In those old days it was a town with some prestige, inhabited by capable clever men, "fine old English gentlemen," with the rare courtesies and manners of that race.[1]

Ipswich landing place November 24, 1851 (sketch by Conrad Martens)

The dynamic between the first towns in the free settlement of the Moreton Bay district, Brisbane and Ipswich, was prickly, to say the least.

In 1891, the “travelling reporter” for the Queenslander, an illustrated weekly, began a series of articles about Ipswich and its history, entitled “The Land of Coal and Corn”.  The relationship between the two settlements is frequently mentioned.

The Queenslander 17 October 1891

The explorer Cunningham had been the first to notice the “Limestone Hills”.

Writing to Governor Darling on the 16th December, 1828, Allan Cunningham, the explorer, made use of the following words:--

"It is therefore highly probable that upon the site of these limestone hills a town will one day be raised."

Some two months before the penning of the despatch which contained this sentence Cunningham had rested for awhile on the calcareous hummocks called the Limestone Hills, on the right bank of the Bremer River, and almost on the very spot where the Ipswich Girls' Grammar School now stands.[2]

Not long after the establishment of the convict settlement in Brisbane, an outstation was set up at the Limestone Hills to produce lime to be used in the mortar that held together the stones in the buildings constructed with convict labour.

The Commissariat Stores building in Brisbane was built using this lime and still stands today.

Cunningham's Knoll and Hummock, postcard, Ipswich, 1912-1914 (Picture Ipswich)

At the end of the convict era, the outstation at the Limestone Hills became the township of Limestone. It did not retain its original name for too long because the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales was on his way.

Governor George Gipps (State Library of NSW)

In 1843 Governor Gipps visited Moreton Bay, and in company with Surveyor Warner, Surveyor Wade, Andrew Petrie, George Thorn, and others proceeded to Limestone in an open boat examining and surveying the river Bremer.

The Governor was struck with the place; a new township was speedily laid out, and duly and officially christened as Ipswich[3].

The first section of the town was at once marked out, including East-street and Bell-street, the former being the first street laid out and named in Ipswich. [4]

The change of name did not sit well with many of the original settlers.

It is questionable if Governor Gipps did well in changing the name of the place. Limestone is not an unmusical name, and it was at least suggestive of the formation of the surrounding country, while Ipswich has neither grace nor association nor anything else to recommend it. 

It may be truly said that the evil which men do lives after them.[5]

Ipswich was in a strategic position at the head of navigation of the Brisbane and Bremer Rivers, and with the rapid growth of the pastoral industry to the west became a busy river port.

The town also became the meeting place for the new wool barons and a rest and recreation centre for the up-country workers spending their pay cheques.

Brisbane Street, looking towards Limestone Hill, Ipswich, 1887 (Picture Ipswich)

While boom-town Ipswich became the squatter’s capital, Brisbane was considered down-market and still bearing the odour of the convict years.

It was the meeting place of all the sheep kings in the colony, and the old Club-house was the scene of many a midnight revel; it was the seat of learning, of politics, science, art, literature, and sport - the modern Athens.

Ipswich was then spoken of as the headquarters of the elite of Queensland and Brisbane a deserted outlying hamlet fit only to give a bandicoot the blues!

 .  .  .

In those old days it was a town with some prestige, inhabited by capable clever men, "fine old English gentlemen," with the rare courtesies and manners of that race.

And how hard they fought to make Ipswich the capital of Queensland! [6]

When Queensland became a separate colony in 1859, Brisbane was named as the capital. This resulted in an animosity between the citizens of Brisbane and Ipswich that lasted well into the 20th century.

pswich Punch cartoon showing a review of the Ipswich Volunteers in 1866 (John Oxley Library, SLQ)

In 1866 some of the clever young men in Ipswich created the satirical magazine, “Ipswich Punch”. The publication was hand-written and illustrated with jokes, lampoons, and cartoons.

One very effective weapon which they used was the Ipswich Punch, published monthly at the School of Arts by members of the "Punch Club."

It was Brisbane, however, which was the butt of all jokes and a popular object for ridicule. 

Contempt was poured upon the metropolis in every way. We find a schoolmaster eliciting from an Ipswich pupil the following replies to his questions:-

"Where is Brisbane, and for what is it noted?

The situation of Brisbane has never been dearly ascertained owing to the shifting of the mud, and it is noted for sheep's heads, lollies, corner allotments, insolvents, stagnant sewers, and the ancient ruins of a bridge.

Where is the great city of Ipswich, and for what is it famed?

It is situated on the banks of a noble river 16ft. 5½in. broad, and deep in proportion.

It is a convenient distance from Woogaroo[7], where the inhabitants take it in turn to reside free of charge.

It is noted for loafers, light weights, lawyers, sharp practice, and tight lacing."[8]

But perhaps with the hindsight of history, it is a matter of, as the French say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.[9]

[1] The Queenslander Saturday 14 November 1891
[2] The Queenslander Saturday 17 October 1891
[3] Named after Ipswich in Suffolk, England, one of the oldest towns in Britain. Interestingly the town's            medieval name was 'Gippeswic', and hence the connection with Governor Gipps.
[4] The Queenslander Saturday 17 October 1891
[5] The Queenslander Saturday 17 October 1891
[6] The Queenslander Saturday 14 November 1891
[7] Now Goodna, the site of what was then called the Lunatic Asylum.
[8] The Queenslander Saturday 14 November 1891
[9] the more things change, the more they stay the same (French proverb)

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

In 1842, the Northern Districts of the Colony of New South Wales (what is now South-east Queensland) was opened up to free settlement.  Before the advent of barbed wire[1] fencing, shepherds were in great demand to manage the burgeoning flocks of sheep run by the squatters.

Shepherd and his flock, hut and fold in the background (State Library of Queensland)

At the time there was no direct immigration into Moreton Bay from Europe. Labour had to be recruited from Sydney and incentives were provided in the form of free fare and a sign-on bonus.

Having landed in Brisbane, some of the recruits had second thoughts when they realised that it was an employee’s market and began to demand a better deal. This situation was reported in the Moreton Bay Courier.

Labour.-The steamer has brought thirty-six more labourers, most of whom have entered into engagements to proceed up the country. A few, however, have declined the remunerating offers made to them, and are now loitering about the town.

We are informed by a gentlemen, who wished to engage one of these men, that on questioning him respecting the kind of employment he sought, he stated that he wished to engage as hutkeeper, that his terms were £25 per annum, but he would not undertake to watch the sheep! Our informant thought this was rather cool, and, of course, declined to employ him under such conditions.

Many similar instances of men having the like crotchets in their heads, and refusing to bind themselves under agreement to become answerable for loss of property through neglect, have occurred. The stockholders should take a determined course, and refuse employment to such men, whose only object appears to be to obtain the largest remuneration for the least possible labour.

The wages paid to shepherds and hut- keepers in this district are higher than in any other part of the colony, and it might naturally be expected that their duties would be better performed here than elsewhere. Such, however, is not the case; there is a general complaint, as the records of the police-office will testify, of the slovenly manner in which the flocks are tended and watched by these well-paid individuals.

It is to be hoped that stringent measures will, in future, be adopted in order to correct the growing evil.[2]

A large mob of sheep at Barcaldine

Some imported workers were poached by local tradespeople in Brisbane Town much to the outrage of the squatters.

LABOUR:-Twenty-six labourers arrived by the steamer on Thursday week last. They have since entered into engagements, at an advance, in many cases, of £ 1 per. annum, to proceed up the country. The present rate of wages for good shepherds may be quoted at £25, and for hutkeepers £22 per annum, with good rations.

Several of the squatters have lately complained that many of the men sent down by Mr. Graham have remained in the town, and entered into the service of some of the tradesmen, contrary to the stipulations made in Sydney with Mr. Graham. The men who were engaged in Sydney were required to produce written discharges from their late employers, which documents were forwarded to Mr. Connolly, at South Brisbane, who, at the present time, holds a great number, the persons to whom they belong   not having applied for them.

The tradesmen who have engaged these men are as much to be blamed as the parties who have hired with them; and they have, moreover, rendered themselves liable to heavy penalties; the former for having engaged the men without written discharges, and the latter for fraudulent conduct in procuring free passages from Sydney under false pretences. They stipulated to proceed into the bush, and as honest men, they should have fulfilled their contracts.

Mr. Graham, we believe, has done all in his power, consistently with the limited means at his command, to facilitate the introduction of labour into the district, and it is rather too bad that his efforts, and those of the squatters, should be thwarted by men who have never contributed one farthing to the labour fund, and who are in a position to import their own labour at their own expense, without resorting to such shabby and dishonourable means of obtaining it.[3]

Idealised bucolic scene with shepherd and his dog (Conrad Martens)

Given the isolation and dangers of the shepherding life, it is not surprising that many were reluctant to take up life in the bush. There were many cases of shepherds and hut-keepers being attacked and killed by aborigines protecting their territory. 

Some of the hired labour preferred to linger in town and enjoy its attractions such as they were. Unfortunately they soon found themselves before the court.


On Tuesday, at the Police-office, Mr. Lawson, of the Boyne River, appeared before the Bench to prefer a complaint against John Tomkinson, for refusing to proceed to his station, after having hired as a shepherd, and received an advance of wages.

It appeared from Mr. Lawson's statement that the fellow had started on three different occasions with the intention of proceeding to Limestone, where Mr. Lawson's drays were loading, in order that he might accompany them to the station. Each time he returned to Brisbane with various excuses, and got drunk in the public houses, until Mr. Lawson's patience became exhausted, and he determined on making an example of him.

The Police Magistrate told the defendant that his behaviour had been excessively bad, and to convince him and others that they could not commit such offences with impunity, the Bench sentenced him to three months imprisonment with hard labour in the Sydney House of Correction.[4]

The shortage of labour would continue in the following years and prompt vigorous debate regarding possible alternatives such as the resumption of convict transportation and  the importation of cheap labour from China and India.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1] Barbed wire would not come into use until the 1870s. (Wiki)

[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 15 August 1846

[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 19 September 1846

[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 2 January 1847


In the steadily growing inland port town of Ipswich on the Bremer River, popular entertainments were starting to be staged in the late 1850s. A purpose built Music Hall had been constructed behind a hotel near the river. In 1857, a touring group performed an American variety programme, popular at the time, which featured items from minstrel shows. The local press gave extensive coverage to a performance by the “New Orleans Serenaders”.

Advertisement for the Steam packet Hotel (The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser 5.8.1857)

THE NEW ORLEANS' SERENADERS. — During the past few days these talented musicians have given a series of entertainments, which were but thinly attended, owing to the inclemency of the weather; and, on Saturday evening last, they gave their farewell vocal and instrumental concert to a highly respectable and numerous audience, under the patronage of Colonel Gray, P.M., at the new Music Hall — a spacious wood building ---lately erected, behind the Steam-Packet Hotel, East Street.

The programme consisted of a first-rate selection of songs, refrains, burlesques, dances &c, among   which may be particularly noticed "the Opening Chorus" a well merited and literary production, which was sung with great taste;

'Lilly Bell' was also rendered in a truly pathetic manner, and called forth universal applause; "the Medley Chorus" was very creditably introduced, each performer joining in merry chime in the harmonious strain , the favourite ballad "We met by chance'' was very happily accomplished; the humorous song "Jordan's a hard road to travel," introducing many popular local topics, was received with much enthusiasm, and led to an encore: "the Blue-tail fly" (with imitations), created much merriment, the humming having been so successfully rendered as almost to deceive even the entomologist ;

the duet, "Sally is the gal for me", which was performed on the banjo and a horses' jaw-bones, produced much mirth; the Challenge dance, between Boley and Carson, was admirably executed, the betting of the performers having concluded entirely in favour of Dave Carson, which was conducted with great hilarity and emulation, both speculators very faithfully depicting the delineations of the coloured population of America.

Blackface Minstrels (University of Texas at Austin)

The evening's performances concluded with Miss Fanny Bloomer, in costume, by J. M. Foans, which was most effectually portrayed with much grace and spirit, and loudly elicited universal applause.

The whole evening's amusements were well responded to, and the unanimous approbation received stamps the company as a most clever and proficient troupe. The violin was played by Brower: the banjo by Boley; the tamborine by Foans; and the bones by Carson, the two latter gentlemen kept the audience in complete roars of laughter with their jokes and gestures.

Should they ever revisit our township, we trust that so interesting an entertainment will not be marred by   the absence of fine weather and good roads.[1]

Magic Lantern (Wikimedia)

Not all entertainments at the Music Hall were variety shows. Also popular at the time were magic lantern shows, featuring hand painted coloured slides, called Chromatropes[2], of diverse subjects such as scenes from foreign cities, nature, and “comic Figures”.

Magic lanterns were an early form of projector, using a variety of non-electric light sources such as limelight. By moving two superimposed coloured slides, action scenes could be simulated.

The program was invariably accompanied by a narration and piano music.

The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser 15.12.1857

Many shows were presented by a self-styled professor, featuring new wonders of invention and illusion.  In 1859, Professor Bennet Clay visited Ipswich and set up his show at the Music Hall.

Magic Lantern Show (Wikimedia)

The program was finished with a magic lantern presentation. Popular at the time were scenes from the battlefront and in the 1850s, these were from the Crimean War.

The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser 5.4.1859
© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1] The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser Tuesday 25 August 1857

[2] A magic-lantern slide consisting of two superposed circular glasses, brilliantly coloured,            one of which is made to rotate in front of the other. OED

[3] The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser Tuesday 15 December 1857

[4] A musical instrument named for the Greek muse of music, Euterpe.

[5] The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser Tuesday 5 April 1859