Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas (Tom) Petrie (1831–1910)

by Noeline V. Hall

This article was published:

Thomas Petrie (1831-1910), explorer, grazier and friend of Aboriginals, was born on 31 January 1831 in Edinburgh, fourth son of Andrew Petrie and brother of John. He arrived with his parents at Sydney in the Stirling Castle in October 1831 and moved with them to Moreton Bay in 1837. Educated by a convict clerk, he was allowed to mix freely with Aboriginal children. He learnt to speak the Brisbane tribal dialect (Turrabul) and was encouraged to share in all their activities. At 14 he was taken on the triennial walkabout to the feast at the Bunya Range. Accepted by the Aboriginals as a friend, he was in constant demand as a messenger or companion for exploration expeditions. During journeys with his father he gathered a knowledge of surveying and bushcraft and an intimate acquaintance with the Brisbane district and its settlers.

In 1851 Petrie spent six months trying his luck on the Turon goldfields and for five years worked on various fields mainly in Victoria, 'finding only enough gold to make a ring'. After returning to Brisbane, in 1858 he married Elizabeth, sister of James Campbell, hardware merchant. In the Pine Creek district on the Whiteside run he bought ten sq. miles (26 km²) which he called Murrumba (Good Place). Despite the fears of other white men he was helped by friendly Aboriginals to clear his land and construct his first buildings. He continued to explore widely, his main aim being the search for new timber areas and places for further settlement along the coast. In 1862 he was the first white man to climb Buderim Mountain, where he explored a stream that became known as Petrie's Creek. He marked a road from Cleveland to Eight Mile Plains so that his squatter friends could transport their wool. In 1868 he organized an Aboriginal welcome for the Duke of Edinburgh.

When the Douglas ministry opened Queensland's first Aboriginal reserve on Bribie Island in 1877, Petrie became its chief adviser and overseer. The experiment was terminated next year by Palmer largely because Petrie's report on Aboriginal attitudes and activities was not encouraging. He played little part in politics but was a foundation member of both the Caboolture and Redcliffe divisional boards and for years returning officer for Moreton electorate.

Petrie died at Murrumba on 26 August 1910, survived by his wife who died aged 90 on 30 September 1926 and by two sons and five daughters of their nine children. Though Murrumba had been reduced to 3000 acres (1215 ha) the family kept the property until 1952. In 1910 the name of the North Pine district was changed to Petrie in his honour and next year a free-stone monument was erected in the township and unveiled by Sir William MacGregor.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of Queensland, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • C. C. Petrie (ed), Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland (Brisb, 1904)
  • E. Foreman, The History and Adventures of a Queensland Pioneer (Brisb, 1928)
  • T. Welsby, Bribie: The Basket Maker (Brisb, 1937)
  • J. Whiteley, Two Families of Early Brisbane (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1963)
  • N. C. Stewart, A History of the Pine Rivers Shire (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1970).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Noeline V. Hall, 'Petrie, Thomas (Tom) (1831–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas Petrie, n.d.

Thomas Petrie, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 12939

Life Summary [details]


31 January, 1831
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


26 August, 1910 (aged 79)
Pine Creek, Queensland, Australia

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