Who Were the Midnight Runners?

This striking photo shows the rain-dampened opening of the Blackall train line in 1908. The gathered crowd, band and dignitaries were in full celebration as feet stomped across the mud. Speeches were given, the music played. And then a moment of strangeness took centre stage.

ITM2109352: Train and crowd at Blackall Railway Station, C.1907-1909

The Queenslander, covering the speeches on 23 May 1908, reported that a speech was delivered by a Mr A. D. Murphy, the president of the ‘Midnight Runners’, who ‘called on his men to give a silent cheer’ to the railway line. As The Queenslander continued to report, they did so ‘in the weird and mysterious manner characteristic of that order.’

But who were the mysterious Midnight Runners?

In 1908, The Brisbane Courier claimed that the Midnight Runners were originally from Blackall, had formed in 1906 and had ‘spread through the bloods of the West, while branches had been established even so far away as London.’ The only notable feature of the brotherhood, aside from silent cheers, was the recruitment of new members. As The Brisbane Courier noted, a recruit would be identified and the cry of ‘Scouts, do your duty’ would herald the most elaborate of recruitment processes. Midnight Runners were to abandon whatever activity they were engaged in, ‘even cease their love-making’, to bring the recruit to the meeting house by physical force. ‘He was carried to the altar and inducted with all ceremony – and some pain both to the spirit and the flesh,’ The Brisbane Courier detailed.

ITM2109351: Photographic material: Blackall-Tambo Region – Group of men outside workshop, c.1907-1909

It seemed no one was safe from the Runners’ plans, for kidnappings occurred during bridge games and even when the unsuspecting victim was engaged in mundane paperwork.

A final clue to the Midnight Runners was presented in The Queenslander on 13 June 1908 in which they described the enthusiastic send-off of one of the paper’s reporters from Blackall. ‘At the Blackall Club the Midnight Runners had assembled to bid bon voyage in champagne.’ But there the investigative trail runs cold. Aside from these three articles from 1908, little record can be found of the mysterious brotherhood of the Midnight Runners.

Hopefully, they are still out there somewhere. Raising a very silent cheer.

ITM2109355: Photographic material; Blackall-Tambo Region – Crowd standing in pavillion, c.1907-1909

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8 Responses

  1. Nunov Yorbiznes

    Excellent article, however:
    “Our curiosity was peaked, who were the Midnight Runners?”
    Your curiosity may have reached its peak when it was piqued, but it was not peaked.

  2. Mark Walsh

    Great story. Let’s hope we can find more details. I have found bits and pieces about the Barcaldine Branch of the Midnight Runners in the Western Champion but the comments box doesn’t allow pasting.

  3. Barry Muir

    Could it have been a form of men’s quirky, light hearted social based body formed to foster fellowship and progress within a community, something after the style of APEX or ROTARY? There was a Buffalo Lodge and Foresters Order as well as a Masonic Lodge active in Blackall during this period of time, all with their own halls. The “Midnight Runners”, a seemingly more spontaneous order were obviously definite supporters of the railway to Blackall and one would suspect very capable of keeping a trainload of dignitaries entertained into the wee hours of the morning.

  4. Barry Muir

    In my previous post, I have made an error. One hall was the Foresters Buffalo Lodge which later became the CWA hall while the other was the Oddfellows association whose hall on the corner of Thistle and Clematis streets became the Smith’s Garage flats. Sorry about that.

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