Moreton Bay Penal Settlement 1824 to 1842

Guest blogger: Niles Elvery – Queensland State Archives

This year marks the 190th anniversary of the settlement of the Moreton Bay Penal Colony. Established in 1824 the penal settlement at Moreton Bay was a place of secondary punishment to house hardened criminals and recidivist prisoners.

Layout of Brisbane Town, Moreton Bay. Queensland State Archives. Digital Image ID 5212

Layout of Brisbane Town, Moreton Bay

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

Elevations and plans for conversion of Prisoners' Barrack buildings, Moreton Bay, July 1839. Queensland State Archives. Digital Image ID 5252

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

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

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

Extract from the chronological register of convicts at Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, 28 December 1826. Queensland State Archives. Digital Image ID 5268

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

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

Register of a daily account of public labour performed by Crown Prisoners at Moreton Bay 26 May 1828 - 15 September 1828 Queensland State Archives Digital Image ID 24298

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

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

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

Niles Elvery – Manager Public Access, Queensland State Archives