Portrait of William Archer.
News of the day

Morning Bulletin, Thursday 7 May 1953, page 6

The Archer Family

The Archers became the first name in the history of Rockhampton and district when on that afternoon in May 1853 two brothers stood looking down at the "astonishing view" of the Fitzroy valley.

The family's history is remarkable, and something of it was made known last night in the paper prepared by Mr Alister Archer for the Rockhampton Historical Society.

The paper set out the following story:

As the centenary of the discovery and naming of the Fitzroy River takes place in the first week of May this year and the discovery was made by two brothers — Charles and William Archer — I thought some notes on the family and their later doings in Australia — and in Queensland in particular, would be of interest to members of this society.

The parents of the boys — William and Julia Archer, were both Scotch and belonged to Perth and surrounding districts. William Archer, senior, was the junior partner in a timber and lobster importing firm, Charles Archer and Son. After the Napoleonic wars, the firm fell on bad times. William, who had been to Scandinavia on a business tour in 1819, had been much taken by the beauty of Norway and also the cheapness of living in that country. He decided to settle there, bought a schooner and set sail in 1825 with his wife and seven children. The eighth and eldest child, Charles, was left with his grandmother at Perth to finish his education.


The family settled at a small town, Larvik, on the south-east coast of Norway. William bought a house and gave the schooner in part payment. Another five children were born in Norway, making 13 in all, nine boys and four girls. In due course all the nine boys came to Australia and Queensland.

Resources in Norway seem to have been very slender for many years to come, and right up into the 40s the position must have been precarious, as in letters we read of the possibility of the father having to give up the old home. William seems to have been unfortunate in his speculations as we read of export of wood blocks and lobsters, both of which seem to have shown a loss.

In these circumstances the boys had to get out early and fend for themselves and not very much time could be given to their education. However, where possible the boys were sent to Scotland for short periods to learn some trade before coming to Australia.

The eldest son, Charles, who later was the main actor in the explorations to Central Queens-land, we first hear of working on a sugar estate in Trinidad, West Indies. His department was rum-making, and he was then 19 years old. Incidentally, in a letter home, he said, "I am astonished that people who know what it is made of, can be so fond of it."


John, the next son, left England in a whaling ship when he was 18 or younger. This ship fished for whales round the Pacific Islands, New Zealand the Philippines and Japan. The cargo was evidently unloaded at Sydney for shipment to England, as John stayed with the same ship for more than six years before it returned to England, with John as first mate.

David comes next. He was the first to come out for bush life here and arrived when he was 17. He subsequently was the father of Robert, John and Edward, whom most of you will remember here in Rockhampton.

Here I must say something about the mother's family. Julia Archer was born Walker, and the family were mostly farmers and tanners in and around Perth. However, one branch of the Walkers was already profitably established in New South Wales in the 30's, having an agency business in Sydney and numerous sheep and cattle properties in the north-west of New South Wales.

A grand-uncle of Julia Walker's was the manager of the properties and lived at Wallerowang, (the present-day township is Wallerawang) in the foothills on the western side of the Blue Mountains. The Walkers were, of course, on the lookout for reliable young men to work the properties, and, here was an opening for the Archer boys. David started at Wallerawang in 1834.


Incidentally, David is mentioned in Charles Darwin's book, "A Naturalist's Voyage Round the World". David is called assistant superintendent and took Charles Darwin for a kangaroo hunt. They saw no kangaroos, but Darwin enjoyed the ride through the bush. This was in January 1836.

In 1837 David was made manager, and on the very last day of this year, December 31, 1837, the next contingent of the boys arrived and immediately went to Wallerawang to join their elder brothers. The two boys were William, aged 19, and Thomas, aged only 14.

For the next two years they all stayed with the Walkers and seemed to have been kept busy in the saddle, as the Walker properties extended some 150 miles north and north-west from Wallerawang.

At the end of 1839, David resigned and the management was handed over to William. David went into partnership with another Walker relation and the firm of David Archer and Coy was formed on October 1, 1839.


The intention was to put together a mob of sheep and trek for the Darling Downs, Moreton Bay, where some excellent land was reported and towards which several pioneers were be-ginning to move.

Young Walker was a sleeping partner, supplying stock. David who had received most of his salary in sheep, had about 1500 head, and he bought some more on credit from his great-grand-uncle. Young Walker's sheep were to be joined with David's at a property near Dubbo making a total of about 5000 sheep.

Young Tom, then aged 16, was appointed overseer and general useful, for a period of four years at a salary of £50, £60, £85 and £100 per annum. The eldest brother, John, also joined the party as cart driver, as the sailing trade was slack John had returned to Australia and had been commanding small trading vessels running mostly across to Tasmania.

On arrival at Biambil, the meeting place, the tragic discovery was made that scab had broken out in the sheep. In these days scab was a most serious disease and thousands died and were killed to stop it.

A complete halt had to be called to any further movement. Drays had to be sent right back to Sydney for supplies to treat the infected sheep. Unoccupied land had to be found for the diseased sheep. Huts, yards and wool-sheds had to be built. Each sheep had to be shorn and later washed separately in arsenic and corrosive sublimate. This, of course, meant very heavy extra expense. But an even more serious matter was the delay to the trek—upwards of a year.


When the party reached the Darling Downs in August, 1841, all the good country had been occupied, or so it appeared at the time at least. They were advised to push on past the Downs and go on to some good country reported at the head waters of the Brisbane River. So they pushed on and descended into the Brisbane Valley by Hodgson's Gap. Brisbane itself was then a penal settlement and no country could be occupied within 50 miles.

About October they settled at a place they called Durundur, native name for Moreton Bay ash. This place is about one mile out from Woodford township and some miles due west of the Glasshouse Mountains. The McConnels, of Cressbrook, and Mackenzies of Kilcoy, had preceded them by a few months.

Right from the start they seemed to have realised they had settled on an unpropitious spot and made several excursions to the north looking for something better, but without success. After two years of wandering it may be supposed they were looking for a permanent home for a while.

So they set to with a will erecting the necessary building and yards and also clearing a cultivation. From a diary kept at this time, it Is rather curious to read of the amount of crops and vegetables they grew. Corn, wheat, pumpkin, etc., grapes and watermelons, all seemed to flourish in this country of high rainfall – everything except sheep, who did not appreciate grass 3 ft. long, or the damp ground underfoot.

About the middle of 1843 two people arrived at Durundur, both of whom subsequently influenced the fortunes of the brothers to a large degree.

One was brother Charles, who had returned from the West Indies in 1839, to Norway, with a severe illness. He was carried ashore in England. Afterwards he came| out to Australia, and was for about 18 months, a clerk with W. W. Walker and Co., in Sydney, before proceeding to Durundur.


The other arrival was Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt, who stayed with the Archers at Durundur for about eight months, studying the flora, fauna and geology of the surrounding country.

It was through letters received from Leichhardt after his return from Port Essington, in which he prophesied that the Dawson, Comet and Mackenzie rivers would all eventually join into one big river and would "disembogue", as he called it, on the east coast, that made Charles later set out to find this river and the following year go out to the Peak Downs.

Charles, who was 30 when he arrived at Durundur, immediately took to bush life and he must have been an outstanding personality. His younger brother Tom said of him, he made himself proficient in anything he undertook; he was a first-class rifle and gunshot, swimmer, sketcher, chess player and light carpenter. Later he started surveying and made a theodolite himself.

Several of his sketches and maps are still in the possession of the family — they are beautifully done. His brother Tom also speaks of his splendid temperament and how he was looked up to by white and black alike.

It was a very severe blow to the whole family when Charles died on a visit to Norway, under the age of 50 and when he was on the point of returning to Queensland. His death was very sudden and was supposed to have been caused by a fall when skiing, which was lightly treated at the time.


In 1842-43 a severe depression hit the sheep industry and graziers spoke of sheep at 6d per head with the station given in. In July 1943, David wrote home to his father, "Our affairs here are much in their usual. The colony is gradually recovering from its depression but it will take time. New resources are opening to us which our distresses have discovered, although in prosperity they were overlooked. My own affairs are like those of the Colony. We have property — say 9000 sheep, etc., but no market. We can live and at that well, but can get no money; and here is the misfortune — I can't get any to send you who want it, and I am sure sometimes badly enough, whereas I can do well enough without it, if I only knew you were provided for I should be happy."

In 1844 David Archer took cattle on terms for the Walkers of New South Wales. By this time the brothers had realised that the country was quite unsuited for sheep and had also noticed in their expeditions round about, that the further west they travelled, the better the sheep looked.


The decision was made to look for more suitable country to the west and after a fortnight's exploration, some suitable country was found under the Main Range, about 50 miles west of Durundur. One place on Emu Creek was named Wooroongundie, the other Cooyar, near the present town.

Charles and Tom wasted no time in getting the sheep across, leaving David to look after the cattle at Durundur. Here the same procedure of putting up buildings and yards was undertaken at Emu Creek. Before long they noticed a decided improvement in the sheep.

In the following year, 1846, brother William who had then been manager for the Walkers for seven years, sent a mob of sheep up to the firm and he himself came up on a month's visit to the brothers. He returned by way of Darling Downs, New England and Liverpool Plains to Walker's bullock station, Baradine—and as he himself said in a letter, after a weary ride of 600 miles in 22 days.

Incidentally, at this time, most wages seem to have been taken out in sheep, as presumably the owners did not have ssssthe cash to pay with.


GROUP PHOTOGRAPH, captioned as follows: This group was taken in Brisbane in 1867 when five of the Archer brothers happened to be together there. They are in boating kit. Of the nine brothers, two, Charles and John were no longer alive, and David and Colin were living in England and Norway, respectively. Thomas was on a visit to Queensland from Scotland, where, he and his family then lived. Only one, midway in the row, was not a member of the family. He was a friend, Lionel Knight Rice, of Mt Spence, near Mackay — a grand-nephew of Jane Austen. The brothers, named from left to right are Alexander, Thomas, James and Archibald, while the seated one is the eldest there, William. The average height of the brothers, it may be noted, was slightly over 6 ft 1 in.

By the middle of '46. with two lambings and the addition of William's sheep, Emu Creek was getting over-stocked. The place was also rather poorly watered, and a decision was made to stock Cooyar, which was not far away over a range. Here again the hard work of yard building, etc., had to be done. After a year at Cooyar, when the station settled down a bit and times were improving, the sheep doing well, young Tom, who was then 24, went for several rides across country. He went over the range from Cooyar on to the Darling Downs. He always regretted their bad luck in missing this beautiful country.

Tom, who seemed to have his full share of hard work when forming the new station, evidently felt he was entitled to a change. He had read Sir Thomas Mitchell's report of the previous year, when he came upon vast plains of country round Mt. Abundance — the present Roma, and he was determined to see for himself.

He came across a young man, Chauvel, an uncle of the late Sir Harry Chauvel, who was camped on the Condamine, on the lookout for country. Young Chauvel agreed to accompany Tom. They started from Chauvel's camp and were absent for three weeks and four days, battling through interminable scrub nearly the whole time. They reached the promised land, but by then the rations were done and they beat a hasty retreat after only one day on the plains, without marking any run out. They were so reduced that one more day's absence from food would have meant the end of Tom's packhorse which had already been picked out as the victim.


However, Tom was not finished, but was determined to get a run for himself. He arranged to have a fresh horse sent over from Cooyar and started off again, this time accompanied by Chauvel's partner, a Mr Blythe. This time they were much better supplied and returned in good order after marking out runs. When Tom returned to Cooyar, he had been away 13 weeks. He was of course delighted with this new country and could not get started quickly enough for his new El Dorado.

However, before any definite arrangements were made, consideration had to be given to the difficulties of transport over the great distance from Brisbane — upwards of 300 miles.

Many conferences were held discussing the pros and cons and before a decision was come to, a visitor turned up from the Burnett. This was James Reid, who had selected Ideraway —about where Gayndah is today.

He strongly advised them against going out into the Never Never and told them he felt sure they would find some excellent country further north from him. So Tom set off again, after a short spell, with his blackboy, Jacky Small, for the Upper Burnett. They found a large tract of good sheep country, but of course, not to be compared with Tom's western find.

More deliberations followed before the western project was abandoned. This was largely influenced by the nearness of the ports to the Upper Burnett, Wide Bay being about 100 miles away and Port Curtis 80 to 100.

It should be remembered the big influence the cartage of wool had in these projects when bullock drays had to be steered through the wild bush roads, through timber and over creeks, even a journey of 100 miles and back would take more than a month sometimes.


Once the decision for the Burnett was made, not any time was lost in moving up and on May 14, 1848, a start was made from Cooyar.

A journal of the trip was kept by Charles, the original of which has been preserved. This gives the number of sheep, men and horses of the outfit, together with drays and the stores; actually it was two outfits, as another company had been formed — C. and T. Archer — as well as the old D. Archer & Co. and the sheep belonging to each firm were kept separate.

After a month's travelling, the banks of the Burnett or their new properties were reached, and the party halted here temporarily while exploring the country and settling on sites for head stations. They pushed on again and finally after more than two months out from Cooyar they reached their final destination.

The two stations were named Eidsvold and Coonambula. Eidsvold is the name of a small town in Norway, where the independent constitution of Norway was adopted in 1814. Coonambula means "two pine trees" — after two pines which grew near the house. Both these properties are still well known today, and at Eidsvold one of the original buildings have been preserved.

The usual busy life of putting up yards and buildings had to be started all over again. They were very short of labour at this time and both had to undertake "Jim Sheaing." This procedure has to be undertaken when the pasture gets eaten out. Usually a shepherd would return to a yard and perhaps a hut at night, but very dry years would eat the surrounding country right out and the shepherd then would have to let the sheep wander where the feed was better and when night came just let the sheep camp, while he would regale himself on Johnnie cakes and tea, and roll himself in his possum-skin rug till daylight.

After shearing, Tom took the dray with wool to Maryborough — one of the first load to be shipped from the port.

The brothers David and William arrived in August to inspect the new properties. David was so pleased with the country he decided he would sell Durundur and Cooyar and come up. William had by this time left the Walkers and had taken the management of Eton Vale while the owner, Arthur Hodgson, went to England.


Times were still pretty hard. To show the value of property at the time — William, who had evidently taken over the Emu Creek property, sold it for £250, which included a number of inferior sheep. He paid David Archer and Co. £50 for the improvements. Tom got £100 for his share in it and remaining £100 was lent to Tom to start him on his new run. William sent £25 home to the father from his salary — it was at this time the talk was about the old home being sold up.

It had been decided at this stage that William should go home and visit the old people, but when he reached Sydney and was about to book his passage, he received the return for his wool clip, which was down 3d. to 4d. per lb. He then decided to stay where he was and sent more money home.

David Archer and Co. were still tied up with the Walkers, and David seems to have spent a lot of his time keeping them quiet, as the Walkers had all the buying and selling in their hands, as well as their 12½ per cent on overdraft, no wonder the firm was short of cash.


In June. 1849, a big change came into Tom's life. He had been out round the shepherds and when he returned at night to the station he found several visitors there. Amongst them was Ned Hawkins, an old friend from his New South Wales days, and then on a property not far away.

New told Tom about the gold discoveries in California and said he was going over and wanted Tom to come with him. After a short consultation with Charles, it was agreed that he should go and in two days Tom was on his way to Sydney, en route to California. His vicissitudes during his two years in California as a forty-niner make a story in itself.

Tom was back at Eidsvold with a Scottish bride in 1853, William had gone to Norway in 1850 and John had long since gone back to the sea. So David and Charles had their hands full looking after the properties.


However, in October, 1850, Charles wrote home saying he had been on a 10 days' excursion to the lower part of the River Dawson, in search for a run for his friend, on country previously not explored. They were unsuccessful, but as Charles said, "Although the country we found is perhaps the finest in New South Wales, it is so badly watered as to be unavailable for grazing purposes."

By 1852 reinforcements arrived. William returned from Norway and also a younger brother, Colin, who had gone to California in 1851 but had no success as a gold digger and had then gone across to his brother Archibald in the Sandwich Islands, where Archibald was growing coffee.

Colin arrived in Australia towards the end of 1852, at the age of 20. This was the brother who three years later sailed the Ellida up the Fitzroy.

In 1852 yet another brother landed in Australia. He was Alexander who had been some years in Perth in an accountant's office. On arrival in Melbourne, he went straight to the diggings but was soon employed by the Bank of New South Wales, as a gold buying agent. Later he came to Queensland as an officer of the bank and eventually rose to Chief Inspector.


In the meantime. Charles had made several excursions to the Dawson waters and in 1852 sent in applications for runs named Callide, Grevillea, Krommbit, Kariboe and Prospect — all names which are still in use today and include the sites of the present towns of Biloela and Thangool.

In March 1853, Colin wrote to his brother David in Norway (Colin was then 20): "Charles and I only came in the other day from a trip to the Dawson which occupied three weeks. Although the results of the journey did not come up to our expectations, I enjoyed it very much.

"We found lots of country, which Charles says is equal to the choice parts of Darling Downs, with this rather important drawback, however there is no water on it, excepting in two small creeks capable of depasturing about 10,000 sheep, for which creek he had applied under the names of Lagoon and Ruin Peak Creeks."

Concluding his paper, Mr Archer said: In these notes, all of the nine brothers, except one, has been mentioned. This is my own father, James. He was the baby of the family and only arrived at Coonambula in 1855, at the age of 18. He came on to Gracemere with the second lot of stock in 1856.

Here the story ends, and I hope the length of it has not wearied members. It should be remembered that the journey from Wallerowang to Gracemere took 15 years and was really a series of explorations undertaken by a large number of brothers, eight in all.

Biography of Archer Family

This is a shared entry with:

    Charles Archer

    John Archer

    David Archer

    Archibald Archer

    Thomas Archer

    Colin Archer

ARCHER FAMILY: Charles (1813-1862), John (1814-1857), David (1816-1900), William (1818-1896), Archibald (1820-1902), Thomas (1823-1905) and Colin (1832-1921), pastoralists, were the children of William Archer, timber merchant, sometime of Perth, Scotland, and his wife Julia, née Walker. There were thirteen children, nine of whom spent some time in Australia. In 1825 the family moved to Larvik, Norway, where the five younger children were born.

The first brother to settle in Australia was David, who arrived in Sydney in 1834. He worked for his Walker cousins, and then became joint superintendent, according to the diary of Charles Darwin, whom he took on an unsuccessful hunt for kangaroos at Wallerawang in 1836. David Archer was joined by his brothers William and Thomas in 1838 and they determined to seek land on their own account. Hopes of joining the trek to the Darling Downs were frustrated by an outbreak of scab among the sheep, which held up the party until the best land was believed to have been taken. In 1841, however, David, Thomas and John, a sailor who had decided to settle ashore, pushed north and took up Durundur in the Moreton district, the most northerly station at that time. Ludwig Leichhardt stayed there for some months in 1843-44. His friendship with the brothers continued, one of his last letters being addressed to John Archer.

The country at Durundur proving unsuitable for sheep, the brothers in 1845 took up runs farther west but still within the Brisbane valley, at Emu Creek and Cooyar. In 1847 Thomas Archer made exploring trips to the Fitzroy Downs and in 1848 to the Burnett. As a result, land on the River Burnett was taken up in the names of David and Thomas Archer. These runs were named Coonambula and Eidsvold, the latter after the town in which the Constitution of Norway as an independent nation was signed in 1814. After Thomas left Australia in 1849 for the Californian goldfields further exploring trips were made. Charles, who had joined his brothers in 1841, and William discovered and named the Fitzroy River in 1853, and in 1854, with Colin, explored the Peak Downs district, being apparently the first to do so since Leichhardt traversed it in 1847. As a result of their examination of the valley of the Fitzroy the family partnership took up land there, and first occupied it in 1855. They had been attracted to the site not only by the suitability of the country for grazing, and the beauty of the mere which reminded them of Norway, but also by its position on the Fitzroy River which would allow them to use sea transport for taking out wool and bringing in stores; the city of Rockhampton now stands on part of the original Gracemere run. First called Farris, it was renamed Gracemere in honour of Thomas Archer's bride Grace Lindsay, née Morison, whom he had married in Scotland in 1853. Cattle as well as sheep were run on Gracemere from the earliest years, and in the early 1870s it was switched entirely to cattle, for which the district seemed better suited.

David Archer left Australia in 1852 and did not return. His son Edward Walker Archer (1871-1940) represented Capricornia in the federal parliament in 1906-10. John, who had returned to his original calling, was lost at sea in 1857. Charles died in Norway in 1862.

In 1860 Archibald Archer, who had been a planter in the South Seas, joined his brothers at Gracemere. He was a member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly in 1867-69 and 1879-95, being colonial treasurer and minister for education in 1882-83. He was a keen supporter of the Central Queensland separation movement. In 1870 he accepted the position of agent-general for Queensland, but resigned on finding that, in the opinion of the government, his already accepted obligation to present to the Colonial Office a petition from the supporters of separation was inconsistent with his holding this position. In 1892 and 1893 he led deputations to the Colonial Office on the same subject.  He died in Norway on 6 February 1902.

Thomas, who had been in Queensland again in 1854-55, after which he left on account of ill health, and in 1872-80, was agent-general for Queensland in 1881-84 and 1888-90. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1884. He was the author of a pamphlet which reprinted a letter in which he had given his brother Alexander 'An Account of the events following the sailing of the Barque “Scottish Knight” from Keppel Bay on 7th January 1880', describing how the barque, on board which he and his wife were, had struck a reef. He also published pamphlets while agent-general: The History, Resources and Future Prospects of Queensland (London, 1881); Queensland: Her History, Resources, and Future Prospects (London, 1882); Alleged Slavery in Queensland (1883). His Recollections of a Rambling Life, printed in Yokohama in 1897 for private circulation, describe his early years in Australia and his experiences in California. His son William (1856-1924) was a leading London dramatic critic, translated the works of Ibsen and wrote plays. He visited Australia in 1876.

Colin achieved fame in later life as a shipbuilder. He built the Fram, the ship in which Fridtjof Nansen made the successful exploration of the North Polar Sea in 1893-96, and also designed an improved pilot boat and a new type of rescue boat. He had taken from Maryborough to the present site of Rockhampton the first vessel to sail up the Fitzroy River—the Ellida, a ketch of about twelve tons.

Courtesy of the Australian Dictionary of Biography


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