The Myth of Bribie the Basket Maker

1937

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Thomas Welsby
Thomas Welsby

Photo taken from inside cover of his Collected Works 1937

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Thomas Welsby 1937
Thomas Welsby 1937

Courtesy of SLQ. Negataive 184660.

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The story of Bribie - the Basket Maker was penned by Thomas Welsby, while living on Bribie Island in 1937.

The story of Bribie - the Basket Maker was penned by Thomas Welsby, while living on Bribie Island in 1937. It is a romantic fiction and Welsby admitted in 1937 he couldn’t find any record of anyone incarcerated with that name and his idea came from Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland written by his daughter Constance Campbell Petrie in 1904, [Chapter 3].


In those days there was a prisoner among the others who made baskets for the Government called "Bribie, the basket maker". He was not chained and was allowed to go about in a boat to get cane from the scrubs for his work. He only had a short sentence and it was not worth his while to run away. Indeed, if any of these prisoners with liberty to go and come, attempted escape or misbehaved, they were put back into the chain gang and it was known too well what that meant. Some who worked in batches (like the sawyers) had an overseer (also a prisoner) always with them and he reported behaviour. It was from this man Bribie, my father thinks, that Bribie Island got its name. He cannot remember distinctly on this point but has some vague recollection of a connection between the man and the island whether he was blown ashore there, or what, he does not know.


The Moreton Bay Penal Colony commenced in Brisbane May 1825 and closed in 1842, when the Moreton Bay area was opened to free settlement. The Petrie family arrived in 1837. There are no records of a convict called Bribie in the Penal Colony extensive registers.


The earliest mention of the name Bribie Island (Breiby’s Island) was in a letter written by Lt Charles Otter of the Moreton Bay Garrison to Commandant Captain Fyans on 27th August 1836 concerning the survivors of the Stirling Castle. But at this point no document has been found to account for the Island being named Bribie.


Written by Lynne Hooper from information in the public domain.

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