A man to be reckoned with
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