• John Ewen Davidson Diaries

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John Ewen Davidson Diary pages 17-18

A pioneer sugar grower in North Queensland, John Ewen Davidson was born in Scotland and educated at Oxford before studying sugar production in British Guiana and Jamaica. In 1865 Davidson emigrated to Queensland, where he kept meticulous diaries of his early adventures.  After examining land around Brisbane, Davidson decided to head north and arrived at Mackay soon after John Spiller had planted the first cane in the district. Although impressed with the suitability of the soil, Davidson continued north to Bowen, from where he made a perilous overland journey to Townsville.  Entering into a partnership with R. D. Thomas, Davidson finally selected land in the Tully district and established Bellenden Plains plantation. It was on the edge of a hostile frontier and Davidson was not averse to participating in punitive actions against the local Aboriginal people.  Aboriginal reprisals nevertheless forced Thomas and most of Davidson’s Melanesian and European workforce to abandon Bellenden Plains in August 1866.  After a cyclone and accompanying floods devastated the plantation later the same year, Davidson formed a new partnership with Thomas Fitzgerald in February 1867 and returned to Mackay. It proved to be an important turning point in his fortunes.  Their sugar-growing enterprise prospered and by 1889 Davidson was Managing Director of a company which controlled five large plantations and an equal number of mills. Davidson continued to believe that North Queensland prosperity was totally dependent on the continuation of Melanesian indentured labour.  To this end he played a prominent role in the northern separatist movement which campaigned for almost two decades in the late 19th century for the creation of a northern colony based on a plantation economy.  That their attempts failed was perhaps for the lasting benefit of modern Queensland.


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