Greatness in the colonies beckoned

The Brisbane River near Toowong, from Qld. Govt., Our First Half-Century, 1909.
The Brisbane River near Toowong, from Qld. Govt., Our First Half-Century, 1909.

George Murray Colledge was born in Gateshead in 1845, the son of Teasdale Colledge, master mariner, and his wife Mary Ann, née Murray.

They moved to North Shields. George was apprenticed to a dyer, but became a Methodist minister instead.

He was called to Stewarton, Ayrshire, and married Matilda Ann Broomfield, daughter of the Rev R.W. Broomfield, Wesleyan minister at Lesbury, at the chapel there.

They had a son, also George Murray Colledge, born at Stewarton in 1873, another son born at Greenock in 1874, and afterwards a daughter, possibly in Queensland.

The Morpeth Herald’s ‘List of Visitors at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea’ in August 1873 includes: ‘At No. 4, Wansbeck Square, the Rev. G.M. Colledge, Mrs Colledge and family, of Stewarton, Ayr.’

They were staying with his mother, brother and sister, who seem to have occupied the house above the shop at No. 3 as well.

Three years later he emigrated to Australia aboard the Famenoth, Clyde Line, leaving Glasgow in June 1876.

The Rev George M. Colledge is listed, but not his family. At least they get no mention.

The Brisbane Courier reported the Famenoth’s arrival there in early November.

Something changed over the next two years.

In December 1878 the Courier reported that G.M. Colledge, railway guard, summoned a man for abusive language and obstructing him in his duty.

George later became station master at Toowong.

It was a responsible position and he was evidently comfortably placed.

In June 1889 he became president of the newly-formed Queensland Railway Employees’ Association, and editor of its paper, the Queensland Railway Times, and became embroiled in a most unfortunate affair.

There was an urgent need for an insurance scheme for railwaymen, whose conditions of service meant that it did not pay them to join the Government’s civil service scheme.

George was one of a sub-committee appointed to negotiate with four different insurance companies.

The idea was that whoever got the endowment business would thereby obtain thousands of lives without canvassing or medical examinations so the fees and commission they saved could be paid into an Employees’ Sickness and Accident Fund.

Meantime, George’s brother Joseph, who had once been an insurance agent, came to Brisbane in October 1889 and was living with George.

He was unemployed at the time, except perhaps for casual work as a journalist.

George could not easily leave his post as station master so Joseph acted for him, visiting company representatives to see who would accept a large body of railway employees without medical examination, taking the bad lives with the good, and pay what they saved into the sick and accident fund.

An agent called Judge tried to bribe George, offering him half the commission if he got the business.

He wrote to the press asserting that Joseph was to be his agent as a ‘blind’, to pay George the bribe without appearing to.

Next day, the Courier said of George: ‘As president of the Railway Employees’ Association, he has been uniformly capable and diligent.

‘But now, ‘all that is mysterious in the history of the railway employees’ insurance negotiations must be cleared up without further delay.’

George’s reply to Judge appears in the same edition.

‘It is quite correct that Mr Judge made proposals to me, varying from £700 to £1,700 (not £2,500), but in each case he met with no favourable response.

‘On the last occasion ... I turned upon him and said, ‘Mr Judge, you have got hold of the wrong man this time; your proposals will not influence me in the slightest degree; I want to secure the best terms for the men, and not any considerations for myself’, which terminated our negotiations.’

The Queensland Railway Commissioners held an enquiry lasting three days.

Mr Judge was repeatedly called to order and eventually ‘requested to retire’ by the chairman.

George was completely exonerated

The Courier of May 21, 1890, says that their only reservation was that having ‘associated himself with his brother in these negotiations ... has to a certain extent lent colour to the suspicion that an attempt had been made by an officer of the railway staff to obtain a very large commission for influencing the insurance of the whole railway staff in one particular office.’

What would have been a hugely beneficial scheme was now dropped.

In June two quite different schemes were proposed, one of them based on that of the Great Western Railway in England.

Indeed, George was roundly accused of having suppressed the ‘Great Western’ proposal.

At a delegate conference next month, he resigned as President and recommended that they appoint a new editor not employed in the Railway Department.

He evidently retained their trust, however, and chaired the entire meeting.

The conclusion was that the men were so opposed to any compulsory scheme that the whole conference should wait on the minister to tell him so.

George was active in the social and cultural life of Toowong.

In 1881 he was appointed to the Committee for the State School there, and in 1885 helped to set up the Toowong School of Arts.

It began in a spirit of earnest seriousness, much like the mechanics’ institutes in England.

The Committee purchased the building and planned to make it, “thoroughly comfortable and attractive; and by the purchase of books for a library, and reviews, periodicals and newspapers ... to provide for the intellectual culture and mental recreation of the inhabitants of this flourishing suburb. (Also) singing, debating, dancing, and other classes.”

Twelve months later, they reported that the evening classes lasted only three months, and the debating society was poorly attended.

The monthly entertainments, however, held on the Thursday nearest the full moon, were highly successful.

George was a frequent performer, giving songs and readings to great applause, and was president in 1887.

He gave a solo at the November concert, and sang in a duet and a quartet with his sister-in-law, Miss Broomfield.

All the performances were well received, and the Brisbane Courier called it ‘this excellent and refined entertainment.’

He was marked for higher office.

In 1887 he was offered the post of Commissioner for Crown Lands, but declined because of resentment within the Department.

Then in 1888 he accompanied the Prime Minister and the Commissioner for Railways on the Government yacht to Rockhampton, to visit the inland townships from there by rail.

George Colledge was drowned at sea in Moreton Bay on September 14, 1890, leaving a widow and two children.

His wife’s sister, who was a telegraph operator at Toowong station, and a Mr Buchanan were drowned as well.

They both lived at George’s house, Mr Buchanan’s wife and child being in England.

They had organised the trip for a Miss Harlow, who was in poor health. She was actually rescued by one of the sailors.

Her father wrote of George ‘a more noble disinterested, and unselfish disposition than he had it is not easy to conceive – ever ready to assist both mentally, morally and pecuniarily to the utmost of his power.’