Steve Welch was the fireman on Queensland’s very first passenger train which ran from Ipswich into Grandchester which was Bigge’s Camp back in 1865. He was the driver in Queensland’s very first fatal train accident in 1876. He was also the owner of the horse that won the 1887 Queensland Derby. The horse was the early leader in the 1888 Melbourne Cup which was the year that it first became the richest race in the world.
I needed to find exactly where this significant person in Queensland history lived, and what artefacts he left behind. This was no easy challenge, serious research was needed, and a lot of luck.
Through a local historical society that I was told the vicinity of Steve Welch’s farm. For now I can describe it only as an undisclosed location west of Brisbane and Ipswich. It’s where he kept his racehorses, and the family lived for over thirty years until their home was removed and the location lost in the mists of time.
I went to the farm and introduced myself to the current owner. There’s only ever been two documented families that owned this land, the current owner is one, and he knew of the other, the Welch family, from the grand original title deeds.
He pointed out towards the one hundred and twenty acres of ploughed fields that are there now, and said the house used to be out there somewhere. He added that over the years the plough had turned up pieces of porcelain.
That got me interested, because if I could find some of that porcelain it might lead me to where rubbish dump of the Welch house was, then to the house-site, and items left behind by Steve Welch himself.
I started walking up and down the field, looking for, well, anything. What I found were pieces of nineteenth century porcelain and glass on the surface.
The finds were centred on one particular area. I continued the research online, looking at the earliest available aerial photographs of the area which were from 1933. Incredibly the trail of artefacts that I had found pointed directly to what appeared in the photographs to be a pale anomaly on the ground.
That had to be where the house site was, and so I went back to the field, this time with my Minelab metal detector to hopefully find personal relics of Queensland’s first train fireman.
We found more of the porcelain and glass. There were pieces of 1800s whiskey bottles, a glass stopper from an old sauce bottle, a glass marble from inside those old Cobb lemonade bottles. We even found a small blue bead from one of those doilies that were commonly used to cover milk jugs back in the day.
With the metal detector I then came across a strong signal and so I began digging. I dug a hole that was as deep as the full length of my arm. As I got deeper, the soil became unusually sandy, and then there was what felt like a large flat piece of tin or lid. Tapping it, it sounded like there was a void underneath, similar to what you’d expect when tapping on the lid of a box.
It took a lot more digging to recover the item. It was half of a ten-gallon oil tin that had been filled with sandy soil and used as a flowerpot. It typically would have been placed at the front gate or front steps of a house.
This meant that I was in the right place.
Then, as the light was fading and it was almost dark, the metal detector found another target, this time it was close to the surface.
I turned over the soil and out popped a piece of real treasure. It was a coin. On one side was Queen Victoria which means it was English and old, and it was a young Queen Victoria which means it was very old. On the other side was Britannia and the year 1879.
That’s exactly the right period and the right location that I was looking for – I’ve found the location of Steve Welch’s historic lost home.
I’ll now be assembling a team to return to the site and discover what else has been lost there for the last one hundred and fifty years, and tell the story of the people whose memory remain only because of the lost items that they’ve left behind.
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Undisclosed location west of Brisbane – Harold Peacock
Lady Bowen first train into Grandchester, 1865 – Queensland University of Technology
Aerial photograph 1933 – Queensland Government
Queen Victoria English penny from 1879 – Harold Peacock