The History of Moreton Island, located off the coast of Brisbane, is a long and varied one. This brilliant, sand island has been occupied for thousands of years and has played a major role in the development of Australia’s third largest city.
The First Inhabitants of Moreton Island
Archeological evidence suggests that the Ngugi tribe of aboriginal people began occupying the island at least as far back as 2000 years ago. They called the island Moorgumpin meaning place of sandhills in their native tongue and lived largely off of a diet of marine life.
An interesting part of Moreton Islands history is how the Ngugi men fished alongside the area’s dolphins. They would call the wild dolphins near shore by slapping their spears on the water’s surface. The dolphins would then herd schools of fish toward the wading men who would catch them in their nets. As payment, the dolphins would receive part of the fishermen’s bounty.
The History of Moreton Island’s Name
Over the years, many international ships made landfall on Australia but it wasn’t until James Cook claimed Britain for its own in 1770 and began formally naming the East Coast did the islands present day name begin to take shape.
From the water, James Cook originally mistook Moreton Island as part of the mainland. As such, he named the island’s main headland Cape Morton and the ‘bay’ between Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island, Morton Bay in honor of the Scottish Earl of Morton.
However, in 1793 during the translations of James Cook’s journal a clerical error was made and the history of Moreton Island was changed forever. Instead of Cape Morton and Morton Bay, James Cook’s handwriting was translated as Cape Moreton and Moreton Bay (with an extra ‘e’).
So, when in 1799 Flinders returned to Australia to survey the country and discovered the area held two islands aloft of the mainland, he kept within James Cook’s trend by naming the foremost Moreton Island.
The First White Settlers to Arrive to the Island
The first white non-native people to step foot on the island in Moreton Island’s history, were three ticket-of-leave convicts. Flinders and Cook merely documented their history of Moreton Island from afar. The trio were en route to Illawarra from Sydney when their ship was blown off course in a terrible storm.
21 days later they were able to beach their boat on Moreton Island but by that time, they were desperate for water and very ill. The Aborigines on the island found the three men and took care of them until they were well enough to be transferred to Stradbroke Island and then onto the mainland. The convicts discovered Brisbane River while attempting to head back to Sydney via the mainland.
They eventually crossed paths with John Oxley who was on an expedition to find an agreeable location for a new penal colony. When prompted they lead him to Brisbane River, where he went on to establish the roots for modern-day Brisbane.
The Amity Point Pilot Station
As colonization of Australia took hold and the penal colony grew into a proper settlement the space between Moreton Island and Stradbroke Island became known as the South Passage and became infamous for its treachery. As a result, Moreton Island’s history is brimming with stories of ships who were destroyed in its wake.
In 1826 the Amity Point pilot station was established on North Stradbroke Island to guide ships through the passage. Many conflicts took place between the Aboriginals of Moreton Island and the soldiers at the Amity Point station and in 1833 Moreton Islands history took a dark turn when a massacre of the Aboriginal people took place.
In 1843, the Amity Point pilot station was moved to Moreton Island and the thriving township of Bulwer was established.
The First Lighthouses in Moreton Island’s History
The growing size and influence of Brisbane meant ever-increasing traffic through the South Passage and shipwrecks continued to occur despite the pilot stations existence. For greater safety through the passage a light house was commissioned to be built. It would become the first lighthouse in Moreton Islands history.
Construction of the Cape Moreton Lighthouse began in 1857 by convict prisoners and was completed and put into use the following year. In 1899, a second lighthouse, the Cowan Cowan lighthouse commenced operation.
Military Encampments on Moreton Island
Later during World War 1 & 2 Cowan Cowan became a military defense base. The location of the base was seen as a tactical position to defend against an invasion of Brisbane and was expanded during the latter to include Toompani Beach.
The Tangalooma Whaling Station
After World War 2, Moreton Island became the base of Queensland’s only whaling station which was called the Tangalooma whaling station. The season lasted from June to October during the whale’s migration north and an astonishing 11 whales could be processed per day.
Monetarily, the station was very successful in its early years. However, as time went on, the demand for whale oil plummeted and whales became increasingly scarce in the wild. So, in 1961 the Tangalooma whale station closed its doors forever.
In 1963, the facility was sold to become the Tangalooma Tourist Resort and remains so today.
Read more: History of the Great Barrier Reef