top of page

Written narrative of the 1823 voyage of Thomas Pamphlett & John Finnegan as recorded by John Uniacke

Updated: 2 days ago

John Finnegan, Thomas Pamphlett, John Thompson, and Richard Parsons were travelling by sailboat from Sydney to Illawarra, taking a cargo of timber when they were blown off course by a gale. After a few weeks at sea, 3 of the men ( Thompson passed away during the voyage) were shipwrecked on Moreton Island on 15th April 1823. They walked north along the beach to Cape Moreton, then continued along the northern shore and down the western side of the island to the South Passage. They crossed the South Passage to Stradbroke Island with the help of the natives of Amity Point, who they found most hospitable. Eventually they built a canoe, they crossed Moreton Bay to Peel Island and then to the mainland near Cleveland. They followed the Brisbane River upstream as far as Oxley Creek on foot, and then returned down the river by native canoe and on foot. They reached Redcliffe on 30 June, and by late September were at Pumice-stone Channel near Point Skirmish Bribie Island, enjoying the kind nature of the native chief. Eventually, John Oxley found Pamphlett and Finnegan on November 29 & 30, 1823. Parsons had continued up north in search for Port Jackson (which was actually south). John Oxley found Parsons, after returning a second time to Moreton Bay in September 1824.


John Uniacke's personal account of the John Oxley expedition and Pamphlet and Finnegan’s survival was published in London in 1825 by former NSW Judge, Barron Field, in his Geographical Memoirs of New South Wales.

John Uniacke from County Waterford, Ireland was an Anglo/Irish young gentleman, aged who arrived in Sydney in August 1823 and to gain experience and preference he petitioned Governor Brisbane to be allowed to accompany [Surveyor General of NSW] John Oxley’s expedition.

Uniacke stayed behind on Bribie Island while Oxley and Finnegan went in search of the large river observed by the Castaways.

On his return to Sydney he presented Governor Brisbane his Narrative of Mr. Oxley's Expedition. The story of Pamphlet and Finnegan’s survival was published in London in 1825 by former NSW Judge, Barron Field, in his Geographical Memoirs of New South Wales.

On 13 January 1825, less than 18 months after landing in Australia, he was struck down by a remittent fever at the age of 27. His body was interred in the Devonshire Street Cemetery in Sydney, the main burial ground of Sydney at that time.


John Uniacke’s account told to him by Thomas Pamphlett and John Finnegan is listed below: "Lost At Sea (21 March - 15 April, 1823) We left Sydney, March 21st, in a large open boat, of twenty nine feet six inches extreme length over all, and ten feet beams, belonging to william Farrel and Richard Parsons, for the Five Islands, to take in cedar. The crew consisted of Richard Parsons, John Finnegan, John Thompson and myself. We had considerable quantity of provisions, flour, pork &c..., for the purpose of buying cedar, and four gallons of water and five of rum. About four o'clock the same evening, when within seven or eight miles of our destination, a violent gale came on from the west, which forced us to lower all sail, and keep the boat before the sea. The night came on with heavy rain and increasing wind, but we did not lose sight of land till shut out by darkness. The gale continued with the unabated violence for five days, when it moderated; but the sea continued to run so very high, that we were still obliged to keep the boat before it, without being able to carry any sail till the eleventh day, when the sea being much fallen, we made sail, supposing that the current had drifted us to the southward, and that we were then off Van Diemen's Land. We had no compass, but we steered by the sun, as near as we could guess, a N.W. course, expecting very soon to make the land in the neighborhood of the Five Islands, our original destination. Our small stock of water was totally expended on the second day, and the rain we caught in the commencement of the gale was so spoiled by salt water that we were forced to throw it away. Our sufferings were dreadfull, for the following thirteen days, having nothing to drink but rum. We were almost unable to speak, and could with difficulty understand each other. John Thompson, a Scotman, the best hand in the boat (having been an old man of war's man) had become quite delirious from drinking salt water and was totally useless to us. On the fifteenth day (6th April), a heavy shower of rain fell, and our sails being lowered and spread, we caught about a bucket and a half; but from the sails having been so much drenched with salt-water, it was almost useless to us. On the eighteenth day (9th April), a light missling rain fell, when we caught a bucket-full which was much better. Thompson recovered a little on getting some of it, but still continued severely purged and otherwise affected by the salt water he had drunk. We still continued steering the same course, N.W. as we imagined, till the nineteenth day (10th April), when about eleven o'clock am. John Finnegan having gone up to the mast-head, said that he saw land right ahead which he declared to be the headland of Port Stephen, he having formerly worked there; but not being able to credit him, I went up to the mast-head myself, and, after looking earnestly for some time, was unable to determine whether is was land or a cloud: however, we determined to steer for it; but towards evening we lost sight of it entirely. Thompson was at this time very bad, and Finnegan had become quite deaf; while Parsons and myself, though not as bad, were hardly able to speak or move: a dreadful lassitude came over us, and it was with much difficulty we could keep out watch of two hours each. We continued in this state till the twenty-first day (12th April), when at daylight, it being my watch, I distinctly saw land ahead, which, as the morning advanced, appeared to be three or four islands. We made sail for them. Thompson, on hearing this joyous news, apparently revived a little; we had been obliged to bind him hand and foot, three of four days before, to prevent him jumping overboard, being completely deranged: his feet were now untied, when he immediately came after me, imagining we had already been on shore, and entreated for God's sake I would give him fresh water. When he found I was not able to comply with his request, he became worse; raving in the most incoherent manner, saying he had just dined with him family in Scotland, &c.: he then lay down near the well, and in the course of an hour expired. We now stood on for the land till about ten o'clock, pm., when expecting to get on shore at daylight next morning, we have the boat to, being then, according to our judgement, about an hour's run from the shore. We saw plainly the natives round their fires, and intended to keep clear of them, if possible the next day. About mid-night the boat struck on a reef of rocks, but being light, the heave of the sea carried her over it without damage; and when the daylight broke, we found we had drifted so far to sea that the land was barely visible: however, we had a fine fresh favourable breeze and smooth water, and again steered for the same land, and by sunset were within two or three miles of shore, but a little to the north of the place where we gone to the night before. We were, however, fearful of venturing on shore on account of the natives, whom we again distinctly saw; we therefore kept on through the night, steering north. In the morning the wind was light and the water smooth, and we were close in with the shore. I now saw plainly a run of fresh water trickling through the beach, and proposed to take the boat's running rigging and make it fast to the keg, and swim ashore with it, by which means that could hail the fresh water on board; but this was objected to by Parsons, who being half-owner of the boat was afraid of her being lost; we therefore continued our course all day, and towards evening Parsons declared he was dying, and that he must have fresh water if the boat was lost. We therefore looked out for a place to run her ashore or land, but the breakers and swell prevented us; so we continued our course all that night under easy sail. Thompson's body had continued on board all this time, as we constantly expected to be able to land and bury it: it now, however began to grow offensive, and we consulted whether we should not throw it overboard. This was agreed to after some altercation. He was then searched, and in his waistcoat we found his ticket-of-leave sewed up. Parsons then bound a hankerchief over his face, and he was thrown overboard. He had been kept so long that he swam as light as a cork on the water. We continued the whole of this day, the twenty-fourth, running along shore to the northward, without being able to effect a landing; and during the night we ran on the same course under easy sail.

The next morning Finnegan, who was at the helm, said he saw a bight in which we could anchor, with a stream of fresh water running in it. We accordingly steered into it, the water being tolerably smooth, and let go our anchor at about half or quarter of a mile from the shore, and payed out about forty fathoms of cable to let her drift further in. I then stripped, and having made the running rigging fast to the keg, jumped over and attempted to swim for the shore; but I was so weak and exhausted that, what with the little surf, and what with the keg, I was in the water near and hour and a half before I could succeed in landing: but no sooner did my foot touch the ground than I ran to the fresh water, and lying down by it, I drank like a horse. I then returned to the beach for the keg, by which I again left and ran back for another drink. This happened three or four times; and when I attempted to fill the keg. I was quite unable to do it, from weakness and the quantity of water I had swallowed. In the meantime it began to blow very fresh from the eastward, and my companions called loudly to me to come on board to assist in hauling the boat off; but the surf ran so high, and my weakness was such, that I did not dare to venture again into the water; I therefore called to them, as the breeze freshened, to cut the cable and let her run ashore. This, after some time, they did; and with the help of a little swimming, both got safe on shore. The boat rounded on the sandy beach, and in less then five minutes her bottom was stove in. The eagerness of my companions for fresh water even exceeded mine. I had brought on shore a pint tin pot to fill the keg: Parsons emptied this thirteen times in succession; while Finnegan lay down in the water and drank to such excess that his stomach could not retain it, but threw it all up again. This he repeated four several times. We had all of us stripped of our clothes for the purpose of swimming on shore, and the surf now ran so high, that it was impossible to approach the boat for the purpose of getting them; so that we were all perfectly naked, with the exception of an old rug jacket that Finnegan picked up next morning. Moreton Island (15-24 April, 1823)

The beach on which the boat struck was a low sand, surrounded by sand-hills, which did not even afford fire-wood; but had it been ever so abundant, we had not the means of kindling a fire; we therefore ascended the hill, and lay down on the sand to pass the night. It was raining heavily, and I being the weakest was placed in the middle between my companions. We suffered much throughout the night from cold and hunger; and next morning, when day broke, we found the boat had gone to pieces, and that some few of the things in her had drifted ashore. We then went down to the beach, and found three bags of flour, two of which were totally spoiled; but the salt water had not penetrated above two inches into the third. We therefore emptied those which were spoiled, and each took from twenty to thirty pounds of good flour, being as much as we thought we were able to carry. We still imagined we were far to the southward of Port Jackson. Four or five days before we were wrecked, we saw many flying fish and dolphins, and we caught one or two of he former; but it never struck us on that account that we were to the northward of Port Jackson. Accordingly, after making a wretched meal of flour and water, which we mixed in a bucket that had drifted ashore, we set out along the beach in a northerly direction, and continued to walk, as expeditiously as our weakness would allow, till near dark. We then observed a native path striking into the bush, which apparently cut off a bluff head before us a black woman and child, carrying water in a bark vessel. Fearing that if we were seen, this woman would alarm her tribe, we concealed ourselves till they had passed, and then continued our journey. There were several large huts near where we saw the woman; but the men were probably employed in fishing, as we did not see any. After proceeding about a mile, we reached the beach on the other side of the head; and on leaving the bush saw a large hut, near which was a boy amusing himself by throwing a spear at some crows. There were a great number of native dogs round the hut, but they did not appear to notice us. After a short time the boy turning round saw us, and instantly ran into the hut, from which a man now made his appearance. He hastily snatched a spear from the side of the hut and then took hold of the child with the intention of running into the bush; but a very large woman ran out, and throwing the child on her back, instantly disappeared. I now called to the man to stop, when to our astonishment, he answered in good English, "What do you want? Do you wish to kill me?" and then followed the woman. This circumstance convinced us that we were in the neighborhood of some English settlement, and gave us great spirits, as we had now hopes of shortly reaching some place where our wants would be relieved. It will be afterwards seen that we were wrong, and we could never account for this Moreton Islander's being able to speak English, while the natives of Moreton Bay appeared never to have seen a white man before. I then desired Finnegan to go into the hut and fetch some fire, which he did; after which we proceeded, intending to stop at the first fresh water we fell in with. This happened in the course of a mile: it was a shallow pool about six inches deep Here we made a fire, and having mixed some flour and water, made cakes of it, and set them down to roast. While thus employed we saw some native dogs, which appeared to have followed us from the hut; and shortly afterwards I saw a man's head peeping over the bank behind us, and then two or three more. We beckoned them to approach, which, after some time, they did when we offered them some cake, which they pretended to eat, but immediately spat it out again. Their number amounted to about twelve; and they began to feel us about the breast and shoulders in a manner that greatly alarmed us: we therefore prepared to move again, as soon as we had finished our meal. They now became very urgent that we should return with them to the huts we had first seen; but we persisted in proceeding to the northward. They had nets on their backs, with which they made signs that they would catch fish for us; but when they found we were obstinate, some of them prepared to accompany us, and one or two of them took up our bags of flour to carry for us. We proceeded about a mile with them, when we came to another set of huts, into which our conductors invited us; and on our consenting, they appeared quite happy, dancing and singing around us. They then made a fire, near which I lay down to sleep with my bag under my head, while one of the natives remained, as if to take care of me, and keep up the fire. My companions went into one of the large huts, where every sort of attention was shown them, and passed the night there. In the morning, after having breakfasted on some of our cakes, we again set out, accompanied by our kind, friendly natives, who brought us down to the beach, and again seemed very anxious that we should return the way we came, but they did not offer to use any kind of force. We, however, determined to proceed to the northward, supposing that that course would ultimately lead us to Port Jackson; and when they found we would not return, some of them, as before, accompanied us on our way. After proceeding about three miles, they lead us into the bush, where we found more huts. Here again they wished us to remain; but after sitting with them about an hour, we proceeded much against their wish, accompanied by one of their number. We walked along the beach, and past several more huts, but the inhabitants did not appear to take any notice of us. At the last of these huts our guide left us, pointing out another station at some distance, and making signs that, by proceeding, we should fall in with a canoe. He also took us to a rising ground, where he indicated a point of land at some distance, which (as the place where we where appeared to be an island) we imagined to be the mainland. We then proceeded till about three or four o'clock in the afternoon, when we found near the beach four or five large huts, apparently deserted, and there being a good run of water near them, we resolved to pass the night there. The next day, finding the natives did not appear, we determined to remain till the following morning, in order to refresh ourselves a little. We then again proceeded on our journey, and continued travelling along the beach for the following five days, without meeting any natives, or anything worth notice. Our feet being sore, we were not able to walk far at a time, and we helped out our flour from time to time with cockles and other shell-fish, which we met with in our way.

On the fifth day we arrived at a high sand point, where we found our further progress stopped by a channel about three miles wide, through which the tide appeared to run very rapidly. We were now certain that we had been through on an island, and our thoughts were therefore directed towards the means of reaching the main land. At the back of the sand-hill, we found a small well of fresh water, which had been dug by the natives; near this we made a fire and passed the night. We observed fires on the opposite shore, and early the next morning we kindled a large one down on the beach, which being seen by the natives, one of them passed over in a large canoe. As he approached, however, we retired behind the hill; and when he had hauled up his canoe, he made directly for the fire. We then made our appearance, but no sooner did he observe our colour that he ran back to his boat, and jumping in, pushed rapidly off, shouting and roaring with all his might. In the meantime, another canoe was launched from the opposite side with two men, who met the first about half across the channel, and they then both paddled towards the place where we were sitting. When they had landed, we were unwilling to approach them, lest they should again be frightened, and therefore remained sitting quietly by our fire. The three men then approached cautiously towards us, and, having examined us at a distance, returned to their boats, and made signals with some pieces of bark to those on the opposite shore, when two more canoes pushed off, with five or six men in each; and, as soon as these had landed, the whole party, to the number of fourteen, approached us. They were perfectly naked, and had neither spears nor any other kind of weapon with them. They still appeared shy of coming near us, but at last one man came close to the fire, and on our making signs, two or three more followed his example, and in a short time the whole party had formed a circles round us. Parsons happened to have a pair of scissors which had belonged to Thompson, and their beards being very long, he commenced cutting them, which appeared to delight them greatly. They remained an hour with us; and on rising to go away, we got our bags on our backs, and prepared to accompany them. This, however, they did not seem inclined to permit, but ran down quickly to their boats. We then endeavoured to secure on of their canoes, but they were too quick for us, and jumping in, pushed them rapidly away. We now began to despair of being able to quit the island, and returned very unhappy to some deserted huts, which we had seen about three miles before we arrived to the point.

Crossing the Passage (25-27 April, 1823) Here we passed the night, and next morning returned to the point, in hopes of being still able to persuade the natives to take us across the channel. On approaching it, our joy was excessive at seeing the large canoe, that had appeared first on the preceding day, lying on the beach without any person near it. On looking round, however, we saw two natives, who were apparently proceeding towards the place where our boat had been lost, for we now found we had walked nearly round the island. They did not appear to notice us, but kept on their way, upon which we proceeded with all speed to secure the canoe. On examination, we feared that it would not carry us all three with our bags, &c.; so, having consulted awhile, I agreed to remain behind, and let Parsons and Finnegan cross over, when it was stipulated that one of them should return and fetch me. They accordingly pushed off, and I retreated to the top of the hill, from whence I was able to see them the whole way across. On the canoe's approaching the shore, I could perceive a great number of natives walking out in the water to meet them, which made me very apprehensive that they were about to destroy them; and when they had landed, the whole crowd got round them and moved in towards the bush, which at last hid them from sight. I remained looking out till evening, expecting to see the canoe every minute, but in vain. I therefore returned to the little well, where we had passed the first night, and having kindled a fire, spent a very wretched night, being greatly alarmed lest my companions should have some misfortune. In the morning, I returned to the beach and made a large fire, in hopes that, on seeing it, the canoe would return for me. However, I was again disappointed, nor was I able to perceive a single native on the shore the whole day. I now began to lament my hard fate, in being left along in this desolate place, where, after little flour I had was expended, I must expect to perish eith by hunger or the hostility of the natives; and I returned to the well, fully convinced that I should never again see either of my unfortunate companions. The next morning, in walking along the shore, near the point, I saw a large cask, which had drifted ashore from some vessel. Conceiving it might contain some provisions or spirits, I set to work to get some of the hoops off; but when I had succeeded, I found to my disappointment, that it contained only six other casks, one inside the other. They appeared quite fresh, and had not been long in the water: they seemed to be intended to hold oil. While thus employed, I gave many an anxious look to the opposite shore. I was proceeding up the hill again, when I saw the canoe put off with two persons in it, whom, on its nearer approach, I ascertained to be Finnegan and one of the natives. On reaching the beach, the native took his nets on his shoulder, and marched off in the same direction as the two who had before left the canoe; but before he went, he made signs for me to go back with Finnegan. Finnegan now told me that nothing could exceed the kindness with which they had been treated by the natives, who had lodged them in a large hut by themselves, and given them as much fish as they could eat, but that they could not before persuade the natives to let the canoe come over for me; and it was only by accident he was now enabled to come with the native I had seen, who was going to visit his friends on the island. The tide was now running out of the channel with great rapidity, and I wished Finnegan either to pull along shore for some distance, or to wait till the tide slacked; but he obstinately persisted in pulling straight across without delay. I was obliged to comply, and pushed off; but no sooner had we left the shore than, in spite of all our efforts, the current took us out to sea. We still continued paddling for about a hour and half, by which time we had drifted out close to the breakers, which were very heavy all round us; and, as we had no hope of the canoe's living if she once got among them, we redoubled our efforts, but to no purpose: we were soon in the midst of them; but, contrary to our expectations, the little canoe rode it out much better than a larger boat would have done. We soon got clear of them, and were now in the open sea beyong them. The tide still continued very strong, and we did not relax our efforts to gain the opposite shore, where we saw the natives, and Parsons in the midst of them, running along and watching our progress. At last, after about five hours' hard paddling, the tide turned, and we reached the shore in safety, eight miles from the place where we had originally intended to land. We found Parsons and a number of natives waiting on the beach, and were received by them with many demonstrations of joy. They lifted the canoe into the bush, and presented us with several roasted fish, and then conducted us to their huts.

Stradbroke Island (27 April - 3 June, 1823) They placed us in a very large well-built hut by ourselves, and supplied us with fish, water, &c., very liberally. Here we remained for a week or ten days, during which time we were most hospitably treated by the natives. They would not, however, suffer us to approach the huts in which their women were, for the first five or six days; and at night five or six of the younger men would sleep in front of our hut. But they afterwards became less vigilant, and we used to pass through their huts among the women as we pleased. Having now recovered our strength in some degree, and being much refreshed, after consulting together, Parsons and I resolved to continue our endeavours to reach Sydney; but we had some difficulty in persuading Finnegan to accompany us. He said that the blacks were so friendly that he wished to remain with them, sooner than encounter the difficulty and danger of attempting to return to any of our settlements. At length, however, he consented to go; and accordingly, early in the morning, about the tenth day, we set out in a westerly direction, in order to get round the large bay, of which the island that we had originally been thrown upon forms the eastern boundary. We had saved as much of our flour as possible, so that our stock still amount to about forty pounds, the greater part of which Parsons carried. Finnegan carried the rest, and a stick of fire; while I bore an axe and a tin pot, which we had saved from the wreck. The natives had pointed out an island, that was just visible, towards the bottom of the bay. After we had proceeded about ten miles, the fire went out, at which Parsons, who was a very violent, passionate man, declared he would kill Finnegan now begged for mercy, and said he would make all haste back to a place where he had passed a native fire, about three or four miles back. Accordingly he departed; but after waiting at least five hours, on his not making his appearance, we resolved to return ourselves. We left our flour, &c., in the bush, and retraced our steps to the fire. It was nearly extinguished, but after some difficulty, I succeeded in making it burn. Here we stopped an hour, in hopes that Finnegan would appear; but on the approach of evening, we thought it best to return to the place where we had left our provisions. We therefore set forward, each caring a stick of fire this time, lest one should fail us. However, just as we reached the place, to our mortification and sorrow, both sticks became extinguished, so that, our flour being the only food we had, and having no fire to dress it, we determined to take two or three pounds of it with us, and go back once more to the fire, which we had taken precaution of making up, before we left it. The night was far advanced when we reached it a second time, and having made a cake of our flour and eaten it, we lay down for the night. In the morning we baked the remainder of our flour; and, after remaining two or three hours, in expectation that Finnegan would still come, we again walked on to the place where we had left our provisions, each this time carrying two large sticks of fire. we justly concluded that Finnegan had returned to the natives, whom we had left the day before, and therefore took no further concern about him, but pushed on with what expedition we could towards the place where the natives had given us to understand we should find the canoe. About four o'clock p.m., we arrived at some huts in the immediate vicinity of the place they had pointed out, but were too much fatigued to look for the canoe that night; and having found water in a swamp hard by, and lighted a fire, we made a cake for supper, and slept in the huts. From this time forwards, we always took the precaution of lighting a fire every two or three miles as we travelled, that we might not again experience the same inconvenience.

Next morning, we proceeded to search for the canoe, and found it exactly in the place where the natives had given us to understand we should. We then took it down to the water, in order to ascertain if it would carry us both; but it had been so long exposed to the heat of the sun that it opened in several places, and would not float with one of us. This was a dreadful disappointment, as the beaches began to be covered with mangrove trees so thickly as to prevent our proceeding along them, and, having no shoes, we were unable to walk through the bush. Therefore, after having consulted a short time, we determined on going back to the blacks, especially as we expected to find Finnegan there. We accordingly took our flour, &c., and immediately set out on our return. By nightfall we had arrived within three or four miles of their huts; here we found a fire and fresh water, and remained all night. Next morning, the tide being high, the mangroves prevented us from walking on the beach. We were there obliged to remain till towards low water, when, just as we were about to start, we saw Finnegan, accompanied by two natives, approaching the canoe, and were fearful lest we should take them. They were bringing Finnegan with them, that we might no hurt them, but as soon as they saw us, they made signs to him to return with us. This however we would not allow, as we were very much enraged at his leaving us, in the way he did, without fire, and were resolved to have nothing more to do with him. We therefore made him proceed with the natives to the canoe-huts, while we went on in the other direction, towards the huts where we had lived with the natives. About half a mile before we reached them, we saw the natives fishing: they had been very successful, and on seeing us they immediately put a quantity of whitings on the fire, nor would they allow us to proceed till we had filled ourselves with them. They then conducted us to our old quarters, and having kindled a fire, they left us some fish, and went out again to catch more. We now set about making ourselves as comfortable as we could, when just at nightfall we were surprised by the return of Finnegan and the two blacks with their nets. They had travelled the distance in one day, which it took us three days to perform, and had forced him to keep up with them. He was dreadfully fatigued; but his companions, after leaving him, went out and procured fish and fern-root for him and themselves. We now became reconciled to him, and were all as friendly as ever, resting ourselves for the next three days in the hut, where the blacks regularly brought us fish and fern-root, which later they called dingowa (65). We now consulted whether we had better take one of their canoes by night, or endeavour to make one ourselves; and having decided upon the latter, we made choice of a tree, and immediately fell to work to cut it down and form a canoe. We worked from sunrise to sunset for nearly three weeks, having no other tool but the hatchet; and during the whole time the natives brought us food, where we were at work, and likewise left fish in our hut daily. During the whole of this time, Finnegan refused to work with us, which the blacks observing, frequently took the axe out of our hands and offered it to him, making signs that he should use it, and, on his continuing refuse, they no longer brought him food, though to us they continued a liberal supply. He was consequently obliged to procure fern-root, &c., for himself. At the expiration of three weeks, our canoe being complete, the natives would not allow us to launch it, but did it themselves; and when they saw it afloat, with Parsons and me in it, their joy and admiration knew no bounds: they leaped, danced, and roared, following us up and down the beach. Being now satisfied that it would answer our purpose, we landed, and the natives rolled the canoe up again on the beach, not allowing us to touch it. The remainder of the evening was spent in making preparations for our departure, Finnegan still refusing to go with us, notwithstanding our entreaties that he would. The natives having given us a quantity of fish, &c., Parsons and I set out next afternoon with the flood-tide. We had not proceeded above a quarter of a mile, when the natives, perceiving that Finnegan did not accompany us, hastily launched a canoe, and two of them embarking, he was by the rest forced to follow, when they paddled quickly towards us; but we had gotten round a sandbank that lay off some distance from the shore. They therefore pulled to the bank and made Finnegan land on it, where they left him and went back to the huts. As he was unable to swim, he would have been drowned when the tide rose, if we had not pulled back for him, as we immediately did. Crossing Moreton Bay (3-5 June, 1823) Being once more all together, we made the best of our way for the island before-mentioned, to which the blacks had advised us to steer, and about eleven o'clock at night we reached it. We immediately secured the canoe, and made a good fire, which was scarcely done when it began to rain, and continued to pour incessantly during the night. The next morning, the rain having cleared off, we proceeded to the opposite side of the island with the canoe, where we procured some fern-root, with which we pushed off for the other side of the bay. The tide being strong, we did not reach the shore till after dark, when we found six or seven huts and some fire. We could hear the natives, who appeared to have just left this place, making much noise, a little to the southward, where they were fishing, but did not come near us that night.

The next morning we went up to a rising ground at the back of the huts, from which we could command a good view of the country. From this place we saw another point far to the northward, but the distance appeared so great, and the shore appeared to recede so far, that we were afraid to venture across in our canoe; we therefore returned to the huts, and having drawn up our canoe on the beach, we set out to walk round the bay. The mangroves wre so thick that we could not long keep the shore, but followed a native path which seemed to lead in the direction we wished to proceed in.

The Brisbane River and Redcliffe (7-30 June, 1823) On the third day we arrived on the bank of a large river, at a place where it was evident the natives use to cross over; but it was too wide for us to attempt to swim, and we could not find a canoe; we therefore resolved to go up the river until we should find some means of crossing it. Accordingly we travelled on for nearly a month, being very much impeded by the number of salt creeks, which we were obliged to walk round, as neither of my companions were able to swim sufficiently well to attempt crossing them.

At last we reached the bank of a creek (Oxley Creek), on the opposite side of which we saw two canoes; one of these I was resolved to procure. I accordingly swam across, but I found myself so weak (as we had now lived for a month on fern-root), that I was with great difficulty I reached the other side. I loosed the canoe, and brought it back to my companions. It was, however, so small that it would not carry more than two of us at a time. I therefore took Parsons over the main river first, and then returned for Finnegan; but we found the brush so thick, and the country so rough, that it was impossible for us, naked and shoeless as we were, to travel it. I was therefore obliged to take them back in the same manner, to the place we had left.

We then commenced our return the was we had come, but we had not in returning any thing like that difficulty which we experienced in coming up, since, whenever we came to a river or creek, instead of travelling seven or eight days in order to get round it, we were enabled to cross it in the canoe. We thus continued for two or three days, Parsons and Finnegan walking, and I paddling down in the canoe, till on the opposite side of the river we found another; and being all now able to float down the river, we agreed to rest where we were a few days, in order to lay in a stock of fern-root.

While thus employed, we fell in with a party of blacks, who were going to fish with their nets, and on our asking them, they gave us a good mean of fish; but the next day they wished, they made an attempt to seize our canoes. We were fortunate enough, however, to get them out of their reach, and proceeded on our journey. In two days afterwards we reached the mouth of the river, where, on a sand-bank at the entrance, I was so lucky as to kill five large sting-rays, which afforded us some good meals. The river, as high up as we reached, was brackish, and a very strong tide ran in it: it was above a quarter of a mile wide where we turned back. We now left the smaller canoe, and my companions walked along the beach, while I, in the other canoe, pulled along the shore. In this manner we continued our course to the northward for three days, and on the evening of the third day reached the point which had been originally pointed out to us by the blacks on the island, where our boat was lost. This was the 101st day after we left Sydney, Parsons and I having kept a strict account thus far; but from this time forward we totally lost our reckoning.

I had brought Parsons across the last bay in the canoe, and had promised to go back immediately for Finnegan; but he, having walked a little distance further along the shore, found a canoe, in which were twenty or thirty large fish. This he immediately seized, and we had scarcely landed, when we perceived him paddling towards us. On his approach, he called out to us to make a good fire, as he had plenty of fish; upon which we ran down to the shore, and as soon as he landed, having hauled up the canoe, we carried the fish to some empty huts which we found hard by. In the meantime, the natives who owned the canoe began to call out, and at length followed Finnegan across in another canoe to the number of about ten. By this time several of the natives on the side of which we were, being alarmed by the noise, had joined them, and they all proceeded towards the huts.

We had now for several weeks lived almost entirely on fern roots, which being but a poor kind of food, together with the fatigue of travelling so far under a burning sun without clothes, had weakened and emaciated us very much, and we resolved to run every risk sooner than lose the fish we had thus obtained: we therefore placed them under some bark, and I took my axe and Finnegan a stick, being determined not to lose them without a struggle. However, when the natives approached, they seemed at once struck with out miserable condition; and instead of attempting to repossess themselves of the fish, some who had their nets with them instantly set to work to procure more for us; and one or two fetched us as much dingowa as they could carry. The next night they took us to their huts, where they entertained us in the same hospitable manner as the blacks, with whom we had before lived, had done."


Narration for the second half of the transcript written by John Uniake, was by John Finnegan as Thomas Pamphlett was sick. Pamphlett's narrative describes the events that took place until the castaways arrived at Clontarf Point on the Redcliffe Peninsula on the 101st day after they had left Sydney. That was 30 June. It was at this point in narrating the story that Pamphlett became ill and the narration was continued by Finnegan. Unfortunately Finnegan took up the story from the time of their arrival at Bribie, with the result that the journey from Redcliffe to Bribie was never recorded.


Bribie to Maroochydore (Oct-Nov, 1823) "We had resided with these blacks about four or five days, when Pamphlet, having gone out fishing with them one day, came back and said it was useless to remain there any longer, as he had seen the head of Jevis's Bay at a distance of about fifteen miles, and, therefore, proposed to go it the next day. To this Parsons agreed; but as I had every reason to fear violence from Parsons, who had once or twice attempted to kill me, I resolved to remain where I was for the present, till I had fairly gotten rid of him, and then to attempt to travel by myself. They accordingly set out the next morning, and I remained behind, with the chief of the tribe, who had been very kind to me ever since our arrival here.

However, the next evening Parsons and Pamphlet, being unable to procure food, returned to the huts. Here we all remained for about a month; during which time we were distributed in different huts among the natives, the old chief always keeping me with him, while every one of the tribe contributed to our support, one bringing fish, another dingowa, and so on; so that we were as comfortable as we could expect to be in our situation. At the end of a month we again grew anxious to get home, if possible, and accordingly resolved to make one more effort. Having collected a great quantity of fish and dingowa, we set out one afternoon, and pursued our course northward along the beach for about ten miles: here we intended to pass the night; but just as we had made our fire, four of the blacks, with whom we had been living, came up with us, and used every entreaty to make us return with them. However, we imagined that they only followed us in consequence of our having promised them the axe and some other things, which we had not given them; and that in all probability more of their tribe would arrive before morning; we therefore drove them away, and proceeded about a mile further, and there rested for the night.

We resumed our journey very early next morning, and in the course of the day were overtaken by a black man and woman belonging to the tribe we had left. These people also tried to prevail on us to return, but without success; and after accompanying us about a mile, they struck into the bush and left us. Towards evening we came to a river, which appeared too considerable for us to attempt to cross; we therefore rested on the bank that night, and next morning went up it about a mile. Here we found a canoe, and brought it down to the place where we had slept, and in the afternoon at low-water we crossed the river in it, and rested on the other bank that night.

The next morning proceeded on our journey, and in the course of the day fell in with another smaller river, on the bank of which were a number of huts. Here we found an old black man, who was unable to move, both his legs and arms having been broken at some distant period, and never having been set. There were also three women, with some children, all eating fish, with which, on our arrival, they instantly supplied us. Here we stopped for three days, and on the second evening met some natives, among whom we were surprised to see a man belonging to the tribe with whom we had tarried so long; he was one of the four who had followed us the day we left them. This man, when we first arrived among his tribe, was laid up with a spearwound in the knee, and was cured by Pamphlet, by extracting part of the spear that had broken in the wound. He had in consequence become much attached to Pamphlet, whose feet had become extremely sore, at last consented. His friend was then on his way to a great meeting of the natives, where he was to fight the man who had wounded him. Accordingly the next morning, Pamphlet and he set out together for the fight, while Parsons and I pursued our journey.

Noosa, Bribie, and Rescue (November, 1823) The next day we crossed the river, and continued travelling for two days longer, when, arriving at the bank of another river, a quarrel arose between Parsons and me, on which he opened his knife and swore he would murder me. I then ran into the bush, and he followed me: however, I succeeded in getting away from him, and travelled till evening with great expedition up the bank of the river. At night-fall I met a party of blacks crossing the river in three canoes, and endeavoured by signs to make them understand that I wished to cross too. This they would not allow, but made me turn back with a fishing black and his wife, who, after four days, brought me to the place from whence I had at first set out. Here I found Pamphlet, and was again received by the old chief with the greatest kindness, he seeming quite delighted with my return. The day following Finnegan's return, the old chief being about to go with several of his tribe to a fight at some distance, took Finnegan along with him. He was very anxious for me also to accompany him, but on my making signs to him that my feet were still very sore, he permitted me to remain behind without further solicitation. I now daily accompanied the men of the tribe on their fishing excursions, and was always supplied by them in the most liberal manner. They would not even allow me to roast the fish or pound the dingowa, which they gave me, but always brought them ready dressed. One day, however, the old man in whose hut I lived, having caught several large fish, did not give me any, as was usual with him; and on my asking for some, he refused me rather gruffly, Upon this, fancying they might be getting tired of me, I resolved to leave them, and accordingly, taking my axe, I set out at once, in order to attempt, if possible, to rejoin Parsons. I had not, however, gone far, when I was followed by four of the young men, who made use of every persuasion in their power to entice me back, to which I at last consented, the more readily as each of them brought two spears, and I was not quite certain what use they would have put them to, had I persisted in my refusal. After this I lived with them in the same manner as before, expecting Finnegan's return every day; but having now lost our reckoning for some time, I cannot form any idea how long I remained, or what time Finnegan was away.

At last, one evening, as I was sitting by the fire and the blacks were roasting fish for me, I heard some natives shouting on the beach and calling me; upon which I rose and walked slowly towards them; but what was my astonishment and delight, when I saw a cutter under full sail standing up the bay, about three miles from where we stood! I instantly made towards her with all the speed I could, followed by a number of the natives; but before I had run half the distance, she came to an anchor within half a quarter of a mile of the shore. On coming abreast the vessel I hailed her, and was immediately answered; and shortly afterwards a boat pushed off from her from which landed Mr. Oxley, the Surveyor-General, Lieutenant Stirling of the Buffs, and the recorder of this narrative.

An original lithograph from the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia published in 1886 by Andrew Garran Volume 2, p.316.

I now learned, to my great surprise, that I was at least five hundred miles to the northward of Port Jackson, instead of being, as we always imagined, to the southward of Jervis's Bay. I was taken on board the vessel that evening, where, after I was cleaned I was decently clothed and humanely treated; but my head and heart were so much affected by this unexpected turn of fortune, that I was unable to answer any questions that were put to me that night. The next morning, however, I became more collected; and in the course of the day my satisfaction was greatly increased by the return of Finnegan, who experienced the same kind of treatment that I had previously done. I now found that upwards of eight months had elapsed since I left Sydney; consequently, I had spent nearly five of them with these hospitable natives of Moreton Bay. Their behaviour to me and my companions had been so invariably kind and generous, that, notwithstanding the delight I felt at the idea of once more returning to my home, I did not leave them without since regret. Mr. Oxley and Mr. Stirling set out the following morning, taking Finnegan with them, in order to examine the river which we had been so long in attempting to cross; and on their return, in five or six days, the Mermaid cutter got under way, and we all set sail for Sydney."


John Uniacke:

John Fitzgerald Uniacke (1798-1825) was the son of the member for Younghall in the Irish House of Commons. His mother was a niece of the first Marquis of Waterford. At the time of his visit to Moreton Bay he was Superintendent of Distilleries in New South Wales, at a salary of £775 per annum

In 1823 Uniacke accompanied Oxley and Stirling on an expedition to Port Curtis and Moreton Bay in search of a site for a penal settlement. He had probably, like Oxley and Stirling, been appointed to the expedition by Governor Brisbane.

In this voyage he is designated as "super cargo of H.M. cutter Mermaid, that is, treasurer and storekeeper for the expedition.

He was evidently a naturalist, for, in his journal37, he mentioned that he "collected specimens of minerals on Facing Island for the Governor"38, and that he stayed at Pumicestone Channel

"to shoot rare birds" and to make observations of the natives.

On 23 June 1824, Uniacke was appointed Sheriff and Provost Master of New South Wales. He died of a fever in Sydney on 13th January 1825. After his death, his effects (including perhaps the manuscript , were sold by public auction.

A complete transcript narrative of Thomas Pamphlett and John Finnegan - by John Uniacke is available as a 16 page downloadable pdf file at:



2,181 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page