Where’s Toondah? – Part 2 

Toondah Harbour in 2021

Whence Cassim?

John Cassim was a Mauritian Indian, whom it appears was transported to Moreton Bay in 1840. He had received a seven-year sentence, and was amongst a group of Mauritian convicts who were transported to Sydney via the Layton early in 1840 (Mauritius had been occupied by the British since 1810). In April 1840 fifteen of these men, including Cassim, were sent on to Moreton Bay, which was soon to be opened for free settlement, apparently to conduct experiments in sugar growing. Sugar was the principal Mauritian cash crop at this period, and was exported regularly to New South Wales. Presumably, the Mauritian convicts were considered to have had some experience in the sugar industry.

Cassim received a ticket-of-leave (conditional pardon) at Moreton Bay in February 1844. By 1851, John and his wife, Mary, were operating a boarding house at Kangaroo Point, which they maintained until late 1855. Then From late 1855 to mid-1860 the Cassims leased Cleveland House (now the Grandview Hotel), and an adjacent dwelling, from pastoralist Francis Edward Bigge. These buildings had been erected at Cleveland in the early 1850s as part of Bigge’s unsuccessful push to establish Cleveland as the principal port of the Moreton Bay region.

About 1860, Cassim erected his Cleveland Hotel on an allotment adjacent to Cleveland House (now the Grand View).

Cassim’s Cleveland Hotel ca.1871

The Cassims were well-known and respected Cleveland identities and devout Catholics, whose hotel not only was synonymous with Cleveland as a seaside resort, but also served as a mass centre from the early 1860s until the construction of the first Catholic church at Cleveland in 1877. John was a trustee of the local church in the 1870s and 1880s, and would not accept payment from any priest staying at the hotel. Cassim’s Island, in Moreton Bay, is named after him.

Grand View from Cassims today (2021)

(Condensed from the Queensland Heritage Register)

Where’s Toondah? 

As a member of the Probus Club of Toondah, this is the first question I am asked when people see the name on my lapel badge. The name “Toondah” was derived from nearby Toondah Harbour which has been in the news again recently, with another feverish round of debate on whether we should develop the area into a modern water-front precinct featuring high-rise buildings etc. or leave it and its surrounding park-land, mangroves etc. in their present peaceful state. 

What started all this was when the Government in 1881, on the advice of the Port Master of Queensland, decided to have constructed in Brisbane a steam launch 40ft. in length with a beam of 9 feet and 6 inches – powered by a wood/coal fired Willins steam engine. His recommendation was that “advantages would be gained by having a small steam launch with which to look after the fisheries in Moreton Bay, indeed as those working on the oyster-beds do not in any assist in the seeing that the law is put in force. The only way is to have them visited unexpectedly from time to time and thus keep a general supervision over them.”

And so, the Steam Vessel “Toondah” was born and put into service. Cecil Shuttleworth Fison, Inspector of Fisheries at the time, used the vessel to expand the fishery industry of Moreton Bay and its value expanded from 780 pounds in 1879 to 4560 pounds in 1890. In 1890 the “Toondah” had her cabin enlarged as a considerable amount of ‘official business’ was being done on board when she was ‘on service down the bay’.

As well as her duties in the fishing industry, the “Toondah” was used to carry out extensive survey work around the Bay under Mr. Fison’s captaincy and many of the existing beacons in the area were established during these times. The Fison Channel leading into Toondah Harbour was later named in his honour. Sadly, Mr Fison died suddenly after returning from a trip down the bay in December 1899 whilst waiting for a train on Cleveland station platform. The “Toondah” was taken out of service shortly after the turn of the century and finally laid to rest on Cassim Island which lies directly in front of the harbour. Her rusting hulk is still visible amongst the mangroves.

The Redland Museum now has a very interesting display featuring a model of the “Toondah” which was constructed in recent times. Much of this research was done by a team of interested people led by Alan Rogers during the 1990s culminating in the building of the model and the setting up of a temporary display at Cleveland Library which was later transferred to its permanent home at the Museum.

(The word “Toondah” comes from the local Aboriginal language meaning ‘any piece of wood’.)

Model of the Steam Launch “Toondah” in the Redlands Museum