Moreton Bay Penal Settlement

The Moreton Bay penal colony, on traditional Turrbal and Yuggera land, operated from 1824 to 1842 as a place of secondary punishment for convicts who committed serious offences

The Moreton Bay penal colony, on traditional Turrbal and Yuggera land, operated from 1824 to 1842 as a place of secondary punishment for convicts who committed serious offences. In 1842 it was declared open for free settlement. It became the city of Brisbane.


Establishment of Moreton Bay penal settlement

In 1823 Governor Brisbane had decided that another penal establishment was needed and after receiving a favourable report from John Oxley, gave orders to establish a penal settlement at Moreton Bay. (Hughes, Fatal Shore, p.441). By 1829 the number of convicts at Moreton Bay had reached 700 (HRA vol. 14, p.700) and 'at its peak in 1830, 952 prisoners were there'. (Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies, p.204).

Appointment of Commandants

Lieutenant Henry Miller of the 40th Regiment was appointed Commandant in August 1824 and in September he sailed north with 50 settlers including 30 convicts. The first site on the Redcliffe peninsula was abandoned after three months in favour of a site where Brisbane now stands. Miller was replaced in 1825 by Captain Peter Bishop. In March 1826 Captain Patrick Logan who had a reputation for harsh discipline took charge. (Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies, pp.203-5). He 'habitually worked prisoners in irons' and was 'a relentless flogger'. (Hughes, Fatal Shore, p.446).

In October 1830 it was reported that Captain Logan had been killed while he was completing a survey around Moreton Bay. (HRAvol. 16, p.57). Logan was replaced by Captain James Clunie, under whom Moreton Bay 'took shape as a town'. (Hughes, Fatal Shore, p.450).

In 1832 Governor Bourke advocated closing the penal establishment because of its expense and the fact that the troops were becoming too dispersed. (HRAvol. 16, p.832). At the end of 1835 Clunie was replaced by Captain Foster Fyans, and simultaneously there was a further recommendation, which was supported by the Colonial Office, for abolishing the penal establishment and introducing free settlers into the area. (HRAvol. 18, p.204).

Closure of the penal settlement

By 1837 the number of convicts had been reduced to 300, and by 1839 all of the female convicts had been removed leaving only 94 male convicts. Moreton Bay ceased to be a penal settlement in 1839 and on February 1842 was declared open for free settlement. (HRAVol. 19, p.150, vol. 20, p.209, NSW Government Gazette 1842, vol. 1, p.249).

Indexes to the records

  • Index to the Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788–1825
  • Joan Reese's NSW Colonial Secretary's In Letters Index to convicts and others, 1826–96, available in the Reading Room
  • Index to letters sent re convicts, 1826–May 1855, compiled by Joan Reese and available in the Reading Room
  • NRS-922 Colonial Secretary's Indexes and Registers, 1826-1900, available in the Reading Room

A list of record series

Colonial Secretary

NRS-897[4/1803], Reels 751 & 6066
Letters received, 1788-1826
Letters received by the Colonial Secretary from Moreton Bay. See  for an item list.
Letters received, 1826-1982
Letters received relating to Moreton Bay
NRS-90541/5332 [4/2539.2], Reel 751; COD 225 pp.66-83
Letters received, 1826-1982
Returns of baptisms and burials at Moreton Bay, 1837-1838
- The returns of Baptisms show names of children and parents, married or unmarried, when and where born and when baptised.
Within parish of Brisbane Town, 1 Jan-30 Jun 1837, 1 Jul-31 Dec 1837, 1 Jan-30 Jun 1838
Moreton Bay, 1 Jul-31 Dec 1838
The returns of Burials show name, free or convict, if convict by what ship, age, when deceased and when interred.
Brisbane Town, 1 Jan-30 Jun 1837, 1 Jul-30 Dec 1837, 1 Jan-30 Jun 1838
Moreton Bay, 1 Jul-30 Dec 1838
NRS-90538/6900 [4/2411.1], Reel 751; COD 225 pp.6-39
Letters received, 1826-1982
Alphabetical list of prisoners eligible for conditional remission of sentenceThe return shows name, ship, trade, details of trial, when forwarded and conduct.
June 1838
NRS-90531 Jul 1839 38/6900 [4/2411.1] Reel 75130 Sep 1839 [4/2460.3] Reel 752 COD 22531 Mar 1840 [4/2499.2] Reel 752; COD 225 
Letters received, 1826-1982
Nominal lists of prisoners remaining at Moreton Bay under colonial sentenceThe lists detail name, ship, date of conviction, sentence, period employed as overseer or constable, present employment, 31 Jul 1839.
NRS-90539/7276 [4/2460.3], Reel 752; COD 225 pp.40-47
Letters received, 1826-1982
Nominal list of male convicts employed on the establishmentDetails are given of ship, date of conviction, date of employment, sentence and how employed.
9 May 1839
NRS-906[4/1917.1], Reel 751
Special bundles, 1826-1982
Miscellaneous returns, 1826
- Nominal return of prisoners at Moreton Bay, 24 Mar 1826, showing their occupations, employment, ships, colonial sentences, prisoners in irons, and volunteers.
- Monthly returns of convicts received, died, discharged or run, 25 Dec 1825-24 Sep 1826
- Daily meteorological diary, 11 Oct 1825-12 Jun 1826
- Monthly return of corporal punishments inflicted, 25 Feb-24 Mar 1826
- Papers re the erection of a hospital at Moreton Bay
- General return of Public Labour performed by Crown Prisoners, 25 Dec 1825-24 Mar 1826
- Return of Tools, Implements, Stores etc. received, 25 Dec 1825-24 Mar 1826
Special bundles, 1826-1982
Returns of the government establishment
1831, 1833, 1835, 1837-1841, 1854
NRS-906[2/8345] Reel 2280 COD 119
Special bundles, 1826-1982
Returns of births, deaths and marriages
27 Aug 1824-30 Dec 1831 [4/3794] Reel 749, 60194 Jan 1832-30 May 1842 [4/3795] Reel 7502 Jan 1832-30 May 1842 [4/3796] Indexes [4/3795] Reel 75019 May 1842-5 Aug 1853 [4/3797] Reel 750
Copies of letters to Moreton Bay
Copies of letters to the Commandant and other officers in the penal settlement (to 1842), later letters to the Police Magistrate and other officials and individuals in the settlement. From Apr 1853 they are addressed to the Government Resident.
The first volume begins with a letter to Lieutenant H. Miller of the 40th Regiment, dated 27 Aug 1824, notifying him of his appointment as military Commandant of the settlement to be established, mainly to replace Port Macquarie as a penal settlement. The settlement ceased to be used as a penal station in 1839 but the correspondence continues on miscellaneous matters concerning it until Aug 1853.
Following page 272 in the volume for 1824–31 is a list of convicts transported to Moreton Bay. This shows for each convict original conviction including when and where sentenced; trade or calling; name; the vessel came by; the number on the folio; whom they replaced or replaced by; colonial conviction; where, by whom, when, sentenced; ship transported to Moreton Bay by; date returned; remarks. There is an index to this list in the front of the volume.
27 Aug 1824-5 Aug 1853


[4/6271], Reels 708 & 687
List of men in irons from Moreton Bay
The list details gaol number, name, ship, original sentence, present sentence, year of arrival, when received, when discharged, to what place and remarks.

Records held elsewhere

Mitchell Library copy at FM4/17, of original in Oxley Memorial Library, Brisbane
Register of convicts at Moreton Bay
Providing details of original and colonial convicts, and disposal.
c.1824-Nov 1839
Mitchell Library copy at FM4/18, of original in Oxley Memorial Library, Brisbane
Register of monthly returns
Included are returns of agricultural produce; land under cultivation; baptisms and burials; prisoners maintained by government, received, died or run; and some manifests of ships cargoes and passengers.
Mitchell Library copy at FM4/19, of original in Oxley Memorial Library, Brisbane
Superintendent of Convicts, Moreton Bay: Diary recording the employment of prisoners
Mitchell Library copy at FM4/382, of original in Oxley Memorial Library, Brisbane
Commandant: Book of trials

Where to find the lists of convicts

Guide to shipping lists of convicts sent to and from Moreton Bay. It should be noted that these lists are not complete.