Monday, February 23, 2015

Three Ms - McIwraith Avenue, Norman Park

For some unknown reason I have always been interested in the process of naming streets and I especially enjoy it when I come across a group of streets that have names that are part of a common theme. 

In the near city south-eastern suburb of Norman Park there are three parallel streets named after very famous Queensland politicians of yesteryear- McIlwraith, Macrossan and Morehead - Three Ms. I became acquainted with them (that would be the streets, not the persons!) at a young age as my cousins lived in the middle one, Macrossan Avenue, and I used to visit there quite frequently - usually by catching the trolley bus that dropped me off on McIlwraith Ave, the topic for today.

McIlwraith Avenue was named after Sir Thomas McIlwraith, premier of the state on three separate occasions for a total time of almost six years. Born in Scotland in 1835, 19 year old McIlwraith migrated to Australia in 1854, presumably not then thinking of becoming premier of the colony of Queensland.

I have just read a biography of McIlwraith written by Denver Beanland, a former state politician and deputy premier himself, as well as being a well-regarded and much published historian. The title of the biography provides a clue to McIlwraith's political stature: "The Queensland Caesar".

Comments about McIlwraith are similar to those about most politicians - some are quite complimentary and others not so. For example future governor of Queensland Sir William MacGregor (a fellow Scot, no less) described him as "an able bully with a face like a dugong and a temper like a buffalo". Controversy marred the final days of his political life, yet some see him as being among the best premiers the state has experienced. Beanland cites him as being one of two giants of Queensland's colonial years, the other being McIlwraith's contemporary political foe Sir Samuel Griffith. 

McIlwraith arrived in Victoria during the gold rush and actually worked in the goldfields as a shopkeeper although he had a Scottish university education that featured an outstanding ability in mathematics. As Victoria's economy boomed McIlwraith obtained state government employment and was soon working on developing Victoria's railways as an engineer while also accumulating grazing land in Queensland's Maranoa district. In 1863 he married and at around that time undertook his first tilt at politics. He ran unsuccessfully for the Victorian electorate of Sandhurst, and Victoria's loss precipitated Queensland's gain.

Following a visit to Scotland McIlwraith returned to Queensland where he now had substantial property. He encouraged his wife and two daughters to join him on his property Merivale in 1869, but after only a period of a few months they returned to Melbourne, presumably unable to cope with the spartan conditions of life on a sheep station in outback Queensland. In late 1869 McIlwraith tried politics again, this time successfully standing for the seat of Warrego.

He was sworn into the Queensland parliament as the member for Warrego in 1870, but resigned within two years because of business pressures. He was elected again, this time for Maranoa, in 1873 and was appointed as minister for public works in 1874. Here is a photograph of McIlwraith from 1874.
 (Photo: JOL 195766)

Then commenced a period of disruption in the personal life of Thomas McIlwraith. His wife and children had earlier rejoined him in Queensland, but his biographer discloses drinking and womanising and a lack of attention to his family; all leading to his wife Margaret resorting to the drink herself and becoming an alcoholic. McIlwraith sent his family off to Scotland, whether to help Margaret overcome her problems or just to get them out of the way cannot be known now. Margaret passed away in Scotland in 1877. At the same time McIlwraith's business affairs flourished, and he was by then a wealthy man. When the Queensland National Bank was incorporated in 1872 McIlwraith was one of the first shareholders, and in 1874 he joined the board while still a member of parliament. This relationship was later to cause problems for McIlwraith.

Thomas McIlwraith became premier of Queensland for the first time in January 1879, holding the post of colonial treasurer as well. In June of the same year he remarried; his new wife Harriet was the sister of the wife of an earlier premier, Arthur H Palmer, a political colleague.

As a politician, McIlwraith was a liberal. He was intelligent and forthright to the point of being overbearing. He quickly set about reducing the deficit he inherited upon attaining the treasury and his engineering and railway background came to the fore in the debate about opening up the vast state of Queensland. He was also a strong supporter of federation. Space precludes articulating the full spectrum of McIlwraith's political career here - I recommend that you read the biography which is available at your local library. The financial crash of 1893 and the subsequent collapse of the Queensland National Bank in 1896 at a time when McIlwraith was in debt to the bank to the tune of more than £250,000 cast a shadow over his political career that remains to this day. 
 (Photo: wikipedia)

In 1880 McIlwraith bought a residence standing on substantial property of about 5 hectares (13 acres) at Toowong. He named the house Auchenflower after a family estate back in Scotland. The name stuck - even though the house no longer exists, the surrounding area became the suburb of Auchenflower. Here is a photograph of the house.

The land on which the house stood was eventually purchased by Archbishop Duhig and on it now stands the Church of the Holy Spirit, part of the Toowong Catholic Parish that also includes Toowong's St Ignatius Church.

In a strange quirk of fate, the ballroom and billiard room of Auchenflower House were transported across town to be preserved in Early Street Historical Village, a museum that was situated in - McIlwraith Avenue, Norman Park! Regrettably that museum no longer exists and the remnants of Auchenflower House have been moved to a winery at Mt Tambourine.

Click here for a Google Map.



  1. The remains of Auchenflower house at the winery are open to the public. There are some old photos and other information and they don't appear to mind you wandering around without buying anything, although since part of the 'house' is also used as a restaurant I'd probably avoid those peak times.

    I too get a somewhat excited when I find themes within older street names and then find out the reason why they got those names. Old estate maps can be useful because you then see the street clusters.

    Thank you for the post.

    1. Thanks for the info on the winery Susan.

      When you find a cluster of streets with commonality it is almost proof that town planning works!

  2. The McIlwraith Range in Cape York is also named after him, although his association, if any, with that piece of Queensland is not clear.


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