Bushrangers, Queen Victoria, hand grenades, and Netflix – there’s only one family in the world that has all this and more, and they’re in my book ‘Dovercourt‘. I told this story live on West Bremer Radio.
Bigge’s Camp – or Grandchester as it’s called today – west of Ipswich, is more than the first stop on Queensland’s first railway when it was opened in 1865. It was the headquarters of Francis Bigge who in 1840 was among the first squatters in the Moreton Bay district.
In 1842 Frances was the hero of a shoot-out with three bushrangers in which he defied the outlaws and was shot through the shoulder. The bushrangers were later hanged and the event became the inspiration for the famous Australian book ‘Robbery Under Arms’.
Bigge was also a member of the very first Queensland parliament in 1860, and his wife is reputed to haunt the old Court House at Cleveland.
Queensland only happened thanks to his uncle John Bigge. He was the royal commissioner who inquired into the running of the New South Wales penal system. His landmark inquiry investigated all aspects of the New South Wales government under governor Lachlan Macquarie, and included the infamous complaints by free settler John Macarthur who strongly opposed Macquarie’s emancipist policies towards convicts.
In 1822, his Bigge Report recommended that a settlement be established north of Sydney for the worst of the convicts and repeat offenders. The Moreton Bay penal colony, Brisbane and Queensland was founded as a result.
Another Bigge relative was cousin Arthur Bigge, the 1st Baron Stamfordham. He was the private secretary to both Queen Victoria and her grandson King George V.
Baron Stamfordham is portrayed in the Netflix series ‘Peaky Blinders’. His grandson Michael Adeane , Lord Adeane, became private secretary to Queen Elizabeth II and was portrayed in another Netflix series ‘The Crown’.
Then there’s the house called ‘Dovercourt’ in Toowong in Brisbane that was built in 1865. That was the same year the railway arrived in Bigge’s Camp. Up to 2020, for ninety years Dovercourt was the home of the Bigge family.
The first family member there was Matthew Bigge who in 1933 married the granddaughter of Queensland premier Sir Samuel Griffith. It was Sir Samuel who wrote the first criminal code in Australia and was the 1st Chief Justice of Australia.
Matthew served as an officer in the Australian Intelligence Corps during the Second World War and apparently came home souvenirs from ‘special duties’ overseas.
The souvenirs included a cache of Japanese hand grenades that were only discovered in suitcases under the house by his son John Bigge in the 1990s. And when I metal detected around the house, I found a 1930s Japanese bronze coin that he would also have brought back from the war.
So Ipswich’s Bigge family from Bigge’s Camp or Grandchester, has direct connections to incredibly significant historical events, places, and people – and that includes three monarchs, the founding of Queensland, the book Robbery Under Arms, and now to my book Dovercourt.
The Bigge family is just one of ten stories told in my new book Dovercourt that’s available for purchase online now in hardcover.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON WEST BREMER RADIO
West Bremer radio studio – my own
Francis Edward Bigge – State Library of Queensland
John Thomas Bigge 1819 watercolour portrait by Thomas Uwins – State Library of New South Wales
Mr Mrs MF Bigge leaving St Johns Cathedral – Brisbane Courier, 22nd February 1933, page 16
Dovercourt book – MiblArt