The history of early Queensland was influenced by peculiar difficulties. These were : vast territory in the tropics; an acute shortage of labour; an isolated expanding economic frontier; and the fact that Queensland started with full parliamentary government. Dalrymple’s career provides an excellent opportunity, through his personal involvement, to study many aspects of early Queensland. He was explorer, pastoralist, parliamentarian and government official in areas from Brisbane to Cape York. Occupying positions of leadership, he had to content with all the difficulties of northern development.
George Elphinstone Dalrymple (b.1826 d.1876), tenth son of a Scottish baronet, came to Queensland with a background of Scottish landed-gentry and previous colonial experience as a coffee-planter in Ceylon. This background conditioned his attitude in Queensland in a number of ways. In other respects he differed significantly from most British upper-class migrants who tried to gain in some way from the Australian colonies and then returned home. Dalrymple did not sever his ties with the old country, but preferred Australia to Britain, because Queensland gave more scope to his restless temperament, initiative and marked individualism.
The framework of this thesis, although selective, is mainly chronological, because it deals with the career of one man in the context of Queensland history. Chapter I covers aspects of Dalrymple’s life which illuminate his temperament, capabilities and attitudes. Chapter II deals with the establishment of Queensland government by Ferguson Bowen and Robert Herbert; the framing of the new Land Laws and the considerations underlying them; and Dalrymple's first association with the colony, his first two expeditions to explore the Burdekin area. Chapters III &. IV cover his appointment (1861-62) as Commissioner for Crown Lands, Kennedy district. He had a dual assignment: to establish a port of access and control the pastoral occupation of the Kennedy; Chapter IV deals in some detail with differences between the theory of occupation worked out by the government, and the practical experience of a Commissioner. Chapter V covers Dalrymple's first experience in pastoralism as managing partner of a large-scale enterprise at the Valley of Lagoons, during the pastoral boom (1863-64). It may be compared to the calamities of his second attempt at squatting during the depression (1869-70) contained in Chapter VIII. Chapters VI & VII, located in Brisbane, are entirely concerned with his time in the Queensland parliament. They include an analysis of the composition of the Legislative Assembly; debates on the disposal of public lands; the Kennedy elections and the financial and constitutional crises of 1866. Chapter VIII covers selected aspects of Dalrymple's leave in Britain (1867-68); particularly the circumstances which led to his return with a steam-traction engine to experiment with light railways. Then follows his return to Queensland, disastrous second experiment in squatting, his insolvency and appointment (1871) as goldfields commissioner. Chapter IX deals with his official north-east coast expedition 1873; the discovery of Queensland’s best sugar lands and the Palmer gold-rush. Chapter X covering his assignment as officer-in-charge at Somerset, Cape York, presents new problems which include Queensland's move into the Torres Straits; the labour trade in Pacific Islanders and strains in imperial-colonial relations. All chapters include the problem of settling white people in Aboriginal hunting-grounds.
By 1874, in spite of increased population and a more diverse economy, Queensland had not solved its peculiar problems, although Queenslanders were considerably more aware of them. Dalrymple’s response to the Australian environment seems to have been essentially individualistic and not typical of any particular group of colonists. The late nineteenth century histories of Queensland mention him very little, possibly because he was an aristocrat. It is suggested that his contribution to Queensland's development deserves more recognition than it has so far received.