Sunday, 7 October 2007

A DEAD LIBERTY by Dave Wellings

(The September assignment was to write a legend.)

Most successful entrepreneurs have a sense of opportunism that borders on cheek. In the late 1860s the construction of a railway line between Toowoomba and Warwick offered numerous opportunities. In addition to the vital transport for a growing sheep industry, the line brought with it a large work force which had to be catered for. Hastily built stores and unlicensed bars were established at every halt along the line. When the line reached the Clifton sheep station, an Irishman, James Mowen, built a slab hut from which he sold provisions and liquor to the railway “navvies”.
Seeing an opportunity in the expanding settlement, he decided to invest in Clifton. In 1869 he applied for and was granted a liquor licence and he built a hotel next to his store. A small plaque (appropriately across the road from O’Shanley’s Irish Bar) still marks the site of his original ‘Redbank Hotel’.

In response to increasing demand by migrants from overseas and the southern States, the government released parcels of Crown land across the Darling Downs and Mowen was quick to purchase a block in what is now the main street. He built the Clifton Arms Hotel and four other business premises, all of which he rented out. Such enterprise marked him out as an obvious person to approach when funds were required to build a Catholic church. He was appointed as joint-treasurer of the fund-raising committee and donated an acre of prime town land to the project. A small church was subsequently built near to the site of the present Catholic church.

He was a wealthy man when he died on 20th April 1897, at the time 600 pounds was a considerable sum of money and there were no heirs to inherit it. He had stipulated in his will that the money should be spent on a “grand monument” to be built over his grave. The executor of his will, John Logan, was an old friend and coincidentally a prime mover in fund-raising to build a new, larger church. The prospering Clifton township had long overgrown the original small church and John Logan was not slow to see the serendipity of his situation.

“When considering what form the memorial should take, it occurred to me that nothing would be more appropriate than a memorial church…”

Special dispensation was granted to have Mowen’s body exhumed from the Clifton cemetery and reburied at Meara Place and the present church was built over his grave – a grand monument, as he’d requested.

His name is immortalised in Mowen Street at the southern end of the main street which he had largely established – and in a more subtle way in the name of the church itself. James Mowen and John Logan may have fallen some way short of sainthood but when the fine new building was commissioned as the “Church of Saint James and Saint John” it was in recognition of their contribution.

It was a final touch of opportunism bordering on cheek and Mowen would have surely approved.

Dave Wellings ©


Pauline Ball said...

Greetings from Ireland.I am a great grand niece of James Mowen.I visited Clifton in 1988,1997 and 2007 in the company of John and Marcia Logan.James Mowen had several nieces and nephews in Ireland and he provided well for them in his will.It enabled them to get out of poverty and buy farms.My grand mother was his niece and the house I was born in was built with this money in 1916.Sadly my mother was dead before I visited Clifton.She never knew that Michael Gilbert exhisted otherwise she would have contacted him.I have a special place in my heart for Clifton and was made very welcome there in 1997. Madeline Logan is coming to visit us in April after she completes her voluntary work in Ghana.
Pauline Ball

Clifton Writers' Group said...

So lovely to hear from you. I am Michelle and I "convene" the writers' group. I passed on your comment to Dave and also I have added it to the blog. I know Marcia, John and Madeline well and I am sure Madeline must be having an interesting time at the moment and I am sure you will have a great time showing her around when she comes to visit. Best wishes, Michelle