Trespass Posts

Guest blogger: Bill Kitson – Retired museum curator and co-author of Surveying Queensland 1839-1945 : a pictorial history

It has been said and words have been written, that the boundary posts erected on the Town Boundary of Brisbane in 1852 were placed there to inform the Aboriginal people and the police that ‘no Aboriginal person was allowed to venture further’. [see 2012 blog article]

While I have no doubt that the Aboriginal people would have been informed to stay outside these visible posts at certain times, the posts were simply just surveyors’ marks.

In 1838, ‘An Act for Regulating the Police in the Towns of Parramatta, Windsor, Maitland and other Towns etc’ was passed in New South Wales.[The forerunner to this act was the Police in Town Act [Sydney] of 1833.] The purpose of the act was ‘the maintenance of the public peace and good order and for the prosecution of certain offences committed within the towns,’ as defined by the ‘limits of said town’.

To achieve this, the boundary of the ‘said town’ had to be defined by placing [after survey], posts at convenient locations along the boundary.

The act stipulates that within three months after the passing of this act, the Surveyor General of New South Wales shall have marked with ‘sufficient marks the limits of the said Towns of Parramatta, Windsor, etc, and have published in the Government Gazette a description of the boundaries’ [Clause 43]. After the placing of the posts, the police magistrate had to perambulate ‘with proper assistants the said limits on some convenient day in Easter week in each and every year’[ Clause 44].

Clauses 45 and 46 of the Act provide for the allocation of the breadth of carriage and footways [road and footpath] in the streets and their marking by posts placed at the corners and intersections of the streets. A plan of such alignments was to be laid before the Governor and Executive Council.

In the case of Brisbane, the New South Wales Surveyor General, Thomas Mitchell initiated this process in 1843, by instructing assistant surveyor Henry Wade to provide him with a description of the limits of the Town of Brisbane, in order that the provisions of the act may be applied to Brisbane. The description and plan was provided to Mitchell by Wade, but not to Mitchell’s satisfaction.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, this was finally done by his successor James Charles Burnett. In May 1846 a proclamation appears in the New South Wales Government Gazette for the Extension of the Towns Police Act for the Town of Brisbane.

On Thursday the 8th April 1847, Police Magistrate J.C. Wickham and able assistant Lt. Blamire J.P. carryout the required perambulation of the city limits as per the description provided by the Surveyor General. This was the first time that the ancient ceremony of Old England was performed in Queensland [Moreton Bay] and as far as I know, the last?

It appears that previously Wade or Burnett had marked the town limits [boundary] by a ‘marked tree line’ and that now it was time for ‘proper boundary marks’ to be placed, as so much timber had been ‘felled for the purpose of fuel’, and marked trees lost.

Carved stones like those placed in Sydney were first suggested as marker posts but economy dictated that dressed ironbark posts, 6 feet long sunk 2 feet in the ground and 15 inches at the ground line and 9 inches at the top, planed octagon chamfered underground and painted above.

In 1851, tenders for the making and placing of these posts were let and awarded to John Petrie. In 1852 Surveyor Burnett carried out a resurvey of the town as many of the original marks of the town blocks made eight years previously, had been destroyed. In late 1852 Petrie and his team place the town boundary posts in positions recently determined by Burnett’s resurvey. At the same time, other alignment posts were placed on many of Brisbane’s streets.

In 1855, Surveyor J.J. Galloway surveyed 32 Suburban Allotments in the Parish of South Brisbane. The survey had an extensive frontage to the southern side of Vulture Street which was the town boundary. On the plan B1234.28 are ‘four white posts’ that were placed on the town boundary in Vulture Street under Burnett’s direction in 1852. One of the posts is the one in front of T.B.Stephens’ house ‘Coomboquepa’. A photograph of the house and post is in the William Boag collection at the Queensland State Library, and similar to the one used in the book Triumph in the Tropics [Cilento] plate xvi.

Entrance to old Cumbooqueepa the residence of Thomas Blacket Stephens South Brisbane ca. 1872. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg  20289

Entrance to old Cumbooqueepa the residence of Thomas Blacket Stephens South Brisbane ca. 1872. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 20289

The Moreton Bay Courier of that time often cites phrases such as ‘to ensure the exit of every Aboriginal before evening sets in’ or ‘the constable having orders to keep the blacks out of town on Sundays’. In the latter case, the presiding magistrate Mr. Fairholme said that ‘the orders under which the constable acted in keeping the blacks out of town on Sundays were illegal because the law made no provision for turning the blacks out of town any more than the whites’[1853]. If such orders did exist, they would possibly have been made under regulations of ‘Police in Towns Act’, but I have not been able to find them.

It is, however, reported in the Moreton Bay Courier, of the 3rd of July 1858, that ‘these savages have been within the suburbs if not actually within the town boundary at night. It is impossible for our small police force to maintain the regulation, and drive them out.’

In conclusion these ‘trespass posts’ were not placed there to inform Aboriginal people on which side of the town boundary they had to be at certain times or days of the week,[a curfew], but as survey markers that delineated the extent of Brisbane Town for the purpose of the ‘Police in Towns Act’.

Bill Kitson – Retired museum curator and co-author of Surveying Queensland 1839-1945 : a pictorial history