Part 5 – Macleay Island

Macleay Island History- The second largest of the Southern Moreton Bay Islands

Originally called Jencomercha, it was renamed in 1839 after former Colonial Secretary for NSW and naturalist Alexander Macleay.

However, before the change occurred, the island was also known – and appears on early maps – as Tim Shea’s Island. Timothy Shea was an Irish convict who was transported in 1826, arriving in Moreton Bay in July 1827. He was put into a convict timber gang that was sent to Dunwich to work at a small outpost. The islands were a valuable source of timber for the penal settlement and its outposts. Shea escaped from Dunwich In the mid-1830s and lived on Thompson’s Point, Macleay Island, for about 14 years.

The Campbell family (see Russell Island), led by patriarch John ‘Tinker’ Campbell, were the first permanent settlers on Macleay Island, soon leasing or owning almost the entire island.

Tinker Campbell was an early Moreton Bay squatter and entrepreneur who engaged in many business ventures after his arrival in the district in the 1840s.

The Campbells originally established a sugar plantation on Macleay Island and engaged South Sea Island labourers, also known as Kanakas.

Tinker Campbell set up a saltworks on Pininpinin Point. It is likely it was also used as a sugar mill and rumour has it that it was also a front for a rum distillery as many sugar growers around the Bay engaged in this illicit activity at the time. When the family sold some of its holdings in 1871, the South Sea Islander labour force was included in the sale, along with the 40 acres of sugar cane, buildings, sugar mill and salt works.

Tinker Campbell and his sons, Robert, Frederick and John Edwin, were timber-getters, oystermen, fishermen and dugong hunters as well as farmers. They also tried sponge fishing, cultivating castor oil trees and raising angora goats, but none were a commercial success. Their South Sea Island labourers built several structures for the Campbells, including a wharf at Thompson’s Point and the saltworks on Cliff Terrace. The wharf was used to ship logs hauled there by bullock teams.

The Campbells moved to Stradbroke Island in the 1870s. By the 1880s the island’s farmers were mainly cultivating fruit crops, including bananas, mangoes and custard apples. Pineapples were introduced from Hawaii in 1905. Later tomatoes, pawpaws, passionfruit and avocadoes were added.

After World War I many types of vegetables were also successfully grown.

NOTE: A heritage trail developed by the RKlM Heritage Group and marked by blue arrows links many of the following historical sites. Some sites also have interpretive signs. Please note the trail includes main roads as well as rough tracks and dirt roads.

For more information about any of the sites see Southern Moreton Bay Islands Heritage Information produced by the RKLM Heritage Group Inc. It’s available from the Heritage Room in the Community Library building, Russell Terrace, Macleay Island, during library hours (Tuesdays 12-3pm and Saturdays 9am-12) or by ringing 3409 5979.

Ron Field Marine Facility

Ron Field and his wife, Leila, retired to Macleay Island in the early 1970s. Ron became active in the community, working for the island’s sporting and service clubs. He served as divisional councillor for the Bay Islands on the Redland Shire Council and was very involved in improving transport around the islands. In 1994 this facility was named after him. Ron Field died in 1995.

Courtesy RCC Local History Collection

Progress Hall – Russell Terrace

The Progress Hall was built in 1960 on land given to the MacKarraLamb Sports Club by Bernie Berry. The verandah was added later through a ‘work for the dole’ scheme. In 2006 an old house nearby was relocated to the site and the community library moved from its small room at the back of the hall into the extension. A Heritage Room was also included, providing public access to the RKLM (Russell Karragarra Lamb Macleay) Heritage Group’s collection during library hours. Near the hall is the site of the first trigonometric point on the Bay Islands. It was erected in September 1840 by Moreton Bay surveyor Robert Dixon.

At the end of Russell Terrace is one of two fish traps that have been found on the island. The Russell Terrace trap comprises a half-circle wall constructed of local stone. The other fish trap is at the end of Cross Street on the north west end of the island. Both are only visible at low tide. Evidence suggests the fish traps were built by John ‘Tinker’ Campbell using South Sea Island (Kanaka) labour. Other fish traps around Moreton Bay also have disputed origins. At the end of Russell Terrace there is also one of the island’s oldest remaining houses, the original section having been built in the 1890s using timber cut and milled locally.

Campbell’s saltworks

Cliff Terrace & High Central Road – Listed on the Qld Heritage Register

Limited access: this site is on private property but it can be seen from the beach. Access to the beach is via a very rough foot track at the end of High Central Road.

Tinker Campbell and his sons engaged in many enterprises. As mentioned previously, his saltworks, built by South Sea Island (Kanaka) labour, were probably used as a sugar refinery and also as a front for a rum distillery, until the 1870s. The remains include a stone walled building, stone edged path, and a stone fire box supporting a rivetted, cast iron, cigar-shaped boiler. There is also a 15 metre long, stone-lined underground flue and the remains of a retaining wall near the foreshore.

Arboretum – Western Road

Private property, no public access. Trees can be seen clearly from the road.

This area contains remnant plantings of fruit trees, including mango trees planted in 1890 by the Acclimatization Society. Other fruit trees, typical of those that used to grow all over the island, were planted over the years by the owners. This part of the island was the first to be farmed and was originally the home of the North family.

Perrebinpa Point Eagle Street

About 40m along the Eagle Street trail, one of the island’s few remaining middens can be found close to the water’s edge.

Tim Shea’s waterhole – Charles Terrace or High Central Road

This waterhole has been an important fresh water source for millennia. After the island was settled, it remained one of the main sources of fresh water, especially during drought. It no longer served this purpose when town water became available in 1996. It is named after Timothy Shea, an Irish convict transported on the Boyne to the colonies in 1826, aged 19 years. He was transported to the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement in July 1827. After escaping from the Dunwich settlement, he lived mainly on Macleay Island for about 14 years, seemingly unaware that he had been granted his ticket of leave in 1835 and certificate of freedom in 1836.

The waterhole and surrounds have been considerably altered over the years. The water tank built in the 1970s was filled from the waterhole by an electric pump.

 Thompson’s Point

This point was originally used as an indigenous campsite and evidence suggests it was a lookout for spotting turtles. The site also includes the remains of a stone wharf at the end of the aptly named Wharf Street. The wharf was built by Tinker Campbell in 1865 by South Sea Island (Kanaka) labour, and is believed to be the oldest example of a Kanaka-built structure still surviving in Queensland. It is made from local ferruginous sandstone with timber logs. The point and the wharf were used as a rafting ground for many years. Logs from all the islands were tied into rafts and floated to the mainland from this point. Thompson’s Point was named after loner George Campbell Thompson, a Boer War veteran, who lived on an old punt by the wharf in the mid-20th century.

 Pat’s Park – Beelong St

This park was the site of one of the island’s two main oyster camps. While the first oystermen and lime burners set up camp anywhere, by the late 1880s they were encouraged to camp in various reserves that were set up around the bay. Some reserves, such as that at Currigee on Stradbroke Island, grew into mini townships, but most were modest affairs that have long since disappeared.

Pat’s Park should perhaps be more correctly known as Pott’s Park as it was the camp of oysterman J Potts in the 1890s. Today it is the site of dawn services on Anzac Day. It is also a popular picnicking and swimming place as it has the only netted swimming enclosure on the island.

  Cow Bay

For millennia, dugong have bred – and been hunted – in Cow Bay. One of the early non-indigenous dugong hunters known to frequent Cow Bay was John ‘Tinker’ Campbell’s son Robert Perkins Campbell. He hunted dugong for oil.

 Lovell’s house – 24 Blue Water Crescent

The original section of this typical Island farmhouse was built from timber cut and milled on the island. The Lovells first arrived on Macleay Island c.1912-15. They farmed an area near Corroboree Place, close to the house. The property had a gold mine near Boathaven Place. About 1914 the Lovells sent the first shipment of pineapples from the bay islands to the mainland. Over the years, the Lovell family became well known, with members of the extended family living on Lamb Island. St Peter’s Church Hall on Russell Island was built by Joe Lovell and his son, Bill, in the early 1920s.

The mango tree in the garden is believed to have been planted by the Acclimatization Society about 1890.

Transporting Produce 1949. Courtesy State Library of Qld

Corroboree Place and Lions Park – Cotton Tree Avenue

This site is highly significant for Nunukul people, whose ancestors used it for millennia. The remnants of a midden are under the soil cover at the northern end of the park. The midden, dated at 4,000 years old, has been severely damaged by subsequent development of the island. The waterhole 50 m west of the park (now the Cotton Tree bushcare site) was formed during the past 6,500 years after the sea level fell about one metre to its present level. The waterhole would have been used by the Aboriginal people and, later, by white settlers. These settlers modified the waterhole to create the dam now seen.

In the slope above Boat Harbour Avenue was a cave the Nunukul people mined for quartz and ochre. In the 1980s the cave was filled in after subsidence.

About 20 metres north of the end of Boat Harbour Avenue is a scar tree. The shape of the scar indicates that the bark of the tree could have been used by Aborigines to make a canoe. The tree is now subject to a tree protection order.

A ticket-of-leave (paroled) convict, Thomas Lucas, was the first known non-indigenous person to live at Corroboree Place. He arrived on the island in the 1850s as an oysterman, and set up his camp at Corroboree Place. He later moved to Lamb Island, where his grave remains. Lucas Passage is named after Thomas Lucas.

In the early 1940s Joe Laverty cut cypress pine around Corroboree Place and shipped it to Jackson’s mill on Russell Island. Later, the area was used to grow melons for the Brisbane market.

Macleay - The jetty shed and approaching ferry, 1970. Courtesy State Library of Qld


3 thoughts on “Part 5 – Macleay Island”

  1. My family lived on the macleay from 1957 through to 1970 father had a small saw mill and small crop farm, interesting read.

    1. Yes Rodney the history of the Southern Moreton Bay Islands is very interesting. I f you hve any photos or information you would like to share, you are welcome to send any images as jpg and text as a word doc and I will put it up on the website. The email to send them to is

      1. Hi, I’m Rod’s older brother. It was a great life and still is. My family have been back mostly every year since we left. Still catch fish and crabs to live off. The aboriginal fish trap in Turtle Bay is still working. Big changes from 7 families to what we see now, though the old shacks Dad built are still surviving. He built them from the Cyprus he milled in his own sawmill. The cyprus came from up MacMahons Beach way and from Karragarra. So many great memories. Cheers, Brian

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