Strike against colonial aristocracy

A skirmish against colonial aristocracy in Ipswich, Queensland, broke out in 1855 and it involved some of the biggest names in the city’s history. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

Richard Gill was the first postmaster in Ipswich and had a small shop on the side. In 1855 he was controversially charged under the vagrants act at the Ipswich police court.

The complaint was made by Hugh Gray who was a youthful clerk at the local branch of the Bank of New South Wales. Gray complained that Gill used bad language when he accused Gray of not paying for a piece of horse tack.

Gill denied the charge but was never going to win the case. That’s because Gray was the son of Colonel Charles Gray who was the first police magistrate in Ipswich.

Colonel Gray

The case was being heard in Colonel Gray’s own court. Although the colonel stepped aside in this instance, his replacement was Alfred Sandeman who was a known to be rather self-entitled.

In fact, when Sandeman was elected to Queensland’s first parliament – the new parliament house is pictured at the top of the page – his own constituency complained of his “manifest incompetence” and “gross inattention to the requirements of the electorate” and so he failed to see out a full term.

Despite Gill denying the charge in the Ipswich court and there being no evidence, he was incredibly found guilty. The reason given for the verdict by Sandeman was that because of Gray’s standing and character as a gentleman, his oath alone was sufficient to establish the fact of Gill having used the insulting language.

To rub salt into the wound, Gill was fined the sum of £5 with costs. Gill was appalled at the snobbish verdict, especially because Gray, who had given him much impertinence, was only seventeen years of age.

Gill then handed to the magistrate a letter to be read aloud. It contained such foul and indecent language concerning Gill’s wife that even the police became modestly red during the reading. Gill said he knew who the anonymous author was, and wished to give him public notice that if the offence was repeated, that he would sue.

Ipswich courthouse

The people of Ipswich regarded the court decision against Gill as so unjust and snobbish that there were threats of tarring and feathering the young Gray, who was believed to be the writer of the letter.

Gill didn’t let the unjust verdict rest there. The following week he was back in court to sue Gray for the sum of six shillings which the price of the disputed horse tack. Colonel Gray this time was in court acting for his son.

On this occasion the magistrate was John Brewster who had sat on a number of cases with Colonel Gray. In fact, Brewster’s full name was John Gray Brewster and was quite possibly a cousin of the colonel.

Gill was set to be stitched-up yet again.

Brewster, however, shocked the observers and gave a verdict for Gill, with costs against the young Gray. Thus, Gill had the last laugh at a section of Ipswich’s early aristocracy.

As for the young Hugh Gray, he was later in a fracas at the Ipswich racecourse. It happened when his horse won a private race with £5 on the side. The opposing horse owner was arrested for assaulting Gray, and one of the race stewards was charged with attempting a rescue.

It was also of little surprise not long afterwards when Gray ran in Ipswich’s first municipal elections, he placed sixteenth and failed wretchedly to be elected.

Gray’s nemesis John Gill enjoyed a long life. When he died at nearly ninety-five years of age, there was a lengthy funeral procession that included not one, but two mayors of Ipswich, Alfred J. Stephenson and William Deacon.

Alfred J. Stephenson

One of Gill’s sons James ironically became the Queensland Crown solicitor, although he later died unexpectedly the result of drinking tank water in Southport that had been polluted by frogs.


Photo credits:
Parliament House, Brisbane, Queensland c1869 – State Library of Queensland
Colonel Charles George Gray – State Library of Queensland
Ipswich Courthouse c1860 – State Library of Queensland
Alfred John Stevenson mayor 1907 – Ipswich City Council


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s