A Tribute to Second Hand Book Shop Owners


Recently I spent some time at a great little bookshop on the North side of Brisbane – Lawnton Books (formerly Marriott Books). I’ve frequented this establishment for years and have found some gems there.

Imagine my surprise when my browsing was broken by a familiar name along the spine of one thinnish volume….

The book, “Gunyah, Grit and Gantry – A Saga of the Erin-Go-Bragh” is a tale of the Irish migrants who came to Australia on the ship Erin-Go-Bragh and later founded the original shipping companies in Qld.

Written by a Great-Cousin of mine, Alexander James McInnis Burke, it is a rollicking story of pioneer settlement in inner city Brisbane and the struggle to keep up with the wealthy relatives.

Alexander, who is the grandson of Captain John Burke, the once Mayor of South Brisbane and crew member of the Erin, chronicles the creation of Queensland’s first shipping company, along with John Burke’s legacy to shipping in Queensland’s (wow – that is a sentence only a Baby Boomer writer could get away with).

According to Alexander Burke:

The Erin-go-bragh (translated as ‘Ireland for ever’) was the first ship to bring mainly Irish migrants to Moreton Bay and she was also the first ship to be quarantined in Queensland since it became a Colony. There were also a few Scottish and English folk on board. This voyage was the first of those sponsored by the Queensland Immigration Society (Q.I.S.),  represented by the Rev. Fathers Quinn and Dunne. 

She sailed from Liverpool England, to Queenstown (Cobh) Ireland, stopped at the Cape of Good  Hope South Africa, Hobart Town Tasmania, and berthed at Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. Different sources quote different dates so we are assuming a day variation either side. Liverpool departure 23 January 1862, Queenstown embarking 6 February, departure 7-8 February  1862, Cape of Good Hope 17 May 1862 (water supplies needed urgently), Hobart Town 12-14 July  (food and water supplies situation desperate),  Moreton Bay entrance 31 July – St Helena 2 August 1862. It was a tragic  voyage. It is thought that the crew boarded at Liverpool for a voyage which took six months instead of the usual three months.

The Brisbane Courier Mail of 2 August, 1862, and 11 August, 1862, and Dr Hob’s Health  Officer’s report dated 1 August, 1862, tells the story of a shocking 56 deaths  on the voyage, the great majority being young children. Four days out of  Queenstown, both typhoid fever and scarlet fever broke out among the passengers.

Now this type of book would normally not be my cup of tea, but for the fact that my Nanna used to talk constantly about the Burke’s whom she had visited frequently, after rowing across the Brisbane river and climbing up the famous Kangaroo Point cliffs. It is the sort of book that I would never have known existed if not for the small, dusty, old-fashioned (dare I say Baby Boomeresque) Book Shop where I can go, and at my leisure search through 55000 titles for something that takes my fancy.

SO – I would like to say to Dale and Margaret and Heather and Beverly and all of those other Second Hand Book Shop proprietors out there, spending endless hours quietly reading books and sipping tea behind the counter for little financial reward – I salute you!  

May you pages never be crumpled and your dust jackets never be missing!


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