by Mike O’Callaghan
Mike O’Callaghan grew up in Irvinebank and worked as a clerk/office boy for John Moffat for 7 years before John Moffat retired in 1912.
This is to be a historical record of the township of Irvinebank. Irvinebank has somewhat of a fascinating history, and it is my intention to try to give to the people of the present generation some of the earlier history and perhaps some of the later history of this once bright mining town.
William Jack and John Newell were employed by John Moffat in Stanthorpe and sent to investigate reports of rich tin lodes having been discovered in the remote frontier regions of far north Queensland. It was actually James Venture Mulligan who discovered tin in Herberton in 1875.
Jack and Newell and Brandon and Brown who first found tin in Herberton in the 1879-1880 period were perhaps mainly responsible for the finding of tin in other areas, Watsonville and in Irvinebank. Tin was found in Watsonville about 1881 and prospectors moved out from Herberton and came among the ranges to what was to be known later on as Irvinebank.
The party who first made the discovery of tin in Irvinebank consisted of Jimmy Gibbs, Jim McDonald, Billy Eales, Andy Thompson, Dave Green, Jack Green and Jack Pollard. That was about 1883. Strange as it may seem, Jack and Newell and Brown and Brandon who had found the Great Northern in Herberton were mainly responsible for bringing into the area, a man named John Moffat.
They realised the importance of having a tin-dressing plant in Herberton for the treatment of their ores, and Jack and Newell, who had been in association with Moffat in the Tenterfield, Tent Hill area and in Stanthorpe, got in touch with Moffat, and the party offered him a quarter share in the Great Northern mine, conditionally on his undertaking the erection of a tin dressing plant in that locality.
This Moffat agreed to accept. Moffat himself had been in partnership with a man named Robert Love as storekeepers, first in Stanley Street, South Brisbane, and with the finding of tin in the Stanthorpe area, they extended their operations to Stanthorpe.
It was whilst in Stanthorpe that Jack and Newell became closely associated with Moffat. Moffat at the same time, had become closely associated with John Holmes Reid, a young man who was then engaged in tin mining in the Stanthorpe area. It was as a consequence of his association with Reid that Moffat became interested in mining and smelting.
Anyway, Moffat accepted the offer of the Jack and Newell party to come to Herberton to build a battery and he arrived in Herberton late in 1880. He set about the erection of a battery and the construction of a dam and took up his residence in Herberton. He lived in Herberton until 1882, when he made an overseas visit to his native land, and he also embraced the opportunity of investigating the tin mines in Cornwall, and the mining and smelting works in Belgium and Germany.
On his return to Herberton in 1883 the chief talk was about the great tin find at Gibbs’s Camp by Gibbs and party. Moffat got a bit interested in this, and on investigation, he negotiated for the purchase of the Great Southern Mine which was the find that had been made by Gibbs and party.
Well now, of the original prospecting party, only one of the prospectors remained and lived in Irvinebank throughout the years. Jimmy Gibbs himself, entered the hotel keeping business in Watsonville, and lived there for many years, and he died in Watsonville and is buried in the cemetery there. He died about 1906. Jim McDonald, one of the prospecting party, took up land in the Atherton Tableland area, and engaged in farming there, and is most likely buried in the Atherton Cemetery. Billy Eales, the only one of the prospectors to continue residence there, lived in Irvinebank all through the years, and passed away there about 1913. He is buried in the Irvinebank cemetery. Andy Thompson went off to Western Australia in the gold boom of the nineties and he never returned to this area. Dave Green subsequently entered the newspaper business and became the editor and virtually the manager of the North Queensland Newspaper Company with headquarters at Charters Towers and later he moved on to Townsville, where the North Queensland Newspaper Company still operates, publishing the Townsville Bulletin and The North Queensland Register. What became of his brother I don’t know, neither do I know what became of Jack Pollard.
Anyway, on Moffat acquiring the Southern Mine, he immediately shifted from Herberton to Irvinebank, and this was probably the greatest thing that could have happened to Irvinebank. What was Herberton’s loss was Irvinebank’s gain. Immediately on coming to Irvinebank, Moffat set about the erection of a tin battery and also the construction of a dam. The two creeks which form the basis of the dam at Irvinebank were known as Gibbs Creek and McDonald Creek, after the earliest prospectors. The battery was erected on the Gibbs Creek frontage, and the dam was constructed just below the junction of these two creeks and embraced an area, when full, of about 12 – 13 acres of water, with depths varying from about 15 feet down to about 2 or 3 feet.
The battery first constructed was a five head stamp mill, and with the crushing facilities available, it brought many prospectors to the area. Many more mines were found in the vicinity and Moffat found it necessary to be continually adding to the dressing plant, and it went from five head to ten head, ten to fifteen head, from fifteen head to twenty head, from twenty head to thirty head, from thirty head to forty head of stampers with the necessary dressing appliances, and he also erected a Huntingdon Ball Mill for the treatment of the more friable ores such as came from the Governor Norman Mine. So the crushing capacity at the Irvinebank mill was very considerable.
Moffat, at the same time, went into the business of tin purchasing, and the purchasing of other metals. A tin smelter was built at Irvinebank in the early nineties for the treatment of the concentrates from the battery and also of the alluvial deposits in the area, and in 1904 a second smelter was commissioned to enable the whole of the ores treated to be dealt with at the smelters in Irvinebank. The smelters, as a consequence, necessitated the use of very considerable quantities of firewood, and many Italians were engaged in the supply of firewood, both to the battery and to the smelters. The Italians who were engaged in the firewood supplies for the working of the battery, also were the charcoal burners. They had had considerable experience in their home land in the art of making charcoal, and very large quantities of it were required for the smelter and for the blacksmithing works.
I might mention that the battery commenced crushing in November 1885, and with the crushing facilities available, it meant many more prospectors entered the area, and mines continued to be opened up throughout the whole of the areas for which Irvinebank was the centre. Among the mines earlier found, in addition to the Southern were the Red King, the White King, the Tyrconnell, the Garabaldi, the Comet, the Tornado, the Valetta, the Governor Norman, the Ibis, and in 1888 a team of Italian woodcutters found what was to become the greatest mine of them all, that is, the Vulcan Mine.
They were engaged cutting wood on the Vulcan Mine Hill, and they got on to a streak of tin there and got quite interested in it. They sent a crushing to the battery but the first crushing didn’t pay its way; but they were still impressed with the possibilities of the mine, and continued working, and as they sank the shaft, the ore got richer and the lode got bigger, and they eventually got a crushing out of about 100 tons from which they realised about £4,000. A number of the residents of Irvinebank who were engaged mostly in mining and working around the mill had realised the importance of the Italians’ find, and they bought them out for £2,000. A syndicate of twenty two was formed – they put in £100 each, which enabled them to buy the mine and they immediately set about working it. From 1890 up to about 1921 the production of tin concentrates from the Vulcan Mine totalled between 12 000 and 13 000 tons. This, on present day prices, would be worth about 25-26 million dollars – quite a considerable sum of money.
It was really the Vulcan that was the mainstay of Irvinebank throughout the years, and, from about 1896 to 1915, it kept thirty head of stampers going continuously. It was very hard chloride ore and it took a deal of crushing, but results, of course, were well worth it. Moffat himself had not been a large shareholder in the original Vulcan syndicate, but over the years he had acquired quite a lot of shares as they became available, and by about 1906 he owned about two-thirds of the shares in the mine. The company, known as the Vulcan Tin Mining Co. No Liability, prospered right from the start, and whilst they did not increase their capital, they extended the number of shares, and up to about 1906 there were 44, 000 £1 shares. In 1906 the directors decided to bread up the shares and to increase the number to 264 000 shares and the amount of that dividend per month was about £3, 300, of which John Moffat’s share was approximately £2,200. So it will be generally accepted that it was the Vulcan Mine which was largely responsible for the large expansion that Moffat was enabled to carry on, not only in Irvinebank but in the whole of the district adjacent thereto, which extended as far as Chillagoe, Mt. Garnet, Mt. Molloy, Mt Carbine, Wolfram Camp and Koorboora, and one can see from this that it was the Vulcan Mine which really provided the wherewithal that enabled all this great expansion of North Queensland mines.
In 1906 the directors of the Vulcan Mine consisted of Jim Brodie (Chairman of Directors), George Bradbury, Jack Donaldson, Joe Mitchell and Bobby Wyatt. The Secretary was Jim Tunnie, the manager was Syd Sheppard. The first manager of the Vulcan Mine, after the acquisition of the mine from the Italians by the syndicate, was Tom Swan. He was there for a few years and then he was followed by Denny Lucey. At the time of the boom in Mt Garnet, at the latter part of the last century, Denny Lucey resigned, and engaged in hotelkeeping in the Mt Garnet district, and he was followed by Syd Sheppard. Syd had been a miner in the mine for some years at that time and he proved to be the most successful of the managers which the Vulcan Company ever had.
It was during his period of management that the Vulcan was at its highest peak of production. He also had, as underground manager, a brother of his named Arthur. Well now, Arthur Sheppard’s chief recreation in life was prospecting and he engaged in it almost every weekend. It was during this period, when he was underground manager of the Vulcan, that he found a trace of tin on the Tornado Lease. The Tornado Lease, by the same token, was owned three parts by John Moffat and one part by C. B. Alexander. This lead, that Arthur Sheppard opened in his spare time, began to open out a bit, and he told his brother Syd about it; Syd got six months tribute, just by word of mouth, from Moffat and Alexander. This small outcrop, with a bit of work on it, became greatly enlarged, and the Sheppard brothers were naturally anxious to make the most of the thing during their six month tribute – they put on many miners and a couple of shifts to get out all they could. This rather irritated the owners of the place. They rather felt they were not being treated entirely fairly in the matter, and it resulted in very large litigation. It is cited in the courts today as the Tornado Litigation case.
The litigation that ensued in respect of the Tornado was unfortunately responsible for creating a rather difficult atmosphere between the owners (the tributors ) and the Vulcan directors, who were all mostly employed by John Moffat anyway; and it definitely had an adverse effect on the Vulcan Mine, without a doubt. The feelings got so great that eventually Syd Sheppard left the management of the Vulcan Mine, and he was doubtless the best that the Vulcan Mine ever engaged as manager. The production of the Vulcan Mine after Syd Sheppard’s departure went on the decline. Syd Sheppard himself was followed by a chap named Dick Rolfe. Dick was copper miner, who knew very little about tin. He was a capable enough miner but, as I say, anyone who has worked in tin mines knows that tin is a pretty tricky metal, and Dick Rolfe never succeeded in getting anything like the results in the Vulcan Mine that Syd Sheppard had got.
Rolfe was there for a number of years, and he was succeeded by a chap named Ted Thomas. Ted Thomas was a good miner too, but had not the experience in tin that Sheppard had had. After Ted Thomas, there were a few other chaps who followed on, and Jim Dawson eventually became the manager of the Vulcan Mine. He had worked in the Vulcan Mine for a number of years during Syd Sheppard’s regime. But still the mine declined. Syd Sheppard came back as manager about 1920, but unfortunately he had been away from the mine for many, many years then, and possibly could not be expected to pick up the trend of where he had left off, and, as a consequence, the mine never again showed the great production it had in earlier years.
The Vulcan Mine actually started from the surface and was sunk to a depth of 1440 ft. It was the deepest tin mine in Australia. Levels were opened up at different parts of the mine. The first level, I think, was at 100 feet, 200, 350, 450, 600, 750, 900, 1050, 1220, and the bottom of the shaft and it had a first class winding plant on it, built by Walkers Ltd. In Maryborough. All the ore in those days was transported from the mine to the battery in horse drays, and about 1913, after John Moffat had left Irvinebank, the then General Manager, John Holmes Reid, who succeeded Moffat, got in contact with Ropeways Limited, a London Construction firm, with a view to erecting ropeways up in this mountainous area, and the first ropeway built by Ropeways Limited, was from the Governor Norman Mine to the Irvinebank batteries.
Anyone not knowing about these ropeways would be rather amazed to see the simplicity with which the buckets coming from the mine left the rope and then re-engaged on it after going around the turn at the hoppers. The Governor Norman ropeway was about 2 miles in length – it was on an endless rope, of course – with a big pulley wheel at either end, driven by a steam engine at the battery end. This reduced the cost of transport from the Governor Norman Mine from about five shillings a ton down to about sixpence or ninepence a ton – a pretty considerable saving. Well, the Vulcan directors, after seeing the operations of the Governor Norman ropeway, decided on a ropeway from the Vulcan Mine to the battery. This was about a little over a mile in length, I think. It ran direct from the mine across a point on the hospital hill, right across the middle of the dam and into the battery hoppers. This reduced the cost of transport from the Vulcan Mine from about 2/6d or 2/9d a ton down to about 6d a ton, so one can see that there was a very big saving effected in the transport costs as a consequence of the ropeway.
The motor age had not started. In those days, of course, there were no motor cars and no motor trucks. The internal combustion engine had not been developed to the degree that it has now. Perhaps it is unfortunate that it hadn’t been, because I feel that the district would have greatly benefited by the improved means of transport that are available today. There had been a big increase in the population of Irvinebank from about 1902 onwards, and, with this increase, many additional prospectors engaged in the locating of tin and many hundreds of tin shows were found in and around Irvinebank and district. Many of the people coming into the place were from the New England District in New South Wales, where tin mines had been operating for a number of years. These chaps knew their tin, and opened up tin shows almost everywhere.
It was during this great period of prosperity that there came to Irvinebank two brothers named Percy Theodore and Ted Theodore. Both of these men were possessed of fine physiques, were young, and had had considerable mining experience in both Broken Hill and Western Australia. Needless to say, they had no difficulty in getting work at the Vulcan Mine in Irvinebank. Both were experienced miners; rock drills had been installed in the mine there, and Ted Theodore and Percy, his brother, were both in charge of rock drills.
It might appear strange that up to the time of the Theodore’s arrival in Irvinebank, no unions had ever existed in the area, and it would almost appear that Theodore was destined for what was to happen afterwards. He immediately engaged in organising the Australian Workers’ Association, and also the Natives’ Association, and he had quite a large following in Irvinebank. As a consequence, he never made any attempt at that time to organise any of the mines operated directly by John Moffat and the Irvinebank Mining Company nor any of the works and smelters operated by them. But he certainly did a good job in organising at the Vulcan Mine.
It had been the custom, for many years earlier, that men working in those areas received 48 hours pay for 44 hours work. That means to say, that on the Saturday they were paid 8 hours for only 4 hours work. Theodore had set up an office in the Vulcan Hotel Buildings which was the office of the Australian Workers’ Association and the Australian Natives’ Association. Within twelve months of his arrival in Irvinebank, he had got all the Vulcan men very union conscious, and, as a result of this, he was appointed a district organiser of the union. He then immediately set about organising all the other mining places which embraced Stannary Hills, Chillagoe, Mungana, Koorboora, Mt. Molloy, and many others, which I just can’t recall. As a result of this Organisation, the employers were not unmindful of what was going on in this regard, and they decided to take steps to protect their own interests of course, and from the lst January 1909, all the mines, including the Vulcan, had notices placed stating that, as from 1st January 1909, 48 hours would have to be worked for 48 hours pay, in lieu of the 48 hours pay for 44 hours work which had obtained for many years. The miners at the Vulcan and at most of the other outside mining places resented this intrusion on what they regarded as their domain, and went on strike.
This strike lasted from January until about the middle of April. It had a very crippling effect upon the Vulcan, and also upon many other of the district mines and works, but it did not materially affect the Irvinebank battery and smelters, for the works were employed during the strike, practically continuously, on the treatment of ore from the Governor Norman Mine and from the tailings, as well as, of course, public crushings from the various mines which were operating in the area. However, it was one of the first steps in the decline of the Vulcan – this strike. The mine filled up with water and it was quite a considerable time before it could be put into operation again, besides being costly. The other mines were not affected by the strike; the Vulcan was the only one so affected.
Stranger still, during the period from about 1905 to 1907, another man had come to Irvinebank and engaged in working in the mines there, by the name of Bill McCormack. He had not met Theodore prior to his coming to Irvinebank, but they were both a bit union minded, and had quite a deal in common. They became very great friends and Bill McCormack was subsequently appointed the General Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, with Ted Theodore the district organiser.
Of Theodore’s organising ability there can be little doubt as in 1909, just about two years after his arrival in Irvinebank, he had succeeded in being elected to the State Legislative Assembly for the Woothakata Division at the early age of twenty four years. He was, at that time,the youngest member of Parliament in Queensland. He subsequently attained the office of Premier of Queensland, resigning that position to enter the Federal House of Parliament.
Bill McCormack, by the same, token, graduated from the position of Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union to become-the Member for Cairns, which seat he held for many years, and he subsequently attained the Premiership of Queensland also.
Yet another man who was subsequently to make history in the Queensland Parliament, was engaged in mining in Irvinebank at the same time, in the person of Jack O’Keefe. Jack had come to Irvinebank about 1905 and had engaged in various occupations there, and eventually became a tin prospector, and subsequently became a hotel keeper there. He became the Chairman of the Walsh Shire Council, and was also the Walsh Shire Council representative on the Cairns Harbour Board. As a result of this graduation, Jack eventually succeeded Bill McCormack to the seat in the Queensland State Assembly for Cairns, a position he held until his death several years afterwards.
Ted Theodore did not participate in any sporting activities during his period of residence in Irvinebank, but Bill McCormack and Jack O’Keefe were both fairly keen cricketers and took a pretty keen interest in all other sporting activities in the area.
John Moffat himself, who had been the general manager of John Moffat and Company, and subsequently the Irvinebank Mining Company Limited, retired in February 1912, and lived in Sydney, He was succeeded by John Holmes Reid, a man with whom he had been earlier associated at Stanthorpe, Tent Hill and Tenterfield.
The Vulcan production had fallen considerably and it became, necessary to endeavour to raise additional capital – the 1/2d uncalled capital which was still unpaid on the shares, was called up but, unfortunately, it being a No liability company, any shareholder could just forfeit his or their shares, and, as a consequence, many of the shareholders forfeited their shares rather than pay up the uncalled capital. As a consequence of this decline in the working capital, the Vulcan further declined, and ceased production altogether about 1921. Numbers of tributors worked the Mine subsequently with varying results, but, of course, they never worked on the same scale as had obtained during the periods when the Vulcan Tin Mining Company No Liability had charge of operations.
The mine lay dormant for quite some years, but about 1929 an English Company, named the Whitworth Corporation, came into the field, and set about endeavouring to revolutionize the tin mining business. Among the mines which they were going to revolutionize was the Vulcan Mine. It had, by this time, been lying dormant for many years. It was full of water, and the Whitworth Corporation set about the de-watering of the mine, but it was pretty slow process and it was actually never de-watered or worked since.
The fuel difficulties in Irvinebank were becoming considerable in 1905 and nearly all the available timber within a few miles of the town and near supplies were exhausted. John Moffat realised that in order to maintain the very heavy supplies for the boilers at the battery and the furnaces at the smelter, he would have to arrange some other means of transport. He decided then on the building of the tramway. A two foot tramway which was eventually built and connected with the Stannary Hills tramway, which had been constructed from Boonmoo about 1901. John Moffat originally had had a survey made with a view to running a 3’6″ gauge railway line from Irvinebank to connect to the Chillagoe line, but, after much negotiation with the Stannary Hills Co., he eventually agreed to connect up with the Stannary Hills tramline, at a spot about 2 miles from Stannary on the Rocky Bluffs Line from Stannary Hills.
This point was known as the Junction. It was about 14 miles from Irvinebank. As a consequence of the tramway being built woodcutters were able to go out further and cart the wood to the tramline, and the firewood was then transported by wood trucks to the batteries and to the smelters.
The tramway construction commenced in August 1906 and the tram locomotives were running into Irvinebank by about the end of March 1907. The tramway was officially opened at Allbut on the 29th June 1907, with a monster picnic, at which Mrs. John Moffat and a band of willing workers did the whole of the catering for about 2000 people who attended. It was rather a colossal job for a few people to undertake but they did it very well.
There were no carriages available on the tramway at that time, but the Stannary Hills Company, who had owned the tramway from Boonmoo to Stannary Hills and on to Rocky Bluffs, had a carriage and various trucks, and in the early stage of the Irvinebank tramway running, the Stannary Hills car and trucks used to run right through.
John Moffat had a very efficient team of carpenters in Irvinebank at the time, and the whole of the rolling stock including the passenger carriage was constructed in Irvinebank, with the exception of the bogies, which were imported. Tom Winkworth was the head carpenter-foreman. He had about a dozen men under him and they did the whole of the job of the construction of all the rolling stock of the Irvinebank tramways – woodtrucks and everything.
It was during 1906, which I think would be rightly regarded as a peak period in the prosperity of the place, that John Moffat also built the the Ibis Dam on Ibis Creek. The spillway was about 55 feet high and this dam was constructed under the supervision of Tom Brodie. Tom was a Scotchman who had worked in Irvinebank for many years previously and was a stonemason by trade. The work of the construction of the Ibis Dam was entrusted to him and sixty years afterwards it was still as good as the day it was put down – a striking tribute to Tom Brodie’s work. The dam, of course, over the years, has been a godsend to the whole of that area. In drier periods it has supplied the water to the battery and in many cases to many of the residents of Irvinebank, who got permission to connect on to the pipeline.
It was not all plain sailing for John Moffat in earlier times as, just when things had got running fairly smoothly, during 1893 – rather a tragic year in the history of Queensland, that was the year of the bank smash, of course – there had been heavy rain and, with the resulting floods, the Irvinebank Dam got washed away,. That was a very serious blow to the whole of the community, and, with the bank smash, finance was very difficult; but all the employees of John-Moffat clubbed together and offered a day’s work free of cost in the construction of the dam, and this, of course, resulted in very happy relations over the years between the men and John Moffat.
The earliest manager.of the battery was C. B. Alexander, a man who I have mentioned earlier had been a part owner of the Tornado Mine with Moffat. Alexander was succeeded some years afterwards by a Scotchman named Alan Waddell. Waddell, himself, was a relative of John Moffat’s and had come from Scotland. He had been a shipwright prior to his departure from Scotland, and he managed the mill there until about 1913.
He in turn was succeeded by Dick Moss.. Dick Moss had been the head blacksmith in the Irvinebank Company’s blacksmith shop for many years, and had been associated with most of the work of construction of the milling requirements over the years. The tin dressers at the Irvinebank Mill during its period of greatest prosperity were Ted Arbouin and Joe Ellery. Joe Ellery had worked in the tin mines in Cornwall so he certainly knew something about tin.
Ted Arbouin had been in the district since he had been a boy and I don’t think that anybody in the whole of the district knew more about tin than he did. So the battery was very capably handled as far as tin saving was concerned. John Moffat spared no expense whatever in providing the best dressing appliances and the Irvinebank battery was generally regarded as being the most efficient tin battery in the whole of the district.
At the smelters, some little distance away from the mill, two smelters were in operation. The first manager of the smelters was a man named George MacTavish; he was later succeeded by a man named George Boor. George Boor remained the manager until about 1905, when he unfortunately had a stroke, and his place was then taken by A. G. Oxley. Oxley remained the manager of the smelters for several years and he was afterwards succeeded by W. G. Gentle. Gentle remained the manager of the smelters for a further few years and he was subsequently succeeded by Jim Tunnie. He had been the head assayer for the Irvinebank Mining Company for very many years, and there were very few people who knew more about tin or tin production or tin dressing than Jim Tunnie.
He remained the manager of the smelter until the close down of the whole show. He had been appointed the manager by the State when it took over the works from the Irvinebank Mining Company in August 1919, and he remained with the Irvinebank State Treatment Works until about March 1921. The smelters, which had been re-started by the State in October 1919 continued running until December 1920, when they were closed down and have never recommenced. John Holmes Reid, who had succeeded John Moffat as manager of the Irvinebank Mining Company in March 1912, remained in this capacity until the disposal of the whole of the mines, mills, smelters, tramways, and rolling stock to the Queensland Government in August 1919, for the bedrock price of £22,500. Reid then returned to his home town, Tenterfield in New South Wales, where he had lived, virtually, since he had migrated from Scotland with his family in the early 60’s.
The Vulcan Strike in the year 1909, which was followed a few years afterwards by the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war, had a very disastrous effect upon the whole of the operations of the Irvinebank Mining Company, not only in Irvinebank but in Watsonville, Koorboora, Gurrumbah, Wolfram Camp and Mt Carbine. Most of these places were closed down and it was quite some time before they were restarted. Most of the young men in the area had enlisted in the military forces and this denuded the country of the prospective prospectors who are necessary to keep any mining place going. Many of these chaps never returned and a decline had definitely set in, in so far as Irvinebank was concerned, hence the desire of the Irvinebank Company to got right out of the business.
This culminated, as I said, in the eventual sale to the Government in August 1919 of the whole business at Irvinebank, but not including Wolfram Camp, Mt Carbine and Koorboora – they were separate entities, as it were.
One among many incidents one can recall over the years: In 1905 a man named Ernest Hunter who had been a share broker in Croydon and also in Charters Towers, came to Irvinebank. He had been overseas seeking foreign capital for investment in some of the Palmer Goldfield Mines and whilst there he had secured a pair of white swans which he had shipped from England and brought out to Australia, and he made a presentation to John Moffat of these swans. They arrived in Irvinebank after quarantine – several months after their departure from England, of course – and they graced the dam at Irvinebank for many many years after. John Moffat took a pride in the swans, and instructions were issued to various of his men to see that they were always well and truly fed. This went on for many years but after John Moffat’s departure from Irvinebank in 1912, the new management was not quite so concerned with the swans as John had been, and they fell on evil times. They lived on, for quite some years afterwards, but they eventually died of starvation.
In his desire to develop the district John Moffat never had any hesitation in buying any promising mine at all. In 1906 a couple of tin prospectors named Gregg and Crockett had opened a very good looking show out on Emu Creek. John sent one of his inspectors out to have a look at this mine, was favourably impressed with it, and had no hesitation in paying these two men £1,000/-/- for their interest. Immediately upon securing control of this mine Moffat sent out a manager and about a dozen to fifteen men, and they produced large quantities of very beautiful tin ore. The ore averaged about twenty-five per cent tin and actually was the finest looking tin stone that I have ever witnessed. It just looked like a beautiful plum cake, with the tin crystals in the granite, and John was well recompensed for the outlay that he had made on the mine.
The mine was called the “Elsie”. How the name arose was from the fact that a cousin of Mrs.’Moffat’s – Elsie Peberdy – was the typist in the office at the time and John decided to give the mine her name of Elsie. A few years afterwards another mine came on the market – the Pompeii Mine – out near Bakerville. I can’t just recollect the name of the chap who sold this mine but when John Moffat’s inspector had a look at it, he recommended it as a good one. John had no hesitation, he paid this chap £1,000 for his interest; and, yet a short while after he acquired another mine, the Stella – not exactly close to Irvinebank but situated on Cassowary Creek which lies between Watsonville and Silver Valley. It was owned by two Watsonville prospectors, Rowlands and Morris. John had no hesitation, after the recommendation of his manager, in paying these two men £l,500/-/- for their interest.
The Pompeii Mine and the Stella Mine were worked for very many years afterwards by the Irvinebank Company – usually from twelve to fifteen men being employed at each of these mines. This added greatly to the production of the field which of course is very necessary when you have two furnaces working – it takes a terrific lot of tin to keep them fully occupied.
John Moffat in order to get sufficient supplies of tin for this purpose had tin buying agents established right throughout the whole of the tin bearing areas – Mt. Garnet, Nymbool, Gurrumbah, Koorboora, Fossilbrook, Mt. Surprise, down to Mt. Molloy and Mt. Carbine. These agents were entitled to buy tin, and John Moffat guaranteed their account for that purpose. They were required to send their purchases to Irvinebank regularly – about once a month or something like that – and no difficulties ever arose in that matter
Among the many hundreds of mines that were opened in the Irvinebank district some of course did not last long, but some have been worked for a long period of years. Mines which I can recall as being very very rich were the Right Bower, the St. Patrick the Rainbow, the Wowser, the Omeo, the Lady Agnes, the Bluff, the Endeavour and Leslie, the Perseverance, the Brass Bottle, the Consolidated; the Consolidated and the Perseverance and the Brass Bottle Mines – they were all located around Orient Camp. The tramline ran right through that area on its way to Stannary Hills, so all those ores were railed in on the 2′ tramway.
Among many other mines, the Star and the Jumna were large producers, the ore from these two mines being treated at a tin battery situated on Chinaman’s Creek owned by Nicky Hardman. John Moffat had an interest in this battery too, and they treated ore for the community at large at the same battery; it was a very efficient mill. Another battery further up Chinaman’s Creek was the New Era; another one, the Bakerville Battery, and, closer still to Irvinebank, in 1906 and 1907, another tin battery was erected about 2 miles along the Coolgarra Road known as the Go-ahead Battery.
A couple of fairly large bodies low grade ore mines were in this locality and these were treated at the Go-ahead Battery. Joe Bradshaw was the secretary of the Go-ahead Company, and one of the chief men in the Go ahead Battery was D.H.K. McGuinness, a hotel-keeper who had come to Irvinebank in the early part of 1906, and acquired the Mining Exchange Hotel. McGuinness was a pretty keen sort of businessman and he set About building a two-story hotel where the Mining Exchange Hotel had been. But unfortunately the Mining venture and the battery at the Go-ahead did not pan out very successfully, and it only had a short life.
Another tin battery close to Irvinebank was known as the Agnes. That was actually situated up Simpson’s Gully. They had a dam built on a creek up at the head of the gully and this provided water for the milling; it treated ores only from the Agnes Mine itself. The Agnes was a big low-grade proposition, but it did not go for any great length of time.
As will be generally recognised, of course, with such a large number of mines and batteries and smelters in operation, accidents would invariably happen but the field was remarkably free from very serious accidents. One that I can recall occurred in the Vulcan Mine in 1895; The mine, of course, had not reached to any great depth at that time, but a number of men were engaged with hand steel and they were unfortunate enough to drill into an unexploded charge. An explosion took place and three or four of the men were rather seriously injured. . One man lost the sight of one of his eyes and also lost a leg; the other men recovered and were not very seriously injured.
Another accident occurred in the Vulcan Mine about 1904: A chap named Tom King, a local resident of many years, was engaged in timbering in the main shaft and another chap about 50 feet above him was also engaged in timbering. Well, a 4″ x 2″ piece of timber unfortunately got away from the chap up above and fell down the shaft knocking the platform that King was standing on to the bottom. King went to the bottom with all the timber and everything, right to the bottom of the shaft, and he was seriously injured; but, strange as it might seem, within two months he had fully recovered from the accident and he lived for many years afterwards, so he could not have been very seriously injured after all, although it looked a bad case at the start.
Another accident which proved fatal, occurred in the Vulcan Mine: A chap named Manny Craven was engaged under ground and’ in working in a rise, he slipped off a ladder and fell down and got killed. Again in 1912 a young chap named Jack McIntyre was working there. They had just finished the sinking of a winze from the 1050′ level to the 1220′ level. and were removing the base on which the winch had been built to work this winze. They had the last log on the little low trolley and, by a strange set of circumstances, a log just rolled at the critical moment and precipitated McIntyre down the winze, from the 1050′ level to the 1220′ level. Of course, he was smashed to pieces and he was dead when they picked him up.
Another serious accident occurred in the Ball Mill in Irvinebank in 1909: A young chap named Peter Armagnacq, who was one of the jiggermen employed there, was going on to work day shift on this particular morning and the chap whom he was to relieve at 8.00 o’clock had said, “Well, everything is all set except that bucket of tailings from one of the wheelorpans has got to be brought up on to the next floor and be re-treated”. It was the custom there, although it was definitely wrong, to take the line of least resistance and these chaps used to utilise one of the moving shafts and hitch a rope over it to pull up this bucket, to save their carrying it up the steps. Armagnacq on this particular morning was taking the easy way out and he unfortunately got his arm caught in one of the pulley wheels. He couldn’t be extricated – he was caught there, and each time he went around he used to hit the guard rail about 3′ from the floor until his arm got completely pulled away from his body. He fell down about 12′ on to the concrete floor below and when they picked him up he was very dangerously hurt and he died before they could get him to hospital.
In 1903 another serious accident had occurred in the Vulcan Mine: It involved the chap who was the foreman on this level – he was the man who used to charge the holes with the explosives. Whilst a wooden tamping-rod was always provided for this purpose, miners generally got a bit careless, doing things that they shouldn’t do. Anyway, this man used an iron scraper this day for the pressing home of the explosives in the hole, with the result that he exploded the whole show and about four of the men close handy got the full blast of the charge. Jim Maher himself was right in front of the hole – he was the most seriously hurt because he succumbed to his injuries about three days afterwards. Another chap named Bill Moore was blinded and I don’t think he ever recovered his sight. Another man named Mick Dame was close handy and he only suffered shock – so he considered himself very very lucky.
Another accident happened on the Irvinebank Stannary Hills tramway about 2 – 2 1/2- miles from Irvinebank: The tram had left Irvinebank about 8.00 o’clock in the morning, proceeding to Stannary Hills. The driver’s name was Bob Bliss and the fireman was Arthur Clarke. When about 2 1/2 miles from Irvinebank they were ascending a bit of a gradient on the approach to Allbut Station and the tender became derailed, resulting in the locomotive being thrown off the line and falling down the bank of the adjacent creek. The driver, Bliss, went down with the locomotive and was not seriously injured, but Clarke, on the other hand, attempted to jump off on the fireman’s side, and had his leg amputated by one of the wheels of the tender. He recovered but, of course, he was not able to follow up that occupation any more. He got compensation and he then engaged in a billiard saloon and hairdressing business in the town for quite some time afterwards.
About 55 years ago there were three chaps that I knew quite well – Alf. Trembath, Watty Sandilands and Bob Miller. They were working a pretty good tin show along the Coolgarra Road which they named the New Experience. Well, they had a tunnel into it and they were working on the ore which was going down – it was about 25% ore. They had acquired an old horse that they used for a whip-horse pulling up the buckets over the overhead pin wheel. Anyway, this whip horse of theirs got sick or lame, and Billy Donald, the Shire Clerk there at the time, had a quiet mare – clumper type, full of corn, but quiet – and he told Bob Miller, “You can have the loan of mine until that horse of yours is ready again,” so Bob said, “All right.” They took this mare up to the mine this morning and of course it was a bit strange for her as she had never been in a mine. They had to back her in. She got a bit fidgety at the strange surroundings and they succeeded in backing the mare down the winze – she fell down about 25 feet.
Trembath went down to have a look at her. She was down at the bottom but she was half standing up, as it were; he gave her a drink of water and the other chaps immediately let it be known among their friends what had happened. They organised teams of their friends and put on three shifts to put in a drive lower down the hill about the level where they would strike through to this mare. They worked for about two days of three shifts each and they finally succeeded in getting that mare out and, believe it or not, she had not even a broken leg. She was a bit gravel-rashed where her rump had hit down the side of the shaft, but after about a week she was O.K. for work.
It is interesting to recall how Irvinebank got its name. As I mentioned earlier, Moffat had come from Herberton and negotiated with the Gibbs party for the purchase of the Great Southern Mine. Moffat then took up his residence in Irvinebank. The two creeks.which formed the junction where the dam was built were known as Gibb’s Creek and McDonald Creek and the town itself was first known as Gibbs’s Camp. Moffat had come from a town named Loudoun in Scotland which was on the banks of the Irvine River, and he immediately had the name changed from Gibbs’s Camp to Irvinebank to remind him of his birthplace in Scotland. The mill which he erected was known as the Loudoun Mill and it is still known by that name today.
The seat of local government was originally established at Montalbion distant about 5 miles from Irvinebank under the name of the Walsh Divisional Board. But, on the decline of Montalbion towards the latter part of the last century, the headquarters were transferred to Irvinebank.
The chairman of the Divisional Board at that time was Sam Bennett. Sam at the time had been a hotel keeper at Montalbion but he took over the Mining Exchange Hotel in Irvinebank, and he was the first Chairman of the Walsh Divisional Board after the transfer of the office to Irvinebank from Montalbion. The first Shire Clerk was Billy Rawlings. He had been the Shire Clerk at Montalbion. He had been a member of Parliament for Woothakata for a period of three years but was subsequently defeated and again took up the position of Shire Clerk which he had formerly occupied. Elections were hold annually for the position of Chairman of the Walsh Divisional Board and after Sam Bennett of the subsequent Chairmen, names that I recall are H. J. Armstrong, T.M. Delugar, C. Speed, E. Borghero, Jack O’Keefe, J. H. Eales and J. R. Leinster. Jack Leinster was the last Chairman to officiate at the Walsh Shire Council prior to the abolition of this shire and its inclusion in the Mareeba Shire. Shire Clerks during the period of the office establishment at Irvinebank were Billy Rawlings, Jim Brownlee, Billy Donald, Mike O’Callaghan and T. J. Moran. Tommy Moran was the Acting Shire Clerk at the abolition of the Shire somewhere about 1932 or 1933.
The Walsh District Hospital, which served the community, was also established at Montalbion, and, after the decline of Montalbion and about the close of the last century, was transferred to Irvinebank where it carried on operations until about 1933. Among the doctors who controlled the destinies of the hospital during the years one remembers Dr. Blanchard, Dr. Reid, Dr. Kerwin, Dr. MacDonnell, Dr. Thomas, Dr. McFarlane, Dr. Wittrock, Dr. Mansfield, Dr. Burke-Gaffney, Dr. Burton, Dr. Paterson and Dr. Derrick. Dr. Derrick was the last medical Superintendant of the Irvinebank Hospital prior to its closure somewhere about 1932 or 1933.
The matrons who attended to the needs of the community after the transfer of the hospital to Irvinebank from Montalbion included Matrons Kerr, O’Malley, Walpole, Young, Provan, Mowat, De Vis, Stone, Wilshire, White, Campbell, Belson, Quadrio, McDougal and Graney. There may have been others whose names have just been forgotten.
Churches which were established in Irvinebank were the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church, and we also had the Salvation Army – they did not actually have a church but they used to have open-air functions in the street, and they were very popular with the people of the area.
There had been no official Post Office at Irvinebank until the transfer of the Post Office from Montalbion – about 1899 I think it was. The postal facilities in Irvinebank up to that period had been provided at Jack and Newell’s store, this of course being the case in many other inland towns where no official Post Office was established. A local store usually provided these facilities. Postmasters who are remembered as serving in the Irvinebank Post Office during the years, from its transfer from Montalbion up to the present, included F. A. Pope he was the Postmaster who was transferred from Montalbion and he died in Irvinebank. After Pope came R. A. Dougherty, E. Williadis, W. K. Ryan, F. C. Montgomery, W. J. Stev ens, J. C. Howard, J. E. O’Neill, W. Mycock, R. Palmer, L. E. Dunne, S. A. Lloyd, B. J. O’Brien, J. Nehmer, J. Kay, W. S. Blakey, B.W. Case. Case was the last official Postmaster there, that being about 1933. On the departure-of Case from the position of Postmaster the postal work was carried on by Miss Jean Clarke from about 1933 to about 1934, by Miss Essie Kirkman from 1935 to 1938, and by Miss Dot Kirkman from 1938 to 1966. On the retirement of Miss Dot Kirkman as postmistress the postal facilities were transferred to the Australian Hotel, which is conducted by Mr. Bill Newburn.
Up to the establishment of a State School in Irvinebank about 1885, Mrs. McTavish had conducted a private school in the School of Arts building, but about 1885 a State School, No. 519, was established. The first master’s name-was Fred Lewis. The first enrolment on the Irvinebank State School was Martha Arbouin. This girl probably made history, in a sense, as in September 1880, her father and her two sisters and brother left Port Douglas, their transport consisting of one saddle horse and one pack horse. Martha Arbouin was the youngest of the family, being nine years of age. The girls took turn about riding on the horse, and James Arbouin and his son Ted led the pack-horse. There was a road from Port Douglas to Granite Creek – Granite Creek was the name of what Mareeba is today – and this road ran through to the Hodgkinson Goldfield; but from Granite Creek to Herberton they had to follow a blazed – tree trail. A tree would be blazed about every couple of hundred yards, and that is how the Arbouin family proceeded to Herberton. They arrived in Herberton about a week or so after their departure from Port Douglas, and the only other family that had reached there up to that period were the Bimroses.
So the Bimroses and the Arbouins could rightly be regarded as pioneers, and it is perhaps fitting that Martha Arbouin should be Number One on the school enrolment at Irvinebank in 1885. The Arbouin family had settled in Herberton for a couple of years, but, after the finding of tin in Irvinebank, they transferred to Irvinebank so were doubtless also one of the pioneering families of Irvinebank.
Other Schoolmasters who followed Fred Lewis were R. Bustin, Fred Bennett, T. H. McGladrigan, J. Marquis, John McKeon, Mich Shea, Jimmy Best, McColm, D. R. Peiniger.-Bill McDonald, Bill Pearson, V. Crampton, Eric Withnall, Walker, Bill Marsson, Clinton, Bird, Bert Matheson, Tom Bertwistle, Jack Ingram and the present schoolmaster’s name is Anderson.
The Police Officers remembered during the periods since the establishment of a Police Station at Irvinebank were Mulvey, D. Casey, J. Kenny, Murray, J. Keane, G. Frisch, S. O’Brien, T. Cowell, D.McGrath, J. Muir, J. Goodfellow, and Sheppard. There may have been several others in the later years and there were various relieving officers whose names have not been included.
Banking facilities were non-existent in Irvinebank for many of the earlier years. There had been a branch of the Queensland National Bank at Montalbion but during the bank smash of 1893 this closed down. and it was not until 1905 that a bank was established in Irvinebank. The Queensland National Bank established a branch there in 1905, the first manager being Harry Bathurst. He was followed by Jim Orr, Orr was followed by Jock Farquhar, and Jock Farquhar was followed by S. J. Allison. Allison was the manager at the time of the closure of the bank about 1924. The Bank of New South Wales opened a branch in 1908, the first manager being J. P. Somerville. He was followed by F. W. Norman, then W. T. McKie, and the last manager of the Bank of New South Wales at Irvinebank, up to the time of its closure in 1915, was W. V. Brown.
A School of Arts was established in the very earliest times, having quite a modern reading room and also a very fine collection of specimens. Among the secretaries of the School of Arts during the years were Sandy Young, Tom Baldey, Ted Henry, Billy Donald and Mike O’Callaghan. I understand that the School of Arts Committee still functions in Irvinebank but there is no reading room there today and what has become of the fine collection of specimens which was there in earlier times I don’t know. The School of Arts owned and controlled a very fine hall, which still exists but which is beginning to show signs of age now.
During the boom period, from about 1905 to about 1913, a chemist’s business had been established there. F. Powell – known as “Dad” Powell – ran it, and during 1910 and 1911 this business was managed for him by W. A. Collins, who was later to move to Cairns where he was Mayor of that city for many years. After Bill Collins left his place was taken by Joe Nielson.
Estate agents, accountants, secretaries. Share brokers and mining agents were Brownlee, Donald & Company Limited. During 1906 Ernest Hunter had come to Irvinebank and he became a partner in the Brownlee Donald Company which had been floated into a Limited Company. Hunter met with early success in his share broking activities as he successfully floated the Gilmore Tin Mine during 1906. This mine proved to be a winner, and Hunter became well established there for some years. As a matter of fact, money seemed to flow from everywhere for tin mines and such like.
I recollect that even a gold mine was floated there. I don’t think there was ever any gold – only what was put there but the fact still remains that a syndicate was formed and they paid a chap £250.0.0 for his interest in the gold mine. It was known as the Luck Gold Mine but I don’t think there was very much luck for the chaps who put in their money, because it fizzled out very, very quickly.
Solicitors were R. A. Brumm.
There were two hotels established in Irvinebank in its earliest period, one being the Mining Exchange, conducted by Jack Bethel, and the other, at the lower end of the town, the Commercial, conducted by Jim Tait. The Mining Exchange Hotel, during the years, changed hands quite a few times. Bethel disposed of his interest to Sam Bennett, Sam Bennet disposed of his interest to Collins and Edser. Collins and Edser disposed of theirs to McGuinness – that would be about 1906.
Sid Ramage who conducted the bottom hotel for quite a lengthy period of years, also conducted what was known as the top hotel – the Mining Exchange Hotel – this having been altered to the name of Orient Hotel when D. H.K. McGuinness erected the two storey building. After Ramage’s departure this hotel was conducted by Jack Williams who, at one time, had been a mail contractor. On Williams’ departure the hotel was conducted by Mrs. Fraser and later still by Mrs. Bentley who also conducted the bottom hotel, known as the Australian Hotel. The Orient Hotel was burnt down somewhere between 1931 and 1932.
The Royal Hotel, which was close to Jack and Newell’s Store in Irvinebank, was first conducted by Hogsflesch, then followed by Noonan, then Emanuels. Harry Wade took over control of this hotel about 1900 and remained there until about 1912 – he owned the building, and subsequent lessees of the hotel after Wade’s departure were Dan Culhane, Peter Tranby, and Syd Sheppard. Wade had retired to live in Sydney and about 1916 he came up to Irvinebank and demolished the hotel and built a number of cottages – about five – in Cairns from the material.
The Commercial Hotel had been at the lower end of the town and had been opened by Jim Tait. He transferred his activities to Montalbion and this hotel was then conducted by Michael Henry for a period and then for a number of years by Mrs. Blackmore; Mrs. Blackmore was followed by Joe Hayles; Joe Hayles was followed by Stewart and Ramage early in the present century; Stewart and Ramage were followed by Jack O’Keefe, who subsequently became a member of Parliament for the Tableland seat and later for the Cairns seat.
After O’Keefe’s departure the hotel was conducted by Tom Bentley, a man named Smith, Andy Pasley, and for a number of years past has been conducted by Bill Newburn, Newburn being still the proprietor of this hotel .
Another hotel adjacent to the Commercial, now known as the Australian, was the Vulcan hotel. This was erected about 1901 and was first licensed to Ray and Mathews. They were followed by Ted Elliott; Mrs. Abrahams followed Elliott; Mrs. Ryan followed Abrahams; and Hardie and Sutherland followed Ryan. This hotel was demolished somewhere between 1919 and 1920 and where it went to I just don’t know.
Another hotel – the Miners Arms Hotel – had been erected by Tom Donnelly about 1904. Donelly was its first licensee and he was subsequently followed by Archie Campbell, but this hotel was destroyed by fire in December 1908 and, in addition to the hotel, four shops were also destroyed and no buildings were ever erected again on this particular area.
Another hotel was erected about 2 1/2 miles from Irvinebank along the Stannary Hills Road about 1900. This was erected by Jack Hales and was occupied by him for some years. He was followed by George Gane who conducted it for several years; but subsequently the hotel was de-licensed and has since been removed, to where I don’t know. The name of this hotel was the Picnic Hotel and it was the scene of the holding of many picnics during those years.
Storekeepers in the area were Jack and Newell who were first in the field – they were the original prospectors of Herberton. They were followed by Armstrong, Ledlie & Stillman. Armstrong, Ledlie and Stillman had been former employees of Jack and Newell in various of their branches. Other stores were conducted by P. H. Scully, J. Bradshaw, J. Noonan, Jimmy McIntyre, W. F. Hill, T. J. Moran and for a short period, from 1920 to 1922, the State Store was under the control of Paddy Murphy, until it was closed down.
Tailors and mercers one remembers over the years were Jack Hinchey, Billy Mayo, Peter Mellick and Frank Peters.
Of the many butchers who served the community there were Halpin Brothers, Jack Speirs, Roynan Bradby, Jack Mollett, Joe Kelly, Leinster Brothers, Murphy Brothers, Charlie Olsen, Fred Armbrust, Moses Struber, Hughie Garrigan, Tom Doolan, Tom Malone, Manny Borghero, Frank Wieland and Archie Jackson.
Bakers one can recall were Andersons, Billy Patton, A. E. Bennet (known as ‘Doughie’ Bennet), Gane Brothers, Mrs Dunne, Billy Eales and Peter Nielson.
Greengrocers and fruiterers one remembers were Joe Bradshaw, Ah Butt, Ah Tong, Wong Sow, Ah Gin, Ah Dick, Ah Gow, Ah Lum and Tommy Knee. Of the greengrocers mentioned, Ah Butt and Ah Tong were right in the town proper, Ah Tong having a market garden along McDonald’s Creek. Both he and Ah Butt had long since given away the bamboos and the baskets which one identified with the Chinamen of earlier times.
Ah Butt used to carry his wares around with a pack horse with fruit cases on either side, whereas Ah Tong had canvas bags made – sort of split-bags, as it were – and he carried his vegetables around in these bags. He had a good class of a horse but it was not long before the school boys learned that this horse had bolting capacities and it was quite a usual thing, when Ah Tong would be returning empty handed at the end of the day, his canvas bags empty, for some of the boys to leave out a few shrill whistles.
This put the horse under Ah Tong into very quick action; he galloped for the lick of his life up along Borghero’s flat across the creek, and never stopped until he got to the garden, old Ah Tong, in the meanwhile, hanging on for grim death. Whether he enjoyed the ride or not I don’t know, but everybody else who was looking on enjoyed the spectacle.
Tea-rooms and cafes were conducted by Mrs. Bob Miller, Grace Hart and Mrs. Dunne. Jewellers one recalls were H. Lambert, known as “Skipper”. Saddlers were Michael Henry, Denny Gordon, Bill Gates and Bob McHugh. Builders recalled were Fred Ohnesorgen, Dick King, Harry Kuszner, Bob Crabbe and Tom Winkworth. A painter was Frank Langborne.
Cordial manufacturers were George Collins and Alex Hull (also known as “Cock Robin” and “Cherry Cheer”) and Harry Wade. A Boot maker was George Kerr and a Plumber was Frank Schmid. The Blacksmith was Jack Wixted, an Irishman who had a fine vocabulary of Australian swear words, in the tradition of blacksmiths. Barbers and Billiard-room Saloon proprietors remembered were Bob McKay, Charlie Joyce, Freddie Grant, Bert Sadlier, Alf Arena, Jimmy McIntyre, Clarke and Rogers, and Les Pritchard.
Teamsters played a most important part in the cartage of goods, first from Port Douglas to Irvinebank, and, from 1893, from Mareeba to Irvinebank, from about 1901 from Boonmoo to Irvinebank, and from about 1902 from Stannary Hills to Irvinebank. That was the case until the tramline was erected and commenced operations in 1907, when, of course, all the need for transport by drays and wagons ceased.
Among the teamsters remembered were Jim Tait, George Gane, Ted Gane, Johnny Grimes, Bill Johnston, Jack Langtree, Jack McIntosh, Hans Wieland, Bob Maconachie, Jack Prouse, Bill Prouse, Billy Bennett, Billy Shepherd, Phil Foxlee, Jack Paganini, Giovanni Mazzakelli, Jack Moscardi, Sandy Gollan, Mat Ross, George Ross, Stewart Bolton, Bob Kerridge, Charlie Beh, Charlie Kootoof, Mich Whelan, Ted Rouse, Jack Crook and Dick Langtree.
The Irvinebank Company had its own transport for firewood and ores and a large pack team as well. The whole of these activities wore under the control of a very colourful character named Bill Rogers. Bill, on special occasions, used to don a check suit and was the object of much admiration. He always said that this suit was his wedding suit and it could well possibly have been.
The horse drivers for the Irvinebank Mining Company remembered were Tom Hooper, Alex McLennan, Paddy Kirby, Charlie Bradley, Alf Burnell, Alf Foxford and Bert Royes, The Vulcan Company also had its own wagons; and drays for the transport of firewood and also ore to the battery. Well known drivers employed by the Vulcan Company were Jack McAlister, Mick Sheehan, Jim Sheehan and Mick Whelan.
There were numerous Packers engaged throughout the years. Many of the earlier ones carted goods from Port Douglas up to the mining fields but when the railway came to Mareeba their journey was considerably lessened. Among those who served in the area one remembers Donald McDonald, Paddy Daley, George Blackwell, Ernie Sue, Davy Thom, Jack Hales, Alex Robinson, Frank Wieland, Tommy Toy, Victor Borghero, Jack Chalk, George McNoll, Armagnacq Brothers, Congoo and Jack Crook.
The Irvinebank Company had a very large mule team and among the chaps who were in charge of this team over the years were Bert Findlay, George Gray, Alex Robinson and Jack Davis. There were many mail contractors and transport operators in the area over the years, names one recalls being Cobb & Co., Rod McCrea, Bill McDonald, Bill Wall, Jack Connors, Jack Williams, Manny Borghero, Bill Arbouin, Albie Bimrose, Bernie and Spout, Harry Chatfield and Wesley Stiff.
There were not many dairies around Irvinebank. The old nanny goat provided the necessaries of life in this regard to most families but, during the nineties, Hans Wieland who had been a carrier – he had both bullock teams and horse teams – had established a dairy at what was subsequently known as Ganes’s Flats, and he supplied cows milk to both Irvinebank and Montalbion from this dairy. Manny Borghero on quite a few occasions also ran a dairy, spasmodically, from Chinaman’s Creek, and another was run by McIntyres. As I said, the old nanny goat played a very important part in the provision of the milk supply in practically the whole of the Tableland inland towns.
Until W. C. Abbott established a butter factory in Atherton in the early 1900’s there was no other butter available except what was imported, of course, through Cairns or Port Douglas. But Joe Marsterson, who had a holding at Parada (which has subsequently become an important tobacco growing area) used to make dairy butter at his place, and he used to transport that butter in stone jars by pack horse and sell it in Irvinebank, Montalbion and Watsonville. Joe Marsterson was also known as “Skinny Joe”.
There was no water reticulation scheme in Irvinebank except from the Ibis Dam which John Moffat built and completed the construction of in about 1907. A 3″ steel pipeline served the battery and smelters and Moffat’s residence and a few of the residences adjacent to the mill.
Most of the water for human consumption was drawn from wells or from tanks. Along the creeks which run through Irvinebank were numerous wells and, despite the fact that sometimes these wells were blocked up with tailings, on the average they gave a pretty good supply of water and there were very few epidemic diseases in Irvinebank when one considers that the water supply came from a series of wells along the creek which ran right through the heart of the town.
There was no sanitary service as we know it today, either by pan or otherwise; practically every place had a cesspit. These proved very successful and there was rarely any epidemic of any disease from this source, either, in Irvinebank, which one might have expected. Flies were never a trouble there as they are in some of the western climes, and I well recollect a medico friend of mine, speaking about Irvinebank and the climate and general conditions, saying, “I couldn’t possibly recommend any of my patients to go away to a better climate than this, you know. I don’t think there is a better climate”.
There had been a supply of electricity to the town for quite a number of years by the State Treatment Works from their battery but it was not until 15 February 1964 that a full supply of electricity was made available, from the Cairns Regional Electricity Board.
The residential areas were tabbed in this manner: If you wanted to know where anybody lived well you’d say “It’s up Target Gully or Simpson’s Gully”, for example. Those which were best known, perhaps, were Target Gully, Henderson’s Flat, Coolgarra Road, Herberton.Road, Simpson’s Gully, Eales’s Hill, Hospital Hill, Vulcan Hill and Paddy’s Flat, which was down near the sportsground.
Halls which provided recreation for the community consisted of the Co-operative Hall which was built in the late 1880s or early 1890s. It was adjacent to the hotel conducted by Stewart and Ramage. This hall, together with three shops and the Miners Arms Hotel, was destroyed by fire in December 1908. The School of Arts Hall which is now the centre of recreation facilities, dancing etc., was opened in 1901. This was a very fine hall and provided ample stage accommodation, and visiting vaudeville and dramatic companies from southern areas always made a point of coming to Irvinebank. Of course the population was fairly large in those days and the touring companies were always assured of very good houses.
There were two Bands in Irvinebank during the period from about 1900 to about 1922 or 1923. The first band, the Town Band, was established about 1900, the first bandmaster being Bob Dunn. He was followed by Hughie Henderson, then Sammy Morgan, then Carl Cording. The last bandmaster for the Town Band was Alf Harding. The Model Band was formed about 1906. This was under the control of Hughie Henderson, who had been a bandmaster in the Town Band in earlier years. The two bands played out in the town very frequently – nearly every Saturday night – one band playing at the top end of the town and the other band down at the lower end of the town; and they used to switch positions periodically, from the top to the bottom end and vice versa.
There was a dramatic club formed in Irvinebank about 1905. The chief men in this were Peter Davies (who used to be a draper at Jack and Newell’s store), and Alf Harris who was the chief electrician at the mill. The dramatic club gave many performances and provided a lot of amusement for the people there in earlier times. There was also a choral society in Irvinebank for quite a number of years and interestingly, Irvinebank in about 1909 had as a resident, Gladys Moncrieff, afterwards known as ‘Our Glad’. She was staying with relatives in Irvinebank and gave a series of concerts during her period of residence there. Little did one think at that time that Glad. was later to become so famous in the musical world of Australia.
Of Lodges in Irvinebank one was the Corrie Masonic Lodge, founded about 1906. It was named after Alexander Corrie, who was a share broker in Brisbane and who has had share broking businesses all through the years, of which there is a branch in Cairns at the present time. There was also an Independent Order of Good Templars Lodge in Irvinebank but it did not have a great number of members and it appeared to have quite a short life.
Athletic Meetings were held regularly in Irvinebank during the earlier years when the period of prosperity reigned. The sports meetings were usually held on New Years Day and St. Patrick’s Day, on which latter day all the Irishmen came out with their green rosettes.. There were many Sporting Bodies that made life in Irvinebank a very happy one. During the years cricket, football, tennis and rifle shooting were very important pastimes of the township, and many cricketers, footballers, tennis players and rifle shooters were well known throughout the whole of the hinterland. Irvinebank always could field an excellent cricket, football, rifle and tennis team, but in tennis circles, at least, the little neighbouring town of Watsonville was always more than able to hold its own with any of the surrounding areas.
There was also a Race Club in Irvinebank, known as the Walsh District Amateur Turf Club. There was a racecourse about 3 1/2 miles from Irvinebank and about 1 1/2 miles from Montalbion, and this race course served both of these towns over the years.
There were numerous Swimming Holes in the area, the dam, of course, being the main one. John Moffat, in his earlier days, had provided dressing sheds and a springboard at the dam and many people were able to take swimming exercise there. It also provided an opportunity for people with boats and in the nineties it was quite a common thing to see a number of boats out on the dam.
Other swimming holes in the area were Ibis Creek, McTavish’s on McDonald Creek, the Big Gum on Gibbs Creek (down near McIntyres) and below Allbutt Siding there was another good swimming hole between Allbut Siding and Gane’s Flat. As I mentioned earlier, boating was a popular pastime on the Irvinebank Dam when there was a good sheet of water there, and in 1908, during the visit of the American Fleet to Australia, a mock American fleet visit was staged on it. It was decorated with coloured lights and various stalls were held around it. The whole scene provided a very bright spectacle.
The town dam, as stated earlier, was washed away in 1893. It was re-erected and was again washed awav on 10 March 1918 (the date of the big cyclone which devastated Innisfail). The dam was again re-erected, and was again washed away, a third time, some years afterwards and was subsequently re-erected in concrete, it having previously been built on the pigsty principle with timber and clay.
A colourful character who frequented the mining areas in-the late 1880’s and early 1890s was Annie Bags. She was allegedly a Hungarian countess and was supposedly jilted in love which turned her mind a bit. During the period that she was in the mining fields around Irvinebank her attire was mostly in bags. She had a great retinue of cats and dogs, and she also had a goat. She had no residence – she camped out under the gum trees mostly – but, if by any chance she got caught in a storm, she would make for the nearest shelter and many stories could be told of people arriving home at night after a storm and finding Annie and her cats and dogs and goats encamped on their front or back verandah. Poor old Annie departed from these areas about the mid 1890’s and she went from there to Townsville and Charters Towers and she finally passed away in the Charters Towers hospital about 60 years ago, so she was not destined to return to her native land.
There are some amusing incidents which one recalls over the years whilst associated with the Irvinebank Company’s smelters and works: About 1904 a young Italian chap named Pico Mazzikelli was driving a seven horse dray owned by his father. Pico, on this Saturday morning, was carting firewood from up Coolgarra Road way. He wasn’t a very experienced horse driver and on the approach to the weighbridge there was rather a steep incline from Henderson’s Flats. Well, most of the experienced teamsters used to halt at the foot of the hill and tighten up their twitches on the load, but Pico on this occasion, inexperienced as he was, didn’t do this. He got up the hill to the weighbridge but he over-ran the weighbridge. The weighbridge clerk told him, “Oh, you will have to back her, I can’t weigh it otherwise”. So Pico unhooked the leading horses and endeavoured to back onto the weighbridge again. Well the load meantime had slipped onto the back of his dray and the horse made a valiant effort to back the load all right but the odds were against it. As soon as he started the backing the load tipped the dray up and the result was that the back of the dray was on the ground and the shafter was up in the air, about six or eight feet up in the air. Pico was in a great state, he didn’t know what the dickens to do to get him down; but a very experienced horseman, Bill Johnson, happened along at the moment, and he was not at all disturbed about the predicament the horse was in. He said, “Sure he’s just as happy as a kid in a swing up there”, and he said, “Oh, we’ll get him down”. He got his pocket knife out, cut the belly band, the horse dropped to the ground – broke a shaft in the process, but nothing else happened and the horse was not injured, not seriously anyway.
Another rather remarkable incident I recall concerned a packer who was engaged carting tin in canvas bags from Gurrumbah to the Irvinebank Smelters. The packers, of course, travelled mostly through the bush – took the shortcuts, as it were – and this man noticed that one of the horses along the road seemed to be flinching quite a deal; but he thought, “Well, that horse must have a sore back”. He noticed him flinch quite a few times, but he didn’t do anything about it until he got to the smelters. When he got to the smelters with his load he caught this horse first to get the load off and to see what was wrong with him. When he pulled the packsaddle off – there was a green tree snake about 2 to 3 feet long underneath the hip of the packsaddle and this was what had been making the horse flinch all the time. Of course they killed.it so he didn’t get away.
Another amusing incident fortunately with no serious consequence either, happened in 1917. The general manager at that time, John Holmes Reid, was undertaking quite a comprehensive rebuilding of the battery at Watsonville – a number of men were engaged there – an he usually went from Irvinebank to Watsonville on Monday morning, supervising the work – he was a bit of a bush carpenter himself, and he would come back to Irvinebank on Wednesday evening and set off again for Watsonville on Thursday.
He usually took the pay over to the foreman at Watsonville for the dozen or so men employed at the mine and the mill over there. We had given him the pay on the night before (but who wrapped it up in his valise I don’t know) and he set off about five o’clock in the morning for Watsonville, together with a carpenter named Jack Vaubel and a lad who always looked after the horses, named Jack McIntosh. They had only gone about 100 yards actually – in the dark of course – and the pay fell out of the valise but they didn’t know anything about this.
On arrival in Watsonville about seven o’clock in the morning the general manager pulled the valise down to give the pay to the foreman, Harry,Bente, but there was no pay. He immediately said to young Jack McIntosh, “jack”, he said, “We have lost the pay, we will have to retrace our steps, it must be along the road somewhere.” So they set off from Watsonville back to Irvinebank, over two ranges, and it only took them about 55, minutes to do those several miles so they didn’t delay much looking along the road.
In the meanwhile, Jim Brodie a very trusted employee of the Irvinebank Company over a long period of years, had wandered over this morning he was going to have a read in the School of Arts and he saw a brown paper parcel lying in the gully just close to the Shire Council Office, and he thought, “I wonder what that can be”. So he went out, stooped down and picked it up; marked on it was “U.N.A., PAY”, that is, “United North Australian Pay”. Well, Brodie, of course, know where it had come from but he didn’t know how it had got into the gully, so he immediately brought it up to the office and gave it to the secretary, G. C. Young.
About 5 minutes after this, Mr. Reid, the manager, arrived in, breathless and excited, and he said to the secretary., “George, I’ve lost the pay.” G. C. Young, the secretary, said, “Oh it’s O.K. Mr. Reid, it’s not lost, Jim Brodie has just brought it up to me.,” Needless to say, the general manager was very relieved when he found that the pay hadn’t been stolen and he recompensed Jim Brodie for his act of honesty.
Another amusing incident which I recall happened at the hoppers above the mill: A chap named Reg Tranby had a five horse dray there carting ore to the mill. Reg was not a very experienced horse driver either. It was a tip dray and Reg, in his endeavours to get the dray up onto the hopper and to tip it, succeeded in putting the dray into one hopper and the horse into another hopper.
Yet another remarkable incident that I recall happened about 1921: Manny Borghero, who had a large mule team, was engaged in transporting ore to the works. Mules are generally regarded as stubborn and of not much intelligence but you can take it from me that the mule has got a lot of sense. They used to jostle for position to get.rid of their loads. Where the scales were situated was just close to where the ropeway from the Governor Norman Mine came into the mill hoppers, and the scales were just close to the hopper and close to this rail. On this occasion, one of the mules, in his endeavour to get the load off his back quick and lively, bumped against the rail from the ropeway and precipitated himself into the hopper with the two bags of ore still on.
Manny Borghero, who was a very’ experienced man with stock, was not the least bit upset about this. But he said to me, “Mike Can I get some of that charcoal in bags from down near the gas producer to got this mule out?”, and I said, “Oh, yes Manny”. So I went down with Manny and we took up about 15 or 18 bags of charcoal on a little trolley. Manny just built up a platform of the charcoal in the hopper and had the a mule up from one stage to another stage, and kept on building it up and eventually he just led the mule out of the hopper and the mule wasn’t even hurt.
The population of Irvinebank from about 1906 to about 1909 would run from about 2,500 to 3000. The town today, unfortunately, has a population of only about 150 to 200. The community generally led a pretty happy life, and there was plenty of amusement for the people. Of course, in those days, motor cars were non-existent in the area. In fact, there were no roads between the coastal area and the back country. The first road that you were able to drive a motor vehicle over was the Gillies Highway and that didn’t come into being until about 1926.
Irvinebank had long since passed its prosperous days by then. As I mentioned earlier, transport was of course, by horses and horsedrawn vehicles – today the motor car has cut the horse right out and it is quite a rare thing to see horses; and, as for seeing mule teams as one was used to seeing them in one’s younger days, well they are something that you would probably see only in a museum today.
In May 1950, a monument was erected to John Moffat in the village square in front of the School of Arts hall. On this occasion, close on 1000 people re-visited Irvinebank to pay tribute to Moffat and to witness the unveiling of this memorial. The memorial is still there but it would appear to receive very little attention from the townspeople today. It may not be generally known to the community at large, but John Moffat, who was really the founder of Irvinebank and many of the northern areas and mining places, will be dead fifty years on 28 June 1968, and, remembering this, I recently made a visit to Irvinebank just to renew my memories of the past. It was quite sad to see the scene of desolation that exists today compared with when Moffat held sway there fifty years ago.
I noticed that the smelters have all been dismantled. The calciners have all gone, a goodly portion of the battery buildings and plant have gone, the ropeways from the Governor Norman and from the Vulcan Mine have both gone, the tramway line from Irvinebank to the junction of Stannary Hills is all gone, locomotives, rolling stock no sign of any of them.
The only thing remaining of the tramway today is the building which served the purpose of a tramway station. That is still standing on the concrete base as erected by John Moffat in 1907. But that is the only thing there today to give any indication of the existence of a tramway. The concrete work around the old tramway station was effected by an Italian – I suppose he was a monumental mason, possibly, in Italy – who was an excellent concrete worker, and the work today still stands, as good as the day it was put down. His name was Frank Rusconi, and his initials are recorded on the platform of the old tram station.
Around John Moffat’s residence and office Frank Rusconi was also responsible for all the concrete footpaths and this work, too, has been down for sixty odd years now, and is still as good as the day it was put down. I had the opportunity of visiting the office on this recent visit to Irvinebank and the desk where Moffat sat is still as it was when he was ‘King of the Domain’.
At the Vulcan Mine all that remains today are the poppet legs. All the buildings, all the engines – everything is gone. In recent years, Metal Explorations and the Loloma Gold Mines have been carrying out quite an extensive series of diamond drilling, but whether they did anything on the Vulcan and Tornado leases I don’t know. These, to my mind, would offer the best prospects of anything in the Irvinebank district, although the whole district is rich in tin almost everywhere and probably could be sent to the battery by bulldozing the whole of the mountains around the area.
The battery which has been controlled by the State Government for forty nine years past, is still operating and is running three shifts, but on a much smaller scale than in the days when the Irvinebank Company held sway in this area.
It is inevitable, of course, in a long recording of this history, stretching over such a long period of years that many incidents and persons will have been forgotten, but I hope that my readers will bear with me in these difficulties.
The Irvinebank cemetery is located about half a mile below the cricket ground and close to what has become known generally as Graveyard gully; probably an appropriate enough name, but an early map of Irvinebank had this watercourse designated as Green Creek. The name Could probably have been attributed to one of the original prospectors, Dave Green, as the two main creeks were named Gibbs’s Creek and McDonald Creek after Jimmy Gibbs and Jim McDonald, two of the original prospecting party. The old map referred to also had plainly marked thereon a spot marked “Massacre of blacks” which point would be about two miles south of the cemetery.
Many of the pioneers are laid to rest in the Irvinebank cemetery and much history could be recorded by a visit to this hallowed spot.