the Petrie firm at
this time was Robert Ferguson, who had come from northem
Ireland to Queensland. UntU his death in 1906, Ferguson was
held in high regard in the Brisbane buUding industry for his
knowledge of all forms of construction.21 From the beginning, Ferguson appears to have held a responsible position
with the firm and was able to relieve Andrew Snr of strenuous responsibihties which he had assumed during John's
years as mayor. Friendly by disposition and quietly spoken,
Ferguson fitted in weU. In March 1862, he had consohdated
his position by marrying Isabella, John Petrie's sister.22
Isabella and Robert had two daughters, Mary Helen in the
foUowing year, and Annie Tiffm in 1867. Their cottage, in
Kennigo Street, Spring Hill, survives to the present as a govemment building.
Robert Ferguson was also a cousin of the first Queensland
Govemor. In an era when patronage was stUl an accepted
part of society, the Petrie-Ferguson match proved a social
asset for the Petrie family. IsabeUa had long been a pubhc figure in her mother's absence and was both socially adept and
influential. Ferguson's long career, osciUating between periods of employment with the Petries and the civil service,
could only strengthen the standing of the family. Already
John's social miheu included such influential civil servants
and politicians as Arthur Macahster and A.C. Gregory.
These contacts were cultivated at the Caledonian Society estabhshed in 1862, and at the Masonic Lodge of which John
Petrie became a Grand Junior Warden.23 John's staunch
Presbyterianism and respect for craft tradition provided a
solid basis for his masonic activity.
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

The buoyant economic clunate of the 1860s encouraged

John Petrie to invest his profits in new urban ventures. Along
with the Queensland Steam Navigation Company, of which
he remained a director, John was a trustee, with feUow counciUors Warry and Edmonstone, of the first Queensland Building Society, established in January 1863. The Petrie name
played a part in the prominence which this society enjoyed
over its three rivals. By late 1864, it had attracted almost
1000 shareholders and was generating a monthly income of
2500 pounds.24 As the constmction boom peaked, the number of builders and architects in Brisbane rose to fifteen and
nine respectively. 2^
John's social and economic successes were not, however,
reflected on the council, where he grew increasingly partisan
and antagonistic towards his successors. To offset T.B.
Stephens' ownership of the Courier, Petrie and several other
North Brisbane merchants invested 500 pounds each in a
rival Brisbane publication, the Queensland Daily Guardian."^^
The Guardian was sympathetic to the Petrie faction but
lacked popularity in the township, relying on subscribers in
adjacent farming districts. One controversy which erupted in
the Brisbane press during 1863-64 was the dispute over a
councU decision to award the design and constmction of the
first Town HiU building to two newcomers from Victoria,
Wilham Coote and Robert Boume. The proposed site, 30 metres wide, was on land between upper Queen Street and Burnett Lane. A total of 20 000 pounds, or one-third of the
council's budget, was set aside for this purpose. The Petrie
faction, voicing strong opposition to the handling of the project, contended that the plans and specifications for the Town
HaU had been drawn up and approved before the advertisement for public tenders. John's reputation on the council was
jeopardised by a series of angry incidents during which he
walked out of meetings or resigned from committees. When
the motion of Jeays' for the acceptance of the Town HaU tender was narrowly adopted by five votes to four, Petrie and his
supporters staged a walkout in protest at the decision.27 The
Courier labelled their action "contemptible narrow-

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Town and council


mindedness",28 while even the Guardian dismissed the protest as "a stupid exhibition of irritabUity".29 Petrie argued
that tenders should have been called for the best Town HaU
plan, yet his deep personal resentment, as first Lord Mayor,
that he had not been given an opportunity to undertake the
project was nevertheless apparent. The Town Hall dispute
dogged councU relations until its completion. Even afterwards, charges of poor workmanship made by Petrie and his
supporters were so persistent that a body of troops were
brought in to driU on the Town Hall floor, in order to placate
its critics.30
Neither public nor press opinion supported the Town HaU
critics, with the result that John Petrie and his supporters
were ejected from office at the next election. The Courier was
jubUant at the rebuff dealt to Petrie on this occasion but,
within a matter of months, no longer considered it advisable
to keep Petrie out of the council.^i He was subsequently reelected against the odds. Matters did not improve, however,
when John obstructed Town Hall expenditure on the Improvements Committee and became a member of the unpopular Waterworks Board, appointed by the Queensland
govemment in early 1864. Like the Town Hall controversy,
the dispute between the councU and the Queensland govemment over the location and use of Brisbane's water supply
was protracted and acrimonious. Fears voiced by the press
that John would no longer champion the councU's viewpoint
while serving on the board, proved to be unfounded.32 John
gave the public good service and continued to serve as Chairman of the Board after 1875, during which time he implemented the Gold Creek project and planned the Crosby
scheme. Nor were his motives always as personal as they had
been during the Town Hall debate. His opposition in the
councU to a report by the Bridge Committee at the same period was motivated by a genuine concem that fair consideration be given to aU.
The years foUowing John Petrie's leadership were a period
of crisis for the Brisbane municipality. A series of fires in
Queen Street highlighted problems of overcrowding, subdiviProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

sion and inadequate building standards in the central city

area. Within five years, Brisbane's population had risen to
more than 12 000. Because of increased land values and high
rentals, speculative building became widespread. The great
majority of homes were constmcted of weatherboard, with
many newcomers housed in "insignificant wooden hovels
and miserable lookmg boxes".^3 In keeping with his father's
exacting standards, John Petrie supported moves for stricter
building regulations whUe he was Lord Mayor.^^ It was not
untU 1864, when extensive fires spread through Albert, Elizabeth and George Streets and destroyed an upper Queen
Street block, that serious action was forthcoming. In October
of that year a proclamation was issued declaring that city
buildings required external walls of brick, stone or other noncombustible materials.35
Shortly after the fire of 1864, the Petrie firm undertook
construction of commodious Queen Street stores for the
Perry brothers at a cost of 6000 pounds.36 Previously, the
firm had completed a number of private contracts along the
main thoroughfare. The first of these following Separation
was the Joint Stock Bank buUding on the comer of Queen and
Edward Streets. Composed largely of stone, it was described
as being "of no particular architectural order but of considerable grace and elegance" .3^ Subsequent buUding projects
were undertaken m association with the Cowhshaws, a prominent famUy of architects who arrived in Brisbane in late
1862. The Bank of Australasia constmcted on the corner of
Queen and Wharf Streets for 4864 pounds was a joint PetrieCowhshaw venture. A handsome two-storey buUding, with a
slate roof and stone foundations, it featured a double veranda
on two sides of the ground floor and, upstairs, drawing and
dining rooms. Petrie's craftsmen supplied cedar counters and
desks for the banking room along with raised yellow-wood
panels and marble mantelpieces.38 The construction of this
stylish bank building confirmed Brisbane's growing propserity.
Outside Brisbane, the Petrie firm was responsible for the
erection of wealthy suburban villas. The beautiful home, Ros-

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Toum and council


lyn, built in 1861 for Patrick Durack, was afterwards sold to

the Sisters of the Sacred Advent as a community house and is
now part of St Margaret's School. In the same way, Adderton,
built for WiUiam FuUerton around the time of Separation,
was purchased in 1863 by the Sisters of Mercy for use as a
convent and school.39 It became AU HaUows. In this way, important early Petrie homes have escaped the ravages of relentless urban development. Like the elite houses of the
1850s, these new stone stmctures were designed for the
wealthy professional and business class. Kedron Lodge was
completed for Judge Lutwyche in the same year as Durack's
Roslyn, followed by Eldemell for Wilham Hemmant and
Toorak House for Sir James Dickson.*o These lucrative contracts gave the Petrie family unprecedented access to the
emerging town elite. In September 1865, the Courier reported a large house-warming party at the new home of Chief
Justice Cockle on Bowen Bridge Road, at which builder John
Petrie and the architect James Cowhshaw were prominent
The optimism and material progress with which the Petries were so intimately associated came to an abrupt halt in
mid-1866 after the collapse of the London banks. This collapse precipitated the controversial dismissal of a Queensland
govemment by Govemor Bowen and the abrupt cessation of
public works around Brisbane. As the dependent Queensland
economy sank into depression, middle-class investors and
businessmen sustained serious financial losses, while many
new migrants were forced to join the ranks of the unemployed. In the wake of the crash, five members of the municipal councU were forced to vacate their seats because of
insolvency. John Petrie, however, remained on the councU
untU 1868. His firm weathered the downturn better than any
of its competitors. Before the slump, Pugh's Almanac of 1865
listed fifteen building contractors in Brisbane.*2 By 1875,
when the economy had recovered, the figure reached seventeen, but Petrie and Son were the only firm to survive the decade intact. *3
The Retries' enterprise remained the notable exception at
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

a time when many Brisbane businesses were strugghng to

survive, yet it cannot be said that the depression of 1866-72
left the firm completely unscathed. Several business ventures
in which John held shares collapsed. Prominent among these
was the Queensland Steam Navigation Company, which engaged in a protracted price-cutting war with the southernbased Australian Steam Navigation Company before
foundering in 1865. Another unsuccessful Petrie investment
was the Queensland Daily Guardian Company, which faltered
after July 1866 and eventually ceased trading in 1868.** With
other members of the Brisbane bourgeoisie, John Petrie became wary of extending his investments beyond his immediate interests. The business caution for which John was
reproached in later years probably dated from the setbacks of
this period.
In spite of these unsuccessful investments, the famUy consolidated its hold over the local construction industry when
leading competitors hke Joshua Jeays faUed to complete govemment contracts. In the critical economic situation, it became imperative that labour-mtensive projects be resumed as
a vital source of emplojmient. One such initiative was the
Bowen Bridge Hospital. The first hospital buUding was designed by Charles Tiffin to accommodate 100 beds and the
tender of WiUiam Robertson was accepted in August 1865.*^
It was to be the first part of the Herston medical complex, a
two-storey, four-ward buUding which was to replace the convict hospital in Queen Street. In early 1866, Robertson, who
had experienced difficulty in laying the foundations, faUed to
meet his terms of contract, leaving the Petries to complete it
at a cost of 20 000 pounds.*^ To accommodate the sub-tropical heat. Tiffin designed the building with verandas 2.5 metres wide and with fifteen windows in each ward.*^ Initially,
the location at Herston, a low-lying suburb out of the township, was not popular with Brisbane residents. To overcome
health fears, Petrie constmcted an extensive drainage system for the building. Stone surface drains surrounding the
verandas caught rain water and carried it through an earthenware tile drain to Breakfast Creek, a kilometre away. Known

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Town and council 147

famUiarly as the Town Block, the elegant Hospital building
survived 103 years before being demolished in 1969 to make
way for the mammoth Block 7. The old sandstone blocks included in the landscaped area of the new main entrance serve
as the only reminder of its earlier history.
In addition to his contribution as a builder, John Petrie
gave long service to the Boards of Health and Outdoor Rehef.
In 1866, Benevolent Society inmates were removed to
Dunwich, but the Hospital continued to play an important social role. During the economic hardship of the late 1860s, the
Brisbane Hospital Board was inundated with requests for
food and clothing. A new Board for Outdoor Relief, of which
Petrie became chairman in 1870, was established in an attempt to meet this need and a system of ration tickets introduced for basic commodities such as flour, sugar and tea. As
a prominent commtmity figure, John Petrie contributed substantially to the hospital's dwindling funds. His philanthropic
involvement was in part motivated by occupational considerations. Among those seeking relief were casualties of the
buUding trade, former employees who had suffered debUitating accidents on the job. Those construction workers who experienced faUs or spinal accidents had little alternative but to
depend on the meagre 5 shilhngs per week provided to deserving recipients.**
During the depression, John Petrie was involved with govemment rehef work schemes for the Brisbane unemployed.
One such scheme, designed to overcome the temporary
shortage of stone, offered labovu in quarries to the unemployed one day per week. Along with the Retries' quarry
at Albion, Woogaroo near Goodna was a valuable source of
good quahty stone. Joshua Jeays used Woogaroo supphes
when he began a contract for the Parliamentary BuUding in
July 1865. Construction on the present-day George Street site
continued for twelve months before the govemment, embarrassed by the loans crisis, was unable to pay Jeays' workers.
His masons promptly withdrew their labovu- and their employer feU into financial difficulties shortly afterwards. With
the building industry in turmoU, only Retries' men were suffiProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

ciently secure to continue the project. After a delay lasting

several months, the Retries' 17 500 pound tender for completing the Parliamentary BuUding was accepted.*^ The firm
supphed its own stone, whUe Wilham Pettigrew provided the
The design of the Parliamentary Building was imposing
for its time. Conceived by Charles Tiffin, it had been selected
after an inter-colonial competition. Tiffin's successful design
adopted a French Renaissance style and featured high mansard roofs for strong visual impact.^" Petrie was able to complete the building within twelve months, in time for the next
parliamentary session. Except for the front colonnade, which
was added ten years later, he adhered to the original specifications. At a time of financial stringency, the Queensland
govemment continued to expend large sums on the site.
Retries' carpenters and craftsmen, who continued to supply
fine fumiture for the buUding, were among the principal beneficiaries.
The continued prosperity of the family firm after 1866
meant that John was able to leave the councU and his political
career on a positive note. He had participated in many factional battles, some of questionable value, but much was forgotten when Andrew Petrie made a memorable address to
the council before his son's departure.^i Now approaching 70,
Andrew recaUed his earhest years at Moreton Bay, alluded to
the dUapidated state of the convict settlement upon his arrival
and spoke of his own pioneering work as town planner and
improver. It was to be one of his last and most moving public
appearances. In his closing years, Andrew's movements
were hampered by an old leg injury which confined him to the
house at Petrie Bight. Thomas Dowse, an early Moreton Bay
resident and friend of the family, noted in 1869 that:
This sad deprivation of one, the greatest blessing, did not prevent the active mind of Mr Petrie taking part in the various operations of the business, and until very recentiy, he could be seen
Ccirefully examining with his hands building work in progress
under his son's superintendence . . . His advancing years now
necessitate a laying-up of the time-worn frame and the form of

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Town and council 149

Mr Andrew Petrie is now seldom seen except by his intimate
In his generous tribute. Dowse expressed his regret that
Andrew had not been awarded a pension for his years of govemment service at Sydney and Moreton Bay. At this time,
however, the Queensland govemment was not in a position to
be generous to its benefactor, and Andrew made no such pecuniary request. He was, however, more than compensated
by the success and reputation of the firm which he had
founded. In conjunction with the new Colonial Architect,
F.G.D. Stanley, plans were laid for a General Post Office in
Queen Street. The Female Factory, in which the family had
spent their first Brisbane months, was pulled down. Like
other convict stmctures, it was demolished during the revival
of buUding activity. Amidst dissatisfaction from competitors,
the Retries' elevated tender of 7450 pounds was successful.^^
On this occasion their tender was 400 pounds higher than
those of their rivals, most of whom lacked sufficient skilled
workers and resources to complete the task. The Post Office
building on the Female Factory site was conceived in an Italian architectural style and buUt of apricot-coloured sandstone. Firestone from Albion and Murphy's Creek and brick
from the Petrie claypits were used for the front and side
walls. The upstairs veranda of the General Post Office, suited
to the sub-tropical climate, had an iron palisade with an ornamental crown on each of the centres. A clock, illuminated by
gasUght, was built into the pediment. Later in the same decade the firm added a second wing at a cost of 20 000 pounds.
Like the Parliamentary BuUding, the Post Office has survived in its prominent Queen Street location; with its constmction, however, part of Andrew and Mary's
pre-SetJaration story had disappeared.
John's retirement from the council was prompted by
Andrew's hmited mobUity. As he assumed sole responsibility
in the new decade, the success of the firm was approaching
its zenith. It was exercising a virtual monopoly of major public works contracts and supplying many govemment departments with furniture on a regular basis. Among the long hst

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

of furniture contracts were requests for the Mihtary Barracks, Hospital, Surveyor General's Office and Government
House.5* Robert Ferguson, who had taken over the fumiture
business from Andrew, worked closely with the government
and traveUed throughout the colony to supervise official contracts. Petrie fumiture was also sent to the Maryborough
Court House and the Rockhampton Customs House. Ferguson received some assistance from John's youngest brother,
George Bamey Petrie, whose surviving pieces show him to
have been a skihul carpenter and craftsman.
AU activity at Petrie Bight came to an abrupt halt, however, with the news of Andrew's death on 20 Febmary 1872.
More fortunate than Mary, Andrew had survived the uncertain days of settlement surrounded by the affection of no
fewer than 17 grandchUdren. The funeral, conducted at 4.00
p.m. on 22 February, paid impressive tribute to the person
who, with the possible exception of his son, contributed more
to Brisbane's material advancement than any other during
the nineteenth century. Vessels in the Brisbane River flew
their flags at half-mast and many businesses closed down or
suspended trading. The funeral, according to the Courier,
was "one of Brisbane's largest for many years".^^ Leading
the funeral procession to MUton were four family mourning
coaches and sixty followers on foot. They were accompanied
by a further forty-five carriages and upwards of fifty horsemen.
Mingling with family and friends like the Campbells,
Swans and Pettigrews were official dignitaries, senior public
servants and parhamentarians - Sir James Cockle, Sir Maurice O'ConneU and Arthur Hunter Palmer, to name a few.
After the service, performed by Rev. Edward Griffith, Andrew was buried in the old graveyard situated where Lang
Park is today. His headstone and remains have since been removed with Mary's to Toowong cemetery, where they are
still prominent. The Courier, which had rarely publicised Andrew Petrie's achievements, responded with an obituary
worthy of the occasion:
Mr Petrie was not a man to obtmde upon public notice, but al-

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Town and council 151

though he never actively interfered in policies and other movements, he covdd express his views decidedly and vigorously in
private. As a father, he was kind and indulgent, as an employer,
he was respected, though strict and watchful, and as a friend and
companion, he was genial and hearty - nothing pleasing him better than a "chat about old times".^6
The Courier's observation that the funeral attracted different classes of the community was consistent with the firm's
longstanding support for the labour movement. One week
after the funeral, John Petrie chaired a revitalised Eight Hour
gathering at the Queen's Hotel and was acclaimed the new
"Father of the Brisbane BuUding Trade".^^ One sign of economic recovery was the formation of new unions in the capital by 1872. The six-year slump, dvu"ing which skilled
craftsmen were paid a mere 5 shUlings a day, was easing.^* In
foUowing months a steady improvement in the labour market
took place, accompanied by a rise in wages to pre-depression
levels. Among Brisbane employers, James CampbeU
weathered the depression years and was poised to expand his
lime and cement estabhshment in Creek Street into a now-lucrative timber trade. A successful competitor of Pettigrew
and Petrie, Campbell was already recognised as a spokesman
for the local buUding industry. At a pubhc meeting convened
to address ongoing problems in the industry, he emphasised
the serious inconvenience experienced by subcontractors and
workmen as a result of frequent defaulting by Brisbane contractors.^^ CampbeU, who claimed to have lost as much as
3000 pounds, advocated that architects guarantee the completion of projects with which they were associated and that
separate tenders be allocated to each trade for the same
building as a precautionary measure. The decided advantage
of large firms like the Petries lay in their abUity to co-ordinate
tradesmen on a particular site and ensure the completion of
major contracts. It was this reliabUity which recommended
them to both clients and employees.
Within the domestic sphere, there was also a quickening of
activity as the large family of John and Jane Petrie came of
age. A rapid increase in the eligible population meant that
this generation married at an earlier age than their parents. In
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

1873, their eldest daughter, Amelia Mary, married George

Crawford. A year later, Andrew Lang, their second chUd,
married Margaret Aird, ten years his junior. With the exception of John and George, who remained bachelors, most of the
children were to rnarry mto estabhshed Brisbane famihes the Coutts of Bulimba House, the Harrises of Newstead and
the Baynes of South Brisbane. Presumably John, as family
head, continued to exercise some influence in determining acceptable partners.
During the 1870s, John began laying plans for his sons to
succeed him. Both the oldest sons, Andrew Lang and John,
entered govemment service as part of a strategy to consolidate their family's influence with officialdom. WhUe Andrew
Lang began his career as a clerk in the Customs Office,
"Jack" Petrie was appointed a learner pupU in the Colonial
Architect's department.^o In time, both would retum to conduct the family business. Although John Jnr received mdimentary training as a draughtsman, he did not practise as an
architect and was unable to enter the upper echelons of the
civU service. In consequence, the firm wotUd continue to rely
on the Government Architect and private professionals for
advice. Andrew Lang and John continued the masculine
traditions of the family. "Jack", who had been a pupU of the
Grammar School, excelled in cricket and represented
Queensland in inter-colonial competitions.6i Andrew Lang,
who attended the Normal and CoUegiate schools was taU and
good-natured. He epitomised the famil/s social virtues.
Manliness tempered with good humour were qualities instilled by the famUy and the educational institutions of the
day. At the same time, a loosening of religious affihations was
taking place as the new generation enjoyed greater security
and comfort than ever before.
For the time being, John remained sole head of the firm. In
conjunction with Colonial Architect F.D.G. Stanley (187381), a series of new pubhc projects was undertaken. Comparable in scale with the Parhamentary Building were the
Supreme Court Chambers begun by Petrie in September
1875 for a tender of 33 589 pounds.62 The old hospital comProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Town and council


plex at North Quay was chosen as the site for this imposing
Doric stmcture. Part of the original complex on the site included the Convict Surgeon's Georgian-period residence
which had inspired the family home at Petrie Bight. Now the
firm which had performed much of the repairs and maintenance on convict buUdings was setting the pace of urban development. With Andrew's passing, convict structures were
fast disappearing and part of the family's first-generation
story was lost.
The Supreme Court building was not officially opened
until 1879, m part because the Petries were simultaneously
engaged in adding a substantial new wing to the Queen Street
Post Office. Yet the Supreme Court building remained the
most imposing achievement of this period and gave long service untU 1968 when it was damaged by fire and replaced by
the modern complex. Its original design was a "T" shape, approximately 70 metres by 30 metres, with the stem of the
"T" extending towards George Street. Good quality stone for
the lower floors was taken from the Woogaroo and Murphy
Creek quarries.63 Elegant cast-iron railmgs and elaborate colonial verandas gave the buUding a gracious and imposing exterior. The entrance featured a paved court with fine ceihngs
and cedar fittings in the various courtrooms. In March 1879,
when two of the three wings were completed, the Courier
praised its fme craftsmanship and distinctive features.6* Two
years later, Petrie added a caretaker's building using old
stone taken from the Petrie Terrace gaol. The practice of reusing avaUable buUding stone was not uncommon in colonial
Brisbane. The waU which surrounds the Brisbane Gardens in
the city provides a surviving example of recycled Petrie material, whUe bricks with the familiar " J.P." stamp continued
to appear throughout the Brisbane and Moreton Bay region.
A noteworthy feature of the Supreme Court building was
its river facade and entrance. Like the Post Office (1879-80)
and the Customs House (1887), both Petrie projects, it was
best appreciated from the river. In this respect, John was perpetuating his father's vision of Brisbane as a township turned
towards the river and geared to a gracious sub-tropical lifeProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

style. Even today the Port Office (Harbours and Marine)

building and Customs House nearby exude an old-worid
charm in stark contrast to their surrounding high-rise environment. The Port Office, a smaller project designed by
Stanley in a Victorian classic revival style, was the centre of
marine activities for saihng ships and steamers near the
Petrie Bight wharves. Extended, modified and finally restored in 1989, it has survived relatively intact .6^ Even as the
Port Office neared completion, John and Jane Petrie, with
their remaining children, were making preparations to move
from their home at Petrie Bight. The family land and houses,
now a prime business location, had ceased to be suitable for
residential purposes. As a successful middle-aged businessman, John chose to retreat from the city centre to the space
and tranquilhty of a stately suburban villa.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

''Petrie's Pocket
Borough'': The
northern suburbs
The decision to leave Petrie Bight was consistent with a growing trend among
wealthy Brisbane residents to withdraw
from the bustiing city centre and seek a
more spacious environment. As the tempo
of immigration and urbanisation quickened
in the 1870s and 1880s, the middle class occupied villas on
suburban hiUs overlooking the river. John Petrie and his son,
Andrew Lang, chose to buUd separate houses for themselves
in exclusive new subin-bs. Albion, overlooking Breakfast
Creek, had for some time been the scene of quarrying operations by the Petrie firm. Their quarry, situated near the present site of St Columban's school, supplied much of the stone
for pubhc works contracts. In the same locality, on the comer
of Oriel and Sandgate Roads, the firm operated a brickworks.
With these local supplies, the Retries undertook large private
contracts for wealthy residents in the Albion-Hamilton district. Whytecliffe, constructed in 1875, was one project undertaken by the firm for sohcitor Robert Little. Now a
monastery in the St Columban's school complex^ Whytecliffe
is a fine example of a Petrie mansion. A two-storey brick
building, with stone foundations and a shingle roof, it comprised twenty-two rooms, along with ceUars, stables and a
coach house. The lower storey of Whytecliffe consisted of
three spacious entertainment rooms, featuring cedar panels
and marble fireplaces.^
After Andrew's death, John Petrie decided to build a comparable dwelling for himself using the firm's ample reProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Map of Albion - Clayfield area. Adapted from History of Brisbane (Brisbane, St

Columban's, n.d.)

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'Petrie's Pocket Borough"


sources. Shortly after Whytecliffe was erected, he supervised

construction of the new famUy home, Beerwah on Gregory
Terrace, Bowen HiUs. For John Petrie, the new premises
were a welcome change from the noise and dust of Petrie
Bight. The famUy could now entertain more frequently and
lavishly than before. Named in memory of John's early expedition to the Glasshouse Mountains, Beerwah was an knpressive high-roofed buUdmg. It featured a wide hall through the
centre of the house and twin fireplaces at opposite ends.2
Beerwah was surrounded by latticed verandas and its fourteen spacious rooms featured cedar panels and marble fireplaces. The spacious grounds around the house, 4 hectares in
extent, were planted with an impressive variety of shrubs and
trees. During the same period, a home for Andrew Lang and
Margaret Petrie, Mooloomburram was built near the Albion
quarry. The name Mooloomburram was taken from the
Maroochy Aboriginal dialect, combining Moohon ("shady
tree") with burran (meaning "parrot"). One special feature of
this elegant home was its family crest with the inscribed initials "A.P." The crest can stiU be seen in the stained-glass
doors of St Margaret's school buUding.
The elegance of Beerwah and Mooloomburram confirmed
the rising social status of a family which, from its artisan origins, had become thoroughly integrated into the ranks of the
colonial bourgeoisie. There was, as ever, continuity within
these changes. The homes of father and son were stUl sufficiently close for John to take Andrew Lang as his business
partner in 1880. Two years later, the old family homes and
land at Petrie Bight were sold to Perry Bros, for the handsome sum of 40 000 pounds.3 New workshops were established at Fortitude VaUey on the corner of Brunswick and
Amelia Streets. This site was less central and lacked river access, but the firm's prospects still appeared bright as Brisbane entered an unprecedented construction boom during
the 1880s.
In this prosperous decade, immigration to Queensland accounted for 70 per cent of the colony's population growth.
Brisbane, which received most of the newcomers, increased
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

its population from 40 000 to 90 000 within ten years.* The

influx of colonists brought with it an increasing demand for
housing and triggered rapid expansion of the buUding industry. Within five years, the number of registered builders and
contractors in the metropolis jumped from sixteen to eightyseven. Most immigrants were housed in ungainly wooden
dwelhngs, hurriedly erected around the inner city. The speculative trend away from stone to timber quickened in the
1880s to the detriment of the Petrie business. WhUe the number of wooden dweUings doubled in Brisbane in the 1880s,
new brick structures were virtually non-existent. Increasingly, the Petries, steeped in the traditions of masonry and
stonework, found themselves restricted to operations in the
ehte northern suburbs where they had chosen to live.
In direct consequence of the rapid demand, supplies of
hardwood and cedar around the Brisbane region were exhausted. Despite the appointment of a Forest Conservancy
Board in the 1870s, Queensland had not developed any comprehensive strategy to preserve its valuable forests. The
most accessible, including the surviving Bunya Pines, were
depleted by large companies, using up-to-date machinery and
funded by extensive capital investment. Whether it was due
to Gipps' early edict or continued Aboriginal intervention, the
Bunya taboo lingered untU after Andrew Snr's death. As late
as 1875, there were those like WiUiam Pettigrew who maintained that the Bunya Pine was not to be cut.6 With the decline of the Aboriginal guide system used by Tom Petrie and
early colonists, the inhibitions of individual timber-getters
about the Bunya were no longer sufficient to prevent indiscriminate miUing. One forested area which was extensively
logged during the 1880s was the Blackall Range. It was here
that Tom Petrie had first attended a Bunya feast three decades previously. By 1880, a large mill was also operating
near Petrie Creek, the scene of Tom's early cedar ventiire.
Along with cedar which was logged in the Maleny-Mapleton
district,^ Bunya softwoods, easy to mill and process, became
a prime commodity for Brisbane timber merchants. New immigrants entering the industry had httle understanding of or

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"Petrie's Pocket Borough"


interest in the special significance of the Bunya Pine for the

Aborigines, whUe established colonists were equally determined to retain a stake in the lucrative market.
Andrew Petrie Snr's vision of material progress was modified by his personal knowledge of Aboriginal customs. The
nostalgia for "old times", a feature of Petrie family life, was
reflected in the names which his children and grandchUdren
gave to their homes: Beerwah, Murrumba, Mooloomburram.
The new climate of entrepreneurial capitalism which
emerged in the colony during the 1880s bred a different set of
attitudes. Among the most successful of the new generation
of timber merchants were family friends and competitors, the
CampbeUs. Relatives on Tom's side, the Campbells had
maintained close social ties with the Petrie family since the
joint baptism of Andrew Lang and James Dunmore CampbeU
in 1854. The Campbell warehouse and wharves continued to
operate in Creek Street near Petrie Bight after John and his
famUy vacated the city centre. By 1880, two sons from each
famUy were active in their respective firms. At an early age,
John Dunmore and James Campbell Jnr received training in
their father's buUding supply firm,* whUe Andrew Lang and
John (Jack) Petrie returned to assist their father in stonemasonry and brick manufacture. Subsequently, business control
was vested in the eldest sons, with Andrew Lang and John
Dunmore CampbeU assuming public leadership roles.
The contribution Tom Petrie made to this longstanding
family rivalry is not clear. For the most part, Tom was too
preoccupied with Murrumba and the Bribie Island reserve to
take much interest in Brisbane business matters. It was
ironic, nonetheless, that the CampbeUs developed a close familiarity with the Bunya country which they used to successfully expand their timber business. Just as Pettigrew had
drawn on information supphed by men like Tom and James
Davis, so the CampbeUs benefited from the knowledge of the
earher generation of timber-getters. After cutting trees on
Bribie Island, the Campbells established a large timber miU
near Coochm Creek with access to the Glasshouse Mountains
and the hmterland.^ What Tom had begun on a small scale.

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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

the CampbeUs continued as a major operation. Giant logs

were cut in the uplands, dragged towards the coast by bullocks and floated down Coochin Creek to Pumicestone Passage where they were dog-spiked together and rafted to
Brisbane. John Dunmore CampbeU, Andrew Lang's contemporary, acquired large land holdings on the north coast near
Caloundra and used his influence on the Caboolture Division
Board as the stepping stone to a political career. ^^
More so than the Petries, the CampbeUs belonged to the
entrepreneurial age of Queensland-based capitalism as expoimded by Premiers Mcllwraith, Morehead and Philp. The
CampbeUs' intermarriage with the Philp family in 1875^1 consolidated their common desire to develop Queensland as rapidly as possible and to expand commercial enterprises
throughout the north. In keeping with this mentality, native
forests were not simply to be logged for local consumption
but became a significant export industry. WhUe the Retries'
fleet of cutters and punts lay idle after 1882, the CampbeU
firm embcirked on a period of rapid expansion with the
launching of two small steamers, the Mavis and the Leonie.^'^
By 1895, its fleet comprised sixteen vessels which were used
to carry goods and passengers along the Queensland coast. In
this way, J.D. CampbeU was able to supply railway and building contractors throughout the colony during the boom years.
The amiable disposition and sanguine temperament of Andrew Lang Petrie was less compatible with the hard-headed
world of colonial business. In this respect he resembled his
uncle, Tom, being content to maintain a local business rather
than expand throughout the north. From an early age, Andrew Lang was comfortable in public life and gained ready
access to elite Brisbane society, a diverse group of pohticians,
civil servants and businessmen. TaU and dignified, with
twinkling brown eyes and a keen wit, Andrew Lang was extremely popiUar with north Brisbane residents. At age 29, he
entered local government and was elected to the Toombul Division Board. Andrew Lang's private hfe was not, however,
without misfortune. In 1883, Margaret, his first wife (nee
Aird), contracted peritonitis after confinement m hospital and

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'Petrie's Pocket Borough"


died at the age of 30 years. Margaret left two children, John

George and Margaret Jessie.^3 Childbirth remained a hazardous ordeal for colonial women and their offspring despite the
increase in medical and hospital services. Andrew Lang appears to have been close to Margaret and remained on good
terms with their children after his second marriage to Agnes
Luya several years later. A forceful personality, Agnes grew
up in the Tewantin district during the early days of the timber
industry. The daughter of A.F. Luya, a sawmiller and merchant, she received her education at AU Hallows school and,
despite the demands of a large family, displayed a keen interest in poUtical and public affairs. She would often appear at
Andrew Lang's meetings and was, with other middle-class
women of her time, a supporter of female rights and the franchise.^*
In the building industry, marriage appeared to be an extension of business activity, with attendant economic as well as
personal benefits. By the 1880s, the commercial strategy of
the Petrie firm differed significantly from that of most newcomers. As an established concern, John and Andrew Lang
preferred to specialise in elite housing contracts. Although
the firm lacked the technology and engineering expertise required to erect high rise commercial buUdings like those appearing on the Brisbane skyhne, it was stiU able to compete
successfuUy for public works during the 1880s. In 1883, after
completing extensions to AU Hallows' School, Petrie and Son
was commissioned to erect urgent extensions to the Govemment Printery between George and WUliam Streets. The
Wilham Street buUding constructed by John Petrie's men ten
years earlier could no longer house the machinery and expanding Printery staff. In aU, three additions were approved
- a Machine Room (in Stephen's Lane), an Engine Room and
a Lithography Office (in George Street). The Petrie tender for
13 043 pounds was accepted in July 1884 and work began on
the Machine Room as a high priority.^^ A year later, only the
foundations were in place, although the other extensions
were progressing satisfactorily. During this time, relations
between John Petrie and the Colonial Architect, John James
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

Clark, soured over constmction delays. Another two years

elapsed before heavy printing equipment could be moved into
the Machine Room and it was not untU February 1887 that aU
the extensions were completed. One reason for the acrimony
between Petrie and the government was the zealous scmtiny
of stone supplies by on-site officials. Writing to the Department of Works in June 1886, John Petrie laid the blame for
delays squarely with the Colonial Architect. In his own
the Colonial Architect Clark kept condemning the stones bought
into the site for aU the time that Clark was in Govemment service. He (Petrie) said that, at one stage Clark had requested that
he use purple hardstone from the Lutwyche quarries for the basement storey but he had not been able to get the correct color.i6
The Clark-Petrie altercation proved a damaging incident
for the firm. The dispute may well have had its origms in the
previous decade, when Clark trained with John Petrie Jnr in
the Colonial Architect's Office. WhUe the department
blocked John's advancement, Clark was promoted to a senior
position.^^ Under Clark and his successor, George Connolly,
relations between the Architects office and the Petries were
strained to the point of antagonism. Connolly, whether it be
for personal or professional reasons, expressed reservations
about the future use of stone for government buildings. ^^
Moreover, when stone was required, both officials proved inflexible about the quality and discolouration of the material
employed. Connolly, in evidence to an 1888 inquiry into quarrying, made the following observations:
Questioner: You have exercised a very strict supervision over this
Connolly: Most strict. We can show that we have condemned
thousands of feet of stone, not only in the quarry but
ready and fixed in position and some that have been
very expensively moulded.
Questioner: Architects generally are rather particular as to the uniformity of colour in stone?
Connolly: Yes especiaUy in buildings of any pretensions. They had

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"Petrie's Pocket Borough"


far better leave out a portion of the ornamental work

than use discoloured stone.^^
In order to strengthen its control over contractors, the govemment purchased the Highfield quarry near Toowoomba
and insisted that this stone be used for public works. Highfield stone, supplemented by Pearson's brown stone, constituted the main materials used on the Treasury building when
the first wing was constmcted after 1885. By 1887, the Brisbane Municipal CouncU, foUowing the Queensland
govemment's example, purchased the Spring HUl porphyry
quarry and rented it to private contractors. The Albion
quarry continued to supply the Petrie firm until the end of the
century, but was becoming inadequate for government work.
The only other expedient, purchase of the highly prized Highfield site, was blocked by the government's pohcy of leasing
its own supplies.
On-the-job disputes over building supplies reflected the
rising status of architects in the industry at the expense of
buUders. By the 1880s, Brisbane architects were sufficiently
numerous and self-conscious to form their own professional
association, the Queensland Institute of Architects.20 This
was an era of prominent architects, as newcomers like Richard Gailey, Robin Dodds and G.M.H. Addison vied with estabhshed professionals like F.O.D. Stanley and the
Cowhshaws. Their elaborate designs won respect throughout
the colonies. Not only were the old buUding firms eclipsed by
this talented generation of professionals; they were also coming under pressure from below, as changes in the composition
of the workforce disturbed craft elitism and tradition. The superior status of the stonemasons, skilled workers attached to
the Petrie workforce, was under challenge from new groups.
Bricklayers, benefiting from improved materials and techniques, were able to close the wage gap between masons and
themselves. By the late 1880s, the trend from stone to brick
was apparent in private building, with 1053 brick stmctures
erected in Brisbane and only 128 in stone.21
It was in this rapidly changing professional and industrial
context that the Petrie firm undertook its last major nineteenth century pubhc project, the Customs House, an impresProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

sive achievement in the tradition of the Parliamentary Building and the Supreme Court. Before the Printery complex was
completed, a major government contract was won for the
new Customs House at Petrie Bight. The first Customs
House, located on the same site, was a modest single-storey
buUding which had become inadequate for the demands of
the busy port. Its riverfront location, near the site of the old
family business, held a particular significance for John and
Andrew Lang Petrie. Lower Queen Street had nevertheless
changed since their departure five years earlier. A substantial
retaining waU had since been erected along the riverside
frontage to carry traffic from the wharves, while on the
nearby comer of Queen and Creek Streets the imposing new
Queensland National Bank building, symbol of Queensland's
newfound prosperity, was attracting admiration. The
Customs House, erected at a cost of 37 342 pounds, was to be
no less impressive. A striking, well-proportioned, three-storey stmcture, it survives today amid modern towers of steel
and glass.
The Customs House contract took three years to complete
at a time when John Petrie's health was showing signs of deterioration. Increasingly, Andrew Lang bore the responsibility for building operations, a change which may have eased
tensions with the Colonial Architect's office. The project,
begun in 1886, received a severe setback in the following
year with the premature death of John Petrie Jnr at 29 years.
"Jack", who hved at Beerwah with his father and managed
the Albion brickworks, suffered a bout of rheumatic fever before succunttbing to a heart attack. His untimely loss was
mourned m the Queensland Figaro, which paid tribute to his
physical prowess and sporting achievements.22 In each generation, Petrie menfolk suffered premature adversity and
misfortune. Was the curse of Beerwah at work or was it simply due to the hazards of colonial life? Whatever the c^se, the
paraUel between Jack and his long-deceased Uncle Walter
was a striking one. Progress on the Customs House (like the
Printery) was also hindered by the. problem of stone supphes.
Connolly, the Government Architect, noted in his report that:

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"Petrie's Pocket Borough"


"During the early stages of the work, delays approximating

several months occurred, arising so the contractors have
stated, from the difficulty in obtaining suitable stone."23
Connolly's preoccupation with the colour and quality of stone
forced the firm to use material from Jeays' Goodna quarry
and Murphy's Creek, in preference to its own Albion supplies. Consequently operations became uneconomic and long
delays left the masons idle for weeks at a time. One consequence was the loss of skiUed employees. Wilham Kitchen
was an example. A Yorkshire immigrant who came to Brisbane in 1884, Kitchen began with the Petries before working
for a Sydney contractor on the early stages of the Treasury
Stonemasonry for the Customs House was completed in
December 1887, after which the brickwork proceeded more
speedily. Attributed to Connolly and Charles McLay, the
Customs House featured pedimental gables and massive colonnades.25 The aesthetic appeal of the building lay both in its
design and its river location. Conceived in a classic revival
style, with a handsome copper dome, it was constructed with
Queen Street and river frontages, flanked by colonnades and
balconies. A double staircase led to the river's edge. Two distinctive featiu"es, inserted by Petrie workmen, were the colonial heraldic shields on the pedimental gable and the casting
of Queen Victoria's initials in the curved iron balustrade.
The interior of the Customs House was to be no less elegant. White and black marble for the fireplaces and mantelpieces came from Italy. Fittings for the desks, counters,
cabinets and tables were of red polished cedar.26 The firm
was fortunate in securing the services of George Ferguson, a
former Petrie overseer, for the furniture and timber work.
Since leaving the firm in 1872 for government service, Ferguson had spent most of his time constructing state schools
throughout the colony.27 He supervised constmction of the
Customs House interior, which featured a long room and
massive staircase below the plaster ceiling and copper dome.
After sustaining internal fire damage in 1947, the Customs
House has since been restored to its original grandeur.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

John Petrie was approaching his mid-sixties by the time

the Customs House contract had begun. Unlike his father,
John adopted a more relaxed lifestyle in later life. He exuded
the air of a gentleman as he travelled by carriage through the
northern suburbs, and performed his social and civic duties.
These civic commitments were sufficiently numerous to distract him from growing pressiu-es upon the family business.
Indeed, John continued to bask in his reputation as
Brisbane's first Lord Mayor. Jane Petrie, his wife, remained
a staunch churchgoer and, with John, interested herself in a
new project to construct St Paul's Presbyterian Church on a
hiU site overlooking the Valley. An original member of the
Brisbane Waterworks Board, John continued to serve on
many committees and was a patron of local sporting bodies.28
Active phUanthropists, Jane and John were closely associated
with health and hospital matters for many years. There were
also the social commitments of a large family, regular caUs to
Mooloomburram and to friends and relatives in the AlbionHamilton area. In September 1883, IsabeUa, their second
daughter, married James Ross Coutts, a 33-year-old public
servant who became manager of the Post and Telegraph Department.29 Along with pastoral and commercial connections, the Petrie family were hnked in marriage to other
famUies with managerial and pubhc service influence. Jane
Petrie welcomed the retum to Brisbane of their youngest
daughter, Margaret Jane, after her marriage to Edward
Eldridge Smith. Margaret had left Brisbane for Mackay
where her husband worked as a Customs official. After their
stay in the north, they retumed to Brisbane, where Eldridge
Smith opened a successful importing agency.30
As the decade progressed, the Petrie building firm appeared to be holding its own. However, little thought was
given to expansion. In retrospect, John has been criticised for
neglecting business matters and aUowing the firm to stagnate. Certainly, he was more cautious than his father and did
httle to expand into the lucrative timber industry. Dominated
by his father, Andrew Snr, untU a late age, John reacted
against the constraints of his upbringing and the austerity of

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"Petrie's Pocket Borough"


his early years. Yet it would be incorrect to attribute sole responsibility for the firm's dechne to the ageing John. Andrew
Lang, his successor, was more extravagant. His speculation
left the firm without assets when a severe depression struck
the Queensland economy in the 1890s.
The decade prior to the bank crash of 1893 was one of financial recklessness m the colony. Local investment in pastoralism,
minmg and finance was concentrated in the (Queensland National Bank, which doubled its deposits and used its position to
further the poUtical fortunes of a smaU group of powerful conservatives. In 1888, when Thomas Mcllwraith was comfortably
retumed to power, Andrew Lang became captivated by the
vigorous determination of Queensland's arch-capitalist. In his
reminiscences, Andrew Lang described Mcllwraith as "the
greatest Premier we had yet seen in Queensland", adding that
"he was a bom leader .. . the secret of his influence over men
was in the animal magnetism that radiated from him" .3i Before
embarking on his own parliamentary career, Andrew Lang met
Mcllwraith sociaUy, and joined Mcllwraith's bowling team, the
first of its kind in Brisbane. Affluent and gregarious, Andrew
Lang was more attracted to Mcllwraith's development schemes
than to Griffith's legalistic liberalism. He was also mixing with
other members of exclusive society, including the weU-known
architect, Andrew Stombucco. The Petrie firm was one of three
contractors which Stombucco engaged to constmct a HamUton
mansion. Sans Souci (now Palma Rosa), overlooking the Albion
Park racecoiarse.32 A stylish two-storey viUa, Sans Souci
("without a care") featured a tower, bay windows and iron lace
balustrades on three sides. Constmcted of Hehdon sandstone, it
was acclaimed one of thefinestresidences in the city.
Lavish entertainment, aflamboyantlifestyle and a passion
for gambhng were prominent among north Brisbane's ehte.
In conjunction with local residents, Andrew Lang borrowed
heavily from the Queensland National Bank to fund the establishment of a major amusement centre at Albion Park. To do
this, he obtained securities on the famUy's land investments,
some of which had been subdivided. The Albion Park speculation was an ambitious investment. Several hectares of tea
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The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

tree swamp were to be reclaimed for a 4 furlong racetrack

and complex which would include a dance haU, amusement
area and amenities.33 Fifty drays of stone were transported to
the low-lying site and a sand-track was constmcted over the
stone fill. For a short time, the dance haU attracted leading
Brisbane identities and the amusement park featured such
exotic acts as Bill Cody and a team of American Indians.
However, competition from centres hke Eagle Farm and the
construction of branch lines beyond the inner suburbs discouraged regular patronage, with the result that Andrew
Lang and his partners were forced to sell in 1891. Andrew
Lang himself lost an estimated 20 000 pounds at a critical
time for the famUy finances.
WhUe Albion Heights remained an exclusive suburb, the
surrounding lowlands were far from bemg a playground for
Brisbane's elite. The construction of a new bridge across
Breakfast Creek by the late 1880s was opening the area to
suburban settlement, but much of the Newstead lowlands remained unattractive. Along the Creek, the Chinese, despised
and persecuted by the white populace, tilled their marketgardens and constructed a Joss House in which to worship. The
tea tree swamps of Newstead had long been home to the Aborigines. They had called it Ya-Ga-Gara and found an abundance of food in the locality. By 1890, only a smaU group,
mostly from the north coast tribes, inhabited the area. With
the spread of white settlement. Breakfast Creek had become
a boundary beyond which Aborigines were discouraged from
entering the inner city. Since Separation, when police raided
and burnt fringe camps, a curfew had been enforced. Excluded from the VaUey by night, the Aborigines camped on
river sites and retumed by day to the city. With the fish and
crabs they caught, the Aborgines bartered with the local Chinese or whites for rations and alcohol. Some sought work at
local quarries and timber mUls, but with little success. The
building industry, which had formerly relied on their skills,
was now employing white labour exclusively. At J.D.
CampbeU's large timber mUl on Breakfast Creek, armed
guards were used to keep the blacks at a distance. By 1890,

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"Petrie's Pocket Borough"


CampbeU's Breakfast Creek timber mill was the centre of his

commercial empire, employing up to 400 workers.3* With the
onset of the depression, CampbeU continued his success by
marketing "cut houses to measure" for the less well-to-do.
The Petrie firm, by contrast, was unable toridethe downtum
by offering cheaper accommodation. Stone was becoming a
luxury which few could now afford.
Like many contemporaries, the Petries were hard hit in the
new decade. A succession of misfortunes preceded their financial difficulties. In his 70th year, John Petrie died after a
protracted period of iUness. The Courier reported that he had
been confined to his home for some months. His passing in
December 1892 was pubhcly moumed, as Andrew Snr's had
been twenty years earlier. Flags flew at hah-mast and shops
closed in memory of the city's first mayor. A long funeral procession foUowed the mourning family to Toowong Cemetery.
The morning press, in its obituary, stated that "he [John] left
hardly an enemy in the city".35 Jane Petrie and her chUdren
had hardly begun to recover from John's death when severe
flooding engiUfed the entire Brisbane district. In the unprecedented summer of 1893,floodwaters washed away the
Victoria (Queen St) Bridge and innundated South Brisbane,
Kangaroo Point and Breakfast Creek. All along the river, the
loss of property was staggering. WUliam Pettigrew's timber
mUl on Kangaroo Point was badly damaged, while at
CampbeU's nearby Newstead establishment, boats were
rowed over the 3 metre fence surrounding the Albion Park
racecourse at the height of the flood. As chairman of the
Hamilton Division Board, Andrew Lang Petrie came to the
aid of his constituents. He played a prominent role in rescue
operations in the low-lying areas and is reputed to have been
in charge of a boat in which a baby girl was bom.36 Two bullocks, which had been carried down the swirhng waters from
Cressbrook station to Hamilton, were caught and harnessed to
assist in the rescue operations. Andrew Lang was directly responsible for finding food, accommodation and clothing for
the homeless. Cheerful and practical, he exhibited the resilProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

lent Petrie spirit which had given the family its longstanding
Andrew Lang's popularity was such that he was undefeated in local elections during his municipal career, and indeed in the decades of parhamentary service which foUowed.
Subsequently the locality was dubbed "Petrie's Pocket
Borough" in his honour. In mid-1893, with the colony in the
throes of depression, Andrew Lang stood for parliament as a
candidate for Toombul. He joined other Brisbane buUders,
A.F. Luya and C.W. Midson, in mnning on a Mcllwraith
ticket. Mcllwraith's electoral strategy, designed to counter a
challenge from the newly formed Labor Party was to choose
Brisbane candidates with popular appeal. Neither of Petrie's
opponents in Toombul, Dr EUison (Liberal) nor M.B. Gannon
(Independent), was able to attract the working-class vote. Andrew Lang conducted a simple but effective campaign, based
upon his record of community service, family name and modest support for Labour principles: "He (Petrie) was sm-e that
he would do far more for the working man in the House than
any Labour Candidate. He had never cut down wages . . . He
rather approved of unionism along proper hnes."37 On 30
April, Petrie won comfortably with an absolute majority over
the other candidates. Significantly, he trailed in the more exclusive suburbs of Hamilton and Albion but was given an
overwhelming mandate in the working-class area of Brisbane
In late May of 1893, Andrew Lang took his seat in
Mcllwraith's short-hved administration. At a time when retrenchment and wage cuts were being widely discussed, Andrew Lang became a government spokesman on public
works and the civil service. In politics, as in business, he
lacked the aggression of many contemporaries and adopted a
political stance which resembled liberalism rather than aUout conservatism. Rivalry between govemment members
and the new Labor parliamentarians was keen, and Andrew
Lang later paid tribute to the energy and dedication of the opposition members.39 Andrew Lang's early months of office
coincided with the announcement of widespread insolvency
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

"Petrie's Pocket Borough"


and growing fears for his own business. In mid-July, after suffering the effects of major flooding, a bank crash and rapid
depression in land values, the firm finaUy succumbed to insolvency. Andrew Lang, with WUliam Pettigrew and other parliamentarians, was forced to resign. Within three weeks of
his resignation, Andrew Lang was promptly re-elected and
resumed his seat.* Toombul was to remain his "Pocket
Borough" for many years, but the business fortunes of the
famUy were in serious decline. The social and personal
trauma of insolvency would not be so easily overcome.
The legal proceedings which foUowed were protracted and
hmnUiating for the entire family. In January 1894, Andrew
Lang resigned as a Justice of the Peace. In the following
month, a meeting of twelve creditors established liabilities of
14 000 pounds with a further 6000 pounds owed in contingencies. The Courier, reporting the case, observed that "the
debtor was granted his buggy, horse and harness" .*i By mid1894, the situation had stiU not been fully resolved. Most of
the debt was owing to the Queensland National Bank, which
was suffering the effects of its extravagant lending policy.
Smaller sums were owing to the Brisbane MUling Company,
local buUders and commercial interests.*2 Insolvency was
widespread among the speculator class. Thomas Mcllwraith,
recently Premier and a director of the Queensland National
Bank, was found to be 300 000 pounds overdrawn when he
discreetly retired to England.
A detaUed review of Andrew Lang's finances revealed that
the famUy held substantial tracts of land at Toombul and
Redcliffe but had been tmable to subdivide and sell when
values depreciated. In addition to land holdings, shares in
gold mining constituted his other major form of investment.
Andrew Lang was subsequently forced to seU Mooloomburram and took up residence at Sandgate. It was not untU
1910, seventeen years after his insolvency, that he was in a
position to re-open a smaU monumental masonry business at
Toowong. This operation, conducted with his son John
George, continued in its location opposite the cemetery for
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

some seventy years. A new cycle of growth would slowly

emerge from the ashes of the first.
The Petrie women, financially dependent upon their menfolk, were adversely affected by the change in family fortune.
One of Andrew Lang's first tasks was to repay the mortgage
on Wandi, a Redchffe property mortgaged by his mother
Jane to the Queensland National Bank. Jane Petrie survived
John by only four years, but lived long enough to see the family business faU into dechne. In her later years, Jane spent
time at Wandi Wiih her younger son George. Her closest companion was Amelia Mary, the eldest daughter, who had returned to live with Jane after her own husband's death. When
Jane died from an attack of gastroenteritis in December 1896,
it was to Amelia that she bequeathed her household fumiture
and effects - "plate linen, glass china, books, pictures,
prints" .*3 The sketchy evidence of the Petrie women which
survives suggests a strong mother-daughter relationship
comparable with that between the males.
More severely affected stiU were the Petrie employees.
The company's stonemasons, the elite of the Brisbane workforce, were forced to wait on the government for relief work.
The onset of depression left one in three skilled workers
without work. Few of those in employment were able to work
a six-day week. In the case of Brisbane stonemasons, there
was only one major govemment project, the Treasiuy building, to absorb the unemployed. Some of Petrie's men, including John Wilham Young, were later employed to instaU the
vault in the Treasury buUding. The Petrie firm, invaluable as
an employer of labour during the 1860s slump, could no
longer fiU the breach. As work in the buUding industry slackened, tradesmen left the city or accepted lower wages. A
short-lived strike by construction workers for 7 shilhngs a
day faUed and those involved were lucky to return to their
jobs.** Uncertainty and turmoU spread across the colonies.
On the land, pastoralists battled shearers and a prolonged
drought which brought many of the early generation to grief.
Although the situation was less extreme in Brisbane than in
mral areas, the adversity of the 1890s marked most Queens-

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

"Petrie's Pocket Borough"


land colonists and widened the gap between masters and

men. In the twentieth-century world of big business and organised unionism, the Petrie policy of concihation and moral
persuasion feU increasingly on deaf ears. Nevertheless, their
nostalgia for earher days and respect for the oral traditions of
both black and white survivors has ensured the family and
their writings a unique place in the history of the Brisbane region.
By the mid 1890s, the second Petrie generation was fast
disappearing. Tom Petrie had lost all his brothers including
George Barney and Andrew Jnr, who suffered gangrene and
ulceration of the leg in 1895. On Murrumba, now reduced to
1200 hectares, Tom Petrie held on until the tiun of the century, when the Great Drought evicted a generation of pioneer
graziers and pastorahsts. His children and their families were
also caught up in the bank crash. In 1884, Mary Helen, the eldest daughter, had married PhiUip Pinnock, nephew of the
pastoralist Henry Stuart RusseU and son of Darling Downs
squatter James Pinnock. The Pinnocks lived closeby at
Caboolture and in 1887, Pinnock had become manager of the
North Pine branch of the Queensland National Bank.*^ Plans
were laid for local expansion and a block of Murrumba was
purchased for a larger site before the depression ended the
Queensland National Bank's plans. In 1893, the North Pine
branch was forced to close.
By the tiu-n of the centm-y, Tom's youngest daughter, Constance, was in her mid-twenties. It was in the context of economic turbulence and family adversity that Tom dictated his
Reminiscences to her. Or was it Constance, devoted and
highly stmng, who elicited these memories from her placid
father? In any case, the Reminiscences had little to say of the
Brisbane story or of the financial crash - indeed of the world
into which Constance herself was to marry. Instead, the Aborigines, now herded on to reserves, assumed prime importance. A synthesis of oral anecdotes and literary language, of
celebration and nostalgia, the Reminiscences marked an important moment not only in regional and racial history but
also in the history of this unusual family. The successful colProperty of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane

laboration of father and daughter softened gender roles

which colonial and family traditions had imposed for more
than half a century. When she later married and lived at
Clayfield, Constance provocatively named her residence
DundaUi in memory of the Bribie Island renegade whose
hanging she had recorded in the Reminiscences. Talented but
unstable, Constance was outhved by most of her elder sisters
and died in 1926.


Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

L.C.V. & P.

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Australian National University
Brisbane Courier
Oxley Memorial Library
Darling Downs Gazette
Historical Records of Australia
Journal of Royal Austrahan Historical Society
Legislative Council Votes & Proceedings
Moreton Bay Courier
MitcheU Library
New South Wales Govemment Gazette
New South Wales State Archives
Queensland Government Gazette
Queensland State Archives
Royal Historical Society of Queensland

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Chapter 1
1. T.C. Smout, A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830 (London:
Fontana Collins, 1972), p.516.
2. J.D. Lang to Lord Goderich, 15 March 1831 in Lang Papers,
V.17 (MSS, ML, A2237).
3. Evidence to Select Committee into Immigration, N.S.W. L.C.
4. Baptism Kettle OPR (1792-1816) Kettle Parish, Co. Fife, 435/3,
on 27 June 1798, bom 25 June 1798.
5. Index for St Cuthbert's parish, marriage proclaimed 28 December 1821. 685 2/404.
6. St Cuthberts OPR 2 Febmary, 1822, St Cuthberts' Parish, Co.
Edinburgh, 695 2/33 St Cuthberts OPR, 26 December 1823, St
Cuthberts' Parish Co. Edinburgh, 685 2/33 I.G.I, for Midlothian, also Duddingston OPR of births, 31 October, 1825.
Duddingston Parish, Co. Edinburgh, 684/7.
7. List of the Free Emigrant Scotch Mechanics who arrived in the
Colony, 1832, in Lang Papers, v. 17.
8. J.D. Lang, Account of the Steps Taken in England with a View to
the Establishment of an Academical Institution or College in New
South Wales (Sydney: Stephens and Stokes, 1831), p.14.
9. Bryan Gandevia, Tears Often Shed, Child Health and Welfare in
Australia from 1798 (Rushcutters Bay: Pergamon Press, 1978),
10. Andrew Petrie's death certificate (Register of Birth, Marriage
and Deaths A9418).
11. John Ker to J.D. Lang 17 October 1831, in Lang papers, v.l7.
12. George Nadel, Australia's Colonial Culture (Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1957), p.114.
13. Malcolm Prentis, The Scots in Australia (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1983) p.l69.
14. Sydney Gazette, 15 October 1831, p.2 editorial.
15. Sydney Herald, 15 October 1831, p.2 editorial.
16. T.A. Coghlan, Labour and Industry in Australia (London: Oxford University Press, 1918), v.l, p.224.
17. Declaration made by J.D. Lang and Others on Board the Stirling Castle off Port Jackson, NSW, 13 October 1831, in Lang
Papers v.l7.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



18. Sydney Herald, 24 October 1831, p.4.

19. Sydney Herald, 24 October 1831, p.4.
20. List of the Free Emigrant Scotch Mechanics who arrived in the
Colony, January 1832, in Lang Papers, v. 17.
21. David Taylor's Evidence to the Select Committee into Emigration, N.S. W. L.C. V. and P., 1838, p.96.
22. J.D. Lang, An Historical and Statistical Account of New South
Wales (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans 1852),
v.l, p.243.
23. Ij&ng, An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales,
v.2, p.450.
24. Ij&ng, An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales,
V. 2., p.244.
25. Portia Robinson, The Hatch and Brood of Time (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1985), Ch. 8.
26. Sydney Gazette, 18 December 1834, p.3.
27. Stanley to Bourke, 14 May 1834 in H.R.A., v.l7, p.431.
28. Sydney Gazette, 25 March 1833, p.2.
29. D.I. McDonald, "The Diffusion of Scientific and other Useful
Knowledge", in/.i?.^.il5., v. 54, pt 2, p.l91.
30. Prentis, The Scots in Australia, pp.63, 77.
31. Sydney Herald, 23 July 1832, p.2.
32. Sydney Gazette, 20 January 1834, p.2 and Colonist, 8 January
1835, p . l l .
33. Sydney Gazette, 8 November 1834, p.2.
34. Darling to Viscount Howick, 24 July 1831, in H.R.A., v. 16,
35. Bourke to Goderich, 5 February 1833, in H.R.A., v. 17, p.29.
36. Hay to Bourke, 25 November 1834, in H.R.A. v. 17, pp.589-91.
37. N.S W. G.G., 1834, v. 2, p.450.
38. Petition to Lord Glenelg, Sydney, December 1835 in
Governor's Despatches to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, CY Reel 1216, pp.575, 583a.
39. N.S W. Blue Book, 1835, p.l25.
40. Sydney Gazette, 15 January 1835, p.2.
41. Instractions to Superintendents of Stockades, H.R.A., v.l7,
42. A.G.L. Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies (London: Faber, 1966),
43. Sydney Gazette, 25 November 1834, p.2.
44. Australian, 16 Febmary 1835, p.2.
45. Sydney Gazette, 25 December 1834, p.2.
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



46. James Sample Kerr, Goat Island (Sydney: Maritime Services

Board, 1987), p.7.
47. P.R. Stephenson, The History and Description of Sydney Harbour {Adelaide: Rigby, 1966)p.221.
48. Petition to Lord Glenelg, Sydney, December 1835.
49. Aberdeen to Bourke, 3 AprU 1835 in H.R.A., v.l7, p.705.
50. N.S.W. L.C. V. and P.. 1837, p.614.
51. Bourke to Goderich, 3 November 1832 in H.R.A., v. 16, p.789.
52. Governor's Despatches to the Secretary of State, 1836, p.l27,
(N.S.W.S.A. A1275).
53. In Barney to Col. Sec, 15 August 1837 (N.S.W. S.A. 37/7502).
54. N.S.W.RegisterofBurials, 1129, V. 102.

Chapter 2
1. J.D. Lang, Cooksland in North-eastern Australia (New York:
Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970), p. 137.
2. CC. Petrie, Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland
(Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1983), p.3.
3. James Backhouse, A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies (London: Hamilton Adams and Coy, 1843), p.369.
4. J.G.Steele, The Expbrers of the Moreton Bay District 1770-1830
(St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1972), p. 120.
5. Col. Sec. to Moreton Bay Commandant, 2 January 1837
(N.S.W.S.A., 36/10461).
6. Andrew Petrie, Speech to the (Corporation of Brisbane, ca.l866
(OML, Typescript, Box 4).
7. Thomas Dowse, "Old Times", 5 . C , 24 August 1869, p.7.
8. IsabeUa Ferguson, "The Early Days", Daily Mail, 26 Febmary
1909, p.5.
9. Reminiscences, p.82.
10. E.G. Heap, The Old Windmill of Brisbane Town (Brisbane:
Boolarong, 1983), p.3.
11. Col. Sec. to Moreton Bay Commandant, 6 June 1836 (36/3694).
12. Major Bamey to Col. Sec. 24 Jan. 1838 (N.S.W.S.A. 38/761).
13. Reminiscences, p.228-29.
14. Reminiscences, p.225.
15. H.S. RusseU, Genesis of Queensland (Sydney: Turner and Henderson, 1888), pp.207-8.
16. B.C., 6 December 1862, p.2.
17. Copy of Unfinished Letter by Andrew Petrie to an unnamed

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



Brisbane paper regarding a trip to Bribie Island in 1837,20 May

1861 (OML, Typescript).
18. Reminiscences, p.239.
19. Reminiscences, p.l64.
20. Queensland Guardian, 22 May 1861, p.3.
21. Major Bamey to Andrew Petrie, 7 May 1838 (N.S.W.S.A.,
22. Cotton to Col. Sec, 7 May 1838 and Gov. Gipps to Cotton, 31
May 1838 (N.S.W.S.A., 38/4512).
23. Reminiscences, p.249-51.
24. Col. Sec. to Moreton Bay Commandant, 30 May 1838
(N.S.W.S.A. 38/4507).
25. Reminiscences, p.243.
26. Thomas Dowse, "Old Times", B.C., 24 August 1869, p.7.
27. Susannah Evans, Historic Brisbane and its Early Artists (Brisbane: Boolarong, 1982), p.43.
28. Evans, Historic Brisbane, p.^2.
29. Cotton to Col. Sec, 19 October 1838 (N.S.W.S.A., 38/11917).
30. Andrew Petrie to Cotton, 22 October 1838, (N.S.W.S.A.
31. Cotton to Col. Sec, 10 November 1838 and Col. Sec. to Cotton,
24 November 1838 (N.S.W.S.A., 38/11917).
32. Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, (London: CoUins, 1987),
33. Frances O'Donoghue, "Winding Down the Convict Machine:
Brisbane 1838", Push from the Bush, no. 13 November 1982,
34. A.D.B., v. 1, p.250.
35. Andrew Petrie, Speech to the Corporation of Brisbane.
36. J.G. Steele, Brisbane Toum in Convict Days 1824-42, (St Lucia:
University of Queensland Press, 1975), p.260, n.5.

Chapter 3
1. Petrie to Bamey, 4 June 1841, p.2. (MSS, ML, Ap.43).
2. Archibald Meston, "Our Timber Supplies" in Palethorpe Cutting Book, no. 1, OML, 1923.
3. Ludwig Leichhardt, foumal. Quoted in J.D. Lang, Cooksland in
North-eastern Australia (New York: Johnson Reprints, 1970),
4. Quoted in Lang, Cooksland in North-eastern Australia, p. 136.
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



5. Charles Archer to his Father, 23 November 1844 in Archer letters (MSS, OML).
6. Bunya Mountains Natural History Association, Joe's Book. Facts
and Theories on the Bunya Mountains (Dalby: Da/fry Herald,
1988), Ch.2.
7. Quoted in Lang, Cooksland, p.136.
8. H.S. RusseU, Genesis of Queensland (Sydney: Turner and Henderson, 1888), p.296.
9. CC. Petrie, Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland
(Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1983), pp.12,16.
10. Stan Tutt (comp.). From Spear and Musket 1879-1979. Caboolture Centenary (Nambour: Sunstrip, 1979), p.17.
11. John Mathews, "Mary River and Bunya Bunya Country" in
E.M. Curr, The Australian Race (Melbourne: Ferres, 1887), v.
3, p. 174.
12. J;G. Steele, Brisbane Town in Convict Days (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1975), pp.167-69, E.G. Heap ("In the
Wake of the Raftsmen," pt 1, Queensland Heritage, v. 1, no. 3,
November 1965, p.3) contends that Graham did not retum from
Maroochy until 1833.
13. Reminiscences, p.253.
14. Henry Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier (Ringwood:
Penguin, 1982), Ch. 2. Malcolm Prentis, "Prelude to Dispossession: First Contacts between Aborigines and Europeans in the
Northem Rivers Region of New South Wales, 1770-1840s",
J.R.A.H.S., V. 70, pt 1,1984, pp.3-18.
15. Reminiscences, p.l6.
16. Charles to WiUiam Archer, 29 April 1845.
17. Petrie to Bamey, 4 June 1841, p.2.
18. Petrie to Bamey, 21 July 1841, p.l.
19. Reminiscences, pp.256-57.
20. RusseU, Genesis of Queensland, p.249.
21. Reminiscences, p.256.
22. PetrietoBamey, 21 July 1841, p.2.
23. Petrie to Barney, 21 July 1841 and "Adventures in the Early
Days of Brisbane", JB.C, 10 AprU 1863, p.3. The newspaper account corresponds in all details to the official report and provides additional detaUs on aspects of black-white contact.
24. 5.C.,10April 1863, p.3.
25. Petrie to Bamey, 21 July 1841, p.2.
26. Petrie to Barney, 21 July 1841, p.3.
27. 5.C., 10 April 1863, p.3.
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute




B.C., 10 April 1863, p.3.

B.C.. 10 April 1863, p.3.
PetrietoBamey, 21 July 1841, p.5.
For detaUs, see E.G. Heap, "In the Wake of the Raftsmen",
part 3, Queensland Heritage, v. 1, no.5, November 1966, p.9-20.
32. M. Courtney, "The Curse of Brocalpin," Sunday Mail, May
1977, p.6.
33. Reminiscences, pp.253-56.

Chapter 4
1. Tom Porter, "Early Recollections of an Old Hand", p.lO (MSS,
2. Evan Mackenzie received permission from MitcheU to proceed
north in May 1841. It is unlikely that he reached Moreton Bay
before Petrie's retum from Maroochydore. For speculation on
this point see People, Places and Pageantry (Brisbane History
Group Papers, no.6,1987) Chs 1,3; and John Mackenzie-Smith,
"KUcoy, the first six months" in Sir Evan Mackenzie's
"Albatross", J.R.H.S.Q., v. XIII, no.l2, November 1989,
3. CC. Petrie, Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland
(Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1983), pp.254-55.
4. Evidence of John Kerr WUson to Select Committee on the Native Police Force, Q. V. &P., 1861, p.477.
5. Thomas Dowse, "Old Times", B.C., 5 June 1869, p.6.
6. Gipps to Stanley, 27 October 1842 in H.R.A. series 1, v. 22,
p.337; AZ).5. v. 1, pp.309-10.
7. J.J. Knight, In the Early Days (Brisbane: Sapford, 1895), p.90.
Quoted in Reminiscences, pp.271-72.
8. W.H. TraiU, Historical Sketch of Queensland (Sydney:
Lansdowne Press, 1974), p.66.
9. W.H. TraUl, Historical Sketch of Queensland, p.66.
10. 5.C., 5Decl862,p.2.
11. For a discussion of Gipps' Aboriginal policy, see R.W.H.
Reece, Aborigines and Colonists (Sydney: Sydney University
Press, 1974), Ch.5.
12. Tony Mathews, This Dawning Land (Brisbane: Boolarong,
1986), p.28.
13. iV.S.iy:G.G., 14 AprU 1842, p.587.
14. E.G. Heap, "In the Wake of the Raftsmen, Part 1" Queensland
Heritage, v. 1, no.3, November 1965, p.3.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



15. Thomas Archer to his Mother, 10 April 1842 in Archer Letters

1832-55 (MSS, OML).
16. Henry Stuart RusseU, Genesis of Queensland (Sydney: Turner
and Henderson, 1888), Chs 14-17.
17. Andrew Petrie, Joumal of an Expedition to the Wide Bay
River, 6 May 1842, quoted in Reminiscences, p.261.
18. Andrew Petrie, Joumal, 6 May 1842.
19. RusseU, Genesis of Queensland, pp.257-58. For a brief reference
to BraceweU, see also Andrew Petrie's Journal, 6 May 1842.
20. RusseU, Genesis of Queensland, p.258.
21. Quoted in J.D. Lang, Cooksland in North-eastern Australia (New
York: Johnson Reprints, 1970), p.281. For detaUs of Graham's
role, see Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore
(London: Joseph, 1971), Chs 8, 9.
22. Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, p.109. John Curtis,
Wreck of the Stirling Castle (London: Virtue, 1838), p.l61.
23. RusseU, Genesis of Queensland, p.256.
24. RusseU, Genesis of Queensland, p.262.
25. Andrew Petrie, Journal, 10 May 1842.
26. Andrew Petrie, Journal, 11 May 1842.
27. Andrew Petrie, Journal, 11 May 1842.
28. Henry Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier (Ringwood:
Penguin, 1982), p.54; Reminiscences, Ch.4.
29. RusseU, Genesis of Queensland, p.284.
30. Andrew Petrie, Joumal, 18 May 1842.
31. Reminiscences, p.l38.
32. John to WUliam Archer, 16 June 1842 in Archer Letters, 183255.
33. Reminiscences, p. 138.
34. Stephen Simpson to Col. Sec, 13 July 1842 in Cultural and Historical Records of Queensland, no.l, 1979, p.3.
35. Lord Stanley to Gipps, 20 December 1842 in H.R.A., series 1,
v. 22, p.438.
36. Stephen Simpson to Col. Sec, 13 JiUy 1842 in Cultural and Historical Records of Queensland, no. 1,1979, p.4.
37. Historians are stiU divided over the precise circumstances of
the KUcoy poisoning and their estimates of Aboriginal fatalities
range from thirty to sixty. See J.C. Taylor, Race Relations in
South-East Queensland 1840-60 (Queensland University: Anthropology Thesis, 1967) and especially G. Langevad, The
Kilcoy Massacre An Ethnohistorical Exercise (Queensland
University: Anthropology Thesis, 1980).

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute




Lang, Cooksland in North-eastern Australia, pp.280-85.

Lang, Cooksland in North-eastern Australia, p.280.
Reminiscences, p.7.
RusseU, Genesis of Queensland, pp.312-13.
BidwiU's A.D.B. entry (v. 1, pp.98-99) dates the Bunya expedition at 1841. However, BidwiU's own correspondence placed
the event at 1842 (BidwUl to Col. Sec, 13 January 1849,
N.S.W.S.A. 49/1714). BidwUl later inadvertently claimed to
have discovered local species of the Kauri Pine which Petrie
had identified and collected during his Wide Bay expedition of
43. Thomas Archer, Recollections of a Rambling Life (Yokohama,
1897), p. 128.

Chapter 5
1. IsabeUa Ferguson, "The Early Days", Daily Mail, 26 Febmary
1909, p.5.
2. Ferguson, "The Early Days", p.5.
3. Henry Stuart Russell, Genesis of Queensland (Sydney: Turner
and Henderson, 1888), p.295.
4. Evidence of John Gregor to the Select Committee on the Aborigines, N.S. W. LC. V. and P., 1846, p.567.
5. Ferguson, "The Early Days", p.5.
6. Ferguson, "The Early Days", p.5.
7. CC. Petrie, Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland
(Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1983), p.277.
8. Reminiscences, p.315.
9. Tom Porter, Reminiscences of an Old Hand in Queensland (MSS,
OML), p.3.
10. Reminiscences, p.235.
11. Ferguson, "The Early Days", p.5.
12. Reminiscences, p.236.
13. Reminiscences, p.l59.
14. Rev. J.S.C Handt to Col. Sec, 27 November 1841, in H.R.A.,
V. 21, p.437.
15. Katrina Alford, Production or Reproduction? An Economic History of Women in Australia, 1788-1850 (Melbourne, Oxford
University Press, 1984), p.56.
16. Col. Sec. to Moreton Bay Commandant, 11 Febmary 1842
(N.S.W.S.A., 42/1000).
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



17. Ray Whitmore Coal in Queensland. The First Fifty Years (St
Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1981), pp.26-28.
18. John CampbeU, The Early Settlement of Queensland and Other
Essays (Ipswich: Ipswich Observer O&ice, 1875), p.16.
19. Thomas Dowse, "Old Times", B.C., 31 July 1869, p.6; John
Greig Smith, "Evan Mackenzie of Kilcoy and the Foundation of
Brisbane 1841-1845" in People, Places, Pageantry {Brisbane History Group Papers no.6,1987), p.23.
20. John Greig Smith, "The Fovmdations of Kangaroo Point", lUustration 10 in People, Place, Pageantry, p.88.
21. W.R. Petrie, "The Petrie Family. Address to the Historical Society of Queensland on the Centenary of Andrew Petrie's
Arrival" (Typescript, RHSQ Library, 1937), p.9.
22. Reminiscences, p.278.
23. Reminiscences, p.278.
24. Nettie Palmer, Fourteen Years, Extracts from a Private Joumal
1925-1939 {Melbovme: Meanjin Press, 1948), p.28.
25. Reminiscences, p.l54.
26. CampbeU, The Early Settlement of Queensland, p.31.
27. Reminiscences, p.277.
28. J. Allen and P. (u)rris (eds). The Joumal of John Sweatman (St
Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1977), p.71; Thomas
Archer, Recollections of a Rambling Life (Yokohama, 1897),
29. Reminiscences, p.280.
30. Reminiscences, p.314.
31. J.D. Lang, Cooksland in North-Eastem Australian. The Future
Cottonfield of Great Britain (London, Longmans, Brown, Green
and Longmans, 1847), p.396.
32. Keith Willey, "A Hard Dry Humour for a Hard Dry Land" in J.
Lee and V. Burgmann, Constructing a Culture (Fitzroy: McPhee, Gribble, Penguin Books, 1988), pp.156-69.
33. Reminiscences, pp.287-96.
34. Reminiscences, p.288.

Chapter 6
1. For a discussion of the controversy and of Andrew Petrie's role,
see Dushen Salecich, "Brisbane, Ipswich or Cleveland. The
Capital Port Question at Moreton Bay, 1842-59" in People,
Places, Pageantry (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group series,
no.6), pp.79-86.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



2. M.B.C., 26 February 1848, p.2 and 17 June 1848, p.2.

3. Reminiscences, p.297.
4. M.B.C., 24 AprU 1848, p.2.
5. John Pearn, In the Capacity of a Surgeon (Brisbane: Amphion
Press, 1988), p. 109.
6. Ross Patrick, A History of Health and Medicine in Queensland,
1824-1960 (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1987),
7. Quoted in Ronald Wood, "Through the Eyes of Australian
Colonists" in John Peam (ed.). Pioneer Medicine in Australia
(Brisbane: Amphion Press, 1988), p.l08.
8. Henry Stuart RusseU, Genesis of Queensland (Sydney: Turner
and Henderson, 1888), p.362.
9. Ross Patrick, Horsewhip the Doctor. Tales from our Medical
Past, (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1985), p.9.
10. Reminiscences, pp.297-98.
11. "OldTimes", AC, 31 July 1869, p.6.
12. Reminiscences, p.301.
13. Reminiscences, p.302.
14. "Domestic IntelUgence", M.B.C., 29 April 1848, p.2.
15. Reminiscerwes, p.303.
16. Reminiscences, p.298-300.
17. Reminiscences, pp.29-30.

Chapter 7
1. Reminiscences, p.47.
2. John C. Taylor, Race Relations in South-east Queensland 18401860, (BA thesis. University of Queensland, 1967), ch.3.
3. M.B.C., 26 August, 1854, p.2.
4. Reminiscences, p. 148.
5. Lawrence S. Smith (ed.). Tracks and Times. A History of the
Pine Rivers District {Vme River: Whittington, 1988), p.45.
6. Edgar Foreman, The History and Adventures of a Queensland Pioneer {^rishane: Exchange, 1928), p.20.
7. Reminiscences, p.lO.
8. Reminiscences, pp.143-45.
9. M.B.C, 8 December 1849, pp.2-3.
10. M.B.C, Extraordinary, 20 May 1850.
11. M.B.C, 15 December 1849, p.2.
12. Dowse Diary 1849-53 (MSS, OML, 77-010).
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



13. James Porter, Early Recollections of an Old Hand (MSS, OML,

14. The cause of Mary Petrie's death is unknown since her death
certificate has not survived. For a brief but unspecific death notice, see M.B.C, 2 June 1855, p.3.
15. Reminiscences, p.l75.
16. M.B.C, 6 January 1855, p.2.
17. Reminiscences, p.l71.
18. M.B.C, 7 Febmary 1857, p.3 and 14 Febmary 1857, p.2.
19. Reminiscences, p. 174.
20. M.B.C, 7 March 1857, p.2.
21. Jacqueline Whitely, Two Families of Early Brisbane, {BKYiaas,
thesis. University of Queensland, 1963), Ch. 3, p.15.
22. Tom's niece, Annie, married a Tiffin.
23. Reminiscences, pp.178-79.
24. Reminiscences, p.256.
25. See Smith, Tracks and Times, p.42.
26. Reminiscences, pp. 180-181.
27. Tracks and Times, pp.167-8.
28. Stan Tutt, By Many Campfires (Caboolture: Caboolture Historical Society, 1979), p.70.
29. Select Committee into Native Police, Q. V. &P., 1861, p.518.
30. Tutt, By Many Campfires, p.?0.
31. Q.F.ifeP., 1861, p.518.
32. Reminiscences, pp.182-83.
33. WUUam Pettigrew, The Habitat and Peculiarities of Some of Our
Timbers (Brisbane: Beal, 1878), pp.4-5.
34. Tutt, From Spear and Musket, p.28.
35. Reminiscences, p.l87.
36. WUUam Pettigrew, Extracts from Diaries 1862-95,16 January
1870 (MSS OML, 72-09).
37. Pettigrew to Macalister, 14 AprU 1864 in "The Introduction of
Special Timber Licences in Queensland", Queensland Heritage,
v. l,no. 10, Mayl969, p.26.
38. George Harris, Reminiscences of my Early Days in Ipswich
(MSS, Fryer Library, F 344).
39. Reminiscences, p.l91.
40. Buderim, 100 Years of Achievement Reviewed 1862-1962
(Buderim, 1963), p.5.
41. Reminiscences, p.l92.
42. Pettigrew, Extracts from Diaries, 9 March 1863.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



43. Pettigrew, The Habitat and Peculiarities of Some of Our Timbers, p.4.
44. E.G. Heap, "In the Wake of the Raftsmen", Queensland Heritage, November 1965, p.5.
45. Harris, Reminiscences of My Early Days, p.10.
46. Courier Mail, 23 June 1938, in Queensland Biographical Cutting Book No 1 (OML), p.l75.
47. Foreman, The History arui Adventures of a Queensland Pioneer,
48. Tracks and Times, pp.76-77.
49. LesUe E. Slaughter, Redcliffe's 160 Years (Redcliffe: Redcliffe
Town CouncU, 1959), pp.7, 10.
50. Tom Petrie to Surveyor-CJeneral, 15 Febmary 1869 (Q.S.A.,
51. Foreman, The History and Adventures of a Queensland Pioneer,
52. Pettigrew's Evidence to the Select Committee on Forest Conservancy, Q^V. &P., 1875, V. 2, p.1234.
53. Tracks and Times, p.l48; Reminiscences, p.213.
54. John Observer to A.H. Palmer, 30 May 1870 (Q.S.A., Col. Sec.
55. Tracks and Times, pp.78,148.
56. (Queensland Biographical Cutting Book, no. 1, p.175.

Chapter 8


" From the Pen of James Porter", D.D. G, 10 August 1912, p.7.
D.D.G., 10 August 1912, p.7.
D.D.G, 10 August 1912, p.4.
M.B.C, 20 January 1849, p.2.
M.B.C., 20 October 1850, p.2.
M.B.C, 22 July, 1857, p.2.
Jacqueline Whitley, Two Families of Early Brisbane, (BA Hons
thesis. University of Queensland, 1963), Ch.3.
M A C , 22 July 1854, p.3.
Duncan Waterson, Biographical Register of Queensland Parliament 1860-1929 {Cauherra: ANU Press, 1972), p. 150.
Don Watson, "An Overview of the Brisbane House" in Brisbane History Group, Health, Housing, the River and the Arts
(Brisbane: Brisbane History Group Papers, no. 3,1985), pp.l214.
M.B.C, 15 August 1853, p.2.
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



12. B.C., 31 October 1906, p. 19.

13. M B . C , 12 November 1853, p.2.
14. W.R. Petrie, Address to the Royal Historical Society of
(Queensland, August 1937 (Typescript, RHSQ Library), p.5.
15. (jeorge Holt, Reminiscences, in Cribb and Foote Family Cutting
Book, pt rV, p.57.
16. Whitely, Two Families of Early Brisbane, Ch. 2, p.7.
17. Reminiscences, p.309.
18. M.B.C, 21 April 1849, p.2, and 6 July 1851, p.2.
19. B.C., 6 December 1862, p.2; Queensland Guardian, 22 May
1861, p.3.
20. AZ>.B.,v.4,p.403.
21. Janet Hogan, "The EUte Brisbane House" in Brisbane History
Group, Health, Housing the River and the Arts, p.23.
22. Reminiscences, p.294.
23. Mary's Obituary {M.B. C, 2 June 1855, p.2) is unspecific on this
point and her death does not appear to have been registered
Qeimifer Harrison, The Death Index of Queensland 1824-1856).
Deaths were only systematicaUy recorded in New South Wales
after 1856.
24. Daily Mail, 26 February 1909, p.5.
25. Daily Mail, 26 February 1909, p.5.
26. M.B.C, 5 December 1857, p.2.
27. Beazeley to John Petrie, 10 December 1856 in Clerk of Works,
Moreton Bay, Correspondence, (Q.S.A. WOK/1, No 44).
28. Clerk of Works to John Petrie, 4 May 1857.
29. G. Harrison (ed.), Jubilee History of Ipswich (Brisbane: Diddams
and Coy, 1910), p.9L
30. Clerk of Works, Moreton Bay, Correspondence, 21 December
31. J.H.C McClurg, Historical Sketches of Brisbane (Brisbane: Library of Queensland and the Royal Historical Society of
Queensland, 1975), p.45.
32. Q.S.A. Map Collection, AIA 1858 and AIA 1881. Petrie Terrace first appears on AIA 1883.
33. Andrew Petrie to Col. Sec, 10 January 1861 and 17 January
1861 (Q.S.A., Col. Sec, 1861/52 and 1861/94).
34. M.B.C, 22 July 1857, p.2, 29 August 1857, p.2 and 12 September 1857, p.2.
35. Paul Leggatt, Class and the Eight Hours Movement in Queensland 1855-1885, (BA thesis, University of Queensland, 1983),

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



36. Leggatt, Class and the Eight Hours Movement in Queensland

1855-1885, p.30.
37. M.B.C, 12 September 1857, p.2.
38. N.S W.G.G., 20 January 1859, pp.132-34.
39. N.S. W.G.G.,7 September 1859, p.l995.
40. M.B.C, 15 October 1859, p.2.
41. M.B.C, 17 July 1859, p.2.
42. See, for example, M.B.C, 28 July 1859, p.2.
43. M.B.C, 5 November 1859, p.2.
44. a C C , 1860,p.445.
45. M.B.C, 15 December 1859, p.2.

Chapter 9
1. Reminiscences, pp.210-12.
2. John Mathews, "Mary River and Bunya Bimya Country" in
E.M. Curr, The Australian Race (Melbourne: Ferres, 1887), v.
3, p.159.
3. Reminiscences, p.l78.
4. Reminiscences, p.l94.
5. "Lost Tribes of Moreton Bay", B.C., 14 July 1928, p.l8.
6. Curr, The Australian Race, v. 3, p.159.
7. Raymond Evans, "Queensland's First Aboriginal Reserve Part
1: The Promise of Reform", Queensland Heritage, v. 2, no. 4,
May 1971, pp.26-37.
8. Graham Hoskins, The Aboriginal Reserves in Queensland 187185, (BA Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1967), Ch. 2,
9. McNab to the Governor in Council, 10 October 1876 in Q. V. &
P., 1876, V. 3, p.172.
10. See "An Appeal for the Aborigines", M.B.C, 2 November
1859, p.2.
11. Tom Petrie to the Commissioners, 22 May 1877 (Q.S.A.,
LAN/A55, 5475/1877).
12. Petrie to the Commissioners, 22 May 1877.
13. Petrie to the Commissioners, 11 May 1877 mQ.V.& P., 1878,
V. 2, p.65.
14. Petrie to the Commissioners, 11 May 1877.
15. McNab to Douglas, 16 October 1877 in Q. V. & P., 1878, v. 2,
16. McNab to Douglas, 16 October 1877.
17. Reminiscences, pp.215-16.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



18. Reminiscences, p.216.

19. 0.y:<fe P., 1861, p.518.
20. "Aboriginal Reserve, Bribie Island", B.C., 3 February 1879,
21. Reminiscences, Pt 1, Chs 4 and 8.
22. Reminiscences, p.35.
23. Petrie to the Cx)mmissioners, 12 January 1878 (Q.S.A.
24. Petrie to the Commissioners, 12 January 1878.
25. B.C. 22 February 1879, p.3; 26 Febmary, p.3; 22 March, p.3;
25 March, p.3; 26 March, p.3.
26. Hoskins, The Aboriginal Reserves in Queensland, 1871-85,
27. Raymond Evans, "Queensland's First Aboriginal Reserves
Part 2: The Failure of Reform", Queensland Heritage, v. 2, no.
5, November 1971, pp.7-9.
28. Reminiscences, p.215.
29. AZ).B.,v. 5,p.441.
30. Tom Petrie, Report on Aboriginal Settlement, November 1878,
quoted in Stan Tutt, Caboolture Country (Claboolture: Caboolture Historical Society, 1973), p.57.
31. Petrie, Report on Aboriginal Settlement, November 1878.
32. B.C., 22 March 1879, p.3; 25 March, p.3; 26 March, p.2.
33. Reminiscences, p.215.
34. B.C., 14 July 1928, p. 18.
35. Petrie to the (Commissioners, 22 May 1877.
36. Christopher Eipper, Statement of the Origins, Conditions and
Prospects of the German Mission to the Aborigines at Moreton Bay
(Sydney: Reading, 1841), p.9.

Chapter 10
1. Nehemiah Bartley, Australian Pioneers and Reminiscences (Brisbane. Gordon and (Sotch, 1882), p.210.
2. John Petrie to Col. Sec, 8 Feb. 1860 (Q.S.A., C0L/A2,60/150).
3. J.J. Knight, In the Early Days (Brisbane: Sapford and Coy,
1895), p.86.
4. John Petrie to Col. Sec, 3 March 1860 (Q.S.A., C0L/A3
5. Royal Society of Queensland, The Brisbane River, A Symposium
(Brisbane, 1977), p.71.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



6. John Petrie to Col. Sec, 10 Feb. 1862 (Q.S.A., COL/A29,

7. John Petrie to Col. Sec, 10 AprU 1860 (Q.S.A. C0L/A3,
8. John Petrie to Col. Sec, 10 June, 1861 (Q.S.A. C0L/A16,
9. Cowner, 12 October 1861, p.2.
10. Courier, 25 AprU 1861, p.3.
11. M.B.C., 13 Aug. 1860, p.2.
12. M.B.C, 18 AprU 1861, p.4.
13. M.B.C, 23 AprU 1861 p.3.
14. John Moran, March of Progress (Ashgrove: Preferential PubUcations, 1989) Ch. 2, p.28. See also P.G. Leggatt, Class and the
Eight Hours Movement in Queensland 1855-1885, (BA thesis.
University of (Queensland, 1983), Ch.3.
15. Col. Architect to Col. Sec, 20 Febmary 1861 (Q.S.A.,
COL/A20 61/52).
16. Quoted in Col. Architect to the Principal Under-Secretary, 3
October 1861 (Q.S.A., COL/A20, 61/2416).
17. Courier Mail, 28 October 1988, p.lO.
18. Certificate of Marriage, Brisbane, 16 May 1863 (A98890).
19. Death Certificate Brisbane, 22 August 1874 (A62847).
20. Personal Communication by Laurie Petrie to D. Doman.
21. Obituary, B.C., 14 August 1906, p.4.
22. Certificate of Marriage, Brisbane, 6 March 1862 (B12178,
23. Pugh's Almanac, \8Q5, p.88.
24. Ihigh's Almanac, 1865, p.103.
25. Pugh's Almanac, 1865, p.253.
26. List of Guardian Shareholders (Q.S.A., Companies File,
27. B.C., 11 November 1863, p.2.
28. B.C., 12 November 1863, p.2.
29. Queensland Daily Guardian, 11 November 1863, p.2.
30. J. Whitely, Two Families of Early Brisbane, p.28.
31. B.C., 8 Febmary 1864, p.2.
32. John Laverty, "The Politics of Brisbane's First Waterworks
1859-71" in Brisbane History Group, People Places and Pageantry (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 1987), p.132.
33. B.C., 17 June 1864, p.2.
34. John Petrie to Col. Sec, 14 March 1861, (Q.S.A., Col. Sec,

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



35. Don Watson, "An Overview of the Brisbane House" in Brisbane History Group, Housing, Health the River and the Aris
(Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 1985), p.13.
36. B.C., 17 June 1865, p.2.
37. M.B.C, 13 October 1860, p.2.
38. M.B.C, 12 October 1861 p.2.
39. Sister Jean-Marie Mahoney, Dieu et Devoir: The Story of All
Hallows School, Brisbane 1861-1987 (Brisbane: Boolarong,
1985), p.8.
40. W.R. Petrie, Address to the Royal Historical Society of
Queensland, August 1937 (Typescript, RHSQ Library) p.4.
41. B.C., 16 September 1865, p.2.
42. Pugh's Almanac, 1865, p.355.
43. Pugh's Almanac,1875,p.251.
44. Denis Cryle, The Press in Colonial Queensland (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1989), pp.86-87.
45. B.C., 19 May 1865, p.2.
46. John H. Tyrer, Chronology of the Brisbane Hospital Complex and
its Origin (Typescript, OML 1986), p.4.
47. Select Committee on the Hospitals of the Colony, Q.V. & P.,
1866, p. 1633.
48. Q. V. &P., 1866, V. 1, p.l628.
49. a F . c & P , 1867,v.2,p.345.
50. T. Conway, Heritage Trail Brisbane City Council (Brisbane:
Brisbane City CoimcU, 1987), p . l l .
51. Andrew Petrie, Speech to the Corporation of Brisbane
(Typescript, OML, 1866).
52. "OldTimes", B.C., 31 July 1869, p.6.
53. J.H.C. McClurg, Historical Sketches of Brisbane (Brisbane: Library Board of Queensland Royal Historical Society, 1975),
54. Works Department Ledger 1860-1874 (Q.S.A., A/13083).
55. B.C., 22 Febmary 1872, p.2.
56. B.C., 22 Febmary 1872, p.2.
57. B.C., 2 March 1873, p.2.
58. T.A. Coghlan, Labour and Industry in Australia (Sydney: MacmiUan, 1969), v. 3, p.l505.
59. B.C., 2 March 1873, p.2; also letters of 22 and 26 Febmary
60. Col. Architect to Under Secretary for Public Works, 28 January 1876 (Q.S.A., W0R/A113, 76/392).
61. Queensland Figaro, 26 March 1887, p.516.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



B.C., 8 March 1879, p.3.

National Tmst FUe, Bne 1/64.
B.C., 8 March 1879, p.3.
National Tmst FUe, Bne. 1/57.

Chapter 11
1. F.E. Lord, Historic Houses Cutting Book, OML.
2. Jacqueline Whitely, Two Families of Early Brisbane, (B.A. Hons
thesis, University of Queensland, 1963), Ch. 5, pp.4-5.
3. W.R. Petrie, Address to Royal Historical Society of Queensland, August 1937 (Typescript, RHSQ Library), p.7.
4. D.P. Crook, Aspects of Brisbane Society in the 1880s, (BA Hons
thesis. University of Queensland, 1958), p.4.
5. Crook, Aspects of Brisbane Society in the 1880s, p.ll.
6. WUUam Pettigrew* s evidence to the Select Committee on Forest Conservancy Q. V. &P., 1875, v. 2, p.l236. See also Walter
HiU's evidence, p.1260.
7. Stan Tutt, Caboolture Country (Caboolture: Caboolture Historical Society 1973), pp.49-55.
8. Duncan Waterson, Biographical Register of the Queensland Parliament 1860-1929 (Canberra: AustraUan National University
Press, 1972), pp.28-29.
9. Gwen Tnmdle, "The Early Days of (Caloundra to 1902" in Papers Read before the Queensland Women's Historical Association
(Newstead, 1960), pp.16-17.
10. Waterson, Biographical Register of the Queensland Parliament
1860-1929, pp.28-29.
11. Whitely, Two Families of Early Brisbane, Ch. 3, p.8.
12. Trundle, "The Early Days of Caloundra to 1900", p.l6.
13. Register of Births and Deaths, 9 November 1883 (A02187,
14. B.C., 12 November 1942 (Petrie Cutting Book, OML).
15. Bmce Buchanan, Architects. Report on the History of the Government Printery Office Site (Brisbane: Department of Works,
1986), Section 3.6.
16. John Petrie to Works Department, 9 June 1886 (Q.S.A., General Correspondence, WOR/A 284).
17. Col. Architect to Under Secretary, Department of Works, 28
Jan 1876 (Q.S.A., WOR/A 113, 76/392); Don Watson and Judith McKay, A Dictionary of Queensland Architects (St Lucia:
University of Queensland Press, 1984), pp. 52-53.
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



18. Progress Report of Select Committee on the Sandstone Quarries of the Southem Districts of the Colony, Q. V. &P., 1888, v.
3, p.1040.
19. av:c&P., 1888,v.3,p.l041.
20. Don Watson, "Foundations: The Queensland Institute of
Architects" in Brisbane History Group, Brisbane in 1888. The
Historical Perspective (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, no. 8,
1988), pp.109-16.
21. Crook, Aspects of Brisbane Society in the 1880s, p.23.
22. Queensland Figaro, 26 March 1887, p.516.
23. Report of Colonial Architect on Public BuUdings, Q. V. & P.,
1889, V. 3, p.845.
24. National Tmst FUe, Bne 1/62.
25. Janet Hogan, Living History of Brisbane (Brisbane: Boolarong,
1982), p.60.
26. Brisbane History Group, Brisbane 1888 Heritage Tour (Brisbane, 1988), item 28.
27. Written communication from Mrs Jean Murray.
28. T.W.H. Leavitt (ed.), Australia's Representative Men (Brisbane:
Alexander, Muir and Morcom, 1888), p.371.
29. Marriage Certificate, 27 September 1883 (A98889).
30. Mackay Daily Mercury (Cutting Book, OML)
31. A.L. Petrie, Reminiscences reprinted from the Daily Mail, Febmary 1926, OML, p.l.
32. B.C., 16 December 1887, p.5.
33. History of Brisbane (Brisbane, St (Columbans, n.d.), pp.5-6.
34. History of Brisbane, p.5.
35. B.C., 10 December 1892, p.5.
36. B.C., 2 April 1928, p.l4.
37. B.C, 22 AprU 1893, p.6.
38. B.C., 30 April 1893, p.6.
39. A.L. Petrie, Reminiscences, p.13.
40. Q.P.D. V. 71,1894, pp. 6,171.
41. B.C., 16 Febmary 1894, p.4.
42. A.L. Petrie, Insolvency FUe 1894, (Q.S.A., SCT, 42/1134).
43. Register of Births and Deaths 16 Febmary 1896 (Q.S.A., SCT,
44. T.A. Coghlan, Labour and Industry in Australia (Melboume:
MacmiUan, 1969), v. 4, p.2059.
45. W.F. Morrison, Aldine History of Queensland (Sydney: Aldine
Pub. Co.), V. 2, p.158.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Appendix A
Baptism of

Margaret Elder, I.G.I., 19 Ocotber 1735, Kettle, to

Thomas Elder and Jean RusseU.

Birth of

Walter Petrie, Kettle OPR (1755-1776) to James

Petrie in Freuchy mUl and Margaret Elder, on 9 October 1760 and baptised 12 October 1760.
Births of other children of the above registered as above:
Thomas 27 Febmary 1763
16 August
Mary 17 December 1767
James 29 August
David 26 May
1773 (presumed died in infancy)
Also baptisms of
11 September 1773 at Cults
David 15 September 1779 at Kettle to James Petrie
and Margaret Elder, FUe, pre1855 index.
Marriage of Walter Petrie (recorded as Pedrie) and Margaret
Hutchison (recorded as Hutson), Kettle OPR (17981816). Matrimonially contracted in order to marriage
12 September 1792, Kettle Parish, and married on 28
September 1792.
Baptism of

Birth of

Birth of

Birth of

Margaret Hutchison, I.G.I., bom to Andrew Hutchison and Grizel Pierson in Markinch, Fife (neighbouring parish to Kettle) on 4 March 1770. (This is the
derivation of Andrew Petrie's first name.)
Grizel Petrie (recorded as Pedrie), Kettle OPR (17921816) 435/3, to Walter Petrie (Pedrie) and Margaret
Hutchison (Hutson), born 9 April 1793, baptised 19
May 1793.
James Petrie (recorded as Pedrie), Kettle OPR (17921816) 435/3, to Walter Petrie (Pedrie) and Margaret
Hutchison (Hutson), bom 1 October 1794 and baptised
5 October 1794.
Margaret Petrie (recorded as Pedrie), Kettle OPR
(1792-1816) 435/3, to Walter Petrie (Pedrie) and Mar-

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute


Appendix A

garet Hutchison (Hutson), bom 13 May 1796 and

baptised 15 May 1796.
Baptism of Andrew Petrie (recorded as Pedrie), Kettle OPR
(1792-1816) Kettle Parish, Co Fife, 435/3, son of Walter Petrie (Pedrie) and Margaret Hutchison (recorded
as Hudson) on 27 June 1798, bom 25 June 1798.
Birth of
Barbara Petrie, Kettle OPR (1792-1816,435/3, daughter of Walter Petrie, weaver of Kettle and Margaret
Hutchison, on 13 May 1803, baptised 15 May, 1803.
Birth of
WUUam Petrie (recorded as Pettrie) Kettle OPR,
(1792-1816). 435/3, to Walter Petrie (Pettrie), weaver,
and Margaret Hutchison, on 4 January, 1808, baptised
11 January 1808.
Marriage of Andrew Petrie and Mary Cuthbertson Index for St
Cuthbert's Parish - Marriage proclaimed 28 December 1821, St Cuthbert's Parish, Co Edinburgh, 685
2/40, for Andrew Petrie, joiner. No. 35 Fountainbridge
and Mary Cuthbertson, residing No. 101 Rose St,
daughter of Joseph Cuthbertson.
Baptism of John Petrie - St Cuthberts OPR 2 Febmary 1822, St
Cuthbert's Parish, Co Edinburgh, 685 2/33, son of Andrew Petrie, joiner of Canongate and Mary Cuthbertson, bom 15 January.
Baptism of Andrew Petrie - St Cuthberts OPR, 26 December
1823, St Cuthberf s Parish, Co Edinburgh, 685 2/33,
son of Andrew Petrie, joiner, ToU Cross and Mary
Cuthbertson, born 3 December.
Birth of
James Rutherford Hardcastle Petrie - I.G.I, for Midlothian - born Duddingston 1826. Also Duddingston
OPR of Births - bom 31 October 1825, PortobeUo,
Duddingston Parish, Co Edinburgh, 684/7, and
baptised on 12 March 1826.
James Petrie - 4 yrs, Greyfriars Cemetery, from
Burts Close, died 2 August 1820. Ref. 685 1/100,
Baptism of Walter Petrie - pre-1855 Midlothian Births. OPR, 26
July 1827, Edinburgh Parish, Co. Edinburgh, 685
1/55. Son of Andrew Petrie, Wright, and Mary
Cuthbertson. Tron Church Parish, a son bom 9 June

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Appendix A
Baptism of


Thomas, N.S.W. Baptism Register, 1831, No 317,

Vol. 45.
Baptism of WUUam Petrie, N.S.W. Baptism Register, 1835, 3101
Vol. 45 and 288, Vol. 47.
Death of
William Petrie, N.S.W. Deaths, 1837, 1829, Vol. 102,
89, Vol. 103.
Baptism of IsabeUa, N.S.W. Baptism Register, to Andrew Petrie
and Mary Cuthbertson, 1833, 318, Vol. 45.
Baptism of George Bamey, Qld Baptisms 1829-56, 1839, No. 99;
also N.S.W. Baptism Register 1624, Vol. 23.
The above (Genealogy Research has been undertaken with the assistance of Dr Jennifer Harrison, Research Historian.

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

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Aborigines, 20-21, 22-23, 89-90,
107-8,125-35,168-69. See also
Bribie Island; Bunya Pine;
Moreton Bay; Ningy Ningy;
Ngunda; Native Police; Timber
industry; Turrbal tribe
Abraham, Captain, 131-32
Adderton, 145
Adelaide House, 118,124
Aird, Margaret, 152. See also
Petrie, Margaret
Albion Park, 167-68
Albion quarry, 116,147,149,155,
All Hallows' school, 161
Amity Point, 22
Archer, Charles, 40, 44
Archer, John, 65
Archer, Thomas, 57, 67
Australian, 16
Australian College, 4, 7,10-11,13
Ballow, Dr David, 34, 85
Bank of Australasia, 144
Barney, Major George, 18-20, 30,
31, 32-33
Bartley, Nehemiah, 136
Beazeley, Alex, 119-20
Beerwah, 90,157
Beerwah, Mt, 50-51, 53, 90
Bidwill, John Came, 67-68,108
Board of Health and Outdoor
Relief, 147
Booth, William, 36-37
Bourke, Govemor Richard, 6,12,
Bowen Bridge Hospital, 146-47
Bowen, Govemor George, 123,145
Bowen, Lady, 123,124
BraceweU, David, 59-61, 62-65
Bribie Island, 31, 47, 92
Bribie Island reserve, 129-35
Bribie Island trible, 32, 96
Bridgeman, G.F., 127-28
Brisbane Gaol, 119,120-21,153
Brisbane Labour Alliance, 121,122
Brisbane Mail, 134

Brisbane River, 23, 37-38, 55, 76,

Buderim, 103
Bunya Country, 40,43. See also
Maroochy River
Bunya feast, 41-42,127
Bunya Pine, 40, 48,49-50, 56-57,
67-68, 89-90,104,158-59
Caboolture River, 45,95-96
Campbell, Elizabeth, 95, 97. See
also Petrie, Elizabeth
Campbell, James, 97,114,151
Campbell, James Jnr, 159
Campbell, John, 75, 76, 79
Campbell, John Dunmore, 97,114,
Cannan, Kearsey, 85
Carmichael, Henry, 10
Chisholm, Carol, 72
Clark, John James, 161-62
Cleveland, 117
Cobb and Co., 108
Coghlan, T.A., 6
Connolly, George, 162,165
Convict Barracks, 27,29,120
convicts, 14-16,19-20, 25-26, 36-37,
41, 42, 59-61, 62-64,120
Cotton, Major (Sydney), 31, 32-33,
Cotton, Mt, 33
Courier, 121,131,134,142-43,
150-51,153,171. See aZso
Moreton Bay Courier
Coutts, Isabella, 166
Coutts, James Ross, 166
Cowlishaw, James, 144,145
Cowlishaw, Thomas, 140,144
Customs House, 75-76,163-66
Cuthbertson, Mary, 2. See also
Petrie, Mary
Dalaipi, 59, 63, 98, 99,100-101
Dalngang, 79, 98
Davis, James, 62-65
Depression, 74-75,145-48,170-73
Derrington, Samuel, 31,42

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



Dixon, Robert, 54
Dowse, Thomas, 26, 54, 86, 93,
DundaUi, 95
DundaUi, 174
Dundathu, 102
Dunwich, 22
Duramboi. See Da'vis
Durundur, 127-31
Eagle Farm, 25, 30-31
Eden River, 46. See also Pine River
Edinburgh, 2,4
Edward, the, 74
Eight Hours Movement, 121,139
Eipper, Christopher, 135
Eldemell, 145
Eldridge Smith, Edward, 166
Eldridge Smith, Margaret, 166
Emancipists, 9,11, 13
Evans, Raymond, 133
Female Factory, 25, 26, 34,120,
Ferguson, George, 4, 9, 11,13
Ferguson, Robert, 141,150
Foreman, Edgar, 92,107-8
Fraser, Captain James, 3
Fraser, Eliza, 4, 60
Fraser Island, 61-62, 64, 66
Fyans, Captain Foster, 20
Gipps, Govemor George, 33, 54,
Goat Island, 14-16,19
Goderich, Viscount, 1
Gold, 93,108
Gorman, Owen, 70
Gould, Samuel, 113
Govemment Printery, 161
Graham, John, 60
Gray, Walter, 83
Griffin, Captain Francis, 90
Griffin, John, 98
Griffin, Isabella, 98,106
Guardian. See Queensland Daily
Harris, George, 105
Heap, E.G., 30, 56
Highfield quarry, 163

Hobbs,William, 115,117-18
Holt, George, 116-17
Hoop Pine, 25
Hughes, Robert, 37
Ipswich, 30, 33
Ipswich Gaol, 119-20
James Watt, 21
Jeays, Joshua, 121,122,138,146,
Jenny Lind, 116
Joint Stock Bank, 144
Jones, Richard, 103
Kangaroo Point, 74-76
Kauri Pine, 102
Kedron Lodge, 145
Kilcoy poisoning, 62-63, 67
Kitchen, William, 165
Knight, J.J., 54
Laidley, Major James, 14
Lang immigrants, 112-13,114-15
Lang, Rev. John Dunmore, 1, 3-4,
6-9,13,19, 40, 115
Lang, Wilhelmina, 3
Leggatt, Paul, 121
Leichhardt, Ludwig, 79
Limestone. See Ipswich
Logan, Commandant Patrick, 27, 33
Longland, D.F., 121
Lumber Yard, 27-29, 36
Luya, Agnes, 161
McGarvie, John, 10
Mcllwraith, Thomas, 167,170,171
McKenzie, Evan, 67, 75
McNaught, James, 111, 122
McNaught, Jane, 111
McNab, Rev. Duncan, 127-31
Maroochy River, 42, 44,46-49,104
Meston, Archibald, 126-27,135
Milton Cemetery, 119
Monitor, 11
Mooloomburram, 157,171
Moreton Bay, 19-20, 24
Moreton Bay Courier, 91, 93, 96-97.
See also Brisbane Courier
Moreton Bay settlement, 27, 28,
52, 54-55, 83, 93

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Murphy's Creek quarry, 149,153,
Murmmba, 99,100,101,105-7,
Native Police, 99-100
Ngunda. See Bribie Island tribe
Nilapi, 131
Nundah station, 66
O'Donaghue, Francis, 37
Ovens goldfield, 94
Oxley, John, 23,25
Palmer, Arthur Hunter, 133
Palmer, Nettie, 78
Parhamentary Building, 147-48
Patrick, Ross, 85
Petrie, Amelia Mary, 152,172
Petrie, Andrew Junior, 3,10,106,
Petrie, Andrew Lang, 97, 114,119,
152,157,159,160-61, 164,
Petrie, Andrew Senior, 2, 4, 8,11,
13-20,30-34, 36-38,44-50,
57-64, 66-68, 84-86, 88, 89-90,
Petrie Bight, 36, 38,69, 71, 72-73,
76, 79, 97, 111, 119,154,157
Petrie, Charles, 141
Petrie, Constance, 173-74. See also
Petrie Creek, 104,158
Petrie, David, 141
Petrie, Elizabeth, 105,109. See also
Elizabeth CampbeU
Petrie, George Bamey, 25, 34, 96,
Petrie, IsabeUa, 12,69, 71, 83, 87,
Petrie, James, 3
Petrie, Jane, 114,151,154, 166,
172. See also Jane McNaught
Petrie, John, 3,10,49,73-74, 76,
Petrie, John George, 171


Petrie, John ("Jack"), 152,159,

Petrie, Margaret, 161-62. See also
Margaret Aird
Petrie, Mary, 2,4,12,17-18, 21,
25-26, 34, 69-72, 86-88,118-19.
See also Mary Cuthbertson
Petrie, Mary Helen ("Minnie"), 79,
Petrie, Mt, 33
Petrie, RoUo, 62
Petrie, Sehna, 83
Petrie Terrace, 120-21
Petrie, Tom, 3, 61, 64-65, 71,
77-78,80-81,86, 91-95, 96-104,
Petrie, Walter, 3,10, 73-74, 76,
Petrie, Walter RoUo, 61
Petrie, William, 18,21,25
Petrie's Head, 49
Pettigrew, John, 133
Pettigrew, William, 101,102,104,
Pine River, 46, 90,98,101,107,109
Pinnock, Major Phillip, 79,173
Port; Office, 154
Post Office, 149,153
Presbyterian Church, 113-14
Prince WiUiam. See Nilapi
Queensland Building Society, 142
Queensland Daily Guardian, 142,
Queensland Figaro, 164
Queensland National Bank, 167,
Queensland Steam Navigation
Company, 137,146
Redbank, 74
Redcliffe Agricultural Reserve, 107
Redman, Frederick, 129,130,132,
Regent Bird, "il
Reminiscences, 33-34,45, 50, 81, 94,
95, 98,100,109,117,126,131,
Reynolds, Henry, 44
Richardson, John, 114-15
Ridley, WiUiam, 126

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute



Robertson, William, 146

Roslyn, 144-45
RusseU, Henry Stuart, 41, 45, 57,
59, 60,64, 67, 79
Sandy blight, 84-85
Sans Souci, 167
School of Arts (Sydney), 11
Scottish immigration, 121-22. See
also Stirling Castle immigrants
Simpson, Stephen, 66, 67
Smith, Adam, 6
Spence, James, 121,124,139
Squatters, 52-53, 57, 66, 79-80,115
Stanley, F.G.D., 149,152
Stephens, T.B., 137,140
Stirling Castle, 3-4, 6, 60,115
Stirling Castle immigrants, 2-4, 6-9,
Stombucco, Andrew, 167
Stradbroke Island, 22
Supreme Court Chambers, 152-53
Sydney, 5-7,12,14
Sydney Gazette, 6,15-16
Sydney Herald,&,7,ie,
Tarang-giri, 129. See also Bribie
Island Reserve
Thorne, George, 31
Thorne, Jane, 31

Timber 91,101-5,108,158. See also

Bunya Pine, Hoop Pine, Kauri
Toorak House, 145
Toorbul Point, 32
Town Hall, 142-43
TraiU, W.H., 54-55
Treasury Building, 172
Turon goldfield, 93
Turrbal tribe, 69, 78, 81-82, 91,125
Wamgul, 92
Wananagga, 104
Wandi, 172
Waterworks Board, 143
Webb, (jeorge, 30
Wheat Creek, 88
White Patch. See Tarang-giri,
Bribie Island Reserve
Whiteside, 91-92, 98, 99,106
Whytecliffe, 157
Wide Bay, 57, 58
WiUiams, John, 74
Wood, Henry, 128
Woogaroo, 115,116,147, 153
York's Hollow, 77, 92-93,112. See
also Fortitude VaUey
Young, John WiUiam, 172

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute

This is the fascinating story of early Brisbane and traces the history
of an important Queensland family, Andrew and Mary Petrie and
their six children.
After leaving Scotland the family moved to Sydney and finally to
Brisbane, where they established a reputation which endures to the
present. Andrew became Clerk of Works of the Moreton Bay penal
colony, and the family were among the first free settlers, forming a
construction firm which erected landmarks like Parliament House
and the GPO.
Interwoven with the Petries' impressive record of civic achievement is a saga of adventure and exploration, and the continuing
struggle to bring up a family in the midst of a harsh environment.
One son, Tom, was assimilated into Aboriginal culture from boyhood, later becoming a full tribal member, while the oldest son,
John, became Brisbane's first Lord Mayor.
With evocative illustrations, The Petrie Family recreates the
changing social and material conditions of colonial Brisbane. The
eventful family history is set against the colourful past of Brisbane,
from the early hardship of the convict period, through the prosperous years to the great flood and depression of 1893.
An ambitious social history, it touches on all levels of society, including the Aborigines, whose presence and contribution haunt this
timely publication. Unlike earlier studies, Ttie Petrie Family records
the vital contributions of the women in the family, in particular Mary
and her daughter Isabella.
The foundations of modern Brisbane are here vividly recreated in
the context of family biography.

Cover design and illustration by Gregory Rogers


ISBN 0-7022-2346-8

9 780702"223464
Property of University of Queensland Press - do not copy or distribute