Thomas Pamphlett, Richard Parsons and John Finnegan
Updated: Mar 13
The three men are attributed as being the first Europeans to live in the Moreton Bay region.
Thomas Pamphlett (Also known as James Groom) and fellow "ticket of leave" convicts Richard Parsons and John Thompson, along with full convict John Finnegan, were hired by settler William Cox to fetch cedar from the Illawarra District, or the Five Islands, now known as Wollongong, 50 miles (80 km) south of Sydney. They set sail on their maiden voyage on 21st March 1823 in an open boat 29 feet (8.8 m) in length and 10 feet (3.0 m) in beam. On board were large quantities of pork and flour and five gallons of rum to buy cedar from the timber cutters, plus four gallons of water.
They got to within sight of Illawarra when a strong breeze blew them away from the coast. The wind became stronger, heavy rain fell and it got dark. They were blown further out to sea. It was five days before they could use any sail, and they drank the water and the rum. Prevailing winds and currents may have taken them most of the way across the Tasman Sea toward New Zealand.
They were hopelessly lost. They thought they had drifted south and headed northwest to try to get back to Illawarra and Sydney. Pamphlett spotted land on their twenty-second day at sea. Before they could land, Thompson succumbed to the lack of fresh water and the elements, and collapsed and died. They kept his body on board, thinking they would be able to land and bury him, but they couldn't find a spot free of wild surf so buried him at sea after two days. Pamphlett, Finnegan and Parsons finally landed on Moreton Island on 15th April 1823. Thinking Sydney was to the north, they set off along the beach in this direction with two sacks of flour and a few other items. They spent the next seven and a half months walking around Moreton Bay, island hopping, and following river and creek banks until they could find a way of crossing them. They lived for periods with several Aboriginal tribes who fed them fish and fernroot and thought they were the ghosts of dead kinsmen due to their pale colour.
Passing Cape Moreton, they followed the shore until they reached the South Passage, when they realized that they were on an island. They crossed the passage in a native canoe and were cared for by the indigenous at Amity Point. There they built a canoe of their own and paddled to Peel Island and finally to the mainland near Cleveland, where they abandoned their canoe.
Now able to walk northwards again, they reached the mouth of the Brisbane River but were unable to cross it. They walked upstream in search of a canoe and eventually found one at
Oxley Creek, crossing on 23rd June 1823.
After returning to the mouth of the river, they followed the shore of Moreton Bay to Clontarf Point on the Redcliffe Peninsula which they reached on 30th June 1823.
Nothing further is known of them until their arrival at the southern end of Bribie Island on 26th September 1823. After staying with the natives for a month or so, they resumed their journey northwards, arriving in Noosa on the 13th November 1823.
Pamphlett and Finnegan each returned separately to Bribie, where they were found on 29th and 30th November, respectively, by John Oxley in the Mermaid.
An original lithograph from the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia published in 1886 by Andrew Garran Volume 2, p.316.
On 29th November 1823, Pamphlett was with his indigenous friends on the beach at Bribie Island cooking the day's catch when he saw small government cutter Mermaid in the bay. It was explorer John Oxley who had been searching up and down the coast for a new convict settlement. Only then did Pamphlett learn that Sydney was over 500 miles (800 km) to the south rather than to the north. He told part of his story to crew member John Uniacke. Next day they picked up Finnegan who was returning from a tribal fight.
Finnegan accompanied Oxley on his exploration of the Brisbane River, while Pamphlett assisted Uniacke and others with aspects of Aboriginal culture and remained on the Mermaid in Pumicestone Channel.
All returned to Sydney on the Mermaid. Parsons had last been seen (by Finnegan) at Noosa. He continued travelling north, but eventually he also returned to Bribie, where he was found by Oxley in the "Amity" in September 1824.
Oxley took Pamphlett and Finnegan back to Sydney. A year and a half later, as a labourer at Portland Head west of Sydney, Pamphlett committed another crime. He stole two bags of flour, the very food that had initially kept him alive at Moreton Bay. In a further irony, he was sentenced to seven years’ transportation to the new Moreton Bay penal colony, which had been set up after a favourable report on the area by Oxley, thanks to Pamphlett and Finnegan. The Moreton Bay settlement became Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, Australia.
Pamphlett died in Sydney in 1838 aged 50 years. Little else is known of what happened to Richard Parsons or John Finnegan.
Complete map of route taken by castaways in 1823 added to Robert Dixon's map of 1842:
A complete transcript narrative of Thomas Pamphlet - by John Uniacke is available to download at the following link:
From the book The Pictorial History Of Redcliffe 1824-1949.
Thomas Pamphlett, Richard Parsons and John Finnegan are 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: