Thursday, 12 October 2017

Historical Summary of Ferney by Gloria Banting

P. O'Kelly - Original photograph Maryborough Wide Bay & Burnett Historical Society Inc (from Loyau’s book)  

Ferney is a locality within the 4650 postcode which runs roughly from Five Mile Road to Owanyilla along the Mary River.  One hundred and fifty years ago, Ferney was the name of a sugar plantation owned by Peter O’Kelly, who had arrived in Brisbane from Ireland in 1861. Soon after arrival, he received a job offer from surveyor Cecil Hugh Colquhoun, who was travelling to Maryborough to commence surveying the new Agricultural Reserve.  When the subdivided land was made available for selection, O’Kelly chose three riverfront blocks with a total area of 150 acres, naming it after the estate of the French philosopher, Voltaire. He gradually purchased surrounding farms until he owned 600 acres.

In the early years he endured thefts by the local Aborigines, and also damage to his original shack and cane crop from floods. Marrying in 1873, he built a proper house for his new bride which was first described in a newspaper article in 1878. Ferney homestead still stands at the end of River Road, and is believed to be one of only two original plantation homesteads on their original sites – the other being Rosehill built by John Eaton.

O’Kelly’s first crops of sugar cane were crushed by Myrtle Grove mill - a few kilometres up the river and on the opposite bank - transporting his cane stalks there in punts. (Whilst surveying the Agricultural Reserve on the western bank of the Mary River, O’Kelly named Myrtle Creek which was a boundary of Myrtle Grove plantation and after which it was named.)  In 1875 he purchased a mill from near the railway bridge at Owanyilla. With it he could extract the juice by crushing his cane, then sending the juice down river in large tanks on punts to Yengarie refinery for processing into sugar.  Crushing the cane on farm also had another advantage in that the waste fibre (or megass) could be spread back on his fields as fertilizer. Eight years later he sold the old mill and had a new larger and more complete crushing plant manufactured by John Walker & Co.  At the time “Ferney” was one of over forty plantations with either sugar or juice mills on the Fraser Coast.

O’Kelly was very involved in the Maryborough community, giving lectures at the School of Arts on a  variety of subjects including “the beauties of Shakespeare”; served on the Tinana Divisional Board; was a director of the Victoria Copper Mining Company; a prolific letter writer to local newspapers; held positions in the Agricultural Society; was President of the Planters and Farmers association; instrumental in starting the Owanyilla school; vocal in the Polynesian labour debate and represented the Maryborough canegrowers in Brisbane; brought the first paspalum grass seed into the Maryborough area, and was recognized as an exceptional farmer.

One incident O’Kelly would rather we forgot, was his involvement with Colquhoun (who was charged with murder and subsequently acquitted) in the death of an Aborigine on Yardley next door to Ferney. There were also various accusations – some proven - of shooting at and also beating his Polynesian workers.

A report from the 1893 flood shows why O’Kelly gave up sugar cane for dairying – "heaviest sufferer will be Mr. P. O'Kelly, whose mill building, barn, chimney stack, stables and overseers cottage were swept away by the current. The boiler of the sugar mill has been lifted out of its position and thrown against the engines while the machinery will probably be found a complete wreck, as heavy hardwood logs have been dumped down upon it.”

A sad occurrence in 1898 was the drowning of the 10-year-old son of his former employee, Richard Beattie, who lived on the opposite bank of the river. The boy had been swimming with his two older brothers when he was swept away by the tide.  O’Kelly and the lad’s father searched for, and found the body floating about a kilometre from where he was last seen.

Ferney stayed in the ownership of the O’Kelly family until 1911 when it was sold to A. H. Moreton, the father of the 6th Earl of Ducie, Basil Howard Moreton.  Moreton sold in 1917 to John Samuel Farrar, who with partner John Costello, had been a pioneer of the Diamantina and the Northern Territory. Farrars Creek near Coopers Creek was named after Jack Farrar. Jack also helped the Burke and Wills expedition in western Queensland, accompanying them for a considerable time, showing them water, and giving information that was of much assistance to them. After surviving many hardships in the outback, Farrar’s wife was severely burned by a lamp at Ferney, dying next day in hospital. Within a year of their arrival Jack had died as well.

Kevin and Gloria Banting purchased the homestead block in 1987, taking five years to save the dilapidated house, and making it into a comfortable family home.

Published with consent from Gloria Banting
Tags #Ferney #Owanyilla #sugarcane #fivemile #Tiaro #Maryborough  #O'Kelly

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