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Thomas (Tom) Petrie (1831–1910)

The death is announced of Mr. Tom Petrie, a well-known pioneer of Queensland, at the age of 79 years. The late Mr. Petrie was born in Edinburgh in 1831, and arrived in Australia with his parents in the same year. His father, the late Mr. Andrew Petrie, arrived in Queensland with his family in 1837, and his name is well known in Queensland as an explorer. The late Mr. Tom Petrie also did considerable pioneering work in this State—or colony as it was then—and among other things was the first white man on Buderim Mountain, and was the second white man to view the beauties of the Blackall Range. As Petrie-terrace and Petrie's Bight were named in honour of his father, so Petrie Creek was named in honour of himself. His experiences in the early days were given to the world in "Tom Petrie's Reminiscences," first published in the Queenslander by his daughter, Miss C. C. Petrie, six years ago. The late Mr. Petrie was married in 1858, and his family comprised six daughters and three sons.

While Mr. James Hexton is the oldest native born colonist, the late Mr. Tom Petrie was the oldest of those who landed here from another State, and his family have been inseparably associated with the history of Queensland. Mr. Tom Petrie was fired with much of the enthusiasm of his father (Mr. Andrew Petrie) and his brother (Mr. John Petrie, the first Mayor of Brisbane). He took many excursions into the interior, and made discoveries of great economic value to the State. But his chief desire always was to associate with the blacks, study their customs, and learn their language. Much that he has done has been appropriated by others; like his father his modesty made it comparatively easy for others to claim credit for much that he found and work that he did. No man was a better authority on the habits and dialects of the aborigines than Mr. Tom Petrie, yet his disposition was so retiring that few of our present day, at least, knew him. One of his greatest trials was the misspelling of aboriginal names, and he was ever complaining of the failure of the authorities to communicate with him before perpetrating the blunders. Perhaps his last outing was made at the invitation of the Governor, when he accompanied Sir William MacGregor to Dunwich, there to interview one of the "last of the tribe," his Excellency being anxious to make certain investigations into native customs. Mr. Petrie was by no means well at the time, but Sir William's thoughtfulness exerted a cheering influence over the old pioneer. It would take many columns to merely indicate the pioneering and exploratory work of the Petries. But it may be said that to them belongs the discovery and tracing of the Mary River (on which excursion, made in a ship's boat, Mr. Andrew Petrie found the runaway convicts "Wandi" and "Duramboi"), the finding and testing of the Moreton coal beds, the exploring of the Logan country, with the assent of Mount Petrie (so named after the family).. and the north coast territory, with the Pine as the centre, as well as the reporting on the commercial values of native timbers, many of which were unknown until the Petries made them so. So far there has been no official recognition of the great work of the Petries; the laying to rest of the last of the original members of the family may perhaps suggest how great a debt Queensland owes to them, and indicate a way of doing something which ought to have been done years ago.

In the Early Days (J. J. Knight) contains much interesting information about the Petries and their work. Just how they came to Moreton Bay is worth repeating. The present Observatory was during penal times a treadmill. An effort had been made to work it by means of wind-sails, but without success. The writer goes on to say: "When it is remembered that bungling was the order of the day in the Settlement it is not a matter for wonder that the source of the trouble with the windmill lay in the displacement of certain portions of the machinery. This, however, was not discovered until about three years after its erection, when Mr. Andrew Petrie, then in Sydney, was appointed foreman of works. Mr. Petrie, a year or two previous to his appointment, had fallen a victim to the solicitation of the Rev. Dr. Lang, a man who, notwithstanding his detractors, did more directly and indirectly for the future of both Victoria and Queensland than perhaps any other man. Mr. Petrie arriving in Sydney in one of Dr. Lang's ships—the Stirling Castle—in 1831, (being one of a large number of skilled workmen introduced there by the rev. gentleman to counteract the serious results which he foreshadowed would arise if convictism were allowed to get too firm a hold on the colony..." Mr. Knight further on in his book thus describes the arrival of the Petries—"The year 1837 marked two important events in the early history if Brisbane—the arrival of the Petries, and of the first steamer which ploughed the waters of Moreton Bay. It has previously been stated that the bungling of works had been lamentable. In this respect things had become even worse than they were in Logan's time until the Commandant decided to end it by petitioning for the services of a competent foreman. Mr. Andrew Petrie, who at this time was attached to the Royal Engineers, was chosen for the position, and the little steamer the James Watt—which, by the way, was the pioneer steamer in Hobson's Bay in the same year—was chartered to convey the new official and his family. The James Watt left Sydney late in July, and early in the following month arrived at Amity Point, a brief inspection of the place being made. The little vessel then steamed on to Dunwich, which had been made the timber depot of the Settlement. Here Mr. Petrie superintended the loading of the vessel with cedar on behalf of the Government, and his first commission thus executed he placed his family—one daughter and four sons—and their few belongings in the pilot boat, manned by convicts, and started at the break of day for the penal establishment. On the way they called at St. Helena, and managed to reach Brisbane town after dusk the same evening. They landed at the King's jetty (now the Queen's wharf), which, it may be here remarked, was the only landing place on the river, if we may except one which had at considerable expense been erected at Eagle Farm, but which was quite useless, owing to the fact that between it and deep water ran a sand bank, the presence of which had not been discovered until after the structure had been completed! But wharves were not required in those days, since the largest vessel that had plied the river had been the Foster Fyans, a cutter of some 18 or 20 tons. The arrival of the foreman of works and his family did not elicit any great outburst of enthusiasm; as a matter of fact little or no preparation had been made for their reception. They were eventually housed in the factory which had just previously been vacated by the women; and a terrible hole it was. But after a tedious sea trip, and having been 'cribbed, cabined, and confined' for so many hours in a small boat, they were too wearied to complain; indeed had they done so it would have availed them nothing. They resided here for several months. The first matter to claim the attention of Mr. Petrie was, of course, the windmill, and in conjunction with this work he contrived to commence the erection of a dwelling for himself. This he built in what is now Petrie's Bight, and it remained standing until a few years ago, when it was pulled down, partly because a portion of it was on the road line, and partly because the ground it covered was required for other purposes. The more palatial premises which now adjoin Messrs. Quinlan, Gray, and Co.'s are on part of the site. When the Settlement was thrown open Mr. Petrie purchased the house and much of the land which surrounded it."

The late Mr. Petrie's earliest recollection of the Settlement is well described in his Reminiscences, written by his daughter (Miss C. C. Petrie). She wrote:—"Although my father cannot look back to the day of his arrival he remembers Brisbane town as a city of about ten buildings. (Roughly speaking, it was like this:—At the present Trouton's corner stood a building used as the first Post Office, and joined to it was the watch house; then further down the prisoners' barracks extended from above Chapman's to the corner (Grimes and Petty's). Where the Treasury stands stood the soldiers' barracks, and the Government hospitals and doctor's quarters took up the land the Supreme Court now occupies. The Commandant's house stood where the new Lands Office is being built (his garden extending along the river bank), and not far away were the chaplain's quarters. The Commissariat Stores were afterwards called the Colonial Stores, and the block of land from the Longreach Hotel to Gray's Corner was occupied by the Lumber Yard (where the prisoners made their own clothes, &.c). The windmill was what is now the Observatory, and lastly a place formerly used as a female factory was the building Mr. Andrew Petrie lived in for several months, until his own house was built. The factory stood on the ground now occupied by the Post Office, and later on the Petrie's house was built at the present corner of Wharf and Queen streets, going towards the Bight (hence the name Petrie's Bight). Their garden stretched all along the river bank where Thomas Brown and Sons' warehouse now stands, being bounded at the far end by the saltwater creek which ran up Creek-street. Kangaroo Point, New Farm, South Brisbane, and a lot of North Brisbane were then under cultivation, but the rest was all bush, which, at that time swarmed with aborigines. So thick was the bush round Petrie's Bight that one of the workmen (a prisoner) engaged in building the house there was speared; he wasn't much hurt, however, and recovered."

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Petrie, Thomas (Tom) (1831–1910)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 January, 1831
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


26 August, 1910 (aged 79)
Pine Creek, Queensland, Australia

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