Of all the convicts that were sent to Moreton Bay, Sheik Brown, also known as ‘Black Jack’ and ‘Marridaio’ would have to be one of the more unconventional. If only for the fact that he did not spend much time there, absconding on more than one occasion for lengths of time stretching anywhere between a couple of days to several years. Although evidence of his life is fragmentary, we can tell that he was an intelligent, rebellious and charismatic character, who defied and bamboozled the colonial authorities. Sheik Brown’s interactions with other convicts, colonists and indigenous Australians provides a fascinating glimpse into untold and almost forgotten stories of life in early colonial Queensland. Although Sheik Brown makes several anecdotal appearances in various historical studies, this first systematic study, with the aid of digital archives of records and newspapers, sheds new light on his life.
Sheik Brown’s early life remains obscure, but we do know he was born in India around 1802. Where precisely is not so clear, however indications point towards somewhere around Surat or Bombay on the west coast of the Indian subcontinent. It is most likely that he was born into a Muslim family, as his name and written language suggests. We know even less about his childhood and youth, except for the fact that some time before 1824 he made his way to London. This seems not to be too unusual, with several cases of Indian sailors or ‘lascars’, as they were known, settling in London and turning up in the records, sometimes like Sheik, for the wrong reasons.
We can, however, speculate that he was involved in some way in the Napoleonic Wars as some? years later, although as part of an alias, it was revealed he could speak some French and had knowledge of the French controlled Isle de Bourbon off the coast of Africa.
Sheik Brown’s first appearance in the records is in 1824, where he, aged twenty-two, is arrested and convicted for theft at the Old Bailey criminal court in London. According to the Criminal Register, however, this was not the first time he had offended, with a remark in the margin stating ‘In Newgate before’, indicating that he had already been in prison. According to the trial records, Sheik had been living in a ‘depot for the reception of black men’ run by a merchant named Francis Robinson who lived in an adjoining house. In testimony given by William Green, a clerk, to Francis Robinson, he accused Sheik Brown of having stolen from his room which was also in the depot:
On the 5th of March there was nobody but the prisoner and one more man there, and about seven o’clock that morning I missed from my room a blue great coat, two coats, two pairs of trowsers, four waistcoats, a pair of breeches and gaiters, a towel, two black silk handkerchiefs, two pairs of white cotton stockings, five leather gloves, two sovereigns, and six shillings. I had seen them all safe the morning before, about twelve o’clock. I locked my door then, and found it locked in the evening when I went to bed, but the key went very hard. I did not then miss the things, as I did not look for them. About eight o’clock on the morning after I missed them, I saw the prisoner in the depot washing himself.
Whilst this was probably not enough to convict Sheik, the evidence given by the shopkeepers and pawnbroker who had bought Mr Green’s clothing from Sheik, however, settled the case. Mrs Douglas Towns, who lived in her tobacconist father’s shop, told the court:
The prisoner used to come there to buy snuff, and on Thursday the 4th of March, between two and three o’clock, he came with a great coat and waistcoat to sell. I bought them of him for 7 s. I produce them. He came back again with some things in a towel, and asked if I could get them washed; he had a pair of breeches, a pair of gaiters, five gloves, and a towel. I said I would wash them for nothing, as I had bought the other things. I gave them to the officer on Friday.
John Dawson an apprentice pawnbroker claimed to have ‘two coats which the prisoner pawned on the 4th of March in the evening for 8 s., in the name of Jack Brown’. However, when Sheik tried to sell ‘three waistcoats and a pair of trowsers’ to David Gidgeon, Gidgeon’s suspicions were raised when ‘he [Sheik] said he wanted money, and had no use for them’ and handed them over to James Beechley, who had already collected the stolen property from Mrs Townes. Beechley told the court, ‘When I apprehended the prisoner I found 17 s. 6 d. sewed up in his drawers. I had asked if he had any money – he said he had only 2 d’. The combined value of what Sheik had stolen was 101 shillings, an estimated modern equivalent of five thousand pounds. Indeed, the theft was deemed serious enough for Sheik, aged only twenty-two, to be sentenced to death. This, along with the other court proceedings, was communicated to him via a translator, and no doubt came as a shock regardless of what language he understood it in. However, in this case being a ‘foreigner’ counted in his favour, with him ‘Recommended to Mercy’ on account of ‘being a foreigner’. However, Sheik was seemingly not yet out from the shadow of death, the London Times on 15 April 1824 reporting how Sheik and several other convicts were brought before a judge who sentenced them to death, issuing them a stern warning that not all their petitions for mercy could be agreed to and that ‘if any of them received a transmutation of their sentence, it would still be on the condition (which might be considered a hard one under other circumstances) of their final separation from their country and friends’. The judge recommended that:
Whatever might be the result of the petitions of their friends here, there was a throne at which petitions for mercy were never offered in vain. He therefore implored them to consider the awful situation in which they stood, having now forfeited their lives, and lose no time in making their peace with Heaven.
Sheik Brown was seemingly one of the lucky ones afforded mercy, his sentence instead reduced to transportation for life.
Aboard the convict ship Asia, Sheik left England behind, destined for New South Wales. Although he must have picked up some rudimentary English, it is easy to imagine the whole thing must have seemed confusing and frightening. Arriving in April 1825, Sheik Brown was landed in Sydney just over a year since his original conviction. Sheik and the other convicts were then most likely posted out on assignment, particularly as personal servants. The next record puts him in the household of Mr George Tomlins, by whom he was accused of ‘stealing various articles of wearing apparel, a brace of pistols, and an umbrella’. A Sydney paper, the Australian, reported the case:
The prisoner had been left in charge of prosecutor’s house on the 16th of November last, and took that opportunity to carry off the property in question. When apprehended some of the clothes were found on his person, the remainder had been left at the house of Clara Parsons, in Phillip-street.
As a result of the new colonial conviction, Sheik was ‘transported’ for another seven years and, as a re-offender, sent to Moreton Bay. Sheik Brown, as prisoner number 757, next makes an appearance in the Chronological Register of Convicts in June 1826. The Chronological Register of Convicts described him as a man of a fraction over 5 ft tall, with a ‘copper colour’ complexion and black hair.
A frequent absconder, Sheik Brown certainly seems to have done his very best to avoid the penal settlement at Moreton Bay. Within only a few days he had run away, living in the bush surrounding the settlement for eight days. The punishment for absconding was flogging, with some prisoners receiving over two hundred lashes as recorded in the Book of Trials. This and his experience of the bush seems to have initially put Sheik off, as his next recorded escape was in 1828, when he disappeared for over six months. In 1829 he disappeared for twelve days, and in 1830 left the settlement for over two years, living in an area called ‘Big River’. Sheik later reported that this large river where he principally stopped was ‘called by the natives Brimbo, and by some Berin’. Reports came back from other runaways that Sheik, now known as ‘Black Jack’, had provided them hospitality. One such report was from runaway James McCarnie, who recounted how he discovered Black Jack in an Aboriginal camp and stayed with him for a week, learning that Jack was planning on returning to Moreton Bay after he believed his sentence had expired.
But it was not just Sheik who had been extending hospitality. During his time away, he seems to have been befriended by the local Aboriginal people. Unlike other runaway convicts whom the Aborigines often returned to the penal settlement in exchange for rewards like blankets and axes, Sheik seems to have been more successful in forming a relationship with them, living with them in their camp for long periods of time. It appears that both Sheik and another absconder, George Brown, who was from Ceylon, had Aboriginal wives with whom they had families.
By 1832 the colonial authorities were unhappy that ‘Black Jack’ continued to evade his punishment. In August, William Dalton, himself a Moreton Bay absconder, was sent from Port Macquarie with the task of bringing in Black Jack. Dalton seems to have done his job, because two days after his return, Sheik turned himself in at Port Macquarie. His useful information about the abundance of raw materials like wood, salt, stone and food seems to have calmed the wrath of the Chief Magistrate, who made him one of his servants. In writing to the Governor, he wrote that Sheik had returned voluntarily, in exchange for a promise that he would not be returned to Moreton Bay ‘in consequence of the Prisoner being an unfortunate Black from Bombay and unaccustomed to mess with Europeans’. The Governor took a dim view of this, responding to the Chief Magistrate that he should act in the same way he would treat any absconder. However by this point it was already too late, as he had already absconded again. Brown was planning an a cunning return taking on a new persona. Picked up near Port Stevens by a passing schooner, he pretended to be a shipwrecked sailor called Jose Koondiana, who professed to have travelled with the aid of Aborigines across the continent from New Holland (Western Australia) where his ship the Fanny had been wrecked. Sheik’s thoroughly detailed, if slightly fanciful tales of his travels, based mainly on his experiences living around ‘Big River’, managed to convince lots of people, including the Bench of Magistrates in Newcastle, that he really was Jose Koondiana. Communicating through French and a translator understanding ‘hindustanee’, Sheik seems to have taken in one ‘gentleman at Newcastle’ in particular who, in a letter published by the Sydney Herald, proclaimed the ‘interior discovery’ of the big river by Koondiana, who had satisfied him in the belief that ‘he has no desire to mislead, nor any pre-conceived fancies or schemes to uphold by the information he gives’. The Herald’s editorial seemed far more sceptical, noting the odd stories coming out of the area. Though the name of the letter’s author was withheld, one could well argue that it was one of the magistrates, Dr Brooks, who not only took in Shiek as a servant, but refused to give credence to suggestions that Koondiana was not who he said he was. The game was well and truly given up, however, when Mark Fletcher, a servant of the Australian Agricultural Company who had worked for sometime in Moreton Bay, positively identified Koondiana as the absconding convict Sheik Brown. From Newcastle he was sent to Sydney where he awaited judgment in the prison hulk Phoenix.
Brown’s case was comples are there were arguments that his sentence had expired, as well as plans to send him to Norfolk Island. The result was that Sheik’s petition was endorsed by the Governor, in May 1834, and he was returned to Moreton Bay. It is not quite clear why this happens, but the legal discussions held between the Colonial Secretary, the Governor and the Attorney General seem to suggest that there were questions over his ongoing sentence.
Back in Moreton Bay in 1836, Sheik was back to his old tricks, absconding in June. The following year, he absconded twice, once in January by himself and again in April with George Brown. In a letter to the Colonial Secretary, the new commandant, Captain Foster Fyans, noted that he had taken a far more proactive approach to the ‘apprehension of the runaways’, including Sheik Brown, writing:
I promised the Natives some reward, if they would accompany any Leut. Officer in the Boat on the same way that Offer and Mr Whyte to with the Boats Crew, left this and proceeded round Bribey Island, directed by the Natives, after a direction of some form, with considerable difficulty and fatigue, I am happy to say, the party fully succeeded in securing the four Runaways from this settlement.
The record goes quiet after this until 1842, when he is issued with a ticket of leave in Parramatta, which although initially giving him permission to remain in the district of Parramatta, is altered by the Parramatta Bench to Moreton Bay in 1844. The next reference is in February 1844 when he was hired by pastoralist George Gummie at the rate of fifteen pounds per annum for the next two years.
The last and final newspaper reference made about Sheik is fleeting and macabre. In a letter to the Moreton Bay Courier it is revealed that ‘Sheik Brown and a bullock-driver were killed by the natives within thirty miles of the settlement’ and that their ‘bones are now bleaching near the road to Messrs. Joyner and Masons station on the Pine River’. There the story would probably have ended, if it was not for Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland. Written by his daughter Constance, Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences were published in 1904, and later serialised in the Queenslander. After emigrating with his family from Edinburgh as a child, Tom Petrie played with the local Aboriginal children, eventually learning their local language of Turrabul and participating in traditional customs, including going on a ‘walkabout’ aged only fourteen. As a result of his close relationship with the Moreton Bay Aboriginal people he came to know many of their stories, of which the story of Sheik Brown is one. According to Petrie, he learnt the story of ‘Shake Brown’ or Murridaio, as he was known to Aboriginal people, during a corroboree of the Turrabul people. Through song and dance they told the story of Murridaio, who had stolen away one of their young women Kulkarawa:
A prisoner, a coloured man (an Indian), Shake Brown by name, stole a boat, and making off down the bay, took with him this Kulkarawa, without her people’s immediate knowledge or consent. The boat was blown out to sea, and eventually the pair were washed ashore at Noosa Head — or as the blacks called it then, ‘Wantima’, which meant ‘rising up’, or ‘climbing up’. They got ashore all right with just a few bruises, though the boat was broken to pieces. After rambling about for a couple of days, they came across a camp of blacks, and these latter took Kulkarawa from Shake Brown, saying that he must give her up, as she was a relative of theirs; but he might stop with them and they would feed him.
However when Sheik left this tribe and Kulkarawa behind, heading off to Brisbane, he got into trouble when he was confronted by members of the Turrabul tribe:
He got on to the old Northern Road going to Durundur, and followed it towards Brisbane. Coming at length to a creek which runs into the North Pine River, there, at the crossing, were a number of Turrabul blacks, who, recognising him, knew that he was the man who had stolen Kulkarawa. They asked what he had done with her, and he replied that the tribe of blacks he had fallen in with had taken her from him, and that she was now at the bon-yi gathering with them. But this, of course, did not satisfy the feeling for revenge that Shake Brown had roused when he took off the young gin from her people, and they turned on him and killed him, throwing his body into the bed of the creek at the crossing.
When people travelling on their way to Durundur came across Brown’s body they reported it back to Brisbane, and named the creek, Brown’s Creek. Located near Kurwongbah, the creek and the Brown’s Creek Road still bear his name. Kulkarawa remained with the Noosa tribe, performing songs about how she missed her own tribe. Tom Petrie recounts how he was there when, after two years, Kulkarawa was brought home:
the parents of the young gin, and all her friends, started crying for joy when they saw her, keeping the cry going for some ten minutes in a chanting sort of fashion, even as they do when mourning for the dead. Then a regular talking match ensued, and Kulkarawa was told all that had happened during her absence, including the finding and murder of Shake Brown (or ‘Marri-dai-o’ the blacks called him), on his way to Brisbane. Then she told her news, and Father heard afterwards again from her own lips of her experiences.
This remains the last reference made to Sheik Brown, who after all his years of friendly co-existence with the Aboriginal people, died at their hands after taking away one of their young women.
Despite being fragmentary, the archival records reveal the surprisingly varied and remarkable life of Sheik Brown. Escaping death narrowly in London, he went on to lead the life of a convict and a runaway. Never settling in one place, he left traces of his life across early colonial Queensland and Australia. His relationships with the colonial authorities, other convicts, free-settlers and Aboriginal people provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives and experiences of the period.
 Queensland State Archives, Series 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts 1824-1839.
 Crispin Bates and Marina Carter, “Enslaved Lives, Enslaving Labels: A New Approach to the Colonial Indian Labor Diaspora,” in Sukanya Banerfee, Aims McGuinness, and Steven C. McKay eds, New Routes for Diaspora Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 67-92.
 CS Ref 33/07365S A28 223 – 226 (SLQ).
 Bates and Carter, “Enslaved Lives, Enslaving Labels,” 67-92. Sheik himself was referred to years later as a ‘lascar’.
 ‘Interior Discovery,’ Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848) 19 July 1833, 1.
 Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 04 November 2012), April 1824, trial of SHEIK BROWNE (t18240407-72).
 England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892. Class: HO 26; Piece: 30; Page: 13.
 Bates and Carter, “Enslaved Lives, Enslaving Labels,” 67-92.
 “Criminal Court. (Friday),” Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848) 26 January 1826, 3.
 “Supreme Criminal Court,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842) 11 Febrary 1826, 3.
 Queensland State Archives, Series 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts 1824-1839.
 Maimie O’Keefe, ‘The Runaway Convicts of Moreton Bay’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 10, no. 1 (year): 67.
 Queensland State Archives, Item ID 1137540, Convict book of trials (1835-1842). Commandant’s Office, Moreton Bay.
 O’Keefe, ‘The Runaway Convicts of Moreton Bay,’ 67.
 “Colonial Politics,” The Colonist (Sydney, NSW : 1835 – 1840) 17 December 1835, 2.
 ‘Colonial Politics,’ The Colonist (Sydney, NSW : 1835 – 1840) 17 December 1835, 1.
 Ray Evans, Fighting Words: Writing About Race (St. Lucia, QLD: Queensland University Press, 1999), 74-5.
 O’Keefe, ‘The Runaway Convicts of Moreton Bay’, 67.
 Ibid. No citation given, but most likely in Colonial Secretaries correspondence.
 “Interior Discovery,” Sydney Herald (NSW: 1831 – 1842) 18 July 1833, 2.
 Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 – 1842) 18 July 1833, 2.
 CS Ref 33/05498 and O’Keefe, ‘The Runaway Convicts of Moreton Bay’ 68.
 CS Ref 33/06659 A2.8 227 – 228 (SLQ).
 CS Ref 33/07365S A28 223 – 226 (SLQ).
 Reel A2.8 page 227-228 (SLQ).
 Queensland State Archives, Item ID869688, Returns – prisoners.
 Reel A2.9 Page 491-492 (SLQ) 37/ 5416 13th June 1837 From Commandants Office.
 State Archives New South Wales; Series: NRS 12202; Item: [4/4165]; Reel: 945.
 Maurice French, A Pastoral Romance: The Tribulation and Triumph of Squatterdom (Toowoomba, Queensland: USQ Press, 1990), vol. 2, 36.
 “Local Intelligence,” Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861) 6 Febrary 1847, 2.
 “Sketcher,” The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939) 18 Oct 1902: 847;Tom and Constance Campbell Petrie, Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland, 1st ed. (Brisbane: Watson, Ferguson & Co., 1904), 25-7.