A Ghost of Home Rule at Charters Towers


Joe Devlin, stirring advocate of Home Rule

Joe Devlin, stirring advocate of Home Rule

On 20 September, I visited my old secondary school in Charters Towers as part of a program of events celebrating the reunion 50 years later, of the ‘classes of 1964 and 1965’. Our hosts provided us with a copy of School’s centenary history, D. J. Beatson’s and they came to share the vision: A History of the Christian Brothers and their involvement in Catholic Education in Charters Towers 1902-2002 (2002).  It records the visit to Charters Towers in 1906 of Joseph Devlin MP, ‘John Redmond’s deputy in the Irish Party’ and John Donovan, then undertaking a tour of Australia, ‘to make appeals for funds and to build up enthusiasm for the cause of Home Rule In Ireland’. The first principal of the School, then called Mount Carmel College,  Brother Ryan,  ‘hosted a large gathering of interested gentlemen, clergy and Brothers from the town and surrounding districts’.

The Brisbane-based Telegraph reported on 3 August 1906 that a meeting of the Irish Delegates Reception Committee of the Queensland Irish Association had received offers from 13 towns in Queensland (including Charters Towers) to host the Irishmen. The list reads like stations  the Sunlander (train) route: Brisbane, Gympie, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mt Morgan (a detour), Townsville, Cairns, and four towns on other trainlines – Charters Towers, Ipswich, Toowoomba and Warwick. I’ve been able to track only events in Charters Towers and Warwick. The latter town was a known hot-spot of Irishness.

The Christian Brothers’ school in Charters Tower, Mt Carmel, which hosted a reception for Joe Devlin an John Donovan, had opened only four years earlier. The town had grown rich on gold. It was the second largest city in Queensland in the 1890s, but was past its prime by 1902 when Mt Carmel was opened.  The Cornish workforce had by then departed for the richer fields in Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie.

My research into this unexpected Irish delegation in somewhat remote Charters Towers was greatly aided by the State Library of Queensland.  The Devlin/Donovan tour was promoted by John Redmond as a reward for previous Australian support (the federal parliament had in 1905 passed a motion supporting Home Rule). Patrick O’Farrell (The Irish in Australia 1788 to the Present) is somewhat dismissive of the tour, claiming it was mainly a money-raising venture. Hostile Unionist critics of the tour in the press were nervous that Redmond’s lucrative earlier tour, only a few months previously, had raised such large sums (£25,000 allegedly) that a second Irish tour should not have been necessary.

If newspaper reports are to be believed, Devlin and Donovan received much enthusiastic support in many centres in Queensland.  The ‘enthusiastic meeting’ in Charters Towers on 14 September raised €340 for the cause. The Warwick Examiner and Times described Devlin’s address in that town (the last visited in Queensland) on 2 October as ‘A Magnificent Discourse’. Whether or not the press supported Devlin, reports focus on his oratorical power – he is deemed ‘a facile and adroit rhetorician’ and a ‘gifted persuader’.

Judging by the account of his speech at Warwick, reported in the Warwick Examiner and Times, on 6 Oct. 1906, nationalist rhetoric flowed freely at these meetings:

They claimed that God had not ordained that a country like Ireland which was composed of orators, poets, singers and builders, and leaders of Christian thought in every part of the world – that a nation like this was to have no higher destiny than to be forever a mere province of England (Cheers). He [Devlin] might say that Ireland, the land that can make the proud boast that alone among the nations of the world she has risen the standard of the Crown of Christ without shedding a single drop of blood – a land that had sent its scholars and teachers to every part of the world – was destined for something higher in the universal march of progress that to be ‘Dragged at the Chariot Wheels of another nation’.

He passionately advocated Home Rule, and addressed the arguments against it, including that Home Rule meant ‘Rome Rule’.  He cited constituencies which had voted in Protestant representatives, and cited instances of cooperation between Catholics and Protestants. Some of his claims were patently overblown and untrue, for example, that Catholics had never taken Protestant lives.

My favourite quotation, showing how well  informed the Irishmen were about interstate rivalry, and how embedded that rivalry was even a century ago, was at the public meeting at the Exhibition Building in Brisbane , reported  in The Week (Brisbane), 31 August 1906, page 11), Devlin asked the assembled burghers of Brisbane,  ‘Would they in Queensland be content to be governed by New South Wales?’ To which, (OF COURSE), the cries were “NO! NO!”


Bob is trained in economics and history, and an occasional contributor to Tinteán.




One thought on “A Ghost of Home Rule at Charters Towers

  1. Bob Glass has written a concise and refreshing report on the Devlin/ Donovan tour of Queensland in 1906. He conveyed the enthusiasm which was maintained by the local Irish population. They were stirring days indeed. And Bob is so objective, one could never guess from which State he has sprung ! Thanks Tintean, Peter Kiernan.

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