Why is the John Oxley Library named in honour of John Oxley?

You may well ask who was Mr John Oxley? And then you might ask why our library is named after him?

Portrait of John Oxley, 1783-1828. Image number 1330

John Joseph William Molesworth Oxley (1783 – 1828), naval officer, surveyor and explorer was the eldest son of John and Isabella Oxley. Born in 1783 at Kirkham Abbey near Westow, Yorkshire, he entered the navy when he was sixteen. In 1812, John Oxley was appointed surveyor-general of lands in New South Wales. During his term of office there was much expansion of settlement and his office was responsible for the survey of newly occupied lands at Illawarra, the Hunter Valley and the country west of the Blue Mountains, as well as the more detailed survey of already settled areas.

He undertook two expeditions, the first, in 1817, being to ascertain the course of the Lachlan River. After facing and overcoming a series of hardships, including a lack of drinking water, the party reached the Lachlan River on 23 June 1817 and followed its course for a fortnight. The aim of John Oxley’s later expedition was to further explore and follow the course of the Macquarie River and, in May 1818, the group, led by John Oxley and G. W. Evans, set out to achieve this outcome. In 1820 John Oxley published his 'Journal of two expeditions into the interior of New South Wales'.

Later, in 1823, he was sent north along the coast to select a site for a new penal settlement and in the course of this voyage explored Moreton Bay as well as examining the suitability of Port Curtis and Port Bowen as sites for convict settlements. During this expedition John Oxley discovered the Brisbane River. He travelled fifty miles up the river and, much impressed by the country, recommended the area, which included the site of Brisbane, for a settlement. A settlement was established on Moreton Bay in the next year, at Redcliffe. This settlement later moved to a site in the Brisbane River, at the present site of the city of Brisbane.

John Oxley was keenly interested in the public and cultural life of the early colony. He was a foundation member of the Philosophical Society, formed in 1821 and in the same year assisted in the formation of a private circulating library which later developed into the Australian Subscription Library.

John Oxley died at his country house near Sydney on 26 May, 1828.

John Oxley’s link with the promotion and development of library services combined with his prominent place in Queensland history underpin the use of his name for the State Library of Queensland’s library of Queensland history, the John Oxley Library.

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