Having been for some years a reviewer I know the possible humiliations awaiting the man who sends out anything by way of a book; but here are my “Memories” with all their imperfections admitted in advance. The genesis of this volume was in a proposal by the Editor of the “Courier”, Mr. Sanderson Taylor, backed by the Associate Editor, Mr. Firmin McKinnon, that I should contribute a series of articles in the form of reminiscences.
That loosened the floodgates, and the flow lasted for two years. Truthfully, I may say that the “Memories” are reprinted in response to many requests. Since the beginning of the series many changes have occurred. Some of the men and women mentioned have gone on the long journey; others have changed their abiding places, and there have been changes in the conditions of people, but in the main I give the material as originally printed.
The book is not intended to be historical, but may have historical value. In no sense is it to be taken as covering the period 1877 – 1926. It is just a series of remembrances, impressions – personal and general, with opinions, my own opinions. The articles appeared under my name and with a characteristic spirit of tolerance the “Courier” allowed me to fulminate or praise regardless of its own particular policy.
The Townsville “Herald” before my day at the end of 1877 had editors of note, men who left their mark on the history of the North, and one at least who has done much pioneering in the journalism, agriculture, and military life of Queensland. Major A. J. Boyd was a predecessor. He was a fine scholar, and not only a classicist, but a master of French, Italian and German. In much later years I heard him speak to an audience of Italians at a luncheon in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens that he lifted them to their feet, and to enthusiastic vivas. He spoke of Dante, and in the tongue in which Dante gave the world the great expressions of his genius. Major Boyd was of the days of the “Cleveland Bay Express,” and he left a standard of journalism in the north which made things rather strenuous for his successors.
Later he was on the staff of the “Queenslander”, ran big schools at Milton and Nundah on public school lines, and, in turn, was head master of Toowoomba Grammar School, commanded the Garrison Artillery of Queensland, and edited the “Agricultural Journal.”
Then there were Sigerson and Conroy. I took over from Conroy, and well remember the opening lines of his last leader in the “Herald.”
They ran: “To use a colloquial though by no means elegant expression, we are literally ‘stumped’ for news.”
My journey from Sydney to Townsville was by the old Victoria, under Captain Thomas Lake, and shipmates included Victor Sellheim, NOW Major-General Sellheim, C.B., C.M.G., Adjutant-General of the Commonwealth Forces, and one of the most gallant and honest gentlemen that Australia has produced.
Another was a chubby chap with yet the fat legs of babyhood. We know him now as Mr. E. Lissner, a well-known Brisbane business man, and a member of the Stock Exchange.
Sellheim was aged 11, and I was 21, and Lissner probably about 6. The first named was going to Maytown to spend Christmas with his father, Mr. P. F. Sellheim, then police magistrate and warden on the Palmer, and later Under Secretary for Mines in Brisbane.
Lissner was going to Charters Towers, under maternal protection, to the home of his father, Mr. Isidore Lissner, who later was Minister for Mines for Queensland.
Sellheim not long ago told me – our friendship has been long and undimmed through all these years – that he remembered standing with me one night watching the phosphorescent glow in the water that broke from the sides of the old Victoria while I explained the natural history of the starry streams.
The Townsville “Herald” was owned and run by Mr. James McManus, a practical printer, and a shrewd man of business, but it was rather a shock to hear him spoken of as “Jimmy” McManus. To the disrespectful I spoke of Mr. McManus, and make no mistake about the “mister.”
The “Herald” was almost entirely a local paper – there was economy in the matters of telegrams, and only occasional letters from Charters Towers, and flickers from the dying light of the Palmer.
The Hodgkinson was flourishing, and we had on the day I landed news of the opening of the new port, which later became Port Douglas, named in compliment to the Premier of the day, the Hon. John Douglas, who long since has gone to his rest, but leaving hostages to fortune in his distinguished sons, who are an honour to his name. One is Mr. Hugh Douglas (Elliott, Donaldson, and Douglas), formerly M.L.A. for Cook, and who held Ministerial rank in the State; Mr. E. A. Douglas, barrister; another, Mr. Justice Douglas, of the Northern Supreme Court; and another was Lieutenant. H. M. Douglas, one of the Queenslanders to give his life for his country in the Great War.
On the “Herald” learning something about printing, was a tall, lean lad, Jack Mehan who later became one of the originators and owners of the Townsville “Bulletin,” which was built up from the “Herald,” that paper becoming a big weekly.
Later came the amalgamation of the “Northern Miner” and the “North Queensland Register,” under Mr. Dave Green, and the “Miner” and the “herald” passed into the shades. These amalgamations were long before my time.
I always associate Jack Mehan with another very dear old friend, John N. Parkes, who has filled practically every high position in the life of Townsville, having been for sixteen years President of the Chamber of Commerce, and the last fourteen years in an unbroken succession.
Prosperous men they are, who have done the State some service. Three of Jack Mehan’s boys fought overseas, and he had the privilege to give one of them to his country, a bright, capable lad, above whose grave the poppies bloom in that great God’s Acre in Northern Europe, where so many thousands of Australians sleep.
Both Mehan and Parkes were fine athletes, and specialised in sprint running. Parkes could get very near to evens over 100 yards. Jack Mehan probably was the first to try out Malone, when that great runner arrived as an immigrant with the inevitable Irish bundle.
The “Bulletin” of Townsville had associated with it as editor-in-chief the late Dodd Clarke, and also “Beachcomber” Banfield, of Dunk Island. The books of “Beachcomber” are as beautiful in the literary sense as in their Nature revelations.
Townsville in the late 1870s was beginning to grow. It aspired to be capital of the North. It was not content with the trade of Charters Towers and the Hughenden settlement, but Burns, Philp, and Co. despatched teams under Mr. Archie Forsyth to Winton, then better known as Western Creek.
Those days were before the railways, and inland journeying was by coach or buggy, while goods transport was by bullock or horse wagons. The town had most excellent hotels, and the Queen’s, under Mr. Evans, the owner, was equal to anything in the land. A luncheon attraction was the “Welsh rabbit” prepared by Harry, the head waiter.
One day Roger Sheaffe, Walter Hayes, Armstrong the inspector of police, and a Gulf squatter, quite a character, were lunching together, and the Gulf man was asked if he would take “Welsh rabbit.”
His reply was a gruff negative.
“Do have some,” said Walter Hayes, “it’s very good.”
The Gulf man said,
No; it’s too much like a (adjective) bandicoot!”
Another whom I met at the Queen’s was a young Herbert River sugar planter, later Sir Alfred Cowley. He was quiet and cultured. Mr. Evans, the wise old landlord, said one day, “That is the cleverest man I have even known. He was sugar planting in Natal, and is teaching the people on the Herbert their business. But he is wonderfully learned.”
I asked, “Why doesn’t he go in for politics?”
Mr. Evans said, “Well, I suppose he’s too much of a gentleman for that game.”
Yet the sugar planter became a politician, member for Herbert, the Parliamentary authority on the sugar industry, a member of the cabinet, and later Speaker of the Legislative Assembly with a knighthood.
Louis Becke, of the Australian Joint Stock Bank, and Tom Kelleway were my special pals. Louis had two brothers in the North – Cecil and Alfred, both very proper young men, and rather doubtful about the brother, who as a lad had been supercargo with the notorious Bully Hayes in the South Seas. Louis was a caged eagle. He had an impediment in his speech, but was a wag.
Once he complained that his conversational brilliance was too often spoiled by “his d… stutter.” He went on to say: “I start with a deucedly clever thing, but before I can get it out every one has seen the point, and the epigram is like a sodden damper.”
In those days I heard much which afterwards went to make up “By Reef and Palm,” and other books.
And Tom Kelleway also became a banker. He was physically one of the most perfect men I have ever seen. Both now sleep the long sleep. Good comrades, and ever to be held in affectionate remembrance.
Of course, we quarreled with the other paper, which was edited by one Hughes, who had been a Church of England parson. He was a brilliant and incisive writer, and often held me squirming on his pen point. One day my friends suggested that I should hammer him, I was always in training, and was persuaded, and went to the office of the reptile contemporary seeing red, but Hughes politely invited me in, gave me a chair and a cigar, and talked to me like the good chap that he was. My friends outside waited in vain for “the thunder of the captains, and the shouting,” but it was a wilted youth who went out to them. Perhaps there was something which forbade chaffing. Hughes and I became quite good friends, and I no longer wrote of the “pariahs of the Press,” and he forebore to repeat his observations that an infant’s feeding bottle was more suited to me than an ink bottle, or that my paper reeked with a callow juvenility.
Probably the most interesting figure in Northern journalism in my time was Thaddeus O’Kane, editor and proprietor of the “Northern Miner,” at Charters Towers. In those days “The Towers” was a stirring town. The field was rich, money was abundant, the consumption of strong beverages was enormous – partly a climatic and partly a social phenomenon – and the miner was the kingpin.
Those were the days when the gigantic Warden Charters was the chief representative of the Government on the field. Looking back over all the intervening years, a long avenue of joys and sadnesses, the principal recurring thought is upon the wonderfully good order on “the field.”
Charters Towers had seen some rousing and violent times, but ordinarily the miners looked to it that there was a general tone of decency and fair play.
But to get back to Thaddy O’Kane, as he was called. A spare, grizzled man, as I remember him, about middle height, soft and cultured in speech, and with all the little touches of the Public School and University. But his eye was ever on the alert for an affront to himself or to public morals. It was a keen, aggressive, Irish eye. And his pen was vitriolic. Of course, he was “agin” the Government, but more particularly against all persons in authority, and every issue of the “Miner” revealed the wickedness and incompetence of Charters Towers officialdom – that is, as Mr. Thaddeus O’Kane saw it.
Many stories were told of his earlier life. It was said that he had been a private secretary to Lord Palmerston; but my impression now is that he was a man of good Irish family, and had probably been a schoolmaster.
A few years later I met him with Pritchard Morgan, when O’Kane was on the way to Bowen to battle for that electorate with the young barrister, Edward Chubb, later a K.C. and Justice of the Supreme Court.
O’Kane was there at his best, and at his worst. A keen organiser, wonderful in the preparation of literature, but as a platform speaker a failure. His speeches were too carefully prepared, too loaded with “facts and figures,” while his young barrister opponent spoke form a generous and modest heart of the simple essentials of the country. It was the destructive critic failing when face to face with the constructive worker. Mr. O’Kane left a family, and his son, Jack, was for some years on the “Courier” in Brisbane. What an ark the old paper has been!
Reference has been made to the excellence of John N. Parkes and Jack Mehan as sprint runners. Another in Townsville at the time was Robert Philp, after Sir Robert Philp, who was managing partner there of Burns, Philp, and Co.
Our old friend Mr. Charles Melton, the doyen of the “Courier,” tells me that in his younger days Robert Philp was quite a fair boxer, but he starred in pedestrianism. A match was arranged in Townsville between Philp and Fred Symes, of the Customs. Symes was not an athlete by any means, and even an indifferent walker, but he could not resist a challenge from Philp, with an offer of 25 yards in a hundred. The event took place on the old racecourse, and created a great amount of interest. Symes showed a quite unexpected agility, and won by several yards amidst great cheering. It was not that Philp had lost his dash but the genial second officer of Customs – Hughes, afterwards Income Tax Commissioner in Brisbane, was the sub-collector – was quite a dark horse.
Ross Creek was the south and south-east boundary of Flinders Street in those days, and in passing it may be said that Flinders Street was, and probably is, one of the hottest places I have experienced.
The beach was delightfully cool, but Flinders Street, cut off from the sea breeze by Melton Hill and Castle Hill, and the slopes thereof, was very oppressive.
On the town side of the creek there were only a few buildings – the A.S.N. Co.’s offices with Smith and Walker as agents, Burns, Philp, and Co., Clifton and Aplin Bros., and a few shacks further along.
Later on my second visit, the “Standard” office, Tom Wright’s paper, with Henry Knapp, the solicitor, as editor, W. J. Castling’s butchery, formerly Johnston and Castling, and the Post Office had been built, and a few business places up towards the Newmarket Hotel. Ross Island was reached from Flinders Street by a ferry boat (very occasional), and over there we had a cricket ground, but some of the big matches were played out at a place known as the German Gardens, towards Kissing Point.
There were crocodiles in Ross Creek. Some black kiddies were bathing one afternoon in the creek from Burns, Philp, and Co.’s wharf, when one of them about 8 years of age was “snapped.” The crocodile swam up the creek holding the little chap above water, while blacks frantically yelling and throwing stones ran along the bank. Then the crocodile disappeared with its victim, leaving just a swirl on the water, and all was over save the weird lamentations of the bereaved.
From Burns, Philp’s wharf in 1880 I shot a 13ft crocodile with a Snider bullet, which ripped a good hole through the back from side to side.
Smith and Walker in addition to the agency of the A.S.N. Co. had a general auctioneering and commission business. Mr. E. J. B. Wareham was one of the shipping office staff, and his son E. B. Wareham, was the office boy. The last-named stuck to the shipping business, and is now manager of the Adelaide Steamship co., and was well known when in Brisbane as the Queensland manager. In my days in Townsville, he was in knickerbockers. He married a daughter of the late J. G. Macdonald, P.M., and his only son made the supreme sacrifice in Gallipoli with the sons of many of Queensland’s best known men.
Burns, Philp, and Co., was a young and enterprising firm, and the old established and chief warehouse was that of Clifton and Aplin Bros. Mr Clifton was of the courtly type, and was a good financial manager. Mr. William Aplin and Mr. Harry Aplin formed the second section of the firm. William Aplin later became a member of the Queensland Legislative Council. He was a cheery man, and had drifted into storekeeping on the Etheridge, I believe. In his heart he was always a bushman, with the love of the wide spaces, the brave horses, the flocks spreading over the open downs, or the dash to deal with rowdy cattle, or to cut off a small mob in a “moonlighting” expedition.
Later the firm was joined by Mr. Villiers Brown, who had been a bank manager, and son of the Anthony Brown, so well known in the early life of the State. Some years after the retirement of Mr. Clifton, it became Aplin, Brown and Crayshaw Ltd., with headquarters in Brisbane.
As Ducrow said: “Let us leave the cackle and come to the ‘osses.”
The Hanrans, John and P. F. (later P. F. Hanran M.L.A.), and “Young Johnny,” Mr. Joe Hodel later on, and Dr. Frost were among the principal racing owners in Townsville. The Hanrans had the love of the horse and of the sport with their Irish blood, and in earlier days they were pretty well known at Ipswich and on the Downs. Dr. Frost had his own ideas of training. His formula was plenty of water, plenty of linseed (boiled), and plenty of work. A ribald youth published a screed descriptive of the methods, and referred to the probable protests of Jimmy – who had to train under the doctor’s directions – and part of it, as well as I remember, ran:-
“Give ‘Exhibit Marking gallops and gallons of clear H²O
Then more, mixed with limum, and then still more eau,
Plus a bushel or more of solid torteau
‘The process,’ says Jimmy, ‘deserves no laudo.’
But the doctor says, ‘Jimmy, you vade retro!”
That doggerel was a change from prosy municipal meetings and shipping reports, and the doctor’s anger soon passed, especially when the linseed fed ‘osses won a couple of races, and the sapient amongst us were covered with the contumely which falls to the false prophets of a provincial town.
Racing in Townsville at the end of 1877 included hurdles. Brisbane saw hurdle racing, and even steeple chasing in earlier years. We had not then got to the full appreciation of the sprint as a means of providing big fields and profitable totalisators. The hurdle race at Townsville at Christmas, 1877, was won by one of the Mosman family, a younger brother of the late Hugh Mosman M.L.C., brother of Lady Palmer and of Lady McIlwraith. He was a hard goer to his fences, and with remarkably good hands.
On going to Townsville I took letters of introduction to James Gordon, of Cluden, and to Andrew Ball, from an old friend, Henry Bohle, after whom the Bohle River was named when he was in the Queensland Government Service.
James Gordon, who had been Sub-Collector of Customs, had retired. He was the father of a very good friend and comrade, Major “Bob” Gordon, who served with the Gordon Highlanders in the Tirah campaign, and with the First Queensland Contingent in the South African War. “Bob” or “Boomerang” Gordon, as he was known to the Scottish soldiers, commanded the Gordon Highlanders Mounted Infantry Company in South Africa, having been lent by the Queenslanders.
Cluden and Stewart’s Creek were tip-top places for duck shooting, and many a good bag we scored there. Andrew Ball had been a station manager, but prior to my time had married and became a landlord of a Flinders Street hotel. He had done a lot of pioneering out Cloncurry way.
The Police Magistrate at the end of 1877 was Gilbert Eliott, who had been well known in the Burnett district, where he had sheep country. His brother spelt his name “Elliot” – or it may have been the other way about. During my second stay in Townsville, the Police Magistrate was Charles Dicken, who later was Secretary the Agent-General in London and then Agent-General and C.M.G.
A sister of Dicken married Henry Ulick Browne, the fifth Marquis of Sligo, and a brother was in the Harbours and Rivers Department in Brisbane.
Succeeding Dicken as P.M. came Edmund Morey, a man of the “pure merino” school, who had been a station owner in Riverina and later owned Mitchell Downs.
Morey, Mrs. Morey, Robert Logan Jack and Mrs. Jack, Hercules Coutts, of the Q.N. Bank, and Mrs. Coutts, Willie Stevenson, later a sugar grower at Innisfail, and Swiss Davies, later of Ipswich, both of the Q.N. Bank, lived with the C. J. Walkers at Eagle’s Nest when I was domiciled there.
Mr. Morey was a widely read and cultured man, and though to many he seemed austere, I found him always a charming friend.
Mr. E. Morey, of the Taxation Department in Queensland, is a son.
Dr. Jack and I had met at Cooktown, and with Inspector Hervey Fitzgerald, of the Police, had gone out a little way on the beginning of his exploratory trip in Cape York Peninsula.. Many a profitable hour I spent in his little geological museum on Melton Hill. Mrs. Jack was a beautiful and accomplished woman. Her son James Love insisted on joining his step-father on the Cape York trip, though only a kiddie, but a strapping chap. He is now a well-known horse-breeder, owner of racing stuff, and a shipper to India, and he imported Chantemerle and other good ones. O last saw him judging the bloods and miscellaneous at the Royal National Exhibition at Bowen Park.
It is impossible to recall the old days in Townsville without a thought of the bank managers. Halloran, of the Bank of New South Wales, was a son of the Sheriff of Queensland. He was of the splendid Viking type – about 6ft 3in., blue-eyed and with a long fair beard falling in (as it was then regarded) masculine beauty well over his great chest.
Ferdinand Sachs was manager of the Australian Joint Stock Bank – musician, literateur, boxer, fencer, and wonderful shot with a rifle. He had his private bachelor home at Hermit Park, and the story runs that one night he gave his guest, Julian Thomas (“The Vagabond”), rather a shock. At dinner “The Vagabond” had been jeering at some of the stories of sharp shooting, and later, in the dark, was walking in the garden serenely puffing a cigar. Presently there was a crack and a splash, and the glowing end of the cigar was cut clean off by a bullet from Sach’s Winchester. “The Vagabond” didn’t afterwards question the daring of our sharpshooters.
Shire, afterwards of the London office, was at the Queensland National Bank, and was succeeded by J. K. Cannan, a son of Dr. Kearsey Cannan, of Brisbane. J. K. Cannan gave Queensland some fine sons and daughters, including J. K., the lawyer, and General “Jim,” C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., and lots of other good things.
Townsville was too conventional for me, and so I secured a job on the Cooktown “Herald” early in 1878, my successor on the Townsville “Herald” being Francis Hodson Nixon, who was an architect, an artist and a poet. He was a brilliant writer, and blessed in having his quiver full of “hostages to hazardry,” as Thomas Hardy puts it.
A son of F. H. Nixon is Frank Nixon, , the secretary of the Timber Merchants Association in Brisbane and a well-known Press controversialist.
After Nixon on the “Herald” was P. Dempsey, a gentle, scholarly man with a great fair beard. On my second stay in Townsville, I was writing for the “Standard”, edited by Henry Knapp, an English solicitor, and the proprietor Mr. Tom Wright, frequently lent me to my old chief, McManus to bring out the “Herald” on days when Dempsey was too ill for work.
Another Townsville journalist was R. H. Pearce. “Gitano” was his pen name, a very brilliant man and a master of satirical jingle.
For the “Standard” I wrote a semi-historical article about seven columns, including a report of the opening of the first section of the Townsville- Charters Towers Railway to the Reid River.
The contractor was James McSharry, an engineer of the Brisbane Water and Sewerage Board who won great fame in Gallipoli and France, and a soldier’s grave in La Belle France. James McSharry was a great pioneer, warm hearted, and a wonderful handler of men. Once a strike threatened, and he went out and met 200 uproarious men.
“We want so-and-so,” they kept yelling. It meant a considerable addition to the cost.
“Well,” said McSharry, “if I give you that will you make it up to me in some other way?”
There was an immediate cheer and cries for “Yes,” and then cheers for “McSharry.”
The leader of the trouble stepped out and said: “Look here, McSharry, if you not think it a fair thing, say so, and we will get back to work. You’re white all through!”
“No, men,” he said, “it’s right enough.”
So the strike trouble ended.
No striking for strike’ sake.
The white ant had not got into the Labour movement.
There was no Labour movement then, but workers and employers in the North in those days dealt with a dispute on the man to man system.
The Townsville “Herald” had another editor after Dempsey, a very clever chap from one of the Old Land universities, but he was not keen on the grind of a provincial newspaper. He was red-bearded, and stood about 6ft 3in. I forget his name. Later he became a Government Agent on the South Seas, and while on duty, was shot clean through the head.
He was followed by my old friend, the incomparable Archibald Meston, who could swing an axe with the best of bushmen, take a turn with the gloves with the smartest professional, lift weights with a Sandow, spin out columns of vivid, glowing prose, write a little poem reminiscent of the sweet things we dullards read in the Greek Anthology, or lampoon in satirical verse an opponent in controversy.
The “Herald” was for six months an arbiter on philology and politics in the North, and then Meston pushed off to Cairns with Horace Brinsmead to clear scrub and grow sugar, and to subdue the heights of Bellenden-Ker.
I had succeeded him as editor of the “Observer”, then a Brisbane morning paper, and felt in a comparison just as a little peep of candlelight ought to feel when the heavens are ablaze with the glories of a tropical storm. As Mr. Pepys would have said: “And so to Cooktown”.
[The Cooktown Chapters have been extracted separately as Part 1]
Chapter VII -Off to Brisbane – Editing a Morning Paper – Joining the “Courier”- A Staff of Brilliant Men – The Francis Adams Tragedy – Lane and the Labour Movement – Politics and Politicians
When John Flood was asked by the new owners of the “Observer” to recommend an editor he sent me a telegram to the North and definitely offered the job, asking me to sail by first steamer.
It did not take long to get to a decision, and I took over from Mr. Archibald Meston towards the end of February 1881.
Mr. Flood and I had been rival editors and close companions in Cooktown, and in my new work he was “guide, mentor and friend.”
The proprietors were McIlwraith, Morehead and Perkins, three members of the Government, and McIlwraith was Premier.
It was arranged a couple of days after I had taken over, that I should meet Messrs Morehead and Perkins, and the meeting took place at the office of Morehead and Co., in Mary Street, in the old stone buildings opposite the present headquarters of Moreheads Ltd.
I had rather feared the first impressions, for I was slight and perhaps more juvenile looking than my years, for then I was nearly 25.
“You are very young,” said B. D. Morehead, and the soft impeachment had to be admitted.
We talked things over, politics especially, and the two big men seemed not a little concerned.
It may be said that both Morehead and Perkins seemed to regard an editor, or a newspaper man of any sort, as a kind of retainer or hanger-on.
Frankly, we never hit it. We did not exchange much in the way of courtesies. McIlwraith was different. A great big man, big-brained, big-hearted, generous, dominating, and brave. Queensland never sufficiently appreciated him. He was the peacemaker as between his colleagues and their editor. When he expressed a reasoned wish it was promptly observed. I have never known a man so free of littleness, even to his political opponents, and they were his only enemies. When my year with the “Observer” was up, and I was transferring to the “Courier” I said to him: “I’ll often come to you for advice”; and he said “Come and see me often.”
The “Observer” office was at the corner of Edward and Adelaide Streets, where the Freeleagus restaurant now is.
The manager was Mr. J. M. Black, still hale and well in Brisbane, who had a printing business of his own, and he also printed the “Observer”.
He did not interfere much with the paper, but he was always available, and many, many times his sound judgment and wide knowledge saved us from slips.
It was an evil day for the “Observer” when Mr. Black gave it up. He was succeeded by Mr. W. M. Crofton as manager, and that was the end of the agreement between the editorial and managerial sides.
Crofton was a clever accountant, but was narrow, and entirely dominated in one sense by Mr. Perkins; but in another way he influenced the Perkins element in the directorate.
The regular news staff, besides myself, was composed of R. J. Leigh and W. H. Qualtrough.
Leigh was a wonderful worker, upon whose heart I am sure “Observer” was written. He had a failing, and his end was tragic and intensely sad. He could do anything on a paper, including good fighting leaders.
Qualtrough was a big, handsome chap, who worked well, but who refused to take life seriously.
Both were loyal, willing helpers.
There were some “side issues”, as Leigh called them, including Theobald Vincent Wallace-Bushelle, a son of the famous Madame Bushelle and that great basso, her husband, who was at one time in England considered a rival of Lablache.
“Toby” Bushelle was a nephew of Vincent Wallace, the composer of “Maritana” – his mother’s brother – and he did most of the musical and dramatic notices for the “Observer”, besides pursuing the elusive advertisement. He was a very fine singer, a basso, like his father and his brother John. The last-named old Sydneyites will remember. “Toby” had toured with a great many companies, including the Caradinis. He helped me a great deal in the matter of voice-training.
The leader writers included Mr. J. G. Drake, of the “Hansard” staff, later a barrister, and later again a Crown Prosecutor with a long service in the Queensland Legislative Assembly and in the Federal Senate, a member of the Federal Government with the portfolio of Postmaster-General.
Another was Mr. Robert Nall, also of the “Hansard” staff, and later one of the heads of the Sydney “Daily Telegraph”.
Others were Mr. E. Thorne, and that very brilliant man, Mr. William Coote, who succeeded me when I went over to the “Courier”. Mr. Coote was the architect of the present Brisbane Town Hall, and did a history of Queensland, besides much pamphleteering.
It was very hard to keep on the lines of policy which the directors, or a majority of them, desired, and to secure a measure of public confidence. Messrs Morehead and Perkins were extremists, and favoured violence in attack. McIlwraith favoured hard logic, or strong facts and mild language.
But the “Observer” was bought for the purposes of strong party onslaughts, and there was not a little bitterness on both sides.
The “Telegraph” was violently anti-McIlwraith, and supported the Opposition, led by Mr. Samuel Walker Griffith, later Sir. S. W. Griffith P.C., G.C.M.G., and Federal Chief Justice.
That, I fancy, was before Mr. Brentnall became regularly associated with the “Telegraph”.
Mr. Brentnall’s work I remember quite well – his short snappy sentences and “hammer it home” method of argument.
The “Courier” had refused to become a violent partisan, and was never very keen on the Morehead-Perkins influence, and that had led to the purchase of another morning paper specially for party propaganda.
Perhaps the occasion is not the only one in “Courier” history when its refusal to be complaisant led to an opposition to it being set up.
Another violent factor in the Government ranks was Mr. Lumley Hill. On one occasion he brought a letter to the “Observer” which had been approved by McIlwraith, and reluctantly I published it, with a “ready-made” footnote, having been, as Mr. J. M. Black reminds me, held free of responsibility.
It was an attack on Mr. Hemmant, formerly of Stewart and Hemmant, and Agent-General for Queensland under the Douglas Government.
Mr. Hemmant behaved generously in the matter, and an apology was published, with a provision for a subscription to some institution.
It was my second libel case, and my last.
The directors had the grace to absolve me from blame. McIlwraith took all responsibility, and Lumley Hill laughed at him. I don’t think McIlwraith ever forgave it.
It may be added that Dr. Carr Boyd, the father of “Potjostler” Carr Boyd, the explorer, was a writer for the paper until he quarreled with Mr. Perkins; and that W. J. Waldron for a long time did a Parliamentary summary.
We formed a company to take over the “Observer” from McIlwraith, Morehead and Perkins. £10,000 capital, in 40 shares of £250, and the subscribers included many well-known pastoralists, one being James Tyson and another E. J. Stevens.
As already said, Mr. J. M. Black resigned from the management and devoted himself to his own by, and that practically was the end of the “Observer” as a morning paper from a commercial point of view. Mr. Black knew all about the printing and publishing of a paper, and had many strong friends, even in the opposition camp.
When Mr. Crofton took over the management and Mr. William Coote became editor, succeeded by Mr. P. J. Macnamara, the office was moved into a new brick building near the Town Hall, about where Edwards and Lamb, drapers, later established themselves.
But the game was up. The paper lasted but a year under the new regime, when it was bought – lock, stock, and barrel – by Mr. C. H. Buzacott, then managing partner of the “Courier” and “Queenslander” – the Brisbane Newspaper Coy. Ltd. – and moved to the “Courier” office.
Mr. Buzacott decided to publish the “Observer” as an evening newspaper, with a separate editorial staff, and he appointed me editor, and I selected Mr. Tom O’Carroll, son the editor of the “Courier”, as my assistant.
The new evening paper was notable chiefly for its startling headlines and sensational leaders, and Mr. Buzacott introduced the “On Dit” column, which was always and quite wrongly attributed to me.
The day came when the brilliant William O’Carroll, editor of the “Courier”, was to relinquish the strain of night work.
Carl Feilberg took over from him, and Mr. Buzacott decided that I should go on to general work, including one or two really special features, and O’Carroll should take the editorship of the “Observer”.
That was carried out and the “Observer”, I am sure, was very much improved. Mr. O’Carroll’s experience and wisdom much outweighed my exuberance and enthusiasm. In time he died. On the day of his funeral I was “down to it” with a very sharp attack of malaria, a legacy of New Guinea. O’Carroll had been a good worker. Like many other journalists he liked to be well away from his work, and he made his home at the Three-mile Scrub, on the road between Newmarket and Ashgrove, a delightful place with tress and ferns, some of the primeval scrub standing, a sanctuary for our sweetest song birds, and sloping down to a clear stream which in the wet season went tumbling and foaming over its bouldered bed. It was a paradise, restful and sweet, with the scents of wattle bloom and the near eucalyptus forest.
At about 2 am after a strenuous night’s work, O’Carroll, when first I knew him, used to mount his old grey mare at the back of the office (which was in Queen Street) and plod quietly home.
The next editor of the “Observer” was Walter J. Morley; and then our present chief of the Brisbane Newspaper Co, J. J. Knight, who specialised in municipal affairs, and who had a staff of good leader writers, including Mr. M’Mahon, formerly of the Sydney “Star”, and Mylne, one of the most scholarly and trenchant of journalists and myself, if it be not immodest to claim inclusion.
Mr. Knight was the last of the separate editors, the “Observer” passing to the direction of a general editor or editor-in-chief, who of course was editor of the “Courier”.
Now that is the correct story of the “Observer” from my first knowledge of it.
When I joined the “Courier” in 1889 it had moved from the old offices to George Street – where the Johnsonian Club, with a certain fitness of succession, is now housed –to the new building in Queen Street, then lately erected by Mr. John Hardgrave, and adjoining what was then the British Empire Hotel.
Mr. Charles Hardie Buzacott was the managing partner, and in the proprietary were also Mr. E. I. C. Browne (Little, Browne, and Ruthning of those days), and Mr. William Thornton, the Collector of Customs. Here I might say that Mr. Buzacott was a wonderfully capable journalist and a tremendous worker. In later years he did a great deal in the way of leader writing, and had a keen sense of humour. Those who did not know his work little suspected that the quiet, reserved and sometimes brusque man was the writer of articles of beautiful English and often with humour like that of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
The editor was William O’Carroll, a good judge of work, an uncompromising critic, and a hater of shams. His strong point was foreign politics – not expecting the Crowned Heads and their Ministers to mend their ways under his suggestions, but so that the people had not time to read up foreign affairs in full should be given an intelligent bird’s-eye view of them.
The sub-editor and then editor of a rather short-lived “Evening News,” was Carl Feilberg, who was good at the job, but who was better as a writer.. He had a turn as sub-editor on the “Argus” in Melbourne, but was glad to get back again to the “Courier,” on which he became editor. In addition to sub-editing he did the “Political Froth” in the “Queenslander,” having succeeded W. H. Traill in that special job, and I succeeded Feilberg.
Richard, or “Dick’ Newton was writing and reporting, and did most of the descriptive stuff, such as the Birthday Ball at Government House; and he also did, with remarkable insight, the theatres, though specialists did the big musical jobs.
E. J. T. Barton, later sub-editor and then editor, did the cables and telegrams; and W. J. Morley, later editor of the “Observer,” did the law reports.
Graham Haygarth, who was shot years after at Charters Towers, did the racing under the pen-name of “Hermit,” with an occasional jingle reminiscent of Whyte Melville, and was succeeded by E. A. Smith, “Pegasus,” a scholarly Englishman who in time raced some very good horses, and we often talked over the old days.
There were some general and special writers, and a good many leaders came from “outside.”
The “Courier” of those days was trenchant in the treatment of public affairs, careful in its treatment of the Queen’s English, and scrupulous in the correctness of its reports.
My work was general, and in a little while very important, and the beginning with the “Courier” had some bearing on what I conceived to be a reporter’s duty to his paper.
Brunton Stephens, during the Governorship of Sir Arthur Kennedy, was transferred from school teaching to be correspondence clerk at the Home Secretary’s Office. The Governor was a keen admirer of the poet’s more serious work, and so was Miss Kennedy, who was a great reader and a keen critic. Sir Arthur Kennedy had served at Cape Coast Castle and Hongkong, and on all his journeyings abroad he was accompanied by his daughter. They thought more of a fine poem, or even a good bit of prose, than of a fat bullock. Miss Kennedy once said: “It is by the art and literature of the place that people will judge Queensland of the ‘eighties.” In literature, to use a Brunton Stephens phrase, they knew “what’s what.” It seemed to the friends of the poet that in his letters to all and sundry from the Home Secretary’s Department he would “unconsciously slip into verse.” Was that not the obsession of Mr. Boffin’s friend, Silas Wegg? I sued the idea, and wrote for the “Queenslander” what purported to be a letter to “The worthy Mayor and aldermen of famous Wingeroo,” in reply to an application for the establishment of a pound. It was assumed that Brunton Stephens had been instructed to say that if the Mayor and aldermen would provide the material and build the yards a pound would be established. It was in the days when the singing of Swinburne was still a rage, and all our little rhymsters affected the alliteration done to death of Adam Lindsay Gordon.
One verse rang:-
“Let the swearing, swaggering splitter seek the silky she-oak shade;
Cause the towering tree to totter till its thund’ring thud is made;
Till it lies in sandy softness on the easy earth, and then,
Let him cut, and split, and mortise – Mr. Mayor and aldermen.”
It was the veriest doggerel, with only the redeeming grace of an idea, but it shook the Home Secretary’s Office and the Johnsonian Club to smithereens, and Brunton Stephens called me a villain – in a Pickwickian sense, of course – and told me I should very probably end up by being hanged. Who knows?
At the “Courier” office in those days, and up to the time I went off to England in 1887, there was a sort of special room for contributors. I had a table in it, and met men, some of whom are well worth remembering.
The first was John Douglas, the ex-Premier. He was a regular leader writer for the “Courier.” His work was bright and scholarly, as became a Rugby boy and a University man; there was the keen inside knowledge of one who had so lately been at the head of the Government, and there was a splendid breadth of treatment. Charles Hardie Buzacott and John Douglas had been on different sides in politics, but between them there was a deep mutual esteem. I think John Douglas continued to write “Courier” leaders until he was appointed Government Resident at Thursday Island. He was, in a sense, poor in the world’s goods,. He had been a Downs pastoralist, but had no regular profession, and had abstained from “making good” financially – which is a contradiction in terms, while he was Premier. He had a family of sons to educate and spared nothing for them, and it was necessary that he should use his brains and exercise his splendid administrative powers. Often at night we sat and talked when our work was done, and from John Douglas I learnt the duty of real service to my country. Whether the lesson was ever wisely applied is another question.
Two men in those days were at the top of my mind, two Johns – John Douglas and John Flood. They were above small things in working for Queensland.
“Where do I come in?” did not occur to either of them.
John Douglas had the vision of a statesman, the soul of a patriot, and his honour always seemed to me something lustrous.
When first I saw a great operatic artist, as Lohengrin, step from his swan-drawn skiff, “mystic, wonderful” in his shining armour, I caught breath and said, “He is like John Douglas.”
And yet how few of our young people are taught who and what John Douglas was?
Some loud-mouthed or subtle demagogue blooming into a sudden affluence is popular, but the men who served Queensland rather than themselves are almost forgotten. To me John Douglas ranks with the best of those who have led a Government in this land of ours for absolute purity of motive and loftiness of aspiration. He had absolutely nothing to gain from his political service – at any rate, he gained nothing in the monetary sense. It always seems to me a great tribute to a political leader in a young country that his friends should be able to say: “He died a poor man!”
When H. E. King was defeated for Maryborough by our old friend, “Jack” Annear, he was on the unemployed list.
He had been Speaker of the Parliament of which McIlwraith became the head in 1879. He, also, became a “Courier” leader writer.
King was tall and sharply rounded at the shoulders, wore a very long brown beard, had very shaggy brows, a soft voice, and a very pleasant “way with him.”
He was an Irishman of an old Church of England family – came from the West, and had all the best that education could give him.
He was in the Imperial Army for some years, but threw up his commission to come to Australia.
His sister, Catherine King, was a well-known writer, and her book, “Lost for Gold” is well known to Queenslanders. It is to an extent founded on fact, and deals with the life and death of Griffen, who was hanged at Rockhampton for the murder of his subordinates on the Peak Downs escort.
H. E. King married a sister of Dr. Armstrong, of Toowoomba, thus an aunt of Mr. W. D. Armstrong (later M.L.A. and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly), of Adair, near Gatton, and he raised a big family of sons and daughters, all of whom I knew as youngsters.
In the days when King was Speaker and I editor of the “Observer,” I was often a guest at Ivy Lodge, Toowong – Toowong was the fashionable suburb of those days. We had many jolly dances, and the family was musically inclined. On one occasion a very fine light baritone appeared, well trained and an artist. It was Lawford, a barrister, who had married one of the charming daughters of W. L. G. Drew, C.M.G., of Toowong, a sister of Mrs. J. O’N. Brenan, and of Mrs. (Major-General) Jackson, of the Royal Artillery.
To get back to H. E. King –we were room mates for a time, but he did most of his work at home. King was a very polished and trenchant writer, but he did not talk much. In later years, and when over 60, he went for the Bar, passed with flying colours, and became a Crown Prosecutor. One of his sons became a journalist and did remarkably well in Brisbane and elsewhere. He was, I believe, formerly a partner in the Brisbane “Sunday Sun.”
Francis Adams was for quite a long time one of the regular leader writers. He was a son of Mrs. Leith Adams, the English novelist, and before coming to Australia had published some rather striking essays and verse. The essays were very fine, but with a certain bitterness of spirit in them.
Adams was a consumptive, and had a grievance against fate, which was often noticeable in his work. When in Brisbane he did a lot of verse writing, and published a couple of volumes. Some of the work was repulsive, some was delightful. Adams had an affectation with his verse. He would not have a capital for the initial letter of a line unless the preceding line closed with a full point. And on occasions, to show his unconventionality, he would have the Deity put with a little “g”.
Adams was for a long time associated with Gresley Lukin, William Lane, and J. G. Drake, on the old “Boomerang,” a very bright, though truculent, paper, which had Monty Scott, and later, Cecil Gasking, as artists.
Adams was a very brilliant man, and some of his “Courier” leaders were wonderful evidences of scholarly English and sustained energy. His strongest point was in the personal leader. Poor Adams! His health went from bad to worse. Years before we knew him on the “Courier” he had lost his wife, and married again to an Australian girl, a nurse – tall, strong, capable.
The end of things for the handsome, brown-bearded Englishman was tragedy. He became very bad indeed – both lungs and throat affected – and he suffered very much. One night, late, he was having a bad time – choking, agonized. Yet his will was indomitable. He said to his wife, “Give me the revolver.”
She gave it to him and turned away. There was a sharp, stinging report, for Adams had put the revolver to his head and fired. His wife turned to him, took the revolver away, composed his limbs, sponged his fatal wound, sent for the doctor, and the doctor sent for the police.
The circumstances as I relate them were published at the time. Some blamed Mrs. Adams, some praised her. Those who praised her knew how greatly generous she had been, nursing the sick man with infinite tenderness, but always subject to his intensely masterful nature. Pace! Francis Adams. Hw rote his own epitaph, which, as closely as I can remember, ran:-
“Bury me with clenched hands and eyes open wide,
In storm and trouble I lived; in trouble and storm I died.”
William Lane did occasional leaders for the “Courier,” but the bulk of his work was contributing sketchy articles and notes upon Labour ideals. He was a vivid and effective writer, though he was obviously a visionary, and his work was sometimes over-sentimentalised. Yet there was no mistake as to his earnestness. I had almost said fanaticism. And, as is so often the case, he was intolerant to a degree, and any condition of economic or social affairs which did not harmonise with his view was violently condemned.
One recognises that reformers have often been fanatical, but quite as much good has been done in the world by solid and temperate reasoning as by strenuous and bitter advocacy.
To speak of William Lane in his days of the Press in Queensland would have had an affected sound. It was always “Billy” Lane. He was a violent “dry” in the matter of liquor traffic, and a most violent pacifist. His reading was fairly wide on economic subjects, but he had very little knowledge of contemporary literature.
From the “Boomerang” he went to the newly-established “Worker,” which was mainly his conception, and certainly was founded in the literary sense by him. He wrote always under a pen name of “John Miller,” yet his identity eventually leaked out, and in the shearers’ huts in the West, on mustering camps and at those little meetings of “billabong whalers” where two or three were gathered together, the name of “Billy” Lane was reverenced.
In the so-called Labour movement – the movement which his genius really brought into being – one never really hears his name. If the Trades Hall does not bar monuments there should be something there to educate the young to a knowledge of the real Moses of Labour in politics in Queensland.
It may seem queer to outsiders that the promoter and leader of the New Australia settlement in Paraguay was a former leader writer and contributor to the “Courier.”
It is not proposed to go into the history of this visionary Eden in South America, but just to mention a few of the points connected with it which were discussed by Lane in the “Courier” office.
He had an intense faith in human nature, in the glorious gospel of mateship – not as we know those things today, but as they would be existent in a communal settlement where nothing was known of business competition, the struggle for food and shelter, and the cursed lust of gold.
The “tall straight men of the West” the “Brave-eyed, deep-bosomed women of Australia” were to build up an ideal community in a land where there would be no taint of selfishness. The difficulties were pointed out over and over again, but Lane was intolerant even of the most friendly criticism. His was the glowing faith, the indomitable spirit. Now, apart from the general difficulties of pulling through a scheme of the kind with a purely secular basis, Lane was not the man for the job. Naturally he was a despot, just as Lenin was, and Trotsky.
He had no experience of handling men. With a battalion of trained Australian soldiers, with all their fine sense of discipline, he would have had a mutiny in a week. And when he was personally known all the glamour of “John Miller” (his pen name) and of “Billy” Lane disappeared.
He was rather small and badly crippled. His tone was always aggressive. It was another case of Caesar or nothing. Well we know what happened.
Lane left Australia, and founded Cosme Colony, and then sick of it all, and probably disillusioned, he came out to New Zealand, and again earned good money on a capitalist paper. And in New Zealand he died.
As I have said, he was intensely earnest; he dreamed his dreams up in the old “Courier” building, where Phillips and Sons, auctioneers, are now established, and he woke to find them dreams on the inhospitable Paraguayan settlements.
P. J. Macnamara who had ventured on a “Bulletin” in Brisbane and had for a time been Editor of the “Observer” was one of Lane’s first fleeters in the Royal Oak for Paraguay, but soon had his fill of Communism and Socialism and all the other isms except patriotism, for he came back to Queensland a devoted Australian, an out and out Britisher, and an individualist of the most pronounced type.
He went to Nanango ultimately, established a prosperous little paper there, bought an hotel, built a beautiful hall, and generally took on an air of affluence.
I last saw him at the old Burnett town, and we had a very pleasant day together. He compared the conditions of the workers there and at Yarraman with the best that could be given in Paraguay, even had Lane realised all that he dreamed.
His conclusion was characteristic: “Communists should
find a congenial sphere in a black’s camp or at Woogaroo.
In 1881, the Johnsonian Club had its home in the Belle Vue cottage adjoining Belle Vue Hotel.
Once a month we had a supper, which was always an absolute delight. After supper we smoked our clays, the long churchwardens, with a jar of tobacco on the table free to all.
Brunton Stephens, Carl Feilberg, Richard Newton, John Flood, “Bobby” Byrnes (whose Christian names ere John Edgar), A. J. Carter, Horace Earl, and other men of splendid comradeship and genius would be there, and we youngsters regarded them as veritable Gamaliels at whose feet we sat and drew in wisdom.
There were many others, of course – artists like Clarke, lawyers like George Paul, and Granville Miller, and literary doctors like K. I. O’Doherty and Lyons; and the whole atmosphere was full of mental stimulation.
But the literary, artistic, and scientific sides of things were not forgotten.
The most delightful night that I spent at the Johnsonian was after the move into Elizabeth Street, and on the occasion of Brunton Stephens reading from manuscript his new poem, “Angela.” It was a long poem, and the motif was the love between a devoutly Christian maid and a chivalrous man who was an agnostic.
I remember some of the poem- a sad and impassioned work. It has not been printed, so far as my remembrance goes, and no literary friend has been able to tell me what became of it. I do not know the poet’s family sufficiently well to ask questions of them. A mutual friend of Brunton Stephens and myself asked me about it in later years, another poet also sleeping the long sleep.
He said: “Do you remember what happened to Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights?”
My own impression was that Brunton Stephens destroyed the manuscript. Some people, however liberal they may be, or however doubting, have an aversion from disturbing the settled religious beliefs of others.
Brunton Stephens was intense in his spiritual sense, and that may have been a reason for the destruction of a poem of great beauty and depth of thought. He was hyper-sensitive in this regard for the spiritual leanings of others.
The McIlwraith Government gained a majority in the 1879 elections, ousting the Government at the head of which was Mr. John Douglas.
The colleagues of Mr. Douglas in various offices, and with changes from one department to the other, included S. W. Griffith, J. F. Garrick, J. R. Dickson – all of whom were raised in later days to knighthood – R. M. Stewart, William Miles, Geo. Thorn, Peter McLean, and Charles Stuart Mein.
Of these I knew all very well, save Mr. Stewart, though they were not in office when I came to Brisbane in 1881.
To Mr. Douglas reference was made in an earlier page. As then said, he was more of a statesman than a politician, and, though he could put up a good fight when he thought the occasion demanded it, he was always more concerned in the welfare of the country than in a small party advantage.
S. W. Griffith was tall and spare, and he wore a long brown beard. The whole of the Douglas ministry was bearded. That was a fashion of the day.
Nor had we got to the vulgarity and the petty mindedness which centred its zest for jocularity on a man’s personal appearance.
Sir S. W. Griffith in my opinion was the greatest of the public men of the country, though not as a party politician.
Sir J. F. Garrick was a brilliant lawyer, a well set up, handsome man, cultured, and of great personal charm He was a remarkably fine speaker, with a fine, ringing voice.
Later, when he was Agent-General for Queensland, I saw a good deal of him, and knew more of his wonderfully sympathetic nature.
Lovers of horseflesh will remember how sometimes he drove up to Parliament House with Mrs. and Miss Garrick in a covered phaeton and a spanking pair of bays.
William Miles was the Jack Blunt of the Cabinet; a pastoralist, a strong man in financial matters, and to him was credited the origin of the £10,000,000 loan and the construction of the Cairns railway. Mr. Miles was one of the promoters also of the Royal Bank of Queensland.
He had as a son-in-law Mr. Herbert Hunter, of Victoria Downs, the builder of Stanley Hall, near Clayfield, who was a director of the Royal Bank, and the owner of some first-class racehorses.
Mr. Miles was the open enemy of McIlwraith and Palmer- not a vindictive enemy by any means, but a fighter.
Probably it was a similarity of temperament which kept these fine old Queenslanders so far apart.
Then there was James R. Dickson, later a Premier of Queensland, and our first member of the Federal Cabinet. Mr. Dickson (afterwards Sir James R. Dickson) was rather sententious in manner, but very capable, very courteous, and always the good friend of newspaper men.
He made his home on the heights just beyond Breakfast Creek, a charming stone house known as Toorak, and from which Toorak Hill takes its name.
Mr. Fred Dickson, Crown Prosecutor, is a son of Sir James.
George Thorn had been Premier from June 5 to March 8, 1877. He graduated from Sydney University, where he had a distinguished career, and was a fine Latin scholar. Virgil was to him not only a great poet, but an agricultural authority. The “Bucolics” he specially admired, and would declaim page after page with more zest than he ever put into a political speech. George Thorn was very capable, but he was not taken altogether seriously, because he would not take himself seriously.
Peter McLean was an earnest Scot, a Logan River farmer, a great reader, and the dominant star in the temperance firmament. Later he became Under Secretary for Agriculture, and did the State good service. He was a particularly good debater.
Last on the list is Charles Stuart Mein, a well-known solicitor, and a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Defence Force. He was in later years raised to the Supreme Court Bench, and was a wise and capable judge.
All of the Douglas Ministry are sleeping the long sleep, the last to go being Mr. Peter McLean – good, hearty, and hardy Scot.
The party cemented up from more or less antithetical elements by Sir Thomas McIlwraith – who was plain Mr. McIlwraith then – gained a considerable victory, and took office in January, 1879. The party went to the country under a magnetic leadership, as well as with a popular programme.
McIlwraith was a Scottish engineer who came to Australia in connection with the railway contracts and bridge building of Peto, Brassey and Betts. The Brassey of the firm afterwards was Lord Brassey.
McIlwraith became interested in pastoral properties, and was socially very popular. He was big and florid, and pictures in 1881 showed that a few years earlier he had attended a fancy dress ball as “The Maranoa Baby,” with cape and long robe and the bottle usual with infants. It was a great joke.
A salient of his policy was borrowing for reproductive works, such as railways and harbours. It may be explained that the policy of what was termed the Liberal Ministry in the matter of railway building finance, was to proclaim reserves, under the Railway Reserves Act, and to sell blocks, alternately or otherwise, devoting the receipts to construction.
The McIlwraith alternative scheme was to borrow money, build the railways, and then sell the land. The idea caught the popular fancy, and especially when it was backed by a popular proposal to borrow £3,000,000 on the London market. The figure was sensational at the time, for we had not then become accustomed to financial plunging, laying up burdens by way of taxation to pay interest, and taking away from industrial production a very big proportion of the population to join the great army employed at “the Government stroke.”
I had heard John Murtagh Macrossan expound the policy in Cooktown, and it struck me as likely to be good for a young country. It certainly was for a time, but the germ of borrowing has been ever since an acute influence in public affairs.
The general trend of McIlwraith’s mind was to big, dramatic methods of development. He was obsessed by the glamour of Sir John Macdonald’s policy in Canada, though the Queensland movement came along rather earlier than the letting of the contract for the new Canadian-Pacific railway, which was in May, 1881.
The development was towards land-grant railways, and chiefly the Transcontinental railway, north and south in Qld.
But McIlwraith was not the father in Queensland of the land grant railway idea. The first public move was by John Douglas about a year after he had left responsible public life.
In 1881, McIlwraith had a very strong team; men of affairs, capable in their way, and very big men in the public eye. His right hand man was Sir Arthur Palmer, with whom he was connected by marriage. They were married to two of the Mosman sisters – Lady Palmer was slight, dark, and very reserved, yet her intimates spoke of her always as a very sweet woman. Lady McIlwraith was robust, cheery, a delightful hostess, and very fond of the brighter side of life.
But that is a digression, Sir Arthur Palmer had been Premier in 1870-74 of a pastoralist Government, and McIlwraith had been Secretary of Works and Mines in the Macalister Ministry, January to October, 1874.
Arthur Hunter Palmer was of Irish birth, and he was soon after his arrival in Australia superintendent of the Dangar stations in New South Wales.
He was masterful, quick to wrath, easily appeased, and those who knew him best said he had a heart of gold. He was a capable and conscientious administrator, and gave to Queensland many years of devoted service. He settled down at a charming home, Easton Gray, Toowong, and was a familiar figure for years on the River Road with his smart phaeton and speedy pair of ponies.
He was a pastoralist of the purest Merino. He closed his political career as President of the Legislative Council. No man was more familiarly known in politics; and his blunt, brusque way came to be regarded as a matter of course.
On one occasion I heard him give a well deserved rebuke to a number of his guests – while he was Lieutenant Governor – at a Queen’s birthday ball. During the supper, and just before Sir Arthur Palmer rose to propose the toast of “Her Majesty the Queen,” a number of the guests rose, and noisily left the supper room to dance some “extras.” It was a flagrantly ill-mannered thing to do, but probably was attributable to want of knowledge of the proprieties.
Sir Arthur let out with characteristic frankness, and vainly Lady Palmer sought to quell the storm. The Lieutenant – Governor had his say, and it was just as well. He had the sympathy and support of the people generally. Next day a few of the offenders called at Government House, and sincerely apologised.
“Well,” said the Lieutenant-Governor, “I didn’t know you were in it, but this I will say, that to call and apologise is a dam decent thing to do.”
Sir Arthur Palmer on another occasion, and with less justification perhaps, appeared as a censor morum.
A very fine distinguished actress was to appear at the Theatre Royal in Dumas’ play of “The Lady of the Camellias.”
Our Lieutenant Governor had heard of the play and decided that it was “nasty”; so under orders, his son and A.D.C., Willie Palmer, wrote declining the vice-regal patronage, and giving a frank reason. The letter halted a little grammatically, and the leading man at the theatre read it out to the audience.
The episode created a laugh; but the letter, in its sense, was characteristic. Sir Arthur Palmer, rough of speech as he sometimes was, would not tolerate anything which he deemed indecent in literature or art.
Which reminds me that on the occasion of a big exhibition in Brisbane certain beautiful specimens of French statuary were sent through the instrumentality of the secretary, Mr. Jules Joubert.
The works were more French than a French bean, and shocked some of the people on the Exhibition Committee.
It was said that in deference to the very forcibly expressed views of Sir Arthur, little calico coulottes were bestowed on the pale, unconscious marble. I cannot vouch for the truth of the whole of the story. These little incidents illustrate one side of the character of the man who was so conspicuous a figure in our public life, so great a pioneer, so earnest and clean handed a worker.
Sir Arthur Palmer was at heart a Puritan, and who is there of us big enough to throw a flippant word at his memory? Not I, for one. Why are the memories of great men such as he not perpetuated in our public places?
The first Minister for Justice with McIlwraith was John Malbon Thompson, an Ipswich solicitor, but he retired after about four months. Mr. Thompson was punctilious, courteous, and much esteemed. He had served as Lands Minister in the Palmer Government, 1870-73. I did not know him personally.
He was succeeded by Mr. Ratcliffe Pring Q.C., afterwards Mr. Justice Pring, under the title of Attorney-General. Pring was a brilliant lawyer, with lots of Parliamentary experience, for he had been Attorney General in the Mackenzie Ministry in 1867 and in the Lilley Ministry in 1869. He was a fighter, and a very successful criminal law advocate. He went to the Supreme Court Bench before my arrival in Brisbane.
I knew him, but not very well, and our private talks were mainly about horses. He had been the owner of some pretty good racing stuff, and usually rode about Brisbane on a good sort of roadster, a black about 15 hands being his best.
Mrs. A. V. Drury was a sister of Mr. Pring. On his elevation to the Bench he was succeeded as Attorney General by Mr. Henry Rogers Beor, but that was before my time in Brisbane.
Two men who were to play important parts in the Australian judiciary were in succession Attorneys General in the McIlwraith Government – Pope Alexander Cooper, later Sir Pope, the Chief Justice of Queensland; and Mr. Charles Edward Chubb, later Mr, Justice Chubb, of the Supreme Court.
I had met them both in the North when they were on circuit.
Cooper was born in New South Wales, had a distinguished school and University career, and went to the Bar in England. He was a nephew of Fred. Cooper, also a barrister, who was member for Cook in our Legislative Assembly.
Pope Cooper succeeded Beor as member for Bowen. He was not at all keen on politics, though he did very well in Parliament, and as Attorney General having first call on the Supreme Court vacancy, he took it, and did much better on the Bench than was expected. He was much interested in art, and somewhat in music. His wife, who predeceased him by a good many years, was a very fine musician, and published some charming songs with her own words and music.
On a few occasions Mrs. Pope Cooper did musical notices for the “Observer” when I edited it as a morning paper, and notably one very fine article on the Montague- Turner Opera Co.
Mr. Justice Chubb, now retired, had always literary tastes, and knew a good picture. His father, a well-known solicitor, was a playwright and poet, with an inclination to the humorous.
Succeeding Pope Cooper for Bowen, Mr. C. E. Chubb was a success in Parliament. He was an excellent debater, and had the very warm respect in the Assembly of the severe and somewhat bitter Griffith Opposition. He was sincere and tolerant and soon showed the qualities which made his appointment to the Bench later on a very popular one. In his quiet sober way he had quite a fund of whimsical humour, and it was said of him that in his younger days he was never at a loss for a botanical or Latin name for a plant.
“Of course,” said Frederick Manson Bailey, the Government Botanist, “you may call a plant whatever you like, and so long as people do not understand they are quite satisfied.”
Mr. Justice Chubb has retired from the bench after a long and very honourable service. He was born and schooled in England, but he has been a warm friend of his adopted State.
Mrs. Chubb, who died some years ago, was a daughter of that very fine Queenslander, Sheriff McArthur, of the Northern Supreme Court.
Charlie Hardie Buzacott was Postmaster-General in the first McIlwraith Government, and certainly, was the father of the Divisional Boards Act, which gave a remarkably good system of decentralization within the State. He remained in office for over a year, and then found his task as managing proprietor of the Brisbane Newspaper Co. demanded the whole of his time.
It was remarkable that though Mr. Buzacott had in ordinary conversation an impediment in his speech he was quite fluent when on the platform or in Parliament.
He was succeeded by Boyd Dunlop Morehead, who was Premier in 1888.
Morehead as a wag – bright and really witty. On an occasion the law firm of Little and Browne (late Little, Browne and Ruthning) had done some work for the Government, and presented an account, which was certainly long and considered “pretty stiff.” Some talk was indulged in as to the capacity of lawyers. A few days later a Birds protection Bill was going through Parliament, and some one asked: “What is your definition of a snipe?”
Morehead rapped back, “A little brown bird with a very long bill!”
The after Morehead came F. T. Gregory, on the of the Gregory brothers, so well known as explorers.
He was a surveyor, a man of much ability, but rather overshadowed by his brother, A. C. afterwards Sir A. C. Gregory.
Macrossan and Perkins I have referred to in a previous chapter.
Albert Norton succeeded Macrossan as Minister for Mines and Works.
As already stated Mr. John Douglas was the first in Queensland to bring prominently to notice the question of land grant railways. The system later was bitterly opposed by S. W. Griffith, who had succeeded Mr. Douglas as leader of what was recognised as the Liberal or Radical Party; but Douglas was always favourable to it.
Of course, when McIlwraith introduced his big scheme, termed by one of its leading active opponents, Mr. H. Hardacre (present member of the Land Court), “the gridiron scheme,” things had developed rather unfavourably in Canada. The scandals associated with the name of Sir John Macdonald (who was absolutely cleared by a Royal Commission) gave arguments against the “big syndicate” methods.
It was on February 4, 1881, that John Douglas called a meeting in Brisbane to consider the land grant railway question. It was said then that American capital was available and that a Mr. McClure, who was in Sydney, was prepared to undertake to finance a scheme.
Mr. Douglas suggested as a first proposition a line to Cunnamulla, which would open up the country and preserve the South-western trade to Brisbane. The scheme would be under what was known as the Railway Companies Preliminary Act, which contemplated alternative offers and conditions.
Mr. Douglas explained that a line of 500 miles would require from a company a capital of £500,000, with £50,000 paid up.
The company would then issue stock bearing interest, and the purchasers of the stock would then have the option of continuing to receive interest, taking land as collateral security, or of converting the stock into land.
The “Courier” pointed out that there was no definite scheme, but Mr. Buzacott had favoured the land grant system at the conference, and mentioned that lines could be built at £2100 per mile.
He saw no reason why land grant lines should not be constructed right through the country.
Mr. Gresley Lukin, it may be mentioned, had been agitating the question in Melbourne, but he favoured a line opening up the country explored by the “Queenslander” expedition – Favenc and Briggs – and this agitation was really the genesis of the definite Transcontinental Railway, from the terminus at the Queensland Central Railway to Point Parker.
It may be observed that had the railways been built on the land grant system, Queensland would have had only a tithe of her present public debt, and the land would still have been there for the purposes of taxation.
And also, there would have been much closer settlement in the past 35 years over a great part of the State. Did we make a mistake when we loaded up the people generally with taxes, and as it seems for all time, by borrowing money for railway building?
It may be observed that the idea of John Douglas was not to leave the workings of the railways to a private company, but to allow the company to build the lines and take land as payment The idea would shock the perpetual lease advocates, but they may not be quite so wise as they believe. At any rate our interest bills and our worry over conversion loans are not dreams.
In 1881 the Duke of Manchester visited Queensland, and every one hastened to do him honour, to give him a hearty welcome. The Duke enjoyed his visit to the country places, he spied out land-grant railway matters, and became interested in some pastoral properties.
He was a stranger, and we “took him in.” One story is told of his inspection of a far West property, where there was a charming host and a rally of the host’s pals, all real good sorts. The place was sparsely stocked, but the books didn’t show that, and as the Duke was taken out to see the cattle little mobs were deftly moved from place to place, and really Wingeroo, or whatever was the name of the run, seemed to carry about 50 head to the mile.
Once the Duke stopped and said: “Mr. Blank, these cattle are wonderfully alike.”
“Just a matter of breeding, your Grace,” was the ready reply. “We breed from the best Shorthorn strains in the country, and the stock varies little.” It is related that the cattle were “blacks, browns and brindles” and all other colours. I fancy the Duke did not buy the run.
At another place he met R. W. Stuart, “Dick” Stuart, noted as an artist, horseman, and rough rider. Stuart had a few quiet bullocks, and on a camp to show how well cared for the cattle were, he caught an occasional beast and mounted it. On another occasion, to make up a four-in-hand team for a short run with the Duke, Stuart put a bullock in near side on the pole.
Another story of the Duke was told me at Roma in the days when Mount Abundance was so hospitable a centre and “Jock” Robertson was cock-of-the-walk.
Bridget was pressed into the service as housemaid and to wait at the table. She was very good, but a wee bit rough. It was explained to her very carefully, “Now Bridget, before you ask the Duke anything you must say ‘Your Grace’
At table Bridget was handing round vegetables, and when she came to the Duke she said, “For what we are about to receive, etc will you have a spud?”