The curious case of Dr Dorsey and his ducks

East Street in Ipswich c1860 not long after the store hosted an incredible battle

This epic public battle occurred exactly one hundred and seventy years ago this week in Ipswich back in the wild colonial days when Queensland was still part of New South Wales. I shared the story this morning on West Bremer Radio.

The main protagonists were Arthur Morrison who was an Ipswich storekeeper. His wife Ellen Morrison was almost certainly the former convict Ellen Doyle who had been transported for seven years. Edward Manley the Ipswich chief constable played a leading role. Then there was local magistrate Dr William Dorsey who was one of the early free settlers in Queensland and on the very first Moreton Bay census in 1846.

It all started in September 1850 in the Ipswich Police Court when Arthur Morrison charged the magistrate Dr Dorsey with stealing his two ducks.

William Dorsey whose alleged duck stealing started it all

Dr Dorsey at first refused to issue a warrant against himself or appear in his own court, but finally the charge went ahead and Constable Manley spoke for the defence and helped get Dr Dorsey off.

Come November, Constable Manley was walking down East Street of Ipswich when from a store veranda, Morrison began shouting in what the constable described as “blasphemous and profane language.”

Morrison was still incensed by the alleged duck stealing incident and was shouting for all to hear that Dr Dorsey was a “duck stealing scoundrel” and Manley was “Dorsey’s minion”, although he embellished the claims with some more colourful terms.

At that point an iron pot was thrown at Manley. He later claimed that if he’d been hit, it would have killed him. The constable rushed forward as more items were hurled at him.

Once inside the store, Manley jumped on top of Morrison.

Seeing this, Mrs Morrison began belting Manley over the head with a steel saucepan. She then jumped on Manley trying to pull his eyes out.

Manley called to Constable Connor outside who ran in and then he jumped on top of Mrs Morrison.

By this time there was a huge crowd which was most of Ipswich watching – Morrison was lying on the ground, Manley was on top of him, Mrs Morrison was on top of Manley, and Constable Connor was on top of her.

The wide-eyed spectators included George Fairholme who was another local magistrate that was quite famous at the time – he’d been on a series of expeditions with explorer Ludwig Leichardt and was described by his contemporaries as ‘the most handsome man ever to come through Cunningham’s Gap’. He later married an Austrian baroness. Fairholme tried to intervene and Mrs Morrison gave him a black eye.

George Fairholme the most handsome man to pass through Cunningham’s Gap

There was also Randolph Want who later became a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, and John Dillon who was the New South Wales crown solicitor. Both men were visiting Ipswich for the first – and possibly last – time.

The public brawl resulted in an assault case being brought against Morrison in the Brisbane Circuit Court before the New South Wales chief justice Sir Alfred Stephen. Stephen was the most senior legal mind in the Australian colonies.

Sir Alfred Stephen the most senior legal mind in the colonies

The storekeeper Morrison was fined £50 and given three months imprisonment.

Chief constable Manley was criticised for having aggravated the situation and was later transferred out of the district.

There was no mention of what happened to Dr Dorsey or the ducks that started it all.


Photo acknowledgements:
View along East Street Ipswich c1860 – State Library of Queensland
William McTaggart Dorsey – Nuneaton and Bedworth Local and Family History Forum
George Knight Erskine Fairholme – Mitchell Library Sydney
NSW chief justice Alfred Stephen – National Library of Australia


  1. Terrific story,  had me laughing out loud.Sent from the Samsung tablet lovingly given by Harold, Jacqueline, Harold, and Murray


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