Category Archives: Queensland

Mission Beach, Queensland

The history of coastal communities in northern Queensland throws important light on racial attitudes and relations in Australia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The indigenous peoples witnessed the coming of a number of ethnic groups, including Chinese and Europeans. The effects were damaging in a range of ways. Local people were displaced and their lifestyles disrupted, and there were conflicts between different groups who arrived on the scene.

In 1891 the Brisbane Courier published a description by their Travelling Reporter of a journey by boat ‘Along the Northern Coast.’ In an article on ‘Townsville to Geraldton’, the reporter describes a voyage on the steamship Palmer, which left Townsville every Tuesday evening carrying passengers and mail for Dungeness, Cardwell, Geraldton, Cairns and Port Douglas. The reporter was enchanted by the scenery, observant of the conditions of life in various places, and hopeful that the region would be better developed in the future.

The rivers encountered were the Herbert, Tully, Hull, Moresby and Johnstone.

There was a ‘terrific downpour’ at the Herbert River, but the view from the wharf at Dungeness (on that river) was ‘one of glorious splendour.’ Upriver were the ‘the fertile sugar districts of Ingham, Halifax, and the Herbert.’ Hinchinbrook Island, with its ferns, palm trees and flame trees, is near the mouth of the river. While the surroundings are charming, Dungeness is ‘one of the most miserable and dreary places which can be conceived.’ A place of perhaps a dozen buildings, it serves as a landing stage for produce from sugar plantations in the vicinity. Some passengers transferred from the Palmer to a small boat to go upriver to Halifax, and their prospects were not good, as a ‘pelting tropical rain descended’; among them was a lady in the stern of the boat, dressed in a ‘nicely starched white dress.’ Ingham is difficult to get to from Dungeness; the reporter was not impressed that there was no direct road, railway or tramway, although a scheme had been considered, probably (in the reporter’s view) thwarted by ‘want of unanimity among the residents of the district.’

The scenery from Dungeness to Cardwell, inside the Hinchinbrook Channel, is ‘exquisitely lovely.’ Picturesquely placed, ‘Cardwell nestles on the sandy beach washed by the waters of Rockingham Bay.’ There is a ‘splendid sweep of shore’, and tropical islands in sight. But ‘Cardwell is not going ahead.’ The population is said to be dwindling. ‘The people are easy-going and apparently contented. Occasionally a cyclone comes along and wakes them up.’ The danger from cyclones is considerable, but there are excellent natural resources: fruits in profusion, valuable timbers, plenty of fish in the bay. ‘Cardwell is badly in want of some pushing, energetic men.’

Further up the coast are the Tully and Hull Rivers, and Mount Mackay in the background. There are a few settlers at the mouth of the Tully, who have to transport their produce (including oranges, bananas and pineapples) to market by a long journey on their own boats. Most of the land on the Tully has been taken up in large tracts and is not open to settlement. The Tully has fine timber, mainly maple, and the river is alive with fish, and alligators too. Chinamen living along the coast are willing to pay a good price for dried fish. Up the Hull River is an abundance of maplewood, a timber which has a fine grain and polishes well, and is much used by northern saw-millers.

Next come Tam O’Shanter Point and Clump Point, the latter ‘one of the prettiest spots on all the Queensland coast’ and indeed ‘one of the most charming seascapes which can be found on the shores of the Australian continent.’ Here selectors grow bananas, pines and tobacco. ‘I fancy that tobacco grown in this elysian spot should have a delicious, fragrant flavour.’

The entrance to Mourilyan Harbour and the Moresby River is narrow and ‘rock-girt’, but once inside ‘the whole Australian fleet could easily find safe anchorage.’ The sugar company’s plantation is a few miles away by train.

There were some gunyahs at the entrance to the Johnstone River, as well as two or three residences of pilots and fishermen. ‘The Johnstone River is a revelation. In its every turn a beautiful page of Nature is opened out.’ There are banana plantations, sugar-cane and dense jungle. The steamer runs close to the bank and one can almost touch the banana leaves, ‘for the Chinaman cultivates right down to the water’s edge.’

Everything is green and fertile, luxuriant to an amazing degree. The very air is languid, the land is bursting with fatness, the Chinaman and the kanaka for the first time appear to be in their proper and natural places…

Geraldton is about four miles from the river mouth, ‘and when the Palmer berths alongside the wharf, and we slowly make our way up the hill to Bourke’s hotel, it is with the feeling that we are in a new territory, in a land flowing with milk and honey, wherein are to be seen things new and old.’

Along the way an alligator was noticed making its way upstream, but ‘we only gaze on him dreamily, and find him not at all a discordant element in the setting of the picture.’

It is curious to think that this enchanting coast became the scene of immense discord as the decades went by. Relations with the Chinese deteriorated, and at the Hull River Aborigines were forcibly separated on to a government reserve, the Hull River Mission, from which the modern name Mission Beach derives. The Chinese (and others?) had given the Aborigines opium; the Europeans paid them for services partly in tobacco.

The Mission was established by Superintendent John Martin Kenny in September 1914, and he died there with his daughter Kathleen in his arms when a cyclone hit in March 1918. Perhaps a dozen Aborigines died; most of the survivors (three or four hundred in number?) were moved to Great Palm Island. Building materials from the destroyed mission were brought across for use in constructing a new settlement.

A selection of references: ‘Reserve for Aboriginals’, Brisbane Courier 5/9/1913, p. 6. ‘Hull River Aboriginal Settlement’, Brisbane Courier 25/11/1914, p. 6. ‘Hull River Mission: Impressions of a visitor’, Cairns Post 16/8/1915, p. 8 (ponderously worded). ‘Northern Aboriginals: New settlement at Hull River’, Brisbane Courier 24/8/1915, p. 8. ‘Along the northern coast: Townsville to Geraldton’, Brisbane Courier 30/3/1891, p. 7. ‘Hull River settlement. How the fatalities occurred. Three blacks crushed. Acting Superintendent appointed’, Brisbane Courier 15/3/1918, p. 6 (the cyclone came through on 10 March; the Superintendent is here referred to as Rev. Mr. Kenny, but was this title inferred on the assumption that it was a church mission?). ‘Moving day: Hull River Settlement’, Cairns Post 7/6/1918, p. 8. Queensland Government, Mainland communities H-K, ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Missions and Reserves in Queensland’ [pdf].

From railways to resources

It would be hard to imagine Alexander Johnston, railway contractor, involving himself in the sort of idealistic scheme which William Lane promoted under the name ‘New Australia.’ If Mr. Johnston had been involved in such a scheme, one could readily imagine him making a success of it. He certainly would not have neglected to organise the money and machinery necessary to make it work.

Alexander Johnston (1839-1916) had emigrated from Scotland in 1856. He had been in Queensland for a time, then came to New South Wales. As partner and contractor he was involved in a number of construction projects, including tramways in Sydney, a section of the railway between Goulburn and Cooma, construction of cattle yards at Homebush, parts of the Nepean water supply, and water works in Melbourne. With his accumulated wealth he was able to invest in and contribute to a number of enterprises which benefited from his experience in the fields of engineering, geology and project management.

In the 1890s, while the ‘New Australia’ colonists were trying to establish an ideal society in Paraguay, Alexander Johnston was helping to open up the North Shore of Sydney to investment and development. He was associated with a private syndicate (the North Sydney Tramway and Investment Company) responsible for construction of the North Shore (or Long Bay) Suspension Bridge (which gave the suburb of Northbridge its name) and the opening up of new land. Progress was not without its problems. There was a protracted period of delay caused by complications over ownership. Finally in 1912 the bridge was handed over as a gift to the New South Wales Government. The elaborate stone superstructure remains. Although the old metal deteriorated and a concrete arch now supports the weight, the structure is still referred to informally as the suspension bridge.

Political developments to the north of Australia offered a new field for enterprise. The British Government had long been wary of French designs in the Pacific. Then in 1884 Germany annexed the north-eastern part of New Guinea. Britain responded by proclaiming a Protectorate over the south-eastern portion, which was extended to neighbouring islands. This gave a new context for imperial and colonial action in suppressing lawlessness and fostering business expansion in the region. The discovery of gold on some of the islands off the east coast of New Guinea in the 1890s prompted a gold rush in a number of places, including Woodlark Island (also called Murua) from 1895 onwards. Despite the difficulties of the climate and the problems of disease, many individual prospectors took up claims. There were reports from time to time that the gold was giving out; whether this was an entirely objective assessment or a way of deterring possible competitors, the methods of extraction being used were fairly primitive and the gains were necessarily limited. Circumstances were ripe for a man like Mr. Alex Johnston, one of the directors of the Woodlark Island Proprietary Gold-mining Company, formed in 1899, to buy up small prospectors and introduce technically advanced methods to locate, identify, mine, process and transport gold and other deposits, and so prove that the riches of Woodlark Island and elsewhere were far from exhausted.

It was an era when able people, energetic and optimistic, were expanding the reach of investment and technology, with profound implications for political and economic control over land, resources and populations, in Australia and elsewhere.

‘Death of Mr. A. Johnston’, Sydney Morning Herald 17/6/1916, p. 11. Gold on Woodlark Island: e.g. Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1897, p. 6. Sydney gold syndicate: e.g. Advertiser [Adelaide] 18/7/1899, p. 5; Sydney Morning Herald 21/12/1899, p. 9.

Sydney in 1841: a directory [instalment 4]

The ‘Directory of the Public Institutions and Government Offices in Sydney’ published in the Sydney Herald on 5 July 1841 (see the entries of 17/11/2010, 18/11/2010 and 19/11/2010 for further details) includes (9) Religious, scientific and charitable institutions.

(9) Among religious organisations the first mentioned are the Societies for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Propagating the Gospel. These societies have an Australian Auxiliary, and the Diocesan Committee of this Auxiliary has offices under St. James’s Church. They also have a ‘depository’ there for selling their publications.

There are also depositories in King Street (near Castlereagh Street) for the Bible Society and the Religious Tract Society.

A number of religious organisations are listed which do not have particular offices but meet in locations, whether places of worship or school houses, associated with their respective denominations. These are the Church Missionary Society, the Wesleyan Missionary Society, the London Missionary Society, the German Mission to the Aborigines, and the Roman Catholic Institute.

Several organisations are listed which can be classed under the heading of charitable institutions: the Temperance Society, the Total Abstinence Society, the Scottish Society, the Union Benefit Society, and the Floral Society.

Under the heading of scientific organisations comes the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts in Pitt Street (near Park Street).

Also mentioned is a library, the Australian Subscription and Reading Rooms, in Macquarie Place (next to St. James’s Parsonage).

A note on the religious organisations mentioned:

The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was a major publisher of religious materials. The organisation was already old by the nineteenth century, having been founded in 1698. It had a significant role in education and missionary work. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was also long established, having been founded in 1701. It sent out missionaries to America, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, and had a particular interest in indigenous peoples. Both of these societies began in England. They had their origins within the Church of England but came to have ecumenical connections as well. The British and Foreign Bible Society was founded in 1804. It was non-denominational and willing (controversially) to cater for a variety of theologies and to include in Bibles books regarded by many as apocryphal. The Religious Tract Society, founded in 1799, published tracts and books for evangelistic purposes. The Evangelical Revival in England and elsewhere was a significant energising force in the formation and development of these and other societies.

Three of the missionary societies mentioned were founded in London. The first-mentioned in the Directory is the Church Missionary Society, a Protestant organisation founded in 1799. In February 1825 the Sydney Gazette reported the recent formation of an Auxiliary Church Missionary Society for Australasia, in union with the Church Missionary Society in London. The first quarterly meeting of the committee of the Church Missionary Society for Australasia was held at the residence of its Secretary in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, on 8/4/1825. The Wesleyan Missionary Society was founded in 1786 and began work in Australia in 1815. In 1818 the British Methodist Conference formed the General Wesleyan Missionary Society. The London Missionary Society, Evangelical and non-denominational, was founded as the Missionary Society in 1795 and renamed the London Missionary Society in 1818.

The German Mission to the Aborigines in the Moreton Bay area (the ‘Zion Hill Mission’) began in 1837 on the initiative of John Dunmore Lang. In the year in which this Directory was published, a sixteen-page statement concerning the mission, written by one of the missionaries and revised by Lang, was published in Sydney by James Reading, whose offices were in ‘King-street, East’.

The Roman Catholic Institute was formed in Sydney in 1840. The Colonist newspaper reported a meeting held on 10/9/1840 ‘for the purpose of forming a Roman Catholic Institute, for the purpose of procuring money to enable them to spread the tenets of the Roman Catholic religion, and defend themselves from the attacks of other religious persuasions.’ The Colonist was not a sympathetic observer, nor was the Sydney Herald, which reported the formation, at a ‘numerously attended’ meeting, of a branch of the Roman Catholic Institute of London and also ‘an association for propagating the Roman Catholic Faith.’ The report added: ‘We shall not regret the formation of these societies if they have the effect, which they ought to have, of shewing the Protestants how necessary it is to unite and be strenuous in their exertions, to promote the Protestant religion, and thus neutralize the exertions of the Romanists. If the Protestants are firm to their duty they have so much of the wealth and intelligence of the Colony, and such a large numerical majority that they need be under no fear of the result of any trial of strength.’

The very next column of the Sydney Herald provides an example of the dual role of church and missionary organisations in Sydney in that era. On the day before the Sydney branch of the Catholic Institute was formed, the Bishop of Australia laid the foundation stone of a new Church of England at Ashfield, on land given to the church by Mrs. Underwood, who placed an inscribed brazen plate in the cavity before laying of the stone. The church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, whose feast day it was. The service was taken by Rev. J.K. Walpole, a missionary sent to the colony by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts; he had been working in the district for some time. The Bishop gave an address ‘in which he enforced the duty incumbent on all to support the practice of protestantism.’

A snapshot of the activities of missionary organisations in Australia and New Zealand in the 1830s is provided by the Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, vol. 15, London, Knight, 1839, under an entry for ‘Missions’ (pp. 266-277), at p. 276. The article cites as some of its sources the Missionary Map of the World; Wyld, Map of Missions; the Missionary Register; The Missionary Vine; and Rev. C. Williams, Missionary Gazetteer.

There is a ‘List of Protestant missionary societies (1691–1900)’ in Wikipedia. A list of missionary societies with their dates of foundation was published in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 23/8/1822, p. 3. Church Missionary Society: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 3/2/1825, p. 3; The Australian 7/4/1825, p. 1. German Mission: J.D. Lang, Appeal to the Friends of Missions, on Behalf of the German Mission to the Aborigines of New South Wales, London, 1839; Rev. Christopher Eipper, Statement of the Origin, Conditions, and Prospects of the German Mission to the Aborigines at Moreton Bay, conducted under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales, Sydney, James Reading, 1841 (revised for the press by John Dunmore Lang, who added a Postscript, p. 16); accessible on the University of Queensland website (pdf). Cf. Catherine Langbridge, Robert Sloan and Regina Ganter, ‘Zion Hill Mission (1838-1848)’, in ‘German Missionaries in Queensland: a web-directory of intercultural encounters’, on the Griffith University website. Roman Catholic Institute: The Colonist 12/9/1840, p. 2; Sydney Herald 14/9/1840, p. 3.