Corn Fields Raids 1827-1828

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Figure 1: Brisbane penal colony c.1831

The very first frontier conflict of Queensland consisted of Aboriginal attempts hostilities near the fledgling colony at Redcliffe (near today’s Humpybong Park) in 1824. Aborigines killing and threatening convicts at Yebri Creek and elsewhere seems to have been part of the reason for the removal of the colony to Brisbane.

Three years later, the same hostilities threatened the colony at its new location (today’s Brisbane CBD). This consisted of repeated plundering and destruction of the maize fields on which the colony depended for food, at South Brisbane, New Farm and Kangaroo Point. The Aboriginal community learnt that this was the colony’s main food. Thus from 1827 onwards, they organised themselves to starve out the settlement:

…a disposition was evinced, on the part of a tribe of the black natives, to pillage or destroy portions of the second maize crop, then in the ground… a party of natives… appeared… to be meditating a fresh invasion (The Australian 25 July 1827:3).

Sets of 40 to 50 southside warriors from the camps at Woolloongabba and South Brisbane descended on the fields in regular, continuous raids. Mulrobin was the main southside warrior and headman at this time and most likely orchestrated the attacks. Indeed, an 1838 account mentions the fame of his “warlike feats.” The raiders destroyed and sometimes took large quantities of corn and sweet potato.

After a series of smaller raids that had been deflected by posting a single gunman, a major, successful attack was launched on the evening of 24th April 1827. The raiders this time waited till the corn was nearly ripe. They tossed several spears at the watchman, wounding his hand and forcing him to flee. As the fields were now under Aboriginal control, Logan sent over three men to fire over their heads, but this had little effect. Rather, they began to gather in what Logan described as “alarmingly large numbers.” By 8pm – using the darkness to cover them – a very large force charged en masse into the fields.

Logan was apparently watching all this from across the river. He was concerned the entire crop would be destroyed, leaving the settlement bereft of food until the next supply ship. Noticing the failure of the three gunmen to control the situation, he sent over another two constables and three soldiers – making a party of eight trying to curb the raid in pitch darkness.

The soldiers spotted two escaped convicts amongst the raiders and focussed on these, eventually tracking them to the main camp (probably Woolloongabba). Here they tried to apprehend the escapees, who were now sitting around one of the camp fires. In the darkness and confusion, the convicts escaped. Naturally, with the entrance of soldiers at the camp, warriors flew into defence. There was some sort of skirmish, in which at least one warrior was shot dead.

As a result of all this, Captain Logan instituted a series of ‘crow minders’ – convicts who watched the fields from treehouse shelters. They were day-and-night sentinels. During small raids that followed 24th April, they are known to have shot and killed at least one warrior, and probably wounded many.

But Mulrobin’s men carefully noted who conducted the shootings. Several months later (6th January 1828) his warriors stalked and killed both South Bank ‘crow minders’ and severely wounded another man whilst they were making a recreational excursion into the south (roughly the Logan River area).

Thus, despite ‘crow minders’, corn field raids continued. A convict workman was speared very close to where Andy kept his watch.  A second major raid followed – again just as the corn was ripening (24th January 1828). In this attack, warriors rushed the South Bank fields in broad daylight. One of the raiders was killed. The ‘crow minders’ seem to have persisted into the 1830s. Petrie mentions one who watched over their gardens (near today’s Customs House), always keeping a loaded rifle handy

Figure 2: 1844 map (Wade) indicating “government paddock” and “paddock” – the former cornfields, roughly the area of today’s south bank parklands

References:

  • Affray with Natives at Moreton Bay,’ The Australian 25 July 1827 p 3.
  • ‘The Petries – Historic Family – Blazing the Trail,’ The Daily Mail, 31 July 1924 p 21.
  • Evans, Ray, 2008, ‘On the Utmost Verge: Race and Ethnic Relations at Moretón Bay, 1799-1842,’ Queensland Review Vol.15:1, 1-31.
  • Knight, J J, ‘In the Early Days – XI,’ The Queenslander 27 February 1892 p 402.
  • Petrie, CC., 1904, Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland Brisbane: Watson, Ferguson & Co, pp. 159, 231, 260.
  • Scott, R.J., ‘100 Years Ago,’ The Brisbane Courier,12 April 1930 p 12.
  • Steele, J.G. 1975. Brisbane Town in Convict Days 1824-1842, Brisbane, University of Queensland Press.
  • The Australian 25 July 1827:3.

 

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