Pirates on Highgate Hill 1853

The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 2nd April 1853

Domestic Intelligence

Piracy and Robbery – Escape of Nine Convicts from Norfolk Island

Considerable excitement was created in Brisbane this week, by the intelligence that nine convicts had made their escape from Norfolk Island in an open boat, and had arrived in Moreton Bay. […] Mr Watson, the pilot, appeared for the purposes of reporting that the pirates had visited Moreton Island the previous evening and had robbed his house of everything portable. […]During these proceedings, some of Mr Watson’s children, accompanied by one of the men, were coming towards the house and not standing when called upon by the robbers to do so, were fired at.

The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 14th May 1853


In  the early part of the week, the apprehensions that had been excited by the presence of a party of armed runaway convicts in the bay were revived by information which arrived in town, to the effect that they had again made their appearance, having been seen by some of the Pilot’s crew, coming up from the northward. A party was forthwith organized, under the command of W. A Duncan, Esq. J.P. and consisting of Mr. Sheridan of the Customs department, Mr. Chief Constable Sneyd, and some other volunteers und constables, to the number of about eleven in all.

(After being captured), they were then handcuffed and brought up to Brisbane yesterday afternoon. On arrival they were remanded to gaol, and there placed in irons, to await their examination this morning.

Kangaroo Point, Conrad Martens 1853 NLA

Kangaroo Point, Conrad Martens 1853. National Library of Australia

Further detail of this incident appears in The Collected Works of Thomas Welsby[1]. After escaping from Norfolk Island, the convicts eventually arrived in Moreton Bay and proceeded to steal a number of boats and rob various outposts of food and clothing.

They eventually decided to go inland, abandoning the latest of their stolen boats at Cleveland.  Police Magistrate Duncan, with police and trackers, was in pursuit and discovered a camp on the ridge of Highgate Hill where Dornoch Terrace now runs. They followed the tracks to another campfire at Goodna, which Welsby informs the reader means “dung” in the local aboriginal language.  The convicts were eventually captured at Bundamba and sentenced to a further 15 years at Norfolk Island. By 1855 however, all convicts had been removed to Tasmania.


Queen Street, ca 1859, State Library of Queensland

  1. Welsby, Thomas. edited A.K Thomson “The Collected Works of Thomas Welsby” Jacaranda Press, Brisbane 1967 Volume 1 page 281.

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