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Brisbane Riot Stories

These so-called “riots” at the time, caused the authorities much anxiety, and great preparations were made to deal with them. Hundreds of Government officials were sworn in as special constables. Batons made expressly were supplied, also white calico sashes to distinguish them from the mob, making them look very like undertakers’ assistants. One night the alarm was given that a mob intended sacking Government House.

The Artillery were stationed at the gates under Godfrey Geary and Harry Webb, and it was only by a merciful act of Providence that they did not blaze into a mob of specials who were hurrying up in anything but order to the rescue! Poor old Bob Gray was hit with a pebble to the forehead, and a streak of blood ran down his cheek, and this same mark of glorious war was left on for at least three days, for Bob was proud of that blood!

The ladies were most sympathetic, and there was an amateur ambulance at Bob Little’s house, George Street. One night Police Magistrate Massie got on the top of a cask near the bridge to read the Riot Act, when a stone was thrown by a boy in the rear of the crowd and hit him fair in the eye.

The Commissioner at once shouted, “At the double! Charge!” and charge we did with a vengeance, driving the mob before us into the pubs and shops, and then routing them out again. A company of specials charged behind the police, but got separated, and very promptly divested themselves of the obnoxious calico sash and mixed with the mob.

One night the general manager of a bank, E. R. Drury (Bio), came to the lock-up with his hands secured by handcuffs, and stated that three or four old fossils had pounced on him as he was going into the private door of his bank, whipped the irons on, and hurried off for fresh victims. Two elderly gentlemen “specials” were told off to guard the approach of the lane leading to the Government Stores. When the trouble was over, the officer quite forgot these two patriots, who remained on guard fully twelve hours after the other specials were dismissed, to the great amusement of a crowd of small boys!

I was in the Police at this time, and was told off on special duty to spy the movements of the supposed ringleaders, and had several narrow escapes, the baton I carried up my sleeve nearly giving me away, but fortunately I was a pretty fast runner and did a gallant sprint!

The riots soon fizzled out, and no bones were broken, but later on several fires were started in different parts of Brisbane, and these kept us constantly on the alert.

I forgot to mention that two of the most energetic specials were C. C. Carrington, armed with a hooked stick, and Long Gardiner, armed with a huge Maori war club. I verily believe that if a few of the larrikin stone-throwing boys had been caught and whipped, there would have been little or no trouble with the adult portion of the so-called “rioters.” Next morning I met his Lordship, and said, “What about the church on the hill, my Lord?” His Lordship laughed and replied, “You have me there, Mr. Hill.”

- W. R. O. HILL


Where Roma Street railway station now stands was in those days a scene of calico, for the Government had placed there numbers of Peto and Brassey’s navies, at the magnificent wage of 2 /-6d per day. Some persons may discredit these statements but the fact remains that something had to be done to satisfy the infuriated mob who were daily parading in Queen Street with a huge banner that bore the doleful sign of “Bread or Blood.”

Those were stirring times, and I can recall an instance that happened in the street just about opposite where the Belfast Hotel is at the present time. The mob had become almost uncontrollable and a justice of the peace mounted a cask and began to read the Riot Act, when a well directed brick bat knocked him off his perch.

The Queensland Bank had failed, and bank notes were being sold for anything they would bring, which reminds me of an old identity named Morwitch (of three ball fame) who bought up thousands of them, and was well rewarded when the reconstruction took place.

During my wanderings in search of the elusive metal in many and various parts of this State, I have come across some of the navies who were participants in that memorable parade. Martial law was declared and a great number of citizens were sworn in as “specials” to help restore law and order.

- Unknown