Home - Chermside & District History

Chapter 1

Margaret (Hall) and Andrew Hamilton

Margaret and Andrew Hamilton decided to make a new start. Since their marriage in 1848, they had had not only happiness and success, but also grief and heartbreak. They hoped to put the past, their life in Ireland and England, behind them.

Margaret Hall and Andrew Hamilton were born in Ireland and their ancestors had arrived in Ulster during the Plantation era early in the seventeenth century. Hamilton families were among those who came from Scotland as Chief Undertakers and Undertakers as part of James VI’s plan to settle Ireland with people he could trust (and to get rid of people he could not trust in the Border regions of England and Scotland!). They settled in the counties of Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh and Cavan and brought other settlers to farm and defend the land for James.

There was a rebellion in Fermanagh in 1649 and as a result of this, land was given to many settler families, including members of the Brooke and Montgomery families. “The Brooke family acquired the Colebrooke estate during the Cromwellian Plantation.” Hall, Johnson/Johnston, Montgomery and Forster/Foster families were plantation tenants and married into the Hamilton families.

Andrew was born in 1826, probably in Armagh. It was a prosperous area in Northern Ireland. Several good seasons meant that flax farming was popular and people came to work in the linen industry. Many depended on the potato as their main food. It was easy to grow on poor soil where corn would not grow, and farmers could do other work as they waited for the crop to mature. Viruses occasionally attacked the crop in the first half of the 1800s but the blight that attacked the crop in 1845-46 was more widespread. By 1847, severe crop losses meant that many people were starving and no one could remember a worse time. Poor oat harvests in 1845 and 1846 added to the food shortage. The resulting famine in Ireland caused much hardship and misery and changed many lives. It ensured that those who could, chose to emigrate, rather than die of starvation at home.

In 1848, about 296,000 passengers landed in Liverpool from Ireland and just under half planned to travel to America. The rest settled in various parts of Britain. Andrew and Margaret were part of that exodus and left Ireland before or during 1848 as they married in the parish of Stoke Damerel, a district in Devonport, Devon, on 24 April 1848. How and why did they meet and marry in Devonport?

Andrew, a carpenter and joiner, was a son of James and Margaret (nee Montgomery) Hamilton. He probably decided, along with many refugees, to look for work in England. He travelled to Devonport where he would have had no trouble finding work. It was the original Dock for Plymouth and with the completion of the London to Plymouth railway line in 1849, many people from the southwest of England came to live and shop in the thriving city. There was plenty of work for Andrew, either at the Dock with its naval workshops and dry docks, or in building the new houses required for the growing population. Living so close to a large port probably influenced his decision some years later to go to sea.

Why was Margaret Hall living in Devonport at the time of her marriage? Her parents, Robert and Magdalene (nee Johnston) Hall, were farmers in County Fermanagh and she had at least three sisters, Mary, Magdalene and Jane. A small piece of paper in the Hamilton family archives has these words – “May 2nd 1859 Magdalen Irwin died, my sister’s daughter and was buried in Tyrone, Ireland”. Margaret Hall Hamilton’s name is on the paper. In 1851, Margaret and Andrew, with others of their family, were living at the same address in Liverpool as Thomas and Jane Irwin, with their three children. One was Magdalen Irwin. It is possible that Margaret went to Devonport and lived with her sister and brother-in-law and met Andrew there.

Their first child, James, was born in Devonport in 1849 and by 1851, the family was living in Liverpool. Why did they want to live in a city with such a terrible reputation for overcrowding and disease? At the height of the famine, thousands of people left Ireland as refugees and started new lives overseas but many settled in Liverpool. Boats frequently crossed the Irish Sea and there were cheap fares from Belfast and Dublin to Liverpool. Conditions in the city were appalling and some Irish could only find accommodation in illegal cellars. Cholera spread rapidly through the badly drained areas. The Irish were accused of bringing disease with them – mostly true, as they were so malnourished.

By the time Andrew and Margaret arrived, local authorities had brought in strict new building regulations. Council health officers condemned overcrowded cellars and had them filled; signs of new drainage were everywhere. There were also stories of sick refugees being hastily returned to Ireland. The Hamiltons probably decided that conditions were improving in Liverpool and another advantage was that it was closer to their families in Ireland.

However, some of their relations did come to Liverpool. In the 1851 census, Margaret and Andrew were living at 26 Penrith Street, Toxteth Park, a district in Liverpool. They had two young children, James and Magdalene. Their household also included Andrew’s widowed mother, Margaret, and his young brother, Thomas. Margaret’s sister, Mary Hall, was also living with them. Where did they all fit? How long did they stay together? And the Irwin family, Thomas and Jane, Magdalen, Margaret and Charlotte, lived in the same building.

James’ sisters and a brother were born in the Liverpool district - Magdalene in 1851, Charlotte 1853, Charlotte Jane 1855, Margaret 1857, and Thomas Andrew 1860. The family was living at Little Bolton when Charlotte was born and later baptised at the local Methodist Church. John Wesley had once preached in the town centre and many Methodists lived in the area. Bolton was a cotton-manufacturing centre with good canal and railway systems and plenty of work for carpenters. William John Robert was born in 1863 in Cheshire and died in 1864 – both events were registered in the Birkenhead district, just across the Mersey River from Liverpool. Magdalene and Charlotte also died before their first birthdays, probably from diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Both children were buried at the Old Chapel, Bolton.

Andrew operated a joinery and building business and it prospered as the city improved. Part of his work included shop and office fitting and the family moved to another part of Toxteth Park – Collins Street.

1865 was a difficult year for the family. The eldest son, James, was 16 and would have been helping his father in the business. James was found unconscious at the bottom of a quarry and died in hospital. The results of the coroner’s inquest were reported in the Liverpool Mercury, November 10, 1865. The coroner’s report: “the body of James Hamilton, 16 years of age, son of a joiner residing in Winter-street, Low-hill. On Wednesday afternoon the deceased was at work in a building in Lloyd-street, Everton. At dinner time on that day a man was passing a quarry near Lloyd-street, when he saw the deceased lying at the bottom. The man went down the quarry, and the deceased said that ‘he did not know how he fell down’. He was conveyed to the Royal Infirmary, where it was found that he was suffering from several wounds on the head. He died a short time afterwards. Verdict, ‘Died from injuries, how received no evidence to show’. The jury made a presentment that the wall surrounding the quarry was not high enough to prevent the occurrence of accident.” In later years, his parents rarely spoke about their loss.

Fires were a reasonably common occurrence in areas where houses were close together. Andrew’s business premises were destroyed by fire and he had no fire insurance. They knew they would have to start the business again but a new problem, Andrew’s health, became a concern and a doctor advised that he go on a sea voyage. Many people thought that long sea voyages improved health but such a voyage was not possible for the whole family. An alternative was to work on a ship and Andrew was fortunate to be taken on as a carpenter on the ship, Great Eastern.

It was an enormous ship, designed by Isambard Brunel as a passenger liner for the England-Australia route. Before the Suez Canal was built, ships had to refuel at Cape Town and Brunel’s design would have allowed the ship to make the whole voyage from England to Australia without stopping to refuel. By the time the ship was launched in 1858, there was a decline in shipping to Australia and the plans for the exciting new Suez Canal showed that the ship would be too big to use the canal.

Instead of continuing as a passenger liner, the Great Eastern was redesigned as a cable-laying ship. In 1865, Andrew worked on the ship as it began to lay cable from Valentia, in southwest Ireland, towards Heart’s Content in Newfoundland. The cable, consisting of copper wire, iron wire and hemp rope, broke several times during inspections and the ship returned to port without finishing the work. Andrew was so impressed with the cable that he kept small lengths to show his children. Three years later, the Great Eastern completed laying the cable.

After his voyage on the Great Eastern, Margaret and Andrew, still in their late thirties and mourning the recent loss of two of their children, made the decision to leave all that was familiar and loved and start again. They hoped that their departure marked the end of a long search to find health, happiness and security. For the children, it was to be a new and exciting adventure.

Arrival in Brisbane

The family sailed on the ship, Ocean Empress, on a long slow uneventful voyage from Liverpool to Brisbane via Cape Town and southern Australia. Andrew and Margaret were pleased to escape the cholera epidemic that was raging in Liverpool and took so many lives. The ship sailed on 10th August 1866 and stayed a few days in Milford Haven to take more passengers and stores on board. The Hamilton children probably went to the school on the main deck – it’s possible that they would have been in the group who “were exceedingly attentive to their studies and progress made by them was highly gratifying”.

Many of the 255 immigrants from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland had read the posters displayed by Queensland Government agents, describing the benefits of emigrating to Queensland. For Margaret and Andrew, this offered the hope of a new start and possible opportunities for their three surviving children, Charlotte Jane, Margaret and Thomas Andrew.

The Ocean Empress arrived in Moreton Bay on Boxing Day and they had been at sea for 125 days. After medical and immigration checks, the steamer Kate brought the passengers upriver and they landed near the Immigration Depot in William Street on 28th December. It was a fine hot afternoon on which to start their new life.

They moved to a house in a hilly part of Brisbane – Leichhardt Street (now Barry Parade). It was a difficult time in Queensland. Many of the immigrants had hoped to find better conditions than they left behind but instead found the colony in a financial depression. Public works were stopped and the crisis affected banks and businesses. Long afterwards, people remembered that rioters threatened to burn Government House. The rioters were 150 unemployed and hungry workers.

Because of his tradesman’s skills, Andrew soon found work but his first employer was unable to pay him and he found another job, this one a bit further from home. In Brisbane, too, the possibility of fires spreading through wooden dwellings was very real and once again, this tragedy happened to the Hamilton family. The nearby landlord’s house caught fire and quickly spread to both houses. The only water available was in the wooden barrels attached to each house and this was not sufficient to stop the fire. They lost most of their books, as well as furniture and timber stored for their planned new house. The family moved to Hill Street, Spring Hill, and many of their new neighbours supported themselves by growing vegetables and keeping goats.

The little township of Brisbane was growing and carpenters were in great demand but the discovery of gold at Gympie in 1867 encouraged many men to leave their jobs and try their luck at the diggings. Andrew was one of them. On a trip that now takes two hours, Andrew travelled to Gympie with a packhorse and equipment and spent two weeks on the road. Rain added to the difficulties of crossing creeks, rivers and ranges. In some places, the track was almost impossible to find. Local Aborigines helped the travellers to catch fish.

Andrew spent nearly a year at Gympie but like many tradesmen, his work as a carpenter was more valuable than his miner’s right - he helped to build houses and shops. That year was also a turning point for the family as Andrew again met Thomas Beard who had arrived in Brisbane on the same ship as the Hamilton family. Thomas Beard owned 20 acres of land at Downfall Creek, about seven miles from Brisbane.

Meanwhile, Margaret at home in Hill Street, sent the children to a school run by the Misses Wilson in Boundary Street, Spring Hill. It would have been difficult for Charlotte, Maggie and Thomas to concentrate on their lessons when so many interesting and new things were happening outside their classroom. Aborigines from the Turrubul tribe in nearby York’s Hollow, now Victoria Park, frequently passed by, offering to trade honey and fish for blankets and tobacco; oxen pulled the heavy drays loaded with timber, and the waterholes and the bush were alive with new and unusual sights – wallabies, tall trees and colourful and noisy birds.

Andrew returned from Gympie. Thomas Hopkins, another passenger from the Ocean Empress, had a horse and dray and drove the family to inspect Beard’s land at Downfall Creek. The fourteen-mile round trip and inspection took the whole day and for the children, there was plenty to see and marvel at. The road passed swamps and open paddocks, and creek crossings added to the excitement of the day. They passed the Acclimatization Gardens where new plants were grown on trial, the small hospital, some businesses, houses and a couple of hotels.

Thomas Beard’s land was deep in the bush, with tall trees, grass trees and kangaroo grass everywhere. Andrew felt that soil which could grow such large trees, would make good farming land. They bought the 20 acres, Portion 571, Parish of Kedron for £12 on 27 September 1869 and were able to use a small slab hut, with some improvements, on the adjoining property owned by Mr Duff. The area was called Dead Man’s Gully and was later known as Paddy Green’s Gully. It was the fulfillment of many immigrants’ dreams - to own land - this gave them security, maybe some prestige, but certainly it also gave them hard work.

They were all sad to leave the Spring Hill area of Brisbane for the distant and primitive settlement of Downfall Creek. At Hill Street, they had neighbours, and were close to the Holy Trinity Church at Fortitude Valley but their desire for independence won.
The practicalities of owning a farm soon became apparent. Andrew needed a steady income to buy tools and farm equipment and began working for James Beestin in Queen Street, one of the many firms who wanted to employ Andrew. There was plenty of work for skilled tradesmen in the expanding town. Beestin’s joinery made doors, sashes and moldings for building contractors and the work was done by hand – it took some time before engines and machines did much of the work. Andrew was pleased with his pay - 8/- for an eight-hour day was a good wage.

Living in a small isolated farming area, Andrew saw the necessity for transport and started to build a dray for his own use. He did the carpentry but as he didn’t have blacksmith’s tools, he had the ironwork done by a local blacksmith. It wasn’t long before John Best, in Ann Street, asked him to build more drays. Andrew agreed to build these at the Downfall Creek property, and this was the beginning of a business that was to influence several generations of his family. The orders for wagons and other vehicles and the continuing building jobs ensured a regular income but it also meant a delay on their new house and the farm.

Although Andrew was involved in many local building projects, he was pleased to get the contract to work on the joinery for Judge Lutwyche’s new house at Kedron Brook. To be paid 14/- a day was wonderful – most tradesmen only got 6/-. Local timber cutters were hauling large quantities of cedar from the nearby hills and Andrew used this timber in the Judge’s house and later in his own house and the new church. He also built a house for Patrick Green – that area is now the fire station in Hamilton Road, Chermside. Thomas clearly remembered working on that house. It was late when they finished the day’s work and he and his father had to find their way home through the bush and in the dark! Andrew realised that Margaret, Charlotte and Maggie would have been concerned for him and Thomas.

Thomas, at the age of 13, began to work with his father, acquiring timber and carpentry knowledge. He earned his first money carting bark, wood and charcoal into Brisbane in the new dray. Working as the bottom sawyer in the airless sawpit was a most unpleasant experience, with sawdust falling all over him. He soon learnt the correct way to use the saws and adzes and other tools of his trade and his parents taught him all aspects of the operation of the business.

Andrew, Margaret and the children walked over their land, through the bush, looking for the best place to build the new house. They chose a spot on top of the hill, facing north. In later years, they realised that they had made the right decision. The afternoon breezes from Moreton Bay cooled the hot summer afternoons. Their view to the west looked down the valley of their land and included their shop situated on the main road that took travellers to Gympie. The views of winter sunsets from the western verandah were truly spectacular at times.

Flooding from the two cyclones of 1893 hardly affected them. There was much damage to the central city area and other low-lying districts. Some creeks, such as Kedron Brook, became impassable. Margaret was so impressed by the amount of devastation that she bought a collection of drawings published by The Telegraph.

Andrew started building their new home, with help from Thomas, in about 1873. It was called Burnie Brae because of its position on a hill with a creek nearby. Nearly all the timber came from their land and was still in good condition seventy years later. “The main body of the house had no stumps under it and was built on 2 big logs which sat on short stumps. The logs were flattened on top with an adze.” Andrew bought cedar from passing bullock teams for joinery and furniture and he used timber from the property to make shingles for the roof and slabs for the walls. The plan was for the house to have 8 rooms on the ground floor and 3 attic rooms but it was not completed by the time Andrew died in 1897. Four generations of the family enjoyed Burnie Brae.

Andrew continued to buy land, mainly to gain access to the increasing traffic on the main road, later officially named Gympie Road. Travellers, as well as commercial traffic, began to use the road. Many prospectors still hoped to make their fortune in the Gympie district and timber cutters brought in large amounts of timber from the surrounding hills. Brisbane was growing and there was an increasing need for timber for new houses. Bullocks in teams of 12-16 pulled cedar logs, cattle were driven to the one of the many slaughter yards, and farmers from Bald Hills and Pine Rivers sent corn, potatoes, pumpkins and chaff into the Brisbane markets. Andrew noted this activity and bought land on the main road from the Bell family. This was to be the site of a coachbuilding/wheelwright/blacksmith shop.

It was built with bush timber from their own land. Various ironbarks and gums were split for slabs for the walls and shingles for the roof. They used bloodwoods and appletrees for the posts. The building was in continuous use until 1927.

The Hamiltons moved into the Bell family’s old house and lived there until they moved into Burnie Brae. The Bell’s land was already planted with various grape and fruit trees but Andrew was too busy to work on the farm - the growing coachbuilding business demanded more of his time. He eventually hired a labourer to work the farm which now needed a reliable water supply. A series of waterholes between Hamilton Road and Duff Street (now Kuran Street) provided constant water and Andrew bought this land. When he started selling the land some years later, he called it the Fivemiletown Estate.

Most children finished their schooldays by the time they were 12 and the Hamilton children were no exception. Andrew and Margaret encouraged the children to read and bought children’s magazines, such as The Children’s Prize. Charlotte and Maggie were busy about the farm looking after hens, goats and cows and this must have been a new experience for them. They all grew very fond of their dogs, cats, cows and horses – such a range of pets. The newly built fences kept wild cattle out of the property but had no affect at all on native animals such as bandicoots, koalas, possums, goannas and wallabies. Kangaroos did little damage but were often hunted by young men with dogs. Native cats, frilled lizards, and blue-tongued skinks attacked their hens at night or ate the eggs in the day.

The little settlement at Downfall Creek began to grow. At this time, it had a population of about 103 and many of them were farmers and labourers. John Patterson, also from Armagh, had arrived just before the Hamilton family and his grocery store was the collection point for mail, delivered to him by Cobb & Co. coaches. He and his wife Jane had a daughter Maggie attending the nearest school at Zillman Waterholes. The Lesley family also came from Ireland, and it was a popular area with settlers from England and Germany. The Chesterfield family rented Aaron Adsett’s house opposite John Patterson’s, on the main road.

Aborigines from different tribes also travelled through the area, carrying their spears, boomerangs and nulla nullas and followed by their dogs. Thomas learnt some Aboriginal words but realized that there were too many languages for him to be able to communicate with all the Aborigines. The tribes went into Brisbane to collect their Government issue of blankets which were distributed on 24th May, Queen Victoria’s birthday.

Andrew became the first official postmaster in 1886 and used a small section of the workshop for the post office. He earned £12 a year and was paid commission on all stamp sales. Cobb & Co. coaches passed through on their two-day trip to Gympie and called at the Hamilton’s blacksmith shop. Downfall Creek was the first stop on the Brisbane-Gympie route. Post Office work involved the whole family and they soon recognised the sound of the approaching coach driver’s bugle, before dawn. The coaches had to keep to timetables and the drivers didn’t like any delays. Heavy rain created havoc on the dirt roads - wagons, horses and bullocks were caught in the mud. Drivers dreaded the route from Downfall Creek to the hill at Lutwyche Cemetery, hoping the wheels wouldn’t slip on the greasy surface and passengers often had a rough ride, regardless of whether they sat inside the coach or on the box seat beside the driver.

John Patterson and Andrew started a Sunday School for the children of the district in Aaron Adsett’s now vacant house. They also held night classes for children of nearby farmers – the Webster, Shaw, Herrmann, Murr and Conradi families. Farmers’ children were valued workers and often had little or no formal education so the Sunday School and the night classes gave them some basic education. John and Andrew became joint superintendents of the Sunday School. Adults, as well as children, enjoyed Sunday School picnics and young children plaited Andrew’s beard with wild violets from the creek.

The United Methodist Free Church began services in the building in 1873 and was the only church in the district for many years. Unfortunately, the old building leaked badly in wet weather so the members of the small congregation decided to build their own church. Andrew drew the plans for a new building and donated £10 while John gave the land. The congregation raised £100 to build the new church across the road from the old house on Gympie Road. It opened in 1877 and ministers from the Bible Christian Movement and the Wesleyan Methodists conducted services in the church. In 1898 the congregation joined the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Australia. The Chermside Green Motel now occupies the original site of the church.

The Fivemiletown Forge was an exciting place for curious children. Before they even got to the door, they could hear the clear ringing ping as the blacksmith worked at the anvil beside the forge, making and repairing items for farm and home. The farriers made and fitted horseshoes and the carpenters worked hammers and saws. There was also the noise and confusion as horses were eased into a new dray or cart. If the children were especially lucky, they would see a new rim put on to a wheel – the cluster of men about a pool of water, all concentrating on lowering the wheel into the water and finally the satisfying hiss as the hot iron rim of the wheel sank into the cold water – they never tired of watching the new wheel as all the parts literally came together.

There were plenty of local timbers to provide raw materials for Andrew’s business and only experience taught him how to use the various timbers and how long to season them. Faulty seasoning caused problems with the spokes which then affected the rims of the tyres. It was useless to hurry the process with heated rooms - the timbers weakened and split. He used spotted gum or grey ironbark to make naves and spokes, while blue gum was suitable for felloes. Body frames were made from yellow wood; Crow’s Ash or spotted gum and very hard but light timbers such as blackwood and silver ash were used to make wheel rims. All the work was done by hand, and a good wheelwright could build a pair of wheels in a week.

Margaret and Andrew’s success and happiness encouraged other family members in Ireland to follow them to Queensland. One of Margaret’s sisters, Magdalene, came with her husband William McClintock and their six children as remittance passengers – Margaret and Andrew paid towards the cost of the family’s travel to Queensland on the Merkara. The McClintocks settled in the Woombye area.

Andrew’s brother, Thomas, at Colebrooke Park, County Fermanagh, was happy to stay in Ireland but he wanted better opportunities for his children. In 1882, his wife, Jane, wrote to Andrew and Margaret. Her unwritten plea, that their Australian relations might be able to help with opportunities for the three oldest children, Margaret Jane, 22, James, 21, and William, 19, brought the offer that the parents welcomed and at the same time, dreaded. With Andrew’s financial assistance of £8, the three came to Brisbane on the Quetta in 1885 as remittance passengers. Thomas died in 1892 and the rest of his family came to Australia in 1897. These new immigrants were welcomed into their Australian family and continued traditions from home, working as farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, shopkeepers and dressmakers.

Brisbane began to expand as new businesses and industries started. Carters and draymen needed more vehicles and Andrew and Margaret’s business increased and employed 14 men. Andrew knew the needs of the local farmers and tradesmen. He built new drays and wagons, repaired old ones and made farm equipment – harrows, wooden ploughs and gates. There was enough work to keep several blacksmiths and coachbuilders working in the area – Charles Birch at Lutwyche, and J. Barron and Job Stone at Lutwyche. The new railway line to Sandgate in 1882 meant more work for carters as they took passengers, day-trippers and goods to the stations at Nundah and Zillmere.

They were living with Maggie in their mostly completed home Burnie Brae and the business was very successful. The move to Queensland had been good for Andrew’s health and he never regretted the decision to leave England. He died in 1897 at the age of 71 after a short illness. He had seen many changes in his life and the small colony (and his family) had grown. Under the terms of Andrew’s will, his widow, Margaret, became the owner of the wheelwright business and Thomas was to be paid expenses if he carried on the business. Margaret maintained her practical interest in its affairs for many years and probably helped Thomas as he did the paperwork for the business. She died in 1915 at the family home.