A Pioneer’s Recollections – Part 2

Queensland’s Early Days
BY C. Duncan Laidley
Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Saturday 27 October 1923, page 19

I find it most interesting to read the Brisbane Courier from 100 years ago on a Saturday morning. It brings into stark relief the modern world, that which remains much the same and that which has evolved beyond belief in such a short period of time. Here is a transcription of the recollections of Duncan Laidley who as a 9 year old arrived in Sydney, Australia in January 1842 after a 4-5 month voyage. It should be noted that the discussion of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters may not reflect modern sensitivities.

In this article Mr. Duncan, who is 90 years of age, tells of the Brisbane of 66 years ago, and of his experiences at Bald Hills, Ipswich, Mary borough, Laidley, and other places.

Carseldine’s General Store in Bald Hills in the late 1890’s. James Carseldine open the store in 1969 and his residence is to the right . Courtesy Kris Herron

When I came to Brisbane in the early part of 1857 there were two grocers’ shops in Queen street, one kept by Mr. Richard S. Warry and the other by Mr. Reuben Oliver. I remember that Mr. Oliver sold coffee in tins, labelled in large red letters, “Roasted and Ground by a process only known to the undersigned.” There were also two butchers’ shops in Queen Street-one kept by Mr. Geo. Ed-Monstone (who represented East Moreton in the first Parliament of Queensland) and the other by Mr. P. Mayne. The Post Office was kept by the widow of Colonel Barney; in her own house, situated in Queen Street, nearly opposite the present Bank of New South Wales. Her husband had been in charge of the military in Moreton Bay and had died here. In 1857 one police magistrate and two mounted police, with Chief Constable Samuel Sneyd and two or three ordinary police, constituted the guardians of civil order, and when the new gaol was built on Petrie-Terrace Mr. Sneyd was appointed Governor. There were two doctors-Drs. Hobbs and Bell. Dr. Hobbs’s house, in Ann Street, was afterwards rented as a residence for Sir George Bowen, our first Governor.

In 1857 there were two solicitors Robert Little, in George-street; and Daniel Foley Roberts, in Queen-street. Mr. Chas. Lilley was the third solicitor to commence practice in Brisbane. After separation Mr. Roberts and Mr. Lilley contested the Valley-seat, and the vote went to Mr. Lilley. Mr. Roberts was appointed a member of the Legislative Council, and was chosen Chairman of Committees, a position he hold for the rest of his life. After a few years Mr. Little retired, and built a house on the high ground to the east of Albion, and named it “Whytecliff.” The Church was represented in those days by two clergymen-Rev. Father McGinty (Roman Catholic) and Rev. Charles Ogg (Presbyterian). When I arrived in Brisbane there was no bridge over Breakfast Creek; the traffic was handled by a punt capable of carrying a horse and cart and about half a ton of loading. We went by this route to Bald Hills, and then followed the creek to higher ground, to what in later years was called Albion. Then the track turned to the north to German station. My brother and I marked a tree line in a north-westerly direction to a fairly good crossing over Kedron Brook, thence north about five miles, thence north-westerly to Bald Hills.

We had no compass, but we had some of the instinct of the carrier pigeon.


Thomas Gray bought an allotment in George Street and on it built a cottage. He then went to Sydney and married Miss Jessie Stewart, returned to Brisbane and commenced his trade of boot and shoe maker. His nearest neighbour was James Davis, who had been for 14 years among the blacks in the Wide Bay district. The blacks gave him the name “Dooroomboi”. He had at this time a smithy, made mountings for bullock yokes, bows etc. for me. Mr Gray told me not to mention his connection with the blacks when talking to him. This was not because he did not wish this known but because it recalled his past. He and another man had escaped from the convict settlement, and, crossing the North Pine River, had kept on northward.

Here his mate lost his life under peculiar circumstances. They had established friendly relations with the blacks and on one occasion were with them gathering oysters. Looking round for something to carry them in his mate found a dilly bag hanging up under a tree. On taking it down he found it to contain some small bones. Thinking these of no account, he turned them out and filled the bag with oysters That night the two white men were camped by a fire some distance from the blacks, and from the commotion made Davis could see that something unusual was taking place. They seemed to be having a council of war. There were no gins about and this generally meant trouble. The disputation went on far into the night, when apparently with reluctance a decision was arrived at. His mate was sound asleep but Davis was too concerned to sleep. By-and-by he saw three or four natives coming towards their camp and, without more ado these men clubbed his mate in his sleep. He quite expected his turn would come next.

But nothing further happened, and he continued on the best of terms with them. Not for many months, when he had learned something of their language, did he understand what had happened. It seems that when his mate turned the bones out of the dilly bag he had turned out the bones of a gin’s child, and had committed sacrilege according to their customs. For this death was the penalty.

The blacks had a great argument as to whether they should exact the penalty, but they decided at that there was no other way.


While in Brisbane I noticed what a number of local residents were named Thomas. I remember Tom Dowse (journalist) , Tom Gray (boot and shoe maker), Tom Warry (chemist), Tom Hays (dairyman). Tom Fraser (piper – a shipmate), Tom Petrie. &c. Mr. Petrie married the daughter of Mr. James Campbell, and was the first settler on the North Pine. Mrs. Petrie is still living. All the earliest settlers on both the North and South Pine were Scotch.

I broke up all my land at Bald Hills with the help of working bullocks, and also did a good deal of timber hauling for Birley and Cox, sawmillers at Kangaroo Point, and for W. Pettigrew, North Brisbane. I also supplied the timber for the South Pine Bridge at Bald Hills (R. Porter, contractor). After a time timber became so low in price that it did not pay, and there being no demand for it there was no work for bullock teams. I therefore decided to take to carrying until I could get a buyer. I went to Ipswich, and, as I had a letter of introduction from a friend to G. H. Wilson, I got loading at once. My first trip was to Bendemeer station, on the Upper Yeulbah, owned and occupied by Mr. Coxen, locally known as “Scrammy,” a name supposed to be descriptive of his hand, which had been shattered by the bursting of a gun. My “furthest out” was to Mitchell Downs station, owned by E. Morey, and situated on the west bank of the Maranoa River.

This station consisted of a few “bark huts” and a woolshed. Mr. Morey had his home in Toowoomba on account of the education of his children. After about two years I met a buyer for my team in Dalby, as I was returning to Ipswich. We agreed as to terms, and I was to give delivery when I returned. I got back loading, and handed the team over lock, stock, and barrel, and I have never owned a working bullock since. That was in 1866. It was during these travels I fell in with the late Mr. Alex. Hunter and his brother-in-law, Mr. Scott. These good pioneers later settled in the Laidley, district, to which place I found my way later.


In 1867, when gold was discovered in Gympie, a number of Brisbane draymen started for that place with loading, travelling by what was known as ” Postman’s Track,” through Durundur. I thought of doing the same, but while in Brisbane one day I met A. Markwell, whom I knew. He had just returned from Gympie, and strongly advised me not to think of going by land, but to go to Maryborough by steamer. I took his advice, and instead of inquiring for loading I booked my passage, with drays and horses, by the steamer Clarence. On the way down the river I met an acquaintance, James Burns (afterwards Sir James), who had been a storeman in his brother John’s warehouse. He told me his brother had supplied him with groceries, so that he could go to Gympie and make a start on his own. As he required a carrier I agreed to take his loading, and we were both suited. The steamer arrived at Maryborough the next day, and we loaded and went out five miles, and camped at a waterhole. On the third day we reached Gympie, and unloaded. James Burns had a tarpaulin, and with this he made a shelter for his goods and camped under the same cover until he could get a rough building put up. I carried for him for several months, but prices getting low gave it up and returned to Bald Hills. I came by the ” Postman’s Track”‘ through Durundur, and was not surprised that young Markwell had advised me not to go that way. Mr. W. R. Thurlow took his place as carter to .lohn Burns, and later was employed in the store. On the death of Mr. Burns, he succeeded to the business.


In 1884 I came to Laidley, and put up the first building on the west side of Patrick street an a general store. At that time Laidley and district were part of the Tarampa division, and about two years afterwards Laidley became a division by itself, the western boundary being the Little Liverpool Range and the northern railway line. When the board was elected I became one of the members, and continued so until 1897, when I went to Western Australia. I was chairman in 1894. In 1884 the police station was at the Old Township, but soon after this the Government resumed land opposite the railway station, and quarters were built for the police, and a couple of cells to accommodate anyone who could not find his way home! Later a court house was built. I was one of the several residents appointed as justices of the peace, and as I was nearest was oftener called upon.

Laidley in the 1880s.

There are certain cases which can be dealt with by one justice, and not in-frequently I had to act alone. Drunkenness was the usual charge, and, on, those occasions, if the culprit had money, I inflicted a fine, because at that time all the police court fines -went to the nearest, hospital -in this ease, Ipswich. If the unfortunate had no money, I usually cautioned him and discharged him. I could not see the reasonableness of keeping a man locked up and kept at the public expense, and, further, I thought, that he was punished sufficiently for having lost his time and money without any chance getting any return. For several years after I came to Laidley there was neither a doctor nor solicitor. Most of the produce of the farms was brought to the railway station in bullock drays; very few of the settlers had even a dray of their own. The only spring cart was that used by the butcher. It is a far cry from that time to the motor cars and motor lorries of today. Yet in those days, if ready money was scarce, there was no starvation. There was plenty of work, and many willing hands. Taken all round, the people were happy, and, I think, more neighbourly than they are to-day. Any straggler was sure of something to eat, and, if he chose, could camp for a day or two, and go on again. During this time the Rev. Dr. Nelson, Presbyterian Minister at Toowoomba, caused a slab building to he put up at the Old Township for worship. The money was raised by public subscription, and the building was used by all Protestant ministers.


In 1884, when I first went to Laidley there were at least 50 or 60 aborigines in the district, but they gradually died out. I remember one in particular named Dummy, who had three or four children. They were about Laidley for many years. Dummy was not a pure-blooded aboriginal; it was stated that her father was an American negro. She looked like one, being stouter than the ordinary aboriginal, and instead of being a dark brown, colour was a shiny black. I saw by the “Courier,” in 1914, that a son of hers had enlisted, and had returned in 1918 to the camp near Ipswich. I have not seen a black, for seven years. The last was a lad employed by a local medico as groom. He had a gin and three or four pickannnies, and they camped in a gunya of the old style near the lagoon at the old township. In 1864 or 1865, ten missionaries were sent from Germany to civilise and Christianise the aboriginals of Australia. They were sent by the Government at Sydney to Brisbane, and given grants of land at Kedron Brook. They were supported by their society for three years, and after that were expected to manage for themselves. I have conversed with a number of these missionaries and asked if they believed that they had been of any service to the blacks, but their reply was always that their mission had been a failure.

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