“Hail! strangers, hail’: Scots in Queensland

This article, by Judith Nissen, was originally published on the Queensland State Archives website, March 2013.
Hail! strangers, hail! right welcome to our shore,
We wish you joy, – Eden could yield no more…
                    — “Frederick”, 12 February 1849

By the time the Moreton Bay Courier welcomed Reverend John Dunmore Lang’s Fortitude, the Scots already had a toehold here.

Despite relatively small numbers (compared with the English, Irish and, increasingly, the native born) the history of the Scots in Queensland encompasses themes of pastoralism and mining, surveying and settling the land, establishing government, cultural and social institutions, and building towns and cities. Scratch a Queenslander today and you may well find a touch of the thistle. In 1861 Scottish-born Queenslanders were 8 per cent of the population, and 4 per cent by federation. Across Australia, in 2011 8.9 per cent of Australians claimed some level of Scottish ancestry.

Records for the Moreton Bay penal settlement include each convict’s place of origin and the numbers of Scots. From the earliest days of free settlement Scots occupied every strata of society. John Clements Wickham, Police Magistrate from January 1843 then Government Resident from 1853, was the senior authority north of the Tweed. Scot John Gregor was the Church of England Minister, William Augustine Duncan was the Sub-Collector of Customs, and Dr David Ballow the Government Medical Officer.

The 1840s squattocracy in Moreton Bay, the Darling Downs, the Burnett and further afield was generously endowed with Scottish blood – the McConnell brothers of Cressbrook, Evan and Colin Mackenzie of Kilcoy, and the Archers of Durundur and later Gracemere, are but a few. The fledgling city of Brisbane boasted numerous Scottish tradespeople, shopkeepers and labourers – butchers and bakers, hotel keepers, blacksmiths, sawyers, carriers and more.

So, how can we explore the diverse stories of Scots in Queensland? The Scots were not ‘aliens’ in the administrative sense — they required no special migration or naturalisation monitoring or action by the authorities. Unlike peoples from many mainland European and Asian countries, as a national group the Scots generated few government records.

The history of Queensland Scots reflects the history of Queensland as a whole — many relevant research sources pertain to the founding and development of towns, ports, pastoral and mining enterprises (to name a few). The life and times of one Scot reflect the experiences of many, and shed light on the range and depth of records that may be useful in tracing the personal, business and community involvements of Scots in colonial Queensland.

William Pettigrew was one of those Fortitude immigrants welcomed so fulsomely by the Moreton Bay Courier. Trained as a surveyor and appointed surveyor to Lang’s abortive Cooksland settlement scheme, Pettigrew’s wide-ranging interests eventually encompassed timber cutting and saw milling, ship ownership, and political representation at local and colonial levels.

William Pettigrew (1825-1906), by unknown photographer, 1870 Brisbane City Council Library, BCC-B120-33464

Pettigrew’s increasing standing in the community is reflected in a number of different records, some notified in the Queensland Government Gazette, and its indexes. In February 1864 Pettigrew was sworn as a Justice of the Peace by Judge Alfred Lutwyche. Pettigrew also served as a Brisbane Municipal Council alderman for two decades from 1863. As a member of the Caboolture Divisional Board from its inception, Pettigrew’s interests in the local area are documented in the minutes of that board. For example, on 4 January 1881 he successfully moved that the board not support a petition for construction of a jetty at Bramble Bay (Redcliffe).

The following selection of official letters and records document Pettigrew’s business activities.

Acquisition of land generated records such as for portion 62 in Mooloolah Parish in 1873 – 184 acres of forest and ‘deep swamp’. The selection was converted to freehold after payment of 10 years’ annual rent. His ownership of land within the Caboolture Divisional Board area is documented in the Caboolture Valuation Register. His Brisbane sawmill allotments, value totalling £270 in 1860, on the Brisbane River appear in the Brisbane Municipal Council Rate Book.

Timber cutting required licensing and, over the decades, Pettigrew & Co held numerous timber licenses. One major area of activity was Wide Bay. The Maryborough Bench of Magistrates recorded timber licences from 1866 onwards for the cutting of cedar and pine at £2 per licence, as well as hardwood (£1 per licence).

Sometimes business generated rather less routine correspondence. In August 1876 Pettigrew complained to the Secretary for Lands John Douglas of the ‘extraordinary conduct of Crown Lands Ranger W. Pengally’ who seized cut timber on the apparently mistaken assumption that no licences were held. Further letters addressed the need to protect licensees who spent considerable sums of money opening up lands, including constructing roads and rail lines, in their quest for timber. By 1883 Pettigrew had three decades’ experience in the timber trade, and the government sought his opinions on forest conservation, varieties of timbers and their strength and durability.

Pettigrew’s steam sawmill, built in 1853 on the banks of the Brisbane River, was the first in the colony. The stone-and-timber wharf, as well as the mill building and associated sheds and cottages, were documented in an 1895 survey plan. The cut timber needed to be milled and transported to market. The Mary Ann was the first Queensland-built steam locomotive. On 5 August 1873 William Pettigrew sent a photograph of the Mary Ann to Governor Normanby, along with a letter that described its purpose and detailed progress in building the rail track for transporting timber from Thannae to Tin Can Bay.

Letter from William Pettigrew to the Governor of Queensland 5 August 1873
petti train
Photograph of the Mary Ann. The first locomotive engine built in Queensland, 1873.

The eventual failure of Pettigrew’s companies generated a wealth of documentation. Winding-up files generally included financial records and statements by the insolvents about assets and liabilities and the perceived causes of insolvency. Pettigrew described his ‘misfortunes through floods of 1890 and 1893 and losses consequent thereon’ and ‘pressure of creditors’. At the time of Pettigrew’s insolvency in the mid 1890s, his assets included sawmills, a grain mill, extensive land holdings including central Brisbane, Mooloolah, Maroochy, Cleveland, Eagle Junction and Enoggera, the steamer Tarshaw, cattle, surveying instruments, and the ‘furniture, fixings and fittings’ at his Eagle Junction residence. Evidently his paddle steamer Hercules had sunk, as the costs of raising and cleaning the Hercules prior to sale in 1894 were documented. Other documents describe the ‘keen competition in trade – the number of sawmills far beyond the requirements of the trade; depression in trade; and destruction of property and loss of timber by floods’. After these financial disasters William Pettigrew disappears from the official record, with no trace found of his will after his death in 1906, in Bowen.

Many records, government and private, make up the mosaic which is the wide-ranging story of the Scots in Queensland. It remains to the researcher to dive in, and enjoy the Scots’ varied stories to be found at Queensland State Archives.

Judith Nissen

About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au.

5 Responses

  1. Peter Eedy

    The Scots were also responsible for the formation of the first association football (soccer) clubs and soccer football association in Brisbane (and Queensland). They initially played at the former Queen’s Park (Alice Street), where they were referred to by the Rugby and Victorian Rules players as ‘Scotch rulers’.

    The first three Brisbane clubs also adopted names of Scottish football clubs: Rangers (formed in 1883), St Andrews and Queen’s Park (both 1884), who together formed a local football association in 1884

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