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Irvinebank, QLD

Fascinating, largely untouched, historic tin mining town

Irvinebank is a true rarity: an historic town which has largely been untouched. To enter the town is to experience what a tin mining town was like before World War I. It is a place where time has stood still so the visitor can wander through the mill owner's house (Loudoun House); inspect remnants of the mines and the mining equipment; and admire the buildings - the bank, the School of Arts - which were constructed when the town was buzzing with life and activity. 

Location

Irvinebank is located 122 km south-west of Cairns via Gordonvale and Atherton, and 1,711 km north of Brisbane via the Bruce Highway.

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Origin of Name

The town's founder, John Moffat, named Irvinebank after the River Irvine in Ayrshire, Scotland near his home.

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Things to See and Do

Historic Buildings
There is a useful map of the main historic buildings in the town. It can be downloaded and printed out at http://www.athertontablelandnetguide.com/irvinebank/images/maps/Irvtowntour.jpg. A number of the buildings are listed on the Queensland Heritage Register. The numbers relate to their positions on the Irvinebank Town Tour map.

1. Loudoun House Museum
Located at 16 O'Callaghan Street, this was John Moffat's gracious house. It is located at the top of the hill behind the old bank building. The house, now operating as the Loudoun House Museum, has an interesting display of photographs of the area and some superb cedar furniture (notably the desk and chair) which was originally owned by Moffat. The collection includes a dead man’s penny and Rifle Club trophies gained in the years before World War 1. Upstairs was the living area for the Moffat family and includes a living room with a fireplace and bedrooms. The war trophy gun out the front is a German 7.8 cm light mortar, donated to Irvinebank following the First World War. It is a natural place to start any exploration of the town. The museum is open every day from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm and for more information contact (07) 4096 4020. For more information check out http://www.athertontablelandnetguide.com/irvinebank/museum.html.
The Queensland Heritage Register notes of Loudon House - "Its siting in close proximity to both the Loudoun Mill and town of Irvinebank (including the offices of the Queensland National Bank) are regarded as symbolic of Moffat's "hands on" approach to his business activities including his relationship with employees and their families and in the case of the Queensland National Bank of its major role in Moffat's business affairs ... and describes the house as "The original house was a simple gabled roof timber structure with encircling verandahs. Offices were located in the sub-floor and the living spaces were above. Subsequent extensions were made on both floors during Moffat's residence. The upper level is supported on cypress pine or ironbark stumps. The sub-floor is enclosed with walls of unlined corrugated iron. The floor is tongue and groove red cedar on lower and upper levels inside the building and concrete below the verandah overhangs outside. The upper level has tongue and groove red cedar walls, ceiling and floor; the verandah is not tongue and groove. Studs are exposed on the exterior verandah and back walls. Studs are internal on the north and south sides of the building. The upper section of the house has a central living area, with four rooms at the rear of the building and two rooms on either side of the main living area. An additional room comes off the rear of the building and a stove alcove is on the northern side room." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600680.

2. Irvinebank School of Arts Hall
Located on McDonald Street and built in 1900 the local School of Arts is a simple demonstration of the increasing importance of Irvinebank around the turn of the 20th century. It has been continuously used since its construction and, as the major hall in town, has been a centre of the social life of the area. It lies at the visual centre of the town forming an important building statement with John Moffat's residence and the Queensland National Bank. For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601619.

3. Queensland National Bank
Located in Jessie Street this prominent and handsome building was completed around 1905 by the Irvinebank Mining Company and operated as a branch of the Queensland National Bank from 1905-1923. It is a classic two storey Federation style brick building (now the only brick building in Irvinebank) with a corrugated iron roof and the upper floor being used as the manager's residence. The Queensland Heritage Register records its significance as "The place has aesthetic significance for its architectural qualities, as well as for its contribution to the streetscape through its form, scale and design, which compliment the nearby School of Arts, Loudoun House, and other surviving 19th century buildings. Irvinebank's frontier setting, nestled amongst the isolated hills of Far North Queensland provides visual context contributing greatly to the aesthetic value of the building." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600678.

12. Irvinebank State Treatment Works
Located off Jessie Street and built between 1883 and 1908 this structure, sometimes known as Loudoun Mill, is recognised by the Queensland Heritage Register as "highly significant in Queensland's history. Mining entrepreneur John Moffat, based at Irvinebank, created an empire in the Cairns hinterland which exported metals valued at £4 million over 25 years ... The mill illustrates the history of tin mining technology in North Queensland from its inception in 1880 to the present. Plant, machinery parts and foundations remain in the mill and have the potential to interpret the full range of processes and technologies used at the mill during its 110 years." The surviving plant includes two rod mills, two Wilfrey tables, a jaw crusher, a furnace, a frue vanner, a four cylinder oil engine, lathes and a concentrating and drying plant. For a more detailed account of the works check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600679.

13. Stannery Hills Tramways
Located on the road to Mount Garnet (it is 4WD only) is the Tramway Station, built in 1907, where five trains a day left from Stannery Hills. The tramway was a 2 foot gauge yet the trains were hauled by steam locomotives and carried both passengers and tin ingots. The Queensland Heritage Register explains: "The Boonmoo-to-Stannary Hills and Stannary Hills-to-Irvinebank tramway formations represent two private tramways constructed between 1901 and 1907 that provided transport for the tin mining fields west of the Atherton Tablelands in north Queensland from their construction until 1936. The tramlines are on a 2-foot gauge, distinct from the standard 3 foot 6 inch gauge used on the Queensland government railway of the time. Sleepers and bridge spans were constructed from local timber such as cypress pine, bloodwood and spotted gum. The Boonmoo-to-Stannary Hills section was also known as Dixon's tramway, named after the engineer responsible for the construction of the first tramway." There is a detailed and genuinely fascinating account of the history of the railways at https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602355.

14. Vulcan Mill
Located above the town dam, the Vulcan Mine and Vulcan Mill were built and developed from 1889 through to the 1930s. The Queensland Heritage Register describes the site as "The mine and machinery foundations are situated on a narrow bench excavated into a steep hillside at the head of a gully running down to Gibbs Creek. The dominant structure is an steel headframe over the Vulcan shaft. Brickwork footings of the former boiler house and chimney are located immediately south of the headframe. Alongside are stone and brick foundations for a pump and air compressor. Immediately south again are large concrete foundations for a winding engine containing a relief inscription reading - Vulcan T M Co. 1906. Nearby are further boiler foundations connecting with the remains of a brick flue. A beehive brick below-ground tank is constructed into the hill above the headframe. Near the base of the tank is an adit which continues through the hill to connect with an open stope. The Tornado Mine winding and pump engine foundations are located on the hillside above and to north of the Vulcan. The surviving plant includes the steel headframe (base plate inscribed) - Engineering Supply Co of Aust Ltd Brisbane." 
It is interesting to note that politically "The mine is also associated with William McCormack and Edward Theodore, later Queensland Premier and Queensland and Australian Treasurer, who came to Irvinebank as an underground miner in the Vulcan mine and established the Amalgamated Workers Association (later amalgamating with the Australian Workers Union)." The Vulcan Mine (once the deepest tin mine in Australia reaching to a depth of 440 metres) is widely regarded as north Queensland's most successful tin mine having yielded 10,200 tons of tin concentrate during its 40 year life. There is a more detailed account of the mine and its history at https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600681.

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Other Attractions in the Area

John Moffat (1841-1918)
Irvinebank is essentially the town that John Moffat built. Moffat was born in Ayrshire, Scotland; emigrated to Queensland in 1862; and bought in to the tin mining in Irvinebank in the early 1880s. Irvinebank was named after the River Irvine in Ayrshire, Scotland near the home of John Moffat. His success in the town was rapid. As the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry points out "With the backing of Sydney merchants Caird, Maxwell & Co. and the skilled negotiations of James Forsyth, Moffat's Glen Smelting Co. secured a monopoly over mining and reduction works. Within five years John Moffat & Co., the North Queensland branch, had developed tin-lodes and reduction works at Herberton, Watsonville and Irvinebank. The Loudoun mill, with battery and smelter, began work at Irvinebank on 10 December 1884. Over the next twenty years it acquired forty head of stamps working three shifts a day within earshot of Moffat's modest timber house ...
"A deeply religious man, a member of the New (Swedenborgian) Church, Moffat was quietly spoken, hospitable and a keen supporter of the Good Templar movement. Believing that his religion obliged him to serve his neighbours, he perceived as crucial his development of their material resources. His honesty was rare among mining entrepreneurs. When the Montalbion project was deemed unprofitable, he refunded £20,000 of the purchase price to the British company. In 1910 he offered to sell his Bailey's Creek land at the original price if a sugar mill was erected. Surrounded by relatives and tradesmen from Tent Hill days, many from the west of Scotland, his manner with workmen blended equality with authority. He neglected, however, to train a successor to the empire and was forced by the Queensland National Bank to retire to his Cremorne home in Sydney in 1912. Moffat died from influenza at Toowoomba on 28 June 1918."
The plaque and plinth to Moffat in Irvinebank have the following memorial: "In memory of charitable and philanthropic John Moffat mining pioneer North Queensland. Founded Irvinebank 1880. Born Scotland May 1841 Died Toowoomba June 1918. The children ended their prays with 'God bless John Moffat'. A detailed biography can be read at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/moffat-john-7611.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of the Europeans the area was home to the Djirbalngan Aborigines.

* Tin was discovered in 1882 by a group of prospectors named James Gibbs, Jim McDonald, Bill Eales, Andy Thompson, Dave and Jack Green and Jack Pollard. At the time the tiny settlement was known simply as Gibbs Camp and it was located on the Gibbs and McDonald Creeks. 

* The town was renamed Irvinebank in 1883.

* By 1884 these prospectors had been bought out by John Moffat who established a joint mining venture (his partners were Reid and Young) known as the Great Northern Tin Mine. 

* In 1884 Moffat constructed the Loudon Mill. 

* A local primary school was opened in 1886.

* In 1889 the Vulcan tin lode was discovered by a party of Italian charcoal burners. 

* The School of Arts was built in 1901.

* In 1902 a private tramway was built between the Mareeba-Chillagoe line and the mine at Stannery Hills.

* In 1907 the railway rwas extended. 

* By 1911 the town had a population of 1269 people and there were 5 hotels. 

* In 1913 an elaborate aerial tramway was built to carry tin ore from the Vulcan mine to the Loudon Mill.

* World War I played havoc with the economy of the town. Many of the men went off to war. 

* The Queensland Government took over the mining company in 1919. They purchased the battery, smelter and tramway.

* By 1920 the smelters had been closed down

* By the mid-1920s the main batteries had been closed down. 

* The tramline was closed in 1936.

* The rails used for the tramline were removed in 1941.

* The works were sold to a private company in 1983.

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Visitor Information

Loudoun House Museum, 16 O'Callaghan Street, tel: (07) 4096 4020.

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Accommodation

Irvinebank Tavern Cabins and Camping, 2656 MacDonald Rd,, tel: (07) 4096 4176.

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Eating

Irvinebank Tavern Cabins and Camping, 2656 MacDonald Rd,, tel: (07) 4096 4176.

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Useful Websites

There is a particularly useful local website titled the Tropical Tableland Netguide. Check out Irvinebank at http://www.athertontablelandnetguide.com/irvinebank.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

5 suggestions
  • My parents moved to Herberton in 1949 where my father took a job (driving a grader I believe) working with (council perhaps?) road gangs. I joined them in January 1950. Later in 1950 we moved to a place called Brownville where my father worked in a tin battery. From there we moved to Irvinebank where we lived in a house within walking distance of a tin battery where my father worked. I started school at Irvinebank State School in January 1951. At that time I remember there were still railway lines. There was an abandoned steam engine sitting on tracks opposite the house in which we lived (I have a photo of me in the front yard with the engine in the background). There were also people (named Cross) living in what appeared to be a (train) station. We actually stayed there the first night we arrived in Irvinebank. Perhaps this information is of interest to you.
    I hope to go back and visit Irvinebank in the near future.

    Regards

    Wayne Holtby
    • Hello Wayne, we have a FB site called “Memories of Herberton and District ” and after reading your email we are very interested in having you join us and share any stories memories or photos you may have, kind regards Lynturner2457@gmail.com.

      Lyn Turner
  • Hello out there do you still do your BBQ on Friday or Saturday nights as i cannot remember which one as we are thinking of coming out again.
    Thank you, julie and scotty

    Scotty
  • Local Doctor, and Astronomer Dr William McFarlane discovered the brightest star since 1604 at his modest observatory in 1918. The Nova Aquilae (V603) or The Vulcan Star was his most notable achievement in asronomy.

    Darryl Dilger
  • I moved to Irvinebank in the 1970s with my grandparents.Ray& Gloria Hague. When l attended the school there were only 16 students from grade 1-7. My Great Grandmother was a Mrs K Benden. I played in the tailings from the Old Battery much to the dismay of my three Uncles: Teddy Benden, Lloyd &Jimmy Benden. As a child growing up in a very small town, as it was, we would tell each other ghost stories about seeing John Moffet’s ghost in the Town Hall. I loved my life in this town and it was the happiest time in my life. My Family have Now passed but l have a few distant cousins still there. And many many stories of the kids l went to school with. I’ve never forgotten.

    Julie-Ann Giumelli