John Moffat (1841-1918) has been described as “the most prominent and universally esteemed man that ever furthered the interests of Far North Queensland”.
Having arrived in Queensland in 1862 as a 21 year old Scotsman, and after a short period of shepherding in rural Queensland, he took up work in Brisbane, and between 1866-1872 opened stores in Brisbane and Stanthorpe before being drawn to North Queensland upon the discovery of tin. Within a few years his wealth was such as would have made him a modern millionaire many times over.
Between 1880-1910 the economy of North Queensland was largely determined by Moffat’s mining entrepreneurship. Importantly, he put North Queensland on the map, in Brisbane and in the financial centres of Melbourne, Sydney, and London where he successfully raised capital for his ventures. During his life time he controlled more than 100 companies while also controlling the following base metals: tin, silver, lead, zinc, wolfram, molybdenum, bismuth, antimony, and coal in North Queensland.
The extract below by historian Ruth Kerr in “John Moffat of Irvinebank: a biography of a regional entrepreneur”, best summarises his character and outstanding achievements:
“Moffat built up the mining industry as a key foundation of the North Queensland economy from 1880. His influence was so pervasive that the economy of Cairns and its hinterland rode on the prosperity of his ore wagons. For a generation, the Irvinebank Mining Company controlled its economic and cultural character, promoting every mining town (many now long disappeared) Herberton, Irvinebank, Watsonville, Stannary Hills (Eureka Creek), Glen Linedale (Thompson’s and Emu Creeks), Coolgarra (Return Creek), Mount Garnet, Nymbool (Smith’s Creek), California Creek, Gilmore, Gurrumbah, Sunnymount, Montalbion, Emuford, Petford, Silverfield (sometimes called Victoria), Lappa, Bamford, Wolfram Camp, Mount Carbine, O.K., Tartana, Cardross, Chillagoe, Mungana, Zillmanton, Redcap, Calcifer, Muldiva, Tate Tin Mines, Koorboora, Almaden, Percyville, Ortona, Northcole, and other short-lived rushes.
These towns all developed social infrastructures and their prosperity depended on the mines… He was revered in the eyes of Northerners for demonstrating the four characteristics of Scottish entrepreneurs in Australia – imagination to conceive development schemes, practical ability to implement them, managerial energy to pursue his goals, and tight budgetary control. The hallmarks of John Moffat’s character were his honesty in business, his deep religious faith, his financial independence, and his brilliant promotional abilities. Northerners praised Moffat for those qualities and the compliment ‘God bless John Moffat’ has become part of North Queensland’s heritage.”