Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy

Last Name


Given Name:


Alternative Name:


Arrival in Queensland

March 1840

Date of Birth


Place of Birth


Date of Death

6 April 1878


Charters Towers

Place of residence in Queensland

Kangaroo Point, Brisbane


Catherine Thompson

Place Married

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Sydney


Margaret (1844), Elizabeth (1846), Peter (1848), John (1850), Edward Joseph (1853)

Servant man
District Constable
Chief Constable

Peter “Duff” Murphy, born 1806 in Dublin, arrived in Sydney as a transported convict in 1827. In 1838, he was assigned as a servant man to Patrick Leslie, a pioneer and settler. Murphy accompanied Leslie on pioneering pastoral settlements within the area of the Darling Downs in 1840. Murphy later performed duties of District Constable at Moreton Bay, leading to his promotion to Chief Constable. In 1842, Murphy married Catherine Thompson in Sydney. They raised five children. He died on 6 April 1878 at Charters Towers aged 72.

Peter Murphy was born in Dublin in 1806 into a working class, Roman Catholic family. At the age of 16, he was apprehended for the first time for theft of clothes and awaited trial for burglary and felony at Newgate Prison, Dublin three years later. The outcome of that trial is unknown. However, a year later, on the night of 3 June 1826, Murphy again got indicted for burglary and felony, of the latter he was found guilty and sentenced ‘-to be transported for life’.

Murphy was transported on the convict ship Countess of Harcourt and arrived after a 134-day journey in Sydney on 28 June 1827. His nickname “Duff” is derived from the Gaelic word “dubh”, dark or black, since, according to his transportation record, Murphy had brown hair and brown eyes and a distinct scar across the centre of his forehead.

In 1838, he was assigned as a servant man to Patrick Leslie who led exploratory expeditions into the Darling Downs region of Northern NSW. First discovered by Allan Cunnigham in 1827, Patrick Leslie together with Peter Murphy pioneered pastoral settlement within the area of the Darling Downs in 1840.

During this expedition Leslie recounted in his diary:

“When I was at Falconer's Plains, and about starting to look for the Downs, Murphy was the only man I had with me, and not liking to compel him (a convict) to accompany me, I told him what my intentions were—viz., to go out to look for the Darling Downs, and to take only one man with me, and I asked him if he was willing to go, telling him I left it entirely to himself. He looked at me, and said: ‘Go with you sir? I would go to ... with you!’ I said I did not intend to go there at present, but was well pleased to have him to go out with me on my little expedition.”

This area was known to the aboriginal Kitabel people as Tamamareen, meaning “where the fish nets were burnt in a grass fire”. By the time Leslie and Murphy explored the surroundings, finding ways to cross over the Range, Murphy reportedly resided alongside a creek to herd sheep and cattle. The locality was thus renamed “Murphys Creek” and blossomed into a lively engineering and industrial community with the construction of Toowoomba Range Railway Crossing in the 1860s.

Murphy became much praised for his assistance to Leslie securing him his ticket-of-leave on 13 June 1842, the requirements of which restricted his movements to the Moreton Bay district. Yet, for the duration of the year, he resided in Port Macquarie where he successfully performed the duties of District Constable, eventually leading to his promotion to Chief Constable at Moreton Bay. Most of the cases prosecuted by him were property offences and offences against good order such as drunkenness or indecent exposure.

On 29 November 1842, Peter Murphy married Catherine Thompson at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Sydney. They went on to have five living children Margaret (1844), Elizabeth (1846), Peter (1848), John (1850), and Edward Joseph (1853) and five boys and a girl that died in infancy.

By the time Murphy and his family reached Brisbane, Moreton Bay was opened for free settlement. He purchased 2 allotments at Kangaroo Point (27 and 32) when land was put up sale in 1842.

On 31 December 1846, Murphy received a conditional pardon. The pardon’s conditions allowed him freedom of movement in all parts of the world, except the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

In 1853, he was twice charged with being drunk. As this was a repeat offence, he was sentenced to a fine and resigned following the hearing.

Land sale records and Police Court coverage for Ipswich show that Murphy relocated to the town and the cadastral map of Brisbane listed ‘P Murphy’ as an allotment owner at Kangaroo Point as late as 1874.

Peter ‘Duff’ Murphy died on 6 April 1878 at Charters Towers aged 72.

If you have further information on the life of this person please contact the Harry Gentle Resource Centre ([email protected])

Prepared by Dr Anastasia Dukova and Constance Schoelch


Police of the Pastoral Frontier: Native Police

Edward Skinner Leslie , 1975.

The early history of Warwick District and Pioneers of the Darling Downs

Thomas Hall, 1925.

The Genesis of Queensland

Henry Stuart Russell, 1888.


Gorman’s Gap

J.K. Jarrott
Queensland Heritage, Vol. 3, No. 4 1976 pp.24-38


Notable events (assigned servant)

The Brisbane Courier
08 December 1909, p. 24

In the early days. Some Downs pioneers

Warwick Argus
07 January 1899, p. 7

Death notice

The Brisbane Courier
13 May 1878, p. 2