History of West Australia/Francis Connor

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Francis Connor HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

IT was in the sixties that the attention of the people of the colony was first drawn to tropical and semi-tropical Australia. The discoveries of F. T. Gregory, in 1861, led Mr. Padbury and others to form remote stations at Nickol Bay. Then the pearl fisheries helped to popularise the north country, but the weird lands in the extreme limits of the colony were for long years without a settler. Then the restless spirits of Kipling's "Legion that Never was Listed" slowly but surely opened the way for the hundreds who are ever willing to carry civilisation into the most inhospitable portions of the earth. The fierce, untameable blacks of the Kimberley division were beaten back, and the treasure grounds of the district revealed to the gladdened eyes of the pioneers. This was in the days before the glories of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie were thought of. It was no slight thing for even the bravest of pioneers to go to the northern field, for not only had they to dare the dangers of a sea voyage along thousands of miles of badly surveyed and little known coast-line, but also the dangers of a tropical climate and the ferocity of the aboriginal inhabitants.

The necessaries of life could not be carried from Perth across the hundreds of miles of desert and stony rises to the treasure troves of Kimberley, and a seaport had to be selected. Wyndham was chosen, whence many of the diggers found their way to the goldfields. The rough food, hard work, and ravages by the blacks, together with the enervating climate, disheartened many of the adventurers, who returned to the more settled districts, poorer in health and pocket. Others there were, made of sterner stuff, who saw in that wild tropical region the future of a prosperous commerce. The most prominent of these optimists were Messrs. Francis Connor and D. J. Doherty. Landing where the growing town of Wyndham now stands, they opened a store to supply the miners at the Hall's Creek diggings, and here, though bound together by financial interests, their paths were so separated by the exigencies of their business that their interesting biographies are best read apart.

Francis Connor was born at Newry, Ireland, in 1857, and is the son of Francis Connor, an auctioneer and cattle salesman. After receiving a good commercial education he joined his father, and assisted him in his business, which necessitated a good deal of travelling. He at the same time gained a sound business training, and a thorough knowledge of stock, which has been of vast assistance to him in Australia. The love for travel and change, which is characteristic of Irishmen, was very marked in Francis, and so the year 1885 saw him on shipboard speeding away for Australia. He landed in Sydney, and, as mentioned previously, forgathered with his schoolfellow and present partner, D. J. Doherty (whose biography appears elsewhere), and settled in the northern parts of this colony.

The place was a wilderness, and none but the bravest would have thought of making it their starting-post to wealth. Fortune, however, favours the brave, and so the partners, after a stupendous amount of hard work and worry, at last saw their goods stored under a roof, and were able to transact their business. The diggings were, however, miles away, and whilst one partner remained in charge of the store the other journeyed with teams carrying provisions to the diggers. It was a risky business, as travellers over the road had to withstand the wrath of the blacks, who, indignant at the invasion of their territory by the whites, were ever on the look-out to offer acts of violence.

For months Mr. Connor carried his life in his hand going to and fro between the port and Hall's Creek. Though the risks were great, so were the profits, and when the rush died away, and the exodus of miners took place, Mr. Connor and his partner were so well satisfied with their prospects that they determined to remain at Wyndham. As stated in Mr. Doherty's biography, the partners took up a large area of land on the Ord River, and started operations with the design of supplying India with horses. Several good breeding sires and dams were obtained, but although the greatest care was exercised animals did not prosper. After repeated trials the partners concluded that the country was not suitable for breeding horses on an extensive scale, and they turned their attention to cattle. Despite the ravages of the blacks, the herds increased in a most gratifying manner. Land was taken up further away, where the blacks were ten times more numerous and ferocious. For months Mr. Connor and his men had to hold their newly-acquired land by the might of the rifle—to simply fight for their lives and property. Although still very wild and treacherous, the advance of civilisation has shown them that they cannot oppose the white with impunity. As the cattle multiplied a market had to be found, and just at the right time the gold discoveries on the Coolgardie fields brought such a rush of population to the colony that the demand for meat increased many fold. The firm next opened offices at Fremantle and Perth, chartered steamers, and conveyed their "fats" to market in hundreds. Last year they landed fully 10,000 head, and that number will, it is thought, be exceeded this year (1897). The success which attended both Mr. Connor and his partner in the north followed them to the metropolis, where their names in the business world are ones to conjure with

Mr. Connor's worth was soon recognised by the inhabitants of East Kimberley, and on the introduction of Responsible Government he was elected to represent that constituency in the Assembly. He has from his place in the House done much to advance the interests of the vast northern territory. So satisfied were his constituents with his wholeheartedness that they honoured him with the special compliment of unopposed election in successive Parliaments. Mr. Connor and his partner are interested not only in mercantile, grazing, and shipping, but also extensively in mining. The Ruby Queen mine, situated at Hall's Creek, is one of their best properties, and is being systematically developed.

Speaking of the far north country and its resources, Mr. Connor is enthusiastic. As a cattle-raising country it is not to be surpassed, and is capable of carrying many million head. Its mineral resources too, will, he is certain, be equal to, if not superior to those found in any portion of the colony.

The iron-grey hair, and the occasional lines furrowed in a smiling face are the only traces of Mr. Connor's hard-wrought life, which throughout has been conducted so honourably as to win the universal respect of his fellows. His career, so laudably fought, is worthy of the esteem of all who can admire tenacity of purpose. Often has he engaged in a political duel, and often has he emerged victorious from a wordy warfare.