Captain Cook sailed past the Noosa North Shore, remaining too far offshore to appreciate its rainbow hued sand cliffs. Cook (as well as Matthew Flinders in 1802) failed to detect the mouth of the Noosa River. However he noted that Noosa Heads and Laguna Bay were "a low bluff point, which was the Southern point of an open Sandy bay.
Ticket-of-leave men John Finnegan, Richard Parsons and Thomas Pamphlett were shipwrecked on Moreton Island. Although treated kindly by the aborigines, Finnigan and Parsons trekked north thinking to reach Sydney. When they arrived at Noosa River they encountered indigenous people, who were crossing the waterway in canoes, but refused to let them traverse. The three men were rescued by John Oxley, Surveyor General, who was in the area searching for a suitable site for a new settlement for incorrigible convicts. He chose Moreton Bay (now Brisbane) which became a convict settlement in 1824.
Convicts were known to have escaped from the penal settlement at Brisbane, to have drifted up north and ultimately been absorbed into life with the aboriginal people, until such time as they were captured or voluntarily returned themselves to the penal settlement. Three of these convicts were John Graham, aka Moilow, David Bracewell, aka Wandi (a great talker), and James Davis, aka Durrumboi (kangaroo rat), as they were known by their native friends.
After three seamen from the wrecked Stirling Castle were found on Bribie Island, a rescue party was sent further north in whale boats to search for more survivors. The rescue party was led by Lt. Charles Otter and guided by convict John Graham. Graham had previously spent six years with the natives and knew the area well. On the western shore of Lake Cooroibah Sailors Robert Dayman and Robert Carey were found (to commemorate the event a plaque was erected in the area in 1988). Mrs Eliza Fraser, wife of the Stirling Castle’s master Captain James Fraser, was discovered in an aboriginal camp near Tin Can Bay. Graham contacted David Bracewell, an escaped convict who was then living with the aborigines, and arranged for him to secretly take Mrs Eliza Fraser from the aboriginal camp and guide her south to Lake Cootharaba. From there John Graham escorted her to Teewah Beach where Lt. Charles Otter’s rescue party were waiting with their boats. Bracewell, afraid of punishment when he saw the soldiers, ran back to his native friends. A memorial cairn to Mrs Fraser now stands beside Lake Cootharaba at Boreen Point.
An exploration party sent by Governor Gipps arrived by open boat at Noosa Beach. The party consisted of Andrew Petrie, Jollife, H. S. Russell, W. Wrottesley and aboriginal guides. Russell, who had lost his hat on the journey, was suffering from sunstroke. He was carried to shore by friendly natives who had come to meet the party. They tucked him into the warm sand under the supervision of an old man who covered Russel’s head with large leaves of a water plant, thus creating a steam bath. The treatment worked, for after a long sleep he awoke well, only thirsty.
Petrie was told that David Bracewell, a fugitive convict adopted by the warrior Eumundi (and involved in the homecoming of Mrs Eliza Fraser after being shipwrecked in 1836), was nearby. Bracewell arrived at Noosa beach in response to a note sent by Petrie (to commemorate this visit to Noosa a plaque was set in place in the Noosa Heads Lions Park in 1988). Bracewell guided the group on their exploration trip up the Mary River, and was able to help convince James Davis, another absconder, to also return to Brisbane with the exploration party.
The Assistant Surveyor of New South Wales James Charles Burnett first noted the mouth of the Noosa River and used it as an anchorage. He described it as a "small inlet backed by a lagoon" and named it Laguna Bay.