A Trip to the Gold Diggings #3: Ipswich to Fassifern

In 1859 a wave of gold fever hit the newly independent colony of Queensland, and hundreds of men headed southwest to Tooloom, approximately 150 kilometres over the border into New South Wales. This journey of around four or five days on horseback was also taken by J. Robinson, a correspondent of the 'Moreton Bay Courier' in November 1859, and he wrote a detailed account of his travels both there and back (see map below). The result is a fascinating insight into life on the road during the earliest days of colonial Queensland, as well as the rough-and-ready atmosphere of the goldfields. The writings are reproduced in this 'A Trip to the Gold Diggings' series:

Moreton Bay Courier, 30 November 1859


MY last left you informed of the state of my mind as to the business I had undertaken after my arrival in Ipswich, and to begin with the beginning, I must tell you that I met an old friend of my own on Tuesday morning, and seeing him in company with Mr. Jarrott, of Brisbane, after passing the time of day, the usual salutation came of ‘what are you doing now.’ ‘Oh,’ said my friend, ‘I am just returned from the diggings - they did not suit me!’ This gentleman was of the quiet order of the genus, homo; his silence was more powerful than many people’s words, and I could not gather sufficient from him to guide me in my undertaking. Saddled and off again. A sharp canter of a mile brings the traveller into a beautiful open country -thinly timbered- grass looking greener than in the neighborhood of Brisbane, and the country partaking of that character to give one a realization of profitable pastoral occupation. The country was almost as splendid as a gentleman’s park, the cattle seemed to be perfectly aware of the undisputed possession they held of the broad acres; they gave a kind of contemptuous yawn as I galloped by; and the object having passed they resumed their lazy and luxurious mastication of the tender tops of the young summer grass.

With gentle undulations and as fine a country as the hard wrought millions of England could need to cure their poverty and enable them to taste plenty and peace, did I pass through, until I reached ‘the murdering hut,’ eleven miles from Ipswich, and from this spot the appearance of the country improved.

I need not say that the reason why the hut mentioned bears such a dreadful name, is in consequence of ‘murders by the blacks’ in early times; the same gentlemen having, on the particular occasion adverted to, sent all the whites to ‘kingdom come,’ so that they, the blacks, might consume the shepherd’s and stockkeeper’s earthly rations.

And here, permit me to remark, that imagination would lend willing fancy to suppose a blackfellow indignant at the white man taking possession of such a domain. I am not exactly a novice in judging by comparison, having seen ‘the Gap’ country - of course I mean Brisbane Gap for Cunningham’s Gap has yet by your humble servant to be seen, but there is no country in the neighborhood of Brisbane equal to that I have seen in this my second day’s ride. Even the flat country of Sandgate or at least the approach thereto from the German Station, is barren in comparison.

But here it is time to halt. I have reached the ‘Fifteen Mile Water Hole,’ and so take myself to a spell. The Peak Mountain makes this spot look remarkably picturesque - the grass is tall - there is a strong breeze blowing, and I cannot help feeling that such ‘a great country’ should not be in the hands of a few.

Away again - country still improving - to mention the names of the owners of the various runs would be invidious. I can only say that no nobleman of the United Kingdom has more splendid scenery or more productive land than some I passed over. The sand of Ipswich is changed for a dark soil much resembling the ground so eagerly sought after by practical agriculturists in the old land, and everything looks fair for a great future for settlers when the land regulations shall have been put on that tack which will induce people to settle for other purposes than the mere pastoral.

The road was alive with traffic. I saw no fewer than twenty-one drays, and had an opportunity of yarning with a good-natured lot of bullock-drivers, who were regaling themselves with rum 30 o.p. and making themselves as happy as a king could be, surrounded with the pomp and pageantry of a court. The goings and the returns were doing their hobnobbing and discussing the events of their favourite oxen. A lady with feathers flying rode her horse in company with the first lot I passed. The difficulties and dangers of the way from Ipswich to Balbi’s are not to be mentioned. The whole distance was a well-beaten road; and I have passed over many worse in many of the inland counties of England

Ten thousand acres are open and fair. There had not been cattle enough to eat off the grass; and it having grown rank and tall fire was doing its work. The flames reared their heads - the fire crackled, and onward and onward flew the flames, fanned by a good stiff breeze.

The description I have given of fine land applies to the whole thirty miles of country between Ipswich and Fassifern; but goodness excels for about three or four miles before Fassifern station is reached. One broad and open tract of land here presents itself - clear from trees, with green grass and indications of plenty for the settlers that shall assuredly some day partake of the benefits which the colony will offer.

German farming family and farm, Fassifern, c.1890
(State Library of Queensland)

On an eminence by the side of a fine lagoon stands a shepherd’s hut. Here the flies were very troublesome and curiosity was prompted to ask how the residents managed to save themselves from the perpetual annoyance? They did manage to live, and appeared comfortable under the circumstances. I could not help thinking that fortune had been very kind to those who could use the lands between the places I have mentioned; and from henceforth the riches of certain graziers will not be a wonder.
The day’s journey done finds me comfortably located at Balbi’s. Comfort makes the traveller forget the past and lose sight of the troubles that may be in the distance Mr. Balbi, as an innkeeper, evidently understands his calling - no greater praise need be given by your correspondent.

As I give my horse into the hand of the black boy to take to the paddock, I catch sight of a party of seven or eight diggers on foot off to Tooloom. They are to camp three miles away from the ‘Bush Inn’ and I determine to ‘pick them up’ in the morning and keep them company the rest of the journey.

I learn that the escort was expected here to-night returning from Tooloom. I am sorry it has not reached - but you will probably hear the report before I have another opportunity of sending. I find also that two diggers have been for the past fortnight prospecting between Balbi’s and Cunningham’s Gap. ‘The colour’ they have obtained in most places, and hopes are entertained that a gold field will soon be found within fifteen miles of Fassifern. One of the prospectors regretted to me that he could not keep on. He said ‘the money is nearly run out, and I shall soon have to go and look for a job.’

Here I must close. The ride has made me not exactly fit to study concisely how I should round my sentences. Rough and ready as the letter may be it contains truthful impressions and statements not only relative to the land but also as to other matters. The weather is cool, clear, and delightful.

Tuesday night, Nov. 22.'