Land of Coal and Corn (#3): The Progress of Ipswich (Part Two)

The following article is extracted from the Brisbane Courier, 18 November 1891:

'For several years after the turning of the sod which marked the inauguration of railway works in Queensland, Ipswich enjoyed a run of prosperity the like of which has scarcely fallen to any other town in Queensland. It was the meeting place of all the sheep kings in the colony, and the old Club-house was the scene of many a midnight revel; it was the seat of learning, of politics, science, art, literature, and sport - the modern Athens. Ipswich was then spoken of as the headquarters of the elite of Queensland, and Brisbane a deserted outlying hamlet fit only to give a bandicoot the blues! In 1861 the squatters arranged a race meeting, the principal prize being 1000 guineas, the race being superbly won by Zoe in the presence of some 7000 persons. In these old days it was a town with some prestige, inhabited by capable clever men, “fine old English gentlemen,” with the rare courtesies and manners of that race. And how hard they fought to make Ipswich the capital of Queensland! One very effective weapon which they used was the Ipswich Punch, published monthly at the School of Arts by members of the “Punch Club.” The publication was in manuscript, and profusely illustrated with many exceedingly clever and powerful political skits and cartoons. There was quite a host of talented contributors, including Messrs. A. H. Burkitt, J. Atkinson, W. Duesbury, Finucane, Thistlewayte, and C. F. Chubb. Ipswich is thus described in the sixties by one wag:


Oh, Ipswich is a pleasant place,
Which to visit is a treat;
Where calves and geese are mostly found 
A-grazing in the street.
Why should they not? the streets are wide,
I’m sure there’s ample space,
And it gives an air so picturesque 
To this truly rural place.

It was Brisbane, however, which was the butt of all jokes and a popular object for ridicule. Contempt was poured upon the metropolis in every way. We find a schoolmaster eliciting from an Ipswich pupil the following replies to his questions:- “Where is Brisbane, and for what is it noted? The situation of Brisbane has never been clearly ascertained owing to the shifting of the mud, and it is noted for sheep’s heads, lollies, corner allotments, insolvents, stagnant sewers, and the ancient ruins of a bridge. Where is the great city of Ipswich, and for what is it famed? It is situated on the banks of a noble river l6ft. 5in. broad, and deep in proportion. It is a convenient distance from Woogaroo, where the inhabitants take it in turn to reside free of charge. It is noted for loafers, light weights, lawyers, sharp practice, and tight lacing.” 

Then there is a cartoon representing surveyors with theodolites nearly submerged in a swamp endeavouring to take a survey, while underneath is written: - “The Brisbane quidnunes are determined to have a resurvey for their railway, and prove to the Ipswich muffs that 20ft. below flood mark is the correct thing.” The following skit is evidence of the hostility which was shown to the proposed construction of a railway line between Ipswich and Brisbane :- “Tenders will be received immediately for the construction of a new wing to the Woogaroo Asylum for the accommodation of several hundred patients from Brisbane, whose insanity has arisen from the present Ministry opposing the absurd scheme of a railway to Ipswich. Tenders will also be required for strait waistcoats for said patients. Plans and specifications to be sent to the circumlocution office. The largest tender will be accepted. N.B.- No Brisbane contractor need apply. The portraits of some of the individuals may be seen below.” Punch remained a power until 1871, and the volumes are now, as they deserve to be, carefully preserved in the School of Arts. The sixties produced many social and literary societies in Ipswich, all of which, with the honourable exception of the Parliamentary class, have long since faded away. At the beginning of this month the Ipswich Parliamentary class closed its twenty-sixth session.

Grandchester station, ca. 1879, the oldest railway
station in Queensland 
(John Oxley Library)

Ipswich was the head of navigation and the terminus of the Western Railway for quite ten years. The line to Grandchester, or Bigge’s Camp, was opened in July of 1865, and ten years later the line was opened to Brisbane. This result was only obtained after a severe struggle, the Ipswich Parliamentary “bunch” fighting strenuously to preserve the supremacy of old Limestone. The onward march of events and the marvellous growth of the colony was, however, against them, and looking back into the past it strikes the observer as surprising that the “bunch” were so long successful in their obstructive tactics. However, modern Athens was slowly undergoing a change, long before the link which was to bring Ipswich and Brisbane into touch had been constructed. Shrewd business men recognised that the railway to Brisbane was inevitable, and many leading firms, such as Clark, Hodgson, and Co. and J. and J. Harris and Co., made preparations to transfer their business to the metropolis. The squatters, too, were moving further afield, land was being gradually taken up by agriculturists, and the prospects of the district as an agricultural, in contradistinction to a pastoral, centre were being canvassed. In 1866, I think, the Pastoral, Agricultural, and Horticultural Society was established, such men as B. Cribb, J. C. Foote, F. C. Daveney, J. F. G. Foxton, P. O’Sullivan, H. M. Cockburn, James Foote, Harry Challinor, and others taking part in its formation. Stirring speeches in regard to their agricultural prospects were then made by Mr. W. Vowles and Mr. H. Kilner, and the foundation was laid of a great corn-producing centre.

It was known that coal existed in the Ipswich district many years ago, in fact Allan Cunningham in his historical despatch of 1828 mentions that “a stratum or seam of coal has been observed on the Bremer,” but it was not until 1866 that definite steps were taken to systematically work the seams. In that year Mr. Thomas (the present proprietor of Aberdare) went to Ipswich to open the coal seams at Bundamba on behalf of Mr. Malbon Thompson. That year was certainly a red-letter one for the colony, and Ipswich bade fair to reap many advantages from her coal resources. The abundant carboniferous deposits of the Ipswich basin speedily became known, and new mines were opened as the years rolled on. It was not till the seventies, however, that Ipswich began to export her coal, or the citizens of the town to recognise that their district was eminently adapted - indeed set apart by Nature - as a manufacturing and industrial centre. Indeed, it is only now beginning to be understood that if a manufacturing industry is to be made to pay well in this colony it must be established either in or around Old Limestone, in close proximity to the coal mines. One or two small manufacturing industries were established in the seventies, and in 1879 a few far-seeing men successfully floated the Ipswich Woollen Mills, the ramifications of which now run throughout the length and breadth of the colony. One industry begat another, and Ipswich, which had been at one time almost threatened with extinction, slowly but surely forged ahead. Agriculture and manufacture were married in 1880, and from that year the West Moreton district has made marvellous progress, such progress indeed as now stamps it as the leading producing district of Queensland.

(From the Brisbane Courier, 28 November 1891):

The town of Ipswich, according to the last census returns, contains a population of 10,202 persons, the majority being females. In the districts of Fassifern, Stanley, and West Moreton the population is given at 26,030, and Old Limestone is the centre of this multitude. During the past five years the growth of Ipswich has been very slow. Only 600 persons have been added to the population since 1886, an increase for which the natural birth rate may be held accountable. Much progress has been made, however, in the district, and in the five years the increase has been over 5000 persons representing a bona fide settlement on the land which no other district in the colony can show within the same period. A few years ago Ipswich practically commanded the whole of the trade of the West Moreton district but much of it now comes to Brisbane. The more diffusive Ipswich became the more she suffered. Her merchants helped to bring into existence such nourishing townships as Harrisville, Boonah, Rosewood, Marburg, Laidley, Fernvale, Esk, and other places, and as they grew and prospered and were tapped by railway communication they became independent principalities, were visited by commercial ambassadors from Brisbane, and cultivated relationship with the merchant princes of the metropolis. From a commercial point of view nothing has dragged Ipswich down quicker than the very railways for which she noisily clamoured. From a busy and important commercial entrepot she has dwarfed down to a wayside station, past which the business of her sons and daughters rushes at express haste to the metropolis. Ipswich is never likely to arrest this trade, but she gives promise of raising a fruitful source of industry within her own borders, and thus being independent of the favours of those whom she nursed in their weakness but who in the days of their strength allowed themselves to be charmed by strange voices.

Ipswich is finely situated on both sides of the Bremer River, twenty four miles from Brisbane by rail, or fifty-two miles by water. It covers, altogether, a surface of nearly two and a half miles square. The main street - Brisbane street - runs directly through the principal portion of the town, mid extends in an easterly direction to Brisbane and westward to Toowoomba. The original portion of the town is chiefly built on a fine terrace-like eminence, and from many points an extensive prospect of the surrounding country is obtained. The northern portion of the town lies on the opposite bank of the river, and here are rapidly concentrating the manufacturing establishments of the town. Ipswich may be briefly described as a very pleasant and well-built little town plentifully provided with all sorts of grain, fruits, coal, and “what else is proper for the comfortable use of man,” or can be expected in any other place in the colony. Its manufacturing energies are slowly unfolding and as time goes on will be more and more developed. The principal manufacturing concern is the Woollen Company’s mills, which were opened in 1877, and which are now producing nearly 175,000 yards of tweed annually, and affording direct employment to 300 hands. Endeavours are being made to extend the output of textile fabrics, and to this branch of industry will shortly be added the manufacture of cotton goods and cotton thread, for which purpose a company has been formed. In time to come Ipswich is likely to occupy a prominent position among industrial centres in regard to the production of textile fabrics, but her enterprise is by no means confined to this branch of industry.

Not long since a few of her citizens bravely undertook the construction of railway locomotives, and although this new path was hedged about with difficulties, still they were surmounted, and Old Limestone has demonstrated that it is not necessary to go abroad for our railway engines. The authorities have reported that the engines turned out from the private foundry at North Ipswich are equal in every respect to the imported ones. At the extreme end of North Ipswich are the railway workshops, substantial brick buildings where our rolling stock is kept in repair. There have been repeated political attempts to shift these workshops to Brisbane, but common sense has invariably triumphed and the workshops are still in a most suitable place, where there is ample room and abundance of good coal within easy reach. While Ipswich grows corn and produces coal, manufactures tweeds and builds locomotives, she by no means despises the day of small things. At North Ipswich there is a first class pottery, where bricks, filters, drain pipes, fruit jars, teapots, &c., are turned out daily, and where quite recently the manufacture of ink bottles has been undertaken At Bundamba and Dinmore several brick works and potteries are in full swing, all contributing their quota to the prosperity of the district. At Churchill, southwards, are several tanneries, a soap factory, and a little further out the celebrated Warilla wine gardens. In close proximity to the town are several sawmills and many minor industrial establishments.



Ipswich Railway Workshops, c.1887 (John Oxley Library)

In general architectural appearance the town of Ipswich presents few features calling for particular attention. The streets are for the most part fairly wide if somewhat uneven. As usual in colonial towns, its principal edifices suffer in effect from the contiguity of less imposing structures. The principal feature in Brisbane-street is the pile set apart for the School of Arts and Municipal Chambers, and also the Post and Telegraph Offices which adjoin; yet they are ineffective specimens of design. The Lands Office in East-street is a fairly imposing structure, while further along is the dingy court house which should either be razed to the ground or devoted to some other purpose than that for which it is at present used. The local hospital commands a fine position, and the buildings without being pretentious are compact and comfortable, and with the trees and foliage which surround them give the place a very cosy and attractive appearance.


Brisbane Street. (Historical Sketch of Queensland, 1886)

The Boys’ Grammar School, erected at a cost of £11,000 twenty eight years ago, stands on the crest of a hill and commands an extensive and pleasant prospect. The Girls’ Grammar School at the opposite end of the town and also set on a hill, is a naked unattractive building. When the newly planted trees grow, however, the effect will be richer. Strange to say Ipswich does not possess one really good State school. The Girls’ Central is a cold dirty looking structure, formerly used as a wool store while Scott’s school – as it is familiarly known is a weather beaten brick building without any external or internal beauties. The North Ipswich School is spacious enough, but not such a building that an amateur photographer would care to waste any negatives over. There are many handsome private business establishments in Ipswich. Around the town are scores of really charming residences, where taste and luxury abound. Homes they are in the true sense as evidenced by the choice gardens, the lawns, fernhouses, and neat stables which rarely find a place on rented properties. A short distance out is the Sandy Gallop Asylum, at present inhabited by about 120 demented ones. The institution stands on a fine hill, and is thoroughly fitted up and equipped. Scrupulous care is extended to the patients, who are just as comfortable as it is possible to make them. A little further on is the spacious and lovely ‘city of the dead’ placed on a plain. It is intersected with gravelled walks, neatly trimmed and adorned with a profusion of shrubs and flowering plants, while a considerable number of cypress pines lend additional beauty and solemnity to the grounds.

The public gardens of Ipswich are most charming, and from the crest of the hill - ‘the Lovers Walk,’ as it is sentimentally termed - one can command a very lovely, varied, and comprehensive landscape. Looking to the westward a beautiful tract of country is seen terminating in the mountains of the Main Range, the Enoggera Ranges run away in the south, while the outskirts of Brisbane can be seen on a clear day. Lying at the foot of the hill is Ipswich, and the windings of the Bremer River can be traced for miles. The gardens are a most pleasant retreat, but to my mind the Ipswich people do not sufficiently appreciate the privilege which they possess in this respect, that is if I may be allowed to judge by the few frequenters who are to be met there. – Queenslander'