In a quiet courtyard between William Street and George Street can be found the footprint of the cottage constructed for the commandants of Moreton Bay. A long building with one verandah facing the river and one facing north, it was located away from those places occupied by convicts and soldiers. High on the bank it addressed the river and overlooked a tropical garden.
Not all commandants occupied the cottage. Not all commandants had wives who journeyed to this distant outpost with their soldier husbands. Jane Miller, the wife of first commandant Henry Miller (1784-1866), was the mother of three boys when she moved into the prefabricated wooden building that first housed the Commandant. Their youngest son had been born during the initial settlement period at Redcliffe, prior to the removal of convicts and soldiers to the Brisbane River site.
Julia Bishop, wife of the second commandant Peter Bishop, was not with her husband in the Moreton Bay Penal Colony when Commandant Bishop replaced Henry Miller in August 1825. Bishop described the accommodations as ‘merely temporary, being constructed of slabs and plastering’. Bishop was replaced by Patrick Logan in March 1826.
Patrick Logan (1796-1830), with his wife Letitia Anne, her sister Hannah Charlotte O’Beirne, son Robert Abraham and daughter Letitia Bingham (born in the cottage in 1826), occupied the commandant’s cottage until Logan’s death in October 1830. Assistant Surgeon Murray wrote to his sister of Letitia Logan, describing her as a very nice woman who could not have been more kind and attentive. He found her sister, Charlotte O’Beirne, likeable and always enjoyed his visits to the cottage, referring to it, correctly for the time, as Government House. The story of Letitia Anne Logan would be perhaps the most tragic of all the women who lived in the cottage. Following Logan’s death while exploring in the Brisbane Valley, Letitia Logan returned to Sydney accompanied by Surgeon Murray and her small family group. Patrick Logan was buried in the Devonshire Street/Surry Hills Cemetery there.
Moreton Bay Commandant between October 1830 and November 1835, Captain James Clunie (1795-1851), was not married at the time of his posting to the penal settlement. Sadly, one of his first duties was to establish the events that had led to the death of his predecessor. James Clunie served for a short period as a magistrate in Sydney before serving with his regiment, the 17th Regiment, in India. He eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Captain Foster Fyans (1790-1870) from the 4th (Kings Own) Regiment was likewise not married when he served as Commandant of Moreton Bay, from November 1835 until July 1837. Foster Fynes had been Captain of the Guard at Norfolk Island. Hoping for a position in the Civil Service he was appointed Commandant to Moreton Bay. There, in his own words, he found ‘tractable material, successfully balanced discipline and humanity’. During his time the number of convicts sent to Moreton Bay decreased and those who were at the settlement had shorter sentences. The idea of opening the area up to free settlement had begun to take hold. In 1837 Fynes’ regiment was ordered to India. At the same time the new town of Geelong in Victoria required a magistrate. Foster Fyans was chosen for Geelong.
The next Commandant of Moreton Bay was Captain Sydney John Cotton (1792-1874) from the 28th Regiment. He was Commandant from July 1837 to May 1839, when the penal settlement was moving steadily towards free settlement. Cotton had married Marianne Hackett in 1822 and they had four children, two boys and two girls. From a high of 1,020 convicts in 1831, by 1837 the numbers of convicts in Brisbane had been reduced to 300.
As commandants, Lieutenant Gravatt (1839) and Lieutenant Gorman (1839-42) oversaw a steadily reducing convict population. By 1839 there were no female prisoners and only 94 males and transportation to Moreton Bay had stopped. During his time as Commandant, Gorman was accused of immoral conduct and was responsible for the dismissal of the surveyor Robert Dixon. He also found an easier route through to the Darling Downs, now known as Gorman’s Gap.
In February 1842 Brisbane was declared open for free settlement.
And so to the last occupant…
The final resident of the Commandant’s Cottage was John Wickham (1798-1864) who was appointed the police magistrate at Moreton Bay in November 1842 and took up his position in January 1843. He lived in the cottage with his first wife, the former Anna MacArthur, whom he had married in 1842. By now the Commandant’s Cottage was not in good condition and in 1847 Wickham purchased the property known as Newstead (today’s Newstead House) from his brother-in-law, Patrick Leslie. It became the unofficial Government House.
The Commandant’s Cottage was demolished and in 1862 the Queensland Government Printing Office was erected on and around the site.