Saturday, August 27, 2011

Conrad Martens - Landscape Painter of Colonial Australia.

After an adventurous early life, Martens settled permanently in Australia in 1835.  Over the next four decades, he would produce numerous sketches and watercolours, chiefly of the landscape of his adopted homeland.

Conrad Martens, ca. 1840, by Maurice Felton

Born in London in 1801, Conrad Martens was the son of a German merchant from Hamburg, who had settled in England. His mother was English. Martens studied landscape painting and over the next ten years worked as a watercolourist mainly in the south of England.

Rio de Janeiro, Guanabara Bay

Intending to voyage to India, he sailed to Rio de Janeiro in 1833, where he produced many pencil sketches and watercolours.

While there, Martens heard of a position available on the expedition ship Beagle, whose artist had to withdraw because of illness.


He joined the Beagle in Montevideo in July 1833. Also on board was the British naturalist, Charles Darwin.  On board the Beagle, Martens and Darwin forged a close friendship which would last a lifetime.

Straits of Magellan

The Beagle sailed south and rounded the Horn through the Straits of Magellan, paying an extended visit to Tierra del Fuego. 

Mount Sarmiento, Tierra del Fuego, showing the Beagle

Martens left the Beagle at Valparaiso in October 1834, and after spending some time in Tahiti and New Zealand, he sailed to Australia.


Martens arrived in Sydney in 1835 and would spend the rest of his life in Australia.

Entrance to Sydney Harbour

He initially sketched around Sydney and the Blue Mountains and soon began to receive commissions.

View of Sydney Harbour 1836
The Beagle sailed into Sydney Harbour in 1836.

The Beagle in Sydney Harbour

Jemmy Button farewells the Beagle
Darwin visited Martens and commissioned several watercolours, among which was a watercolour of Jemmy Button waving farewell to the Beagle. He was one of four natives from Tierra del Fuego taken to England on the first voyage of the Beagle in 1830.  After being put on display, they became celebrities. In 1831 they were returned to their homeland on the second voyage of the Beagle.  On board was Conrad Martens who sketched the event.

Over the years, Martens continued to correspond with Charles Darwin. In 1862, he congratulated his friend on the success of the Origin of Species, sending him a watercolour of Brisbane River.

Brisbane River, Kangaroo Point and Township

During his long career, Martens was faced with several long periods of financial insecurity as the colonial economy ebbed and flowed between boom and recession.  Martens supplemented his income by giving art lessons.  He also travelled widely seeking commissions, including a trip to Brisbane and the Darling Down where he visited the stations of wealthy squatters. 

Canning Downs Homestead, Darling Downs

After completing a five month long sketching tour, he returned overland to Sydney through the New England and Hunter River Districts.

View of Sydney Harbour from Rosebank

The paintings of Martens display the European tradition of landscape, especially of the 17th Century French artist Claude Lorrain.  He applied his skills to evoke the beauties of the antipodean landscape, so different to that of Europe.

Bennelong Point, Sydney,from the North Shore

In 1863 Martens was able to become financially secure after taking on the position of Assistant Librarian in the Australian Parliamentary Library. As a result, his artistic output was restricted.

Conrad Martens in old age

He died in Sydney on 21 August 1878 leaving a great legacy of images of Colonial Australia.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

“Old Tom” visits Ipswich and the Darling Downs (Part 5)

(Extracted and edited from articles by “Old Tom” in The Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander of June 1869.)

At Drayton, Old Tom recalls a long ago horse race. He passes the Swamp, site of the future city of Toowoomba.

With some difficulty, Old Tom descends the Range to Lockyer's Creek.  His horse is exhausted and he fears an attack by natives who are known to be hostile in the area. 

After staying the night in a wayside inn drunk dry by shearers on a spree, he completes the journey back to Brisbane.

Paintings and drawings are by Conrad Martens who toured the Downs in 1851-2.

Beyond Westbrook, to the northward, the traveller can discern the misty outline of the Gowrie ran, then occupied by Messrs. Hughes and Isaacs. The former of these gentlemen, old colonists will recollect, entered into a spirited contest with the venerable Richard Jones for the representation of the Stanley Borough in the Legislative House of Assembly, in the parent colony of New South Wales. This political contest was made memorable by the defeat of the Darling Downs champion by the people's choice, Mr. Richard Jones obtaining a majority of twelve votes over his opponent. The sanctity of the ballot-box was not known in those days. It was, therefore no child's play (taking a business point of view in the matter) to set up in opposition to the ruling party. Brisbane manhood, however, asserted its rights on that occasion, and it is some satisfaction to remember that this contest was the forerunner of a better state of things.


Turning from these things of the past, let me take the reader to the comfortable though modest hostelry of Alford—the first man who had ventured over the Main Range to administer to the creature comforts. Poor Tom! You had a soul above buttons, and, knowing that, it was your necessity and not your will that consented to become a tapster[1]. Tour memory will be ever held in respect by those who had the pleasure of participating under your hospitable roof. It always seemed to me a strange freak of the powers that were, to lay out a township in the vicinity of the Springs, simply because there was a very limited supply of water to be obtained in that locality; and though for the past twenty years the old diehards of the Billy Handcock type have fought hard to build up a city in the hills, I fear the old Swamp, modernised under the Taylor-cum-Groom dynasties, will eventually swallow up the Village of Drayton into its capacious Toowoombian maw.

Yet there is something one likes about Drayton. The visitor seldom fails to breast the hill at the back of the old Bull's Head Inn, and obtain a bird's eye view of the glorious Downs country, whilst to the residents the bracing air and fine climate of the western slopes render the services of a medical man seldom necessary.

Bulls Head Inn in the 20th Century

Well I recollect the first races held on the Downs, when Baronet, the Brisbane horse, was bowled out by the Tenterfield horse Meteor, to the serious loss and disappointment of those who had backed the Brisbane favourite. Shades of old times! how the figures flit through this mental kaleidoscope. Again I see the old familiar faces, as we bowl along to the racecourse behind Tom Alford's compact grey; see Joshua John Whitenting with his well waxed moustache and dandy equipments; the Leslies, George and Walter, in their sporting togs, the guinea stamp of gentlemen in the whole fixings; whilst their bold brother Paddy —gods, what a contrast!—of the bullock-bullocky, but a right down good fellow, only rub his fur down the right way, hard upon the heels of the Leslies. The Mackenzies, Evan and Colin, pass along the road, receiving the kindly salutations of all classes. Now again the Campbells, with their joyous laugh, gallop over the turf, full of life and high animal spirits. But who is this trotting along, the very personification of kindness and gentlemanly bearing.

Then to hear his "Well, Tom, old boy! Glad to see you on the Downs; hope you will enjoy yourself." "No fear of that, Mr. Russel; plenty of oxygen and all other good things up this way to make life pleasant." "How do, Le Breton?" "I say, Mehan, where did you pick up that gelding! Fleeced a shearer, eh? All right! Good morning!" and thus passes a man who deserved at the hands of dame Fortune a better fate; and instead of leaving the old bay state with disappointed hopes and impaired fortunes, should now be taking his place in our Legislature with those who, with him, met hard knocks with good humour and a determination to survive them. But who can control fate? Our destinies are shaped before us.

Horse Racing in the Bush

The man, who plays his part to the best of his knowledge and ability in the drama of life, deserves at least applause at the fall of the curtain. There is one face that comes up before me in melancholy sadness, bearing the imprint of truth and gentleness. Of the pioneer squatters, who forgets the kind-hearted, gentlemanly Dalrymple? The first time I had the pleasure of travelling in his company was upon an occasion of going to the Downs with Evan Mackenzie, afterwards the baronet of that ilk. Mr. Dalrymple at that time appeared to enjoy robust health, and would lead a secretary of a life insurance company to believe that his life was safe at a low premium for any number of years. But, alas! in less than twelve months from that day, I brought him from Ipswich in a boat, to come to Brisbane to die. Poor fellow! I heard he had closed all his arrangements on the Downs to proceed home, when illness overtook him, and the home of his fathers saw him no more.

To refer to these matters now may appear a waste of time; but I think a good man should be kept in memory, though he may have left the scene of his labours. I and other old colonists are fast falling into the sere and yellow leaf; yet I think if we keep the memory green, we shall enjoy many pleasurable occasions of reverting to old times. Leaving the Springs on my way homeward, I became acquainted with the Swamp, at that time a mere camping ground for the passing drays. The subsequent sale of land in that neighbourhood, in three to five acre blocks, induced Horton, late of the Bull's Head Inn, to cultivate and build upon these purchased allotments. The result, after some 15 or 16 years, is the present town of Toowoomba.

Attack by Aborigines

My trip down the Range to Lockyer's Creek[2], where a house of entertainment for travellers had recently been erected, was a matter of considerable difficulty and of some personal risk, as the darkies known to be in that neighbourhood had only a short time previously speared a shepherd on the Tent Hill station. It was usual with people in those days when travelling to go armed; but I had never given the matter of danger to life a thought, and therefore felt rather doubtful as to my personal safety should I fall in with a mob of darkies.

To add to my perplexities, my old mare was rapidly succumbing to the fatigues of the journey, and in going down the eastern slopes of the Range, I had not only to walk, but to drag my horse after me, and on entering the scrub—a nasty place at the foot of the mountains.—she fairly gave up altogether, so that had I been surprised when in this fix, I should have fallen an easy prey to the blackfellows' nullah nullahs. However, a spell for about an hour enabled me to get the poor old creature as far as the Rocky Waterholes, where I took the saddle off and spelled for a couple of hours, careless whether the blacks were about or not, I, like my old horse, being fairly dead beat with the heat of the day and my exertions to get the beast along.

Towards nightfall the welcome sound of dogs barking satisfied me that I was approaching the way-side public, at that time kept by Walter Smith, on the banks of the Lockyer Creek. The entertainment for man and beast was very meagre; beef, damper, and bush tea being the only provender obtainable for one, and short commons of grass for the other. The luxury of a soft bed, however, made ample amends to me for the want of stronger stimulants. The paucity—or rather total absence—of anything in the shape of a sensation was accounted for by the worthy landlord by the fact that a lot of men had just past down after completing the shearing season, and had literally drank him dry. In those days of down-right hard drinking, it was no unusual thing for half-a-dozen fellows to remain at a public shanty until they had exhausted their exchequer or bursted up the supplies.

Lockyer Creek at Gatton
My next day's stage was to Sally Owen's[3], about seven miles on the Brisbane side of Laidley Plains. Old hands, I have no doubt, have a vivid recollection of Sam and Sally's domestic arrangements, and many a choice lot of b'hoys have knocked down their cheques under the roof of Sally Owens, at the Old Man's Waterhole. Leaving Sally's, the traveller found nothing very interesting in the intervening tract of country lying between Laidley and Limestone.

I have nothing further remarkable to relate of my downward journey, suffice it to say that I left the old Valparaiso at Rowbottom's paddock without reluctance, and with a determination that when I next visited the tablelands I would endeavour to procure a better mount, and thus avoid some of the difficulties I experienced on my first trip to the Downs.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Bar keeper.
[2] Now the town of Gatton.
[3] Probably near the present town of Rosewood.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

“Old Tom” visits Ipswich and the Darling Downs (Part 4)

(Extracted and edited from articles by “Old Tom” in The Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander of June 1869.)

Old Tom journeys across the Downs to Westbrook Station, and meets the owner, the American John “Tinker” Campbell, the well known colonial entrepreneur.

Paintings and drawings are by Conrad Martens who toured the Downs in 1851-2.

Reader, just come back with me in thought a quarter of a century; and, as we journey together over these beautiful stretches of prairie land, bordered by the misty outline of the mountains to the eastward, let us fill up the picture so beautifully set before us with hundreds of happy homesteads, the smoke from whose roof-trees should rise like clouds of incense to the great Giver of all; and from the fertile soils bordering each tide of the creek (Dalrymple) behold the fields of waving grain, and hear the busy hum of cheerful labour; but, alas! long lengths of wire fence in miles of country devoted to the depasturing of stock; still, I surmise, the day is not very distant when, in self preservation, the proprietors will find it to their profit and advantage to recoup their capital by again unlocking these lands to the agriculturists.

Pilton Grass Trees
But here we are at Forbes' (Pilton), nee Fitz. What a beautiful position for the head station! How gently the land falls away to the creek! I was told that nothing would grow on the Downs but grass and see what a garden! Why, I declare there are peas, beans, cabbages, and-wonder of wonders—potatoes. Well, after that, I declare I will never believe a Darling Downs squatter again—particularly after lunch. Lady Forbes—ah! Tom, you are getting a regular old duffer, when you can fly back to those years when this estimable lady was young and the wife of an upright judge, and who, though dead, lives in the remembrance of many a Sydney man and woman. Poor dear lady, who can forget your untiring efforts to preserve for your noble-hearted boys the stock and station on Dalrymple Creek? You have passed away; and though the place that knew you and your sons shall know you no more, yet the remembrance of thy worth will outlive the footprints of those who entered into thy possessions. Beautiful are thy waters, Creek of the stately Emu!

On thy borders lived that old Trojan, Sibley, and his partner Joe King. Shades of "Old Times," settle not down in murky darkness upon the memory of this pair of jolly good fellows! Old chum, did you ever breakfast with dear old Mr. Sibley? Did you ever take a breather with that beau ideal of a bushman, Joseph King? If you never had the honour of the first, or the pleasure of the last, you know but little of the good old times. I never look at a pair of sugar tongs bearing the Sibley cipher, and placed on my table by Mrs. Old Tom on high days and holidays, but I think of those delicious tea cakes and jam fixings served up by Mrs. Sibley at — — I forget the name of the station, but will call it, for the nonce, "Joking Hall;" for whoever went there that did not leave it with regret, and his sides sore with laughter? And if anybody asks you about the bush discoveries of King Joe, refer them to the annals of Myall Creek, before Roach humped his bundle in that direction, or an alderman to be found within the distance of 600 miles.

Gladfield Black's Camp

Leichhardt's footmarks were followed for hundreds of miles by King and his black boy, when the never-never country was a terra incognita to all but a chosen few, who cared as little for black fellows' waddies as they did for an empty flour bag. But the dangers of the Upper Dawson are now things of the past, and no doubt recounted occasionally by my worthy friend King at some snug fireside in old England, where, I trust, he and his will live long and die happy. Poor old Sib.! he's gone; and his sugar tongs was my legacy. As in my next I hope to reach where Hodgson found the knife, till then let us camp at Emu Creek, with Sibley and King.

The black-soil country lying between Emu Creek and the station of Messrs. Hodgson and Elliott, at Eton Vale, was soon passed over, and as I rounded the ridge upon which the proprietors of the station had fixed the dwelling house and its necessary adjuncts, I could not help feeling some slight amount of envy that the finder of the lucky knife was the monarch of all I surveyed from that rising ground. It was about midday as I passed along the fence that enclosed a neat garden in front of the homestead; and, with the exception of the ringing sounds emitted from the hammer of the workman in the adjoining smithy, all was quiet and calm as a Sabbath day in the heart of rural England.

The heat of the midday son was intense, and it was with no small amount of satisfaction I accepted the invitation of a man—who I found was an orderly on duty at the station—to dismount and have a smoke. Mr. Arthur Hodgson, he informed me as we blew a cloud together, was performing the duties of Commissioner, during the temporary absence (on leave) of the gentle man then holding that position on the Downs. The whole aspect of the quiet homestead struck me as something so different from those I had previously visited. The trim kept garden, the wide, tidy verandah round the house—all bespoke the presence of the Queen Bee—one whose observant eye and exquisite taste made the rude ornaments of a bush home harmonize with the surroundings.

In trying to recall, after the lapse of twenty five years, some of the incidents and scenes of that day, I have a pleasing remembrance of two things. One was that I thought the life of a pioneer squatter on the Darling Downs must be the very acme of happiness; and the other that could I ever save money enough, I would camp out. Since those days, however, I have found that a squatter's bed is not always made of roses, but on the contrary, too frequently made up of blighted expectations and disastrous seasons, and that to camp out on your own hook, though very praiseworthy, is very expensive at the commencement, and sometimes ends, as it did with me, far from serene.

Rosalie Plains Bottle Tree

I should like to linger a little while longer at Eton Vale, as it is a domain fit for the residence of a Prince; and who can doubt that by the end of the present century some of the descendants of King Arthur, wise in their generation, will from the hall of their future mansion behold stretching away for miles from the park fences smiling homesteads, occupied by hundreds of the sons and daughters of Queensland, engaged in those pursuits which be materially tend to build up a prosperous community, and away down that creek, which bears the honoured name of Hodgson, see the village church and schoolhouse nestled amidst the habitations of a thriving yeomanry, whilst the whistle, of the goods train shall give the welcome signal, as it enters the railway depot, that the trucks are ready to carry to the metropolis the varied products of the table lands.

The pipe finished, and the saddle replaced on my yarraman[1], I took my way to the crossing place over the creek, the dray-tracks from which led to the "Springs"—a place since become famous under the modern name of Drayton. Before we turn off to enter the valley leading to Tommy Alford's house of accommodation, placed alongside the only known water supply in that neighbourhood, let us take a glance at the country lying to the west and north of our track.

A few miles west of the Springs, on the slopes of the hills which form such a pleasing feature in that direction, was the station of John Campbell—no way related to the clan Campbell, of Glengallen. On the contrary, our Campbell hails, I believe, from the land of the stars and stripes, with, it is said, a touch of the blue-nose breed in his composition. At all events, whatever State on the western shores of the Atlantic John may hail from, this may be recorded— that a more shrewd, enterprising man never took up a clearing with greater tact and judgement than did the former owner of Westbrook. Why, if Campbell—better known, vulgarly speaking, as the "Tinker"—would only write his own biography, it would form a fitting commentary in Australian life. The family of this man of many parts should, if for tune had smiled on his multitudinous avocations, have long ere this been participators with him of well-earned wealth.

Let me try to enumerate some of the speculations Campbell went into with such indomitable pluck and energy. In 1844, we find him embarked in the first boiling-down establishment formed in Moreton Bay, Kangaroo Point claiming the honour of being the locality where the pots were put into requisition to convert sheep and cattle into a marketable commodity for the European market. Here, also, we find this cute old horse starting the grand idea of utilizing the woods of the colony for the manufacture of casks for the packing of beef and tallow. Anon, after a few years, we find him at the head of the navigation, having struck coal. The subsequent working of the Redbank coal pits, coupled with an immense boiling-down establishment under the management of this energetic man, has given employment to hundreds of men; and the time was (and that very recently) when it was surmised the firm of John Campbell, Son, and another was coining money from these remunerative speculations; but whether old Bobby Towns, the "other" in the firm, became dissatisfied with the extent of his profits or otherwise, it is not for me to surmise; suffice it to say, that John Campbell is now a sugar planter on one of the islands in the south passage of the bay, and where, I trust, his future crushings will well and amply reward him for his unceasing endeavours to make his pile.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Indigenous Australian name for a horse.

Monday, August 22, 2011

“Old Tom” visits Ipswich and the Darling Downs (Part 3)

(Extracted and edited from articles by “Old Tom” in The Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander of June 1869.)

Old Tom crosses the Gap and pays visits to the homesteads of Neil Ross and Colin Campbell, Laird of Glengallen.  After delivering the summons, he takes a short cut and gets lost.  Despite his admiration for the “Grass Barons”, he makes views known regarding the squatter versus selector debate.

Paintings are by Conrad Martens who toured the Downs in 1851-2.

The old road to the Downs, through Cunningham's Gap, was the only one in use at the time I write about, in existence, and those who have had the pleasure and the accompanying fatigue to take that line of country, will perfectly understand the state of my feelings when I made the upward journey, with a sore seat and nearly knocked-up horse. But as the longest lane has a turning, so the highest mountain has a top, and when on the summit of the last terrible pinch, I turned round and beheld the sublime scene of the vast unbroken forest, with the grand mountain peaks standing out against the pure Australian skies, the recompense for my past toil was ample. I shall not attempt to chronicle the visions of the future that rapidly passed through my mind on the occasion of my first ascending the spurs of the Main Range, but simply resume my journey.

The Track Through Cunningham's Gap
Once within the Gap, the stillness of death seemed to pervade the solitudes of the dense scrub, through which a narrow track had been made by the pioneer explorers, and one's spirits seemed to be lightened of a great load when, after an hour's travelling, you emerged into the open forest land, forming the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Gradually, as you pass from within the gorge leading to the Gap, found and passed through by Cunningham in 1829, the eye is feasted with the opening beauties of the far-famed Darling Downs. Readers, fancy the sensation of this old nigger, pent up for thirty years in the stifling atmosphere of a town, breathing the pure breath of heaven, as it came wafted over the broad expanse of these fertile prairie lands; and my old mare seemed to wake up to a new state of existence, as I followed my guide to Neil Ross' comfortable homestead, then placed some half-dozen miles from the Glengallen station.

Did any o' ye ken old Ross and his bonnie daughters, and recollect the smiling welcome accorded to every honest traveller? May the stock never die out; they were a blessing to the old folks, and the homestead they made happy by their presence —is it not recorded in the annals of the Darling Downs? But we must shake hands with honest Neil Ross, and away through the clearing to Glengallen. Shades of early days! how vivid you rise to memory in the form of the brothers Campbell— Colin, the Laird of Glengallen, stands out the beau ideal of a true-hearted son of old Scotia[1]; the frank and generous friend of every deserving man.

Glengallen Station

A couple of days' spell under the hospitable roof of the Campbells made a wonderful alteration in the gait and appearance of both man and beast; and, when I started from Glengallen for the adjoining station, occupied by the brothers "Gammie," I felt as if I could venture on the overland journey to Maitland. To ride across—or rather through—the park like scenery lying between the two homesteads, was a treat few can appreciate, unless they have been stived[2] up for a long period in a populous neighbourhood, and have almost lost the sense of wild flowers.

A short two hours' ride, and my destination was reached, and my introductory letter[3] to Gentleman George was received as a matter of course, with frigid politeness, and, upon perusal, a warm blessing upon the sender. But a few minutes' conversation soon put matters to rights between us; and, as I had the power to make easy terms with the victim of misplaced confidence, I flatter myself that when I, later in the day, left the Gammies, they had no prejudice against "Old Tom" for his unwelcome visitation. The old residents in these districts can fully apprehend the incessant struggle of the early squatter to keep his head above water. There was in those days no appeal to the Legislature for relief to the outside squatter. On the contrary, the government of Sir George Gipps kept the screw tightly fixed on the pastoral tenants of the Crown. They took up the outside country on speculation, and if it would not pay, on their shoulders were the losses laid.

On the gold discovery at Bathurst in 1852, I recollect meeting John Gammie at Thorn's, in Ipswich, on his way to the "pots," to boil down[4] into cash some 10,000 sheep, their fear being that the whole country would be almost depopulated with the gold excitement, and that hands would not be obtainable to shepherd or shear the flocks. Fortunately for the Gammies, these fears were found to be without weight, and they wisely took the sheep to the Downs again; and I think some four years afterwards, George Gammie sold the stocked station, and went back to the old land, it is said, with a clear £50,000. What a contrast between my visit to him in 1843 and the result of 1853! Wonderful transmogrifications!

Leaving the Gammies, I was directed a short cut across the plains to Frank Forbes', where I hoped to get a shake-down for the night. But what new chum ever made a short out in a new country? I should like to see the phenomenon, and have him shown for a curiosity. My short cut was something like that of Gill's, the present worthy postmaster at the head of the navigation. He was once found by Dr. Dorsey wandering on the Darling Downs with not the slightest idea of his whereabouts, and it was said that if the good doctor had not so very opportunely fallen across poor Gill, when on a medical tour, Ipswich would never have had the honour of receiving by the hands of its pre- sent man of letters their daily news. My case was not quite so bad. After jogging along, as I thought in the right direction for Castle Forbes, I found myself about an hour before sundown in front of a very dilapidated looking humpy, placed near the bank of a nasty looking creek, with not so much as a dog to bark a welcome ? Here was a fix. Where was I? To what and upon whose run had I wandered? I cooyed[5]; but no welcome response came to my ears.

Slab Hut 

I then examined the location. There was a stockyard and sheep-yard near the hut, but no cattle or sheep. This, I thought, must be some deserted station; yet in peeping through the closed shutter of the hut, that evidently served for a window, I saw sundry kitchen fixings, such as iron pots, tin pannikins, a rough table and stools, and other signs of recent habitation. Somebody lived here, that was evident; so I thought the best way was to unsaddle my horse and wait.

Just at sundown, the barking of dogs and the cracking of a stock-whip assured me I was |in the land of the living. Presently a man, tolerably well mounted and accompanied by three or four kangaroo dogs, rode up and dismounted at the door of the hut, and upon seeing me, gave me a kindly " Good evening," and called his dogs off from making a closer inspection of my calves, fortunately encased in galligaskins[6] of sound tough leather, or they might, after bailing me up, have made their mark thereon. To my inquiry into whose hands I had fallen, I was informed the venerable looking homestead was the head station of Messrs. Pitts and Bonnivant, and the locality Canal Creek, and that I was about the same distance from Mr. Forbes' station as when I started in the earlier part of the day from Gammies.

This information at first appeared anything but pleasant news; but as I fully believed in that excellent maxim, "What cannot be cured must be endured," I asked, and at once, with genuine bush hospitality, was accorded all the accommodation the hut afforded for a shake down and a feed. My entertainer was Mr. Bonnivant, his partner, Mr. Charles Pitts, being at the time absent from the station. How I have lived (or rather, shall I say existed or vegetated!) twenty five years in this land since that evening. I have churned in with oil sorts and conditions of men; I have fed upon the fat of the land in company with the gentlemen of the Downs and other districts, and I have shared a shepherd's ration of scabby mutton on the outskirts of civilisation, and listened to many yarns; but that night with Bonnivant, under the bark roof of these hard-working ill-requited pioneer squatters, was a thing to be remembered after many years.

To listen, as one must listen if he takes an interest in passing events, to the truthful catalogue of dangers, vicissitudes, and hardships attending a life in the far-off bush, would be, I think, sufficient to make the most ardent advocate for free selection sympathise with these adventurous men. I have been charged, with other Brisbane men, with antagonism to squatting. God knows I have never envied these men the occupation of their broad domains, and have rejoiced when I have heard of their successes, whether in the wool market or in the Legislative Council. But, as I have the opportunity, I will here record my conviction that they (the squatters) have not in all things done unto others what they have wished should be done unto themselves. They who try to shut out the world's great family from these sunny lands commit a grave mistake, and lay the way for their own and their adopted country's retardation most materially.

As I have stated, the general conversation between Bonnivant and myself on that, to me, memorable evening related principally to squatting pursuits, Bonnivant contending, with great force, that to take up new country upon which to depasture stock without sufficient ready money capital to carry through all the necessary operations of travelling stock, fixing and finishing the head and out stations with huts, hurdles, and the thousand and one other items requisite for a new home, was the height of folly. The man, who did so, speedily became the prey to the hungry sharper looking out for cheap investments, made valuable by other men's labour. The truth of these remarks has many times since that night been verified by the subsequent career of dozens of men who attempted to do, an impossibility.

When I left the genial fireside of Pitts and Bonnivant the next morning, and wended my way under the guidance for some miles of my friend of the overnight, I confess to being a sadder yet a wiser man than previous to my advent on the Downs. I saw men of extensive information, of gentlemanly manners, and accustomed to all the amenities of civilized life, isolating and shutting themselves out voluntarily from all those domestic comforts which most men prize; subsisting for months on salt beef and damper, with the hope that they will ultimately win a home in the wilderness, to which some day they may have the pleasure of conducting the one dear form they have long loved so well.

Squatter at Ease

No doubt the readers of the Queenslander who recollect something of the "Old Times" will draw some curious deductions from this exposition, and cease to marvel at the influences brought to bear by those so largely interested in retaining the almost exclusive possession of this noble and valuable tract of country; and, if one looks back through this long vista of years, and still sees, on inspecting the map of the Darling Downs, that the whole length and breadth of country lying between Warwick and Drayton still remain in the possession of some half dozen individuals, can it be wondered at that some grumble at our one-sided legislation, which permits one section of the community to buy up at a mere nominal figure thousands of acres of the finest lands in the colonies, and doles out to the other portion, with jealous caution, a few hundred acres of unsuitable country.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Scotland.
[2] Stifled or suffocated.
[3] The summons Tom Dowse was commissioned to deliver.
[4] The carcasses of the sheep were reduced down to tallow, which was exported to be used to make soap & candles amongst many other products.
[5] Cooee! A loud Australian bush call used to indicate the caller’s location. It was learned from the Aboriginal people.
[6] Leather leggings or gaiters.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

“Old Tom” visits Ipswich and the Darling Downs (Part 2)

Extracted and edited from articles by “Old Tom” in The Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander of June 1869.

After staying the night at the house of George Thorn in the tiny hamlet of Limestone (Ipswich), sets off to the south towards the Peak Mountains and the Great Dividing Range.  He meets squatters along the way and tells stories of their triumphs and misfortunes.  Before crossing the Range, Old Tom happens upon a trove of watermelons in an old sheep fold.

"Good-bye, Tom." "Good-bye, old fellow." And away we go over the ridges, across the creek to the hut at the sheep station on the Three-mile Creek; then turn off to the left on to the track to Normandy Plains, the Peak Mountains standing out in awful sublimity over the vast solitude of that period.   The northern portion of the plains was at that time in the occupation of McLaughlin, a Maitland man, who had sent his stock, mostly cattle of the "Comet" breed, and a herd of horses, over to this side of the country, in charge of John Boss, who, it will be recollected by old hands, afterwards kept a few milkers on what is now the North Quay of Brisbane, and supplied the Settlement every morning with fresh milk; and afterwards, I understand, made a fortune for his family by removing away north, to the waters of the beautiful Mary. But, as we take a rest at McLaughlin's head station, let me for a brief space run up the series of misfortunes that befell that unfortunate Welshman.

McLaughlin, as I have stated, was a Maitland man of some considerable property at the time he started his stock from the other side of the country. But the rapid decline in value of every description of property during the panic of 1842, upset poor Mac's monetary arrangements, and the result was, that his Maitland property was sold by the sheriff for less hundreds than the thousands of pounds the properties had cost him. The stock and station at Normanby also came under the clutch of the sheriff's bailiff, and to extricate himself from this difficulty, he had to borrow from Mr. G. Thorn some £300, secured over the stock and station properties, with this proviso—that if not redeemed within twelve months, the whole property became the lawful possession of Thorn.

View from Normanby House
McLaughlin went to Maitland shortly after making this arrangement with George, to endeavour to raise the wind; but instead of which, in a fit of drunkenness, committed an assault upon a female, and got incarcerated in the gaol at Newcastle for a period longer than that he had agreed to meet his engagement with Thorn. The result was the whole became the property of Mr. Thorn, the mortgagee. Such are the ups and downs of colonial life.   Men whose education and antecedents never fitted them for a wider sphere than the circumference of a cattle station, hare lived to enjoy Legislative honours, whilst the man of refined education has had to pocket his pride of ancestry and shoulder a bullock whip as an offsider to a bush team.

Cattle on Normanby Station 
Having partaken of our midday meal at McLaughlin's, our road to the Gap[1] took us towards sundown to the station of John Cameron, of Fassifern, one of old Scotia's worthy sons, who had fixed his flint at the best available spot on the eastern slopes of the Main Range. Ah! John Cameron, your kind heart and proud stomach could ill brook misfortune! Sad was the day when your friends heard that in a fit of aberration you had terminated a life dear to many[2].

Residence in the Fassifern District
Oh, the luxuries of a soft seat after a thirty mile ride on a Valparaiso mare, with paces like a dromedary and back-bone like the ridge-board of a house! But weariness and soreness was soon forgotten over a stiff glass of whiskey toddy, after a substantial supper, and John's narrative of his wearisome journey overland with his flock of sheep and a few head of milkers. Before starting the next morning from the hospitable station of Fassifern, I was informed by one of the men employed about the homestead that if I would turn off the road at Cameron's old camping place, about a couple of miles before we ascended the first spur leading to the Gap, we should find in the old wheat field paddock something that would be very refreshing on that hot summer's day.

Accordingly, my travelling mate kept his weather eye open for the clearing, and sure enough the sight that met one's eye, as we rode into a space which had previously been used to fold sheep in, was worth remembering. Dozens, nay, hundreds of water melons were lying on the ground, uncared for apparently. To dismount and select a couple of ripe boomers was the work of a few moments; and, though I tried hard, almost to bursting, to get through my whopper, I had to knock off, and leave one-third of it untasted.

Harry Phelp, a draymen driving for Fred the German—or, to speak more politely, Mr. Frederick Bracker[3], of Rosenthal—obtained the wrinkle from me a few days afterwards, when on his way down to the Bay, and on reaching, after some difficulty, the melon patch, loaded his dray with the juicy fruits, and gladdened the hearts of the Limestone folk with presents of fine ripe melons. I have many times since related this anecdote as a commentary upon the oft repeated assertion of interested parties that nothing would grow in Moreton Bay. These melons, I may observe, were self-sown, from seed dropped from ripe fruit of the previous season.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Cunningham’s Gap, the crossing point to the Darling Downs.
[2] Suicide was not uncommon in the isolated areas.
[3] Frederick Bracker was a pioneer of the wool industry and imported Merino sheep from his native Germany.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

“Old Tom” visits Ipswich and the Darling Downs (Part 1)

Brisbane 1855 (Conrad Martens)
(Extracted and edited from articles by “Old Tom” in The Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander of June 1869.)

In January 1843, Tom Dowse was commissioned by a Sydney firm to deliver a summons regarding a debt, to a Darling Downs’ squatter. The Darling Downs had been settled by Europeans only three years previously. The first arrivals were squatters who took over large tracts or “runs” of Crown Land to graze sheep and cattle.  At the time they had no right of ownership of the land, they merely occupied these areas by being the first to arrive.

Dowse writes glowingly of these squatters as if they were the nascent aristocracy of Australia.  In fact they were commonly referred to as “Grass Barons”.

On his way to the Downs, “Old Tom” stops overnight at the tiny settlement of Limestone (now the city of Ipswich).

Although a generation has quietly passed away since I made my first pilgrimage to the fertile tablelands of the then northern districts, I retain a vivid recollection of the various incidents of the journey; and, as the contrast exhibited between 1843 and the present year of 1869 is something to remember, I think the readers of your paper will pardon me for occupying some space with reminiscences of "Old Times."

A ride twenty-six years ago to the upper country, with all the experience of bush life, and the guidance of one who knew the lay of the land, was not all pleasure; but to a town bred man like Old Tom, without guide, mentor, or friend, it was like taking a voyage to the North Pole.

View from South Brisbane (Conrad Martens)
Reader, did you ever experience the inexpressible delight after a weary journey through the almost untrodden wilderness, of finding yourself unexpectedly at some wayside shepherd's shanty, and, after hobbling out your jaded horse, sit down to a feed of salt beef and damper with the usual accompaniment of post-and-rail tea[1]? If you have not, the Lord pity you and keep you from complaining of hard times.

The cause of my taking this first trip to the Downs, was in consequence of having received a commission from Sydney to deliver into the hands, or upon the premises, of a Darling Downs squatter, a polite request couched however in very forcible language, that he would, on a certain day, attend in a well-known place in King-street, Sydney, and then and there show cause why he should not hand over to one McDermot a sum of money, to wit, thirty-five pounds.

In the early morning of a fine day in the opening month of 1843, I left Rowbottom's paddock in South Brisbane, mounted on a fine leggy Valparaiso mare, warranted by Rowbottom to carry Caesar and his swag to Maitland, if necessary. How this warranty was carried out, the sequel will show. Suffice it to say that, believing, in my ignorance of horse flesh, the animal I then bestrode was up to my weight and the journey before him, I rode off, after kissing the wife and bairns[2] at starting, with something of the courage that would be shown by a mariner cast adrift on the ocean upon a raft.

The track-road - there was none-between Brisbane and Ipswich, nee Limestone, was not altogether uninteresting. There was certainly no grand forest scenery to pass through to the head of the navigation; still, as you travelled along the ridges of the hills, whose slopes terminated in the valley through which the peaceful Brisbane ebbed and flowed, there was much to admire and speculate upon. Below the traveller's vision, spread out the pine scrubs bordering the river.

Bremer River at the Ipswich landing place (Conrad Martens)

To cross Woogaroo Creek without the aid of a bridge may be imagined by the passing traveller of the present day if he will just give a glance as he goes over the present structure. Beyond the Red Bank Station, the navigation of the Iron Bark Ridges was a matter of some difficulty to those drays which had to come to the Settlement for their up-country loading; the present road, carried close to the banks of the river, being a great improvement over the old track. However, towards sundown I found myself on the top of Limestone ridge, overlooking the valley of the Bremer, with the unpretending house of accommodation for the weary wayfarer, occupied by George Thorn, close at hand. From this ridge the eye roved over the flat which was then fixed upon as the future site of the inland metropolis, just below the foot of the hill. Some five or six seedy-looking shanties formed the whole of the erections of the present populous and thriving city.

Standing as I did on that summer's evening under the verandah of Thorn's hospitable home, and looking around on the sublime forest stretching away to the foot of those everlasting hills that form the back bone of the colony, I felt then as I do now, that this wonderful Australian continent, abounding with hidden wealth and fertility, was a suitable home for millions of the poor and oppressed of our father lands. A night's rest, after an evening's gossip with George Thorn, Thompson, and a few other old cronies, found me prepared for the next day's stage.

I found a fitting guide in the person of a stockman proceeding to old Niel Ross', then located on the borders of the Downs country, some ten miles beyond the Gap. The company of this bold rider was to me, a perfect novice in the bush, a source of comfort and security.

After a half hour's chat with the village blacksmith, and condoling with him and his kind-hearted wife about the death of a bright haired bairn, who was a short time previously ruthlessly murdered, within a hundred yards off her father's door, by one of the aborigines of the district, in revenge, it is said, for injuries he and his tribe had received by the hands of the white settlers. Such was some of the dangers to be encountered by those who first made a settlement on the waters of the Brisbane and the Bremer.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] A rough tea with floating leaves and stems resembling a post-and-rail fence.
[2] Children.