PETRIE, Thomas (1831-1910)


PETRIE, Thomas (1831-1910)
Queensland pioneer
was born at Edinburgh on 31 January 1831. His father, Andrew Petrie (1798-1872), was born in Fife, Scotland, and went into the building trade at Edinburgh. He emigrated to Sydney in 1831 and entered the government service as a supervisor of building. He was sent to Brisbane in 1837 to direct the building work of convicts, and in 1838 was lost for three days when out in the country with Major Cotton, the commandant. In 1840 he was the first to discover the bunya bunya tree, Araucaria Bidwilli, and in 1841 with H. S. Russell and others he explored the Mary River. He made other exploratory journeys, but in 1848 he had an opthalmic attack and lost his sight. He was then working for himself as a builder, and in spite of his disability continued to direct this business for many years. He died at Brisbane on 20 February 1872. Petrie's Bight and Mount Petrie were named after him. Of his sons, Thomas became the best known. When a child he ran away from home and was found in a black's camp. He never lost his interest in the aborigines and became an authority on their language and customs. When only 15 years of age he was sent with a letter to Wivenhoe station on the Brisbane River, and spent the night at an aborigine camp both going and returning. He was trusted by the aborigines and often accompanied expeditions into the bush, as his knowledge of the language of the district enabled him to keep on good terms with the natives. In 1859 he left Brisbane looking for cattle country and took up land near the Pine River. There he built his house Murrumba, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. He did much gratuitous work in opening up tracks, and in 1877 his experience was very useful in organizing the first reserve for aborigines at Bribie Island. It was apparently working well, but two years later a new government did away with it. Towards the end of Petrie's life his daughter, Constance C. Petrie, recorded his reminiscences of the aborigines and the early days of Queensland for publication in the Queenslander. Encouraged by Dr W. E. Roth (q.v.), who in a letter to the editor stated that the articles showed "an intimate and profound knowledge of the aboriginals", Miss Petrie published them with additions in 1904 under the title of Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland. Petrie died on 26 August 1910, and was survived by sons and daughters. He was of a modest and retiring disposition, but like Christison (q.v.) did very valuable work by demonstrating that it was possible to live with the aborigines if they were treated fairly. His records of aboriginal customs have particular value, in that he was really intimate with the aborigines before their lives were affected by their proximity to white people.
C. C. Petrie, Tom Petrie's Reminiscences; The Brisbane Courier, 21 February 1872, 29 August 1910; H. S. Russell, The Genesis of Queensland; J. J. Knight, In the Early Days.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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