Land of Coal and Corn (#2): The Progress of Ipswich (Part One)

The following is extracted from the Brisbane Courier, 2 November 1891:

'Ipswich was declared a municipality on the 3rd of March, 1860, a few months after the separation of Queensland from New South Wales had been granted. It was a day of patriotic rejoicing on the Limestone Hills. The honour and responsibility of local self-government was, however, not gained without a struggle. Fighting is even now a characteristic of the Ipswich people. It was so in the forties and the sixties, and has not disappeared in the nineties. In the “Government Gazette” of the 19th of January, 1860, a petition appeared signed by eighty-one householders praying that Ipswich might be formed into a municipality, and a few weeks afterwards a counter petition was published signed by over ninety persons. The latter were of opinion that the expense of a municipality was not warranted, and that it would prove a burden grievous to be borne.

At this time Ipswich contained a population of over 3000 persons, and was without doubt the most prosperous town in the new colony. Young, vigorous, and insolent was the new municipal bantling, and no opportunity did it lose of defiantly crowing over the fence at the Brisbane rooster. The first aldermanic election took place on the 19th of April, 1860, when the following gentlemen were declared duly elected: - John Murphy, 191 votes; John Johnstone, 170; Charles Watkins, 157; Donald Bethune, 147; Christopher Gorry, 140; J. M. Thompson, 98; John Pettigrew, 80; Francis North, 79; and T. Stanley, 70. Mr. Murphy was elected mayor, and occupied that position for several years.

The declaration required by the Municipal Act was duly taken before Colonel Gray, P.M., and one of the rooms attached to the court-house set apart for the use of the corporation. At one of the first meetings of the council, Mr. E. B. Cullen (the present Under Colonial Treasurer) was appointed town clerk, at a salary of £200 per annum. The first resolution moved on 1st May, 1860, was to the effect that the council should make application to the Government to place a sum of money on the Estimates for 1860 for the purpose of repairing that part of the main road from Brisbane to Drayton and the interior known as Brisbane-street; while the second resolution was to the effect that the mayor and aldermen accept Sir George Bowen’s invitation to be present at a ball in Brisbane on the 24th of May. Thus do extremes meet.

Some good names appear in the council’s records during three or four years following Separation, but many of them have long since crossed the dark river. Mention may be made of Mr. M. O’Malley (now a civil service commissioner), who served as an alderman in 1802, Mr. Arthur Macalister, Mr. Ben. Cribb, and Mr. George Thorn being brother aldermen, while Mr. Wm. Hendren and Mr. Francis North joined the council the following year. Excellent work was performed in these early days, and it is impossible to look back upon the efforts then made without some admiration for those who paved the way for us. That much narrowness of mind, class hostility, and local jealousy existed may be taken for granted, but co-existent with these was a desire for progress, and a combination of practical skill, patience, and grit which worked wonders. The Ipswich people were of necessity compelled to fight hard; they were the first to demand the obliteration of the convict brand from the colony, and they successfully resisted the squatters when they, in their desire for cheap labour, demanded a resumption of transportation. 

When in December of 1859 a proclamation was issued constituting electoral districts in Queensland, it was seen that the framer of the plan had purposely designed to give the pastoral interest an overwhelming preponderance in Parliament, and Ipswich, although a squatting town and one which had been granted no fewer than three members, was one of the first places to point out the inequality. The North Australian, which had been started in Ipswich in 1855, so fiercely assailed the pastoral industry, and so consistently attempted to thwart the squatters’ schemes, that Mr. Macalister and others promoted the Ipswich Herald (now the Queensland Times) in 1859, and it proved a victorious rival, practically running the North Australian out of the field. 

Amid all the dust raised by disputes and bickerings on political questions, efforts at social advancement were not lost sight of, and the years 1859-1860 were really the beginning of prosperous times for Ipswich, and marked the foundation of many public institutions. A desire sprang up for closer social intercourse, and for privileges of a more refined and educative character than had hitherto obtained. The School of Arts was established on a firm basis, and replaced an institution of a somewhat feeble kind which was in existence, and here met all the choice spirits of the day - the leading squatters, solicitors, civil servants, tradesmen, and others. A new court-house was built at Ipswich, and a circuit court proclaimed, while St. Paul’s Church was finished and opened; an application for a botanic garden and recreation reserve was successful, and the small number of newspapers then published in the colony was swelled by the publication of the Ipswich Herald. In the same year the Volunteer movement was initiated, and the banks, of which there were three, erected comfortable buildings. These being larger than those in Brisbane afforded the Ipswichians a magnificent opportunity, which was not lost, of making scornful comparisons. On the 13th of April, 1861, Ipswich was connected with Brisbane by telegraph wire, and it may be of interest to give a copy of the first message transmitted:-
13th April, 1861.
Message for C. J. Gray, Esq., P.M.
The Governor-in-Council congratulates the people of Ipswich on the establishment of telegraphic communication between the two chief towns of Queensland.
To which congratulatory message the police magistrate replied as follows;
The people of Ipswich feel much obliged by the communication from his Excellency the Governor-in-Council, and are assured that this mode of communication will be an additional means of cementing the good feeling existing between the inhabitants of the two principal towns of Queensland.
Ipswich Grammar School (Historical Sketch of Queensland, 1886)

The first Grammar School in Queensland was opened in Ipswich on the 25th of September, 1863, by Governor Bowen. This result was not attained without strenuous exertions and the calling out of the spirit of party struggle. The Municipal Council took an interest in the education of deserving young men, and on the 5th of October of the same year it was moved in the council by Alderman Pettigrew that the council give two scholarships to the Ipswich Grammar School for the period of five years. At a subsequent meeting, from which Alderman Pettigrew was absent, Alderman Chubb moved that the council give the sum of £125 for the creation of a scholarship in the Ipswich Grammar School to be invested by the trustees and the interest available every three years for that purpose. This was carried, but subsequently on the motion of Alderman O’Malley, seconded by Alderman Shenton, was rescinded. Alderman Chubb then modestly asked for the sum of £12 to be set aside as a gift from the ratepayers, but this also was refused.

Thursday, 25th February, 1864, was a red letter day for Ipswich, for the event which was then celebrated marked the inauguration of works in connection with the first railway built in Queensland. The ceremony was performed on “the more elevated portion of that park-like land at North Ipswich immediately fronting the southern portion of the town at Ellenborough.” Governor and Lady Bowen were present, having “arrived in Ipswich to assist at the ceremonial, in the steamer Ipswich, on Wednesday.” We learn from a report in the Guardian that “the Brisbane Rifle Corps appeared in plumes which had been recently given to them by the Government. The Ipswich corps were to have been similarly furnished, but the promise has not been kept, and the Ipswich Volunteers think that in this as in other matters the Brisbane body is unduly favoured by the Government.”

Satire on the Ipswich Volunteers: 'The Ipswich Volunteers, not
having been ‘Reviewed’ for a long time, ‘Colonel Punch’ wishes
now to ‘Review’ them himself.' (Ipswich Punch
, 15 August 1866)

His Excellency appears to have been enthusiastically received, and was presented by the Railway Committee and the corporation with addresses. After his Excellency had replied, the Minister for Lands and Works then invited Lady Bowen to honour the event by turning the first sod, at the same time presenting a silver shovel with a suitable inscription. Lady Bowen, amid loud cheers, proceeded to turn the first sod of the first Queensland railway and to deposit the turf in the barrow. Mr. Wilcox (representative of Peto, Brassey, and Betts) then wheeled the barrow up the plank to the ‘tip’ in true workmanlike style. This concluded the ceremony, and the viceregal party left the ground amid the cheers of the spectators and another salute from the ‘big guns.’ Thus ended a ceremony which marked the opening of a new era of prosperity for Queensland.

Letter to the Editor, Brisbane Courier, 5 November 1891.

Sir,- Your correspondent’s second letter evokes further memories in me. When Ipswich and Darling Downs influence combined had beaten Brisbane on the railway question in 1863, they had a night of it in Limestone; even Ben. Cribb smoked a friendly cigar that evening with the graziers of the Downs, and I do not think tobacco was ever much in his line. Good Old Ipswich! It was a “live” place from ‘54 to ‘61; but it is peopled with ghosts now when one recalls these who were there and “are not.” John Gammie, John Panton, Geo. Thorn, John Crowder, Wm. Dorsey, Blyth of Blythdale, Jimmy Laidley, Frank Lucas, “Gig-lamps” Hamilton, John Murphy, Wattie Gray, and the “Colonel,” of that ilk; but why continue the list? Who remembers them? Why, the very list of aldermen brings a whiff of the old times. Charley Watkins, the auctioneer, with his huge earrings! And the other Charley W. - namely, Wheeler. Well, at the risk of being prolix, I must tell you two “yarns,” indicative of the times that were, but are no longer. When the Moreton Bay people clamoured for separation, “Old Mother Sydney” told us that the public creditor would not stand having part of his security taken away, and we must not ask for our liberty, when uprose Charley Wheeler, of Ipswich, a commission and forwarding agent in a small way, but of the usual gigantic Ipswich intellect, and thus he delivered himself: “What an absurd objection to separation! the public creditor! indeed! see here! we should be quite satisfied to take up the New South Wales ‘account’ ourselves (as if it were some small sheep station). Give us full security over New South Wales and her assets, and we will be responsible for her little debts, so that need not stand in the way any more.” There is a sublimity and grasp about this 1858 speech that neither modern Brisbane nor modern Ipswich could emulate. The men of ‘58 are extinct. The “Social Villagers” (as they called themselves), of Ipswich, F. A. Forbes, Jock Pettigrew, Billy Handcock, of Drayton, and Rossiter, of Sydney (sometimes called Grossiter by “Wag” Nicol, on account of his stoutness), once played a joke on a young American merchant, named Fisher, who made a fortune in the subsequent “Secesh” war, but who could not make a living in Moreton Bay, which, he said, was the “last place ever made.” Godfrey O’Rourke, of Limestone, at that time drew the best glass of English ale north of Port Jackson, and the “Villagers” all knew it well. Fisher wanted to get back to Sydney by the monthly steamer leaving Brisbane next day, so the “Villagers” plotted to make him lose his passage by the river boat which alone could catch the ocean steamers, and they succeeded, with the aid of O’Rourke. There were no coaches or railways then. But Fisher resolved not to be baulked, so he, eluding his persecutors, started to walk to Brisbane at 7 p.m. He reached the inn at Woogaroo at midnight, refreshed, and emerged from another door and marched onwards, and at daybreak he breasted a hill, and it struck him all at once that Brisbane when approached from the south-west looked most remarkably like Ipswich when approached from the north-east quarter, and in another moment the full horror of his position dawned upon him. He had taken the wrong outlet at midnight at Woogaroo Hotel and had been steadily tramping back to Ipswich the rest of the night. He was dead beat from fatigue; he had hopelessly lost the Sydney boat for a month; the raillery of the pitiless “Villagers” at this fresh episode was neither to be faced nor thought of even; so he kept it dark and laid low in Brisbane for a month longer. Poor clever Fisher! He died early in the 70’s and will never trouble the Bremer again. He was here just thirty years too soon. There were no unemployed, no “labour party,” no relief works, no British loans in these happy days. The few mechanics in the towns had plenty to do, and the men in the bush had their maize, pumpkins, and pigs and fowls, and these things - such as tea, sugar, and clothes - which they could not grow themselves they got the money for by fencing, splitting, shearing, and bullock-driving, &c., for a few months in every year. They did not go to the Government with their troubles, for the times had been too fresh in their memory when “John Government” (not the paternal article of the present day, fed on votes) used to apply the cat-o’-nine-tails to all grumblers.
- I am, sir, &c., N. BARTLEY.'