When the pastoralist-explorers Charles and William Archer discovered and named the Fitzroy River in 1853 they opened up an extensive area of what is now Central Queensland to pastoral settlement. Among others who followed was P.F. MacDonald ; he recorded the physical features of a wide expanse of the region in 1858-60 and, like the Archers, took up large tracts of virgin land. Following these path finders came intending squatters, such as Samuel Birkbeck, with capital to invest in established runs. The experiences of these pioneering pastoralists are used to fulfil the purpose of this thesis : to show the response of individual settlers to the "new" environment of what was then called the northern districts.
Not only did the squatters have to adapt to a strange physical environment, but also to the social problems arising from their occupation of these “waste lands of the Crown". While the ever-changing land laws of the new Colony of Queensland provoked considerable discussion, it was Crown Lands administration which caused tangible distress to all three families. There were also socio-economic troubles which had to be faced and overcome during the process of settling down on the land. By observing the responses of these particular men to their whole environment, physical and social, it is hoped that a general historical picture will emerge.
The Archer brothers, P.F. MacDonald and Samuel Birkbeck not only left documents which have been preserved, but in each instance soma of their descendants still live and work on what remains of the original properties. Research has thus involved the use of a considerable amount of primary source material in the form of letters, journals, diaries and ledgers ; these have been of inestimable value in allowing the pioneer squatters to speak for themselves about their attitudes and actions. Because this thesis is based almost entirely on original manuscripts and related primary sources, a considerable amount of field research has been necessary. This included visits to the particular homesteads and also to the Central Highlands to see the downs country which was originally taken up by the Archer brothers and P.F. MacDonald. Land in the Dawson l/alley for which the Archers held the first leases was also visited.
The Mitchell Library (Sydney) has made a quantity of Archer material available in photographic form, while the Fisher Library (University of Sydney) has provided a similar service with xeroxed copies of Birkbeck documents. The most rewarding research, however, has been achieved through the reading and transcription of P.F. MacDonald's Letter Books. To my knowledge, this manuscript material has never been researched, perhaps not even read. Because MacDonald was a prolific letter writer and meticulous recorder of his business affairs, these Letter Books are of the utmost significance to the social historian. The main problems were some difficulties in deciphering cross-written letters and frustration caused by pages on which the ink was completely washed out. It was a disappointment, too, to find that Letter Books covering the later 1860s had been lost. ……………………………………..