History of how Deception Bay got its Name

How Deception Bay got its name in Summary.

  1.   Deception Bay was so named because it was the bay that the Deception River (now the Caboolture River) flowed into.
  2.    The account of John Oxley being ‘deceived’ by John Finnigan into thinking Pine River was Brisbane River cannot be substantiated, and Pine River was never called Deception River.


On 16th July 1799, Matthew Flinders entered Moreton Bay and sails up the ‘Pumicestone River’, which he erroneously thinks is a river, although it is really a passage between Bribie Island and the mainland. When Bribie Island is later found to be an insland, not part of the mainland the Pumicestone River is renamed Pumicstone Passage. It would appear then that the ‘deception’ was then, and Flinders was deceived into thinking Bribie Island was part of the mainland. Flinders died in 1814, and at the time of his death, he was still the only white man known to have entered Moreton Bay, so it was probable that when he died, Bribie Island was still imagined to be part of the mainland. The Deception River (now Caboolture River), being close to Pumicestone Passage could well have been so named because Flinders was ‘deceived’ into confusing the two.

John Oxley visited the area in 1823, and on 29 November 1823, he rescued the shipwrecked sailor Thomas Pamphlett, at Bribie Island, and the next day, 30th November rescued his associate, John Finnigan. Finnigan led Oxley the next day to Pine River, but an unreliable account exists that Finnigan mistakenly described it to Oxley as the Brisbane River. The account then unreliably suggests that as a result of Finnigan’s error, Oxley called this river the ‘Deception River’.

Oxley departs at 7:00 am on Monday, 1st December 1823, in a whale boat, with an associate called Stirling, and Finnigan as guide, to find a large river to the south, correctly reported to him by both Pamphlett and Finnigan (Brisbane River). Oxley arrived at a low mangrove island near Pine River at 12:00 noon on the same day, and then later entered Pine River, but he says nothing about believing this is the river Finnigan and Pamphlett spoke of. Oxley records this river did not have it source in the mountains, and is thus not worth pursuing and leaves, but before he leaves he climbs a small hill and makes observations about the timber and notes there is cypress, eucalyptus, she-oak and dogwood. During the afternoon he also takes 8 compass bearings and measures the depth on the water at least 4 times, from 3 separate reference points (he calls the stations). He later distributes biscuits to the local aborigines, and then departs, arriving at where we now call Shorncliffe, 7 kms away (rowing the 7 kms that is, because a whale boat is a narrow rowed boat, not a sail boat), at sunset, on 1st December 1823 (about 6:29 pm, at that latitude and date). He does all that in about 6 hours 29 minutes. He does not say how much of the tie was spent climbing and returning from the hill, setting up stations and recording bearings and water depths, recording flora, distributing biscuits, and rowing a further 7 kms, but obviously he gave Pine River only very cursory attention, and immediately sailed further south. One thing we can say for certain is that John Oxley was a very busy man on the afternoon of 1st December 1823! Exploring Pine river appears to have been of very low priority to him, whereas if he has imagined it was the river he had as his prime objective, he would have looked into it a great deal more. Finnigan probably told him that this river was not a candidate for the river he and Pamphlett described. It looked nothing like the river he and Pamphlett had referred to, was too narrow, too shallow, and turned too sharply to the south, and was also much further north than the river (Brisbane River) he and Pamphlett referred to. Finnigan had earlier traveled up and down the Brisbane River, so would have known it bore no resemblance to the Pine River, and appears to have said so, when asked to comment by Oxley no doubt, given the social order of the day. Finnigan would not have spoken to Oxley unless asked to, given the relative social position of both. It would appear then most unlikely that Oxley was ever ‘deceived’ as to whether the Pine River was Brisbane River. Oxley makes no suggestion that Finnigan ever mislead him, and appears to have continued south, in the correct direction of Brisbane River, which he was looking for, confident in Finnigan’s guidance. Oxley refers to Pine river simply as ‘the inlet we examined’, but does not name it, nor show any loss of confidence in Finnigan, contrary to what Steele (pg92) suggests. Oxley would have definitely interviewed Finnigat and Pamphlett in great detail about the Brisbane River, and its width, distance away, tidal flow, identifying bird life and vegetation, distinguishing landmarks, nearly tell-tale islands etc. Oxley was a navel officer, the colonies most senior surveyor, and very experienced explorer, so, in the society of his day, a ‘great man’. He had previously led two expeditions to the interior of New South Wales, and furthermore had two maritime explorations of Port Macquarie and Jervis Bay behind him, so there was no way he’d be mislead by the ex-convict Finnigan. Oxley was a very experienced explorer by that stage of his career. One imagines Oxley probably knowing before he set out almost exactly what the Brisbane river would look like, where it was and how far away it would be, and how many days provision to lay in for the expedition, what to looks for in vegetation, water salinity etc, based on his experience, and interviewing Pamphlett and Finnigan. With a little imagination, one can almost see John Oxley brimming with excitement on the evening 30th November 1823, anticipating the discovery of the uncharted coastline, and the major river that he was now quite confident lay ahead.

Oxley does not name any river ‘Deception River’ in his writings, although he says in his field books of 29th September 1824, that he was ‘preparing boats and tools in order to procure some of the pine spars from Deception River’.

Oxleys associate John Uniacke says in his narrative ‘Mr. Oxley told us that after losing the first day (1st December 1823) in the examination of a large creek, (Pine River) which Finnigan mistook for the [Brisbane] river’. The Surveyor General of New South Wales, and senior naval officer John Oxley, would be most unlikely to seek his navigational advice from an ex convict, no pay attention, even if offered. This alleged mistake is reported by Uniacke, not by Oxley, and is clearly untrue in at least one regard. Uniacke definitely exaggerates when he says Oxley ‘lost’ a day in Pine River. Reconstructing Oxley’s log book for 1st December 1823, he ‘spent’ less than an afternoon, not a day, in Pine River. Losing and spending are quite different. It is suspected that Uniacke got it wrong again when he says Finnigan mislead Oxley, because given the social structure of the day, an officer would never delegate his responsibility for command to anybody, let alone an ex-convict like Finnigan. Any mistake in navigation would rest squarely on the shoulders of the officer concerned (Oxley), and Oxley would have known that. Uniacke further belittles Finnigan when he says the unwarranted delay Finnigan allegedly created in by a ‘large creek’, suggesting Finnigan is grossly incompetent in his alleged miss-identification of the mouth of the much larger Brisbane River. Oxley calls Pine River a ‘considerable river’ on 1st December 1923, so Uniacke again presents a quite different picture of Finnigan’s competency to that which Oxley presents. If one looks west from the Houghton Bridge today, it is hard to describe what one sees as a ‘large creek’, so one is left with the impression that Uniacke admittedly ever saw Pine River, only heard of it, but there appears no valid reason who he would downgrade Oxley’s ‘considerable river’ description, to a much lesser ‘large creek’ description, without an agenda. Steele (p 92) appears to side with Uniacke in a poor assessment of Finnegan, saying Finnigan failed to locate the [Brisbane river, which is clearly wrong. Steele also says Finnigan is the least competent of the rescued castaways, but that begs the question of why Oxley chose him over Pamphlett as guide. Steele suggests that Oxley and Stirling produced an accurate map of the river, suggesting greater competence than Finnigan. One would expect however the Surveyor General of New South Wales to have cartography skills greater by far than the former convict Finnigan (probably illiterate), but it is suggested that Finnigan would  know far more of the Brisbane River.

Finnergan had spent 16 days from 7th June to 23rd June 1823 travelling up the Brisbane River from Lytton to Oxley Creek, where he crossed the river in a native canoe, and then a further 4 days from 23rd June to 27th June, travelling down it again from Indooroopilly to Brisbane Airport. During that 20 days he must have become very well acquainted with the Brisbane River. Furthermore, he traveled from 27th June to 30th June from Brisbane Airport to Clontarf, so would have known of at least 2 smaller creeks (Cabbage Tree Creek and what is now Schultz’s Canal), before reaching the larger Pine River. On 29th or 30th June he would have crossed Pine River, to get to Clontarf, so he would already have known of Pine River. Finnigan was also recently familiar with Redcliffe having walked there from Bribie Island from 21st November 1823, arriving on the 23rd and then spending 2 days hunting kangaroos and watching native fights. He returned to Bribie on the 26th November, and was rescued by Oxley 4 days later. He returned to Redcliffe with Oxley in the whale boat just 5 days after he was last there so the area must have been very familiar to him. He would have also been well aware that the journey from Redcliffe to Brisbane included one river and two smaller creeks, and it was 3 days walk distant. It is most unlikely that Finnigan would have expected to row to Brisbane River, in the whale boat, in the 5 hours from 7:00 am to 12:00 noon, on August 1st, when the journey had taken he, Pamphlett and Parsons 3 days earlier that year. He and Pamphlett had no doubt already informed Oxley of its approximate distance, about 2 days there and 2 days back, hence Oxley and Stirling had named Thursday, the 4th December, for their return date, (Uniacke), and provisioned accordingly (Oxley). They actually arrived back just before midnight on Friday 5th December, having rowed since 5:00 am that morning. Uniacke then records Messrs Oxley and Stirling, ‘now appeared quite exhausted’ which would have been a major understatement, one expects.

Steele suggests that the pace Oxley sets out to procure ‘pine spars’ from on 29th September 1824, is where he noted ‘cypress’ (no doubt Hoop Pine) trees on 1st December 1823, but there is nothing to suggest that this is the case. ‘Cypress’ (no doubt Hoop Pine) is noted by Oxley just once in Pine river, but five times by Oxley in his log books as occurring along the Brisbane River, although on the fifth time he then calls it ‘pine, having shortly before realised his error in species description. He procures the spars in 1824 from ‘Deception River’, but in 1824 the place we now call Pine River appears not to be named. Oxley does not show any ‘Deception River’ on his map of 6th February 1825, published by ‘John Murray, Albermarle Street London’ (refer Steele).

The only person who could have named this river, either when discovered (1st December 1823) or by 29th September 1824, would have been Oxley himself. He appears never to have named it, and it is unlikely anyway that he would have given it a name like ‘deception’, when responsibility for any such ‘deception’ would have fallen on himself as commanding officer. In that period, a naval officer, or any other ‘gentleman’ explorer was held professionally responsible for any errors of seamanship, navigation or loss or damage to a vessel etc, and Oxley would have known that. Oxley started as a career naval officer and had joined the navy in 1799 as a midshipman in the Venerable, and transferred in November 1801 to the Buffalo, in which as master’s mate he sailed to Australia. He rose through the ranks of the navy thereafter through various positions of advancing command, until 1812 when he changed his career to become Surveyor General to New South Wales. To call a river ‘Deception River’ would essentially be calling himself incompetent in both judgement and navigation, after 24 year as a career naval officer, Surveyor General, and leader of no less than four expeditions. By this time Oxley had 4000 acres of land, 3000 sheep and an annual income of £1500. It is unlikely that he was at all incompetent, and even less likely that he ever called himself such. He would have been unlikely to have followed the advice of a ticket of leave convict in an era when a ticket of leave convict an labourer like Finnigan, would earn about £20 a year.

The species of tree Oxley would no doubt have been sourcing for spars in 1824 would likely have been Hoop Pine (species Araucara cunninghamii), a favoured boat building timber. Oxley saw, but did not identify a new species of pine during his 1823 vayage, referred to by Uniacke as ‘an unknown species of pine in considerable abundance’, that may have been Hoop Pine. Hoop Pine was first identified by Alan Cunningham. Steele Says that Oxley would have been seeking Hoop Pine for spars, and he no doubt was, but it is suggested that he went to collect them from where we now call Caboolture River, then called Deception River. The other possibility is that Oxley, in his record of 29th September 1824, is not being too specific, and merely refers to an area called Deception River generally speaking, and he may have actually procured pine for spars from a general area, that included the place we now call Caboolture River, as well as numerous place in between also. Hoop Pine grew widely in the entire district and was the basis for a later saw-milling industry.

The entry in Oxley’s field notes for 29th September 1824 may have been the cause of subsequent confusion. Oxley says he procured pine from Deception River, and one would logically assume that he would procure pine from the ‘Pine River’. That may be why readers of his field notes up until 1842 assumed the Pine River and Deception River were one and the same place.

The next reference to a ‘Deception River’ is on 3rd August 1841, when Chistopher Eipper, a Lutheran missionary from Zion’s Hills (Nundah) travelling to Toorbul recorded in his diary: ‘we arrived at our last river of our journey. Its native name is Kaboltur, among the Whites it is called Deception River’. That is then the last river before Toorbul, and therefore not Pine River. In 1841 then, Kaboltur (no doubt spelled at Caboolture) River was synonymous with Deception River. On August 5th Eipper says (of the bay), ‘ Mr [Andrew] Petrie calls it Deception Bay, so by August 1841 the name Deception Bay existed, even though it may have been an unofficial name created by Petrie. Petrie no doubt referred to it as Deception Bay because Deception River (now Caboolture River) ran into it. Earlier that same day Eipper crossed Pine River, calling it that, but also noting that Mr [Andrew] Petrie called it Eden River, Eipper noted it had two ‘arms’ so he was clearly referring to the north and south Pine Rivers here. Pine River then appears to have been named in the 17 years between 1824 and 1841.

The next reference is by Lutheran missionary, Rev K.W.E Schmidt, 16 months later, who records on 28th December 1842, that he ‘crossed both the North and South Pine Rivers, [more follows] and encamped near the first freshwater holes, about a mile beyond the North Pine River.’ That refers to the North Pine and South Pine Rivers, still known by those names, and later to be a reference to what we now call Freshwater Creek, which is indeed about a mile beyond the North Pine river, if you are travelling north, as he was. Schmidt refers to Freshwater ‘holes’, whereas we now call a place Freshwater ‘Creek’, but it is suggested that the two places are the same, given the similar names and that both are about a mile north of the North Pine River. He clearly refers to a North and South Pine River in 1842, so it would appear that neither were called ‘Deception River’ even that early. That creates doubt as to whether either were ever called that in the first place.

He says in the journal entry for the next day, 29th December 1842, that he marched about 5 miles [north obviously, towards Toorbul] and met with a few women and children of the Umpie Boang tribe who were encamped at a spot called ‘Burrujavoiun’. The park in Deception, now bounded by Endeavour Street, Bayview Terrance, Ewart Street and Captain Cook Parade is known to the aborigine people of Deception Bay and ‘Burrujavoiun Park’, and to the local white people as ‘Library Park’. That would appear to align closely to what Rev Schmidt says in 1842, because that location would appear to be about 5 miles north of Freshwater Creek.

It would appear then that Schmidt camped on the night of 28th December, at Freshwater Creek, and no doubt left early on the morning of 29th December, and traveled the five miles north to what is now the area of Deception Bay, known as Library Park. The distances and dates quoted all very closely align, making certain allowances for name changes, so the route and timing of Schmidt’s journey can be reasonably well established. Schmidt leaves Burrujavoiun (Library Park) on Friday 30th December and stops at ‘Dipperenba’, and says he crosses Deception River, and later gets to ‘Gibunba’. He arrives at Toorbul on Saturday 31st December 1842. That places Deception River between ‘Dipperenba’ and ‘Gibunba’, and north of Library Park (Burrujaoiun).

Schmidt then later makes a reference on his return journey, for ‘Th 5’. That may well be a reference to the 5th January 1843, six days later, which did actually fall of a Thursday [Th], according to the calendar of 1843. Here Schmidt says he ‘felt unwell again [more follows] and we crossed this afternoon the Deception River and [presumably later] another small river and reached before night the hut at ‘Burrujavoiun’ (Library Park)’, on his return journey south from Toorbul. That would clearly suggest a river already named Deception river and another as yet unnamed river existed south of Toorbul, but north of Library Park (Burrujavoiun). That would closely align with what we now call Caboolture River (Schmidt appears to call this Deception River) and ‘another small River’ that may be what we now call Burpengary Creek at the place we now call Beachmere. That would fit the sequence of his travel on the 5th January 1943, from Toorbul to Library Park (Burrujavoiun).

In December 1824, Schmidt refers by name to the North and South Pine Rivers, correctly putting fresh water ‘holes’ about a mile north. In January 1843, he refers by name to the ‘Deception River’, clearly north of Library Park, Deception Bay, but south of Toorbul, and another ‘small river’ that would appear to answer to the description of the present Burpengary Creek at Beachmere. Deception River would appear then to be Caboolture River.

The story about Finnigan deceiving Oxley, with or without genuine confusion, into believing that Pine River was actually Brisbane River, is doubtful. Finnigan, Oxley and Stirling visited Pine River on 1st December 1823, but spent less than 6 hours and 29 minutes in the area, and did much to otherwise occupy that time anyway. Any ‘deception’ is not mentioned in the diary of Oxley for that day. It would appear that Deception River is now what we call Caboolture River and the deception was that of Pumicestone Passage, deceiving Flinders into thinking it a river. No doubt Petrie derived the name Deception Bay, because the Deception River (now Caboolture River) flowed into it.

In summary then, it is suggested that:

  1.   Deception Bay is so named by Andrew Petrie, in 1841 or earlier, quite likely his name for the bay where the Deception River flowed into.
  2.   The Deception River, later named Caboolture River, was called Deception River by 1824 or earlier, and the reference to a ‘deception’ relates to the nearby Pumicestone Passage ‘deceiving’ Captain Matthew Flinders into thinking Pumicestone Passage was a river.
  3.   John Oxley sets out to collect ‘pine spars’ from Deception River on 29 September 1824, however is not referring to what we now call Pine River, as the region had ‘but few pines on its banks’ anyway. (Eipper, 1841)
  4. The Pine River was never the Deception River, but was briefly called Eden River by Andrew Petrie in about 1841. Others called it Pine River at the same time, but it was unnamed in 1824. The confusion about Pine River being once called Deception River appears to stem from John Steele’s book The Explorers of the Moreton Bay District 1700-1830 written in 1972. Steele concludes that because Finnigan and Pamphlett tell Oxley about a large river to the south, and Oxley then sets out the next day to locate it, Oxley would automatically conclude that the first river he encountered, just 5 hours distant, was the river referred to, in spite of taking on the whale boat, 4 days of supplies for the anticipated journey. It is suggested that Steele relies too heavily on the second hand testimonial of John Uniacke, who claims to have heard of such from Oxley, although Oxley himself never mentions this.
  5. John Uniacke, in 1823, incorrectly accused Finnigan of misleading Oxley about the identity of Pine River, which Oxley never mentions, and by this concoction thus holds Finnigan responsible for creating unwarranted delay. He furthermore exaggerates the alleged delay by over two-fold, from less than one afternoon to one day, and also depreciates Finnigans abilities by alleging he was unable to distinguish the mouth of the Brisbane River from a ‘large creek’.
    His motivation for this misrepresentation remains unclear. He may have been disgruntled that Finnigan, previously unconnected with the expedition, suddenly rises to great importance as chief authority on the norther Moreton Bay region. There can be no doubt that both Finnigan and Pamphlett are very knowledgeable on the geographys of Moreton Bay, from Brisbane River to Bribie Island. Uniacke is not included in the party that discovers the Brisbane River, whereas the very ‘junior’ Finnigan is. The party returns with tremendous news that it finds a magnificent river, and that may have caused Uniacke to hod certain jealousy towards Finnigan, in that while he was attached to the expedition from the start, Finnigan joined it just the day before, but is nevertheless associated with its greatest achievement, whereas he is not. It could be imagined that Uniacke, with his mother a niece of the first Marquis of Waterford, and he as Superintendent of Distilleries in New South Wales, (refer Steele, 4) could have been displeased that a conditionally pardoned convict had displaced him in the party discovering Brisbane River.
  6. Oxley entered Pine River on 1st December 1823, and recorded compass bearings and depth recordings, but was never ‘deceived’ about whether Pine River was the river (Brisbane River) that Finnigan and Pamphlett told him about. His log books do not record any hint that Finnigan mislead him.


  • Extract from the field books of Mr. John Oxley.
  • Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Volume 2, Issue 3: pp. 137-157.
  • Extract from the field books of Mr. John Oxley: Surveryor General of New South Wales.
  • Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Volume 2, Issue 3: pp. 124-136.
  • Gunston Niel, A Missionary Expedition from Zion Hill (Nundah) to Toorbul, Moreton Bay District, in 1842-43: the Journal of the Reverend K.W.E Schmidt, Aboriginal History, Volume 2, 1977, pp. 114-121.
  • Eipper, Christopher, Observations Made on a Journey to the Natives at Toorbul 2 August 1841, Colonial Observer, Volume 1, No 2, 14 October 1841, pp. 10.
  • Steele, John, The Explorers of the Moreton Bay District 1700-1830, Saint Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1972, pp. 105.
  • Uniacke Narrative.
  • Uniacke John, Narrtive of Mr. Oxley’s Expedition to Survery Port Curtis and Moreton Bay, (3) – Sydney to Moreton Island, 21 March – 15 April 1823.
  • Steele J.G, Pamphlett, Uniacke and Field, Queensland Heritage, Volume 2, Issue 3: pp. 3-14.


Originally Written by Robert Constantine.

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