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O'Callaghans History of Irvinebank

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History of Irvinebank


This page contains a brief history of Irvinebank with links to further information. An account of the history of Irvinebank written by long time resident Mike O'Callaghan, formerly office assistant for John Moffat can be found by clicking here...

Tropical north Queensland, 1880: Prospectors were beginning to probe the western hills of Australia's Great Divide. Rich lodes tin, copper, silver - lead and deposits of silver and gold drew people from the far flung corners of the earth in search of fortunes, jobs and opportunities.

In 1882 John Moffat bought 'Gibbs' Camp' and renamed the place 'Irvinebank' after his birthplace on the River Irvine, Scotland.

In 1884 a treatment plant and smelter was built to process ore from Moffat's mines and those of independent miners and 'tin scratchers'. Moffat built Loudoun House and named the works 'Loudoun Mill', after the mill on the River Irvine.

In 1889, the Vulcan lode was discovered by a party of italian woodcutters. The party sold their interests to a local syndicate who floated the company and attempted to prevent Moffat's investment in order to prevent his monopoly over the field. But John Moffat bought his shares by proxy and had control over the company within 6 months.

The Vulcan became the richest and deepest tin mine in Australia and was the mainstay of Irvinebank's economy for over 30 years.

With the wealth generated by mining, north Queensland began to develop. Secondary industries grew to service the needs of the workers of the outback mineral fields. Demand for food for the people and for the animals which were such an important part of the economics of transport, stimulated the development of agriculture on the Tablelands such as Atherton's maize industry. Ports developed on the coasts to serve the needs of the inland population. Port Douglas and the nascent Cairns competed with each other to provide the best road links and lobbied government and private industry to build railways and transport infrastructure. In the early years of Irvinebank's development, Port Douglas was the main coastal port but when Cairns won the race to be the railway terminus for Herberton, it won the race to be the 'capital' of the tropical north.

The mining communities of the arid and rocky wild ranges required good timber for building works and housing. John Moffat bought land at Cedar Creek and built a timber mill. He had some land cleared for raising bullocks for his transport teams but was also an exponent of selective logging and loathed to see the magnificent forests clear felled for agriculture. The timber and bullock camp at Cedar Creek became the township of Ravenshoe.

The wealth generated from the Vulcan and other Irvinebank enterprises was invested in developments south, west and north, at Mt Garnet, Chillagoe, Wolfram Camp and points everywhere in between. For a complete list click here. This region became known as 'John Moffat's Empire'. Today we call it the 'Tropical Outback'.

Moffat retired from the industry in 1912. Forced out under threat of liquidation and accused of running his enterprise as a 'benevalent asylum', he left Irvinebank under the management of his business partner, John Holmes Reid and moved to his home and offices at Cremorne, New South Wales.

The indefatigable entrepeneur continued to work promoting the Moffat-Virtue agricultural machinery that he had helped to develop during his lifetime, including the Moffat-Virtue petrol-kerosene engine and some of the earliest mechanised sheep - shearing equipment in Australia. He died at Toowoomba in 1918, of a heart attack, possibly caused by the dreaded Spanish Flu, which also killed his contemporary at Irvinebank, Dr W.E MacFarlane.

Working conditions on the northern mining fields were dangerous, unhealthy and poorly paid. The Vulcan Mine was no exception. It was well known for its accidents and by 1907 the workers remained unorganised and unrepresented.

It was in this year that Edward Granville Theodore began work at the mine. Some collapsing timbers fell on his back and he carried the scars throughout his life.

In September of that year, Theodore helped to organise the workers into what became known as the Amalgamated Workers Association (AWA).

The 'fighting' AWA, as it became known, was the first successful workers organisation in north Queensland and grew to encompass workers from all over the region in almost every industry.

The AWA also propelled Theodore into a life of politics that was to see him become treasurer of the State of Queensland, Premier and then Federal Treasurer.

The State Government, with Theodore as Treasurer bought the assets of Moffat's company and brought Loudoun Mill back into operation to serve the needs of the independent miners of the area. The mill became known as the State Treatment Works and remained in State ownership until the 1980s.

The last crushing of tin ore occurred in the early 1990s and today the stampers remain quiet. Today Irvinebank contains many relics of its past. The townscape is one of only two to have Heritage listing in Queensland (the other is Ravenswood).

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Web pages by Phillip Charlier

Irvinebank History graphic by Louise
Last Update: August 5, 2002


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