John Moffat of Irvinebank : a biography of a regional entrepreneur

Kerr, Ruth S. (Ruth Sadie) (1986). John Moffat of Irvinebank : a biography of a regional entrepreneur PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Kerr, Ruth S. (Ruth Sadie)
Thesis Title John Moffat of Irvinebank : a biography of a regional entrepreneur
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1986
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Unknown
Total pages 374
Language eng
Subjects 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
430112 Biography
Formatted abstract
This thesis portrays a regional entrepreneur and his enterprises, and is intended as a contribution to the study of regional development in Australia. The thesis has three aims: to describe Moffat the man; to test the hypothesis that the accolade, "God Bless John Moffat" is deserved within the milieu of Australian mining between 1870 and World War 1 and regional development in the Cairns Hinterland; and to assess Moffat's skills as a regional entrepreneur. The biography is structured chronologically and its analysis focuses on the promotion of his major mining ventures.

The first chapter establishes Moffat's Scottish heritage and culminates in his immigration to Queensland in 1862 to work as a shepherd on a pastoral station at the time that the colony's mining industry was just commencing. Chapter 2 details Moffat's life as a shepherd, a commercial clerk in Harris Brothers' store in Brisbane, his opening of his own shop in South Brisbane in 1866 with partner, Robert Love, and their decision to open a branch on the Stanthorpe tinfield in 1872. The next chapter describes his mining investments at Stanthorpe and at Tent Hill and Boorook in New South Wales between 1874 and 1879, his insolvency and the tin discoveries in North Queensland by his former store managers. Jack and Newell. The principal themes which emerge up to this point are: the influence of the Scottish tradition in Moffat's personalized Puritan vision of commercial enterprise moulded with his religious faith, his decisiveness in entering the mining industry and determination to succeed financially and to become a competent assayer after initial metallurgical failure.

Chapters 4 to 6 analyse Moffat's relocation of his mining investments to North Queensland at Herberton, Watsonville and Irvinebank and surrounding frontier tin and silver mining camps. From 1880 to 1885 Moffat pursued policies of prospecting, commanding private capital for construction of batteries, control of chief mines and ore supplies, and establishment of a monopoly over crushing facilities in the region. He built his headquarters at Irvinebank. High returns for rich surface ores, diversification into silver at Montalbion and his monopolistic strategies avoided the risks of liquidation at the hands of Sydney mortgagees. Following an overseas trip to Britain and Germany in 1882-1883, obtaining family capital and purchasing machinery, he laid the foundations of a mining empire achieving local metallurgical excellence and vertical integration from mine to mill, promoting public companies for his developmental projects to cushion his own company's finances and to accelerate the production process. The principal themes in this section are: his emphases on prospecting, modern technology and metallurgical practice and private company capital raising, and his determination to achieve monopoly control over the region.

The ten years from 1886 to 1896, covered in Chapters 7 to 10, encompass the enormous boom atmosphere of the promotion of Montalbion and Glen Linedale mines on the British capital market and the discoveries of copper at Chillagoe and tin at the Vulcan at Irvinebank, followed by his survival strategies throughout the 1890's depression. The vendor profits from company promotions were used for developing Chillagoe, expanding Loudoun Mill and purchasing a majority shareholding in the Vulcan company. The Muldiva silver speculation, 1890 - 1894, provided further opportunity for share trading and development control of the region by establishing two smelters (Calcifer in 1894 and Girofla in 1896) and expanding tin investments to Koorboora and wolfram, gold and antimony on the Hodgkinson Goldfield. Moffat operated in virtual isolation from the Australian mining industry led by Broken Hill, the southern goldfields and Tasmanian tin and copperfields. He dealt exclusively with British metal buyers and only in base metals. He paid out his mortgages to Sydney merchants and formed a private company, the Irvinebank Mining Company in 1890 and married his houskeeper, Margaret Linedale that year. These chapters explore the themes of Moffat's obsession for financial independence, his brilliant promotional and managerial abilities, and his indecisiveness in his private life.

Chapters 11 to 13 demonstrate Moffat's entrepreneurial skills in prosecuting his grand plan of North Queensland industrialization. Chapter 11 analyses Moffat's role in promoting the Chillagoe field to the Broken Hillionaires and Collins House mining investors, Reid, Chapman, Knox and McEacharn in 1897 forcing the Chillagoe Proprietary Company and the construction of the Chillagoe Railway under the Mareeba to Chillagoe Railway Act of 1897. Coupled to this was Moffat's vision of a central smelting works in North Queensland. Whilst his co-directors mined the share market amidst two reductions in ore estimations by mine managers and the abandonment of the Barron Falls smelter site forcing the construction of the smelter at Chillagoe, Moffat's reputation remained intact.

The Chillagoe promotion and the enactment of the Mining Act of 1898 enabled Moffat to attract further venture capital to North Queensland to develop his other mines - Mount Garnet, Mount Molloy and the Ivanhoe at Stannary Hills. The flotation of these is detailed in Chapter 12. However all these mines demonstrated the North Queensland characteristics of surface bunches and fickle shoots where fissure lodes were extremely rare.

High tin prices produced a resurgence for Moffat between 1902 and 1912 (Chapter 13). He expanded into new tin areas - Gilmore, Gurrumbah, Sunnymount, Koorboora, Tate Tin Mines, Coolgarra and California Creek and the Deep Leads at Herberton. Although Moffat's paternalistic managerial style was becoming more evident he tightened his monopoly, profiting out of crushing charges and ore buying, establishing an elaborate branch structure of the Irvinebank Mining Company.

Chapter 14 analyses Moffat's expansion of Loudoun Mill from 1902 to 1904 and the effect on the Irvinebank Mining Company of the enormous cost of railway construction to Mount Garnet, Mount Molloy and Irvinebank. Tin was the keystone of the empire but Moffat's company was also Australia's largest producer of wolfram. Strikes and the Tornado court case alienated Moffat's company in his own town and contributed to the downturn in the Vulcan mine where the lode was lost. The accolade, "God Bless John Moffat", is tested through the analysis of the lifestyle and economic milieu of Irvinebank as a mining town. The chapter analyses the multiplicity of factors leading to Moffat's economic decline after 1907. The determining factors in that decline were his economic misjudgments, financial overcommitment to railway construction and declining assays.

Chapter 15 explores Moffat's varied speculations outside of the North Queensland mining industry - sheep shearing machinery, sugar technology, cane land north of the Daintree River, the Ravenshoe sawmill, oil shale in Central Queensland and the opening of Mount Mulligan coal mine, as well as the decline of Mount Garnet and Mount Molloy and the wind down of the wolfram industry. He retired from North Queensland in 1912 and died in 1918.

The conclusion assesses Moffat's contribution to North Queensland development and his entrepreneurial skills. His forceful leadership and enterprising spirit steered his ventures through financial booms and depressions. By tight financial control of the Irvinebank Mining Company as a private company, Moffat was able to turn remoteness to advantage as a regional entrepreneur. His vision and integrity were his legacies in North Australia.
Keyword Moffat, John, 1841-1918
Mines and mineral resources -- Queensland -- History
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