Master of the Steel Backs

Oil portrait of a man wearing a bright red colonial military uniform.

DURATION: 4mins 50secs

Captain Patrick Logan, c 1825
by unknown artist
oil on canvas
acquired 1934
ML 13

Senior Curator

This is Captain Patrick Logan. He came from an old Scottish family in Berwickshire, Scotland. He arrived with his regiment, which was the 57th Foot, in New South Wales, in April 1825 and it’s likely that he had his portrait painted before he left for New South Wales. By the time he arrived in Australia, he was an experienced soldier. He served in many campaigns. He served in Spain during the Peninsular War, fighting against Napoleon’s troops, then he was sent to Canada, during the War of 1812 between America and Britain. And he also served with Wellington’s army at the occupation of Paris. So I think you could say he’s a very experienced military man.

Once he arrived, he was quickly appointed commandant of the convict settlement at Moreton Bay, which is now Brisbane, and as a place of secondary punishment, conditions were brutal and there were very limited resources and a lack of skilled labour and there were no permanent buildings. So Logan was 35 when he arrived there and he immediately set about establishing this settlement, planting maize on the flats. He built a hospital, a jail and barracks. And during his time at Moreton Bay, he led several exploring expeditions, systematically travelling through what is now south-east Queensland. In his first expedition, in 1826, he discovered the river to the south of the settlement, which was ultimately named after him, the Logan River.

While it seems he was quite successful in establishing the settlement, essentially building the foundations of the city of Brisbane, his reputation as a violent, cruel convict overlord is his legacy, and he was immortalised in convict ballads, including one called Moreton Bay, which says:

Of all those places of condemnation and penal stations in New South Wales,
To Moreton Bay I've found no equal: excessive tyranny each day prevails.

For three long years I was beastly treated and heavy irons on my legs I wore,
My back from flogging was lacerated, and oft times painted with my crimson gore,
And many a man from downright starvation lies mouldering now underneath the clay,
And Captain Logan he had us mangled all at the triangles of Moreton Bay.

So convicts hated Logan for his harsh methods. He was a relentless flogger. This can be seen from the records kept in 1828, where Logan had ordered 200 floggings with over 11,000 lashes. And his regiment, the 57th Foot Regiment, was known to be a flogging regiment and it was nicknamed “The Steelbacks” regiment. So given this military culture, it’s not surprising that Logan dished out harsh physical punishment, believing it was the best method to keep convicts in check.

Logan himself, though, met a violent end and, to this day, the circumstances of his death are not clear cut. His regiment was due for transfer to India but he was keen to undertake one more exploratory expedition. In October 1830, he was to explore and chart the windings of the upper Brisbane River. So he took with him his batman, Private Collison, and five prisoners. Apparently he had struck out alone along a track in the hopes of finding a lost horse from a previous expedition. Eventually the search party found Logan’s saddle, then Logan’s dead horse, lying in a shallow creek, then some of Logan’s belongings – a bloodstained waistcoat, a pocket compass and other instruments. Then they found the body of Logan, buried in a shallow grave, the back of his head severely wounded.

From reports from the inquest, held in Sydney, with an account published in the Sydney Gazette, it was determined that Logan had been killed with Aboriginal weapons. The inquest noted that the injuries were a result of beatings by waddies and his side had been pierced by a spear. When Logan’s body was brought back to Moreton Bay, the convicts, “Manifested insane joy at the news of his murder and sang and hoorayed all night in defiance of the warders.” So eventually, a month or so later, Logan’s body was transported to Sydney where he was buried at the Devonshire Street Cemetery in Surry Hills. There’s a final stanza to the ballad Moreton Bay, which indicates that convicts felt that justice had been meted out on Logan. It says:


We were oppressed under Logan's yoke,
Till a native black, lying there in ambush, did deal this tyrant his mortal stroke.
My fellow prisoners, be exhilarated that all such monsters such a death may find!
And when from bondage we are liberated, our former sufferings will fade from mind.