Moreton Bay was established as a penal station in 1824. It was known officially as the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement of the Colony of New South Wales. Free settlement within 50 miles (84 kilometres) of the prison was prohibited. It was not until 10 February 1842 that the area was officially opened to free settlement and became known as the Free Settlement of Moreton Bay.
However, pastoralists had already ‘squatted’ on land south-west of Moreton Bay both on the Darling Downs and on land around the Brisbane River. Some had obtained pastoral leases but many simply moved their livestock onto land for which they had no legal title. Patrick and Walter Leslie arrived from New England with their stock in 1840 and established Canning Downs near Warwick. Others, including Frederick and Francis Bigge, David Archer and Evan and Colin Mackenzie settled around Grantham, Woodford and Kilcoy respectively while Henry Russell settled at Cecil Plains and David McConnel at Cressbrook in the Brisbane Valley.
The rapid, unregulated advance of settlers was a cause of concern for the Governor, Sir George Gipps, who realized that action had to be taken to ensure the safety of settlers and to maintain control of settlement on Crown Lands. He promptly declared the new pastoral districts of Moreton Bay in 1842, Darling Downs in 1843, Wide Bay, Burnett and Maranoa in 1848, and Leichhardt and Port Curtis in 1854 and appointed Crown Lands Commissioners to administer them.
 QSA, Pre-Separation Resource Guide, Queensland State Archives, Brisbane 2013, p. 2.
 McKinnon, F., ‘Early Pioneers of the Wide Bay and Burnett’, Journal of the Historical Society of Queensland, vol. 3, no. 2, 1940, pp. 92-93.