Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Bracewell (c. 1803–1844)

by J. H. Hornibrook

This article was published:

David Bracewell (1803?-1844), absconder, was born in London. He was convicted at the Middlesex Gaol Delivery on 14 September 1826 for assault with intention to rob, and sentenced to be transported for fourteen years. In June 1827 he arrived at Hobart Town in the transport Layton and in December was sent to the penal settlement at Moreton Bay. Although his behaviour was good, he found the discipline so harsh that he absconded next May for five days. Despite a penalty of 150 lashes, he took to the bush again in 1828 and 1829. While working with a survey gang at Eagle Farm, he absconded again, this time for six years. He fell in with various Aboriginal tribes and later claimed that he had come within reach of the party searching for survivors from the Stirling Castle wrecked on a reef near Wide Bay in May 1836. However, the official record of the rescue made no mention of him, but gave the credit to John Graham. Bracewell returned to Brisbane in May 1837 and resumed work with the surveyors. Fearing that the impending closure of the penal settlement would mean his transfer to Norfolk Island, he absconded for the fifth time in July 1839. Again he lived with the Aboriginals until near Wide Bay he was accepted by the Carbaraks tribe as a long lost relation, and given the name Wandi.

In May 1842 Bracewell was found by a party led by Andrew Petrie who was exploring the coast near Wide Bay in a whale-boat. The same party also found James Davis, 'Duramboi'. Both absconders gave themselves up when promised that they would not be punished; their reports of land and knowledge of the Aboriginals so impressed Petrie that he recommended their appointment to the Border Police. After their return to Brisbane, Bracewell was given work at Wolston near Goodna, on a property owned by the humane Stephen Simpson, crown lands commissioner, but while felling timber on 28 March 1844 he was crushed by a tree.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Russell, The Genesis of Queensland (Syd, 1888)
  • C. C. Petrie (ed), Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland (Brisb, 1932)
  • R. Cilento and C. L. Lack, ‘"Wild White Men" in Queensland’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, vol 6, no 1, Sept 1959, pp 73-93
  • S. Simpson to Gipps, 30 May 1842 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • HO 11/6.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. H. Hornibrook, 'Bracewell, David (c. 1803–1844)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bracefield, David
  • Bracefell, David
  • Wandi

c. 1803
London, Middlesex, England


28 March, 1844 (aged ~ 41)
Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Places
Social Issues
Convict Record

Crime: assault and robbery
Sentence: 14 years
Court: Old Bailey, London
Trial Date: 14 September 1826