Place of the Dead Houses
‘Come along, Amity. It’s your bedtime now.’
‘Mum, I’m trying to brush my hair but it’s full of snarls.’
‘Let me tease them out of your curls then we’ll lie down together for a story.’ As Mary Thompson took the brush from her daughter she asked, ‘What tale do you want to hear tonight, Amity?’
‘Oh Mum, please tell me about the time we went to Humpybong, when I was a baby.’
Laughing, Mary hugged her daughter as the two of them snuggled down together in the large featherbed. After they were settled her story began.
‘On September 14th in 1824 your father and I, your five year old brother John, three officers, soldiers, and their families all went ashore at Red Cliff Point. We also had twenty nine convicts in our landing party. This location, near the mouth of Humpybong Creek, was the place where Governor Brisbane told us to build a prison settlement. When we first landed the site looked beautiful with its red cliffs, a good supply of fresh water and wide open spaces. Forests behind the shore were filled with tall trees so the business of house building began later on that very day.’
‘Was I with you and Father then?’
‘You were still growing inside me and you must have been eager to see Red Cliff because you were born one week later on the 21st of September. Everyone was so pleased to welcome you, the first baby to arrive in the new settlement. We named you, Amity Moreton Thompson, after the Brig, Amity that brought us to this place.’
‘What’s a brig, Mum?’
‘My little darling, a brig is a two masted ship with large square sails. Captain Charles Penson took all of us on board at Sydney. The explorer, John Oxley, joined us with sheep, goats, pigs, seeds and plants for our new colony. We carried extra provisions for six months to keep us alive and well. It took two weeks to sail up to Moreton Bay on that very crowded ship.’
‘What happened after that?’
‘All the men, soldiers and convicts, set about building homes for the families and barracks for the prisoners to sleep in. Later they constructed a store, a kitchen and weir well, the soldiers’ barracks and a commandment’s house. Gardens were dug and planted so we could begin to grow fresh food. Within several months we had settled in quite well until one by one, things began to go wrong.’
‘Is this next part scary, Mum?’
‘No darling.’ Mary smiled and held Amity close. ‘The local native people, called the Ningy Ningy, wanted us all to leave this place so they began a series of attacks. A young soldier was killed, our sheep were all lost or stolen and we never found them again. During a summer of drought, our supply of fresh water began to disappear. Hordes of mosquitoes almost drove us mad and thankfully our family could sleep under netting or we would have been kept awake all night by their whining and biting. Because the beach was so shallow, it was impossible to anchor large ships. After eight months of living there, we were ordered to abandon Humpybong. By then everyone was happy to leave. We moved south into a new, safer home, on the shores of the Brisbane River in Moreton Bay.’
‘Will we ever go back again to see Humpybong?’ Amity asked sleepily.
‘I don’t think so, Amity. We are well settled now at the new and much larger Moreton Bay Penal Colony. Because father is an officer, his skills are needed here. This is a safer place where all of us are happy to be among many new friends.’
Amity yawned then asked her final question. ‘Why was our first home called Humpybong? It has such a strange name.’
‘When we sailed away we had to abandon all our houses and buildings. The Ningy Ningy clan called our empty buildings, oompiebongs. This means dead houses in their language, so this place became Humpybong.’
Amity’s eyes closed and soon she was fast asleep. Mary kissed her goodnight, blew out her candle then gently shut the bedroom door behind her.
This replica of the brig, Amity, was constructed in the Stirling Historical Precinct at Albany, Western Australia. It was completed in 1976 for the town’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
The Amity was used by the British Government for several voyages of exploration and settlement during the early 19th century. Among them were the first European settlers who attempted to colonize Redcliffe, Queensland. Later the brig transported these settlers to Moreton Bay. Several voyages to King George Sound (now Albany) carried colonists to Western Australia.
The Amity was wrecked in 1845, after running aground on an uncharted sandbar, north of Van Diemen’s Land.
The original settlement at Redcliffe was established between Humpybong Creek, Anzac Avenue, and the beachfront. Nothing remains of it today as the site is occupied by the Humpybong shopping precinct and large unit blocks.
A First Settlement Memorial Wall was built with 50 tonnes of bluestones, to a design representing the sails of the Amity. Erected near the beach in September 1991, this memorial commemorates the story of Queensland’s first, brief settlement here.