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Petrie, Andrew (1798–1872)

by A. A. Morrison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Andrew Petrie (1798-1872), builder and architect, was born in June 1798 in Fife, Scotland, son of Walter Petrie and Margaret, née Hutchinson, and trained in his craft in Edinburgh. He was one of the Scottish mechanics brought to Sydney in 1831 by John Dunmore Lang as the nucleus of a new force of free workers. Meeting much enmity from convict and emancipist workers, Petrie was glad to accept a post as clerk in the Ordnance Department. The quality of his work impressed George Barney so much that, when in 1837 there was an urgent appeal from Moreton Bay for a competent builder to repair crumbling structures, Petrie was sent there as clerk of works. His first important task was to repair the mechanism of the windmill which had never worked. His general duty was the supervision of prisoners engaged in making such necessities as soap and nails, and in building.

His charge took him to several convict outposts and gave him a taste for travel and exploration. His private journeys soon added to knowledge of the immediate environs of the settlement. When the convict station was removed in 1839 Petrie saw the opportunity at last of a free community, and with his family remained to contribute to its formation. In the new surroundings he was able to pursue two main interests: as builder and architect he was responsible for most of the important structures that arose; and he made many more journeys. He was the first white man to climb Mount Beerwah, one of the Glass House Mountains seen by James Cook, and he was also the first to bring back samples of the Bunya pine. In 1842 with a small party in a boat he discovered the Mary River and brought back to the settlement two 'wild white men', James Davis or 'Duramboi' and David Bracewell or 'Wandi'.

In 1848 he lost his eyesight because of inefficient surgery after an attack of sandy blight. Such was his courage that he still kept control over his business: when plans were explained to him he ordered the necessary quantities of material and was even able to check the performance of his building workers; he used his cane if not satisfied. At Edinburgh in 1821 he had married Mary Cuthbertson; they had nine sons and a daughter. With advancing years he handed over more and more control to his eldest son, John Petrie, who became first mayor of Brisbane. His fourth son, Thomas, gained much knowledge of the Aboriginal tribes and their customs and languages.

The Petries' house was one of the social centres of Brisbane and readily offered accommodation to squatters coming from the outback, especially in the days before Brisbane had a few inns. Petrie was also generous to unfortunates, always being willing to help with food and work. He died on 20 February 1872.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Russell, The Genesis of Queensland (Syd, 1888)
  • C. C. Petrie (ed), Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland (Brisb, 1904)
  • Thomas Dowse (Old Tom), Brisbane Courier, 31 July 1869
  • Historical Miscellanea (Royal Historical Society of Queensland), no 3
  • J. H. C. McClure, 'The Early Buildings of Brisbane Town', Historical Miscellanea (Royal Historical Society of Queensland), no 10 (2 pages).

Citation details

A. A. Morrison, 'Petrie, Andrew (1798–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/petrie-andrew-2548/text3469, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 26 March 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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