This page is a transcript of an article by journalist “Battler” Patterson published in the Evening News on 22 October, 1922.
Transcribed by Susan Cunningham, 2 July, 2010.
Early Rockhampton by “Battler”
“Isn’t it strange how long a night can grow
Ere morning and the dew?
Isn’t it queer how black a cloud can blow
Before the Sun breaks through?
Faith is remembering ere breaks the day
Or ere the storm is done
That out of somewhere speeding on their way
Are morning and the Sun.”
I wonder how many of the present generation have heard of the name of Anthelme Thozet, and also how many old timers have forgotten him. The bulk of the early day citizens were patriotic to the town of their adoption. If there was anything wanted for the welfare of the place, they dived their hands into their own pockets, and only in exceptional cases leant on the Government. One of the early timers, who did a great deal for the place, and whose name has sunk into oblivion, was Mr. A. Thozet. He was a botanical expert of the first water, a contemporary, a confrere, and a friend of Baron Von Mueller, who explored unknown portions of Australia for botanical and geographical researches in and about 1847. Mr. Thozet thought so much of his friend that when, soon after the rush at Canoona he bought country facing the river and on Kalka Creek, and called the place Muellerville.
The two Frenchmen – Thozet and Pene – were the first to start extensive gardens in Rockhampton, and were followed by McGregor at the Ulster Arms. Thozet’s gardens were the show place of North Queensland, while Pene’s Cremorne Gardens and White Horse Hotel was more of a sports ground, where the gay girls and sparks of the town used to resort. If they happened to remain after 12 o’clock, it meant pinching a boat or swimming the river, as the ferry boats did not ply after midnight.
I have only been to Muellerville twice since 1878, when on the 31st of May that year I brought the news of Mr. Thozet’s death to town. In 1914 I visited the place again, and once more a few days ago. The once beautiful gardens are now a wilderness. At Muellerville in the early days was grown the first cotton. I wrote in a letter some time back that cotton was first grown at Laurel Bank, but when I called on Madam Thozet she told me the first cotton was grown by them (that was before Separation) and Rockhampton district was part of N.S.W. The crop was picked by the aboriginals. They also grew tea, sugar, coffee, pepper, spices, olives, China date plum, bread fruit, cherry guavas, etc. Monsieur Thozet grew everything that would grow. It was he who first supplied our present Botanical Gardens with the first plants grown there. Those beautiful fig trees in Quay Street were also planted by him and at his sole expense. How bare the river bank would look without them. His whole soul was in the advancement of the town. Rockhampton was no the only place he tried to beautify. He used to send plants and trees world wide. He received numerous medals, which his widow presented to the School of Arts. A number of them can be seen in the Reading Room, among them being a gold medal. In (18)’73 the French Government through Earl Granville (Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) sent him the silver medal of the Societe d’ Acclimatisation of Paris as a mark of distinction. He also received a medal at the Lyons Great Exposition for an exhibit of Queensland natural products. He was the first man to introduce Queensland to the people overseas, and was untiring in his endeavour to forward the interests of the country, and there is no doubt it was (due) to his efforts Queensland got its improved position on the Continent of Europe in the first place. Through his efforts the French Government promised to lay a cable from New Caledonia to Rockhampton, but the connection was eventually made at Bundaberg. This is the man who lies in a neglected grave in the garden he lived for, and loved.
I called on Madam Thozet a few days ago. The old lady will be 86 years of age next March. She is still fairly active, and would have been more so if it had not been for a fall she got a little time back. Her memory is wonderful. When I suggested a chat about old days she said “Ah, no I don’t feel well enough” but having known me from my boyhood she soon got chatty. Madam was presented with one of the first nuggets found on Canoona. This was made into a brooch, but was lost during the stay in Paris during the siege by the Germans. Madam gives a different account of the finding of the gold at Canoona to what has generally been reported. She said a shepherd was sitting under a shady tree poking at the ground with his stick, and he turned up a nugget. He very soon had a pint pot full of coarse gold. Messrs Thozet and Pene were among the earliest arrivals at Canoona, and Madam said there was no Rockhampton at that time. When the rush fizzled out, M. Thozet returned to Rockhampton, and built the second hotel erected in Rockhampton, known then as the Alliance, now the Supreme Court (Hotel). The timber for the building was sawn handy to the town by some of M. Thozet’s countrymen. There was a deal of the timber from the Leichhardt trees used, called by some of the old timers, golden pine. The house was roofed with slate, as was later the Freemason’s Arms, but this material was found to be much too hot, and other houses were roofed with shingles. Later on the shingles were covered with galvanized iron, and cool roofs resulted. M. Thozet also acquired the ground now occupied by the A.C.B. buildings and the shops next. He did so well in the hotel that he soon transferred the license to Henry Schmidt, afterwards our leading baker. I don’t remember who followed Baker, but Maurice Harris, the rider, was in it for a time, and he transferred to Martin O’Neill. This was Martin’s first venture in hotel business, and he always regretted that step in his life. M. Thozet then devoted all his time to his garden, and it soon became the show place. Of course, at that time the river was unbridged, and there was little means of transport on the Lake’s Creek road. Thozet built a small jetty on the river, and for many years after it was known as Thozet’s landing.
Madam called to mind the other day the time the beautiful Lady Bowen was rowed down the river with her husband, Sir George, to spend the day at Muellerville. All the notabilities of the time who came to Rockhampton visited and were well received at Thozet’s garden. Among some I remember were Dr. Lang and Anthony Trollope. Early in 1870, M. Thozet left fro France with his wife and son, and took a magnificent collection of plants with him. He had bad luck. The Franco-Prussian war was raging and M. Thozet and his family were closed up in Paris for many months. They stayed until the people were starved into submission by the Germans. M. Thozet held an officer’s commission before he came to Australia, so on his return to France he naturally lined up with his compatriots. After the war was over they traveled extensively, and returned to Australia, arriving in Rockhampton in the s.s. Egmont on the sixth of March (18)’73. During his absence he left his garden in charge of a man named Stretton, who disgracefully neglected it, and on M. Thozet’s return he found the place in a very bad way. Five years later, M. Thozet died and lies buried on a small eminence in his garden. Over the grave stands an obelisk of Carrara marble, brought at big expense from Italy. Near him lies his son, August, and his daughter-in-law. The lady was a sister of our old time town clerk, Tom Nobbs. After the death of her husband and son, the widow fell on evil days. The old home is to be put up to auction in November. The Council lately invested some money in property at Kalka, which is a good idea, but it would be a better idea to cut up the land and sell it, and buy the Thozet property for a park. Most of the beautiful trees remain, and the place only wants cleaning up. Half the property could be cut up and sold, and the remaining half kept for the public. By doing this M. Thozet’s grave would be preserved for all time, and the only wish his widow has is to lie by the side of her husband. It was Madame Thozet’s intention at one time to present the property to the people, but the fates have decided otherwise.
Walking through the grounds with the old lady, she pointed out to me the first mango trees planted in Queensland. They were brought from Japan by Sir Charles Nicholson, for M. Thozet, and are still flourishing after sixty years. The olive trees look well, and the beautiful Norfolk pines can be seen miles away. Cherry guavas, persimmon, date palms, mulberries, etc. still look well while the numerous mangoes are bearing a fine crop, while the bamboos have reached a gigantic size and for height equal the Norfolk pines. A good gardener in six months would bring the old place back to a shade of its old greatness. It is to be hoped the property will fall into good hands, and that Madam will be enabled to end her days in peace, in a spot that carries so many happy and sad memories.
Madame Thozet still takes a great interest in the welfare of the town. She said Rockhampton will never be a city until the steamers run to the town wharfs again. She visited Port Alma at its opening, and was not at all optimistic about it. She is greatly disgusted at the Soldiers Monument being placed in the Gardens, and predicts it will sink out of sight.
Madam is a great reader, she speaks and corresponds in English, French and German. She offered her services in the last big war, but, of course, there is an age limit to even active patriotism.