John Moffat is sometimes referred to as the “father of Irvinebank”, yet very few people would know of him and the enormous contribution he made to north Queensland and its mining industry.
Queensland historian Ruth Kerr long ago recognised Moffat’s role in NQ history and has done much to keep his name alive.
Dr Kerr’s book, John Moffat of Irvinebank: a biography of a regional entrepreneur: a mining history of the Cairns Hinterland 1875-1918, published in 2000, provides insight into the man and what motivated his work throughout north Queensland.
Born in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1841, Moffat arrived in Australia in 1861 and was a successful businessman in south-east Queensland before moving to north Queensland in 1880 after the discovery of tin in the region.
Dr Kerr said Moffat was attracted to north Queensland because he believed it provided him with the opportunity to prosper.
“The potential he saw was of a successful region and a flourishing economy,” she said.
“He invested heavily immediately in a battery at the Great Northern at Herberton and expanded westward to Watsonville.
“Moffat’s silver investment in Montalbion, 10 kilometres west of Irvinebank, in 1884 was his most successful mining investment and he became a millionaire at the time by floating the share on the London Stock Exchange.”
“He expanded as new discoveries were made, purchasing the mining claims from the discoverers.
“His investment method was to promote the mining discovery by opening up the mine and establishing a battery and a public company.
“He sold most of his shares on the stock exchange, profiting handsomely.”
Dr Kerr said Moffat established a reputation as an honest businessman and was well respected by the local and business community.
She said his impact on the town of Irvinebank, in particular, was immense.
“Moffat’s impact was as a mining investor,” Dr Kerr said.
“His private company, the Glen Smelting Company, bought leases and claims on Gibbs Creek and it was named Irvinebank.
“As principal of the Glen Smelting Company, Moffat continued to develop Irvinebank’s mines, battery and mining camps.
“He took over major mines and installed a smelter and expanded the battery to 40 stamps.
“The mill, known as Loudoun Mill, operated six days a week and a vibrant town of about 3000 people developed around Moffat’s enterprise.
“He was on the first school committee and financed construction of the School of Arts and the Queensland National Bank building.”
Dr Kerr said Moffat’s contribution to north Queensland deserved greater when detailing the region’s early years.
“He is a comparatively unknown figure in Queensland and Australian history,” she said.
“He is also under-recognised as he was not a politician or a grazier and did not operate a major line of stores.
“When I travelled to Irvinebank and the rest of the Cairns hinterland mining areas in 1973, I looked for local information on Moffat and found very little.
“I could see that his achievements were significant and that he had been instrumental in the development of the Cairns hinterland.
“I think ‘father of Irvinebank’ is a very apt description as Moffat was the financier and manager of Loudoun Mill and the mines.
“He was also the person who funded many facilities and social activities in the town.”
Dr Kerr said Moffat was best summed up as a man of great vision.
“He was a brilliant investor and manager who could always see good opportunities,” she said.
“He had high standards of business integrity and applied his Christian faith to life.”
The history of John Moffat and Irvinebank is also kept alive by the Loudoun House Museum in the town.
Dr Kerr’s book is published by JD and RS Kerr, St Lucia and is available from Dr Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org or from Loudoun House Museum.