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Archibald McDowall (1841–1918)

by Peter Holzworth

Archibald McDowall and Nineteenth Century Forest Conservancy in Queensland


This paper discusses the rise of forest conservancy – the wise use of forests – in Queensland in the 19th century.  The steps taken towards a responsible government policy on the protection and proper management of the State’s forests are explored and the roles played by various men and organisations are highlighted.  Special attention is given to Archibald McDowall for his strikingly far-sighted position on forestry theories and practices and his drive towards attaining appropriate forest conservancy.  Mention is also made in some detail of Richard Hyne, a prime mover in the same stakes, and his role in the establishment of legislatively-backed forestry policy.

Most of the events described herein refer to south Queensland.

Several excerpts from published biographies, departmental annual reports, newspaper articles and other published sources have been used as material for the paper.

Colonial Development to the 1880s

Early Days of Settlement
The early history of the colony followed the usual themes of newly settled lands:  survival and establishment; expansion and utilisation of natural resources and finally, a growing awareness of the need for protection and proper management of those resources.  During the early decades of settlement the forests were essential in supplying the new colony with timber for housing, mining, fencing, and the building of railways.  The abundance of pine, red cedar and hardwood was invaluable to the pioneering communities, who put it to good use and profit.  The availability of forest timber seemed limitless.  But much was wasted due to inaccessibility, transport problems, natural decay and the use of only the best logs from the fallen trees, the residue often being left to rot on the forest floor.

The period 1840 to 1870 saw a considerable increase in population to the north and west of Brisbane and with this expansion came a commensurate rise in the need for timber.  But slowly the effects of severe utilisation of many forests began to be seen by some as unplanned and indiscriminate.  Concerns were raised:

Alternative viewpoints developed from the 1860s, however, and a small elite of people in professional occupations living in Brisbane challenged the thinking.  The central question in forest and land management would be how to strike a balance between clearing the land for agriculture; cutting the forests for timber for railways, building and construction; and retaining something of the original cover for future use.[1]

While, on the one hand, the government was alienating Crown land and thus forfeiting its control over the use of forests, on the other it appeared to have some commitment towards protecting them because in 1860 it proclaimed its first timber regulations. Licences were to be issued to cut on Vacant Crown Land and Pastoral Leases but not on freehold land.  This provided only a low level of control on timber-getters and only on those cutting on government-owned land.

The regulations were amended in 1862 and there was also a threat of seizure of logs by the government if the timber-getters were found not complying with the regulations.  Policing these regulations with limited staff, particularly in the remoter forests would have been a major problem for government officers.

During these times, increasing pastoralism with its clearing of forested lands for grazing became more prevalent.  The government encouraged new settlement and it introduced the Alienation of Crown Lands Act in 1860 and the Crown Lands Alienation Act in 1868.  Crown land could now be acquired by private individuals and developed for agricultural or pastoral purposes.  From the government’s viewpoint development was an important revenue raiser for the State.  The building of improvements such as farm houses, fences and yards made increasing use of the timber stands and the need for arable land for crops and grass for grazing also meant more clearing or ringbarking of forests

Acclimatisation Society of Queensland
The first timber reserves were gazetted in 1870 but they were revoked soon after logging, having served mainly government supply purposes.  This seems to have been a fairly cavalier and cynical exercise.  The concerns over timber waste continued.  In 1870, the Acclimatisation Society of Queensland expressed its disquiet to the Colonial Secretary on the over-cutting of forests, especially the effect such actions might have on the climate of Queensland, including the lowering of rainfall.[2] The Society also was keen on introducing to the colony, species such as Scotch thistle and blackberry to remind settlers of life back home.  Later, in 1873 the Society’s Council again wrote to the Colonial Secretary:

The Council deem it to be their (sic) duty to invite you to support them (sic) in drawing the attention of the Government formally to the subject of forest preservation.  In the year 1870, an effort was made by the Council to induce the Government to add to the annual statistics certain details intended to show the effect upon the climate by the gradual denudation of the country of timber, wherever settlement was progressing.  No action was taken at that time;  and the many evils found in other countries to have followed the uncontrolled destruction of the native timbers are surely, although imperceptibly, coming upon Queensland in its turn, unless warded off by wise regulations.[3]

The government was unresponsive.  The Society then wrote to the Premier in the same year and a somewhat more encouraging response was forthcoming from the Secretary for Public Lands to whom the Premier delegated.  The Secretary was willing to consider any suggestions the Society might have in relation to conserving forests.[4]  Accordingly, in the same year, a conference was convened by the Society to ‘bring home to the government of the day the all-urgent question of forest conservancy’.[5] Two papers were presented, one by John Jardine and the other by L.A. Bernays, the former on forest conservation, the latter on the practicalities of introducing forest conservancy to the state.  These papers were ‘the first to examine the consequences of deforestation in Queensland’.[6]  Nevertheless, because the Society was seen as an outlandish and eccentric organisation in many respects, there was no official heed paid to its papers.[7]

Hill, Douglas and the Select Committee
In 1874, the Secretary of State for the Colonies sent a questionnaire on forestry matters to Walter Hill, head of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens.  Hill responded by pointing out the wastage associated with poor logging practices and widespread ringbarking.  The case against these practices was then taken up in 1875 by John Douglas, the parliamentary member for the timber town of Maryborough who called for a select committee to ‘consider and report upon the best means to be adopted in order to preserve and promote the growth of Timber Trees, and to conserve Forests for useful purposes’.[8]

In that year, the Select Committee on Forest Conservancy deliberated on a number of issues:  licensing of cutters; wasteful logging such as water transport and its attendant damage during flooding; and problems with the government’s land alienation policy whereby selectors could buy cheap land, subsequently remove the timber and then forfeit the selection.[9] It accepted evidence from many sources including two Maryborough men, William Pettigrew and Robert Hart, both of whom had sawmilling interests.  The Committee made seven recommendations:

  • special forest legislation was necessary
  • revenue should be obtained from log timber export
  • forest reserves for long-term management, not just government supply purposes, should be established
  • legislation for timber cutting conditions in State forests and limits on rights to selection should be enacted
  • appointment of forest rangers and security of tenure for Special timber licences was necessary
  • timber girth cutting limits should be imposed
  • a Forest Conservancy Board should be formed[10]

Some recommendations were acted upon but mostly the government took little notice of these suggestions.[11]  The Premier of the day, A. Macalister, was a sound advocate of closer settlement and therefore favoured land clearing![12]

Land continued to be sold for development and thus lost to Crown control, such control as there was.  The Crown Lands Alienation Act of 1875 eased selection conditions to attract more settlers, further exacerbating the problems of forest over-cutting.

Increasing Debate
Some concerned people in the 1870s pointed out that overseas countries such as India, New Zealand and Europe had governments that were promoting tree planting.  Queensland was seen as providing a contrary example – one that allowed indiscriminate cutting of forests.  Others of course argued that such forest cutting was a necessary function of civilised development.[13]

But though there were serious concerns in some sections of the community in regard to clearing and timber waste, there seems to have been an unwillingness by the government to do anything about them.  The timber industry had little political muscle compared with that of the pastoral interest groups[14] and indifference towards forest conservancy matters was the order of the day for those in power.  As Taylor clearly puts it:

There was by now a clear need for legislation and there was enough concern in a generally apathetic public to support such legislation.  But the need failed to rouse the interest of politicians … People wanted to clear land for settlement with no thought for the future.  Most politicians supported this as a desirable sign of initiative and capitalist enterprise, both undisputed values at that time.[15]

In an 1880 report of the Under Secretary of the Department of Public Lands to Parliament, the frustration at the lack of action regarding forest conservancy and the possible politicking behind the scenes is apparent:

I had anticipated that long ere this the subject would have been dealt with by Parliament, but other matters of greater interest for the moment have occupied attention and forest conservancy is left for some more convenient season.  At present the only thing which has been done in the direction of forest conservancy is to set apart some areas of land as timber reserves, which it is presumed will ultimately become State forests.  This is, however, by no means certain, as efforts are continuously being made to have these areas declared open for selection by persons desirous of acquiring land, and sometimes these requests are backed by Parliamentary influence.[16]

Nevertheless, the first Inspector of State forests was appointed on the 13th of October 1882.  His name was John V. Williams.  He had worked with Archibald McDowall who had been in charge of the Plant Forest Nursery on Fraser Island at the time.  It was only a small step in the right direction, though.

The Department of Public Lands and its Minister were not always seen in a favourable light in regard to the general lack of impetus towards forest conservancy.  The Wide Bay News on the 31st of July 1884 caustically commented on the fact that the NSW Forestry Department ‘already does good work preventing as far as practicable the destruction and exhaustion of such State forests … Here (meaning Queensland) the Department of Lands appears to be rather pleased that during a given year so large a sum of money can be netted from timber-cutting licences’.  The article went on to state that ‘Almost piteously the Minister is made to say that severer regulations for the reservation of timber country must be laid down or the timber cannot be saved’.  The column echoes the general frustration of concerned people and the unwillingness or impotence of some politicians to act on their behalf.

Although forest conservancy was on the political and community agenda at this stage there was still a long way to go towards its full realisation.  It would take many years for that to happen.

Archibald McDowall

Biographical Details
Archibald McDowall was born at Logan House, Moonee Ponds in Victoria on the 2nd of December 1841.[17]  His family had long been associated with the early pastoralists of Australia.[18] Archibald was educated by a private tutor and spent some time at Giblin’s Commercial Academy in Hobart and at the Campbelltown Grammar School, Tasmania. He studied surveying under J. Calder who later became Surveyor General of that State in 1859.  Coincidentally, McDowall became Surveyor General in later decades in Queensland.

On his coming to Queensland at the age of 20, McDowall was appointed Assistant Surveyor to James Warner.  He then entered the service of the government as Staff Surveyor on the 13th of May 1862 and then surveyed much of the Maranoa district of southern Queensland.  In that year he also carried out the first town survey of Roma.  In 1863, he became Commissioner for the Maranoa, then that of the Warrego in 1867/68.  He continued working in the capacity of Staff Surveyor and later Commissioner of Crown Lands in the Maranoa, Warrego and Kennedy districts until the end of 1869 whereupon he was then appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands and District Surveyor of the Darling Downs in 1869.

Six years later, in 1875, he was moved to the Maryborough-Wide Bay district and acted as District Surveyor until July 1885.  For the next six years until 1891 McDowall was District Surveyor in Toowoomba and Inspector of Surveys.  Then, in 1891 he became Surveyor General of Queensland and held that post until retirement on the 30th of June 1902.  His latter days were spent in Middleton, Tasmania until his death there on the 13th of May 1918 at the age of 77.

McDowall initiated many reforms, most of them – not surprisingly – to do with surveying and surveyors, mapping and training.  But it was his keen interest in forestry matters that is a major aspect of this paper.

McDowall’s Plantation Experiments on Fraser Island
It was during the period spent at Maryborough and Fraser Island (also spelt Fraser’s Island, Frazer Island and Frazer’s Island in those times) from 1875 to 1885 that McDowall initiated a system of replanting some of the heavily logged kauri pine forests on the island.  This was a major step towards practical forest management and renewal of a portion of Queensland’s prime forests.

There were a number of ways to combat the problems associated with poor timber-getting practices including the introduction of logging restrictions, introduction of forestry legislation and increased reservation of productive forestry lands.  There was much said and written about resolving the problem.  However, there was little mention of adopting forestry practices to improve the timber output within the forest itself.  Until McDowall did something about it!

McDowall was not the first person in Queensland to grow tree seedlings.  William Pettigrew, an early colonist, mentions in his diary ‘that he paid a settler, George Traill, to plant and look after plots of bunya pines, cedars and beech trees on his land at Buderim in the early 1870s’.[19]  The plantings do not seem to have been overly successful according to his diary entries.  It seems that Pettigrew was attempting to either trial the species for future plantation potential or simply growing them in situ as forests in their own right.  In either case he was planting his trees on private land, presumably for private purposes.  McDowall was a government officer planting forest trees on Crown owned land with the future of Queensland’s timber supplies in mind.

It is worthwhile to look into McDowall’s experimental work to consider the totally new way of thinking that it embodied.

In McDowall’s report to government dated the 31st of July 1899, he writes:  ‘Nothing has, however, been done to renew our forests, beyond the small experiment on Fraser Island, commenced in 1876, which from the poorness of the soil – almost pure sand – and latterly from neglect, has resulted in somewhat of a failure, although valuable knowledge for future use might be gathered from the experiment.’  In an earlier report of 1882, titled ‘Kauri Pine Plantation, Fraser Island’, he had stated that the ‘experiment still appears to be a success’.

It is curious to note that a Walter Hill, Curator of the Botanic Gardens Brisbane – who had advised the Secretary of State for the Colonies on timber wastage and ringbarking some years earlier – visited Fraser Island on the 15th of April 1878, two years after McDowall said he had set up his experimental plot, and was accompanied by M. Pengelly, the Crown Land Ranger for the Maryborough District.  In Hill’s report of the 17th of May 1879 to the Honourable Patrick Spens, Secretary for Public Lands, he describes at length the timbers of Fraser Island but fails to mention the small experiment referred to by McDowall.  Either the Ranger deliberately failed to mention it to Hill or did not know of it.  The latter supposition seems unlikely because both visitors had proceeded to a place called Mitchell’s Camp to get horses for the journey and as Mitchell was a timber-cutter and most likely the same man who had assisted McDowall with the 1882 plantings (and possibly those of 1896) he most probably would have known about the experiment and would have told Hill.  Perhaps Hill did know but withheld the information for some reason.  Nevertheless he did the following:  ‘I would also suggest that an acre or more of land should be selected, thoroughly cleared, and planted with young trees of the kind named, and placed under the immediate care of a resident on the island; this would test the growing powers of the trees under favourable circumstances and prove the desirability of clearing the ground …’  Perhaps he wanted to steal McDowall’s thunder?  Or maybe McDowall’s originally stated date of 1876 was in error and 1882, a commonly quoted date in other documents of the era, was correct?

The trials of 1882 on Fraser Island were three-fold in nature.  McDowall’s men practised assisted regeneration of the kauri dominated forests by clearing the undergrowth around the young seedlings and saplings, thus liberating them for quicker growth.  In addition, they extended two old logging clearings in the scrubs (the first one nearly three acres in size on the western bank of Bogimba Creek near the middle of the Island, the second one nearly six acres in size) and planted both sites with a total of approximately 15 000 seedlings at six feet spacings.  The work in the clearings took the form of brushing undergrowth and vines, leaving saplings and larger trees standing. Elsewhere, but nearby, 3 000 trees were planted at 10 feet spacings in scrub with little or no clearing involved.  The men, also in 1882, cleared very narrow lanes or paths one chain apart through the scrubs and planted seedlings six feet apart along the lanes.  The kauri pine seedlings had been transplanted from densely crowded natural forest clumps directly into the cleared areas (also, some 10 000 seedlings were transplanted into a nursery for future use).  The forest areas containing the transplanted seedlings were called plantations by McDowall.  In addition to the transplanting, seeds were sown of New Zealand kauri pine, South Australian red gum and Western Australian jarrah.  Other species such as black wattle, green wattle and coconuts are mentioned as suitable for trial planting, the wattle bark being considered favourable for commercial tanning purposes.[20]  Further plantings were then carried out at Yankee Jack’s Creek, a site much further south of Bogimba Creek.

McDowall referred to the Fraser Island work as ‘arboriculture’ (the growing and tending of forest trees) and he did not see this as just a small and isolated regional experiment but believed that ‘there are doubtless other scrubs and forests in Queensland suitable for Arboriculture …’[21]

On the 15th of May the following year, the Maryborough newspaper The Chronicle was moved to pen the following cutting comment, not in relation to McDowall, the favoured local son, but to the powers that be:

Now that the attempts at forest conservation and culture, so successfully begun on Fraser Island under the superintendence of Mr McDOWALL, our District Surveyor, are beginning to evoke a languid interest on the part of the Executive, it is well to consider betimes what further steps might be taken to restore our fast failing supplies of useful timber.

The same newspaper earlier that year had written of ‘the plunder of our sylvan heritage under cover of legal license (sic) or illegal and fraudulent pretence of genuine settlement’ and claimed McDowall as one who was ‘among the small number of our colonists who have devoted attention to and take interest in this important question’. The question was that of forest conservancy.  The article also bemoaned the pittance allocated to the Fraser Island experiment, stating that the sum of £700 was ‘absurdly small when compared with the sums lavished on superfluous judges, incompetent heads of departments, police, playing at soldiers, and similar detrimentals …’

Enthusiasm for the experimental plantings led to the Deputy Conservator of Forests in the Madras Presidency in India visiting Fraser Island in December 1884 with McDowall.  The Indian official was ‘greatly interested in the work’ and ‘judging of the operation as a whole it cannot be said to have been expensive or the money other than well expended’.[22]

In the House, the Hon. W. Pettigrew referred to McDowall’s work in favourable terms and stated that investing in growing timber ‘is one of the best things that could be done for the good of the country’.[23]

McDowall also showed much foresight in that he recommended that at the end of 1884, licences to cut pine on Fraser Island be prohibited in order to both retain mature trees that would act as seed sources and to prevent the continuing destruction of young trees.  He expected resistance to this recommendation in that ‘this restriction will certainly be looked upon unfavourably by some people, who cannot see a pine tree without thirsting to destroy it, just as a ferret does for the blood of a rabbit’.[24]

The Fraser Island trials got off to a most promising start but by 1899 the experiment was judged a failure due largely to neglect.  The neglect can be sheeted home to local disregard as well as government indifference if this extract from Hansard on the 24th of October is anything to go by, in which the honourable member Mr Norton takes to task the Minister for Lands:

All the money that had been spent on forest nurseries was to be wasted, because the Minister did not think that the trees which had been planted were worth looking after; but thought the only thing to do was to keep the timber-getters out of the scrubs.  He (Norton) would advise the Minister for Lands, if he wanted information on the subject, to apply to a gentleman in his own department, Mr McDowall, who was an enthusiast on the subject of the conservation of timber and knew more about it than most people.  The forest nurseries had been coming on well, though, of course, lately not much had been done because of the drought; and now, by leaving off the vote, they were getting rid of all the good that had been done.

The vote of course being the budget vote or the financial allocation to the Fraser Island plantings.  It is not known what the Minister had to say to Mr McDowall, a senior public official of his, about the matter!

Nevertheless, the small plantation experiment was an encouraging attempt to enhance the productive capacity of Queensland’s coastal forests.  It was the first government sponsored experiment of this nature and almost certainly the beginnings of formal forest silviculture (or arboriculture – as McDowall called it) in Queensland.  In fact The Queenslander newspaper on the 31st of October 1885 under an article entitled ‘Our Little Timber Plantation’ made the comment:

There are in the colony 161 timber reserves comprising an area of 1 572 752 acres and sixteen State forests comprising an area of 202 575 acres; but out of this immense tract of country the Frazer’s Island kauri plantations are the only attempts which we have been making at forest cultivation.

The small experiment was the first stage in an attempt ‘to establish a 500 acre pine plantation on Fraser Island’ but the government soon cut the experiment short of funds and in 1891 a ‘paltry £65 was being allocated annually for forestry, in the Fraser Island experiment’.[25]

Many years later, on the 7th of May 1948, it was reported by Jules Tardent (a former forestry officer) in an address to the Royal Geographical Society of Australia (Queensland) that ‘a goodly number of these trees can still be seen today, but few are even of sapling size and many are stunted, spindly runts 20 feet tall due to the suppression by the very tall and gigantic scrub trees.  Naturally the experiment failed and was not continued … Had clear falling and burning prior to planting been tried, it is interesting to conjecture how the future of reforestation in Queensland might have been fundamentally influenced and accelerated’.[26]  Hindsight is an exact science!

That the experiment occurred at all was due primarily to McDowall’s enthusiasm and innate flair for the principles of native forest silviculture and a desire to foster one of the major tenets of forest conservancy.

McDowall’s Sense of Forestry

  • Exploitation of Forests

McDowall’s great love of forests and conservancy are apparent in his objection to the alienation of land for farms in an area around Taromeo in south-east Queensland.  He reported in 1889:

All this beautiful timber will be cut down, and most of it actually burnt and wasted, if the land is sold or selected.  We are doing this while professing an anxiety to enter upon a system of forest conservancy.  Between these acts and these aspirations there is a ludicrous inconsistency … To protect the nation from the loss entailed by these onslaughts on what should be national property, it would be advisable to dedicate these reserves by special Act of Parliament, to the specific purpose for which they were designed, or to vest them in trustees.[27]

This is but one of his thoughts on forest exploitation.

  • Arboriculture

Archibald McDowall was the principal Queenslander of his time who understood the technical nature of forestry.  To most who even gave it passing thought it meant increased protection of forests by reservation or perhaps the reduction of logging wastage by the regulation of industry.  But only McDowall espoused the principal precepts of basic forestry; native forest silviculture and plantation establishment - and he was not even trained in the science and practice of the profession!  He not only held these beliefs but he put them into practice and reported the results to government, arguing and mustering support for them.  In fact he foreshadowed in many respects the formal and professional forestry training that was to be the backbone of forestry in Queensland some decades later.  He was a man before his time in this respect.

Consider his ‘Suggestions in Connection with Forestry’ dated the 14th of October 1889, the year before he sat with fellow Commissioners to consider forest conservancy.  This paper was a serious, original and lengthy report to government and was most certainly influential in formulating the recommendations of the Commissioners the following year.

In this paper McDowall’s urged a planned approach to conservancy.  The first step was to determine what localities were most suitable for arboricultural work; the second was to acquire the land.  When this was done, the best ways to utilise the existing forest needed consideration.  As an example, this could take the form of ‘taking care of the young saplings, thinning out and transplanting where growing thickly, and replanting from natural seed beds, as well as by the artificial raising of plants from seed and subsequent distribution’.

He also recommended that in choosing localities for proposed operations the shortest haulage route from the forest to the community should be adopted.  Also, the coastal districts with their higher rainfall had first claim in the selection process but the inland areas, because of their relative scarcity of timber should not be overlooked.  He suggested coastal areas of the Wide Bay district, Cardwell, Daintree River, Cairns, Port Douglas and inland areas of Charleville, St George and Miles as possibilities.  McDowall recommended studying the existing tree species which had ‘survived the climate’ when considering arboriculture, particularly in the interior.

He was a pragmatic optimist who thought long-term.  He reports in his paper that ‘the difficulties to be surmounted to make arboriculture successful are no more formidable than in the case of agriculture, nor are the pursuits very different except that in the former many patient years are required for the maturity of the crop’.

  • Forest Values and Ethics

On the subject of forest values and ethics and their dissemination, McDowall declared in his 1889 report that:

Men’s actions are greatly influenced by the associations of boyhood;  and were some attention devoted to the subject in our public schools, a growing distaste for the vandalisms at present practised would be the result.  If children were impressed with the importance of destroying nothing without making provision for replacing it, a sentiment certain to lead hereafter to useful results would be engendered.[28]

In promoting the native trees of Australia he writes that ‘not only are they valuable for their timber and well suited to the climate, but they have a natural beauty that children might be taught to appreciate’.  He went on to say that in some countries ‘they have an annual festival called “arberday” (sic) which is devoted to tree planting, with accompaniments of much fun and jollity … and the encouragement of a sentiment of respect for all arboreal growths is an advantage impossible to estimate’.  A decided lover of trees and forests!

  • Supervision of Logging

Again, in his 1889 report McDowall asserts, matter-of-factly, that ‘the timber will only be cut in the State forests under stringent regulations, so that no injury will be done to the other timber in the reserve.  When the timber is to be disposed of, it should be sold according to quantity.  No such wasteful system as the giving of licences to men, allowing them to cut indiscriminately, could be tolerated’.  He then anticipated the modern forestry practice of ‘tree-marking’ and ‘sale at stump’ in the following words:

The mature trees should be marked by the chief forester when it is considered advisable to dispose of them.  They are then divided into lengths, measured, and the cubical contents are marked on each log.  Whether they should be sold at stump or hauled to the nearest railway station or rafting-ground is a matter of detail for future consideration.[29]

Archibald McDowall, District Surveyor of Maryborough and later Surveyor General of Queensland showed a great deal of vision on many forestry issues.  His views on silviculture, conservancy and the encouragement of a forest value ethic were much ahead of their times and to a large extent the forest management practices and the big drives for gazetted reservation of forest land early in the next century were due to his efforts.

  • Views on Forestry Administration

In McDowall’s report of the 14th of October 1889 he posed the question of ‘whether the State Forestry should be under the Agricultural Department or distinct and independent’.  Whichever body eventually took control ‘the officer directing the former should have special knowledge and qualifications, and it would be inadvisable to hamper him with a control that might interfere with the carrying out of his views in his own way, nor would the expense be increased by the Forestry Department being distinct’.

As Surveyor-General in 1899, McDowall ‘suggested the establishment of state forests, national parks and recreation parks … and took a keen interest in issues of forest management and conservancy’.[30]

Later years
In 1885, McDowall was appointed District Surveyor at Toowoomba and Inspector of Surveys for Queensland, which position he held until the 21st of February 1891, when on retirement of the incumbent Mr Davidson, he became Surveyor General of the colony.

The name McDowall had long been associated with that of ‘vigorous pioneers’.[31]  In 1891, McDowall was described in the Boomerang as ‘possessed of conspicuous ability, energy and alertness of mind, free from bias, and always actuated by a desire to serve the best interests of the community …’[32]  A contemporary of McDowall’s wrote in the Queensland publication:

It will be therefore readily understood that the duties of the important advisory and administrative position of Surveyor-General are such as require the services of an officer who is in every sense master of his profession … That a wise and fortunate selection was made in connection with the appointment of the present Surveyor-General is amply testified by the excellent work which has been done since Mr. McDowall undertook the duties of that office …’[33]

There are many other fine words spoken on his behalf in that lengthy reportage. Traditional rhetoric of the day perhaps, but the rather lavish superlatives in the biography at least indicate a positive sense of acknowledgment.

In his writings in the Annual Reports of the Department of Public Lands in the latter part of the 19th century we see his commitment to reforestation and the proper use of land for forestry purposes.  Others also saw it.  As outlined in Burke’s Colonial Gentry:

McDowall was a keen observer of the environment, commenting in 1882 on the wastefulness of Queenslanders in destroying stands of native timber, and he pioneered reafforestation experiments on Fraser Island in 1882 with kauri pine.  He speculated on ‘the hard things the future generation will certainly say of the present inhabitants …’[34]

Baron Von Mueller K.C.M.G., and Ph.D., F.R.S., that eminent botanist paid tribute to McDowall in regard to the surveyor’s amateur botanical skills:  ‘It is only now through the kindness of Mr. A. McDowall, the district’s land officer and surveyor of Maryborough, Wide Bay, to place this cycadeous plant on diagnostic record.’  He then added:  ‘To that gentleman’s circumspectness and enlightened exertions is also due the credit of forest-culture having been initiated on a really systematic scale in Queensland, in which measure, it is hoped, he will be supported by the whole of Fraser’s Island being permanently reserved for forestry.’[35]

In Volume II of Wing’s Southern Science Record dated April 1886 is recorded full botanical details of a plant named, at the time, Panax McDowalli.  And there is a fine tribute included in the description:

This plant is to perpetuate in the tree-vegetation of Queensland the name of A. Macdowall, (sic) Esq., who as Land-officer of the Maryborough-District so thoughtfully on his own impulse initiated a regular system of forest-culture in that great colonial dominion.[36] 

McDowall would have loved that.  Apart from the spelling of his surname!

Richard Matthews Hyne
If Archibald McDowall saw forest conservancy largely from a forest guardianship and arboricultural viewpoint, Richard Matthews Hyne saw it as a necessary bulwark against declining resource availability for the timber industry in Queensland.

Hyne, from Maryborough, was deeply involved in local politics, his region’s burgeoning timber industry and a general sense of forest conservancy.  He was not a government officer like McDowall but a successful businessman engaged in timber-getting.  He was also the member for Maryborough.  Hyne was a great believer in the development and progress of industries and he hoped that opportunities and prospects would be available to all who lived in Queensland whether they be rich or poor.[37]

In parliament ‘… he was ever defending the role of the hard-working timber-getter.  When factory legislation came before the Legislative Assembly, Hyne protested strongly about sweated labour and the abuse of children and women.’[38]  The development of Maryborough and the Wide Bay district was paramount to this liberal-aligned man espousing ‘progressive-democratic’ causes but perhaps his greatest achievements were in regard to timber-getting policies.[39]

‘Hyne urged the government to educate itself, as well as the public, on the valuable timber reserves of the colony’, pointing to the ‘active, knowledgeable forest policy’ of South Australia including their setting aside of an Arbor Day to encourage people to plant forests.[40]  Similar remarks were made by McDowall about the same time.

In 1889, Hyne introduced a successful motion in the House that the government ‘take immediate action in the replanting of forests and in the creation of a department of forestry’.  These times saw the beginnings, although still tentative, of official policies on forestry.[41]  This of course was not the first mention of a forest overseeing body, as the call for a Forest Conservancy Board had been recommended by a Select Committee fourteen years ago in 1875.  Nevertheless:

On the 6th September, 1889, Mr. Hyne, a practical sawmiller, of Maryborough, moved in the Legislative Assembly - ‘That, in the opinion of this House, the present rapid rate at which the exhaustion of the natural forests of Queensland is proceeding, and the possibility that in the near future serious loss and inconvenience may arise to the various industries of the colony, call for some immediate action in the direction of replanting our forests and the creation of a Department of Forestry.’

This motion was unanimously carried after being thrashed out by many leading and practical men.  Very valuable information was given, and the debate will repay perusal.  Sir Thomas McIlwraith, Sir Samuel Griffith, the Hon. M.H. Black (Minister for Lands), Hon. R. Philp, and Messrs. Luya, Agnew, and Mellor (practical men, with large timber experience), approved of it, and the Minister for Lands promised to give immediate effect to it.[42]

Although Hyne’s motion was carried, no action immediately ensued.[43]

Comments on these deliberations in the Legislative Assembly were made some eighteen years later by the Director of Forests, Philip MacMahon:

It is, perhaps, worth noting that the son of the mover of this resolution formed one of a deputation to the Minister a few months ago to complain bitterly of the difficulty of getting timber to keep his mill going, a difficulty which had been foreseen by his father. He is reported to have incidentally remarked at the deputation that he ‘did not take any heed of posterity’ but the very fact of his presence showed that it does not take too long for the effects of want of conservation to be visible.[44]

A caustic remark certainly but perhaps a prescient one in view of the numerous skirmishes between the young forestry organisation and some members of the timber industry that were to surface in later years.

Forest Conservancy Policy Ratified
The importance of forest conservancy had at last gained high level recognition and approval in Parliament and in 1890, at the request of the government, a number of reports were prepared partly as a result of ‘the conservation policies espoused by Hyne[45] who had raised the matter in the Legislative Assembly the previous year when he had called for a Department of Forestry to be created.  Commissioners involved in recommending on the reports included P. McLean, Under-Secretary for Agriculture, P. MacMahon, Curator of the Botanic Gardens, A. McDowall, Inspector of Surveys and former District Surveyor at Maryborough, F. Byerley, Mining Surveyor Rockhampton, C.H. Barton, school teacher of Maryborough and L.G. Board, Land Commissioner at Gympie and Maryborough.  ‘They took a utilitarian view of forests, best articulated by MacMahon.’

The basis of conservancy in Queensland for some years to come, and indeed its backbone for all time must be the management of sufficient portions of her natural forests in such a way as, while allowing them to be used for the purposes of life, will secure a perpetual succession of mature, healthy and marketable timber … It cannot be too clearly known that over-reservation is in its effects nearly as bad as no reservation at all.  When a tree reaches a certain stage good forestry requires that it be cut: so that the idea is not to lock these forests up.[46]

The Commissioners recommended a plan of forest management, emphasising three aspects of forestry:

  • conservancy - reservation and management of existing forests
  • regeneration - replanting and enriching production forests
  • extension - extending forests into treeless areas

Five types of reserves were advocated in the reports.

  • State Forests - dedicated in perpetuity to silviculture and declared inalienable
  • Timber reserves - temporarily or permanently held or resumed from settlement
  • Township or firewood reserves
  • Mining timber reserves
  • Plantation reserves - held for future plantings

Later, in 1896, Leonard G. Board (still Land Commissioner of Maryborough and Gympie) in his report to government, stated that ‘it would be both to the interest of the public and the Department if steps were taken to carry out a system of forest conservation as the country becomes denuded of the natural timber’.  This comment reinforced the recommendations of the Commissioners some years earlier.[47]  In an 1897 report from the same Department a further step was mentioned:

It is worthy of consideration whether the time has not arrived when it is desirable to appoint an experienced officer as Conservator of Forests for the purpose of inspecting and reporting as to the best means to be adopted for the preservation and prevention of waste of the indigenous timbers and the profitable disposal of same.[48]

A Forestry Branch was created in 1900 in the Department of Public Lands and an Inspector of Forests, Leonard G. Board, was appointed to the position along with two forest rangers in supporting field roles.  From a forestry viewpoint this was a fitting conclusion to the 19th century and to the beginning of government-approved forest conservancy.

European settlement in Queensland required vast quantities of timber for housing and development and used it initially in that period with little or no regard towards the future.  Nevertheless, some people felt uneasy at the profligate and non-regulated use and abuse of the forests and they did something about it.  Among the principal members of the community to introduce sound policy and a governmental body to oversee forest conservancy were Archibald McDowall and Richard Hyne, the former with his grasp of forestry and his enthusiastic departmental reportage and the latter with his political power and conviction that something was needed to protect the forests of the day and plan for future control over disposal of timber resources.  These men and others mentioned in this paper led by example and it was through their efforts and doggedness that Queensland entered the 20th century with sound forestry policies in place and a leadership with a willingness to act upon them.

My special thanks to Bill Kitson, Curator of the Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying for generously allowing me access to his information on Archibald McDowall.  Thanks also to historian Elaine Brown for details on Pettigrew.


Anon, circa 1980:  A Chronology of the Important Events in the History of Queensland’s Forests and Timber Resources.  Queensland Department of Forestry.  Brisbane.

Anon, 1891:  Boomerang.

Anon, 1891-1901:  Burke’s Colonial Gentry.  Vol II 1891 - 1901.  Alcazar Press.

Anon, 1889:  Hansard.  Queensland Government.

Anon, post 1883:  Queensland.

Anon, 1873:  Queensland Acclimatisation Society.

Anon, 1883 and 1884:  The Chronicle.

Anon, 1885:  The Queenslander.

Anon, 1884:  Wide Bay News.

Carron, L.T.,  1985:  A History of Forestry in Australia.  Australian National University Press in association with Pergamon Press (Aust) Rushcutters Bay, NSW.

Frawley, K.J., 1983:  ‘A history of forest and land management in Queensland, with particular reference to the North Queensland rainforest’.  A report to the Rainforest Conservation Society of Queensland.  PhD thesis, Geography Department of the University of NSW, Duntroon, ACT.

Fox, M.J., 1919:  History of Queensland - Its People and Industries.  In three volumes;  An Historical and Commercial review;  Descriptive and Biographical Facts;  An Epitome of Progress.  Printed and Published for the States Publishing Company, Brisbane by Hussey and Gillingham Ltd. Adelaide MCMXIX.

Hyne, J.R.L. with Johnston, W.R.,  1980:  Hyne-Sight:  A History of a Timber Family in Queensland.  Maryborough, Queensland.

Kowald, M., 1996:  Historical Overview of the South East Queensland Biogeographic Region.  Department of Environment.  Brisbane.

McDowall, A., 1882:  ‘Cultivation of Kauri Pine on Fraser Island’.  Annual Report of the Department of Public Lands.  Government Printer.  1883.  Brisbane.

McDowall, A., 1889:  ‘Suggestions in Connection with Forest Conservancy by District Surveyor A. McDowall, 14 October 1889’.  Report within Survey Department.  Brisbane.

Mueller von, F., date unknown:  ‘Remarks on an Undescribed Encephalartos from Queensland’.  Publishing details unknown.

Norton, 1899:  Hansard.  Queensland Government.

Pettigrew, W., 1872-1882:  ‘Diaries’.

Pettigrew, W., 1898:  Legislative Council - Address in Reply.  Wednesday 2 July 1890.  Page 17.

Powell, J.,  1998:  People and Trees  - A Thematic History of South East Queensland with Particular Reference to Forested Areas, 1823-1997.  Qld CRA/RFA Steering Committee.  Queensland Government.  Brisbane.

Queensland.  Department of Public Lands:  Annual Reports.  Queensland Government Printer.  Brisbane.

Tardent, J., 1948:  ‘Fraser Island’.  Address to the Royal Geographical Society of Australia (Queensland).

Taylor, P., 1994:  Growing Up - Forestry in Queensland.  Allen and Unwin.  St Leonards, NSW.

Wing, 1886:  Wing’s Southern Science Record.  No publishing details.

Original Publication

This person appears as a part of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10. [View Article]

Citation details

Peter Holzworth, 'McDowall, Archibald (1841–1918)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 May 2024.

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