{Scathing Assessment of} {a Fine Region}; Gladstone Proves to Be Difficult Terrain for Early Explorers

Article excerpt

John Oxley

EXPLORER John Oxley played an important part in the early history of Gladstone and district when he led an expedition to explore the area first described by Matthew Flinders.

It was Oxley's scathing report which set Gladstone's development back by more than 20 years, and led to Brisbane becoming the capital of Queensland.

John Joseph William Molesworth Oxley was born around 1783 at Kirkham Abbey, Westow, Yorkshire, the eldest son of John and Isabella Oxley.

Entering the navy when he was 16 years of age, he arrived in Australia as master's mate aboard the 'Buffalo' in October 1802.

Upon arrival in Sydney, Oxley was employed on coastal surveys and general duties, until 1806.

Appointed first officer, HMS Porpoise, he returned to England in that ship with former Governor Bligh in 1809.

Oxley left the navy in 1811.

He returned to Sydney and was appointed surveyor-general by Governor Macquarie.

After leading an unsuccessful expedition to trace the course of the Lachlan River, in 1817, Oxley returned to coastal surveying, and in the 'Lady Nelson' charted Port Macquarie which he recommended as a suitable site for a new penal settlement.

In 1823, in response to the British Government's call for more areas to be opened up for convict settlements, Oxley was sent to examine Port Curtis as one of three possible sites.

They were Moreton Bay, Port Curtis and Port Bowen (now Port Clinton in the Shoalwater Bay area).

Leaving in October 1823 in HMS Mermaid, an eighty-ton cutter, Oxley arrived in the Port Curtis area on November 5 and immediately had difficulty entering the harbour, nearly running aground on shoals at the southern entrance.

The heat in November was oppressive and as water casks on the 'Mermaid' had become tainted, a party including Lieutenant Stirling and John Uniacke was sent ashore on Facing Island to replenish water supplies.

Oxley 'minutely' explored the area of coastline from North Head of Bustard Bay to Mt Larcom, and reported that the area was comprised of stony ridges with poor soil.

All the hills, he said, terminated in mangrove swamps.

He was equally scathing of other parts of the district with 'rocky hills' and coastal timber that was 'quite useless'. …