Clifton, Darling Downs, Queensland

by Dr. Jennifer Lambert Tracey BA (ANU), M App.Sc. (UC), Ph.D. (UC) MPHA (Qld.)

Sunset at Clifton 2000 ~ A New Millennium


It is important that research into the past is conducted in such a manner that it assists understand the ways in which the social, economical and political landscapes were formed. The evolution of any landscape is a product of human impact and environmental factors that often interact with each other. Humans cannot be separated from the social landscape any more that than that landscape can be separated from past and present human influence. Perhaps the resultant landscape is all that is left of the past endeavours of a particular person e.g. an abandoned mine may be the only epitaph of some lonely miner, a shearing shed all that is left of some pastoralist or a regrowth of a garden plant all that is left of gentle hand that rocked a cradle and awaited the return of drover. Long after a person is gone the impact that person had upon a landscape remains.  Often history eulogises the heroes and those in fashion and with the stroke of a pen the worker is forgotten. No matter how remote or how insignificant the effect, every person adds in turn to the collective human coconsciousness. All that may be left of a person is a particular landscape they once passed through. However, if we understand how that landscape evolved we get to know the person hidden therein.



Stations where MacLellans were employed and involved in the early establishment of runs.


Clifton has the distinction of being one of the three stations taken up and stocked in the first year of the Darling Downs Settlement. The other two stations were Toolburra taken up by the Leslies and Eton Vale, settled by Hodgson and Elliot. Stuart Russell, a young English University man, arrived in Eton Vale in October 1840, keeping a diary, which gave us the early history of the Downs Settlement. After a few days at Eton Vale, accompanied by Pemberton Hodgson, Russell set out to visit the Leslies at Toolburra and stopped for a while on the way at the triangular bark dwelling place in which King and Sibley eat, drank, kept provisions, smoked and slept. This spot was afterwards called Clifton. To be correct the Clifton Station was a few hundred yards down on the same side of the creek. That was the description of Clifton's first residence and the site was probably close to where the Kings Creek Railway Station stands today.


In 1841, King and Sibley moved up the creek to Pilton and the Forbes brothers (sons of Sir Francis Forbes, the Chief Justice of Australia), took over the Kings Creek property. In 1842 their cousin, Milbourne Marsh, joined the Forbes and it was he who gave the station the name of Clifton, in honour of his birthplace. Clifton Station remained in the ownership of the Forbes Brothers until 1850 when it was sold to the Gammie Brothers.


Location of Clifton Homesteads

Phillip Pinnock, another cousin of the Forbes, arrived on the Darling Downs about 1884 and purchased Ellangowan and later Pilton, from King and Sibley and the three properties were united and managed together.


Following the death of John Gammie in 1853, Clifton, together with 10,000 head of cattle, was sold to William Butler Tooth for £30,000 and that owner held the station until his death in 1876. Tooth removed the cattle and introduced sheep. The station had the reputation of grazing the largest number of sheep on any property on the Downs, 150,000 sheep being shorn for many seasons. The earlier owners had improved the station, however, it was Tooth who transformed it into a settlement village, with a commodious squatter's residence, bachelors quarters, and comfortable cottages set apart for the married men. The location on the slope of the mountain was ideal one and markings on some of the trees set the position of the old homestead.


Immigrants wanting land besieged the Government. The survey of the railway across the Downs in 1866 divided the immense area held by Clifton Station and the Government resumed most of the land east of the proposed railway line. Provisions such as wheat, corn and butter were in demand and stations that would be close to the new Railway Line were the most sought after.


A village settlement was surveyed at Spring Creek. Areas of 40 acres were deemed sufficient and farmers who took up the blocks made the experiment of the Macalister Government a success. Spring Creek is one of the oldest agricultural settlements in Queensland with many of the farms remaining in family ownership for several generations.


It is not known when he shifted to the area, however, Lachlan MacLellan was an overseer on Clifton in 1873. On the 28th September of that year he was married by Father Robert Dunne to Mary Anne Hanley in the Catholic presbytery in Toowoomba.


St Patricks c1863. Bishop Robert Dunne.

Sydney and Brisbane investors capitalised on the Western Downs. Mort and partners controlled 15 runs in 1874 and the Tooths of Clifton and Jondaryan were initially financed from the profits of the Kent brewery.


Jondaryan 1985

Fisher and Davenport who formed Headington Hill and was able to hold that area from settlement for almost 30 years secured an area of 36,000 acres resumed from Clifton Station. A report of conditions on Headington Hill dated 1874 stated that there were more than 200 persons making a good living on the property. Stock comprised 30,000 sheep, 300 head of cattle, 35 buggy and saddle horses and 80 draught horses. The farm had 750 acres of ploughed land with intensions to sow 600 acres of wheat and 100 acres of lucerne in the coming season. About 60 hands were employed at the farm, including 16 boys permanently engaged in cutting indigo weed and burrs.


The next portion of the station to be resumed by the Government was Back Plains then followed by Mt. Kent and Elphinstone and only a portion of the original Clifton Station was left to the owner.


Wool prices suffered a severe slump and sheep and cattle were almost unsaleable. A boiling down plant was established on Clifton. Later an attempt was made to manufacture extract of meat, but without success. William Butler Tooth represented the pastoral Districts of Maranoa and Burnett in the New South Wales Parliament prior to Separation. He died in 1876 leaving the property to his wife and family.


William Tooth [Jnr.] found selectors had surrounding his remaining holding and he fought a rearguard action by fencing off access to waterholes and placing an obstruction across a proclaimed road. The selectors fought back believing that the Darling Downs was in every way suitable for agriculture and that the time of large holdings was over. Mrs William Butler Tooth and her family were at Clifton for ten years after her husband's death.


Clifton eventually passed into the hands of a Brisbane syndicate, and in the late 1890s the Government purchased unsold portions of the original station.


The town of Clifton dates from the establishment of the railway in 1869 when James Mowen erected a store and hotel adjacent to the rail line, close to the Bank of New South Wales. The building was erected on the roadway, however, it remained in situ until after his death.


  MacLellan's Greenmount / Mount Kent Land Leases


In 1875, Lachlan, his wife Mary Anne and brother William MacLellan were residing on Portion 2133, Clifton Home Area, Parish of Aubigny. The location of the dwelling or other outbuildings on this Lot is unknown. However, it is reasonable to assume that some archaeological remains may be extant.


William and Lachlan's mother, Anne MacLellan, by then a widow, had purchased Portion 2128 of the Clifton Home Area. She also purchased Portion 3064, Clifton Home Area, which adjoined Portion 2128 (Entry dated 10 October 1879 QSA Records of Land Holdings 1877 - 1879). Separating the two blocks was Portion 3052, which Lachlan MacLellan purchased in 1879. This is the block of land noted in his letter to the Minister for Lands, Brisbane (Land Commissioner's Correspondence 1885 / 320. QSA) concerning his title. April, 29th 1885.



MacLellans Mount Kent leases


A study of the Mount Kent landscape and associated maps clearly indicates the intention of the MacLellans to take up land that gave access to water. All of the 80 acre lots selected by various family members straddle a small creek. During the period of European settlement in the early 1800s the Australian environment was little understood. Many early attempts at farming and pastoral activities failed for lack of knowledge of environmental and climatic conditions. Perhaps as late as the 1870s a similar situation was being experienced in Queensland. A section of land that one day is a green field is a drought plain the next. Lachlan MacLellan had been in the Colony for approximately 22 years and had been the overseer on Clifton. It would be reasonable to assume that in 20 plus years he had become familiar with the weather patterns and the resulting shortages of water. Nothing is known of where Lachlan spent the years between 1854 and 1873 or what occupation he followed. However, to obtain a position as overseer on Clifton he must have had some previous experience on the land.


Even though the MacLellans had selected wisely and assured that a plentiful supply of water was available via the various creeks on their leases their efforts apparently failed. Resulting in Lachlan shifting the family to north Queensland and walked off his leases. William stayed on the land and sat out the drought and eventually acquired the land from Lachlan and ran a dairy farm.



Lachlan MacLellan and Mary Anne Hanly



List of burial at Mareeba Cemetery noting Lachlan and Mary's burial in 192 and 1919 respectively.


(photograph courtesy Leslie Bell, Mount Molloy, Q.)

In Lachlan's letter to the Minister of Lands he states ' … I had to remove some horses I had there at the time, the country around there being in such a deplorable condition that they would have died …'. He further states that he moved them to the Mackay district. To drive horses in such poor condition from The Darling Down to Mackay overland would have meant the loss of most of the stock. Also he states 'I sent my family on to Mackay with the horses.' Lachlan must have moved the horses via the railway. It would be unlikely that he would send his family overland with horses in such poor condition. The Greenmount railway station being only a few miles from MacLellans. Lachlan's older brother John had land at Nebo Road near Mackay it is likely that this was destination for the horses.



Greenmount railway station 2000.



Greenmount railway station with Mount Kent in the background


It may be seen that the particular Lot 3052 was crucial to the MacLellans. It was stated that the dwelling was on Lot 2133 and William and Annie owned 2128, 2132, 3064 and 3065 therefore 3052 joined the leases together and assured access to water and the catchments on the slopes of Mount Kent. The lease must have eventually passed in to Lachlan MacLellans control as current parish maps show Lachlan as the original owner. Also while under the ownership of Lachlan's brother William and his family the property become known locally as MacLellans and was to remain in the family another two generations lived on the leases.


It is doubtful if Lachlan MacLellan had further contact with the Greenmount / Mount Kent leases and most likely spent the reminder of his life in north Queensland. Lachlan died at Mareeba age 70 years and had spent 60 years in the Colony and Queensland.



David Johnson and two his three sons.

The great great grandsons of Lachlan MacLellan and Mary Hanly

Thomas and Lachlan Johnson

Heron National Sailing championships 2008