Links | References | Fiction | Times | Places | Money


Denys Finch Hatton (Harold's nephew)
Pacific Island Labourers Act Amendment Act 1884 (Qld)
An online anecdote about Harold Finch-Hatton
The town of Finch Hatton
The Finch Hatton Arms pub


Finch-Hatton, Harold (1885): Advance Australia! An Account of Eight Years Work, Wandering, and Amusement, in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. W. H. Allen, London. (2nd edition published in 1886)

Finch-Hatton, Harold (1886): North Queensland Separation. National Review, 6:796-809, February 1886.

Ford, Lyall (2001): Below these Mountains: the adventures of John Henry Mills, pioneer photographer and gold miner. Taipan Press, Freshwater, Qld. (a history of the Mount Britton goldfields)

Gostick, Les (undated): The story of the people of Ewerby and Haverholme.

Moore, Clive (1990): Blackgin's Leap: a window into Aboriginal-European relations in the Pioneer Valley, Queensland in the 1860s. Aboriginal History, 14:61-79.


The following two novels are set in the period described in Advance Australia!

A Kindness Cup, by Thea Astley (1984). This novel is loosely based on the alleged 'Leap' incident, in which an aboriginal woman being pursued by Native Police near Mackay jumped to her death off a cliff while holding her baby, who survived. Whether this incident ever actually occurred is uncertain, but an Aboriginal baby was adopted by a white family in the 1860s. The 1990 paper by Clive Moore, listed above, investigates this incident in detail.

Brown Sugar, by Nancy Cato (1974). This novel is mostly about the early sugar industry in Queensland and the trade in Pacific Islanders ('kanakas') to work the farms. Most of the plot takes place in Maryborough, some 600 kms to the south of Mackay, but Mackay makes a brief appearance (depicted as something of a tropical hell-hole).


1856: Harold Finch-Hatton is born in England.
1859: Queensland separates from New South Wales to become a state.
1860: The Pioneer Valley is discovered by an expedition led by John Mackay.
1862: First white settlement in the Pioneer Valley.
1863: The new settlement is named Mackay.
1866: First sugar cane is grown in the Mackay district.
1875: Harold Finch-Hatton arrives in Mackay.
1881: Mount Britton gold rush commences.
1883: Finch-Hatton leaves Australia.
1884: Pacific Island Labourers Act Amendment Act passes.
1901: The states form a federation to become the nation of Australia.
1904: Harold Finch-Hatton dies, aged 47.


Mackay: Mackay is now a city of about 120,000 people. Sugar remains, as it was in Finch-Hatton's day, the major crop in the Pioneer Valley, and Mackay is still Australia's largest sugar-growing area, but the sugar industry is struggling to survive against foreign competition. Outside the valley, raising beef cattle is an important industry, and further out, the coal reserves mentioned by Finch-Hatton support a large coal-mining industry which is a major part of the Mackay economy. Tourism has also become an important industry.

Mount Britton: The town of Mount Britton had already passed its peak by 1884 as the gold petered out, and declined steadily thereafter. The last families moved out in the early 1900s. No one lives there now, and there are only a few scattered remains from the gold-mining era, along with a few historical markers that have been erected recently. (The book Below these Mountains contains some history of Mount Britton.)
On March 25 2004, the Daily Mercury newspaper of Mackay reported that the Sedimentary Holdings company would be undertaking a three-year exploratory drilling project at Mt. Britton within a few months, searching for a high-grade gold deposit, but nothing appears to have come of it.

Finch Hatton: The small township of Finch Hatton, about 65 kms west of Mackay at the western end of the Pioneer Valley, was named after the brothers long after they had left the area. Henry F-H may well have travelled through the site of the town on one of his climbs of Mt. Dalrymple, though no Europeans lived there then. A sugar mill was first built in Finch Hatton in 1906, and was the major (almost the only) employer for much of the 20th century. Sugar is still grown around the town, but the sugar mill closed in 1990, and the town is now smaller and quieter, with more emphasis on tourism.

Map of Mackay region


Many younger Australians may not be familiar with the money symbols used by Finch-Hatton. Until 1966, Australia used the British system of currency based on pounds (£), shillings (s) and pence (p). There are 12 pence in a shilling, and 20 shillings in a pound ('pence' is the plural of 'penny'). In 1966, Australia converted to decimal currency using dollars and cents, and £1 was arbitrarily made equivalent in value to $2:

Imperial Decimal
12p = 1s = 10c
10s = $1 = 100c
£1 = 20s = $2

Because of 120 years of inflation since Finch-Hatton's day, £1 then was worth much more in purchasing power than $2 is today. Chapters 5, 9, 16 and 17 give figures for wages of the time, which vary from £1 per week for a station hand, up to £6 per week for a skilled tradesman in a remote area (or between £50 to £300 per year). If this is equated to a wage range of $20,000-$120,000 per year in today's money, it means that £1 then was equivalent to about $400 now. Alternatively, £1 then was worth about 200 times what it is now.

Modern workers therefore earn, on face value, about 200 times as much as workers in the 1880s. Of course, modern workers do not have 200 times the purchasing power, because prices have also risen greatly in that time. However because of the increased productivity of modern industrial society, prices have generally not risen as quickly as wages, so modern workers do have more purchasing power than workers of 120 years ago (or, to put it another way, we have a higher standard of living now, as you'd expect).

As an example, Finch-Hatton quotes a market price for sugar of £25 per ton. The modern price is about $260 per ton. This is only about 5 times the old face value price, making sugar about 40 times cheaper now in real terms. Another example: Finch-Hatton mentions copper prices varying from £60 to £90 per ton. Modern copper prices have varied from US$1500 to US$6000 over the last few decades, mostly in the lower end of that range. If we convert to Australian dollars and compare typical copper prices, the face price of copper has increased by about 40 to 50 times, making it about 4 to 5 times cheaper in real terms than it was in the 1880s. (Variations in exchange rates and copper prices make this a very rough estimate, however!) The price of gold then was about £3 10s per ounce, compared to $550 today, an increase in the face price value of about 80 times.

This should put in perspective some of the amounts spent on sugar farms (ch. 11), cattle and sheep stations (ch. 9), and Finch-Hatton's crushing mill (ch. 13).


Jim Foley || Email me