|John Oxley - Moreton Bay - Governor Report 1823|
|Red Cliff Point|
|Brisbane River Discovery|
|Moreton Bay District|
John Oxley - Moreton Bay - Governor Report 1823
This extract from John Oxley's "Report of an Expedition to survey Port Curtis, Moreton Bay, and Port Bowen" (7). This report was submitted to Governor Brisbane, dated 10 January 1824. It contains information that appealed to the interests of Governor Brisbane.
I therefore returned to the Southward and, entering Moreton Bay on the 29th November, anchored the cutter close to Point Skirmish at the entrance of Pumice Stone River.
Pumice Stone River had been so thoroughly examined and well described by Captain Flinders, that conceiving it would answer no useful purpose to go over the same ground, and aware that the West Shore of Moreton Bay had been but cursorily examined, I determined to trace it entirely round in the hope to find in such an extensive inlet some opening which would render an apparently fine surrounding country of more utility and value than it would otherwise be, if the accounts of the scarcity of fresh water in this Bay were correct.
Our first day's Survey terminated a little above Red Cliff Point. The Shores were in general low and covered with mangroves, off which extend considerable mud flats dry at low water; but to this remark the shores in the vicinity of Red Cliff Point are an exception. The channel is here deep within a short distance of the shore, and boats can land at any time of tide. The country is open forest land of inferior quality; a few miles to the west the country again becomes low and is apparently wet, but it soon rises into open forest hills of good appearance. There was no want of permanent fresh water, but not in streams, and in one inlet, marked "B" navigable for boats, is abundance of good timber of the eucalyptus species, and also great quantities of pine.
Early on the second day (Decr. 2nd), in pursuing our examination, we had the satisfaction to find the tide sweeping us up a considerable inlet, opening between the first mangrove island and the mainland. The muddiness and taste of the water, together with the abundance of fresh water mollusca, assured us we were entering a large river, and a few hours ended our anxiety on that point by the water becoming perfectly fresh, while no diminution had taken place in the size of the river, after passing what I have called "Sea Reach."
Our progress up the river was necessarily retarded by the necessity we were under of making a running survey during our passage. At sunset we had proceeded about 20 miles by the river; the scenery was peculiarly beautiful; the country on the banks alternately hilly and level, but not flooded; the soil of the finest description of brushwood land, on which grew 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 abundance. The timber on the hills was also good, and to the S.E. a little distance from the river were several brushes or forests of the Cupressus Australis of very large size.
Up to this point, the river was navigable for vessels not drawing more than 16 feet water; the tide rose about five feet, being the same as at the entrance. The next day, the examination was resumed and with increased satisfaction we proceeded about 30 miles further, no diminution having taken place either in the breadth or depth of the river, except in one place, for the extent of about 30 yards, a ridge of detached rocks extending across, having no more than 12 feet on them at high water. From this point to Termination Hill, the river continued of nearly uniform size, the country on either side of a very superior description and equally well adapted for cultivation or grazing, the timber abundant and fit for all the purposes of domestic use or exportation. The pine trees, if they should prove of good quality, were of a scantling, sufficient for the topmasts of large ships, some measured upwards of 30 inches in diameter, and from 50 to 80 feet without a branch.
The boat's crew were so exhausted by their continued exertions under a vertical sun, that I was reluctantly compelled to relinquish my intention of proceeding to the termination of tidewater at this time. At this place, the tide rose about 4 feet 6 inches, the force of the ebb tide and current united being little greater than the flood tide, a proof of its flowing through a very level country. Having concluded upon terminating at the point the examination of the river (being 70 miles from the vessel and out stock of provisions expended, not having anticipated such a discovery), I landed on the south shore for the purpose of examining the surrounding country. On ascending a low hill rising about 25 feet above the level of the river, we saw a distant mountain (which I conjectured to be the high peak of Captain Flinders) bearing S. 1 1/2 E., dis't from 25 to 30 miles. Round from this point; to the N.W. the country declined considerably in elevation, and had much the appearance of an immense extended plains, of low and undulating hills and vales, well but not heavily wooded, the only elevations of magnitude were some hills 700 or 800 feet high, which we had passed to the northward. The appearance and formation of the country, the slowness of the current even the ebb tide and depth of water, induce me to conclude that the river will be found navigable for vessels of burden to a much greater distance, probably not less than 50 miles. There was no appearance of the river being even occasionally flooded, no mark being found more than 7 feet above the level which is little more than would be cause be the flood tide at high water forcing back any unusual accumulation of water in rainy seasons.
A consideration of all the circumstances connected with the appearance of the river justify me in entertaining a strong belief that the sources of this river will not be found in a mountainous country, most probably from some large collection of interior waters, the reservoir of those streams crossed by me during an expedition of discovery in 1818, and which had a northerly course; whatever may be its origin, it is by far the largest fresh water river on the Eastern Coast of New South Wales, and promises to be of the utmost importance to the colony, as, besides affording a water communication with the Southern Countries bordering upon Liverpool Plains, it waters a vast extent of country, a great portion of which appeared to me capable of supporting the cultivation of the richest production of the tropics. I afterwards proceeded a few miles to the S.E. from the river through a gently broken country of good soil, declining in elevation towards the south, the High Peak before mentioned being the only remarkable eminence from N.E., to south.
As the position of the entrance of the river was still to be fixed and the channel examined, I lost no time returning down the river with the ebb tide, and I stopped for the night at the base of green hills, the highest of which was ascended the next morning and the view from it more extensive than I anticipated. The high coast range, of which Mt. Warning is the nucleus, appeared gradually to lose itself westward and with the exception of the peak before mentioned, and which appears to be the termination of the north extreme of the Mt. Warning Range, there was scarcely an elevation above the ordinary level of the country to be seen; if any such range of hills had place within 50 or 60 miles, it could not have escaped observation.
So much time was spent in the examination of the country about Sea Reach that it was quite dark when we got to the entrance of the river, which, out of respect to His Excellency the Governor under whose orders this bay was examined, was now honoured with the name of Brisbane River. The whole of the next day was spent in sounding the entrance and traversing the country in the vicinity of Red Cliff Point; and we did not reach the vessel until late in the night of the 5th Decr., amply gratified in the discovery of this important river, as we sanguinely anticipated the most beneficial consequences as likely to result to the colony by the formation of a settlement on its banks.
I feel it impossible to enter into a nautical description of so extensive an inlet as Moreton Bay. The draft given of it by Captn. Flinders is, so far as it comprehends the tract passed over by him, extremely correct; it does not profess to be a survey of the whole bay, and there are so many sand banks separated by deep water channels of various depths and magnitudes that it would require many months to make a complete Marine Survey of it, and which after all would prove of little service unless the different channels were bouyed. I do not think, however, that there would be any great difficulty in taking a ship, whose draft of water does not exceed 18 feet, as high as Red Cliff Point. Above this point to the entrance into Brisbane River, the channels would require to be well ascertained before ships of large burthen could proceed. There is, however, no great danger, as the shoals are of soft mud and the water quite smooth. A narrow bank of land appeared to me to extend across from Cape Moreton at the entrance of the bay to the mainlan. On this bank, I did not find more than 3 fms. at low water; but, as the distance across is full 12 miles, many deeper channels may have escaped my observation.
Pumice Stone River affords good anchorage for vessels not drawing more than 12 feet water, and the best channel to enter by will be found clase to the main land. The is plenty of fresh water in the vicinity of Point Skirmish close to the beach; and although the soil is poor and sandy, the country is covered with good timber. Among other species the Cupressus Australis is the most abundant. It may by procured of considerable size, readily shipped, and appears well adapted to most of the purposes connected with building. Should it be deemed expedient to establish a settlement in Moreton Bay, the country in the vicinity of Red Cliff Point offers the best site for an establishment in the first instance; it is centrical in the bay, and there is no difficulty in effecting a landing at all times of tide, though the soil immediately on the sea shore is but indifferent. A communication can easily be opened with the interior; it is about 10 miles to the north of the entrance into Brisbane River, and must be passed by all vessels intending to enter it. Red Cliff Point must, however, be viewed as being better adapted for a military post and depot for stores than as the site of a principal settlement; the Brisbane River presents so many superior situations that, although a post here may be indispensable, I think a permanent settlement would be most advantageously formed on the west side of the river at the termination of sea reach. The river here is not fresh, but there is plenty of fresh water. The country is open, and no obstacles exist from swamps or hills to prevent a ready communication with the interior either by the river itself or at a distance from it. From a hill near this last station the entrance of the bay can be seen; and by clearing away a few trees, a communication by signal may be held with Red Cliff Point. The ground is dry, the soil good, and it receives the full force of the sea breeze.
The bay abounds with fish of all descriptions common to this part of the coast. The natives, in the intercourse we had with them, appeared to possess a most friendly disposition. They are very numerous, and are to a certain extent superior in their domestic habits to the savages inhabiting the more southern coasts. For a more detailed description of these people, I beg to refer you to my journal.
There are several islands in the upper part of Moreton Bay, to the southward of the entrance into the Brisbane River, two of which are formed of good dry soil with water on them. The others are mere mangrove swamps. We had little opportunity of making any nautical additions to the charts of Captain Flinders. We however discovered that the land of Point Lookout is an Island, and that Moreton Bay extends as far south as Lat. 28 S., where it communicates with the sea by a shoal channel through a sandy beach navigable for boats. We had also the satisfaction to ascertain that the waters having their source in the high lands of Mt. Warning, formed a considerable stream, the entrance into which is close to Point Danger. Across which there is a bar having 12 feet on it at half tide, there may be probably 14 feet at high water. I had not time to proceed up this river beyond a few miles. Sufficiently far, however, to perceive that the river had its source to the westward of Mt. Warning. The country on the banks appeared to be good and abounded with useful timber. I consider the knowledge of this river useful in establishing the point that the Brisbane River does not receive its waters from the lofty ranges of the sea coast, and as the course of that river had been already traced beyond the N.W. extreme of coast ranges, it appeared it still more probable that it derived its supply from some part of the S.W. interior.
From the observations of others, joined to my own limited experience of the winds and weather on this coast, I think that considerable difficulty will be experienced by vessels bound to the northward from the months of October to February. To the north of Break Sea Spit, the N.E. wind (varying occasionally to the S.E.) prevails during those months, blowing in strong gales; to the southward of Break Sea Spit the winds are more variable, being much influenced by the direction of the coast which to that point trends nearly North and South. The currents to the South of Break Sea Spit, at a distance of 15 or 20 miles from the shore, set strong to the south; near the shore there is little current, and I have then found it occasionally setting to the North. In order to make a good passage to the Northward furing the Summer Season, I would recommend vessels to keep the land close on board. There are no hidden dangers, and besides being out of the strength of the current, considerable advantage is obtained by being within the influence of the land winds, which commonly blow off it during the night. During the Winter and Spring months the winds will be found variable, but blowing more frequently from the West and N.W. than any other quarter. As an example of the general tendency and set of the currents, the following facts may by adduced. A log of cedar with a stable in it was found on the sea shore of Moreton Island, which must have floated either from Newcastle or Port Macquarie; and on the same island a cask and part of a New Zealand canoe, were recognised as having belonged to the Echo Whaler, which ship was cast away on Wreck Reef about three years ago. Those articles must have come from an opposite direction to the log of cedar. On my return from Moreton Bay, keeping at a distance of 12 or 14 miles from the coast, the vessel was set 58 miles to the south in 22 hours, and a current of nearly equal strength accelerated our return from Port Macquarie to Sydney. The existence of a strong southerly current at this season of the year, and the situation of its greatest strength with respect to the coast, are points tolerably well known to the Masters of Vessels sailing out of the port.
I have the honor to transmit herewith a daily journal of my proceedings, together with a corrected map of Moreton Bay, including Brisbane River, and also some alterations in the coastline about Point Danger; the alterations and additions are coloured red; detached drafts of the inlets in the vicinity of Port Curtis also accompany this report.
From Lieut. Stirling of the buffs, who accompanied me by direction of His Excellency, I derived the greatest assistance, and it is principally owing to his skill in the rapid and accurate delineation of the surface of the portions of country we examined, that we were enabled to complete the service described in this report, in so short a space of time.