Seldom has a man who achieved so much  been so vilified as Captain Patrick Logan, the second commandant of the  penal colony at Moreton Bay, and some say the founder of Queensland. And  that vilification is not the result of applying 21st Century sensibilities to events 200 years old.

Logan was posted to what was to become  Brisbane in 1826, less than a year after the first convicts were sent..  He was a good administrator, set about organizing buildings and farms.  He explored extensively and did much to extend the geographical and  botanical knowledge of the region. He carried out a large programme of  public works. He was responsible for building the Convict Hospital, the  Prisoners’ Barracks and the Military Barracks in 1828, and the  Superintendent’s House, later the Railway Engineer’s Office, and the  Windmill, now the Observatory in Spring Hill, in 1829. See here for a list of achievements

The Old Windmill in Spring Hill

Yet he has was renowned for the harsh regime he ran. The Courier Mail ran a story in April this year under the headline Cruelty of Captain Patrick Logan knew no bounds in Moreton Bay convict settlement detailing some of the tough punishments inflicted on prisoners at  Logan’s direction. And it is not just written with the benefit of  hindsight.

In an article in The Queenslander magazine in 1891, irreverent journalist J.J. Knight described Logan as:  ‘overbearing in his manner towards the prisoners, and always willing to  meet the exigencies of a small offence by ordering punishment at the  triangles, it is not a matter of wonder that his reign was spoken of as  one of terror. It is said that several designs on his life were only  averted by some lucky or miraculous circumstance.

‘It was not necessary to commit a heinous  offence to merit the displeasure and prescribed punishment of the  Commandant; the faintest murmur against a task allotted or inability to  perform the work was sufficient to secure for the unfortunate delinquent  from 50 to 100 lashes, and these were not laid on with a light hand’.

When he was murdered in mysterious  circumstances in October 1830, the Moreton Bay convicts rejoiced, their  exuberant singing ringing out all night long.

Yet I believe insufficient attention has  been paid to early influences on his attitudes, particularly his time in  the British Army. Scottish-born Logan, like many of the British  officers that were sent to the fledgling colony of New South Wales in  the 1820s, had served under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula  Campaign or at Waterloo. He joined Wellington’s forces in August 1811,  as a nineteen-year-old ensign. He was involved in several major actions  against Napoleon’s French troops in Spain and Portugal.

During this time he would have witnessed  first hand appalling conduct by troops under Wellington’s the command.  Here are two examples.

After bloody taking of the town of Ciudad  Rodrigo from the occupying French in January 1812, British troops  celebrated wildly. Many were incapably drunk, firing at random at doors  and windows in the square beneath the 12th Century cathedral,  they killed and wounded some of their comrades. Their officers were  unable to control them, even while bashing them about the head with the  butt ends of broken muskets. There was pillaging on a grand scale of  joints of meat, loaves of bread, clothing, and shoes that the men hung  off their bayonets as they left town next morning.

After the assault of Badajoz in Spain in  April 1812, things were worse. Soldiers broke into houses, dragged cases  of wine into the streets, raped women, robbed and murdered men,  bayoneted children. A young subaltern, Robert Blakeney, wrote of the ‘shrill  shrieking of affrighted children, the piercing shrieks of frantic  women, the groans of the wounded, the savage and discordant yells of  drunkards firing at everything and in all directions …

‘Every house presented a scene of  plunder, debauchery and bloodshed, committed with wanton cruelty on the  persons of defenceless inhabitants by our soldiery; and in many  instances I beheld the savages tear the rings from the ears of beautiful  women who were their victims, and when the rings could not be  immediately removed from their fingers with the hand, they tore them off  with their teeth…

‘Men, women and children were shot in  the streets for no other reason than pastime; every species of outrage  was publicly committed in the houses, churches and streets, and in a  manner so brutal that a faithful recital would be too indecent and too  shocking to humanity. Not the slightest shadow of order or discipline  was maintained; the officers durst not interfere … A sergeant struck me  with hos pike for refusing to join in plundering a family; I certainly  snapped my pistol in his face, but fortunately it missed fire or he  would have been killed.’

This rioting continued for three days.

Wellington described his men as ‘the scum  of the earth’ since ‘none but the worst description of men enter the  regular service’. There was ‘no crime recorded in the Newgate Calendar’  that was not committed by these soldiers.

The ease and speed which these men  quickly descended into wild, uncontrollable mobs must surely have been  on Logan’s mind when he was in tenuous charge of over 1000 convicts in  remote Moreton Bay.


A detailed report of the life of Captain Logan can be found here.