ADMINISTRATION OF PASTORAL DISTRICTS
Letters from the Commissioners to the Colonial Secretary and later to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, held in the Queensland State Archives and the New South Wales State Archives and Records, provide valuable insights into life in the pastoral districts in the 1840s and 1850s and into the ways in which these areas were administered by the Commissioners. It is clear from these Letters that the Commissioners devoted most of their time to:
- Managing relations between Aborigines and white settlers
- Mediating disputes among local pastoralists
- Undertaking expeditions to discover new grazing lands and to monitor pastoral runs
- Writing reports
Managing relations between Aborigines and white settlers
Commissioners were required to submit annual reports on the state of the Aborigines in their respective districts and to notify the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands when clashes between Aborigines and white settlers occurred. Violent incidents were frequent, particularly in the early years of settlement. Lives were lost on both sides and property and stock stolen or destroyed. The Commissioners’ Reports indicate that conflict in the Wide Bay, Burnett and Leichhardt Districts was more serious, and in some instances more protracted, than in the Moreton Bay and Darling Downs districts with more frequent raids by Aborigines on settlers’ homes and massacres perpetrated by both sides. By the power invested in the Commissioners as Magistrates, it was their duty to investigate the circumstances surrounding each incident and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
In July 1842, Stephen Simpson, writing to the Colonial Secretary, expressed his concern over the ongoing hostilities in the Moreton Bay District which included the murder of two men, one employed by Francis Bigge and another employed by David McConnel. Similarly Christopher Rolleston reported a raid on Mr Bligh’s property on the Darling Downs where one man was killed and a number of sheep stolen. Further loss of life resulted from an Aboriginal raid on Mr. Isaac’s pastoral run. One worker was killed and many Aborigines were shot in retaliation.
Christopher Rolleston’s second Report to the Colonial Secretary indicates that the situation had eased by 1845. Clashes between Aborigines and settlers were becoming less frequent but some stock was still being lost. Rolleston reports on his attempts to befriend the local Indigenous people who were loath to trust Europeans following a spate of incidents in which shepherds and stockmen had assaulted Aboriginal women. Rolleston persevered in his endeavours by distributing blankets, tomahawks and clothes to the Aborigines and, as a result, he reported an improvement in relations.
Later that year, in response to a request from the New South Wales government, Rolleston submitted a detailed report on the Indigenous people in the Darling Downs district in which he indicated that he was unable to give an accurate figure regarding the number of Aborigines in the Darling Downs district but that relations between Aborigines and pastoralists had improved and no violent incidents had occurred in the previous twelve months.
As relations between European settlers and Indigenous people were beginning to improve in the Darling Downs district, clashes between local settlers and Aborigines in the Wide Bay district increased and fatalities on both sides were common. John Bidwill expressed his growing concern over the ongoing hostilities, not just in remote areas but also close to the township of Maryborough and urged the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands to assign more Border Police to the District.
In 1852, Bidwill himself was the subject of a daring raid on his home and on the Police barracks situated on his property. Bidwill was forced to erect a high fence to deter the local Indigenous people from stealing firearms from the barracks, vegetables from his garden and sheep from his stock pens.
The situation had scarcely improved by the time Arthur Halloran was appointed to the Wide Bay District in 1854 following the death of John Bidwill the previous year. Halloran wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands urgently requesting that the Native Police Officers temporarily assigned to the District be permanently appointed as the number of Aborigines near Maryborough was increasing and white settlers, himself included, deemed it dangerous to travel anywhere unaccompanied.
The experience of William Wiseman, Commissioner for the Leichhardt, was similar. In his 1856 Report he recounts instances where lives were lost at Baimes and on another property owned by Mr Young situated between Mr. Larcom and the Great Dividing Range. He reported that the white settlers were in a state of panic and constantly in fear of attack by the Aborigines. It was his belief that the actions of the “treacherous natives” should be “followed with adequate punishment”. Although Wiseman felt duty bound to follow orders from the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, George Barney, which advocated a conciliatory approach towards the Indigenous people, his experiences led him to believe that conciliation would only lead to more loss of life and destruction of property. He urged the government to provide adequate protection to those who settled on the frontier rather than allowing police keeping duties to fall into the hands of individuals, many of whom abused their power.
Mediating disputes among local pastoralists and dealing with complaints involving other officials
The New South Wales government appointed surveyors and Crown Lands Commissioners concurrently. Government surveyors were tasked with surveying the land prior to the first pastoral land sales and the sale of allotments in proposed town sites. Henry Wade was appointed as Surveyor in charge of the Moreton Bay District in 1842 and surveyed the site for both Brisbane and Ipswich. Francis McCabe surveyed the area around Port Curtis and the future township of Gladstone and Hugh Labatt was responsible for surveying the Wide Bay district. Relations between surveyors and the Crown Lands Commissioners were not always amicable. (Queensland Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying, ‘First surveys’, online at https://www.qld.gov.au/recreation/arts/heritage/museum-of-lands/first-survey)
Stephen Simpson, in his letter to the Colonial Secretary in 1842, recounts various altercations he had with Henry Wade as a result of Wade’s threatening behaviour, insulting conduct and neglect of duty. Wade was generally regarded as a trouble maker and his services as surveyor were eventually terminated in 1844.
Maurice O’Connell, Government Resident and Crown Lands Commissioner for Port Curtis and Surveyor Francis McCabe often clashed. In 1854, O’Connell complained to the Colonial Secretary that McCabe had failed to care for William Berry, a member of the survey team. Berry had become ill and when McCabe failed to act, Berry was required to seek help from O’Connell who was then obliged to arrange passage for Berry to Sydney to seek medical attention.
The Commissioner of Crown Lands for Wide Bay, Arthur Halloran, spent much of his time settling disputes between local pastoralists. In 1853 he resolved an ongoing dispute regarding rightful ownership of new pastoral runs claimed by Messrs Brierly and MacTaggart. Halloran was required to investigate the matter by speaking to all the parties involved and examining the runs in person along with Surveyor Hugh Labatt. He then sent his report to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands.
Undertaking expeditions to discover new grazing lands and to monitor pastoral runs
Soon after their appointments as Crown Lands Commissioners, Stephen Simpson, Christopher Rolleston, John Bidwill and William Wiseman undertook arduous journeys to survey the extent of their pastoral districts and to report on the suitability of the land for either agriculture or sheep and cattle grazing.
As early as March 1843, Stephen Simpson, accompanied by Mr Christopher Eipper, a German missionary based at Zion’s Hill (Nundah), four members of the Border Police Force and six prisoners who were put in charge of the bullock dray, set off from Simpson’s base at Woogaroo (Goodna) to determine the northern limits of the Moreton Bay district. They proceeded via Mount Brisbane to Kilcoy where Evan and Colin Mackenzie leased pastoral land, then went on to Durundur, leased by David Archer. Following a gruelling trek over the Conondale Range they reached the property of John Eales at Tiaro on 20 March. There they found the schooner Edward moored in a creek on the property which at that time was managed by Mr Joliffe. Simpson’s expedition returned to Woogaroo on 27 April having covered a distance of approximately 500 miles (800 kilometres).
In 1843 Christopher Rolleston also undertook a survey of his pastoral district which at that time had no defined northern boundary. The journey took him along the Boyne River and into the areas around Wide Bay. Apart from exploring new pastoral lands, he also reported on the climate and on the availability of timber.
John Bidwill, acting on instructions from Governor William Denison, set out on a journey to survey a new route from Maryborough to Brisbane. Accompanied by a small group of men, he left his base at Tinana Creek and headed for Durundur near Woodford but he became disoriented in the rugged terrain around the Glasshouse Mountains and exhausted his food supplies. With assistance from the local Aborigines, he eventually arrived at Durundur and later returned to Maryborough but he was so debilitated by his experiences that he died soon after at the age of 38.
William Wiseman, appointed as Crown Lands Commissioner for the Leichhardt District in 1855, initially lived in a tent on Rannes station, owned by James Leith Hay. He regularly undertook dangerous journeys alone through rugged country as far south as Taroom and as far west as Peak Downs but in 1859 he began what proved to be a most ambitious and arduous expedition. With the help of Frederick Walker, a Native Police Officer, he ventured over the Bigge and Expedition Ranges to report on pastoral runs around the Comet River. He then rode as far south as Carnarvon Creek and west to the Buckland Plateau where he reported that the country was well suited for sheep and cattle but that some areas lacked a reliable source of water. The two men also explored Mimosa Creek and noted its confluence with the Dawson River. Wiseman’s expeditions often lasted up to three months through what he termed the “extraordinarily large and wild district” he was commissioned to administer. (Mc Donald, L., Rockhampton: A History of City and District, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1981, pp. 45-46)
One of the most time consuming duties of the Crown Lands Commissioners was the writing of reports demanded by the Colonial Secretary and the Chief Crown Lands Commissioner on behalf of the New South Wales Government. From an examination of the Commissioners’ Letterbooks, it appears that clerks were not automatically assigned to assist the Commissioners, at least in the early years of their appointment. Apart from annual reports on the condition of the local Indigenous people, Commissioners were required to report on their Border Police Force, on the condition of the land for stock and on the location for possible townships. Records also had to be kept regarding the number of convicts in the area, the population of the district, and the number and type of schools that had been established.
On his appointment to the Wide Bay Pastoral district in 1848, John Bidwill reported to the Colonial Secretary on the small settlement that had been established along the Mary River and on the surrounding district. He particularly noted the geological formations and the suitability of the land for pastoral purposes.
Commissioners were also required to write quarterly reports on the Conduct of their Border Police Officers and to submit other statistics including census figures, stock numbers, agricultural returns, register of pastoral runs and reports on schools in the district. This information was vital in determining the location of future settlements including the need for postal services, magistrates’ courts and schools and as an indication of future revenue the government could collect from pastoral leases and business licences.
Difficulties encountered by Commissioners of Crown Lands
When the Crown Lands Commissioners took up their positions it soon became apparent that their duties would far exceed those stated in their original terms of employment. The Districts to which they were assigned were rugged and isolated. Mail deliveries were erratic, and deliveries of food and other essentials were frequently delayed because of distance, poor roads, adverse weather conditions and lack of government funds. Commissioners were required to be resilient and adaptable when it came to handling local problems and coping with unexpected events.
When Maurice O’Connell was appointed as Government Resident and Crown Lands Commissioner of the Port Curtis pastoral district in 1854, he wrote to the Colonial Secretary outlining the unexpected costs incurred in establishing the settlement at Port Curtis and requesting an extra £1000 to defray his extra expenses. He noted the cost of employing stonemasons, carpenters and labourers was higher than expected and that the cost involved in the construction of stockyards and other preliminary work had not been budgeted for.
Earlier that month, O’Connell, whose duties included Harbour Master, had been obliged to engage the services of Captain Graham of the schooner Tom Tough to salvage goods from the Dutch ship the Hester which had foundered on Kent Reef north east of Gladstone in April 1854. The crew of the Hester had survived but crew members of another Dutch ship, the Doelwych, which struck the reef at the same time, were never found.
Due to his dual role of Government Resident and Crown Lands Commissioner for Port Curtis, O’Connell had many demands on his time. He was required to submit regular reports to the Colonial Secretary and to other government officials. As a result, shortly after his appointment he found it necessary to make application for the services of a clerk to assist him with the heavy load of correspondence required in the fulfilment of his duties.
In the Leichhardt district, William Wiseman was also experiencing difficulties. Apart from ongoing hostilities between settlers and the Indigenous people, disputes between pastoralists over property boundaries and the discomfort of living in a tent on Rannes station, he had to contend with a mail service that was constantly delayed because of bad weather, poor roads and regular attacks from the Aborigines. He was so concerned about the safety and reliability of the mail delivery that he felt it necessary to write to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands and suggest a different mail route.