History of Jimbour

Origins of the name ‘Jimbour’

history_sheepTo this day some conjecture remains over the origin and meaning of the name “Jimbour” as it relates to the vast original holdings of Jimbour Station.

Jimbour Station came into existence in 1841 when Irishman Henry Dennis settled in the area and took up the Jimbour run on behalf of the first owner, Richard Scougall, who had come to Australia from Scotland in 1832. He established a flock of 11,000 sheep and 700 head of mixed cattle, making it the first fully stocked station on the Darling Downs.

At that time the sight of such vast numbers of sheep would have been a new experience and curiosity for Aboriginal people passing through the region.

When ownership of the holdings changed hands in 1844 (purchased by Thomas Bell), records show the station registered under the name “Gimba” or “Jimba” which was then thought to be the Aboriginal word for “good pastures” Over time the name evolved into “Jimbour”reflecting a common English pronunciation.

However, an examination of records in subsequent years has raised other possibilities; particularly as it would appear unusual for Aboriginal language to have reference to pastures or “good pastures”at this time of white agricultural settlement.

The word for sheep in the dialect of the Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay people who would have visited the region from northern New South Wales was “thimba”. Historians in the 1850s wrote “thimba” as “jimba” The word describes a white mist preceding a shower which a flock of sheep resembles or a sheep eating grass.

The Early History – 1827-1842

history_squattingmapIn 1827, the explorer Alan Cunningham was the first European to traverse the Darling Downs.

It was not until thirteen years later, however, that the pastoralists of New South Wales showed any interest in the report of Cunningham’s discovery of vast expanses of rich downs country.

After that, individuals in need of fresh areas for their rapidly accumulating stock ventured forth to this area, which was then part of New South Wales.

The first pioneer owner of Jimbour was Richard Todd Scougall, who was a native of Scotland, where his father was a prominent shipowner. Scougall came to Australia in 1832 in his own ship. He was the first person to bring “free” white employees to this country. He first took up land on the Liverpool Plains in New South Wales but, between 1838 and 1840, he applied for a license to take up land beyond the areas that were settled at that time.

Scougall, being somewhat overstocked on his property, “Elderslie,” had sent Henry Dennis to seek out new land on his behalf. Dennis, coming from the south, crossed the Darling Downs and eventually took up Jimbour for his employer. Henry Stuart Russell, when writing in 1841 of the events that occurred on the Darling Downs in the year 1840, said:- “Henry Dennis was creeping under the western fringe of the Range, searching for the heads of any watercourses further north, and ultimately marked that of Jimbour, on behalf of Henry Scougall.” The total area was about 300,000 acres, comprising the runs identified as Coorangah, Jimbour and Cumkillenbar on the 1864 squatting map shown on the right.

By 1842 Scougall had established at Jimbour a flock of 11,000 sheep and some 700 head of mixed cattle- making it the first fully-stocked station on the Darling Downs. These were mostly brought from the Hunter River Valley in New South Wales.

Scougall did little to develop Jimbour after 1842. He apparently fell into financial difficulties about that time and, in 1843, negotiations were commenced for the sale of the property to Thomas Bell of Sydney. Scougall soon afterwards became bankrupt due to a series of misfortunes, culminating in the crash of the Bank of Australasia, in which he was a shareholder. He later died in Maryborough.

Leichhardt’s First Expedition

ludwigleichhardtLudwig Leichhardt, a German immigrant, was one of Australia’s greatest explorers with the epic 5,000 klm, 1844-1845 journey from south-east Queensland to the then settlement of Port Essington, north-east of Darwin, standing as one of the greatest tales of endurance and persistence in Australia’s early history.

In the original journey, two members turned back and one was killed by Aborigines and the whole expedition was given up for dead.

Leichhardt had been in Australia for two years when he heard of plans for an expedition from Sydney to Port Essington – an outpost on the coast of the Northern Territory.

The expedition was to be led by Sir Thomas Mitchell but Governor of the time, Governor Gipps, declared that it was an expedition of so hazardous and expensive a nature, without the knowledge and consent of the Colonial OfficeIrritated by this delay, Leichhardt organised his own expedition.

With a party of six he left Sydney on 13 August 1844, and were eventually joined by another four people in Moreton Bay on their way to Jimbour.

At the time, Jimbour was the last major outpost of European settlement.

There he assembled the personnel of this overland expedition, and broke in his horses and bullocks.

The house in which Leichhardt stayed was a primitive slab hut which burnt down in 1867.

Leichhardt’s journal in 1844 contains the following entry:

“On the 30th September, at Jimba, where we were to bid farewell to civilization”.

and on 1st October, 1844:

“After having repaired some harness which had become broken by our refractory bullocks upsetting their loads and after my companions had completed their arrangements in which Mr. Bell kindly assisted, we left Jimba and launched buoyant with hope into the wilderness”.

For the next fifteen months, they traversed western Queensland and the north-eastern section of the Northern Territory – a distance of nearly 5000 km.

The group eventually arrived at Port Essington on 17 December 1845, in a state of exhaustion. By this time people in Sydney had assumed that the party had perished; so their delight at news of the arrival was based on surprise as much as an acknowledgement of Leichhardt’s achievements.

On his return to Sydney on 25 March 1846 Leichhardt was greeted as a new national hero and widely hailed as the ‘Prince of Explorers’.

For more information on Leichhardt, click here and here.

The Second Expedition

leichhardt-map-_second expeditionLeichhardt continued to explore inland Australia and began a second expedition in December 1846, attempting to reach Perth from the Darling Downs. Again Jimbour played an important role,

“From Salisbury Plains, we continued our journey over New England, through Falconer Plains, at an elevation of 4,386, until reaching Rosenthall, the station of Mr Bracker, at Darling Downs. Here we remained a few days, and made our final departure for Jimba, the furthest advanced station and from where we intended entering upon our travels through the wilderness”.

Many did not believe in the skills of Leichhardt to complete the hazardous journey. Leichhardt had invited Henry Stuart Russell on his second expedition, who asked his stockman Orton for advice. He replied:-

“Tis my belief, if Dr. Leichhardt do it at all, twill be more by good luck than good management. Why, sir, he hasn’t got the knack of some of us”¦Mark my words, sir, Dr Leichhardt hasn’t got it in him, and never will get it”.

(Turnball. Leichhardt’s Second Journey).

The expedition was indeed a failure after the party had to turn back due to illness and lack of supplies,

“Here we lay, so utterly helpless with disease and suffering”.

(Expedition member and botanist, Daniel Bunce)

Despite Daniel Bunce attempting to improve the situation by planting mustard and cress to help the sick, Leichhardt harvested and ate this food himself. Bunce responded by stating it was:

“A sore disappointment to the poor helpless invalids”.

Leichhardt led the party back to Jimbour where they recovered and were cared for. George Mocatta, a shepherd working at Jimbour, recalled:-

‘I shall never forget the marvellous inroads the party made upon the food set before them.”

The Final Expedition

Leichhardt set out on his last journey in 1848, the entire party disappearing without a trace while trying to find a route from Moreton Bay to Perth. The mystery of the party’s disappearance has never been solved.

Leichhardt’s life was the subject of Patrick White’s novel “Voss”, wherein White describes Leichhardt’s arrival at Jimbour in a wonderfully evocative passage which reads:

‘By now the tall grass was almost dry, so that there issued from it a sharper sighing when the wind blew. The wind bent the grass into tawny waves, on the crests of which floated the last survivors of flowers, which shrivelled and were sucked under by the swell.’

As a result of Leichhardt’s reports on the land beyond Jimbour, there began a great push for settlement of the Darling Downs area and beyond, including the Dawson River area and the Central Western region of Queensland.

Today, when entering the village of Jimbour from Dalby, there is a small sign pointing towards a plaque laid in 1955 by the Royal Geographical Society commemorating Leichhardt’s journey.

The Bunya Trees

Leichhardt is also important to the region in terms of the Bunya tree. It is believed that he was the first European to have developed the notion of the “noble tree”. This is evident in his descriptions of the Bunya:-

“The Bunya-Bunya tree is noble and gigantic, and its umbrella-like head overtowers all the trees of the Brush”.

“I have travelled again in those remarkable mountain brushes, out of which the Bunya-Bunyas lift their majestic heads, like pillars of the blue vault of heaven”.

For a more detailed analysis of the early history of Jimbour see this excerpt from the 2001 Conservation Plan. A list of works in which Jimbour is referred to can be found here.