John Oxley’s Visit to The Gladstone Region in 1823

John Oxley’s Visit to The Gladstone Region in 1823

By Noel Bowley

John Oxley was tasked to assess locations for future settlements in Queensland. To do this, he set off in the 80 ton cutter Mermaid. Mermaid was a yacht type vessel with a single mast and two foresails. Its captain was Lieutenant Stirling (Oxley was a surveyor, not a ship’s captain).

On reaching Port Curtis, he called in at Gatcombe Head to check for fresh water. On 5th November 1823, he then moved over to the mainland towards Barney Point. His party explored a few miles to the south on foot. It was then, he decided to explore a freshwater stream Oxley had seen by telescope when anchored at Facing Island (Boyne River). They assembled their party and travelled up the Boyne River in the Mermaid’s work boat. 

The expedition rowed up the river to above where the Awoonga Dam Wall has now been built. This would have been quite a task, given the obstacles such as Mann’s Bar and Pikes Crossing and any shoal areas. They returned to the Mermaid and sailed north to check on other locations such as Bowen. In his report, Oxley was not impressed with Port Curtis as a settlement site as it was hilly and stony. Timber was of poor quality and the river showed debris that indicated it sometimes flooded severely (25 foot deep). Mosquito plagues made life miserable for the ship’s crew members. However, twenty four years later Colonel Barney arrived in New Auckland and then decided to settle there.

Oxley’s efforts were recognised as important to the region, when the bridge was built connecting Boyne Island and Tannum Sands and it was named the John Oxley Bridge. A park nearby was named Stirling Park to remember the skipper of the Mermaid. Stirling Park used to have a plaque about Oxley’s visit but it is not there now but it’s expected to be refurbished and reinstated.

Let us remember our history from 200 years ago!

Photo is courtesy of Gladstone Regional Council: The John Oxley Bridge

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