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Lieutenant Henry Miller

Henry Miller was the first commandant of the Moreton Bay penal colony in Queensland.

Henry Miller was born in 1785 in Derry, Ireland, the son of a clergyman. Henry Miller entered the army at an early age, being gazetted as an ensign in the 40th Regiment of Foot in 1799, when only 14. He married some ten years later, and his eldest son, Henry Miller, was born on 30 December 1809 in Derry.

His brother, Joseph Miller, was Mayor of Derry on five occasions. His nephew, Sir William Miller, was also mayor.

Miller was in the 40th Regiment which served under the Duke of Wellington on the Peninsula. When Wellington commenced his campaign of 1812 by taking Ciudad Rodrigo, Miller took part in the assault, in which 90 officers and 1200 men were killed.

Miller then crossed the Atlantic Ocean with the 40th. He was at the unsuccessful attack on New Orleans on 8 January 1815 when the commanding officer, Sir Edward Pakenham, was killed.

Miller was back again in Europe in time to be present at the Battle of Waterloo which was his final war service. He was given the Peninsular medal, with clasps for Busaco, Badajos, and Ciudad Rodrigo, and the Waterloo Medal.

After Waterloo the 40th regiment formed part of the army of occupation, and Lieutenant Miller was joined by his wife and family in Paris.

The Battle of Waterloo sealed the fate of Napoleon. As a result, Great Britain was able devote more attention to its growing colonial empire. In March 1823 the regiment was ordered to go to New South Wales. Lieutenant Miller and his family came out with one of the detachments.

Sir Thomas Brisbane had decided that only married officers with families were to be sent as commandants of the out-settlements, and he formally appointed Lieutenant Henry Miller to establish the Moreton Bay penal colony on 12 September 1824. However, by that date Lieutenant Miller was already in charge at Moreton Bay, having arrived there from Sydney in the brig Amity a couple of months earlier.

Queensland’s first penal colony was established on the Redcliffe peninsula in 1824 by a group of soldiers, convicts and government officials.

The Amity sailed into Moreton Bay on the 12th of September 1824, anchoring 1.2 km off the Redcliffe shore. Aboard the Amity were Oxley, Lieutenant Henry Miller – the newly appointed Commandant of Moreton Bay Settlement, 21 soldiers who brought their wives and families, and 29 convicts whose labour was required to build the new settlement (and who hoped through hard labour they would be gifted a Ticket of Leave).

A handful of men had been charged with finding a freshwater source upon landing at Red Cliff Point while the rest of the crew and passengers stayed on-board the Amity. After 2 days of searching, they returned triumphant having discovered Humpybong Creek lagoons.

Upon their arrival on the peninsula, the settlers spent the next 8 months constructing numerous buildings at Red Cliff Point – Oxley’s desired location, about 200 metres back from the water.

Amongst the structures were soldier barracks, a jail, the Commandant’s House, and other smaller buildings and houses.

The soldier barracks were located at the lower northern section of where John Street now exists. Uniformed, gun-carrying soldiers were hired to manage inmates instead of prison wardens during the early days of colonial settlement. Redcliffe history attests these men relied on harsh discipline to maintain order. To protect them (and their families) from retribution from disgruntled convicts their barracks was situated at Millers request, approx 400 yards away from the convict barracks. 9 of the 21 colonial soldiers brought their wives to start a new life in Redcliffe, 7 of these couples had children, while 2 wives were pregnant upon arrival, destined to give birth at the settlement.

The Moreton Bay penal colony was initially very primitive. There were no buildings, except huts. The only link to civilisation was the occasional arrival of a ship from Sydney into Moreton Bay (for no ship in that time had ever entered the Brisbane River). It was in these surroundings that Miller's wife gave birth to a son, who was afterwards christened Charles Moreton Miller, the first European child born at Moreton Bay and the first Queenslander.

As was common practice in these times, it is assumed the soldiers’ families lived with them in the barracks along with the other 12 unmarried soldiers. Housing them all together was a way for the military to save on costs.

The Commissariat Store acted as the procurement and distribution depot for all the colony’s food, seed, tools, timber, clothing and equipment. Due to its precious contents, the store was guarded day and night and its goods tracked by Commander Miller.

Later on, a more permanent store was constructed under the supervision of surgeon and storekeeper, Walter Scott. Upon relocation of the settlement to the banks of the Brisbane River, The Commissariat Store was dismantled and likely rebuilt in Brisbane, taking a little Redcliffe history with it.

Just north of what would eventually become Anzac Ave, is the location of the 5-room, pre-fabricated cottage residence of Lieutenant Henry Miller, Commander of the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement.

Despite his wife being heavily pregnant at the time, Miller brought his young family with him on his pioneering journey. Fortunately, fortune favoured the bold on this occasion – his wife made Redcliffe history, successfully giving birth to Charles Morton at the penal colony on 5th November. Charles was the third addition to the family, the newborn brother to Henry Junior and Mars Morphett.

As life became increasingly arduous by early 1825, a plan was formulated to relocate the settlement to Brisbane.

"It was a shortage of fresh water and lack of a deep-water anchorage at the Redcliffe site that led Miller to seek a better location to support a permanent settlement."

The Commandant’s Cottage was dismantled and rebuilt at the new site which today is home to the William Street heritage-listed Government Printing Office constructed in 1874. The strikingly gothic building functioned as the state printery for 120 years.

Henry Miller was at Moreton Bay for about 18 months. He was then succeeded by Captain Peter Bishop, also of the 40th.

Henry Miller returned to Sydney. From there he went to Van Diemen's Land. In 1828, the regiment went to India, but Captain Miller remained in Hobart in an appointment with the commissariat. He lived at Hobart in a house facing the Glebe.

His oldest son, Henry, who was 15 years old when his father was at Moreton Bay, entered the Audit Office in Hobart, but left to go to the new settlement at Port Phillip where he would become a prominent citizen of the city of Melbourne.

On 30 December 1840 his wife died at Hobart, aged 53, and on 23 August 1842 Captain Miller married again to Miss McQueen, of New Norfolk.

Henry Miller died at Hobart on 10 January 1866. The second wife died in 1891 and is buried at Hobart with her son, Ernest George Miller, who died in 1887, aged 37 years. Captain Miller's grave at Hobart in course of time fell into disrepair.


Letter (Lieutenant Miller to :Lieutenant-Colonel Balfour) (Tasmanian State Archives, Ref. C.S.O.1/371/8476)

Hobart Town April 25th 1826 "Sir, I have the honour of addressing you, for the purpose of requesting you to recommend me to His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor for the Commandantship of Macquarie Harbour as I have been given to understand it is his intention to recall Captain Butler. Lest my having been superseded by Captain Bishop in the command at Morton Bay should lead you to conclude me unfit for such a situation, I consider it incumbent in justice to myself to lay the following statement before you which, if necessary, I can prove for your satisfaction. In August 1824 I was appointed to form a Penal Settlement at Morton Bay and arrived there in September; my written instructions received from Sir Thomas Brisbane, directed me, first to build huts for the soldiers and prisoners, then, a Store House, Guard House and jail and those completed to clear one hundred acres of land for the reception of Maize. To carry these instructions into effect only 29 prisoners and one Overseer were put under my command - the Overseer was dissatisfied with his salary and allowances and returned immediately to Sydney. At once I perceived the hands afforded me were wholly inadequate to accomplish such purposes, but being quite confident that reinforcements would soon as a matter of course follow me, and determining that nothing on my part should be wanting that the most strenuous personal exertion could supply, I became at once Commandant, Superintendent, and Overseer; nothing was undertaken that I did not plan, nothing was carried on that I did not inspect, literally, under a burning sun earning my bread in the sweat of my brow; I passed toilsome and miserable days, anxious and restless nights, and underwent privations, difficulties and hardships greater than any I had been called upon to sustain during years of actual service

The situation selected by the person appointee by Government for that express purpose as a site for the Settlement proved on trial, in every respect ineligible, the ground was light, sandy and sterile, no timber fit for building was in its neighbourhood, and the very grass for thatch (as a substitute for shingles) I had to send miles for; while, so limited was our supply of water, that I found myself obliged in the midst of all the other press of business to have recourse to the expedient of sinking a regular well. In the latter end of November 1824, Sir Thomas Brisbane visited Morton Bay, and expressed himself satisfied with what I had done; he also observed that in all probability he would have the settlement removed, but said nothing decisive on the subject. Early in December 1824, the very small stock of Medicines sent with us was completely exhausted, and sickness attacked the Prisoners; nor till the month of August 1825 was there any medicines, of any description forwarded to the Settlement, though I applied for them to Head Quarters whenever opportunity offered, which indeed was seldom, as a continued period of five months has been suffered to elapse, without any vessel being sent to our relief ' the consequence of which was, that I have been frequently reduced to nine, ten, eleven, or twelve men, per day to carry into effect plans which would have required at least one hundred, and during the whole of the time I was Commandant, there were but seven prisoners sent as reinforcements, two of whom I was directed, "to have instructed in the duties of Overseers" although there was no person on the Settlement capable of so doing. I had also to labour under the vast disadvantage of not knowing the Government tasks for the different kinds of Work; I repeatedly applied for a list of them, but was never supplied with it.

On my arrival at Morton Bay, it was one of my first cares to have a quantity of Garden seeds and Potatoes put into the ground, knowing how important it would be to have a supply of vegetables, but, owing to the advanced period of the season, the extreme badness of the soil, the want of manure, and the scorching heat of the sun, some of those seeds never vegetated and the remainder after making a sickly appearance for a short time withered away, though I had them carefully watered every evening. .When the cool season set in, and manure had accumulated, I succeeded in rearing a few vegetables which were distributed amongst the sick and others on the Settlement. In April 1825 I received orders from Government to abandon the Settlement, and form another at the distance of twenty seven miles; this I accomplished; though the difficulties of the task, situated as I then was, with my original few wasted and enfeebled by sickness, were so many, and so great, that none but an eye-witness could, in the least form an idea of them, and it would swell this statement beyond all limits were I even to attempt their description. A short time after this removal was effected so little were our wants attended to, that our supply of flour totally failed; and at a crisis when wholesome food was particularly and indispensably necessary to preserve the few who were able to work in health, and to establish the convalescent, we found ourselves reduced to the necessity of living on salt meat, and field pease, the baneful effects of which soon became deplorably visible, and in the midst of all this suffering, in the month of August 1825 to my unspeakable astonishment Captain Bishop arrived to displace me in the Command and I was officially informed that Sir Thomas Brisbane had taken this step "in consequence of the little exertion manifested by me in the duties of the appointment." In those general terms was this communication expressed nor up to this hour have I been able to discover wherein this alleged want of exertion on my part consisted but have had to submit to the severe infliction of being condemned unheard and uninformed of any one error and I hope I may be permitted to say when exculpating myself that it is my confident belief that I was removed to cover the mistakes of others and here Sir I beg most respectfully to appeal to you, is it in the least probable that I would remain inactive or supine when expressly informed in my written instructions that any emolument I might expect to reap the second year must arise entirely from the prisoners I could ration by the produce of the settlement.

On my arrival in Sydney, I waited on Sir Thomas Brisbane, and requested that it my conduct during the time of my being Commandant appeared to him in any degree incorrect, that he would order the strictest investigation into it; I also delivered to him a voluminous written statement (of which this is partly the substance) but to neither my request or statement, did I ever receive any answer. I then considered it my duty in justice to my family to Memorial to be appointed to the vacant Engineer ship at Morton Bay, and received a verbal answer by Mr Stirling then acting as Sir Thomas Brisbane's Aid-de-Camp that he did not consider it delicate to his successor to make new appointments on the eve of his departure. This answer Mr Stirling repeated at my request and in my presence, to Colonel Dumaresq as I considered it necessary that that gentleman should be informed it was from no personal objection to me Sir Thomas declined appointing me to that situation. I have now Sir most earnestly to apologise for trespassing on your time by the length of this statement which I found impossible to shorten consistent with clearness, and I trust that should any vague rumour have reached you to my prejudice, it will be successful in removing it.

I have, etc, Henry Miller

With respect to the Engineer's Stores which were missing at Morton Bay I shall have the honour of laying before you for your information the substance of a Memorial I forwarded to Sir Thomas Brisbane on the subject with the least possible delay. "


Henry Miller is remembered in the name of this park, next to the Commissariat Store from 1829 in Brisbane.


Henry Miller is listed on the wall of the Redcliffe Wall of Fame:

A collection of portrait and information honouring the achievements of individuals who have influenced and shaped Redcliffe. The collection is in the Jetty Arcade at 139-141 Redcliffe Parade.

For a complete list of people who appear on the wall click on the following blog post:

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