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Quite a while ago, I researched and wrote a non-fiction book on Australian convict Thomas Pamphlett, Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett: Convict and Castaway. It was published in print and I think there are still a few copies at Amazon and other places. I intend to publish an ebook version later in 2014 or early 2015.

It’s an amazing story of a convict who went before the courts four times and received various punishments, including lashes and time in a gaol gang in irons. Later, as a cedar fetcher, he was lost at sea and almost died before being marooned on an island off the coast in an unexplored part of the Australian continent.

Thomas Pamphlett book cover

Thomas Pamphlett was a brickmaker in Manchester, UK. At age 22 in 1810, he was sentenced to 14 years’ transportation to New South Wales for stealing a horse and five pieces of woollen cloth. After arriving in Sydney on the Guildford in 1812, he worked in the brickmakers’ gang.

Along with two others, he was charged with stealing the windows from stately Birch Grove House in 1814, the only building on Balmain Peninsula, now part of Sydney. He was given 100 lashes and six months in a gaol gang.

Pamphlett escaped twice before being sent to Newcastle, a penal settlement of secondary punishment north of Sydney, in 1815. After absconding again, he received 50 lashes. Returning to Sydney with a wife and three children in 1819, he was soon caught stealing again, but was let off due to unsound mind.

In 1823, he set out in an open boat with three others, John Finnegan, Richard Parsons and John Thompson, to fetch cedar from Wollongong, 50 miles south of Sydney. They were blown out to sea and suffered incredible hardships, with Thompson dying from lack of fresh water and the elements.

After more than three weeks at sea, they were finally shipwrecked on Moreton Island, off present day Brisbane. The castaways spent seven and a half months trekking north in their attempts to get back to Sydney. They were naked and lived with several Aboriginal groups, learning much about their lifestyle and customs.

In their travels, they stumbled across the Brisbane River, the first white men to see it. Pamphlett was the only good swimmer of the trio, so they had to walk along its bank, and those of its tributaries, until they could find a way across it and resume their journey north.

Finally, one evening, Pamphlett noticed a cutter in the bay off Bribie Island to Brisbane’s north. On board was explorer John Oxley who was searching for a place for a new convict settlement. Pamphlett learned that Sydney was over 500 miles to the south rather than to the north. The castaways realised they had spent all that time going the wrong way!

Pamphlett's rescue

Oxley took Pamphlett and Finnegan back to Sydney; Parsons had gone on ahead and was still somewhere to the north. The explorer gave a favourable report on the area and a new penal settlement was established there in 1824, the Moreton Bay convict colony or Brisbane Town. By that time, Parsons had returned to the area and was rescued.

Pamphlett committed another crime, stealing two bags of flour, and was returned to the new settlement to serve a seven year sentence. This colony, which later became the city of Brisbane and capital of the state of Queensland, would never have been founded had the castaways not shown Oxley the Brisbane River, which previous explorers had missed because several small islands that looked like part of the mainland blocked its view from the bay.

At the expiration of his sentence, Pamphlett was returned to Sydney and lived out his days quietly at Penrith, west of Sydney. He died in 1838 aged 50.