The Immigrant Rose


“I spent my wedding night there,” I tell my cousin Nadine as we drive past the Horse and Jockey Motor Inn.

“Really? Is there a plaque?”

We’re in Warwick, where our great-great-great-grandfather, Frederick Margetts, was for thirty-two years the medical officer at Warwick Hospital, as well as running his own practice.

We’ve learned quite a lot about Doctor Margetts. He was often involved in dramatic events that were reported in detail in the Warwick papers.

One day in 1878 he was called to attend a horrible accident: a five-year-old girl playing near a vat of hot tar had been scalded. He went at once, but there was nothing to be done – the little girl died before he got there.

The doctor attended many tragic accidents: men killed in falls from horses; people crushed by overturned drays; women burned in kitchen accidents, their long dresses caught in flames; snake bites, drownings, accidents to workers building the railway. There were inquests to be conducted into sudden deaths and suicides, and a time when he had the care, in the lock-up, of a man who had cut his own throat. Warwick was a wild town.

Everyone would have known the doctor, grey bearded and bushy moustached, driving out in his buggy to make a house call, visiting the hospital or walking down Albion Street to Church on Sundays with his wife and grown children. Not everyone liked him, though. His disputes in the Parish Council and feuds with local businessmen were also reported in the paper.

Dr Frederick Margetts driving a buggy, probably outside his fence. State Library of Queensland

“He was pig-headed,” says Nadine.

“Very argumentative. Let’s find somewhere for lunch.”

Frederick and Ann Margetts hadn’t planned to emigrate. They’d lived for over twenty years in the small town of Ilchester, Somerset, in a house on the market place where Frederick ran his practice and their six children were born. Then, in 1862, middle-aged and, seemingly, settled for life, they moved to Queensland.

In the market square of Ilchester, Somerset, with the Margetts house and surgery in the background – brown, with two doors

People left nineteenth-century England for lots of reasons – poverty, over-crowding, political unrest, a quest for security for their children – just as migrants and refugees do today. It takes courage and enterprise to move across the world for the chance of a better life.

Frederick and Ann moved for their children. Their eldest son George was consumptive, and the medical advice of the time said his best chance for survival was to live in a warm, dry environment.  The new state of Queensland was advertising in English newspapers for migrants, offering employment, land and a good climate; and Warwick was described as “the Garden of Queensland”. Moving to Warwick seemed a good idea for the whole family.

They embarked on the migrant ship City of Brisbane. Keen gardeners, amongst their luggage they took a rose bush. A white scrambling rose, it survived one hundred and forty days at sea to flourish in the new family garden in Warwick.

The move didn’t help George. He died the following year and was the first to lie in the Margetts plot in Warwick cemetery.

The family endured their share of troubles. In 1870, twenty-five-year-old Edmund was badly injured when his spirited young horse stumbled and rolled on him. Even then, there were reckless young men speeding in the streets of Warwick.

Margetts home Warwick
The Margetts family house in Warwick  Photo courtesy of Helen Lees

“It’s a pretty town,” says Nadine. “Fine old sandstone buildings, and lots of flowers and trees in the main street. And they call it the City of Roses! We can claim some credit for that.”

The Margetts were among the first Warwick residents to plant shade trees along the streets, and in 1876 Frederick was one of the organisers of the first Warwick Flower Show.

He and Ann spent the rest of their lives in Warwick, and today many of their descendants live on the Darling Downs. It was one of them who told me, several years ago, that there is still a family rose bush to be seen, on what had been Edmund Margetts’s farm. I went searching for it.

On a gentle slope where kangaroos bounded away through the long brown grass and curious cattle wandered across the paddock to watch, I found a broken-down picket fence. A few stumps and an old tap show where the farmhouse once stood.

Nearby was a strong and healthy rose bush, two metres high, growing without fertilizer or irrigation, struck from a piece of the rose that travelled across the world in a migrant ship, so many years ago.

I took some cuttings, and now the family rose is growing in my Brisbane garden. Its flowers are sweetly scented and plentiful, but its thorns are vicious. This is not a modern, well-behaved, grafted rose. It’s a survivor.

You have to be, to leave your homeland and put down roots in a strange country on the other side of the world.


Walking to Warwick


The steamer left Brisbane for Ipswich on a Monday morning in September. The “Ipswich” was a side-wheeler with a rudder at each end, and a shallow draft for navigating difficult areas such as Seventeen Mile Rocks and the shoals of the Bremer River.

The “Ipswich”. Photo from the John Oxley Library collection, SLQ


Paddlewheels splashing rhythmically and smoke pouring from the tall funnel, the steamer made its way upstream, following the slow bends of the Brisbane River, past thickly-wooded, vine-draped banks that would one day become the suburbs of St Lucia, Chelmer and Fig Tree Pocket.

James Matthews probably stood on deck with a mug of coffee, watching the passing scenery and talking to his new boss, Benjamin Glennie.

It was 1861, and the newly-independent state of Queensland was actively seeking English migrants. James, my great-great-grandfather, was one of them. Aged twenty-three and ordained only yesterday, he had come to Queensland to work in Warwick as a curate.

young james matthews
James Matthews

For years Archdeacon Benjamin Glennie, now the rector of Warwick, had been the only Church of England clergyman on the Darling Downs. The eccentric Glennie loathed riding, so his travels around his huge parish were mostly done on foot, and this is how he and James would be travelling from Ipswich to Warwick. On foot.

Forty years later, in memory of Archdeacon Glennie, James described the trip in detail.[1]

On Monday morning, we started on our journey to Warwick, travelling to Ipswich in the steamer of the same name. The voyage occupied five hours.

The next morning the real work of our journey began. The Archdeacon’s old black horse was brought round and packed with a couple of valises and a pair of large saddle bags, consisting largely of my belongings, and off we trudged, the Archdeacon leading his horse.

That day they walked south for twenty kilometres, down the present-day Ipswich-Boonah Road. The two men would have encountered bullock teams dragging wool from the sheep stations, travellers on horseback and on foot, and the occasional buggy. Many would have recognised Benjamin Glennie. Perhaps they offered them a ride.

They spent that night with squatter William Watkins at Peak Mountain Station, near present-day Peak Crossing, its homestead set on a rise with a spectacular view towards Flinders Peak.

Peak Station today

The following day we walked as far as Balbi’s, an accommodation house at the foot of the Range. 

All that Wednesday, covering over thirty kilometres over flat land and gentle hills, they would have seen ahead of them, through the trees, glimpses of blue mountain ranges.

In 1861 there were Aboriginal people living in this area – probably Ugarapul people. The two men must have met them on the road, but James left no mention of it.

Ironically, most of the roads walked by Benjamin Glennie and James Matthews would have been based on ancient trails of the Indigenous people who had been walking this country side for many thousands of years.

Towards Cunninghams Gap


The two travellers spent that night in Balbi’s Inn, at the bottom of the range, beside the road to Spicer’s Gap. I’ve driven up that rough, gravel road myself, to sit at Governor’s Chair Lookout and enjoy its fine views east towards Brisbane and the coast.

On Thursday we crossed the Range, going through Cunningham’s Gap. There had been a heavy thunderstorm, the mountain streams were swollen, and we had to “double-bank” to get over. The Archdeacon got into the saddle and I jumped up behind.   

Wheeled traffic went over Spicer’s Gap, but riders and foot-travellers often took the bridle trail through Cunningham’s Gap. It would have been a tough journey up hill, but Benjamin Glennie was fit – according to James’s account he would vault a fence rather than stoop to go under it – and James was young. Looming cliffs and tall trees, the sound of bellbirds and whipbirds, cool air smelling of the rainforest: today they are still exhilarating, even though the way up the range is now a harsh slash through the forest, made noisy by semitrailers.

“Forest, Cunningham’s Gap” Conrad Martens, 1856. Watercolour. QAG collection

From the top of the Range, they followed Gap Creek west to William Jubb’s Inn, a low building overlooking the stream. These days, a farmhouse occupies the old inn site beside the Cunningham Highway.

On crossing the last creek, I fell off into the water. Fortunately I had not far to walk to the inn, where Jubb rigged me out in a suit of his clothes while mine were being dried. He was a much bigger man than me. There was no one near with a camera, I am thankful to say.

The site of Jubb’s Inn, above Gap Creek. Cunninghams Gap in the background

On Friday we lunched with Arnold Wienholt at his station Maryvale, in the afternoon proceeding onward to Glengallan, where we were put up for the night by that prince of squatters, John Deuchar.

All the land between Ipswich and Warwick was held by just six or seven squatters, members of the colony’s aristocracy. The Deuchars of Glengallan Station were famous for lavish hospitality in the sprawling cedar house where the two travellers spent that night. A few years later a new homestead was built, the elegant, now restored mansion visible from the highway.

After breakfast on Saturday morning we wended our way to Warwick, where we arrived in time for midday dinner, taking care to walk through the principal streets of the town so as to announce that the parsons had arrived and there would be church tomorrow.

Perhaps one day that walk to Warwick by Benjamin Glennie and James Matthews will be recreated. They were walking for a spiritual purpose, so it would be a kind of Queensland “Camino”, like the pilgrims’ pathways through Europe and Spain that are now so hugely popular. Great walks exist in Queensland, too, along ancient Indigenous pathways. We should pay more attention to them. Although they don’t pass through quaint medieval towns, they are just as old. The bridle trail through the forests of Cunningham’s Gap was probably one of them.

James Matthews married a Warwick girl named Mary Margetts. According to a family story he met her on the Spicers Gap road, a year or so after his long walk, when Mary’s hat blew away, and James caught it.

People journey, and people love. Some things will never change.

Rose on the old trail along Gap Creek


[1]Excerpts from “A Few Personal Reminiscences of the Late Archdeacon Glennie” printed in “The Church Chronicle”, June 1, 1900.

Blog at

Up ↑