Have you ever wondered what the origins of Brisbane City are? Here is a brief guide to who discovered our great city and where it got its name.

Brisbane has developed into one of Australia’s great metropolitan cities, but the origins of Brisbane all start with a struggle to locate the great river system that runs through the centre of our city.

Read on to discover the origins of Brisbane, who discovered it and how our fine city developed from a thriving river system surrounded by aboriginal tribes to a convict colony and then Queensland’s capital.

Before European Settlement

Prior to the arrival of the European settlers in the 1800’s the land we now call Brisbane was home to the Jagera and the Turrbal Aboriginal people. The River was a rich source for food and many seasonal camps were formed along the river banks.

In the late 1800’s several explorers came close to discovering the rich life source that is the Brisbane River;

• Captain James (1770) suspected a river system was located near the Brisbane area.
• Mathew Flinders (1799) did explore the Moreton Bay area but was unsuccessful at locating the mouth of the river system.
• John Bingle and William Edwardson both followed in Finder’s footsteps and failed to find the river.

The River

Three shipwrecked men – Thomas Pamphlett, John Finnegan and Richard Parsons were the first Europeans to discover the large river system . These men lived with the local aboriginal tribes for seven months before John Oxley sailed by in 1823 and explored the expansive river system – he was on the hunt for a prospective convict colony for New South Wales to send their more serious criminals.

John Oxley then named the river after Sir Thomas Brisbane (who was the Governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825). Sir Thomas Brisbane was a Scottish soldier who was also a celebrated astronomer – a lunar crate on the moon is named after him (and our planetarium!).

Breakfast Creek was named by Oxley as it was where his group stopped to have breakfast one morning as they explored the river system.

Convict Colony

In 1824 the first convict colony was established in the Brisbane area at Redcliffe point. Then in 1825 the colony was moved slightly south to what we now consider to be Brisbane’s CBD. The local aboriginal tribes were displaced and begun causing problems for the new settlers, who responded by shooting them on sight.

Free settlement
By the mid-nineteenth century, convict numbers were dwindling and from 1842 free settlements begun forming in Brisbane. In 1859 Queensland was proclaimed a Colony and Brisbane its capital.

Notable settlement sights around Brisbane

Old Windmill

The Old Windmill located on Wickham Terrace in Spring Hill was built in 1828 by the convict colonies to help with grinding grains.


Redcliffe has many notable settlements sight including the First Settlement Memorial Wall and the John Oxley memorial.
A Heritage Walk through Redcliffe is a great way to find out more about Brisbane’s early years.

Do you know of any settlement sights around Brisbane? Let us know by commenting below.
To find out more information about Brisbane’s past visit Talking History with David Gibson or Brisbane History from World Guide.