Central Queensland Separation League Petition 1892-1893: treasure collection of the John Oxley Library

Separation is a recurring theme in Queensland history.  The expansive size of the state is a key factor contributing to the core argument of secessionist movements – that the seat of government in the south-east corner was so far removed from substantial portions of the state that these areas and their citizens were left disadvantaged and neglected as political and economic interests focused on the south.

One significant 19th century separatist movement was the Central Queensland Territorial Separation League, established in 1889.  Supplementing this, the women of Rockhampton established their own separation league in October 1892.  The inaugural meeting of the Women’s Central Queensland Territorial Separation League was held at the Rockhampton School of Arts and attended by 200 women.  The League resolved to add support to the efforts of their husbands, brothers and friends to help influence the movement.

Portion of the original petition sent to Queen Victoria listing the grievances and reasons for separation. The document was signed by around 4000 women showing their marital status and place of residence. OM86-05 Central Queensland Separation League Petition 1892-1893, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Their main focus was preparing a petition to Queen Victoria.  The introductory text set out their grievances.  It describes the immense size of Queensland:

 

…twelve times the area of England and Wales, being larger than France, Germany, Spain and Portugal combined…” and points out that the capital Brisbane was at the extreme south-east of the huge colony.  The petitioners felt that this far-flung administrative arrangement left the central portion of the state “…not only retarded but used as a source of revenue for the aggrandisement of Brisbane and Southern Queensland.”  Other grievances included were that wealth created in their region was absorbed by the distant government, and the “…excessive taxation of breadstuffs and all the necessaries of life…

Central Queensland Separation League Petition

Following this introduction are the transcribed and certified names of around 4000 women, along with their marital status and area of residence.

The former Rockhampton School of Arts building constructed in 1894 is an important element of the Bolsover Street streetscape in Rockhampton. It is a fine example of late 19th century Victorian classical architecture forming a major part of the cultural, social, civic and political life of Rockhampton. Image Neg 650, Rockhampton Regional Libraries, 1921?

In compiling the names on this petition, there were no paid canvassers.  The League members voluntarily undertook the task, canvassing through populated areas as well as bush districts.  One of these women – Margaretta Ramm – went to great lengths and rode considerable distances alone between towns and homesteads.  On her first day out canvassing, she rode 27 miles for just 7 signatures.  Detailing this particularly difficult day in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, Margaretta described how her day’s ride started out quite pleasantly.  Later in the day however, she was caught in a fierce storm, drenched in a torrential downpour, with her horse being bogged over the fetlocks at every step.  In pelting rain and only able to see a few yards ahead, she became lost in the flat terrain as the track disappeared under a blanket of water as far as she could see.  Away from home since early morning, night was beginning to fall.  Almost losing hope, she happened to run against a wire fence, which fortuitously led her to a nearby homestead.

The signatories of this petition, which measures over 33 metres, were women aged 21 and above.  A later report of League Women’s Committee stated that had the age been reduced to 18 years, another 2000 names could have been added. 

Today, it is a relatively easy task to create a petition – using an online platform and publicising on social media.  This petition is a reminder of the effort once involved in taking up a cause, and the particular challenges for women in taking up that cause in a large geographical area with a scattered population. 

Excerpt from the petition showing the names of several women, marriage status and place of residence. OM86-05 Central Queensland Separation League Petition 1892-1893, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

The petition also provides evidence that it was not only men who were actively involved in separatist movements, but also women, with their activism occurring well before women had gained the right to vote.  At a time when women’s lives were no doubt dominated by domestic and household demands, many of the women who contributed to the cause did so with dogged and wilful determination.

The petition is lengthy with name lists attached to a linen roll. Very fragile, assistance is required by appointment only on Level 4 of the John Oxley Library, Mon – Fri.    

The petition is stored in the Rare and Restricted collections of the John Oxley Library.

Maxine Fisher, Specialist Librarian, State Library of Queensland

Collection: OM86-05 Central Queensland Separation League Petition 1892-1893

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