A Trip to the Gold Diggings #9: Warwick

A Trip to the Gold Diggings #8: Flagstone Creek to the CondamineIn 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.

Warning: This article contains language that would be considered racially offensive today, but is retained here for historical context.

Moreton Bay Courier, 20 December 1859


Warwick stands in an open plot of country, five miles having been given by some grazier as a spot for a township. In considering the present state of Warwick, it must not be forgotten that the township owes its rise to this generous act of the settler; though whether there was a motive hidden under the apparent generosity, which might savour of worldly wise prudence, deponent says not. Certain it is that the population of Warwick having increased to about eight hundred souls, and there being a trifle of the go-head Yankee notions in some of their compositions, the cry is already heard ‘enlarge our borders.’ Warwick is well off for places of worship, badly in want of a mill and a bank, and it is very probable that any speculators who may endeavour to carry into operation the benefits connected with money changing and corn grinding would not only confer benefits upon the population, but reap handsome returns in shape of profits.

In the neighbourhood of Warwick there are a great many small farms, and from all I could glean, the pursuit of agriculture was profitable - only wanting a bank, a mill, and good roads for transit to make it extremely so. The main street in Warwick is not at all to be despised; it is assuming a regular and orderly appearance. The style of houses is improving; in some places bricks are usurping the authority of slabs, and some of the storekeepers go to the trouble of ‘dressing’ their windows so that they may catch the gaze of the passers. I calculate woman is woman all the world over - they love a draper’s shop, and when they get inside the difficulty is to get them out without feeling that there is a deficiency in the exchequer, said absence of cash being compensated for by articles tasteful in pattern, indescribable in appearance, brought up in the rear by some bargain of a print ‘warranted to wash,’ ‘a duck of a bonnet,’ or ‘a pet of a shawl.’

There is every inducement in the situation and advantages possessed by Warwick to charm people from other less favoured places. Of the society of the place I cannot say much, as it was not my good fortune to mingle much in it. Like all other small places in the world, it has its rivalries and jealousies, and the little disputes are magnified into greater importance than they deserve. I must not pass by all the information I gleaned and sights I looked upon, so if you will accompany me, we will go together to the Courthouse.

Moreton Bay Courier, 22 December 1859

Warwick Court-House

And a veritable looking old barn it is on the outside, more like a cowshed than the ball of justice where the lords of the interior sit to hear and determine cases which perplex the minds of their neighbors and the people who live under the pleasure of their eyes, or manage to eke out a subsistence in spite of their favors.

‘Great works in Warwick’ there were truly in connection with the proceedings on that remarkable ‘koort’ day when the unfortunate shearer was committed to take his trial for the wilful murder of the Spaniard Deer, and also when disputes ran high as to the ownership of certain cattle, the brands of which had become higglety pigglety so as to confound meum and tuum, and leave questionable the ownership of a cow. May I try my hand at sketching ‘a koort day’ at Warwick.

Like fire amongst dried stubble had spread the report that on the day in question there was to be a veritable sitting, and that all plaintiffs and defendants were to have something decided for them which is highly called, I believe, Justice. There were to be no quirkings or shufflings, or longer law’s delay. And I found that when the people became assured that the magistrates would deign to attend, they assembled in large numbers, and preparatory to hearing and beholding how the Solons would conduct themselves, while canvassing the various points of the cases, and retailing the bit of scandal for which Warwick is so famous, that they did give their tongues ‘absolution’ for the words spoken, by every now and then partaking of nobblers. There was settler Johnson ‘comed to sware’ about his cow; and Mary come to swear about ‘her dog.’ There was the usual amount of fun; and here and there some disputed warmly on what the beaks could do and what they could not do; some vowing and protesting that in Warwick ‘them ere supers and squatters was jist about every body, and it warn’t not a bit of use for a poor man to say anything at all.’

Inside the Court-House

The first ornament, useful in itself, which attracted my attention was the pendant wooden chandelier; which evidently was the work of an artist of no mean qualification. I vow and declare that I should fancy, some Yankee had whittled out the affair with a knife. It hung pendant from a beam, suspended by a bit of string, and the three jets which extended themselves to hold the tallow dips, when the people of Warwick require justice by candle-light, were very primitive in their design. The artist who planned the chandelier and executed it with so much taste deserves immortalizing. If that identical candelabra should turn up in Anno Domini 2500, when Warwick shall have become a great city, been at the zenith of its glory and is running down to nadir through the luxuriance and waste of its inhabitants, posterity will speak of the crude notions of their ancestors, and we may fancy the historian of Warwick penning the following paragraph;

‘About this date, (let the reader supply it), some workmen, employed in excavation, discovered the remains of several articles, which were submitted to the antiquarians of the Royal Society of Warwick, who were so much impressed with the new light cast upon the articles in use amongst their ancestors, that Professor Buzfuz read a paper on the subject at the last meeting of the Society, and contributed a talented article to the ‘Downs Eclectic’ on the style of buildings of the nineteenth century. The Professor dwelt particularly on the style of candelabra or chandelier (the terms by which the centre supports of lights in public buildings were known in that distant period) and Professor Lightning contributed a sketch which he had taken by electricity, illustrating the interior of the supposed building, and his genius supplied a supposed likeness of those who maintained the dignity of the law in the building, and used the articles which have now become of so much interest to the world of science, demonstrating the progress we have made as a people.’

Taking it Easy

If the building and the arrangements of the interior have found me materials for the construction of the paragraph above, how much more was I delighted with the free and easy manner which pervaded the manners of all those holding authority, from the magistrates on the bench to the constables, the lowest crudes of whom made themselves remarkably noisy, when a witness was wanted, by shouting out the name six or seven times so loudly that those who were near had to mind the noise did not affect the tympanum of the ear. I liked the manner of all engaged very much. The magistrates spoke in so low a tone that what they said had to be conveyed to the people, on the same principle that water is passed to a fire by the long row of bucket lifters. The clerk took it easy-he read the depositions of the witnesses while sitting in a comfortable posture. Outside the pine fencing, which divided the sanctuary from the receptacle of the non-official, there was silence and good behaviour. Oh! it was a great day! The people listened to catch the faintest sound, and seemed to look upon the exalted with feelings of a pepper and salt mixture. Smarting, many of them, under the remembrance of how the magistracy was chosen from a class, and seeing that they (the people) were, for the most part, treated as canaille, it was not difficult for an unprejudiced observer to arrive at a conclusion that the sooner the law was administered by a paid official, whose bread depended upon his honesty, the earlier would those feelings of discontent be allayed which are expressed by nine-tenths of the residents on the Downs.

Hay stacking, Green Hills Farm near Warwick, 1894. (Qld State Archives)


If the historian dwells upon the building in which what is called justice is administered, he will surely devote a chapter to the state of the currency Anno Domini, 1859. Those who have read Macaulay will remember how masterly he deals with the currency difficulty which occurred in the reigns of William and Anne, which is said to have bothered the wisest men of their age, and made even the money changers consider to what state the nation was coming. Two hundred years after an era has passed it is simple to say what would have relieved the monetary difficulty; a man is considered wise sometimes who makes his own arguments, so that he may at pleasure blow them away like the down from a thistle. The system of calabashes, or I.O.U.’s, should be sent to Lord Macaulay, so that when he writes a chapter on the present Anglo-Saxon race, before the New Zealander stands on the ruins of London Bridge, he may not forget to state how, in a distant part of Queen Victoria’s dominions, every man issues his own bank notes, and oftentimes carries on his own trading transactions without being ‘worth a rap.’

All over the Downs the system of calabashes prevails. I talked with men able to form an opinion on what would remedy what is found to be a nuisance and a loss, and all agreed that a bank would cure the evil. I might cite cases of hardship told to me of servants paid with these calabashes, and of persons in the district who made it a practice to draw upon one another until the state of the calabash market was ‘confusion worse confounded.’ The excuse for the existing independent personal drawings is, as I have previously stated, the want of a bank. Calling attention to the want of the district of Warwick may induce some firm to commence the much needed establishment. If through this notice the want should be supplied and success attend the speculation, I hope I may be able to ‘get a bill done’ when I need it, in gratitude for the suggestion.

A Mill Wanted

When the earth, sun, and showers, have labored in a trio for the benefit of man, and the golden grain is sheaved and garnered, there is no mill in the district to turn the produce into flour. From the want of a mill the people suffer - having to send their corn away to be ground. The consequences of the absence of so needful a provision are, much of the ground that would be devoted to wheat-growing is given up to maize or potatoes, and in many instances left in a state of nature, as the cost of transit for grinding purposes is more than the farmer can afford. I did hear of a movement for a mill. The originator of the scheme was successful in calling public attention to the want, and he received large promises of support. A meeting was held, shares were in request, and it was said that the requisite capital would be forthcoming. Vain hope! Promises were taken instead of cash, and the mill which had been already erected infancy, was deserted by the public and the company tilted at the sails in the moonshine, after they had blown off the steam and cooled their boilers. The speculator who will start a mill, it should be a steam one, in Warwick, will reap a handsome fortune, as there are fifty-five miles between Warwick and Toowoomba, the place where a spirited proprietor has a mill already at work.

Warwick, in a few years, if wise legislation and public spirit go hand in hand, will become a lovely place. Already its future greatness, as Disraeli would say, ‘looms in the distance.’ A few go-a-head, intelligent, residents, added to the already existing intelligence of the district, would be a great accession. They appear in Warwick to want a few men of high moral principle who know the world, men with small means they may be, but withal those who would set their face against revilings of classes on the one hand, and against cliques and jealousies on the other, and men who, in the firm conviction of the right, knowing the truth, dare maintain it. A few such residents added to the stock already breathing pure air and bracing their nerves at a great elevation above the sea, would soon alter the appearance of the place, and tone the political feeling, so that fighting for principles would take the place of petty jealousy. Having said thus much about Warwick I will, for this time, vamose.

The route described by the author of the ‘A Trip to the Diggings’ reports,
Moreton Bay Courier, 1859. (C. Dawson)
The complete 'Trip to the Gold Diggings' series: 
  1. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #1: Gold Fever at Brisbane
  2. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #2: The Fields From Timbarra to Tooloom
  3. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #3: Ipswich to Fassifern
  4. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #4: Fassifern to Koorelah Range
  5. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #5: Tooloom 
  6. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #6: Scenes From Tooloom
  7. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #7: Tooloom to Flagstone Creek
  8. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #8: Flagstone Creek to the Condamine
  9. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #9: Warwick
  10. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #10: Warwick to Drayton