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Scottish Intellectuals in Colonial Queensland: A Comparative Study of John Dunmore Lang and George Wight

  • Denis Cryle


Documenting and debating the contribution made by the Scots in nineteenth century Queensland has proved a fertile field of inquiry that continues to attract local historians. The vivid colonial portraits we now possess of pastoralists and politicians like Evan Mackenzie and Thomas McIlwraith confirm that the substantial power base of the colonial Scots transcended politics and commerce. Ambitious and hard working, Queensland Scots acquired rather than inherited pastoral holdings, often turning to politics or returning subsequently to Scotland. Nor should the contribution to exploration of the likes of Andrew Petrie, Henry Stuart Russell or the Archers be discounted in opening the way for rapid occupation. In this respect, the Queensland story of intrepid Scottishness appears to conform to a classic imperial narrative — that of the entrepreneur, possessed of a streak of ruthlessness, even recklessness, and committed to achieving a measure of commercial and political independence from distant bureaucracies and colonies. Mackenzie's commercial ambitions for early Brisbane, ably documented by John Mackenzie-Smith, anticipate the full-blown brand of Queensland nationalism championed by Premier Thomas McIlwraith at the end of the nineteenth century. The price of such independence could nevertheless be considerable: a series of colonial depressions — of which the 1840s, 1860s and 1890s adversely affected Queensland — invariably cast a shadow over this saga of individual achievement, in the process challenging the collective narrative of Scottish commercial supremacy. This article, while confirming the energy and individualism of local Scots, proposes to document and interweave two somewhat different case studies and in the process articulates a counter-narrative to the prevailing historical wisdom concerning Scottish colonial achievement.



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1 Mackenzie-Smith, John, Brisbane's Forgotten Founder, Sir Evan Mackenzie of Kilcoy, 1916–1883 (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 1992).

2 See Waterson, D.-B., ‘Thomas McIlwraith: A Colonial Entrepreneur’, in Murphy, D.J. Joyce, R.B. (eds), Queensland Political Portraits 1859–1952 (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1978), 119–42. For the Darling Downs Scots, see also Waterson's Squatter, Selector and Storekeeper: A History of the Darling Downs 1859–93 (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1968).

3 See Russell, Henry Stuart, The Genesis of Queensland (Toowoomba: Vintage Books, 1989); Constance Campbell Petrie, Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1992; Dimity Dornan and Denis Cryle, The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1992).

4 See McDonald, Lorna, Over Earth and Ocean: The Archers of Tolderodden and Gracemere: A Norse–Australian Saga 1819–1965 (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1999).

5 Roberts, P. David, ‘Early Victorian Newspaper Editors’, Victorian Periodicals Newsletter, December (1971): 112.

6 Prentis, Malcolm D., The Scots in Australia: A Study of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland 1788–1900 (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1983), 159.

7 Prentis, The Scots in Australia, App. B, 289.

8 Cryle, Denis, The Press in Colonial Queensland: A Social and Political History 1845–1875 (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1998), 30. The Moreton Bay Courier changed its name to the Courier in May 1861, and then to the Brisbane Courier in April 1864. In this article, the newspaper will be referred to as the Courier.

9 Roberts, ‘Early Victorians Newspaper Editors’: 9; Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 13 (London: Oxford University Press, 1917): 410.

10 Roberts, ‘Early Victorians Newspaper Editors’: 10.

11 Roe, Michael, Quest for Authority 1835–1851 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1965).

12 Cryle, The Press in Colonial Queensland, Ch. 2.; Baker, D.-W.-A., Days of Wrath. A Life of John Dunmore Lang (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1985).

13 Cryle, Denis, ‘The Press in Colonial Queensland: A Social and Political History, 1845–1875’, PhD thesis (Brisbane: Griffith University 1987), Ch. 5.

14 Prentis, Malcolm D., The Scottish in Australia (Melbourne: AE Press, 1987).

15 entry, Lang, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 2: 1788–1850 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 76.

16 Marks, Elizabeth, ‘The Queensland Philosophical Society 1859–1883’, in Papers Read Before the Queensland Women's Historical Association at Newstead during 1960 (Brisbane: Queensland Women's Historical Association, 1961), 6.

17 Moreton Bay Courier, 10 September 1859, p. 3– and 14 September 1859, p. 3.

18 Moreton Bay Courier, 13 August 1859, p. 2.

19 Moreton Bay Courier, 10 September 1859, p. 2.

20 Wight, George, Congregational Independency: Its Introduction to Queensland (Brisbane: Gordon and Gotch, 1888), 259.

21 Morrison, A.A.A., ‘Politics in Early Queensland’, Journal of the Historical Society of Queensland, vol. 4, no. 3, December 1950: 293312.

22 See Cryle, Denis, ‘The Langs in Queensland 1858–65: An Unwritten Chapter’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, vol. vxiii, no. 4, November 1987: 133–52.

23 Prentis, The Scots in Australia, 246, 248.

24 Cryle, ‘The Langs in Queensland': 135.

25 Cryle, ‘The Langs in Queensland': 139141.

26 Wight, George, Queensland, The Field for British Labour and Enterprise (London: Comhill, 1861).

27 Lang, J.D., Queensland, Australia: A Highly Eligible Field for Emigration and the Future Cotton-field of Great Britain (London: Stanford, 1861).

28 Quoted in Queensland Guardian, 29 May 1861.

29 Black Ball Journal, 10 November 1862, p. 4 in Glanville Papers (MS 1700/28, NLA).

30 Queensland Guardian, 25 December 1861, p. 3.

31 Queensland Parliamentary Debates, 1864, p. 215.

32 Cryle, ‘The Langs in Queensland’: 149.

33 Queensland Daily Guardian, 31 August 1865, p. 2.

34 Weekly Herald, 30 January 1864, p. 5.

35 Miller entry, Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 13, 409.

36 Wight, George, Geology and Genesis. A Reconciliation of the Two Records (London: John Snow, 1857), v.

37 Bayne, Peter, The Life and Letters of Hugh Miller, vol. 2 (New York: R. Carter, 1871).—, 335.

38 Wight, Geology and Genesis: 4, 10.

39 Wight, Geology and Genesis: 284.

40 Dictionary of National Biography: 409.

41 Marks, ‘The Queensland Philosophical Society 1859–1883’: 6.

42 See Cryle, DenisA Manly Endeavour George Dunmore Lang’, in Denis Cryle, Disreputable Profession: Journalists and Journalism in Colonial Australia (Rockhampton: Central Queensland University Press, 1997), 79102.

43 George Wight Correspondence, 27 April 1875 in Glanville Papers.— (National Library, MS 1700).

44 Wight Correspondence, 27 April 1875 in Glanville Papers (National Library, MS1700).

45 Wight to Davina, 25 May 1875 (MS 1700/16, 375).

46 Wight to Davina, 26 January 1875 (MS 1700/16, 380).

47 Wight to Davina, 1877 (MS 1700/18, 413).

Scottish Intellectuals in Colonial Queensland: A Comparative Study of John Dunmore Lang and George Wight

  • Denis Cryle


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