John Lane: an ordinary man, an extraordinary life

John Lane, socialist and head teacher, was an ordinary man who led an extraordinary life. Brother to William Lane, the prophet of socialism, John was born in England in 1865. In 1885, at the age of 19, John arrived in Queensland on board the Quetta, although immigration records show that he was 17. He was accompanied by brother William and William's family, and they were joining brothers Frank and Ernest (Ernie) who had migrated in 1884. John married Jane (Jenny) Cundith in 1887, and they had two daughters.

This sounds like an ordinary story of migration and settling in a new land, marrying and starting a family, and finding steady work as a teacher, but John and Jenny Lane’s next decision would be regarded by many as quite extraordinary.  Disillusioned by the social turmoil of the 1890s and the economic situation, John Lane and his brother William led a group of like-minded individuals who chartered the ship Royal Tar and went to far-off Paraguay to establish a new socialist colony.  

The Royal Tar sailed from Sydney in 1893 with John Lane and his family amongst the first group of pioneers. A second group of pioneers sailed from Adelaide on the last day of 1893. Both voyages were bound for Montevideo, Uruguay, followed by an arduous overland trek to Paraguay.

The first colony, “New Australia”, was founded, but things did not go well, and John and Jenny Lane and family became part of a breakaway colony, “Cosme”, which was founded by mid-1894. 

Cosme colony in 1896. Far left is Ettie Lane, daughter, and Jenny Lane, wife. Cosma Lane, daughter and first child born in the colony, is on the right in front of three men. Image from State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library.

John Lane worked as a teacher in the new settlement, educating his own children and those of the other families. John and Jenny Lane had three more children while living in Paraguay, with daughter Cosma Annie Lane being the first child born in “Cosme” in 1894. Sadly, their son died in 1898.

The socialist experiment failed, and John Lane and his family returned to Queensland after 12 years in South America, and their last child was born in 1909.

So how did John Lane support a growing family on his return to Queensland? Why, re-gain registration as a teacher of course.  In 1905, the Week newspaper reported that John Lane was “to be readmitted into the service of the Department of Public Instruction” and to begin work as an assistant teacher at Norman Park.

John Lane went on to have a remarkably successful career as a teacher, and rose from assistant teacher to headmaster, at schools including Thane’s Creek, Yandina, Rangeville (Toowoomba), then finally moving to Coolangatta where he retired in early 1931. John and Jenny Lane’s golden wedding anniversary was celebrated in Coolangatta in 1937, with their five children and grandchildren present.

Newspaper articles about the anniversary mention the Lanes’ involvement in the “New Australia” colony, but they also mention how well John Lane was regarded in education circles, and how he was noted for his gardening ability and his enjoyment of the nearby beaches.  A history of Rangeville State School, where John Lane was headmaster from 1920 to 1928, mentions “New Australia”, but devotes more words to his ability as a gardener, and his detailed plan to re-organise the school gardens (which were approved by the District Inspector).

John Lane and Bullumm (John Allen). Grammar, vocabulary, and notes of the Wangerriburra Tribe / compiled by John Lane (1910). State Library of Queensland.

The final extraordinary accomplishment of John Lane would have to be the dictionary of Indigenous words that he compiled in the 1920s. John Lane worked with local elder, Bullumm (John Allen), to record words of the Wangerriburra people, whose country covered the area just south of Beenleigh, through Mount Tamborine to the MacPherson Ranges on the Queensland border. 

Further reading:

Paradise mislaid : in search of the Australian tribe of Paraguay / Anne Whitehead – Ebook and Open access, Level 2 G 335.9892 1997

A peculiar people : the Australians in Paraguay / Gavin Souter - Open access, Level 3 G 989.200424

The Lanes of Cosme Colona Paraguay, 1893 – 1904 / Clarrie Beckingham - Request to access from Level 4 P 307.77 bec

Lane Family Papers, Correspondence and greeting cards are among the Original Materials available for research on Level 4

Grammar, vocabulary, and notes of the Wangerriburra Tribe / compiled by John Lane - Request to access from Level 4 Q 499.15 lan

Blog - Ernie Lane: the making of a Queensland rebel

Blog - Yugambeh Language App Launch

Trove digitised newspaper articles tagged as “John Lane 1865 – 1946”


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John Lane was my Grandfather. My Grandmother Jenny Lane along with my aunts Etty, Alice, Cosma and Hilda returned from South America via England to Brisbane in 1907. My father Eric Lane was born in Brisbane in 1909. My father followed in his father's footsteps attending the Teacher Training College in 1926-27 and retiring in 1974 as a Primary School Principal of one of Brisbane's larger schools. In 1997 I did journey to Cosme in Paraguay, the first of my family to return in 93 years.

Thank-you, David, for adding some more information to the story of your family and their interesting lives.
Katy Roberts