Friday, May 10, 2013

The Petrie family - Andrew Petrie

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It would be difficult to imagine a family that had a greater impact on the earliest days of Brisbane than the Petries. Patriarch Andrew Petrie (pictured above) trained in Edinburgh as a builder and architect. With his wife Mary and four children, Petrie emigrated to New South Wales in 1831 on Captain James Fraser's ship Stirling Castle (which was to be shipwrecked in 1836, creating the famous Eliza Fraser story) at the suggestion of Dr JD Lang who was promoting the transporting of Scottish craftsmen to the penal colony. After completing a building for Lang, Andrew Petrie worked for the New South Wales government as Clerk of Works for the Royal Engineers.

Petrie was then recommended to become Clerk of Works at the infamous Moreton Bay settlement, a position he accepted. In 1837 the Petries, who now numbered seven following two more births in Sydney (unfortunately the youngest, William, did not survive) were to become the first free family to inhabit Brisbane Town. They made the move north aboard the steamer James Watt, co-incidentally the first steamer to enter Moreton Bay, pictured below.
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #35574)

What must they have thought of the primitive settlement? The only suitable accommodation for the large family was the Female Factory that until recently had housed female convicts. Those prisoners had just been banished to Eagle Farm in a move designed to improve the morals of the settlement by separating them from the male convicts and soldiers. Here is a photograph of the Female Factory from about 1850 - Andrew Petrie described it as a "terrible hole". The original Catholic church that became the Cathedral of St Stephen is just behind it.  
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #153725) 

Mary Petrie gave birth to the last of Petrie children in the Female Factory, attended by Dr Ballow and his wife. It became a necessity for more suitable accommodation to be found and Andrew began the task of constructing his own house downriver of their temporary residence in a place that quickly became known as Petrie's Bight. Ironically the Female Factory was later demolished by the Petries as a prelude to their construction of the GPO on that site. Here is a photograph of their house that was situated on the corner of Queen St and Wharf St in the area we now call Petrie Bight. 
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #64402)

Andrew Petrie was an explorer, as well as an architect and a builder. A bi-centennial monument called The Petrie Tableau is pictured below. It used to stand outside city hall, but was removed to allow alterations to King George Square. I hope it is returned. It depicts Andrew Petrie astride a horse that is held by son John, leaving Brisbane on one of his expeditions. His wife Mary is passing him his drinking water as daughter Isabella looks on. At the front is young son Tom wearing a cap, depicted at the river bank in the company of two aboriginal playmates.  
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(Photo: © 2005 the foto fanatic)

Andrew Petrie's first task on reaching the Moreton Bay settlement was to repair the convict-built windmill sitting on the hill above the settlement. At that time it worked only as a treadmill and was mainly used as a draconian method of punishing misbehaving convicts. Petrie disassembled the whole mechanism, found that it had been incorrectly put together, and then rebuilt it.

When Brisbane was opened to free settlement Andrew Petrie could have returned to Sydney or even to Britain, but he opted instead to remain in Brisbane, understanding that there may be commercial opportunities as the town developed. His three oldest boys - John, Andrew and Walter - worked as unpaid apprentices to their father, with oldest son John being groomed to take over the business in time.

Andrew Petrie went blind in 1848 after one of his exploratory trips in the region, and tragically his son Walter was drowned in Wheat Creek in the same year. Andrew continued to run the construction business, and although he came to depend more and more on John, many major Queensland buildings were erected by them after he lost his sight. Some of them we have seen before in this blog: Adelaide House which became Queensland's first government house and is now The Deanery at St John's Cathedral; Bulimba House; Brisbane Gaol at Green Hills (now Petrie Terrrace), currently a shopping mall known as The Barracks. 

Andrew was still a frequent visitor to the various projects around the town until a couple of years before his death in February 1872.

Reference: "The Petrie Family", Dimity Dornan & Denis Cryle; "Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland", Constance Campbell Petrie.

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