Brisbane's Place of Floggings
Under the floor of a shop on Queen Street, the soil is fertile with the blood, flesh and tears of countless convicts who were tied to the “triangle” and flogged in this very spot, between 1828 and 1841. This was the site of the male Convict Barracks of Moreton Bay, and the archway where “Old Bumble” and other flagellators performed their brutal trade.
The Georgian-style barracks stretched along the northern side of Queen Street from the Albert Street corner and 108 m toward North Quay. Below is a model of the complex, created for an upcoming article for the House Histories project.
The Moreton Bay Penal Settlement of the 1820s and 30s was a particularly brutal place, and new arrivals knew that they were likely to be worked to death. But how do you motivate a person to comply with such a plan? The solution is to offer a single alternative even worse than being worked to death, and the customary option was to be strapped to a wooden frame, or “triangle”, and flogged with the “cat o’ nine tails”.
Tom Petrie provided this account of the floggings in Queen Street(1):
Many a time he has seen members of the chain gang flogged in Queen Street in the old archway at the prisoners' barracks. They got from fifty to two hundred lashes at a time. They were stripped naked, and tied to the triangle by hands and feet, so that they could not move. Some were flogged for a very small offence, and on the backs of others were unhealed marks of a previous flogging. The rest of the prisoners were arranged round in order to get the benefit of the sight, and a doctor stood by in case the unfortunate fainted. Then the punishment began, and as each stroke fell the chief constable counted aloud the number. Out of all those he has seen flogged, father does not remember even one man fainting, though sometimes the blood flew out at every lash. Some poor wretches cried aloud in their agony for mercy, or to their mothers and friends to save them, others cursed and swore at the flogger and all the officials, and others again remained perfectly still and quiet.
A more gruesome record was written of a similar sentence in Sydney(2):
“I saw a man walk across the yard with the blood that had run from his lacerated flesh squashing out of his shoes at every step he took. A dog was licking the blood off the triangles, and the ants were carrying away great pieces of human flesh that the lash had scattered about the ground. The scourger's foot had worn a deep hole in the ground by the violence with which he whirled himself round on it to strike the quivering and wealed back, out of which stuck the sinews, white, ragged, and swollen. The infliction was 100 lashes, at about half-minute time, so as to extend the punishment through nearly an hour.
The typical sentence in Brisbane was 50-100 lashes, but records exist of 200 and 300 lashes, some with a fatal outcome.
But flogging was toilsome work and consecutive sessions could stretch over many hours in the summer heat. Luckily, he foresightful Commandant Logan had created a shady and cool place for this activity, in the large archway under the central tower of the barracks. The archway was also referred to as “Old Bumble’s Workshop”, after a resident flagellator. J. J. Knight provides the following account of Bumble(3):
“Bumble (who obtained the nickname owing to a deformity in his legs) was a most brutal individual, who rejoiced when he heard the appeals of his victims, and gloried in his calling. Sometimes five or six men were ranged before him to be whipped, and these wholesale orders he liked best. After finishing one job he would wash his "cat" in a tin of water, which he always carried with him, and it is affirmed that he has been known to quench his thirst with its contents.”
With that disturbing image in mind, let’s see if we can find the location of the archway and “bumble’s workshop” today. Fortuitously, the State Archives are in possession of some excellent plans and elevations of the barracks dating back to 1830(4). These and other plans were used to create the accurate 3D model shown above.
First an elevation of the barracks along Queen Street, as seen from the current location of the Meyer Centre:
The ground-floor plan of the buildings, dimensioned and overlaid on a modern aerial photo, looks as follows. The red star marks the location of the triangle in the archway.
The precise current location of the demolished archway is 90-112 Queen St. According to the eyewitness accounts, the triangle was located inside the passageway and would have been roughly 5-10 meters from today’s Queen Street boundary.
So what do we find here today? Well, the old barracks site is occupied by the row of buildings that replaced them in the mid-1880s. Overlaying the barrack façade on a contemporary photo, we can determine location of the central tower.
Moving closer to the buildings, we see the location of the lost archway and “Bumble’s Workshop”.
And if we go closer still, we can mark the spot where the triangle once stood, in what is now a women's fashion shop.
Strolling down Queen Street today, among the polished buildings, tourists, shoppers, balloon benders and buskers, it’s hard to imagine the scene of 190 years ago. A dusty dirt road flanked by the brooding barracks. The crack of the cat on naked skin, screams for mercy, and the monotonous counting of the Chief Constable reverberating from the dark cavern under the tower. But it all happened, right here on the mall. Next time you walk past with your shopping bags and a gelato in hand, spare a thought for the convicts that paid with the sweat, blood and lives to found our city.
In a future article on the House Histories website, we will dwell deeper into the design and history of the barracks, and their importance in the civic fabric of early Brisbane.
Petrie C.C., 1904, Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland.
White C., 1889, Convict Life in NSW and Van Diemen's Land, Parts I and II
Knight J. J., 1895, In the early days: history and incident of pioneer Queensland
Queensland State Archives Series ID 3739, Moreton Bay Penal Settlement Maps and Architectural Drawings