A man to be reck­oned with

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - HISTORY -

JOHN Murtagh Macrossan, who the main street of Port Dou­glas was named af­ter, was born in Creeslough, Done­gal, Ire­land, in 1833.

He ar­rived in Mel­bourne in 1853 as a prospec­tive miner, and by 1865 was on the North Queens­land gold­fields.

Macrossan es­tab­lished him­self to be a man to be reck­oned with on the gold­fields around Ravenswood, re­garded as the tough­est in Aus­tralia.

As sec­re­tary of the Min­ers Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion in 1871 he set his sights on the Gold Com­mis­sioner, T.R. Hacket.

When Hacket re­fused to hear a case be­tween two con­flict­ing min­ing in­ter­ests, Macrossan got up a pe­ti­tion de­mand­ing Hacket’s re­moval from the field and had 1100 min­ers sign it be­fore send­ing it to the Gov­ern­ment in Bris­bane.

The pe­ti­tion claimed, among other things, that War­den Hacket had been seen in a place of pub­lic re­sort with a com­mon pros­ti­tute; that he re­fused to hear a case brought be­fore him; and that he per­sis­tently ob­structed the in­stal­la­tion of crush­ing ma­chin­ery at Ravenswood.

When an in­ves­ti­ga­tion failed to sus­tain the charges against Hacket, Macrossan way­laid him at a creek cross­ing on the gold­fields and thrashed him with a horse­whip.

The thrash­ing ceased only when the War­den’s burly clerk hurled him­self upon the slightly-built Macrossan and buried him in the mud of the creek.

Charged with as­sault, Macrossan was brought be­fore a court which set his bail at Pounds Ster­ling100.

A no­to­ri­ous Ravenswood shan­ty­keeper, An­nie Smith, handed over the sum in cash and gold dust, and was promptly car­ried shoul­der-high from the scene by a mob of min­ers.

Macrossan was com­mit­ted for trial, and even­tu­ally fined 30 Pounds Sterling by a Dis­trict Court that found him guilty in Townsville.

Up to that point, the min­ers had re­spected Macrossan for his in­de­pen­dence - he al­ways dug alone and asked no man for help - but the episode with the horse­whip turned him into a hero.

When he stood for the Out­back seat of Kennedy in 1874, min­ers on the north­ern gold­fields voted for him al­most to a man.

Macrossan was not at­tached to any of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties of the day, and mem­bers of all es­tab­lished groups were sus­pi­cious of his fiery tirades against nar­row party poli­cies.

But they en­vied him his stump or­a­tory. In some ar­eas of his elec­torate he was able to com­mand vot­ing ma­jori­ties of 100 or more to one. News­pa­pers be­gan to call him " the voice of the north.’’

It was only a cou­ple of years be­fore Sir Thomas McIl­wraith in­vited him to join the Con­ser­va­tives.

Macrossan con­trib­uted more than any other sin­gle mem­ber to the crush­ing Con­ser­va­tive vic­tory in the 1878 Queens­land elec­tion.

He be­gan by stump­ing the min­ing dis­tricts near the south­ern bor­der, worked his way north through the cen­tral Queens­land gold­fields, and fi­nally ar­rived in Townsville to a tu­mul­tuous wel­come. Huge crowds cheered his mes­sage that the hour of the work­ing man was nigh.

But he was al­ready a man of wealth, with min­ing and pas­toral in­ter­ests and a car­ry­ing busi­ness ply­ing be­tween Townsville and Char­ters Tow­ers.

And ex­cept for de­mand­ing bet­ter con­di­tions for min­ers, he did lit­tle for the work­ing class.

Macrossan lost his seat of Kennedy on Novem­ber 28, 1878, and was ap­pointed Sec­re­tary for Pub­lic Works and Mines even though he was not elected for the seat of Townsville un­til March 4, 1879.

As Min­is­ter for Works and Mines he once called with­out warn­ing for the dis­missal of 103 Ip­swich Rail­way Work­shops work­ers.

But de­spite his ruth­less­ness, Macrossan con­tin­ued to en­joy the sup­port of work­ers.

He played widely on the gen­eral be­lief among coun­try­men that a con­spir­acy of Bris­bane busi- ness­men dom­i­nated Queens­land pol­i­tics.

He de­picted south­ern politi­cians, lawyers and mer­chants as un­scrupu­lous agents of British cap­i­tal­ism with a mis­sion to ex­ploit sim­ple-minded colo­nials.

Jour­nal­ist Thad­deus O’Kane, not a fan of Macrossan’s, de­scribed him as “far and away the best dirt-thrower in Queens­land”.

North Queens­lan­ders saw in Macrossan their hope of po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence. They never achieved it, but votes for sep­a­ra­tion were twice only nar­rowly de­feated dur­ing his time in Par­lia­ment.

He was only 58 when he died in 1891while vis­it­ing Sydney as one of seven Queens­land rep­re­sen­ta­tives at­tend­ing the Easter Con­sti­tu­tion Con­ven­tion.

His fierce rages and bit­ter per­sonal at­tacks on po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies were soon for­got­ten.

But his con­stant re­minders that Aus­tralia had an empty, unde­fended north - and which were to come so prophet­i­cally true 50 years later - are re­mem­bered to this day.

Sec­tions re­pro­duced from a 1995 Sun­day Mail ar­ti­cle, “Ir­ish­man ruled gold­fields”.

TOUGH IR­ISH­MAN: John Murtagh Macrossan

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