Early Days of Rosewood

Family Camping in the Rosewood District 1880s
(Photo: State Library of Qld)

Before European settlement the lands in the Ipswich region, including the Rosewood Scrub, were the home of the Jagera, Yagera and Ugarapul people. Archilbald Meston, in his publication “The Queensland Railway and Tourists Guide,” (1891) gives the old aboriginal names of this district as “Cowpanby” and “Boonooroo,” literally “all brigalow” from the brigalow scrubs which covered the adjoining hills. King Johnnie of Tarampa was well-known here at the time, and held everyone’s respect.

The first section of the railway line from Ipswich to Toowoomba, which terminated at Bigge’s Camp (Grandchester), was completed in 1864. As a result a township developed around the level crossing known as the Rosewood Gate. The only house in the vicinity was an Inn (Rising Sun) on the old Toowoomba Road, which had been operating from late 1857.

The men of the railway gang and their families lived in tents at the back of and nearby the hotel. There are reports of a flood in March, 1864 when many of these families had all of their possessions washed away. The paddock behind the hotel was covered by several feet of water and tents and boxes etc were floating about in all directions. The whole of the country from the Seven Mile to Rosewood was under water. Ipswich reported that the water there was six feet higher than the year before and five feet lower than 1841.

John Farrell, one of the railway workers, arrived at the camp later in the year 1864. He became the first resident at Rosewood Gate when he built a small home in the corner of the present day school grounds facing the railway line. He was appointed to take charge of the level crossing. Between this small railway siding and where the majority of settlers’ homes would be situated was dense scrub with a few tracks made by men leading their horses (bridle tracks).

In 1868, the Macalister Homestead Act was enacted and the rich scrub land in the area was thrown open for selection. Slowly settlers began to arrive and make their way into the dense Australian bush. One can imagine the apprehension felt by these new immigrants and especially by the women folk. Were they dressed for the Queensland climate and the bush?  They would have had to cut their way through the undergrowth and parts of the forest would have been quite gloomy. All necessities would have to be taken in with them. The bushland harboured dangers like stinging nettle, snakes, spiders and dingoes. Yet it also sheltered never before seen creatures and provided sensory delights in the perfumes of the native flora, the beauty of the majestic trees and the complete silence which was only broken by the musical notes and calls of the creatures inhabiting it. After sundown it would have been pitch black in the scrub. The only light apart from any moonlight that penetrated the canopy on a bright night would have been from their log fire or a slush lamp, which was a open container (like an old tin can) containing fat, a piece of rag and a wick.

One of the trees growing abundantly in the area was the Acacia Fasciculifera or Scrub Ironbark or Rosewood tree. It is a very pretty tree when flowering and it is believed that the that the town was named in its honour.

The sounds of axes began to ring throughout the scrub and over time small clearings began to dot the landscape. Initially settlers lived in tents or other roughly assembled structures like bark huts, so it was necessary to clear a small space for them first until a more permanent house could be built. There was no more important tool to the settlers than an axe. Without axes they would have achieved very little. Saws were also vital and hoe-like tools called grubbers were used to remove tree stumps and roots. Mauls, wedges and froes for splitting and adzes for shaping as well as hammers, augers and chisels were all essential in the building process. The first generation houses were slab huts with shingle roofs or wattle and daub huts and they typically had bare earth floors.

The pioneer men and women were a special and versatile breed. Strength, resilience and a good sense of humour were among the qualities they possessed. If they didn’t have the necessary skills when first entering the scrub they were quickly acquired because it was a case of sink or swim.

Tracks had to be cut to and from their selection to allow access for the horses and carts, so necessary for bringing water and other goods to and from the homestead. Sometimes they travelled for miles to get water and spent most of the day away. It must have been a big task to keep up the supply needed for cooking and domestic use. Imagine trying to bathe or wash clothes on a regular basis. Water was also needed for the animals and gardens. The drought of 1884 would have been unbearable to some.

From dawn till dusk the men worked clearing, ploughing, planting, fencing carting water etc. Eventually when enough land was cleared crops of maize, pumpkins, sweet potatoes etc were planted. Hard yakka! The produce then had to be taken to the nearest market in Ipswich. Women and children often walked to town carrying buckets of eggs, butter and other goods to sell. The corn and other produce posed a bigger problem. There were no surveyed roads to use so the men held meetings and formed deputations to write to or visit the Lands Department. They also lobbied local politicians for assistance. At times it seemed unlikely, but eventually help came.

Women needed to be self reliant while raising the children, caring for domestic animals and tending garden plots. They were so far away from any services that often times their roles were those of nurses, midwives, teachers, cooks, dressmakers and some probably delivered a calf or two. One of the many hardships would have been the lack of medical assistance and knowledge. No doubt they reverted to old wives’ tales and the herbal medicines they bought with them.

In 1868, William Mathew selected 80 acres agricultural land at Rosewood and settled on what is now the eastern side of John Street. James Foote from Ipswich had acquired almost the same acreage on the western side in 1867 but didn’t live there. Around 1873 they each gave half a chain of land along the boundary of their properties for the formation of a road for public use (John Street).

John Vance, William Meiklejohn and Samuel Waight settled in or close to the township. Other early neighbours were Richard Mason, James Dale, Robert Beavis, Martin Beavis, John Nichols, Domenico Pedrazzini, Thomas Hogan, Robert Boughen, senr., Michael Rush, Joseph Wilds, Samuel Eaton, Joseph Hudson, Bernard Farley and Lawrence Smallbone. There were a few settlers out near the Seven Mile, some being Michael Ratz, Alexander Grant and Henry Jacobs.

Progress was slow at first and can be described as “sometimes a feast, sometimes a famine”.

In 1870 a Provisional school opened in what was the old Rising Sun Hotel building which was the Vance family’s home at the time. John Vance started the school in his dining room and started agitating for a state school to be built. About 1874 he opened the town’s first shop in John Street, approximately where the current hardware store is. A second hotel under the name “Rising Sun” opened at its present location and the next year the Congregational Church church was built and the primary school was opened.

In 1876 a rest was room built at the railway station. More than 200 tons of timber, bark, firewood, pumpkins, and almost 4,000 bushels of maize was loaded at the station in one week. (1 bushell is equivalent to 8 gallons or 36.4 litres) Mason’s Bridge was completed and the township got a police station. The district was thriving.

In April, 1877  the Week’s correspondent reported:-  Now the “public” has changed hands, and an addition of which will give more than double the space the old one, is neatly finished. A new hotel is also building on the other side of the line, of very fair proportions; and there is talk of a third. The Post Office has a branch mail to Talegalla, and an office for registering births and deaths. The railway station now ranks as equal to any for the transaction of business, and does as much, or more than any between Ipswich and Toowoomba. A telegraph office is built, though the operator has not come yet. A chapel has been raised. A butcher supplies good beef and mutton fresh three or four times a week. There is a shoemaker and Crispin makes the best hard-wear mud-crushers I have over been able to buy. There is a blacksmith. There soon will be a police barracks. A cemetery is proclaimed or gazetted, or whatever it is they do. The school has been enlarged for 100 children, and is full at that. There is a coal pit on which many hundreds have been spent, and which is bound to succeed. I suppose we shall have a newspaper soon, and then look out.

The first show was held in the old school room in July, 1877. The exhibits consisted mainly of maize, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. No animals were shown. Part of the reason for the exhibition was to prove to the authorities that the district was productive and proper roads were a necessity to enable farmers to take their produce to market and to access the railway station. Soon after the show the Rosewood Farmers’ Club was formed.

An exploratory shaft was sunk at Rosewood in the hope of finding coal for the locomotives. Coal mining began near Walloon and Rosewood Gate became Rosewood under the Electoral Districts Act of 1878. A station master’s house was built and the first station master, Kingsborough Black, was appointed in 1878. Prior to this John Farrell, William Mathew and John Vance had been the gate-keepers.

On 11th November, 1879, the Walloon Division was created. Joseph William Evans, a Chemist, came to town in 1881 and a weighing machine capable of weighing up to 20 tons was installed at the railway station. John Herman, a baker, set up in business in Vance’s store. The Walloon Board passed a new bylaw which imposed a wheel tax of £2-£8 per annum on bullock drivers in the division. The first petition for Rosewood to become a Shire was sent to the Governor, then another in 1886.

By 1888 Rosewood had three hotels, the Rising Sun (1874), the Rosewood (1879) and the Commercial (1884). There was a drapery, the Royal Bank (1887), several general and produce stores, a chemist, blacksmith, saddler, bootmaker, baker, butcher and plumber, barber, and Rifle Club (1887). Five churches were operating, the Congregational (1875) Wesleyan (1882) Primitive Methodist (1882) Church of Christ (1885) and Baptist at Lanefield (1887).

A GLIMPSE OF ROSEWOOD – FROM A CORRESPONDENT [Q.T. 29 September, 1888] Having occasion to visit Rosewood, last week, I was agreeably surprised to find such a large town ship. I had often heard of Rosewood Scrub, and had pictured an hotel and blacksmith’s shop, and, possibly, three or four houses, but, instead, on stepping out of the carriage, Mr. Emmott’s general store and drapery warehouse caught my eye. He seems to have a first-class assortment of all kinds of goods.

After crossing the line, and entering the township, I came to the police barracks. This place, like the station, struck me as being quite inadequate for the township, as I found, on talking to several of the business people, that they are dissatisfied with its position. It is their general opinion that the station should have been built to the north of the line, as all the business places are on that side. I also expected to have seen a Post Office close by, but it seems that the authorities have overlooked this altogether; the only place in which letters can be posted is at the station, and, even then, a stranger would have some difficulty in finding the box.

Opposite the police barracks is the Rosewood Hotel, a nice, commodious building, kept by Mr. Hodge. Next door I came to Mr. Prebble’s general store and drapery a very nice clean looking shop. Opposite is the Royal Bank. Considering the monetary transactions in this place, it is full time that a new bank was built, the existing “edifice” being a small two roomed cottage.

Then I came to Mr. J. Farrell’s (contractor) residence. He has just completed a road, which, I believe, is called John street. This is the principal street in the township, and is a credit to both the contractor and the Divisional Board. Then I looked into Mr. Quinn’s saddler’s shop. Next door is Mr. Evans’ chemist’s shop. Opposite is the Congregational Church. The Rev. Mr. Roper is the resident pastor. I might mention that the spiritual welfare of the inhabitants of this district is well looked after, there being not fewer than six churches here.

Then, I arrived at the Commercial Hotel, kept by Mr. James Ponting, where I partook of a splendid luncheon. This hotel has the best of accommodation for man and beast. Opposite is Mr. Aspinall’s (boot and shoe maker). Then comes Mr. P. Angel’s general store and bakery. This is, perhaps, the largest and best building in the district. His stock comprises grocery, drapery, crockery, ironmongery, &c. Besides being the only baker in the township, he is also a large purchaser of all kinds of farmers’ produce. Next is Mr. Elder’s (blacksmith, wheelwright, shoeing-forge, and implement maker). I am told that he has three fires in almost constant use. Opposite is Mr. Harcla (saddlery and barber), who gives an easy shave for threepence.

I came then to Mr. Matthew’s, market gardener, whose ground is nicely laid out, and stocked with all kinds of fruit and vegetables. (No Chinamen wanted here.)

A little higher up I came to Walters Bros.’ butchering establishment, next to Mr. Arndt (general store and produce merchant). He, I believe, has a branch store in Ipswich.

There is still another store, kept by Mr. D, Pfrunder. He, I am informed, is the oldest storekeeper here. Then we came to Mr. Adams (wheelwright and blacksmith). He, I believe, employs four men. I have now given you a full list of the business places to the north of the line. In my next 1 shall have something to say of the farmers, also of places to the south.

In 1889 the Royal Bank opened and Captain Rea opened the Caledonian Colliery near Walloon. The travelling dairy arrived at Rosewood and thereafter the dairy industry took off.

In 1890 the Royal Hotel was built along with new police barracks. On the 11th October part of the Walloon Division was separated to create the Rosewood Division. The courtroom was erected in 1892.

At the turn of the century the productive vision and determined efforts of the early residents were being realised. In the coming decade Rosewood would experience its greatest growth period.

[Pugh’s Almanac 1900] AGENTS (Insurance) – J. L. Frederich, R. Hodge, D. Pfrunder, Collett Bros
BAKER – C. T. Bragg
BLACKSMITHS – J. Elder; P. H. Adams
BOOTMAKERS – John Aspinall; M. Bourke
BUILDER – R. Hodge
BUTCHER – Mrs. J. McGeary; J. O’Sullivan
CHEMIST – J. W. Evans
CHURCHES – Congregational. Rev R. Figis; Church of Christ, Church of England & Roman Catholic (visited); Baptist Rev. J. Glover
CREAMERIES – Minden Farmers’ Co-operative Dairy Co Ltd; Black Plain Farmers Co-op Dairy Co. Ltd; Ben Meissner, Patrick Ahearn; Rosewood Co-op Dairy Co; Lanefield Farmers’ Co-op Dairy Co.
CLERK OF PETTY SESSIONS – (Acting) Acting Sergeant George Perry
DRAPERS – T. B. Tronson; J. L. Frederich
DRESSMAKERS – Miss O’Brien; Miss Collett
HOTEL – Royal, Mrs Hanlon; Rosewood, R. Hodge; Commercial, W. Trim; Rising Sun, B. Sloane
PRODUCE MERCHANTS – J. L. Frederich; R. Hodge; T. B. Tronson
POLICE – Acting Sergeant George Perry in charge, Constable Perkins
POLICE MAGISTRATE – Visits from Ipswich
POSTMASTER – Telegraph Manager, Savings Bank Officer & Registrar – J. K. Burns
SADDLERS – H. Zornig, S. Phelps
SAWMILLS – Collette Bros; Wohlgemuth and Spann
SOCIETIES – Protestant Alliance Friendly Society, No 22; Masonic Lodge Rosewood 878, S.C.
STATE SCHOOL – Committee: P. H. Adams, J. F. Collett, G. H. Dutney, W. F. Ruhno (chairman) and B. Sloan (secretary).
STOREKEEPERS – J. L. Frederich; T. B. Tronson
TEACHER – J. Tuffly; Assistant M. Blackmore; average attendance 104

Rosewood also had a lawn tennis court, a new exhibition building at the showgrounds and construction had started on the Seven Mile Bridge.

On the 31st March, 1903 the Rosewood Division became the Shire of Rosewood.

St Brigid’s new church and the Epidemic Hospital were built in 1910 and Thomas Bulcock made additions to his newly acquired home “Glendalough”. A telephone exchange was established at Rosewood with 15 subscribers. In 1911 a branch railway winding northwards past several coal mines to Marburg was completed. Nurse Domrow established her private hospital (later to be called “Weeroona Nursing Home” and “Elite Maternity Home”) and the School of Arts was built.  Nurse Kuck built and opened St Florence’s Hospital in John Street, later to become St Kilda Private Hospital. More on hospitals.

The population of Rosewood had grown from 90 (1881) to 357 (1901) 1418 (1911) 4500 (1924). [Pugh’s Almanac]

Later figures approx:- 6000 in Shire (1931) 7000 in Shire, 1250 ratepayers (1934) 1600 (1947) 1800 (1951) 2200 (1954) [Trove]

4899 (2001) 4617 (2006) 2834 (2016) 6007 (2021) [Bureau of Statistics]

Researched & compiled by Jane Schy



  1. Love this website. The history of rosewood is awesome. Love learning about my hometown.

  2. Wonderful read! Great research,thank you Jane.

  3. Great reading, thank you. Looking for information on my family the Blake’s who settled here in 1882 as farmers.

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