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Robert Dixon's Controversial Map of Moreton Bay

Important early survey map of Moreton Bay, undertaken by Robert Dixon.

Robert Dixon

Robert Harald Lindsay Dixon (1800–1858) was an Australian surveyor and explorer, born in Darlington, England.

In July 1826, Dixon went to Sydney where he was appointed assistant surveyor in the Surveyor-General's Department under Lieutenant John Oxley. Dixon worked as a surveyor until 1836, at which time he took a 2 year leave to return to England, where he published a map of Australia.

Returning to Australia, Dixon moved to Moreton Bay in 1839. During that year, Dixon, with assistant surveyors Granville Stapylton and James Warner, began a trigonometrical survey of Moreton Bay for the Government to facilitate free settlement.  A baseline of 3 miles (4.8 km) was measured on Normanby Plains (today's Harrisville, south of Ipswich) as a foundation for the triangulation. Dixon was instructed to compile a plan of the district for land sales and town reserves.

In January 1840, Dixon was promoted to surveyor in charge of the Moreton Bay district, but was suspended after an altercation with Lieutenant Owen Gorman, commandant of the Moreton Bay penal settlement (now Brisbane). Dixon's convict servant was arrested and Dixon's response saw him charged with attempting to incite a mutiny. Dixon denied the charges and lodged counter-charges of improper conduct against the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant was later relieved of his appointment as magistrate and the charges against Dixon were not progressed.

Dixon, however, was not reinstated. He had again offended the Government by publishing his own map of Moreton Bay in 1841 without permission. This angered Governor Sir George Gipps, resulting in Dixon's disgrace and his replacement by James Warner.

When Moreton Bay was opened to free settlement in 1842, Dixon applied for the lease over a number of government buildings. When this was refused, he moved to Toongabbie. Dixon found little available work and returned to England in 1846. He returned to Australia in 1852, spuriously claiming that he had been hired to manage a gold mine.

Moreton Bay

The name Morton's Bay was given to the region by Captain Cook when he passed the area on May 15, 1770, honoring Lord Morton, president of the Royal Society.[ The spelling Moreton was an error in the first published account of Cook's voyage  (Hawkesworth's Voyages). 

Matthew Flinders was the first recorded European to enter the bay in 1799, touching down at the Pumicestone Passage, Redcliffe and Coochiemudlo Island. He was followed by John Oxley who explored the Brisbane River in 1823. On a subsequent visit in the following year, Oxley established the first European settlement in the bay at the present site of Redcliffe.

After Oxley in 1823 came convicts and soldiers. As the South Passage between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands was the shortest shipping route, a depot and pilot station were established at Amity Point in 1825.

European settlement began in earnest after the abandonment of the Redcliffe settlement, and work began on the new convict settlement several miles up the Brisbane River in 1825. Within a couple years, this new settlement was growing rapidly and the number of ships entering the bay was increasing. As a result, the facilities required to service the pilot station at Amity grew, and in 1827 convicts were sent to the island to build a new causeway at Dunwich. Within a year the first permanent European settlement at Dunwich was completed, but due to poor weather, smuggling, and conflict with aborigines this convict out-station was difficult to sustain and was closed in 1831.

The first immigrant ship from England, the Artemisia, reached Moreton Bay in December 1848 after a four-month journey. The next year saw the arrival of the Fortitude carrying more free immigrants to the settlement.  

John Arrowsmith Biography

The Arrowsmiths were a cartographic dynasty which operated from the late-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. The family business was founded by Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823), who was renowned for carefully prepared and meticulously updated maps, globes, and charts. He created many maps that covered multiple sheets and which were massive in total size. His spare yet exacting style was recognized around the world and mapmakers from other countries, especially the young country of the United States, sought his maps and charts as exemplars for their own work.

Aaron Arrowsmith was born in County Durham in 1750. He came to London for work around 1770, where he found employment as a surveyor for the city’s mapmakers. By 1790, he had set up his own shop which specialized in general charts. Arrowsmith had five premises in his career, most of which were located on or near Soho Square, a neighborhood the led him to rub shoulders with the likes of Joseph Banks, the naturalist, and Matthew Flinders, the hydrographer.

Through his business ties and employment at the Hydrographic Office, Arrowsmith made other important relationships with Alexander Dalrymple, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others entities. In 1810 he became Hydrographer to the Prince of Wales and, in 1820, Hydrographer to the King.

Aaron Arrowsmith died in 1823, whereby the business and title of Hydrographer to the King passed to his sons, Aaron and Samuel, and, later, his nephew, John. Aaron Jr. (1802-1854) was a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and left the family business in 1832; instead, he enrolled at Oxford to study to become a minister. Samuel (1805-1839) joined Aaron as a partner in the business and they traded together until Aaron left for the ministry. Samuel died at age 34 in 1839; his brother presided over his funeral. The remaining stock and copper plates were bought at auction by John Arrowsmith, their cousin.

John (1790-1873) operated his own independent business after his uncle, Aaron Arrowsmith Sr., died. After 1839, John moved into the Soho premises of his uncle and cousins. John enjoyed considerable recognition in the geography and exploration community. Like Aaron Jr., John was a founder member of the RGS and would serve as its unofficial cartographer for 43 years. Several geographical features in Australia and Canada are named after him. He carried the title Hydrographer to Queen Victoria. He died in 1873 and the majority of his stock was eventually bought by Edward Stanford, who co-founded Stanford’s map shop, which is still open in Covent Garden, London today.