15 December 2017

Cleveland Point, by John Dunmore Lang (1854)

Cleveland was proclaimed as a township in 1850. While it is a quiet suburb today, during the 1850s there was discussion of making this area the capital of the future colony of Queensland. There was shipping access there, but of course Cleveland eventually lost out to Brisbane. The following letter highlighting some of the logistical problems facing Cleveland at that time was written by prominent Queensland development advocate John Dunmore Lang in 1854.

Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 26 August 1854

'AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM ('listen to the other side')


To the Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier.

Sir, - Having been one of a small party of the democracy, or, as our fallen friends delight to call us, the rabble and the mob, who made an excursion to the township of Cleveland during the present week, I beg to trouble you... with a few observations on that locality, first, as the site of a town, and secondly, as a rival shipping port to Brisbane and Ipswich.

I have no hesitation, therefore, in acknowledging that the impression produced upon my mind by the view of Cleveland Point and its vicinity was decidedly favourable. The locality is not only well chosen as the site of a town, but is highly interesting and romantic; its principal feature being a point of land, considerably above the water level, projecting into the Bay, and shooting out into its waters a long narrow spit of land, like the bony projection from the head of the fish called the Snapper. This spit of land has evidently been a reef of rocks on which the soil has accumulated on both sides in the course of ages from the washings up of the sea in northerly and southerly gales, the direction of the spit being east and west; and it is equally evident that, at no distant period, it has been one of the numerous islands in the Bay, the narrow neck that joins it to the mainland being scarcely elevated above high water mark. From the point already mentioned, as well as from the narrow spit, the view is singularly beautiful ; the numerous islands, and lightly wooded shelving shores of the Bay, with Moreton Island and the Glasshouses in the distance to the northward, forming a picture on which the eye delights to rest.

Cleveland, 1885. (BCC, Brisbane Images)

To the south-ward, the channel between Stradbroke island and the mainland reminded me of Long Island Sound in the Bay of New York, although it is consider-ably wider than that narrow Sound. And one can scarcely gaze on such a scene without anticipating the time when a numerous agricultural population will be settled all along the shores of the Bay, and numerous steam-boats will be paddling along the now silent waters of this in-land sea, and maintaining a perpetual intercourse between the small towns and villages on its shores and the capital of the province.

There is much good land along the shores of the Bay, and as the principal object of my visit was to ascertain the general capabilities of this part of the country for the settlement of an agricultural population, with a view particularly to the cultivation of cotton, I was gratified to find that my anticipations on the subject were much more than realized. Besides the land at present available for agriculture around the Bay, there is a vast extent of land in all parts of it in process of formation, from the gradual deposits of sand and mud from the waters of the Bay in the numerous mangrove swamps that line the coast in all directions ; and there is also much land originally of the same character, now permanently abandoned by the sea, but still so strongly impregnated with saline matter as to be utterly useless at present either for man or beast.

Now it is precisely this description of soil - land on the sea-coast and strongly saturated with salt - that the cotton plant chiefly affects, and that produces the finest description of cotton. And I have no doubt whatever that when this species of cultivation becomes general and extensive, as it is sure to do in a few years hence at farthest, in this district, the salt marshes along the shores of the Bay will be in great requisition, and a numerous agricultural population, cultivating the cotton plant, and exporting the produce in as large quantities as the present export of wool, will be settled all along the Bay. For such a population - in the southern portion of the Bay - a town on Cleveland Point will be indispensably necessary, and such a town will accordingly grow up with the surrounding population as a matter of course. The proprietors of allotments in this township may there-fore rest assured that they will come into use and prove valuable at no distant day.

But to force up a town into premature existence, like a hot-house plant, in any locality whatever, when there is no country population within a moderate distance either to require or to support it, is the grandest absurdity imaginable. But this is precisely what has been attempted at Cleveland, and it only shews with how little wisdom the squatting world, including although it does the veritable aristocracy of the country, is governed.

The first indication of civilization and refinement, in approaching the township of Cleveland, is a brickfield, belonging to a practical brickmaker, who it seems has hitherto supplied all the material of that kind required for the construction of the city of Cleveland; and it is worth mentioning, for the comfort of all who are in any way interested in the stability and permanence of the future city, that the bricks made in that locality are of a very superior quality, and are worth at least a pound a thousand more than those made in certain other localities. At some distance from Mr Maskell's brickfield, (the intervening line of bush-road leading through a beautifully wooded and richly grassed country that might almost be mistaken for the vicinity of a Ducal palace in the old country,) appears the first house in the town of Cleveland. It is an eight-roomed, substantial, commodious, brick-built, verandah cottage, with all the requisite appurtenances of a kitchen, and other outbuildings for the Democracy, on a much lower level towards the Bay ; the cottage itself being situated on the elevated point of land already mentioned, and commanding a beautiful view of the Bay with its fine scenery all round.

But every leaf was at rest, and I heard not a sound from the uninhabited mansion. It looked like one of those haunted houses that one sometimes sees in England, and that nobody will occupy for fear of "the ghost"; and when we reflected that it would probably cost from £1,500 to £2,000 to erect such a cottage, with all its appendages, in Sydney, and that it would rent, if there, at £200 a year, our party named it "Bigge's Folly," and rode on. At short distances towards the Point, we passed two other substantial brick cottages, each intended for two or more families of the Democracy, but both uninhabited like number one. We then crossed the low neck that joins the narrow spit to the mainland and rode onward to the jetty, where we found a whole suite of buildings for the future town, including a well built, substantial, capacious store, to which, as it was quite empty, our party gave the name of "Bigge's Vacuum.' Before the era of the Italian Torricelli, European philosophers used to tell us that "Nature abhorred a vacuum"; but here was a proof of the contrary, the capacious store at Cleveland Point being " a perfect vacuum," and no mistake. It was not very kind, however, in our friend Mr.- when contemplating this uninhabited town, (which really reminded one of the enchanted city in the Arabian Nights' Entertainments), to say that "a fool and his money were soon parted." An Englishman has a right to do what he will with his own ; and if any Englishman who has made his money at the public expense in the easy way the Squatters make theirs, chooses to build an uninhabited town in any part of this territory, what is that to Mr. -? Every Squatter, without exception, has "a preemptive right" to indulge in all such follies without let or hindrance.

Cleveland will never compete as a watering place for Brisbane and Ipswich, or for the inhabitants of the interior generally, with Sandgate, to which the access from Brisbane is so much more easy. Around Cleveland Point the shores of the Bay are generally muddy and the water very shallow ; the tide ebbing a long way out, and leaving a great extent of dry land, from which unpleasant exhalations arise, at low water. I was told indeed at Charleston, in South Carolina, in America, that the exhalations arising from land left dry by the efflux of the tide, did not constitute malaria, and were not prejudicial to health. But it would be quite as well for people visiting the coast either for health or for pleasure, not to make the experiment. At Sandgate, which I happened to visit in 1851, the shore is shelving and perfectly free from mud, the beach being composed in some places of sand, and in others of shingle. It is beyond all comparison a more suitable locality for a watering-place, such as will be indispensably necessary in this warm climate by and by ; and the building ground being situated much higher above the sea level and fronting the widest part of the Bay, it will be still more favourably situated for the sea-breeze. A good road from Brisbane to Sandgate, and the erection of a hotel, for families and invalids from the southern colonies, in that locality, are desiderata at present in this part of the territory.

As to Cleveland being ever a rival shipping port, competing for preeminence with Brisbane and Ipswich, the idea is absurd. Beautiful as the situation confessedly is for a subsidiary town, it affords no protection for shipping, and no facilities of any kind for the loading or unloading of vessels. The Bay, it must be recollected, is not less than sixty miles long, and twenty broad to the northward; and vessels lying off the Point are exposed to the full force both of the northerly and southerly winds that are frequent in the Bay, the only protection being from easterly or westerly winds. Besides, the water is very shallow, and the navigation, from rocks, and sand or mud banks, very intricate. Although I do not pretend to be an authority in such matters, I am confident, from what I saw at Cleveland Point, compared with what I have myself seen effected for the navigation of the river Clyde in Scotland, that it would take at least four times the amount to form anything like a proper harbour for shipping at Cleveland Point that it would take to remove every obstruction at present in the way of the navigation of the Brisbane River, and to render that river navigable for the largest vessels. Besides, there are whole miles of natural wharves already formed along both banks of the Brisbane River, whereas it would take an enormous outlay to construct anything of the kind at Cleveland Point. The Jetty at that Point, if carried out for about a hundred yards farther, towards the deep water, as is proposed, would form a very good landing place, both for passengers and goods, for small coasting steam-boats trading between the Bay and the Capital, although even for such vessels it would scarcely be available in bad weather; for I have been told that in such weather, the sea makes a complete breach over the present Jetty, and if carried out farther, it would only be the more exposed. No doubt if a few millions sterling were to be expended in the construction of a harbour at Cleveland Point, and if a Tram-road were formed between Cleveland and Ipswich, "the Squatters' Mistake," (for that I think ought to be the proper name for Cleveland), might compete with Brisbane as a shipping port. But these ifs are very awkward conjunctions; and the Squatters, who are interested in upholding the character of Cleveland should recollect the sage advice of the authoress of the famous Work on Cookery, "first catch your fish."

These remarks, which I trust will not prove altogether valueless in certain quarters, will doubt-less be received the more willingly by the intelligent and candid reader, when I add that I was myself strongly prepossessed, on my first visit to this district, nearly nine years ago, with the idea that a shipping port and commercial capital for the Moreton Bay country should be looked for either in the northern or in the southern part of the Bay - either at Toorbul Point, opposite Point Skirmish on Bribie's Island, where Flinders found a land-locked harbour, or at Cleveland Point. I am satisfied now, however, that Brisbane is destined to be the future Capital of this district, both commercially and politically; and the sooner the question is set completely at rest, the better will it be for all parties concerned. The blundering and delays of our incapable Governments - for the evil is of old standing, and by no means peculiar to the present regime - in the laying out of the sites for towns, and in the adoption of the requisite measures for carrying out proper plans, in this important particular, when once resolved on, have occasioned incalculable inconvenience and loss to the inhabitants of these colonies, from Geelong, in Port Phillip, to Moreton Bay; and the procedure of the authorities in this respect will remain a monument of folly to future generations. At Maitland there are three towns where there ought only to have been one. So are there also at Geelong, and so are there here. In all the three localities, it would have been perfectly easy for the Government to have formed one noble town in the proper place, and to have prevented the erection of a single house any where else in the neighbour-hood till that town had been fairly formed.

About a hundred and twenty years ago, old General Oglethorpe, a philanthropist of his day, formed a colony in Georgia in America ; and the cities which he formed - one of them a hundred miles up the Savannah River, - are built upon his original plans to the present day; having broad streets with lines of trees along the pathways, and noble squares at proper intervals throughout. What a wretched contrast most of our Colonial cities and towns present to this noble idea, and how indignant our posterity will feel at their forefathers entailing upon them inconvenience and disease from the faulty construction of our cities and towns ! For as the democracy will then have obtained a good government of their own, our posterity will scarcely know how to put the saddle on the right horse in these matters.

I am, Sir,
Yours, &c.,


Brisbane, 17th August, 1854.'

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