The European exploration of Ipswich was a result of the establishment of the penal colony at Moreton Bay.
The Ipswich Municipal Centenary book records the discovery of the Bremer River: 'Two rowboats left the new settlement at Redcliffe on Saturday 16, 1824. In the party were John Oxley, Allan Cunningham, Lieutenant Butler of the 40th Regiment and the boats' crews. They went across Moreton Bay, to make the second survey of the Brisbane River.
'After rowing up the river, they began the return journey on September 25, at 5 p.m. made a camp on the north bank, opposite a tributary, which Oxley named 'Bremer's Creek'. At that time Captain James Gordon Bremer (later Sir James), was in charge of the H.M.S. Tamar, in New South Wales. The captain's name was adopted for the newly discovered creek.'
Inevitably people living at the penal colony explored the land around the Brisbane River. The first European into the Ipswich area was Major Lockyer and he was followed by Captain Logan, the Commandant of the Brisbane colony.
The Jubilee History of Ipswich (first published in 1910) records Logan's explorations: 'Captain Logan, the Commandant of Brisbane, appears to have been the first to make definite exploration about the locality where Ipswich now stands...In his journal of June 7th, 1827, it is recorded - 'left the settlement (Brisbane) at 4 o'clock in the morning; proceeded up the Brisbane and arrived at Limestone Hills on the left branch at 10 o'clock; distance 57 miles.' Captain Logan sent the boat back to Brisbane at this point, and for a fortnight he traversed the country along the courses of the Bremer and the Logan Rivers. He saw plenty of kangaroos, emus, parrots, and so on, and was highly pleased with the country, reporting that at one point he had 'a grand and extensive prospect - the Limestone Hill bore N.N.E.'; while on another occasion he says: 'I may safely rely that there is in this beautiful vale at least half-a-million acres excellently watered, and fit for any purpose to which it may be applied.'
The next explorer through the region was Allan Cunningham who, in 1828 while writing to Governor Darling, observed: 'a few remarks on the future importance of Bremer's River as a navigable stream... It is, therefore, highly probable that upon the site of these limestone hills, a town will one day be raised.'
At around this time convicts from Brisbane were already in the area and a limestone kiln had been built which was producing between 300-400 baskets of lime a week. The lime was mixed with mortar to built Brisbane's stone buildings.
At this time coal was also found nearby at Redbank. Mining began in 1843 when a number of mines (there were as many as 50 at one time) were established in the area. It is obvious that many of the miners came from Wales as the mines have such familiar Welsh coal mining names as Rhondda and Ebbw Vale. The Rhondda colliery, which lies to the south of the city, is still operational. The Rhondda No 1 is an important example of a Victorian coalmine with a vertical shaft and poppet head. Some of the old mining equipment is now listed as part of the National Estate. It is possible to visit the works but worth contacting Rhondda Collieries on (07) 3282 1311 before you do so.
By 1840 a small settlement, which was probably nothing more than a couple of houses and a general store, had grown up in the area. It is recognised that George Thorn, who arrived in the area in 1838 to take charge of the Government's cattle, sheep and horses, was Ipswich's first free settler.
In 1842, when the area around Brisbane was opened to free settlers, the squatters who were already on the Darling Downs, came through Cunningham's and Spicer's Gaps and quickly took up land. Between 1840 and 1860 the area was dominated by wool production and the head of navigation on the Bremer River became the point for shipping wool to the coast. In two weeks in 1859 60 drays with over 500 bales of wool arrived at the port.
Development of the township was rapid. It was proclaimed a municipality in 1860, the railway to Grandchester was completed in 1864, the railway to Brisbane came in 1876, and by 1904 Ipswich (which had started life with the rather unprepossessing name of Limestone) had become a city.
Some of the publications dealing with Ipswich are delightful. The Jubilee History of Ipswich: A Record of Municipal, Industrial and Social Progress is a facsimile of a book published in 1910 to celebrate 50 years of Municipal Government. It has some excellent photographs and interesting biographies of some of the towns' earliest citizens. Equally interesting and informative is Ipswich Municipal Centenary written and published by Leslie E. Slaughter in March 1960 to celebrate 100 years of Municipal Government. For people interested in the history of the local river (with details of floods, river transportation, exploration and just about everything you could ever want to know) The Romance of the Bremer by Margery Brier-Mills is an informative publication.