Veresdale

Location

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History

Robert Towns' plantation was situated between Veresdale and Gleneagle. Captain Patrick Logan had named the region Letitia Plains after his wife. This property was part of the original Nindooinbah station, which Towns had procured from Alfred William Compigné, who owed him money. Towns was a Sydney businessman with interests shipping, island trading and stations in northern Australia. His Logan plantation was known as Townsvale and he installed a manager, William Tutin Walker, who later purchased the estate. Towns initially used the Logan River for transport, building a wharf and store at Logan Village, and travelling overland for the remainder of the journey.

Robert Towns believed his cotton plantation could never succeed if he had to pay colonial wages. He took advantage of his contacts in the South Pacific and sent the schooner Don Juan to procure Melanesian labourers, often called Kanakas. The initial shipment of 73 Islanders arrived in August 1863, and the workers were given contracts providing them with wages of ten shillings ($1) a month, including food and housing and a provision to be repatriated if they wished. Towns gave specific instructions to the captain of the Don Juan, Captain Grueber, that the Islanders were to be treated with respect. He chose Ross Lewin as the agent to procure labour on the islands because of his familiarity with their language and customs. Lewin already had many years' experience on the islands in the sandalwood trade. His diligence in carrying out Towns' requests was questionable. By 1867, Lewin was offering his services to any plantation owners in the colony requiring Pacific Islander labourers. He became notorious in his illegal recruitment practices that became known as ‘blackbirding’.

While Towns had initially hoped to develop a community of Islanders on his property, he could never convince married men to come to Queensland. Ultimately the estate did develop into a thriving community of both European and Islander workers, employing carpenters, overseers and a blacksmith. The property had its own cotton gin, sawmill and a small hospital.

By 1866, Towns was using the track to New England, which roughly followed the current Mount Lindesay Highway, to transport his cotton to Brisbane. Despite the treacherous approaches to the Logan Bridge at Maclean, it was quicker to use the track than to make the round trip by boat, which took a week. It was through this regular transportation to Brisbane that the legend of Jerry's Downfall began. Jerry was apparently a Kanaka labourer working at Townsvale, who capsized a bullock dray of cotton while crossing Chambers Creek. The locality is marked by a plaque erected by the Beaudesert Historical Society, although its assertion of a later link with the Keaveny family is contested.

An overly romantic version of life at Townsvale was published in the Logan and Albert Times over a number or weeks in late 1968, written by Rhoda Hassell, granddaughter of Walker. She claimed the Kanakas were willing workers and that everything was done for their care and protection and their lives were made as happy as possible. The Kanakas were from the islands of Sandwich (Efate), Loyalty (Lifou and Mare) and Tanna. They had clothing purchased from army surplus from the Crimean War, with scarlet coats trimmed with brass buttons. Apparently they looked picturesque in the cotton fields. Hassell claimed that some were loath to return home at the end of their term of service, and three workers, Billy, Dick and Nellie, remained working for the family for many years. The bell used to call the Kanakas to work was later donated to the Church of England Grammar School.

Despite the massive investment in establishing and running the Townsvale plantation, its success was dogged by flooding and drought. It did, however, receive a gold medal at the 1867 Paris Exhibition for Sea Island Cotton. By 1871, cotton planting was reduced to 50 acres. By 1873, cattle proved to be more lucrative than cotton. Towns himself moved to north Queensland in 1865. He established Burketown and Townsville in partnerships with others. He died in 1873. The Townsvale property was then run by William Tutin Walker. When the American Civil War ended and the market for Logan cotton dried up, the great stands of hoop pine on the plantation became the next marketable product. The timber mill on the Townsvale plantation provided employment locally. Veresdale eventually had a courthouse, police station, post office, hotel and store.

Veresdale and Woodhill continued to grow as a regional centre centred around the old Townsvale plantation. Townsvale State School opened in 1873, was renamed Veresdale in 1874 and changed to Woodhill in 1899. A post office run by D Morrison opened on 1 January 1874. In early 1878, Matthew and Verdon Hinchcliffe opened a branch of their store at Veresdale. The police station was established in 1877 and the Court of Petty Sessions in April 1879. On 26 April 1879, a 10-acre cemetery reserve was proclaimed and a board of local trustees was appointed.

William Everdell established the Walton Hotel (named after his hometown in England) at Woodhill from about 1875. It functioned as a staging place for the mail run between Logan Reserve and Telemon. Hotels were centres of community activity at the time and the Walton Hotel hosted a public meeting in August 1879 to discuss the route of the proposed Upper Logan Railway. Land was set aside for a School of Arts later that year and, when the Tabragalba Divisional Board was established, it first met at Veresdale.

The Veresdale Wesleyan Church was built opposite the Woodhill hall. Land had been allocated by the family that the Everdells had purchased their property from (possibly Tanner). However, Mr Hinchliffe who lived at Veresdale had donated a substantial amount of money for the church and insisted it be named Veresdale even though it is at Woodhill.

Veresdale was described by a correspondent to the Logan Witness on 11 February 1882 as 'the centre of one of the finest basaltic districts of Australia, and is congenial to the successful growth of most sorts of European fruits with a large plantation of pine in the vicinity. However the transport costs to Brisbane are prohibitive to local farmers. The township boasted a stipendiary magistrate, police quarters, and a state school.’

The township of Veresdale was subdivided in 1885.

Dan and Jane Morrison opened the first hotel in Veresdale in 1874 and operated it until 1877. August Weilant operated the Victory Hotel from 1881. In 1882, the Victory Hotel was operated by James Rogers, and it ceased trading in 1888. Publican Samuel Manning moved from the Rose and Crown at Acacia Ridge in 1885, when the railway line by-passed his establishment. He relocated to Jimboomba, then moved to Veresdale in about 1901 and ran the Veresdale Hotel. He died there in 1918. The hotel continues operating to the present day, although has been rebuilt.

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