Friday, June 29, 2012

A Gold Fever Epidemic

James Nash in 1868.
In October 1867, some sensational news reached Brisbane.  An experienced miner and prospector named James Nash had discovered payable gold in three gullies near what is now the town of Gympie.

WE have learned on reliable authority that the reported gold-field discovery on Currie Station may be accepted as a fact. The discoverer is an old miner, named Nash. Three gullies have been tried, and all found payable. It is thought that the ground will ultimately support a large population. The distance from Maryborough is between fifty and sixty miles.[1]

A local correspondent described the moment of discovery.
At first Nash kept the news to himself so that he could claim the reward offered by the Government. After mining a substantial amount of gold, he set off for Brisbane.  When he sold his gold to a dealer, he was careful not to disclose its exact source.

The first dish opened his eyes - the second slightly affected his nervous system. After trying several more, he determined on getting rations and giving the place a good testing before giving information. Accordingly, procuring rations from Mr. Booker's station, Currie, he went to work with a will, and in a few days obtained sixty-two ounces of gold. 

With this he started to Brisbane, where he sold the gold to Messrs. Flavelle, as Cape River, or some other Northern gold- field, and where it was exhibited.

Nash at the same time communicated to the Government some particulars of the discovery, that there might be no mistake about who was the original discoverer in the event of his claiming the reward.[2]

Mary Street in Gympie in 1868

It was good news for the colony of Queensland which at the time was experiencing a severe financial crisis.

THE excitement with reference to the Gympie Creek diggings is still increasing, and may now almost be called a gold fever. The principal street of the city presents a much busier appearance during the day time than it has done for some months past, and reminds one of the "good old times before the crisis."

This is caused by the influx of people from the country who have come here to buy their outfits. The real town population, however, is fast diminishing, and tradesmen are noticing the absence of old customers. 

Much the largest proportion of the intending diggers go overland, and we have observed several mounted on decided scrubbers. As the journey, however, is short, and water plentiful along the road, we have no doubt they will all get there sooner or later.[3]

Miners Panning for Gold

Rumours were rife and The Queenslander reported some examples of the wild stories that were circulated around Brisbane.

It would seem as though the people had caught the gold fever in its most virulent form, and nothing in the way of exaggeration would disgust them. To please this false appetite for news without a word of truth in it, any number of bogus telegrams are shown about town in a mysterious way by parties who never got them through the telegraph office.

There are scores of men now on the road to the diggings with most inflated notions of the wealth before them. One Brisbane merchant, while on his return from the diggings, met a party some forty miles from town who informed him (the merchant) that he had sent down a message for the immediate transportation of all his goods to Gympie Creek. This was news indeed to him, as he had not seen sufficient attraction on the gold-field for him attempting to do any business there.

A party of Germans from the Logan called at our office on Wednesday to see if it was true "in the paper" that the Government wanted 1000 men, at 10s. a day and "rations” to go to the gold-field. Such are specimens of the yarns credulous men are told, and which have started scores on the road. Our reports are the most reliable we have been able to gather; after perusing them, if any man feels disposed to start, well and good. He ought to be the best judge of his own affairs.[4]

Miners working in a gold mine at Gympie

The reports turned out to be true. Just a few months after the announcement of James Nash’s discovery, the largest nugget ever found in Queensland, the 30-kilogram “Curtis Nugget” was unearthed.

February 8. Great excitement prevails about the large nugget. It is the largest by very much that has yet been discovered. The circumstances of the "find" were somewhat singular. A person named Curtis had just finished his day's work with his party in Sailor's Gully, which lies between the Lady Mary and the Caledonian reefs. He threw out some water, and immediately a dull red mass displayed itself under the shower. In an instant he was richer by £2800![5]

Gold mining in the Gympie area continues to this day.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Brisbane Courier Friday 18 October 1867
[2] The Brisbane Courier Saturday 26 October 1867
[3] The Queenslander 9.11.1867
[4] The Queenslander 9.11.1867
[5] The Queenslander Saturday 15 February 1868

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Building Boom in Ipswich

The town of Ipswich was established at the furtherest navigable point in the Brisbane and Bremer Rivers.  As such it soon became a busy river port with paddle streamers plying to and fro between Ipswich and Brisbane.

Paddle Steamer Waiting for the Tide

The muddy streets of Ipswich were filled with bullock wagons bring wool bales from inland and returning with all manner of supplies.

In the late 1840s there was a building boom of sorts in Ipswich, particularly of hotels.  This event was report by the erudite Ipswich Correspondent to The Moreton Bay Courier in his usual classically inspired prose.[1] 

(From our Correspondent)

"WEDNESDAY, MAY 10. - Our town, or as some of our friends are pleased to term it "remote village," is at present rather dull, save and except amongst the builders, who, like a busy swarm of bees, are, "I calculate, going a-head tarnation slick."

A capacious building is being erected by the "King of Ipswich" immediately opposite the Caledonian Hotel, and in the vicinity of the steamer's wharf; it is intended for an hotel, and is, I believe, to be designated the "Prince Albert's Head." In due time, we may, no doubt, expect the "Prince of Wales," and all the rest of the royal family.

Paddle steamer docked at the Ipswich wharves.

The "King of Ipswich"

The “King of Ipswich” was George Thorne the first resident of Ipswich and landlord of the Queen’s Arms hotel.  He had first come to the area as the overseer of a convict gang quarrying limestone.  When free settlement was allowed, he stayed and built the first hotel in Ipswich.  He would become a prominent citizen in the nascent township.

The Ipswich Correspondent styled Thorne as some sort of potentate promenading about the streets of Ipswich, stopping to inspect his latest building project, the grandly named "Prince Albert's Head," hotel.

Thus our worthy townsman in strolling along, inhaling the flavour of his fragrant Manilla cigar, after leaving the "Queen's Arms,", which he also commands, examines the state of the "Prince Albert's Head," with which, as a phrenologist, being satisfied as to its bumps - contents, I mean - can enjoy his otium cum dignitate[2] amongst the small fry.  

Other landlords were also keeping the builders busy, taking advantage of the growing need for accommodation needs of visitors from up country.

Mr. Martin Byrne has also commenced a splendid wing to his present commodious house, which is intended expressly for the accommodation of the squatters, who no doubt will, with that discernment characteristic of them, fully appreciate his exertions, and favour him with their patronage, which is a sure precursor of a rapid independence.

And of course those of Irish extraction were able to enjoy the hospitality offered by a hostelry named for their patron saint.

Last, though not least, our host of the tutelar[3] saint of sweet Erin's Green Isle has commenced operations on his new purchase at the last land sale, his intention being to build in a style that will do credit to that prince of gentlemen - St. Patrick.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 13 May 1848
[2] Leisure with dignity. OED
[3] Guardian.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Dangerous Occupation

The Perilous Life of the Colonial Shepherd

Idyllic Sketch of a Colonial Shepherd and his Dog

Perhaps the most dangerous occupation in the early days of Colonial Queensland was that of the shepherd. Many lost their lives in conflicts with indigenous people who reacted to the incursion of thousands of sheep into their territories.  Then there were aggressive venomous snakes, and the madness brought on by heat and isolation in crude huts.

Often there were violent altercations with overseers and station owners.  Two such incidents were reported in November 1847.  The first took place on the sheep station of Captain Pike.[1]

It appears that owing to the scarcity of labour, Mr. Fitz, the superintendent to Captain Pike, had the greatest difficulty in keeping the men on the station; several had bolted, and both Mr. Fitz and the overseer had each to take a flock of sheep in consequence.

Mr. Fitz was putting his sheep in the yard, when he was informed that two of his shepherds had just brought their flocks to the head station with the intention of giving them up. He then told one of the men, named Yates, who it appears, was a very flash determined sort of fellow, to take his flock back to the station he had left.

Shepherd "Counting Out" Sheep

Yates did not react well to this command despite the fact that the superintendent had the law on his side. Any contracted employee who abandoned their position could be jailed under the Hired Servants Act. The argument soon got physical.

The man replied in the most insolent manner "that he was the bloody man that would go." Mr. Fitz remonstrated with him for some time, and told him if he did not conduct himself properly, and desist from putting him to such inconvenience, he would not give him one farthing more than his agreement.

Some further altercation then took place, when Yates threw down his blanket in great haste, and said "oh, by Jesus don't think I am afraid of you," and was in the act of rushing towards Mr. Fitz when the latter struck him a blow with the hutkeeper's stick which he had in his hand, and he dropped down, bleeding from the side of the head.

Washing Sheep

The blow would have fatal consequences.

Yates shortly after got up, and went into one of the huts, where he had a fit, and became insensible. On being made aware of the circumstance, Mr. Fitz immediately proceeded to the hut, and bled him. Finding that bleeding did not do him any good, other means were tried to restore him, but all to no purpose, and he shortly afterwards expired.

The foregoing particulars have been furnished by an eye-witness to the scene that took place on the station, and our informant assures us that the man's violent conduct, as well as the insolence of his language, was beyond all bounds, and that Mr. Fitz struck him in self-defence, little dreaming, of course, that such a fatal result would have ensued. 

Canning Downs Station Homestead, ca. 1865
Portrait of Walter Leslie

More bad blood was evident on Leslie’s property, Canning Downs, on the Darling Downs. It involved an overseer and an ex-convict named Charles Parr. [2]

- On the 31st ultimo, a shepherd named Charles Parr, in the service of Messrs. W. and G. Leslie was violently assaulted by Mr. Corson, the sheep overseer, and now lies dangerously ill from injuries received on his head and body. It appears that some altercation took place between them about some trifling affair, which ended in the assault being committed; but the original ground of contention was owing to the circumstance of Mr. Corson, in his capacity of overseer, having found it necessary borne months previous to bring Parr before the Bench, for misconduct, on which occasion he was sentenced to two months' imprisonment.

Wool transport leaving the wool shed Canning Downs Station ca. 1857

The overseer Corson, fearing he would be brought before the courts immediately decamped from the station.

This led to continual disputes between Mr. Corson and Parr, and eventually ended in the latter being assaulted and beaten with great severity by the former, who, fearing that serious consequences might result from the affair left the station, and has not since been heard of.

As soon as the circumstance was made known to the Magistrates, the sufferer's deposition was taken and a warrant was subsequently issued for the apprehension of Corson, who, however, has contrived to keep out of the way, notwithstanding all the exertions of the police to place him in custody.

A Shepherd with his Flock
No further mention is made of Corson so he may have successfully eluded the constabulary.  The correspondent finished his report chiding some employers but offered little sympathy to the “bush servants” and their “gross” behaviour.

If the man had died, this would have been a most serious case for Corson, and it is much to be regretted that those placed in authority over servants should allow their passions to get the better of their reason in cases of this nature. By quarrelling and fighting with their servants, masters degrade themselves to the same level, and seem in many cases, to forget that one in the lowest rank of life may keenly feel an affront as well as one of the highest. 

I do not wish to extenuate the conduct of bush servants generally; everyone knows their behaviour has been very gross of late; but I think that when servants are employed in the labour of life, it ought to be the study of masters to demand that labour in the manner easiest to them; and it should never be forgotten that gentleness is part of the wages due to them for their service.

If servants are so unreasonable, and so blind to their true interests, as to neglect their master's work, and behave in an insolent manner, the law provides a remedy, and to it both parties must have recourse. The Magistrates alone are entitled to inflict summary punishment on its transgressors. I hope what I have written will be permitted to appear in your columns, as there is a strong feeling abroad on the subject.

 © K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier 13.11.1847
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier 20.11.1847

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Errant Cook

In Colonial Queensland, an employee could be prosecuted under the provisions of the Hired Servants Act if they left the service of their employer without an acceptable reason.  Understandably, given the harsh conditions of early settlement, this led to a procession of cases though the courts of unhappy employees and employers.

One such case involved a cook engaged by George Thorne, the first resident of Ipswich and landlord of the Queen’s Arms hotel.  Thorne had originally come to the area as the overseer of a gang of convicts quarrying limestone, and stayed on as a free settler.


- At the Police Office, on Thursday, Mr. George Thorne, of the Queen's Arms, Ipswich, appeared before the Brisbane Bench, to prefer a complaint against John Doyle, for absconding from his hired service on the 23th ultimo.

The defendant, who is one of those bloated pocket editions of human nature, rarely seen in a hot climate, and whose countenance indicated that he has been in the daily habit of sacrificing freely at the shrine of the jolly god[1], had only been in the service of Mr. Thorne three days, when he left the house, taking his traps with him.

Chef Doyle insisted that he could not compromise his professionalism in the service of Mr. Thorne at the Queen’s Arms, by working with inferior ingredients.

The reason he assigned for leaving Mr. Thorne's service was, that he would not cook for anyone who did not provide what he considered proper requisites for the culinary department.

Among the articles enumerated by him were, essence of cinnamon, pickles, mushroom ketchup, and sauces of various kinds; all these, in the opinion of Mr. Doyle, were absolutely necessary to make a feed at all palatable.

Thorne would have nothing to do with this complaint, accusing the reluctant cook of never intending to remain in his employ.

Mr. Thorne informed the Bench that the fellow was an imposter, for he could not cook at all. In fact, he had told him to his face that he had not come from Sydney to work - his only object in hiring was that he might take advantage of "Graham's Act," and poke fun at people in this district.

The chef would not abide this attack on his character and his kitchen skills, declaring that Thorne wanted him to work as a lowly dishwasher.

On hearing this, Mr. Doyle became very indignant, and denied the charge in toto.

"You know," said he, addressing Mr. Thorne, "that you gave me nothing but salt beef and potatoes to cook for you, and what professional man of spirit would submit to such treatment. Besides, you also know very well that you wanted me to wash the dishes. Do you think I would submit to that?"

The court awarded him a return trip to Sydney along with three months accommodation.

His professional appeal, however, had but little weight with the Magistrates, and he was committed to the House of Correction in Sydney for three calendar months.

The newspaper felt obliged to point out that this case highlighted the poor quality of labour available to the good citizens of Ipswich.

We have reported this case more fully than, perhaps, is warranted by the circumstances. Our object, however, is to show what kind of servants the inhabitants of this district have to deal with. If we have not an importation of labour shortly, it will be far better for the masters to dispense with their assistance altogether. This man was hired by Mr. Thorne at £35 per annum! After this, further comment is needless. [2]

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier 2.1.1847

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Colonial Entertainment - Brown's Christy Minstrels

In 1864, a theatrical group styled “Brown’s Christy’s Minstrels", opened for a short run at the Brisbane School of Arts in Ann Street. The initial reviews in the local press were far from encouraging.

A company of "Nigger" melodists have appeared in Brisbane under the title of "Brown's Christy Minstrels," but their performances are very inferior and otherwise objectionable.[1]

School of Arts building in Brisbane ca. 1879

The same reviewer found the second night’s performance similarly sub-standard.

"BROWN''S Christy Minstrels" gave a second   entertainment at the School of Arts last evening. There was a very small attendance. The style in which the various pieces were rendered was not calculated to alter our previously expressed opinion of the talent of the minstrels. Suffice it to say that the comic pieces were of a very mournful character, and some of the sentimental efforts deserved a smile.[2]

“Brown’s Christy’s Minstrels" were part of a craze for such shows in the 19th century.

The original Christy's Minstrels were a theatrical group formed by Edwin Christy, in 1843, in Buffalo, New York. They performed in blackface, parodying the speech and mannerisms of African Americans. 

The format of the minstrel show developed by Christy became extremely popular and spread to England and the colonies.  Some of the original members of Edwin Christy’s line-up such as J.W. Raynor formed their own Christy's Minstrels groups and toured extensively.[3]

Soon the phrase "Christy’s Minstrels" came to mean any blackface minstrel show. 

1844 sheet music cover for a collection of songs by the original Christy's Minstrels

A correspondent to the to The North Australian took exception to the review in the rival newspaper, The Brisbane Courier which he referred to as nothing but “a paper-hanging establishment.”



Sir. — There is an old saying, and a true one, that "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones." The idea applies in a very forcible manner to the editor of a certain paper, who has evidently been at considerable pains to cut and hash the performance of a few young men styling themselves "Brown's Christy Minstrels."

Now, Sir, I happened to be one of the audience, and it was quite evident to me as well as to nearly all in that house that the Minstrels were only amateurs, and, as amateurs, performed remarkably well; I admit that the stump oration was a signal failure, and utterly pointless, and therefore would have been much better omitted; but, as your contemporary justly observes, the audience were good-humoured and considerate attributes which form no part whatsoever of this self-satisfied censor, who assumes the editorial "we" and goes on to say, "We think the Minstrels will do well to retire on their profits from their first entertainment, for they can have no qualification but excess of "cheek" to justify them in giving a second."

Minstrel performer in blackface

The idea of our friend talking about "cheek" is rather rich, for we fancy he is the very personification of cheek who can send out daily from his paper-hanging establishment, such a miserable re-hash of stale news, mingled — for novelty I suppose — with some original remarks which read very like bosh.

It would be a waste of time and space to detail the pitiful performances which daily emanate from this would be Boanerges[5]. Let me inform this young man that he has mistaken his vocation; let me advise him to use his scissors and paste pot in the more legitimate avocation or pasting and papering the interior walls or the houses of the Metropolis of Queensland, and leave the editing of papers to men with more brains and less bunkum: for although we may acknowledge a dearth of news even in the Metropolis, we want something better than the stale amusement of fifteen minutes with the Brisbane Runner.[6]

Another correspondent submitted a rather cryptic view of the performance, inferring perhaps that the performance was so bad it was entertaining in an “agreeably disappointed” way.

We dropped in to the School of Arts last night about 9 o'clock, and heard the closing performance of the "Niggers." We were agreeably disappointed, in one sense of the word. We had been led to believe that we were to hear and to see something, which was insultingly to be palmed off upon Brisbane as - "an entertainment" unworthy of the name, although sufficiently good to gull and delight the "new chums."

Not so, however. We never had, ourselves, a decided penchant for this kind of entertainment. Most people, especially the young have. Whether the performers be professional or not, we are free to confess, that we have interested the "Ethiopian" performances of others, calling themselves professionals, which will bear no comparison to the performance of "Brown's Christy Minstrels."

Mr. J. Brown of the Christy Minstrels 1863

There is no vulgarity connected with their entertainment. No double entendres, which so frequently distinguish the "nigger" business. The audience in the main body of the hall was very sparse. The galleries, however, were crowded. We know not whether the performers are from Dixie's Land or the North Pole, and disguised as they were last night, we never expect to identify them; but as this is their last night at the School of Arts, we can only say that If any lean person desires to "laugh and grow fat," he would do well tonight by attending "Brown's Christy's Minstrels."[7]

Finally, yet another correspondent regretted that so much criticism was direct towards the Brown’s Christy’s Minstrels, given that the citizens had no right to be overcritical of their performance given the “dearth of recreation” available in Brisbane.

The entertainment given by Brown's Christy's Minstrels on Saturday evening last, at the School of Arts, although but thinly, attended, was superior to any of their previous concerts. The audience appeared to be much gratified, and several of the pieces were treated to an encore. The Brothers Bower, who sustained the chief part of the entertainment, acquitted themselves very creditably; they have good voices, dance well, and have a keen appreciation of the humorous.

We were sorry to see that the entertainment was not largely patronised, as we have seen much worse performances highly lauded by portions of the Brisbane Press; but by some chance, Brown's Minstrels, who are strangers, were criticised with such severity after their first appearance, that their future efforts met with less support than they might otherwise have done. 

Christy's Minstrels Sheet music cover 1844

We did not feel justified in referring to the criticism, until we had listened attentively to the entertainment; but having done so, we think it only just to state that as a whole, the entertainment passes way agreeably a couple of hours, and that we have listened to many not near so pleasing, in Brisbane.

True, there are one or two things in the programme that would be better let alone; those few programmes, however, with which a like fault cannot be found.

Here, in Brisbane, where there is such a dearth of recreation, it is neither wise nor gracious to be hypercritical. We wish the Minstrels better success should they appear again.[8]

The following year a rather more accomplished group of “Christy’s Minstrels” played in Brisbane. Formed in England, the players featured J. W. Raynor, a member of the original American “Christy’s Minstrels”.

Brisbane Courier  June 8 1865

LAST evening the Christy's Minstrels made their first appearance at Mason's Theatre. The audience was somewhat larger than it has been during the past week.

The first part of the evening was devoted to the rendering of those charming melodies for which the Christy's are so famous.

The next part of the programme comprised the burlesque of The Hutchinson Family, by Messrs. Ramford, Nish, and Melvyn, the absurdity of which never fails to amuse; a medley dance and prize jig by Mr. W. Norton, whose abilities as a dancer we have before had occasion to notice; a brilliantly executed solo on the violin by Mr. Nish, and the scena, The Desert, by Mr. Ramford, to which his splendid voice did ample justice.

A burlesque imitation of Leotard[9] on the flying trapeze, by Mr. Raynor, elicited roars of laughter from the audience, and finished the performances of the sable troupe.[10]

Although no longer part of the entertainment scene, Minstrel shows remained popular well into the 20th Century.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Brisbane Courier Saturday 2 July 1864
[2] The Brisbane Courier Saturday 2 July 1864
[3] Sourced from Wikipedia.
[4] i.e. performers in blackface.
[5] A loud vociferous preacher or orator. (from the name given by Christ to the two sons of Zebedee.) OED
[6] The North Australian Saturday 2 July 1864.
[7] The North Australian Saturday 2 July 1864.
[8] The North Australian Tuesday 5 July 1864
[9] A well-known French performer after whom the garment is named.
[10] The Brisbane Courier Tuesday 23 May 1865