(material supplied by his nephew, Jack Sands)

When J.D.Lang set up his scheme for free settlement in Moreton Bay he personally selected proved tradesmen who would be useful in the community and who would never be a burden on the colony. Among his approved emigrants was my great-great grandfather, Thomas Sands, who arrived in the sailing ship “Chaseley” in 1849 after 5 months at sea. Included in his nuclear family was his grandson (my grandfather), John Sands.

John Sands was only 5 months when he arrived. The family settled at Bowen Hills. John Sands, like his grandfather, became a carpenter and builder who had a hand in many of the early buildings of Brisbane including Central Railway Station and Brunswick Street Railway Station.

Living at and working from Hines Street, Bowen Hills, John Sands raised a family of three boys and a girl. The eldest son, Frank, was born in Fortitude Valley.

Frank Sands (my uncle) commenced his working life at Webster’s Bonded Stores, but later was apprenticed to a cooper and gained considerable experience in this trade which, together with his family’s ‘carpenter’ background fitted him for becoming an amateur boat-builder and, I understand, he built quite a few.

Frank subsequently married Emily Clayton (distantly related to the Claytons at Point Lookout) and started farming at Hemmant near what later became known as Morgan’s Moorings (Aquarium Passage) and took part time work at the Aquarium Theme Park which was destroyed during the 1893 flood.

As a boy, Frank spent a lot of time down the southern end of Moreton Bay and was there when the great storm of 1894 caused the break through at Jumpin Pin.

After leaving the farm at Hemmant he leased Garden Island as a one man’s farm for several years. Garden Island became too small for his farming operations and when Macleay Island was sub-divided he took up the first allotment. With the help of his wife Emily (who could use an axe as well as he could) he cleared it and set up a first class farm. I was always told (and I have no reason to disbelieve it) that despite the then current belief that citrus fruits could not be grown profitably on the Bay Islands, he was the first to grow them there and did so very successfully. Likewise, we were led to believe that he introduced avocadoes, and I certainly remember him on the family launch in 1930 when he was expounding their virtues to us. He marketed a lot of his crops through Sydney and his farm was the best on the island.

The Sands’ house at Macleay Island about 1920. Frank and his wife are standing out the front.

As Macleay Island prospered and the number of farms grew, Frank was the Postmaster, as a part-time job, but I guess Aunty Emily did most of the work. One thing I know, though, is that he had a large ship’s bell which Aunt Emily would ring exactly at 1 p.m. each day. It was heard on all the farms spread over the island. Although unofficial, it was the only recognisable time-piece on the island, and should this time signal be neglected or a few minutes late, the farmers and their hands were very upset and soon let him know about it!

As a lad I remember occasionally helping out on the farm, and welcoming a billy can of cold tea which was always on hand at the end of the fruit or vegetable row.

Uncle Frank knew every part of South Moreton Bay intimately, no doubt because he had spent so much of his time there in his youth. My grandfather owned a motor launch “Wilga” which he kept moored in the Brisbane River, but once a year he and the family took off down the bay for three weeks holiday, and as a boy of about 14 years of age I was included in the party.

With the old Wilson Marine In-board doing a maximum of 3 to 4 knots we would spend the first night in the Boat Passage and at dawn would plough our way slowly against the south easter to get past Cleveland and to the shelter of the islands.

At Macleay we would pick up Uncle Frank and Aunt Emily and start on a magnificent boat holiday. We lived and slept on board the boat and only went to the mainland once a week to renew our supplies of bread and water. This we did always at the Broadwater, Southport, and by that time the bread had a hairy blue mould about 50 mm all over it, and it had to be seriously pruned each day before it could be eaten.

Stopping for a picnic. Frank Sands (on left) with wife and relatives on way to Point Lookout, 1920s

Living down the bay was very basic. We lived on fish and crabs and obviously spent much of our time catching worms, fishing and crabbing. We caught all the crabs we needed by using a ‘crab-hook’ in the crab holes or by hand netting at night with a hurricane lamp on the sandbanks on the flood tide. There was never a shortage of fish, and fishing in those days was real fun.

I recall Uncle Frank taking us into Swan Bay to Duck Creek – in on the up tide and out on the down tide. I do not know what Duck Creek is like now, but in those days it was a very difficult operation to navigate a motor launch to this primitive creek.

As I said previously Uncle Frank knew the bay intimately and if at any time the weather changed suddenly he could always at a moment’s notice move to another anchorage even if it was pitch dark in the middle of the night. When I was at the tiller he would direct me with uncanny accuracy along the unbuoyed channels and across the sandbanks between Jacob’s Well and Southport. He always seemed to know just how much water he had underneath the keel and I have no doubt he could “feel” this in the way the boat reacted. On some occasions he would say “Now, slow down, Jack; we will touch here” and sure enough that was always what would happen. We would rarely be caught stuck on a bank with a receding tide.

Uncle Frank’s intimate knowledge of the Bay was well known and he was often called upon to pilot the Government launch around South Moreton Bay when important G’ment visitors were being shown around. There was no telephone to Macleay Island then but the skipper of the G’ment launch, when within a few miles of Macleay, would signal to him with a mirror. He would then have time to leave his work on the farm and be waiting for them at the jetty near the Salt Works.

Uncle Frank and Aunt Emily were pioneers of Moreton Bay and they would have died there if it had been possible. But bad health made it impossible for him to continue farming. When they retired to live at Sandgate, South Moreton Bay lost two of its real pioneers.

Jack Sands


September 1995

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.