The Gayndah Meeting of 1854

Gayndah Meeting 1854 original text

Concerns over the Separation of Queensland from New South Wales

(manually translated from original scan 24 December 2011, Andrew Thompson)

The following article from 1854 is extremely significant as an insight into the minds of early settlers of Central Queensland.

In attendance at this historic meeting held the month prior, were prominent land owners, explorers, residents, and future government ministers, many of whom would go on to play very large parts in what we now view as the history of Australia.

The meeting was held in the country town of Gayndah in the modern-day state of Queensland. Back then however, Queensland did not exist, and Gayndah was a very key town in the northern districts of the colony of New South Wales.

While supportive of the cause for “Separation from the Middle District” – i.e. the creation of a new British colony separate from New South Wales, those present at the Gayndah meeting were deeply concerned by the ‘arrogant assumption’ that the future capital of said colony should be Brisbane.

This meeting was arguably the flashpoint that led to calls for further subdivision of the future Queensland colony, and most certainly, the formation of the formidable advocacy group, the Central Queensland Territorial Separation League.

170 years on, it is a subject that continues to fascinate and frustrate me, as I see every day just how right were the views of these pioneers. The problems they predicted with having a remote capital in the far southeast of the colony, proved accurate, and remain the cause of discontent in regional Queensland today.

Whatever your views on Queensland’s history, this article is a worthy read, as they are the views of those who came before us and are written in real time by those in attendance, not tainted by fiction or romantic reflection.

If you enjoy this type of article, you can find more on the Central Queensland History page. Feel free to leave any related comments at the end of this page.

Andrew Thompson, editor | historian

Manual Translation:

Sydney Morning Herald, 31 Jan 1854

Meeting at Gayndah

A public meeting, pursuant to notice, was held at the Court House, Gayndah, on Tuesday, December 20, for the purpose of eliciting some expression of opinion on the subject of Separation from the Middle District.

William H Walsh
pastoralist & politician
MLA (NSW) Leichhardt 1859,
MLA (Qld) Maryborough 1865-1873,
MLA (Qld) Warrego 1873-1878

Considering the state of the rivers and the busy period at which the meeting took place, it was, for a meeting in the bush, well attended.

Mr. Archibald M. Thomson, on the motion of Mr. Michael Power, seconded by Mr. Alex Walker, was voted by acclamation to the chair. Mr. William H. Walsh undertook to act as Secretary.

The Secretary, by direction of the Chairman, read the requisition, and the reply thereto, upon which the meeting had been called together, after which the Chairman briefly explained its object.

Mr. William H. Walsh had the honour to propose the first resolution, and would read it. It was as follows :

That this meeting protests against the concluding paragraph of the last clause of a petition to the Queen, adopted by a public meeting held at Brisbane on Tuesday, November 1st, to consider the subject of separation from the Middle District, the proceedings of which meeting were published in the Moreton Bay Courier of November 5th, the purport of the said clause being to request her Majesty to constitute Brisbane the seat of Government of the proposed Northern Province, and implying that Brisbane is the most suitable place for that purpose.

A meeting had been held in Brisbane on November 1st, to protest and petition her Gracious Majesty against the continued attempts of the Legislative Council to deprive the Northern Districts of their just right to Separation.

That meeting was attended or acquiesced in by the most respectable, influential, and thinking people of the Darling Downs and Moreton Bay District.

It was a spirited and English-like affair, and so far they should be pleased with it. In the 51st clause of the New Constitution Bill it was proposed to make the future northern boundary of New South Wales somewhere near the 26th parallel of latitude, and the meeting needed hardly to be told that were her Majesty to accede to this demand, their fitness for separation would be postponed to a very remote period. They would find themselves located at the extreme ends of two separate colonies.

For instance the station of Bonaroo would be situated in New South Wales while Gayndah would not. To Brisbane, also, such a division would be most disastrous, and the earnestnesss with which the people of the latter town had taken up their interested course was not to be wondered at. It was their duty, however, to maintain their own rights, to see that those flourishing districts north of Moreton Bay were not impeded in their onward course by any arrangement – unsuitable to their requirements – obstructive of their welfare.

It was, in fact, their duty to tell their Brisbane neighbours that they would join the latter in getting rid of a neglectful government, provided they, the people of Brisbane, do not attempt to mar the glorious future of these promising localities.

Michael Power, mayor of Toowoomba 1871
Michael Power
inn-keeper & politician
Mayor of Toowoomba 1871

So much could be said on this subject, and so many better qualified gentlemen present were anxious to do so, that he would say little more than merely to move that the resolution, which he would again read, be adopted.

Dr. Brown seconded the motion. He had little to say in addition to the remarks of the previous speaker, except upon one point. It appeared to him that Port Curtis, from official documents, promised superior advantages as a capital to Brisbane. The harbour of Port Curtis was much finer, the country at the back of Brisbane was unfavourable for the transit of goods, was not suitable for the formation of roads.

One of the greatest drawbacks to eligibility as a capital was, in his opinion, difficulty of access to the coast such difficulty as in fact was presented by the obstacles in the navigation of the river Brisbane.

The Chairman then put the 1st resolution to the meeting, and declared it carried.

Mr. Henry Herbert proposed the second resolution, which he read to this effect : –

That this meeting is strongly of opinion that the objectionable paragraph alluded to in the foregoing resolution does not convey the sentiments of the inhabitants of the districts lying to the northward of the thirtieth parallel of south latitude.

He presumed they were all agreed on the subject of separation, but remarked on the arrogance and narrow mindedness of the Brisbane people in assuming that their town was the proper site for a capital, when so much of the coast remained unexplored, and when so many better places might reasonably be presumed to exist. He wished strongly to impress upon the meeting that the question of a site for a metropolis ought to be left open.

Mr. Robert Strathdee begged to second the resolution, which was declared by the chairman to be carried.

Mr. William Forster proposed and read the third resolution, as follows : –

That this meeting, however anxious for separation from the Middle District, declares itself most unequivocally opposed to that measure under the terms of the petition previously referred to, and is satisfied that to retain the present unsatisfactory connection with the district and government of Sydney, would be more generally desirable for these districts than annexation to a new province, having its seat of Government in the District of Moreton Bay.

William Forster
pastoralist, poet, & parliamentarian
NSW Colonial Secretary 1863-1865
NSW Colonial Treasurer 1875-1876

He was glad to perceive from the proceedings of previous speakers, that it was not the intention of those present to pass these resolutions, upon a subject so important, with silent votes. It was desirable that an opportunity like the present, of exercising themselves in political action, should not be allowed to pass. This was the first political combination of the inhabitants of these districts.

He was glad to perceive a sprinkling of different professions among them. The time might come when something more than eloquence might be demanded of them to resist the encroachments of democracy in the towns – not only in Brisbane but in Sydney, where a powerful faction was even now endeavouring to assail them, where they would perhaps feel most sensitively, in their pockets.

It was necessary therefore to shake off that apathy of which the squatters had been accused. On the present occasion there did not appear much reason to reproach themselves. Notwithstanding the busy season and the unfavourable state of the weather, their attendance was creditable.

He repeated that the question before them was an important one. He conceived that they purposed preventing the infliction of an injury upon the Northern Districts. He should not shrink from giving his opinion on the subject of separation.

He had once not felt very warmly on the subject. He had been disposed to believe that they had no means of forming a separate Government, that they were asking it too early. But on reflection – when he came to consider the indifference shown towards their interests by the Sydney Government, he could not avoid the conclusion that it was necessary for them to have a government of their own.

It was in the recollection of every one present, it was notorious, that the head of a public department in these districts had, by his irregularities, by his intoxicated habits, rendered himself contemptible throughout these districts, until there was scarcely a man, woman, or child among them that was not sensible of his unfitness for the office he held. But in spite of their remonstrances, of the continued representations of their most respectable residents, he was still continued in office.

This, among other things, was a proof, not that the Sydney Government were disposed to treat them with tyranny or injustice, but that they were quite indifferent to their interests. It proved that they wanted a government of their own – not such a government as the demagogues of the towns would give them – for he felt happy that he was a conservative – but still a government of their own.

There were imperial, colonial, and local interests. The Imperial Government might well be trusted to look after the first, the Sydney Government had charge of the second, but their local interests neither Sydney nor Imperial Government could understand or provide for. Therefore they required separation. He trusted a spirit of local independence could always be kept up in these districts. It was one of the best safeguards of liberty.

The want of it had made France succumb to the dominion of Paris, and in their first revolution had led that nation to commit the most atrocious crimes under the forms of law, and in the name of liberty. The want of local independence had been the bane of ancient states, and had crushed them all under that accursed system of centralization which reduces all ranks and classes to a dead equality.

But however much he admired local independence, there was nothing more contemptible than local jealousy. They had specimens of this in the newspaper press of Melbourne and other colonies. It was in this spirit that the people of Brisbane had acted towards them. And however he desired separation, he would rather not have it than be placed under a Brisbane Government, from the experience he had had of their feelings towards this community. From their conduct in the distribution of emigrants and exiles, and the management of other little matters which came under their control, he was afraid they were not actuated by a liberal spirit.

Gayndah Courthouse
Gayndah Courthouse, c. 1850

Altering a little the words of a late speaker at the Brisbane meeting, (Mr. Hope,) he would say the people of Brisbane very much overrated their own importance when they asked the Queen to make their town the seat of government.

He had the highest respect for many of the gentlemen who conducted the movement at Brisbane, but he was afraid their ideas were cramped by the atmosphere of that place. “What were the claims of Brisbane to the honour her inhabitants would confer upon her? Upon what arguments did they ground their ridiculous pretensions? They had a few government buildings, built, he had always understood, in the worst place that could have been chosen. They had a harbour notorious for wrecks. Could any one forget the wreck of the Sovereign, which strewed the coast of Moreton Bay with the bodies of women and children! And many other examples of the same sort had since occurred which he need not particularize.

He thought they had submitted to quite enough at the hands of the Brisbane people. They had appropriated their share of emigration, and had all the benefit of the Courts of Justice. No doubt it was quite right that these courts should at present be held there, but they should consider how it would be in future. They had many of them suffered the greatest inconvenience from having to attend the Brisbane Courts as witnesses, on very poor remuneration. If this were inconvenient now when their population was thin, how would they feel it when more numerous, and they came to be dragged overland to contribute to the revenues of Brisbane, and benefit the pockets of Brisbane inn-keepers?

The Brisbane people would not have been pleased had Maryborough been proposed for a capital, yet Maryborough seemed to him as suitable as Brisbane. The harbour was as good, the approach by land better. He could not silently pass over the claims of Port Curtis to this distinction. The eyes of the people of these districts were all turned to Port Curtis. He knew little of that port, but from all he had heard, it was the most suitable site yet discovered for a metropolis.

He feared he had detained the meeting too long, and, in conclusion, would observe that having begun this contest they must continue it. They must not rely altogether on the reason and justice of their cause. They must come forward on all occasions to support those who were endeavouring to forward their interests. They had skilful and active adversaries, more experienced in political matters than themselves. They must therefore lose no opportunity of preventing, what they were now met to prevent, the elevation of Brisbane into a seat of Government.

Mr. Emmerson seconded the third resolution, which was declared by the Chairman to be carried.

Mr. Bouverie proposed and read the fourth resolution to this effect, recommending it by a few observations:

That this meeting, so far from concurring in the assumption that the metropolis of the proposed new colony ought to be in the district of Moreton Bay, would regard such a selection as a calamity that could not fail to be detrimental to the interests of the new colony.

The fourth resolution was seconded by Mr. David Jones, and declared by the Chairman to be carried.

Mr. Joshua Sewell proposed, and Mr. Alexander Walker seconded the fifth resolution, as follows:

That in the opinion of this meeting, whatever may be the line finally determined on as the southern boundary of the proposed new province, not only would the town of Brisbane be a highly unsuitable site for its metropolis, but the district of Moreton Bay generally contains no eligible site for such a purpose, inasmuch as its position is not sufficiently central, and its principal harbour far inferior in point of security and accessibility, and for purposes of trade to many others more conveniently situated, and it possesses no natural advantages to compensate for these deficiences.

The Chairman declared the fifth resolution to be carried.

Mr. Robert Strathdee proposed the sixth resolution, which he read as follows:

That the petition now before the meeting be adopted and sent round these districts for signatures, and forwarded to His Excellency the Governor-General for transmission to her Majesty.

To HER MOST GRACIOUS MAJESTY THE QUEEN: The humble petition of the inhabitants of, and others interested in, the Districts of Wide Bay and Burnett River respectfully sheweth, that your petitioners possess, in the aggregate, about 700,000 sheep, and other stock in proportion, and occupy the principal portion of the located country to the northward of the districts of Moreton Bay and Darling Downs.

That a petition having been adopted by a public meeting, consisting principally of residents in the districts of Moreton Bay and Darling Downs, held at Brisbane, on Tuesday, November 1st, praying your Majesty to separate the government of these districts from that of the Sydney or Middle District, and to establish a new province to the northward of the 30th parallel of south latitude, having its seat of government at Brisbane, your petitioners beg most respectfully to express their dissent from that portion of the aforesaid petition which requests your Majesty to fix the seat of government of the proposed new colony at Brisbane.

– That the site of the town of Brisbane is universally allowed to have been so ill chosen as to forbid it ever rising into a city of any importance.

– That the district of Moreton Bay is not sufficiently central, and possesses no natural advantages to recommend any portion of its territory as an eligible site for the metropolis of the proposed new colony.

– That the port of Moreton Bay is far inferior in security, accessibility, and general convenience for commercial purposes, to many other harbours more advantageously situated, and which there is no reason to doubt, would be included within the limits of tho proposed new colony.

– That the magnificent harbour of Port Curtis, where a town is now being laid out by the Government of Sydney, appears to your petitioners not only more favourably situated for the required metropolis, but to possess, in a far higher degree than any part of Moreton Bay, the requisites of a great commercial city.

– That your petitioners are, consequently, of opinion that to make Brisbane the seat of government of the proposed new colony would, at the very outset, inflict serious injury upon its interests.

– That your petitioners, though cordially concurring In the wishes of the people of Moreton Bay and Darling Downs for Separation from the government of Sydney, would prefer retaining their present connection with that government and district, to being included in a new Province, having Brisbane for its capital.

And your petitioners venture, most respectfully, to express their earnest hope that your Majesty, in the selection of a site for the metropolis of what seems destined, at no distant day, to become a great Province, will have regard to the interests of future tracts of country, now untenanted save by the aborigines, and will not be influenced, to their prejudice, by the partial representations of even a numerical majority of the present inhabitants of these districts, who, as they occupy those portions of the country in question which have been longest settled, naturally exhibit a preponderance in wealth and population which it is not to be supposed they will maintain when the influx of colonisation shall have overtaken and reclaimed territories which are now included in the wilderness.

And your petitioners – will ever pray, &c.

He recommended the adoption of the petition, as having emanated from the wealth, the respectability, and the intelligence of these districts. It embodied the resolutions to which they hid previously agreed. Its tone was candid – the facts it enumerated proved the observations judicious. Brisbane was not a proper place for the future capital of the future colony – either from position or capabilities.

Indeed, Wide Bay, in the opinion of competent judges, was just as good, if not a better harbour. Why should not Maryborough be the capital? The land on the banks of the Mary was equally fertile with that on the Brisbane. The grazing of these two districts vastly superior to the Moreton Bay and Darling Downs districts. To the northward, from all we have seen and heard of the capabilities of the country for the sustenance of stock, its value was incalculable. What it now sustained was a tythe of what it was able to carry. These districts would soon be able to eclipse Brisbane, with all their boasted wealth and intelligence. He would move the adoption of the petition. The speaker then read the petition annexed to this report.

The sixth resolution was seconded by Mr. H. Herbert, (who mentioned that he could state, on good authority, that gold had been found here, near Mount Perry,) and declared by the Chairman to be carried.

Mr. W. H. Walsh had the greatest satisfaction in being allowed to propose the 7th resolution, as follows :

That the thanks of this meeting be presented to Gordon Sandeman, Esq., for the public-spirited manner in which he has brought the subject of the extravagant pretensions of the people of Brisbane under the notice of the inhabitants of these districts.

To this gentleman these districts were deeply indebted; for though alone, unaided, and in Brisbane, he did not flinch from his duty as a Burnett man. When they estimated, as they soon might, the unpleasantness of defending local interests from the jealousy of others, they would understand and appreciate the courage displayed by Mr. Sandeman, as they now did his ability.

The speaker then referred to the opposition he experienced, three years ago, from a Brisbane Committee on the subject of immigration – when he was told that he ought to have attended the Provisional Meeting at Brisbane ; and that if these localities could not, as they ought, content themselves with deriving immigrants from Brisbane, it was too late then to alter their petition, and it would be a sign of weakness to do so.”

Charles Archer
pastoralist & explorer
discovered the Fitzroy River 1853,
Founding father of Rockhampton

He (Mr. Walsh) had been taught from his childhood that second thoughts were best, but Brisbane wisdom had denied the truth of this old proverb, when its application would have been more just than beneficial to themselves.

Mr. W. Forster felt himself honoured by having to second the seventh resolution, which the Chairman announced as carried.

The eighth resolution was proposed by Mr. H. H. Brown, seconded by Mr. R. Strathdee, and carried. That a subscription be entered into, and the following gentlemen appointed as a committee to carry out the objects of this meeting, with power to add to their number, viz. :-

Messrs. Gordon Sandeman, William O’Grady Haly, James Mackay, George N. Living, Charles Archer, John Livingstone, Henry Palmer, Edmund B. Uhr, John D. McTaggart, Archibald M. Thomson, Clement Lawless, William Elliott, William Forster, William Young, H. H. Brown, Henry Herbert, Robert Strathdee, Robert Wilkin, Norman Hay, William H. Walsh.

The ninth resolution, proposed by Mr. C. Lawless, seconded by Dr. Brown, and carried.

That Mr. William Forster be requested to act as Secretary, and that he be directed to have the proceedings of this meeting made public through the medium of the Moreton May CourierMoreton Bay Free PressSydney Morning Herald and Englishman newspapers.

The usual vote of thanks was then awarded to the Chairman for his able conduct in the chair. The petition was signed, in a perfect rush of enthusiasm, by all present, and a very liberal collection made.

On the whole, the subject created sensation, but the meeting was conducted and separated in an orderly manner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.