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Cameron, Margaret Anne (1819–1918)

by Andrew Crombie

From New England, in New South Wales, there departed in the year 1862 a party of pioneers, consisting of Mr. Donald Charles Cameron, his son John, and James and William Crombie. Their mission was to explore and discover country suitable for sheep in Queensland. The immediate objective was what is now known as Lammermoor, near the head of Tower Hill Creek, a tributary of the Barcoo and Thomson Rivers. Good water supply was said to exist at Lammermoor, and this was the inducement which caused these pioneers of the pastoral industry to overland for some thousand miles with the idea of settling there. As they brought a flock of sheep with them, their progress was necessarily slow, and they did not reach the Barcoo until 1863. Meeting Mr. (later Sir Augustus) Gregory (after whom the Gregory) district was called) on the river, he advised them that he was about to abandon country which he had thought of occupying, and that he intended to settle lower down the Barcoo. This he did and named his station Alice Downs. After thoroughly exploring the district, Messrs. Cameron and Crombie decided that it would be impossible to find a finer run, so they decided to settle down permanently on the country which Mr. Gregory had brought under their notice, so taking up 40 miles frontage to the Alice River they formed Barcaldine Downs, so named in memory of Barcaldine in Scotland, where the Camerons were visitors immediately prior to their departure for Australia. Several years were spent in the old time pioneering work, such as hut building, yard making, and the erection of a homestead, the latter being constructed of sapling walls, clay floors, and bark roofs. For years this homestead was considered the best in the Barcoo district.

Mrs. Donald Chas. Cameron, accompanied by her four daughters and two younger sons, arrived at Rockhampton in 1866 and were met there by Mr Cameron and his son John. Under the guidance of the latter, then a boy in years, the family started for their home in the new country. The journey was made in tilted drays, and, the weather being fine, occupied only four weeks. The route was to Westwood then the terminus of the Central Railway line, by rail 30 miles; thence to Dawson River, Expedition Range, and Springsure, crossing the Main Range at No 3 camp, and so on to Tambo; following the Barcoo to Alice Downs, and thence to Barcaldine, where the first homestead was erected. This they reached after camping out 28 days on the road, and they then settled down. The Camerons in 1869 made Home Creek their residence and the Crombies occupied Barcaldine Downs.

While en route the ladies saw their first corroboree; this was at Northampton Downs Station. Prior to this date blacks were not "allowed in" at Northampton, but a shepherd had been lost, and the blacks rescued him when in the last stage of exhaustion and as a reward for their fidelity they were allowed to hold a corroboree at Northampton homestead. As a precautionary measure, no blacks were ever allowed to "come in" either at Balcaldine Downs or Home Creek. The wisdom of this course was proved, as more Barcaldine shepherds were murdered by the blacks. At that time, station residents were occasionally called upon to protect themselves from bad whites, who being fugitives from justice, sought safety in the seclusion of the Never Never. Mr. Welford was murdercd by the blacks, hence "Welford's Lagoon," the site of the tragedy. Aureale Morriset was then in command of the native police, and reigned supreme over an area non depasturing millions of sheep.

In 1869 Messrs. Cameron, James and Willam Crombie, J. T. Allan, T. S. Mort, and Herbert Garnett formed a company, under the style of J. T. Allan and Partners, owning Barcaldine, Enniskillen, Birkhead, and Vergemont stations, and this partnership was continued until the sale of the stations, 1877. Then Mr. Allan retained Enniskillen, and Cameron and Crombie purchased Kensington Downs from Donald Gunn of Pikedale. Mr. D. C. Cameron died in 1872, and five years later Mrs. Cameron, her daughter, and the Crombies took a trip to Europe, John Cameron managing Kensington Downs in their absence. Greenhills station was purchased in 1879, and Cameron and the Crombies then dissolved partnership, the Camerons taking Kensington Downs, and the Crombies Greenhills, and upon these stations descendants of the two families, continue to reside until this day.

Pioneer settlers in Western Queensland passed through trials, hardships, and anxieties which in these days of railways, motor cars and telephones it is almost impossible to realise. Everything to be done had to be done by themselves—blacksmith, stonemason, carpenter, saddler, farrier, fencer, builder, painter, &c., were beyond reach, and all such work had to be undertaken by the pioneers. In those days lines of demarcation were unknown. There was no coach, no regular mail, no school, no doctor, no church. Teams bringing goods from Rockhampton, and sometimes Brisbane, were as long as five months on the road. Wool was of so little value that after shearing, carriage to Rockhampton, steam freight to Sydney, together with commission and charges, were deducted, there was little, if anything, in the way of cash surplus for the grower. Sheep were unsaleable, while the financial position was appalling. Flood, fire, drought, sickness, fever and ague, and serious accidents sometimes terminating fatally, had to be met and fought. John Cameron found refuge for days up a gum tree in a Dawson River flood, and finally was saved by James Crombie, who swam miles to effect the rescue of his friend. Bush fires came in from the far West, and devastated the country from the Diamantina to the Aramac, and fresh pastures were then to be sought unless, as sometimes happened, heavy rain followed closely in the track of the fire. A drought year meant moving the stock in patriarchal style. Sickness and accidents were treated on the station, and many lives were saved by the good nursing and attention of the pioneer women of the West. In the case of severe accidents, such as the fracturing of an arm or a leg, splints were made upon the spot, and applied by the owner of the station, and although this amateur treatment might result occasionally in a shortened limb, it was generally successful and enabled the patient to return to his usual bush occupation.

Education was a great undertaking in bush surroundings, but Mrs. Cameron succeeded, with the aid of her eldest daughter in educating all her family, and later on they had the advantage of good schools in the Southern colonies. The daughters became refined gentlewomen, and all married gentlemen who were well and favourably known as pioneers in the pastoral industry; and in after years occupied prominent positions in Queensland. James Crombie for many years represented Western constituencies in the Queensland Parliament. William Crombie, who resided at Greenhills, was universally liked and respected. J. S. Sword, who retired from squatting while a young man, entered the civil service, and will be remembered as senior member of the Land Court; Beauchamp Cameron was well known in early days as owner of Uanda station, and again in connection with cattle properties in the Gulf. Upon retiring from station life he acquired Aughamore, on the Darling Downs, where he still resides.

Concerning Mrs. Cameron's sons: they were all good bushmen, capable, honourable business men, who ever took an active part in local affairs, and in any matters which tended to the advancement and welfare of the district in which they resided. John represented the Mitchell, and afterwards North Brisbane, in the Queensland House of Assembly. For many years he was president of the United Pastoralists' Association, and, amongst his other activities, he was a director of the Q.N. Bank, and also of the Queensland Meat Export and Agency Company. Donald has devoted his life to the family interests, and is managing director of John Cameron and Co., Ltd., owning Kensington Downs and Caledonia stations. William was repeatedly chairman of the Winton Shire Council, and amongst other of his good works will be remembered as the introducer of the system of fly screens in the State schools of Western Queensland, thus allaying a terrible disease which had caused the loss of eyesight in many bush children. He had very successfully managed several large station properties, and at the time of his lamented death —which occurred on the Atlantic on returning from England in 1916, via America—was largely interested in the stations of William Cameron and Co., Limited, near Cloncurry, and of this company he was managing director.

The following properties are amongst those now held by the Camerons and Crombies, all direct descendants of those who in 1862 were the pioneers of the Barcoo, viz,, Kensington Downs, Greenhills, Caledonia, Maranthona, Belford, Rainscourt, Beryl, and a large interest in Buckingham Downs.

After living an ordinary lifetime in the bush Mrs Cameron acquired, in 1887, a very beautiful property named Fairholme, on the Toowoomba Range. Here she resided for some 30 years, happy in the possession of the love and respect of all the members of her numerous family. Retaining her full mental powers to the last, she took the liveliest interest in their affairs, and much of their success in life may be attributed to her wise counsels and influence for good. She was a lady of surprising energy, judgment, and determination, and throughout her long life kept the welfare, honour, integrity, and advancement of her family constantly before her. One of the last acts of this grand old lady was to present to the Presbyterian school funds a very large sum, thus enabling the Church to acquire Fairholme, with its ample surrounding lands, and perhaps the most glorious scenery in Australia; and to convert this charming site into a college for the education of Presbyterian girls.

Of Fairholme it has been written by "O.A.": "Years have mellowed the old house, human lives have filled it with memories—the memory of an old, gracious lady still lingers there like the scent of dying roses on an evening wind; it has been filled with fun and frolic and laughter; it has known tears and heartache, too. Love has hallowed it, and sorrow has consecrated it—this beautiful old home on the mountains."

Mrs. Donald Charles Cameron passed away quietly on March 8 last, in her 99th year, attended by her three daughters and one son, they being the sole surviving members of the party which comprised the pioneers of the Barcoo in 1866. She left direct descendants numbering 84, of whom 10 grandsons have taken up arms in defence of the Empire. In conclusion, it is but meet to emphasise the wonderful influence for good which this mother of men exercised throughout her remarkable career. Many as were her years, her age was never too great for her to retain her interest in her family, and her sympathy in all their joys and sorrows. She was held in the greatest reverence and affection by all her children to the third generation, and when she finally laid down the burden of extreme age she was mourned as only mothers are who have been life-long friends of their children.

Original publication

Citation details

Andrew Crombie, 'Cameron, Margaret Anne (1819–1918)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/cameron-margaret-anne-14604/text25734, accessed 21 April 2019.

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