John Moffat of Irvinebank

photographic portrait of John Moffat
John Moffat 1841-1918

Biographical Notes

Video documentary about John Moffat (18 minutes).

Quotes from people who knew John Moffat

"The Carnegie of Australia...has done more good for North Queensland than all the politicians of Australia, having under his care fully a thousand people employed in the production and exploiting of mineral". Wild Cat, Bulletin

"He was the noblest at the same time the most modest albeit the most wonderful genius and ever to be remembered gentleman ... Queensland's greatest pioneer colonist. The success of the man lay in his unselfishness in his thoroughness and in his kindliness that gave every man a chance and so without design bound to him with affection the man worthwhile."- Alexander Corrie.

John Moffat and employees in front of store
John Moffat and employees (possibly William Jack and John Newell) outside store in Stanthorpe c.1871.

"He had knowledge, energy, courage and wisdom, but in the final count his greatness was in his goodness. He respected all men, quarreled with none, gave to every man his chance, lived cleanly, spoke evil of none, and when he came to a stile he looked for the lame dog"... Randolph Bedford, Brisbane Courier, July 1918

"I knew of the exceptional quality possessed by this quiet unassuming Nation Builder...Simple in his habits of life, John Moffat hated affectation. He believed he had a mission in life..." Sir Robert Philp - Premier of Queensland and close personal friend of John Moffat

Sir Robert Philp
Sir Robert Philp, twice served as Premier of Queensland, arrived in Queensland in the same year as John Moffat. Ten years Moffat's junior, Philp served as Minister for Mines and Minister for Railways during the key period that Moffat was developing Chillagoe mines and railways.

"Another wonder of the world has turned up in the form of a person of an absolutely honest mining investor. This rare avis is Mr John Moffat of Irvinebank." ...Sydney Bulletin.

"He had his puritan side, I suppose. He didn't like the Australian pubs, to which the workers rushed the minute they stopped working." Robina Linedale quoted in...House of Trees - Joan Colebrook

"Then he liked the town to be clean - he liked the houses to be painted white, and he suggested it and encouraged people" Robina Linedale quoted in...House of Trees - Joan Colebrook

John Moffat of Irvinebank - Wonder of the North

"He was very...idealistic...he had inner reasons for everything..." Robina Linedale quoted in ...House of Trees - Joan Colebrook

"John Reid was my uncle and he always used to say that John Moffat mesmerised him, because he was so convincing..." Robina Linedale quoted in...House of Trees - Joan Colebrook

In that small Irvinebank settlement -new from the ground up, sit in the eucalyptus - smelling hills, and focusing on the silvery expanse of the dam, home to wild birds - the idea of making a quick fortune and then getting away with it did not seem to occur to John Moffat...He thought in terms of a community, and plowed part of his profits back to stabilise every new centre. But being modest, and disliking public relations which boosted false values, he tried to suppress unnecessary publicity.." ...House of Trees - Joan Colebrook

"He was the greatest man, I think, that ever lived. That's my honest opinion and I worked for him for 7 years" ...Mike O' Callaghan.

John and Margaret Moffat on tram
John and Margaret Moffat on Irvinebank Tramway passenger car, outside Loudon House c.1907.

Comments of later writers

"...his word was as solid as the rock of Gibraltar..." Ion Idriess, Back o' Cairns, Angus & Robertson, 1958

"John Moffat was a splendid penman and words, as it were, simply fell off his pen" ...Hugh A. Borland, The Cairns Post,August 16, 1939.

A simple brick, is inscribed with the words John Moffat, Wonder of the North
Sometimes history is written in stone... a simple brick bears testimony to a legend - John Moffat, The Wonder of the North. Inscribed by a worker at the brickworks at Mt Garnet around 1907. Loudoun House Museum Collection.

"Moffat built up the mining industry as a key foundation of the North Queensland economy of Cairns and its hinterland rode on the prosperity of Moffat's ore wagons. For a generation, the Irvinebank Mining Company controlled its economic and cultural character, promoting every mining town (many now long disappeared) - Herberton, Irvinebank, Watsonville, Stannary Hills (Eureka Creek), Glen Linedale (Thompson's and Emu Creeks), Coolgarra (Return Creek), Mount Garnet, Nymbool (Smith's Creek), California Creek, Gilmore, Gurrumbah, Sunnymount, Montalbion, Emuford, Petford, Silverfield (sometimes called Victoria), Lappa, Bamford, Wolfram Camp, Mount Carbine, O.K., Tartana, Cardross, Chillagoe, Mungana, Zillmanton, Redcap, Calcifer, Muldiva, Tate Tin Mines, Koorboora, Almaden, Percyville, Ortona, Northcote, and other short-lived rushes. These towns all developed social infrastructures and their prosperity depended on the mines. Those which were railway centres in association with other industries such as dairying and timber - Mareeba, Atherton and Ravenshoe - survived succeeding economic cycles...The hallmarks of John Moffat's character were his honesty in business, his deep religious faith, his financial independence, and his brilliant promotional abilities. Northerners praised Moffat for these qualities, and the compliment "God Bless John Moffat" has become part of North Queensland heritage...." Ruth Kerr, John Moffat of Irvinebank, St. Lucia, QLD 2000

servants posing outside Loudon House, Irvinebank
Servants posing outside Loudon House, Irvinebank, c.1907.

"A lean, gently-spoken Scot, who described himself as a ‘dreamy, inconclusive and procrastinating character’, Moffat was very unlike the conventional idea of a mining tycoon. With him exploration and development became an intellectual passion in itself, and profits mattered less than the pleasure of seeing a mine opened, and settlement flourish where only a wilderness existed before. Rarest of all virtues among mining promoters, he was unshakably honest. Not even his keenest rivals would question the integrity of a man who, when one of his speculations turned out unprofitably, refunded the purchase price to the London company who had bought it from him on the grounds that they should not lose through his error of judgment. A time would come when experts would find his mining methods mediaeval in their simplicity, and sophisticated union bosses would chafe against his patriarchal regime. But his failure to mechanize arose mainly from reluctance to deprive any man of his job, for his benevolence as an employer was famous. Many testified to his generosity with down-and-outs, and his willingness to grubstake the most battered old tinscratcher, no matter how forlorn his hopes. It was easy to believe the story that Irvinebank children concluded their nightly prayers with God bless John Moffat." [G.C Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away: A history of North Queensland to 1920, Jacaranda Press, Brisbane, 1970]

"Personally, he was of a most retiring dispostion. A great reader and great student of nature & men, he had the gift of being able to glean information from sources of all kinds, he had an uncanny power of sifting out the grain from the chaff and of arriving at the true facts from apparently most contradictory evidence.

Although sensitive to a degree, he was easily approachable by men, women and children. He knew no class distinction and his kindly nature and manner made it a pleasure to meet him at any time and under any circumstances.

His only recreation was his work and his studies It must not be thought that John Moffat did all of this without assistance. It was his policy at all times to assist others as much as possible and help them with their troubles and difficulties even though they were in oppositon to him. His policy was based on the conviction that to ensure success in any business, it must be assisted by a community of other successful industries, more especially in all pioneering enterprises." .. Cairns Historical Society, nd, na.

"He was a man who literally made fortunes for others, who developed the north, who was the soul of honour and generosity and who was not a rich man when he died" ...C.E Nicholas

John Moffat 1904
John Moffat 1904

" honourable man and a gentleman, notwithstanding that most of his life was spent among some of the roughest of mankind." ...J.T See, The Daily Mail, Brisbane, July 6, 1918

"In early days, when doctors, nurses and dentists were not procurable, he attended in a most skillful way to the sick and suffering, and generously made available remedies from his own medicine chest." ...Mrs Robertson, President of the Queensland Branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australia at the unveiling of the John Moffat Memorial, 27 May, 1950

Quotes of John Moffat:

"Go away and be a sensible fellow"

said to Edward Granville Theodore when Theodore demanded better conditions for workers in the Vulcan Mine.

"We get through work here too, and move surely, because we hasten slowly and without fuss" - said to young Journalist-in-a-hurry Randolph Bedford in 1898