[from Ellan Vannin vol 2 #7 p288/291 Jan 1927]


MR. JOHN QUIRK, of Tumbulgum, Tweed River, New South Wales, the subject of this short biography, is a Manxman of whom his fellow-countrymen should be proud, inasmuch as he has displayed in a remarkable manner, during the whole of his long career, those sterling qualities of adventure, resource, determination, vigour, and perseverance, which are necessary to the making of a successful pioneer colonist, and to the building up of the great British Empire. During the sixty-four years he has resided in Australia, Mr. John Quirk has done his full share of the arduous work of blazing the trail and paving the way for the benefit of those who follow after. On several occasions, during the early days, his life was in imminent danger from fire, flood, and the unwelcome presence of wild beasts; but his lucky star was always in the ascendant, and, today, he is a hale and hearty old man, living a happy, peaceful and godly life, surrounded by his children, grandchildren, and other relatives and friends.

John Quirk was a son of Mr. Robert Quirk and Elizabeth his wife, and was born on the farm of Lambfell, Kirk German, Isle of Man, in October, 1842. " Quirk’s Lambfell " is a farm of about sixty acres, on the hill-side, overlooking the main road between Glen Helen and Cronk-y-Voddy, and has been in the possession and occupation of the family for over two centuries. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Quirk had eighteen children, and, as their family increased in number, the home-nest became too small to hold them all, and some of them had to go out into the world, in search of fresh fields and pastures new. John was the third child, and when he reached the age of twenty years he made up his mind to seek his fortune in Australia. From boyhood up to that time he had been employed upon his father’s farm, and had a good working knowledge of farming, as practised in the Isle of Man.

In November, 1862, he left home and embarked on a sailing ship bound for Melbourne. The voyage occupied twelve weeks, and he landed in 1863. From Melbourne he journeyed to Ballarat, where he was employed in the gold mines for a period of four months. Leaving Ballarat, owing to unfavourable working conditions, he travelled in search of more suitable employment, and eventually settled down in the Hunter River district, in New South Wales. To gain experience in Australian farming pursuits, he hired himself to a farmer, working for £30 per annum, plus his board and lodgings. The following year he embarked on an industry which the Hunter River climate favoured, viz., tobacco-growing. The terms on which he was engaged in this industry were as follows:

The owner of the land found the land and supplied the rations, while Mr. Quirk did all the work; the profits were to be equally divided. The period for a return from the tobacco crop was nine months, and the proceeds from the ground worked (three acres) totalled £250. Leaving the Hunter River district, we next find him on a cattle station in the north-west of New South Wales, where he spent about a year engaged in the various duties connected with cattle rearing. Then he returned once more to the Hunter River district, where he grew the tobacco plant with more favourable results. Having saved some money, he next turned his attention to the possibilities of the land on the banks of the Tweed River, the most northerly river of New South Wales. At that time the banks of the Tweed were covered with a dense scrub, practically impenetrable. After surveying the neighbourhood for some time, he and a partner selected 320 acres of land, which they commenced to clear and crop. They were faced with many difficulties, as there were no roads and the mode of transport was extremely primitive. Notwithstanding the drawbacks, the first year’s work resulted in thirty acres of the dense scrub being felled and placed under cultivation. The methods of harvesting the crops, compared with present-day conditions, may now seem extremelv ridiculous, but these pioneers , along with others, had to make the best use of the implements amid the labour to hand. At that time certain Australian aborigines dwelt in the neighbourhood of the Tweed River, and these men were engaged in assisting to harvest the crops. The blacks, under normal conditions, were quite harmless, but when they got the taste of intoxicating liquor they did not hesitate to use their tomahawks freely.

After a lapse of four years, spent in improving their holdings, the birth of the sugar-cane industry materially brightened the prospects of the pioneers, as the climate was ideal for the production of the sugar-cane. The first mill used for the crushing of the cane was erected on the holding owned by Mr. Quirk and his partner. When they commenced operations it required about seventeen tons of cane to produce one ton of sugar; but later, with up-to-date machinery, the amount of cane required to produce one ton of sugar was reduced to about eight tons. Thanks to improved crushing machinery and superior methods of harvesting, Mr. Quirk was now on the high-road to success. Then he started a butchering business, which he carried on successfully for twenty years. The workers in the mill and the farmers and others, who at this time had settled in the district, received their supplies of meat from this butchery, and as there were no roads at that time the delivery of the meat had to be done by boat.

As the country became clearer, and the river banks changed their dense dark green scrub colour for the lighter green of fresh pastures, other channels of industry automatically presented themselves, and dairy-farming commenced. This is now a very thriving industry, and there are now two very fine butter factories erected on the banks of the Tweed River at Murwillumbah. Mr. Quirk prospered in all the branches of industry he engaged in, and he purchased several other holdings. As land values increased, his prosperity increased also.

He married a lady of Scottish parentage and Australian birth, and they have four sons and two daughters, all comfortably settled in homesteads on the banks of the Tweed River. Mr. Quirk has built a comfortable home on the river bank, at Tumbulgum, a spot which is noted for its great beauty, and the place, which was a dense scrub when Mr. Quirk first settled there, has now magnificent bituminous roads over which hundreds of motor vehicles pass daily, and vessels of about 300 tons trade between Sydney and Murwillumbah.

Mr. Quirk is now in his eighty-fifth year, and he looks strong enough and well enough for another ten. His many friends wish him continued good health as he sits on the verandah of his home, comparing the scenes of the present day with those which he beheld when he arrived on the Tweed River over fifty-seven years ago.

* * *

Mr. John Quirk, along with his wife, re-visited the land of his birth twenty-two years ago. On returning to Australia, he took with him his nephew, John R. Dawson, who was at that time a scholar in St. Thomas’ School, Douglas. Mr. Dawson is now a married man with three children, and he is very grateful to his uncle for the good start in life he gave him on the Tweed River. The writer’s thanks are due to Mr. Dawson for supplying him with most of the particulars recorded above.



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