John Moffat Obituaries and Testimonials

An Obituary to John Moffat by J.T. See

The following testimonial to the life of John Moffat of Irvinebank was published in The Daily Mail, Brisbane, on July 6, 1918.

While much of the information in the article could be found in other sources, a unique insight is provided in the story of when "only once was he known to display any anger."

In this anecdote, the writer attempts to capture John Moffat's Scottish accent as he berates a company promoter from the south who took advantage of his generous hospitality, and attempted to bribe one of Moffat's servants to gain certain information, that Moffat would have gladly given if only he'd asked.


"Lord ! keep me honest that I may be just in my dealings with my fellow man."

A quotation to this effect is said to have been written on the front page of his first cash book by the founder of the Hopetoun family, the grandfather of the first Governor-General of the Commonwealth. If it had emanated from the the late Mr John Moffat, whose death in Toowoomba was announced a few days ago, no man who knew him would have given it a second thought because it would have tritely expressed his character.

If ever Queensland possessed an honest man of the very highest order that man was John Moffat. It seemed absolutely impossible that he could be any but an honourable man and a gentleman, notwithstanding that most of his life was spent among some of the roughest of mankind.

Although he had passed the alleged allotted span of years to which a man is entitled to the very last day of his recent visit to Brisbane he was interested in matters that count in the material advancement of his country, and not only so, but he was also able to listen to the story of another man's troubles and show him a practical way out of them.

Mr. Moffat was born in Glasgow about 77 years ago, and came to New South Wales as youth. He is understood to have undertaken any kind of work after his arrival, but it was the discovery of tin in the New England district that gave him a substantial start in life, and for some years he was a conspicuous figure at Vegtable Creek and Tent Hill, at which latter place portions of a large tin dressing and smelting plant were standing a very few years ago, silent testimony to his enterprise.

About 1872 the discovery of tin at Stanthorpe took him away from New South Wales, and he is said to have introduced the first mechanical tin-dressing plant to that work. Stanthorpe, however, was a working miner's field, as the tin was found on or near the surface, and required little or no skill to recover, while Mr. Moffat's energies required difficulties to surmount. So when it was announced that tin had been found in the mountains at the back of Cairns, he directed his attention to the new country.

This was in the very early eighties, and from that time to some four years ago, when troublesome eyes required attention, and he retired to live in Sydney, Irvinebank, a picturesque valley in the mountains, about 18 miles from Herberton, remained his home and Queensland headquarters of the great mining enterprises that grow under the influences of his capable control, and the absolute and unquestioned probity with which they were conducted.

Time after time he was victimised by unscrupulous men who looked on mining as a means only of getting money quickly, but no matter how grossly he had been deceived, he had such extraordinary faith in human nature that he would trust the next-comer with the same confidence that he had extended to the one who had previously abused it, always in the hope he would prove true. And to the credit of the average mining prospecter, his policy was the right one for the man who ventures into the North relying on his own energy and resource, even if temporarily successful, in the long run makes good, and Mr. Moffat, wise above his fellows, usually found his trust in human nature was not misplaced.

Only once was he known to display any anger when his confidence was abused, and that was when a company promoter from the South, furnished with letters of introduction, after staying as a guest for a week, tried to use certain information acquired thereby for his own personal benefit.

"Mon," he said, "ye come to a mon's hoose, an' ye talk to his servants, an' then seek to mak' money got o' what ye lairn. Mon I'd ha' gi'en all ye Iairnt that way for the askin' ".

And the discomfited visitor, who had apparently "'squared'" a loyal employee, was ordered off and never returned to Irvinebank.

While the Herberton tin field was the scene of his first operations in the North where he worked in conjunction with Messrs. Jack and Newell, in developing mines there, Irvinebank became his home. The Vulcan mine was there: and there it was in conjunction with Messrs Caird, Maxwell, and Co., and Harrop, Moxham and Co., of Sydney, that the first reduction and smelting works were erected — works that are in operation today, a monument to his ability and energy, the centre for the treatment of tin ores for a radius of 25 miles, perhaps more.

It is not realised in the South what an enormous mineral belt Queensland posesses in this part of the North, but Mr. Moffat knew, and for that reason any man who came out of the bush had only to announce a discovery, when he was at once furnished with the materials to open up the find. As stated, there were men who took advantage of his generosity and enterprise, but the honest prospector made good any losses incurred over the other class, with the result that a huge tract of inhospitable country has been made known, and a day in coming when it will supply a great quantity of the mineral wealth of the State.

Mr Moffat's activities did not stop at tin mining, although it was his speciality, for many copper, silver-lead, gold, wolfram, and molybdenite mines have been developed under his auspices, and it would require nearly a column merely to detail them.

Besides mines at Irvinebank and Herberton, his was the directing mind in the early stages of development at Watsonville, Stannary Hills — when it was known as Eureka Creek — Mount Garnet, Smith's Creek, Wolfram Camp, Mount Molloy, Mount Carbine, Koorboora, Coolgorra, and Chillagoe.

It was the Chillagoe Company that directed the attention of Southern mining investors and speculators to the resources of North Queensland. A new race and class of speculators had risen in Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney.

Flushed with success achieved at Broken Hill, the West Coast of Tasmania, the Western Australian goldfields, and the Cobar copper fields of New South Wales, these men were instrumental in pouring hundreds of thousands of pounds into what was vaguely known as "Chillagoe" without exercising much discretion.

Looking back on this period after 20 years, it would appear as though these optimistic but misguided speculators made an endeavour to start at Chillagoe where they had left off at Broken Hill and Mount Lyell, and naturally their efforts were not successful. At any rate Mr. Moffat was unobtrusively working some very rich carbonate of copper ores at and about Calcifer, where he had one or two small furnaces, when he was approached on behalf of a group of Melbourne capitalists for the sale of his interests. The result was the formation of a modest syndicate known only as "Chillagoe."

The Government of the day granted a long lease on easy terms over a large area of mineral lands, and Parliament sanctioned the construction of a railway. The Melbourne public was to use a market phrase "on the feed," and "Chillagoe" shares rose to £1200 each. At this psychological moment the promoters called a meeting and proposed a scheme whereby a company of a million sterling would be formed, of which £100,000 was subscribed capital, £900,000 being issued to promoters in fully paid-up shares.

The 100,000 was subscribed in the room, and thus was started the "Chillagoe Railway and Mines Ltd." Mr. John Moffat was stated to have received £300,000 odd of the paid-up shares, and was also made the local director. In due course the shares rose to nearly £2 each, but because he was the company's representative on the field he declined to sell, and when the inevitable collapse came, as he foretold it would, he held his shares intact.

The conscience of the man precluded him from taking advantage of a wonderful opportunity of enriching himself without effort, and he was strong enough to resist the temptation.

Had his advice been acted upon, it is safe to say that no committee of inquiry of the Legislative Council would today be performing the duties of a financial coroner, and deciding what is to be done with the remains of the ill-fated Chillagoe Company, for the enterprise would have been a source of revenue for hundreds of small investors, and the field producing all the industrial and precious metals necessary in the development of the Commonwealth.

The "Father of the North" and "Honest John" he was called, and no man in any country of the world ever better deserved the title than Mr. Moffat. Enterprise, and generosity went hand in hand with him, and the North lost its best asset when he left Irvinebank, and for the prospector it is hardly likely his place will be filled.

His enterprise extended to Papua, to the Northern Territory, and to any district in North Queensland where minerals were to be found. Difficulties and distances to him were merely obstacles to overcome, and it is questionable if any enterprise was abandoned by him until it was proved beyond doubt that its possibilities were exhausted.

About a month ago Mr. Moffat paid his last visit to Brisbane. He spoke as one having years ahead of him, and arranged a visit to look into a new enterprise. But he had caught a chill, which proved fatal. He died at Toowoomba on the 28th ult.

It is said no man is indispensable, and while it is true in a general sense, there are men who are missed more than others, and in the troublous days ahead of this country a personality like Mr. John Moffat will be difficult to replace, particularly in such a locality as he made the scene of his activities. Australia has produced very few such men, and Queensland undoubtedly possessed one of the best, if not actually the very best of the class in Mr. Moffat, one who will have an everlasting monument to his integrity, and energy in the devolopment of that portion of his adopted country where he made his home.

Obituary by "Commercial"

"Commercial" is the pen name of someone who evidently knew John Moffat quite well. Published in The Northern Herald, Cairns, July 11, 1918, this obituary provides interesting insight into John Moffat's first employment on a sheep station after his arrival in the colony of Queensland in 1862.

The Late John Moffat

'Commercial' writes : My dealings with the late Mr. Moffat commenced over a quarter of a century ago amid captious criticism of his business methods, but ended in a keen appreciation of him as an able as well as a lion-hearted man, who failed to see faults in his immediate vicinity because of his concentrated attention on long range targets. I am not concerned about the magnitude, success or failure of his many and varied undertakings as enumerated in your issue of the 6th inst. but measured by the gauge of simple Christian virtues such as hospitality, kindliness and generosity, he was an admirable and loveable as well as a lion-hearted man. Many of the older residents of the North, such as Mr. Michael Walsh, of Cairns, know how to appreciate men who started off scratch in Queensland before most of us were born.

In 1862 the late John Moffat was rejected as a shepherd on account of defective eyesight at Oakey Creek on the Darling Downs, and relegated to the position of store keeper and ration carrier on a sheep station, so that he started life heavily handicapped.

His grit, energy and ambition carried him through many apparently hopeless ventures which might easily have made him the Cecil Rhodes of North Queensland. He was best loved and most respected by those who had business dealings and were most intimate with him, and by his death we of the North have lost a good friend and able compatriot.

Obituary from the Toowoomba Chronicle

No author is attributed in this obituary, which was published in the Toowoomba Chronicle, Saturday, June 29, 1918. The article is probably written by a reporter, in Toowoomba, where John Moffat had died the day before, and thus provides interesting reportage of his sickness, death, and funeral.

Mr. John Moffat

The death occurred yesterday, at the St. Denis private hospital, of Mr. John Moffat, one of the best known pioneers of North Queensland, at the age of 77 years.

The late Mr. Moffat — a man of the highest integrity, generous to a fault, and one of the grandest characters that one could meet - only arrived in Toowoomba a couple of days ago from Brisbane, having broken his journey here on business. He contracted a cold and complications set in. Despite the best nursing and medical attention, he gradually sank, and passed away as stated.

Deceased, was born in Scotland. By those who knew him, it is said that he practically made North Queensland so far as mining is concerned. In the early, days he "dabbled in tin niining'" at Stanthorpe and built the first smelter works in that district. He was connected with Irvinebank (North Queensland), and still was at the time of his death.

The late Mr. Moffat was also interested in the Mount Garnet, Mount Mulligan, and Chillagoe mines, besides which he was instrumental in having the railway line to Chillagoe built. He himself built a tramway from Stannary Hills to Irvinebank, the gauge being on the two foot basis. Deceased was also chairman of directors for the Federal Pastoral Shearing Co., of which the Toowoomba manager is Mr. J. M. Yates. Deceased, with Mr. Virtue, invented the Moffat sheep shearing machine.

In the north his name is a household word, and in that part of the State scores and scores of families looked upon him as a father. The late Mr. Moffat was a married man, and has left a widow and two daughters, all of whom are in Toowoomba at present. The funeral will take place this afternoon at 3 o'clock, leaving the Presbyterian Church, the burial arrangements being in the hands of Messrs. T.S. Burstow.