Ratcliffe Pring
News of the Day 

The Queenslander

Saturday 25 March 1871

Mr Pring’s Visit to the Gold Fields

In consequence of a resolution passed by the Legislative Assembly on the 9th December last, the Government had to appoint a Commissioner “to visit the gold-fields to take evidence and examine in the present management of the gold-fields and to prepare a report thereon […].” The Hon. Ratcliffe Pring, Q.C. volunteered for the duty […].

Mr Pring has been good enough to allow us to make some extracts from his private memoranda of his trip. They are mere rough notes, not always legible, taken in pencil on horseback or when sitting at the camp fire, and were never intended for publication.

Friday, January 13. Left Brisbane, per Black Swan, at 12.50 p.m. Off Double Island Point at 8 o’clock.

Sunday, January 15. Passed Cape Capricorn at 3 p.m.

Wednesday, January 18. Arrived at Cleveland Bay. Went ashore in a Customs’ boat with Mr. Seymour. It blew hard, with a heavy sea on, and were unable to land the horses.

Thursday, January 19th. Landed the horses in the afternoon. It was raining very heavily, and we were unable to get the baggage out of the tender.

Saturday, January 21. Making preparations for starting during the morning, and left Townsville at 4 p.m. in company with Mr. Commissioner Seymour, Inspector Marlow, Mr. Aplin, and two black boys – on of them a Native trooper, and the other Mr. Seymour’s orderly. Mr. Marlow furnished me with a horse to ride, and also with a pack horse. Camped at Thorn’s Paddock, eight miles from Townsville.

Monday, January 23. Got away from camp in fair time. Camped for lunch at Keel-bottom Creek, about a mile on the Townsville side of Dotswood station. Arrived at Dalrymple after a fatiguing ride of forty miles, but was much refreshed after a bath in the Burdekin.

Tuesday, January 24. Made a late start, about 11 a.m. Mrs Marlow re-packed the things here. Had to leave with her all the heavy things, and everything not absolutely necessary. Crossed the Burdekin. The river has a sandy bed, and was flowing in only one place. We had a dreadfully hot ride, with a scarcity of water after leaving Fletcher’s Creek, which is at the back of Dalrymple township. Camped for the night at a little waterhole.

Wednesday, January 25. Got away in fair time. The day was frightfully hot; the journey was over an arid, sandy country, studded with dwarf trees, and not a breath of wind stirring. Water was also scarce. Camped for lunch near a deserted public house, but the heat was so intense that we had no appetite for food, and were glad to pack up and be off. Rode until was nearly dark, when we reached Homestead, an abandoned station lately occupied by Mr. Moore Dillon. The remains of the hut are standing. There is a splendid lagoon here; we made our camp on its banks, and had a glorious bathe.

Thursday, January 26. Got up early had a fine bathe and made a fair start. After a tedious and very hot ride of twenty-two miles, reached Capeville, or Cape River Gold-field, about half past 12.

Friday, January 27. Opened my commission at the Court-house and examined the Gold Commissioner, Mr Charters. There was some difficulty in getting the miners in to give evidence.

Saturday, January 28. Busy all day in taking evidence and closed the commission at Capeville. The township has a deserted appearance, the only notable places of importance on his gold-field being Specimen Gully and Mount Davenport.

Sunday, January 29. Got away about 11. Passed through the Upper Cape Gold-field, which is very small, and apparently deserted except by a few Chinese. Camped for the night three miles from the Old Stockyard on the Cape River. We were now on the escort track, having left the main dray road at the Upper Cape. We had a white trooper to pilot us.

Wednesday, February 1. Left about half past 7. A long journey of twenty-eight miles without halting, and no water until we reached the lake, where we camped. The ground was very boggy, and the horses could not get at the water. Had a great storm, followed by heavy rain all night. The tent was flooded, and we had to cut a drain to let the water off. Passed a wet and uncomfortable night, and was glad when morning broke. The country barren about here.

Thursday, February 2. Got away in a fair time, and made Cambridge Creek, about eighteen miles. Camped here for the night, as a storm appeared to be coming up, and the next water was too far off. There was no storm, but the mosquitos were awful. I was so bitten by them that I could not sleep a wink all night.

Sunday, February 5. At Gilberton. The distance to this place from Capeville, by the road we came, is 191 miles. […] The Gilbert township is situated on the river of that name, and consists of the main road, sparsely lined on either side by edifices whose walls are composed of slabs and the roofs of bark. They are chiefly general stores, public-houses, butcher’s shops, and Chinese boarding houses. […] A creek or gully intersects the lower part of the main street, and runs into the river. It is generally dry, except during and after rain. It was in and along this creek that the rich auriferous alluvial deposits of the Gilbert were found, and I hear that large quantities of gold have been taken out. […] The mornings here are delightful, but it begins to get hot early in the forenoon. The afternoon sun is fierce indeed.

Monday, February 6. Opened the Commission at the Court-house at 9 o’clock. Examined the Gold-Commissioner, Mr. Townley, at some length. […] About half-past three in the afternoon, when going to visit the crushing-machine, the sun struck hotter by many degrees that I ever felt in my life.

Tuesday, February 7. Examination of witnesses continued, of whom there were six. Great apathy is shown by the miners, and none of them appeared to give evidence in the afternoon.

February 10. Made an early start. Got to Mitten’s, Oak-park station, by 11. Had to stop there while the horses were shod. Arrived at Lynhurst (16 miles) by 6, over a very heavy country.

February 14. Left with the mailman […] started at 7, and rode to the Bluff, 25 miles, without seeing water. Took a very thirsty drink there, and then on to Allingham’s, 21 miles, without pulling bridle. The last two miles of the track were very boggy. My horse, after his exertions during the day in crossing the frightfully hot plains, stuck fast in the black soil, and when I dismounted I found myself up to the ankles in mud of the darkest and most tenacious description. I presented myself in a precious plight at the station, I intended to have gone on to Dalrymple; but Mrs. Allinngham insisted on my accepting the very kind and welcome hospitality of her house.

February 26. Went through to Townsville. It rained heavily in the morning, and I got drenched to the skin. Got to Townsville by 5, very tired.

March 5. Rode out with Dr. Brown and Mr. Young to visit the Marengo diggings. It rained dreadfully, and we were forced to return on account of the creeks being up. Police-camp Creek was all but swimmable.

March 6. Not at all well, and suffering much from pains, in the limbs owing to having got so often wet.

March 8. Saw a gentleman from Marengo, who informed me that the diggings were chiefly quartz. There were only seventeen persons on the ground, including a butcher and a storekeeper. A “rush” is required to show what Marengo is likely to become. The specimens of stone I have seen look well. Left for Brisbane by the Black Swan at 4 p.m.

Biography of Ratcliffe Pring

Ratcliffe Pring (1825-1885), lawyer and politician, was born on 17 October 1825 at Crediton, Devon, England, second son of Thomas Pring, a landed solicitor and clerk of the peace in Devon, and his wife Anne, née Dunne. He practised law on the Goulburn, Moreton Bay and Bathurst circuits and in Sydney until the New South Wales government expanded the Moreton Bay judicial establishment. Pring was appointed resident crown prosecutor in March 1857 and in April settled in Brisbane. On the separation of the colony of Queensland he was immediately commissioned attorney-general.

Pring served as attorney-general under Herbert from 10 December 1859 to 30 August 1865 and from 21 July to August 1866; under Mackenzie from 15 August 1867 to 25 November 1868; under Lilley from 12 November 1869 to 3 May 1870; under Palmer from 2 January 1874 for six days; and under McIlwraith from 16 May 1879 to 4 June 1880 when Pring was not re-elected in the ministerial by-election but stayed in office without a seat in parliament. In 1875 (Sir) Samuel Griffith considered Pring for solicitor-general but later denied the offer. Pring was a busy legislator, especially in the mid-1860s. His more important legislation was on court structure, criminal law and commercial practice. In 1862 he compiled the first two volumes of Statutes in Force in the Colony of Queensland at the Present Time and edited a third on the statutes passed in 1863-64. In the Legislative Assembly he represented Eastern Downs from 1860 to 1862 and served for thirteen months in the Legislative Council. He then represented Ipswich in the assembly from 1863 to 1866 when he unofficially led the Opposition and advocated the Ipswich-Brisbane railway. After defeat in the Ipswich election he was returned for the Burnett in 1867 and was again unofficial leader of the Opposition. He represented Brisbane North in 1870-72, Carnarvon in 1873-74, Brisbane in 1878, and Fortitude Valley in 1878-79.

Pring's reputation in politics was marked by controversies which partly arose from his personality: impulsive, vain, hasty in temper, strong in opinion and forcible in expression. In the 1860 select committee on the judicial establishment of Queensland he gave evidence which with his later official stand as attorney-general incensed the incumbent judge, Lutwyche. In 1861-62 a rancorous and personal dispute was carried on by the judge against Pring and the government. Pring then prosecuted T. P. Pugh, editor of the Courier, for libel concerning the government's attitude towards Lutwyche's salary. Events in 1865 showed Pring's turbulent spirit. His zealous defence of a parliamentary colleague, John Gore Jones, for breach of privilege was attacked in the press as interference with the course of justice. Finally he resigned after a dispute with Herbert over drafting a bill, but the premier attributed the resignation to Pring's drunkenness and contrary nature leading to cabinet clashes.

In 1871 Pring was appointed commissioner of goldfields, charged to visit them and suggest their future legislation. The appointment was an office of profit and his seat was declared vacant in April. In the subsequent election he was returned and despite a petition disputing the election was allowed to retain the seat. On 10 January 1872 he entered the Legislative Assembly quite drunk, used insulting language to opponents and assaulted C. G. H. C. Clark even trying to arrange a fight outside the House. Found guilty of contempt of parliament, he resigned his seat. He left for the country on legal business but the House persisted, finding him guilty of further contempt by failing to attend to explain his behaviour.

As a lawyer Pring was praised for his fluency and dogged ability in criminal law cases. He was very successful in prosecuting and defending criminals and at times acted as crown prosecutor on the Criminal Circuit. He was appointed Q.C. in 1868. In 1875 he was appointed a judge of the Central District Court but resigned next year to accept a large fee in defence of a prominent businessman. In July 1880 he acted as judge after Lutwyche died.

Courtesy of the Australian Dictionary of Biography


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