New England's History

Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

History revisited – a considerable influence

I finished my first column on the remarkable history of civil aviation in New England with the successful 1961 fight by East-West Airlines against a hostile takeover by Ansett Transport Industries backed by the full power of the Federal Government.

I will return to the story of East-West a little later. Now, I want to introduce a new player, one that would become the third New England airline of national importance.

The creation of East-West had a considerable economic impact on the North beyond the immediate value of the air services themselves or indeed the money spent locally by East-West itself. This impact came from the new businesses created as a consequence of East-West’s existence.

Hannafords In Tamworth, for example, Jack Hannaford built his bus and coach company around the need to shift East-West passengers. By the late 1950s, Hannaford’s was one of the first two coach companies to enter the Northern Territory marketplace.

A second company was Tamworth Air Taxis, later Tamair, then East Coast Airlines, then Eastern Airlines and finally Eastern Australian Airlines.

Tamworth Air Taxis owed its existence to Jim Packer’s love of flying. A Barnados Boy, Packer had come to Australia as a twelve year old in 1929. After working on diary farms around Qurindi and Tamworth, he later worked at The Tamworth Gulf Club.

In 1937, he joined the Tamworth Aero Club and started spending every available penny on flying lessons, acquiring his private pilot’s license in 1938. In 1941, Jim joined the Royal Australian Air Force, becoming a pilot in the No 4 Communications Unit.

With the establishment of East-West Airlines in 1947, Jim started work in the company’s electrical engineering department, also working as a charter pilot for East-West.

In 1949, East-West withdrew from charter work following a forced landing during a major flood. Jim then formed Tamworth Air Taxis in partnership with Bruce Cann, supported by local farmers including Colin Proctor. Tamworth Air Taxis took over and extended the charter work previously done by East-West, including air ambulance work.

In 1953, Jim renamed the company Tamair. He also convinced the Sydney afternoon newspapers that they would make more money if he could collect the afternoon papers delivered to Tamworth by East-West around 1:00 pm and then fly them to smaller centres across the North.

This work provided bread and butter for Tamair, supporting the company during seasonal downturns and facilitating the extension of its services into a range of new areas including aerial survey work and a flying school.

In 1971, Tamworth business man John Rowarth took control of Tamair, starting a period of rapid expansion that would entwine Tamair and East-West and would play a critical role in the fundamental changes that were to sweep New England civil aviation.

In my next column, I will return to the story of East-West and the dramatic events that were now to take place.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 April 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

History revisited – introducing a flying history

I wonder how many readers know of the significant role that New England has played in the history of Australian aviation? These are just some of the airlines with New England connections: New England Airways (Lismore), East-West Airlines (Tamworth), .Eastern Airlines (Tamworth), Aeropelican (Newcastle), Oxley Airlines (Port Macquarie) and Impulse Airlines (Newcastle).

The story of those airlines begins in the very early days of commercial aviation and continues to the present time. It is one of struggle for survival, of expansion, takeovers and collapses, of crashes. It is also one of political fights and fierce lobbying, of dreams lost and won.

The story has determined who flies us, but also links to the rise and sometimes fall of a whole variety of associated businesses. This column is the start of that story.

The first airline, New England Airways, was founded in 1931 by George A RoNew England Airwaysbinson, part of the North Coast’s Robinson transport family. Lismore based, New England Airways began with a bi-weekly Lismore-Brisbane service, later extended to a Lismore-Sydney service. This created the first and very popular Sydney-Brisbane link.

The photo shows passengers from one NEA flight. Weren’t they dolled up?!

The airline grew, acquiring the assets of the bankrupt Kingsford Smith founded Australian National Airlines. Reflecting its new role as .a national carrier, the airline was renamed Airlines of Australia in 1935. In 1942, it was acquired by the second Australian National Airlines (ANA) and effectively vanished from view.

The next major New England airline, East-West Airlines, was founded in 1947 by local grazier and entrepreneur Don Shand. The airline had intended to fly from Moree to Inverell to Grafton, but quickly found that the routes to Sydney were highest traffic.

East-West Airlines early days were rocky. It was difficult to make money. Still, by 1955, a passenger in Armidale had a choice of regular scheduled services to both Sydney and Brisbane.

East-West had to contend with more than simple economics. Its growth was also restricted by Federal Government policies that mandated that there be no more than two national carriers.

In 1961, a huge political fight broke out when Ansett Transport Industries tried to take over East-West Airlines.

Central to that fight was pressure on East-West by Civil Aviation Minister Robert Paltridge supported by Prime Minister Menzies. Don Shand was told that East-West, must accept the Ansett bid. Shand went public with the pressure, the Minister denied it.

White and shaking, David Drummond as Member for New England rose in the House to confirm the airline’s story. The Government was on a knife edge, with a one seat majority. The House was empty as Drummond began to speak. As he spoke, the benches and gallery filled.

No one could deny Drummond’s honesty. With support from the NSW Labour Government, the airline was saved.

I will continue the story of New England aviation in my next column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 March 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

History revisited – Brown Street: an iconic Armidale Street

For those who love the look and feel of Armidale, the Armidale Visitor Information Centre has a little treasure trove of books about Armidale. One is John Ferry’s Brown Street Armidale NSW 2350.

John was, is, one of New England’s greatest historians. He was only 55 when he died in 2004. The book was written long before, in 1990, but it wasn’t until just before his death that he offered it to the Historical Society. It was then lovingly edited by Bruce Cady, finally coming out in 2007.

Brown Street has changed since John wrote, but it remains a special study of a special street. You can still walk Brown Street today with the book in hand, if sometimes sadly noting the changes. Gordon Smith, Brown Street, Armidale

Growing up, I thought of Brown Street as one of Armidale’s more interesting streets, although it wasn’t my favourite street. That honour was taken by Faulkner Street, followed by Dangar. By contrast, I regarded my own street, Marsh Street, as a pedestrian affair: very boring, really, with its long sweep down and up the hill. .

Brown Street is anchored by two of Armidale’s iconic buildings. 

On the west is the Railway Station, a piece of High Victorian architecture with Italianate features. It’s hard now when only a few railway enthusiasts keep the dream of the Great Northern Railway alive to understand just how important that station was to Armidale.

Try an experiment. Go to the station. As you come onto the platform look to your left. There were the old refreshment rooms. Now go to the platform’s edge and look north along the disused line. Shut your eyes and try to think back.

You are ten. You are going to Sydney on the Glen Innes Mail, sharing a sleeping compartment with your brother. You have never done that before, and steam trains are exciting anyway. All that power!

In the distance, you can hear the faint hoot of the whistle. Now the train comes into sight, rushing towards the station. As it stops, you rush up to see that hero, the engine driver with fireman feeding coal. Steam leaks from the engine.

People have rushed to the refreshment rooms to get supplies. Now your parents call you back. The guard has blown his whistle; people are swarming back onto the train.

You enter that marvelous compartment with all its special features. Your own basin! Who wants the top bunk? You can see why we were excited.

Down the other end of Brown Street can be found TAS with its John Sulman designed main building. This is a very different style, but one that is equally striking.

Jessie Street marks the divide between these different worlds, the poorer industrial west compared to the more genteel and wealthier east. The buildings reflect that transition.

I am not going to describe all the features of Brown Street. Rather, I want you to buy the book and walk the street yourself!

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 March 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Alan Barcan, the Sydney Old Left and threads in New England’s history

I have been reading Alan Barcan’s Radical Students: the Old Left at Sydney University (Melbourne University Press, Carlton South 2002). I bought it a second hand bookshop because I was curious, curious about the subject, but also about the author. Alana Barcan

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s I was writing a PhD thesis on the life of my grandfather, David Drummond, Drummond was an activist Country Part Education Minister in NSW for some twelve years and had a major influence on education in New England, in NSW and beyond. In writing I drew quite heavily from Alan’s work on the history of education in Australia since it helped provide structure and set a basic context for part of my work.

That explains in part why I bought the book since it is something of a personal memoir of a man whose writing I have used and liked. However, I was also attracted by the title. I knew the old left had been influential; I remember the fights between the old and new left. I was curious about that, but also wondered what influence it had all had in regard to my primary project, a history of New England. How did that fit in, if at all?

As I read the book, I was disappointed at the lack of reference to the North. Then I thought, how dumb! The New England University College was established in 1938, the Newcastle University College in 1951. Many of the earlier events that Alan describes took place before their creation or when they were still very small.

Episodes such as the sometimes conflict between the left and the Andersonians, the followers of philosopher John Anderson, for influence on the Sydney campus were hardly relevant to the North. Even the broader influence of Anderson, including his influence on Libertarian thinking and the by-blow creation of what became known as the Sydney Push, were peripheral.

Still, as I read, I realised that Alan’s analysis of student life and old left activism actually provided a useful framework for one small part of the Northern story.

At Sydney University, the left and the Christian movements often combined. The Student Christian Movement (SCM) with its sometimes radical Christian humanism was especially important here. This overlapped with the social and ideological concerns of the old left, leading to fluctuating alliances.

The University of New England has been described as Australia’s most religious campus during the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1960s, there was a clear if small left on campus. This focused especially on limited political issues, things outside the ken of most students.

By contrast, the Christian groups were very powerful measured by participation. The Roman Catholic Newman Society and Evangelical Union tended to be more religious and socially conservative, more inward looking.

The SCM was especially  large and active, as was the Methodist Youth Fellowship. A town based group that combined University and Teachers’ College, the MYF exercised a disproportionate influence relative to the proportion of Methodists in the general Australian population. This group was strongly influenced by the change waves sweeping the Methodist Church at the time.

All this made for an activist campus, but one whose manifestations were different to those holding at Sydney. It was humanitarianism within a religious rather than political ideological frame.

As I read Barcan’s book, I was a bit surprised at the number of names that I knew. That shouldn’t have surprised me, Australia was a very small world then, but it did. I was also interested in proportionally how many of those named ended up in the North. Alan himself moved to the University of Newcastle.

Peter Coleman’s review mentions Alan’s encyclopaedic approach, the depth of his research. He concludes:

I first met Barcan at Sydney University in 1946. I was 17 and he was a grand old man of 24. He was the communist editor of Honi Soit.  I look back in amazement at his encouragement of my juvenile essays in journalism - interviews, reviews, reports. His manner was generous, tolerant, good-humoured.  That is the tone of this nostalgic if sometimes melancholy history which is also memoir.

I think that’s not a bad spot to leave this post.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

History revisited – two decades of change at UNE

Concluding my story of UNE’s Vice-Chancellors, in February Professor Bruce Thom (1994-1996) arrived to become VC of the newly reconstituted University of New England.

This “institution has been cruelly treated by State and Federal Governments”, he said. “The last four years were like a bad dream”. He promised a more democratic decision making process. The University must live within its means, diversify funding and increase research output.

The new VC was quickly swamped by legacy problems, including difficulties with the School of Law and the ill-fated Turkish venture. The University’s financial reserves had been largely exhausted by the previous troubles, By July 1996, it was in financial crisis. In November, staff carried a motion of no-confidence in the VC, followed by the Council. Professor Thom had no choice but to resign.

His place was taken by Mal (Malcolm) Nairn as interim VC. Building in part on decisions already made under Professor Thom, Nairn was able to stabilise the situation. His replacement Ingrid Moses (1997-2006) arrived in July 1997. She adopted Nairn’s strategic plan and was able to build from his work. By July 2001, the financial position had been largely restored.

In many ways, Malcolm Nairn, Ingrid Moses, Alan Pettigrew (2006-2010) and James Barber (2010-2014) faced common strategic problems: variable and often prescriptive government polices and funding; limited access to alternative funding sources; difficulties in attracting internal students, along with increased competition in the external marketplace.

The University’s strategic position was poor. From the early 1980s, increased competition especially from the metropolitan universities meant that fewer students were opting for UNE. The times of trouble not only damaged the University’s reputation, but also created greater competition in regional areas. The University of the North had become the University of the North West.

Faced with these problems, all Vice-Chancellors sort to build student numbers, to preserve the University’s research activities, to develop new courses and to find new ways of doing business. There were successes, but there were also recurring problems.

At his first Sydney alumni dinner after becoming Chancellor in 2004, John Cassidy told alumni “this university is a business and must be run as one. That is my job” Sydney alumni dinner

In 2008, this view of Chancellor as Executive Chancellor exploded in a brawl over the respective roles of Chancellor and VC that put the University back on the national front pages for all the wrong reasons, leading to Mr Cassidy’s departure. Five years later, the University was back there over another Chancellor. 

In August 2012, Vice Chancellor Barber presented his plans for UNE to a Sydney alumni dinner. Within minutes, the carefully constructed question and answer session dissolved as anxious and indeed angry alumni sought reassurance that the new focus on on-line mass delivery would not further damage their university as a university (photo).

Professor Barber outlined his plans for the main campus and explained that a strong on-line side would support a deeper on-campus experience. That may well be true, but it is also true that patience with the University among the broader university community is running thin.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 March 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for2014.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

History revisited - College culture shapes shapes university

Continuing my story of UNE’s Vice Chancellors, in my last column I spoke of the very different cultures of the University and the Armidale and Northern Rivers Colleges of Advanced Education. Those differing cultures would be central to the perfect storm that now engulfed the University.

In December 1987, Professor Laurie Nichol (1985-1988) resigned as Vice ChanJohn Dawkins 1984cellor to take up the same position at the Australian National University. His place would be taken by Professor Don McNicol (1988-1990). That December, too, Commonwealth Education Minister John Dawkins released the Green Paper that would form the core of what became known as the Dawkins Revolution in Higher Education. 

The concept of education for national efficiency, for economic development, was central to the Dawkin’s reforms. To achieve this, universities, must become more business like, adopt new corporate models, find new sources of funding.

There were too many higher education institutions, too many small institutions. To be efficient,. they must merge. A stick and carrot approach was adopted. If you didn’t participate, Commonwealth funding would be contracted. If you did participate, then more funding would be provided.

Don McNicol, UNE’s new VC, was a former Chairman of the University Advisory Council of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, the body that had long pressed for a merger between UNE and the Armidale CAE. He fully supported the Dawkins reforms, arguing that they provided exciting opportunities.

Armidale and Northern Rivers CAEs were too small to attract funding as independent institutions, while the University was too small to join the top level of universities as defined. A sometimes frantic round of discussions began.

The end result was the creation of a new networked university incorporating not just UNE and the two colleges, but also, at its request, the Orange Agricultural College. The new university was the third biggest in NSW.

Amalgamation complete, McNicol departed to become VC at his old University, Sydney. He had been at UNE just two years.

The new Vice Chancellor, Professor Robert Smith (1990-1994), was Walcha born and a UNE graduate. He was also, like McNicol, deeply committed too and involved in the Dawkin’s reforms as a former head of the National Board of Employment, Education and Training. Now, under his leadership, the new networked university imploded.

Professor Smith was in a difficult position. Professor McNicol may have achieved amalgamation, but he had left differences in culture and strategy that had just been papered over. Northern Rivers in particular had a very clear objective, seeing the networked university as a path to ultimate full autonomy, while the old university was left without direction and increasingly resentful.

In trying to balance the various conflicts, the networked UNE developed complicated administrative structures that were the very antithesis of the original idea of a united consolidated university. Divorce became inevitable.

Importantly, during the final break-up the Armidale leadership under Principal Cliff Hawkins alienated both Orange and the Coffs Harbour University movement. Both opted for other arrangements. When, on 1 December 1994, the Armidale campus was reconstituted as an independent entity with all executive positions vacated, it was a much diminished institution.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 February 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Chinese in Australia - introducing Francis Darby Syme

The Chinese who came to Australia during the nineteenth century did so as part of an organised trade that extended well beyond Australia. We often forget this when we come to look at Chinese immigration to this country.

Francis Darby Syme appears in the early records as one who played a major role in the trade. This excerpt is from The Takao Club file on Boyd & Co.

"Boyd & Co is one of many companies that show the strong links between Formosa and Amoy that existed in the late 19th century.

The origins of Boyd and Company go back to the 1850s when Thomas Deas Boyd managed the interests of F. D. Syme & Co, which was owned by Francis Darby Syme. Syme was involved in the Coolie Trade, the shipment of indentured Fuchien labourers to work in foreign colonies and countries. It was said that the coolie from Fuchien possessed the best temperament to work long hard hours without complaint. F. D. Syme & Co shipped thousands of coolies from Amoy to Australia, Bourbon (Reunion), British Guiana, California, Havana, Hawaii, Mauritius and Peru between the years of 1845 and 1852.TDBoyd

Thomas Deas Boyd was born at Cupar, Fife, on 1 March 1831. Although the 1851 Scottish Census shows him  to be still in Scotland and working for the British Linen Bank, Thomas Deas Boyd must have come out to China shortly thereafter, for, in March 1856, he married Isabella Elder, a young lady from Fife, at Canton, China.

From Canton the young couple moved to Amoy where the 1859 China Directory shows "Thos. D. Boyd & family" to be resident and working for F. D. Syme & Co. The 1861 China Directory also shows Thomas Deas Boyd to be a merchant working for for F. D. Syme & Co, with W. A. Sturrock and W. A. Cornabé as assistants.

However, in March 1862, Francis Darby Syme sold his property at Amoy to Thomas Deas Boyd, so one can presume that Boyd took over the interests of Syme in that year.

Boyd & Co was founded at Amoy in 1862 by Thomas Deas Boyd and William Alexander Sturrock, who were both previously employed by F D Syme & Co at the same port, and they also employed William Alexander Cornabé as an assistant. By 1872, Thomas Deas Boyd had replaced his junior partner with Robert Craig, and opened offices in Takow and in Taiwanfoo. In 1873 Boyd & Co had recruited Thomas George Harkness, and the following year David Moncrieff Wright, to work at Amoy."

From the reference to thousands of coolies, you will see how big the trade was.

Wikipedia describes Amoy, a centre of Symes' operations,in this way:

"Xiamen (also known as Amoy, is a major city on the southeast (Taiwan Strait) coast of the People's Republic of China. It is administered as a sub-provincial city of Fujian province with an area of 1,699.39 square kilometres (656.14 sq mi) and population of 3,531,347 at the 2010 Census.[2] The city's urban area includes the old urban island area and covers all six districts of Xiamen and has a total urban population of 1,861,289. It also borders Quanzhou to the north and Zhangzhou making this a unique built up area of more than five million people. The Jinmen (Kinmen) Islands administered by the Republic of China (Taiwan) are less than 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) away.

Xiamen and the surrounding southern Fujian countryside are the ancestral home to large communities of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. The city was a treaty port in the 19th century and one of the four original Special Economic Zones opened to foreign investment and trade when China began economic reforms in the early 1980s. It is endowed with educational and cultural institutions supported by the overseas Chinese diaspora. In 2006, Xiamen was ranked as China's second "most suitable city for living", as well as China's "most romantic leisure city" in 2011."

Wikipedia adds:

"In 1541, European traders (mainly Portuguese) first visited Xiamen, which was China's main port in the nineteenth century for exporting tea. As a result, Hokkien (also known as the Amoy dialect) had a major influence on how Chinese terminology was translated into European languages. For example, the words "Amoy", "tea" (茶; tê), "cumshaw" (感謝; kám-siā), and "Pekoe" (白毫; pe̍h-hô), kowtow (磕頭; khàu-thâu), and possibly Japan (Ji̍t-pún) and "ketchup" (茄汁; kiô-chap) originated from the Hokkien.

During the First Opium War between Britain and China, the British captured the city in the Battle of Amoy on 26 August 1841. Xiamen was one of the five Chinese treaty ports opened by the Treaty of Nanking (1842) at the end of the war. As a result, it was an early entry point for Protestant missions in China. European settlements were concentrated on the islet of Gulangyu off the main island of Xiamen. Today, Gulangyu is known for colonial architecture and the tradition of piano-playing and organized sports.Many natives of Xiamen and southern Fujian emigrated to Southeast Asia and Taiwan during the 19th and early 20th century, spreading Hokkien language and culture overseas."

Tea was a critical export for the East India Company, and part of a global trade network that included the new colonies in Australia. I gave an introductory feel for this in First Chinese connection with the newly established settlement at Port Jackson. I will talk about the Opium Wars  in another post.

The first Chinese who came to the new Australian colonies came via people like Francis Syme. Those who came during the gold rushes were part of a more complex trade. That, too, is part of another story.


Digging a little further, I came across this piece in the Glasgow Herald (8 April 1879) of a later court case that appears to involve the widow of Francis Darby Syme, again with Boyd links. I also found this piece in the Internet Archives Correspondence with the Superintendent of British Trade in China : upon the subject of emigration from that country (1853) that deals with the coolie trade.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

History revisited - approach of UNE's perfect storm

In 1972, NSW Department of Decentralisation and Development population projections showed Armidale’s population growing from 18,156 in 1971 to 47,301 in 2001, larger than Tamworth. Two years later, University of New England Geography Department suggested a slower rate of growth, with Armidale’s population projected to reach 33,394 in 2000.

On the campus, the focus at the time was coping with growth. In the city, many were concerned that such rapid growth would destroy Armidale’s life style advantages. There was considerable resistance to any business development plans that might encourage or support growth. Neither town nor gown was really aware of just what was coming.

Between 1938 and 1985, the University College/University had six wardens or VCs. Now came four in eleven years: Lawrence Nicol (1985-1988), Don McNicol (1988-1990), Robert Smith (1990-1994) and Bruce Thom (1994-1996).

Over those eleven years, the University experienced the equivalent of a perfect storm that it was ill-equipped to deal with and which threatened to sink it entirely. In the city, growth stalled and then went into reverse. The population within the old city boundaries peaked at 21,605 in 1991 and then started falling.

The events of those turbulent years are vividly and indeed bitterly etched in the minds of many Armidale people and in the broader university community beyond. For that reason, I don’t want to talk about events in detail. Rather, I want to sketch some of the elements that made it such a perfect storm.

To the north of Armidale lay a university that combined research and teaching. Its tradition structure had two elements: a largely self-governing and collegiate if sometimes fractious academic arm; and an administrative wing that supported university activities. The VC sat over both.

To the south, lay the Armidale College of Advanced Education. Focused especially on teaching as opposed to research, the College had adjusted to the decline in the number of teacher trainees by introducing new courses, by reaching out. Its structures were more centralised, its approach more entrepreneurial than that holding at the University.

Down on the coast, you had another College of Advanced Education, Northern Rivers. Like the Armidale CAE, it had responded to the decline in the number of teacher trainees by introducing new courses. Of the three, it was the most entrepreneurial. It was also, and this was backed by the Lismore community, the local press and politicians, determined to become a university in its own right. In a way, Northern Rivers was a bit like UNE had been just forty years before.

There had been quite close links between the Lismore Teachers College, later Northern Rivers, and UNE. To a degree those links had atrophied as UNE withdrew from its broader Northern outreach role to focus on what it saw as its primary mission as a university.

Three institutions, three cultures, about to be jammed together by events happening far to the south in Canberra.

I will continue the story in my next column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 19 February 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Introducing the Australian Agricultural Company

Note to readers: This post is a work in progress, an introduction to the Australian Agricultural Company. I have quite a lot of material on the AA Co, but at this point it is easiest to put up a slightly expurgated version of the Wikipedia  entry on the company. I will amend as I go along. As I do so, I will add  related posts at the end of this post. 

The Australian Agricultural Company (AA Co) is one of New England and Australia’s most fascinating companies. Founded in 1824 through an Act of the British Parliament, with the right to select 1,000,000 acres (4,047 km2) in New South Wales for agricultural development, it is one of Australia's oldest still-operating companies. Its main New England connection finished in the 1920s, but by then it had had a major impact on New England’s history.


The Company’s main purpose was the production of fine merino wool with the addition of crops not readily available in England. Merino sheep were preferred because there was an abundance of land at the time and because the mild winters meant there was no cost for housing or handfeeding stock.It would also provide workers for the Colony at no cost to the Government and also employ a large number of convicts.

Amongst the principal members of this company were the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General of England, 28 Members of Parliament, Governor, Deputy Governor and eight of the directors of the Bank of England; the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman and five directors of the British East India Company, besides many other eminent bankers and merchants of England.

The area selected under the founding charter extended from Port Stephens, embracing the Karuah River valley, to the Gloucester flats, and to the Manning River, including most of the northern shore of Port Stephens, extending to 464,640 acres (1,880 km2). However, it soon found that better land was available and, in 1830, a communication from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Governor Darling notified the latter that the company was to be permitted to select land in the interior of the colony, in lieu of an equivalent area at Port Stephens, but retaining mineral rights to the latter.

After an inspection in 1833, the company decided on two new areas. These were the Warrah Estate of 249,600 acres (1,010 km2), west of Murrurundi, and Goonoo Goonoo estate of 313,298 acres (1,268 km2), along with the left bank of the Peel River to the south of present-day Tamworth, New South Wales. The township of West Tamworth adjacent to the present city was the original company-owned business centre for the area. In 1856, Arthur Hodgson was appointed general superintendent of the company. The pioneering settlers of the area were ordered to leave and paid little from the company for their properties.

Convicts soon became the companies largest type of employee, although those who had served a sentence, aborigines and indentured servants on seven-year contracts were also employed with the later making up the bulk of initial employees.[4] The AAC attempted to exploit convict labour to generate a profit. When the supply of convicts was facing potential limits in the mid-1830s, company directors attempted to source convicts from the city-state of Hamburg.

The colonial government was not able to manage coal production efficiently. On 3 May 1833 the company received land grants at Newcastle totaling 1,920 acres (8 km2) plus a 31 year monopoly on that town's coal traffic. The company became the largest exporter of coal from Newcastle for many decades. They also bought 1,280 acres (5 km2) of freehold and 3,131 acres (13 km2) of leasehold land on the South Maitland coalfields at Weston, near Kurri Kurri, where they built the Hebburn Colliery. Because of drought and depression during the 1840s mining created more profit than wool production did.[3]

By December 1903 the pit was sending a fully loaded train away each day. By 1912, the output exceeded 2,500 long tons (2,540 t) per day and a large overseas trade had developed from this mine. In May 1906 the company purchased a half-share in the Aberdare Junction to Cessnock railway for £40,000 which, already owning the other half, placed them in full ownership of the line. With the post-Great War slump, the company ceased its coal-mining activities in the early 1920s, sold their assets therein, and moved on into the cattle industry.

Australia's first railway

n 10 December 1831 the Australian Agricultural Company officially opened Australia's first railway, lLcated at the intersection of Brown & Church Streets, Newcastle, New South Wales. Privately owned and operated to service the A Pit coal mine, it was a cast iron fishbelly rail on an inclined plane as a gravitational railway, described as follows:

Once raised up the shaft, the coal was yarded or emptied into wagons; each of 1 t capacity. Loaded wagons were run in pairs down a self-acting inclined plane railway (two loaded wagons going down hauled another two emptied ones up). They were then pushed by hand, assisted by gravity, along a graded wooden trestle. It crossed a sandy area, now occupied by Hunter Street and the Great Northern Railway, to a loading staith at which small ships could berth while coal was tipped into their holds.

The Australian Agricultural Company constructed a total of 3 gravitational railways: the second was in 1837 to service B Pit and the third was in mid-1842 to service C Pit. The gravitational railway from B Pit connected with the 1831 railway. The gravitational railway from C Pit, which made use of the last of the Government’s offer of cheap convict labour, feed onto an extended gravitational railway to reach the port. It is presumed that when the A Pit mine was exhausted in July 1846 its railway was directly transferred to form the C Pit railway, although no hard evidence can support this thought.

Short-lived coal monopoly & providing land access: disputes with James Mitchell

In 1828, 3 years after commencing their 31 year lease, the Australian Agricultural Company was accorded a monopolistic position after the company received a grant of 2,000 acres of coal land in the centre of Newcastle. Further, it was feared that the company may have had control of the entire coal supply in the Colony had the Crown Law Officers responsible for the substitution of a grant for the lease not objected and an alternative agreed upon.

Between 1835 and 1850, the Australian Agricultural Company was involved in significant Australian historical law events relating to monopolistic coal mining and private railway access.

In 1835 James Mitchell purchased approximately 900 acres of coastal land extending from the far side of Merewether ridge to Glenrock Lagoon and named the property the Burwood estate, which was later extended to 1,834 acres. Not long after Ludwig Leichhardt’s visit to the Burwood estate in 1842, Mitchell announced the planned commissioning of tramroad tunnels, Australia’s first two railway tunnels, through Burwood ridge (or bluff).

Whilst Leichhardt visited the Burwood estate he drew up the stratigraphy of the coastline. It is speculated that Leichhardt may have established the extent of the coal seams under Mitchell’s property. Mitchell claimed the construction of the tunnels was to allow access to Burwood Beach in order to build a salt works. It is further speculated that Mitchell actually sought to destroy the Australian Agricultural Company’s legal monopoly on coal mining. Prior to these events Mitchell had already approached Governor Gipps seeking:

  1. a repeal of the Metallic Ores Act;
  2. Newcastle be made a free port; and
  3. that he be permitted to mine and use coal from Burwood estate as fuel for a copper smelter.

Mitchell was unsuccessful with only his request to use coal as fuel in a copper smelter.

Although Mitchell had no legal use of coal, the commissioned tunnel project commenced in 1846 with the cutting line being directly into a coal seam. Between 2 and 3 thousand tonnes of coal were extracted but unusable owing to the Australian Agricultural Company’s monopoly.

Whilst Mitchell’s operations were going on, a number of small illegal mines operated in the district in defiance of the monopoly. A mine near East Maitland operated by Mr James Brown undercut the Australian Agricultural Company’s price to supply coal to steamships at Morpeth which lead to prosecution.

The Government’s legal advice after this case was that they would have to individually prosecute every illegal mine, which Governor FitzRoy believed the cost of the prosecutions should be paid for by the Australian Agricultural Company. In 1847, the NSW Legislative Council created the Coal Inquiry and appointed a Select Committee to investigate the matter. Both Mitchell and Brown gave evidence; Mitchell in relation to his tunnel and Brown in relation to price cutting. Before the Committee could issue any recommendations the Australian Agricultural Company relinquished its monopoly. Mitchell proceeded to lease out the coal rights on the Burwood estate, with five mines being quickly established by J & A Brown, Donaldson, Alexander Brown, Nott and Morgan.

Because Australian Agricultural Company owned the land between the Burwood estate and the Port of Newcastle the company refused to allow Mitchell to transport coal by rail across its land. Mitchell successfully lobbied the Government again by having New South Wales’ first Private Act of Parliament titled, Burwood and Newcastle Tramroad Act 1850, passed, that specifically allowed Mitchell to carry coal through Australian Agricultural Company lands.[

Also in 1850, the coal mining monopoly ended with the peal of the Metallic Ores Act as promised by Governor Gipps, allowing copper to be brought into NSW duty-free. After the monopoly ended, Mitchell established the copper smelter in 1851 until its closure in 1872. In 1913, salvaged bricks from the site were used to cap some of the old mines.

[i] Unless otherwise specified, the background material in this piece is drawn from Wkipedia - - accessed 17 February 2014.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

First Chinese connection with the newly established settlement at Port Jackson

Australians have long been used to thinking of the first European settlement in Australia as the establishment of a penal colony at what was then the ends of the earth, flung out ill-equipped to settle in a distant land. The reality was a little different.

Port Jackson may have seemed a long way from England, but from the beginning, it was part of an extended web of trade and communications that would surprise many Australians.

In January 1785, Sir George Young, a naval commander and a friend of the Prince of Wales, wrote to Barren Arden, the British Attorney General, suggesting that the China Ships belonging to the East India Company might go on to China after landing the felons.[1] This, he thought, would pioneer a new route to India. Lady_Penrhyn_(sailing_ship)

Three of the ships in the First Fleet, the Scarborough, Charlotte and Lady Penryhn (photo), were in fact on charter to load tea in China after they had unloaded their convicts. All three went onto Canton without any trouble.

Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smith was travelling on the Lady Penryhn and was amazed at what he found in Canton. “I say there were between Macoa & Wampoe at least 10,000 Boats of different kinds”, he wrote in his journal.[2] In the harbour, Bowes Smith counted forty-five British ships, one French, one Spanish, one Swedish, three Danish, four American. Four Dutch.

This web of trade and influence would have considerable influence on the early decades of European settlement in Australia. Among other things, it laid the base for early Chinese migration to Australia.

[1]Quoted Eric Rolls, Sojourners: The epic story of China’s century old relationship with Australia, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1998, pp 17-18. Unless otherwise cited, the material in this section is drawn from Rolls.

[2] Quoted Rolls, Sojourners, p 18