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The first settlement of Morinish occurred when William Henry Wiseman, as Lands Commissioner of Leichhardt, approved an application for land from Patrick Mackay and his brother Colin for Morinish in 1854. Morinish is 45 kms west-north-west of Rockhampton. At one time, Colin Mackay's country stretched to Gogango. The property ran sheep and it was not until 1871 that Mackay decided to get rid of the sheep (they were unsuitable for the ground & available grasses) and run cattle. In the 1870's more pastoralists arrived and, according to an article in The Morning Bulletin in the early part of this century, much of the Morinish area was settled by people from Scotland. These Scots worked on the land and did not do any mining of the gold which was discovered there in 1866. (See article 'Among the Scots' in our December 1995 journal.)
It was not until 1866, the two Smith brothers, while working for Mackay, discovered gold on a spur of the Morinish Range which was part of Morinish Station. The Morinish Gold Fields were not gazetted until 1871. Many of the diggers that arrived soon after the find had moved from the Crocodile Fields (now Bouldercombe) to the newly discovered diggings at Morinish. This may have been because of the race riots (between the Chinese and the miners) occurring at Crocodile diggings or the flooding of the Crocodile Creek. By March 1867, there were over 1200 people on the field, scattered over a distance of 26kms. Once payable gold was found, stores were erected, hotels opened and early in 1867, Morinish assumed an air of prosperity although the Morinish Provisional School was not established until February 1883 (records show that, at this time, there were only 19 students). Certainly in these early years Morinish was not a healthy playground for children as the burial records for this area testify. A major problem at Morinish for the diggers was a lack of water and the miners tried unsuccessfully to dam the creeks.
Gold was to be found close to the surface and in some areas, was only 3 metres down. Many reefs were discovered around the Morinish fields. One such field was called Blackfellow's Gully and "was named after the discoverer in 1867, an American man of colour" according to Bird pp 213. This mine was mined continuously by some old hands, including W O'Donoghue and Mr Pattimore, till the early 1900's. Another very profitable field was Hunter's Gully which was just outside the Morinish Gold & Mineral Fields. Gold was discovered here by David Hunter in January 1867. The lead & surrounding areas of this field were worked profitably by a great number of people for many years. Product records show that gold was still being produced from this field in 1946 - 221 ozs - but there were no early production records kept for this field until 1909. Geologists claim that there is still gold to be found in this area today.
Wealth was a long way off for those capitalists who had rushed the area with a surplus of crushing batteries to serve the fields that had not been properly proved. Another factor was that, in October 1867, the discovery of gold at Gympie was announced and many diggers soon left the old field for the new fields. As well as this, gold had also been discovered in other parts of the district. In just over one week, Gympie's population had reached 3000. According to the poet Alick Forbes who lived at the diggings, "Morinish had fallen into decadence by the early 1870's". (Bird pp213)
In his book "Voices from the Bush", he wrote
My interest in this area stems from the knowledge that my g.g.grandfather Henry Bethel and my g. grandfather John Thomas were there. John Thomas, known as Blackjack and the discoverer of gold mines of that name at Ravenswood and Charters Towers was in the party of men which included Mr EHT Plant and Mr Ellis in 1867 when they discovered The Pioneer / Kennedy Reef at Morinish. After the group sold out, Thomas and Plant moved on to Ravenswood and eventually to Charters Towers. An interesting fact that I have been unable to discover is the significance of the name of Marie Louise which was a reef at Morinish. John Thomas later called his mill in Charters Towers, the Marie Louisa Mill. As I can't find where John Thomas came from, I often wonder if this name is the link to his past.
It should be mentioned at this time that relations with the aboriginal people in this area were very poor. Native police were brought to the area soon after the gold rush to protect the miners. The cruelty of these native police was demonstrated when they shot four Darambal aboriginals including a young girl at their camp at Morinish around 12 July 1867. History tells us that the reason for this racial hatred occurred in 1857 when Mrs Fraser and her children, with the exception of one child, were brutally murdered by aboriginals on their property on the Upper Dawson River. One son, William Fraser who was absent from the station at the time, was virtually licensed by the Queensland government, to shoot all aboriginals. He was in the Morinish area in 1867 tracking down a tribe of aboriginals. The frightened women and children had run to McKenzie's property, "Callioran" at Morinish for protection and were hidden by Mrs McKenzie's in her bedroom.
In the Bulletin newspaper (Rockhampton) of 24 October 1869, the editor stated "Gold and murder are found in combination.". He was commenting after the execution of the men found guilty of the murder of Patrick Halligan. Patrick Halligan was a popular, honest and a fair gold buyer who disappeared on 24 April 1869 while returning with gold from Morinish. He was held up by two men, George Palmer and Jack Williams. Halligan was shot by the men because he recognised Palmer and his body was weighted down and thrown in the Fitzroy River. Two days later his body was found floating in the river. Another man, Alex Archibald, a publican of the Lion Creek Hotel, was also found guilty of the murder as he planned the hold up. All three men were sent to the gallows in Rockhampton.
There was always danger in gold mining in those early years and there was one recorded tragedy in DW de Havelland's book "Gold and Ghosts". In September 1885, the Welcome Reef was flooded without warning and four men were drowned. They were William McMaster, father of six who was buried in Rockhampton, James Graham, widower and father of two, Robert McLean & Robert Johnson, newcomers to the field, who were buried on Welcome Flat. William McMaster's youngest son, Fergus, was later to achieve fame as one of the founders of Qantas Airways.
Very soon, Morinish had had its days of glory when gold was discovered at Ridgelands & Rosewood and the area was deserted except for reef miners awaiting machinery to crush the gold. Until the 1940's, it still remained an area where some gold miners continued to try their luck. Today all that remains of this exciting history are the many abandoned mine shafts. The grazing industry is alive and well, as it was before the discovery of gold.
The following names are to be found in CQ Family History Association records as being at The Morinish during the latter part of the 19th century.
PROPERTIES around MORINISH
MINERS & CITIZENS OF MORINISH IN THESE EARLY YEARS
1973 TELEPHONE DIRECTORY
The following people were listed in the 1973 telephone directory for Morinish
LONE GRAVESMany of the early burials occurred on the gold fields. These particular lone graves appears to be at the Welcome Flat site.
Names of persons buried on R523, parish of Morinish as supplied by Mr & Mrs Franklin on 2 June 1943. Records came from District Land Office, Rockhampton on 9 June 1943.
JTS BIRD - THE EARLY HISTORY OF ROCkHAMPTON
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