Cressbrook in 2020
Cressbrook is the oldest residence and agricultural enterprise in Queensland still inhabited, owned and operated by the pioneering family. Significantly, the McConnels at Cressbrook are the oldest identified family business in Queensland and one of the third oldest family businesses in Australia (as determined by the Australian Centre for Family Businesses at Bond University in 1996), celebrating their 179th anniversary on 15 July 2020.
Cressbrook is now run by fifth generation descendent, Christopher David McConnel, his wife Susan and their daughter Caitlin.
The McConnel Family Today
Christopher David McConnel [fifth generation and current custodian of Cressbrook]
Christopher is the only son of Duncan and Erica McConnel and was raised on Cressbrook and on Glenhaughton, Taroom. He is descendant of the Lordly line of high St Clair, Scotland.
Following completion of his schooling at the Toowoomba Preparatory School and The Armidale School, Christopher jackerooed at Glenhaughton and then ‘Headingly’, Dajarra with AACo in 1972. He managed Glenhaughton from 1976 until its sale in 1979 for McConnel & Kirk, which had owned Glenhaughton for 98 years.
Christopher returned to Cressbrook in 1980 to work with his father, and is now custodian of Cressbrook. He is an advocate for Cressbrook, Toogoolawah and the greater Brisbane Valley district, particularly in relation to its history and land and water management.
Christopher married Susan Jane Underdown on 2 March 1984 and has 1 child (Caitlin Jane St Clair).
Susan Jane McConnel, DipT BEd MEd (nee Underdown)
Susan is the youngest child of Lester and Heather Underdown and grew up on her family’s wheat and sheep property ‘Kuranda’ near Wagin in Western Australia.
Susan moved to Queensland in 1982 and married Christopher at St Mary’s Anglican Church in Brisbane in 1984. She holds a Masters in Education from the University of Southern Queensland and is currently a teacher in the special education department at the Toogoolawah State High School.
From 1987 until 1989, Susan was on the building committee of the Alkira Aged Care Facility in Toogoolawah, working as publicity officer. She was also President of the Ladies National Party around 1988 and has been a volunteer in the Toogoolawah Youth Red Cross, an advocate and committee member for the establishment of ‘Our House’ in Toogoolawah and a member of the Brisbane Valley Blue Nurses Sub-Committee.
Susan is also an established Australian artist, drawing inspiration from the McConnel history, her childhood in Western Australia and the Australian outback and its heritage. Depicting bush characters in oil on canvas, Susan has won various awards and has held exhibitions around Queensland including at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame 25thAnniversary in 2013.
Caitlin Jane St Clair McConnel, LLM (Hons) LLB (Hons) BBus (Fin) GDLP [sixth generation descendant of Cressbrook]
Caitlin is the only child of Christopher and Susan McConnel and is descendant of the Lordly line of high St Clair, Scotland.
Caitlin is a Senior Associate at Australian law firm, Clayton Utz. She is also a sixth-generation grazier and a spokesperson for the McConnel family. She is the Chair of the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland (RNA) Future Directions Committee, a Director of the RNA Foundation and a Non-Executive Director of the Future Farmers Network.
The McConnel Family – Early Beginnings
James & Margaret McConnel
James McConnel (James McConnell), first son of James McConnell and Mary Cannan (or Cannon), was born at the farm of Hannastoun, Kirkcudbright, Scotland in June 1762. In 1780, James went to Chowbent to learn machine-making with Cannon & Smith, part owned by his uncle, Mr. William Cannon.
Family records maintain that James left Chowbent for Manchester around 1788 to work as a machine maker or practical cotton-spinner with Mr Egglesome of Manchester. James later formed his own machine-making and mule-spinning business in a partnership known as Sandford, McConnel & Kennedy in 1791; ultimately becoming McConnel & Kennedy in 1795 and later McConnel & Co. of Manchester in 1826. McConnel & Co became the single biggest private company in the UK around 1830.
James married Margaret Houldsworth on 28 May 1799 at Gonalston Church, Nottinghamshire and had 13 children (Henry, James, William, John, Mary Cannon, William, Mary Anne, Margaret, Sarah Jane, Thomas Houldsworth, David Cannon, Mary Anne & Frederic).
In 1860, a combination of circumstances rendered it advisable that the coat-of-arms of James McConnel’s son and D.C. McConnel’s brother, Henry, should be registered. Instructions were therefore sent to the Lord Lyon Office, Edinburgh and the Herald Office, Dublin, to search the registry to ascertain if any armorial bearings were registered in the name of McConnel. Whilst no armorial bearings were found, the search in Edinburgh found a passage written by William Buchanan and published in 1723, which stated that the name McConnel was the same as Macdonald. The passage is as follows:
Macdonald or McConnel of Largie; the name McConnel is always so designed by way of eminence, and without any further distinction. Macdonald of Slate married the daughter of King Robert II, and is ancestor of Macdonald of Largie.
In Edinburgh, many antiquarians of great eminence, and well-versed histories of the Macdonalds, and other Highland Clans were found in the Subscription and Philosophical Institution Libraries. Within a number of months of research, D.C. McConnel soon found sufficient evidence to place without a doubt that, little more than two centuries before his research (around 1600’s), Macdonald and McConnell were one and the same name, and that they were the same clan.
Whilst James McConnel had drafted a coat-of-arms prior to 1860, it was evident that D.C. McConnel and his brothers found it necessary to adopt armorial bearings more in accordance with what both historical and traditional evidence they found, which led them to bear resemblance to those adopted by the Macdonalds. The crest of which their father had always used, “stag’s head erased, charged with trefoil at the neck”, was retained with sufficient difference in markings made to distinguish the arms of each brother (seven brothers). The McConnel coat-of-arms bears the motto ‘Victor in Arduis’, meaning ‘triumph in adversity’.
The coat-of-arms registered by David Cannon McConnel, the sixth brother, is still used by his descendants, the McConnel family of Cressbrook today.
McConnel Surname Spelling
It seems that James McConnel and his brothers changed the name McConnell into McConnel, for what reasons we cannot ascertain and that which has not been written in family records. D.C. McConnel in writing “Facts and Traditions”, a McConnel family record for private circulation in the 1860’s, deduced that the change in spelling may have been to distinguish James McConnel and his brothers family from others of the same name, not related or very distantly related. However, he also noted that most probably, the Rev. John Gillespie, minister of Kells or the session-clerk, wrote it McConnel, as will be seen in the lines of James McConnell A.D. The name has been retained as McConnel by our family since this period.
A similar change has been made with many other surnames; the name signed Cannan until the early 1700’s, was written Cannon by descendants of the family of that name in Galloway from mid 1700.
The McConnel Family – Associations with Cressbrook
Henry McConnel was the eldest son of James and Margaret McConnel, and older brother to D.C. McConnel of Cressbrook, Australia. Cressbrook was named by D.C. McConnel after Henry’s estate in Derbyshire, England.
McConnel & Co of Manchester, owned by Henry, and their father James bought the Cressbrook Mill in Cressbrook, near Monsal Dale, UK, under the partnership of McConnel & Co., in 1835 with Henry beginning construction of Cressbrook Hall on the bluff overlooking Water-cum-Jolly and the Mill shortly after. McConnel & Co was the single biggest private company in the UK at this time, and the McConnel family remained at Cressbrook, UK until 1925. Cressbrook Hall is now owned by the Hull-Bailey family.
John McConnel & his son, Arthur John McConnel
Born in Manchester, John McConnel was the youngest child of James and Margaret McConnel, and younger brother of D.C. McConnel of Cressbrook. In 1842, he and his brother Frederic travelled to Sydney, and became partner with David at Cressbrook in 1844, namely D. & J. McConnel. The brothers later purchased Durundar from the Archer Brothers in 1851. Following the cessation of John and David’s partnership in 1861, John retained exclusive rights at Durundar until 1867, living there with his wife Amelia Bunting and son Arthur John McConnel.
John was appointed to a seat in the Queensland Legislative Council on 26 April 1861, however resigned in July 1868 due to deafness. John’s only son Arthur lived at Durundar, founding a prominent Hereford stud, and then at Clayfield with his wide Mary Beatrice (nee Keen). Arthur founded the Australian Hereford Society in Australia, contributed articles to the Brisbane Courier in relation to the McConnel family and the early history of Queensland and was appointed a Magistrate of the Colony of Australia.
John McConnel also originally owned the land at New Farm, Brisbane, which is now significantly home to the Moreton Club.
The McConnel Family of Cressbrook
David Cannon McConnel [settled Cressbrook 15 July 1841]
David was an Australian pioneer, and the first British settler in the Brisbane Valley. He also owned a 173-acre farming property in Brisbane in an area known by local Aboriginals as Toogoolawah. They called their property Bulimba, on which they built the first stone house in Brisbane (known today as Bulimba House). At this stage there were only 202 settlers in the Moreton Bay Colony.
In November 1843 David welcomed Ludwig Leichhardt to Cressbrook and helped to finance Leichardt’s first expedition.
David and his brother John were responsible for founding Queensland’s cattle industry, with the importation of shorthorn cattle from England. David subsequently founded one of the first Hereford Studs in Australia, with some of the remnants of this stud still registered by 5th generation McConnel, Mrs. Rosemary Neumann (eldest daughter of Duncan and Erica McConnel). David was also responsible for establishing the first bank in present day Queensland, namely the Queensland National Bank.
In 1873, Queen Victoria sent a gift of two stags and four hinds from the Windsor Castle gardens to the state of Queensland, so called in her honour. They were released on Cressbrook in an event still celebrated by the McConnels, and historians in Windsor, UK. Subsequent releases of deer continuing on Cressbrook up to 1878, descendants of which are still seen in the Brisbane Valley today.
David married Mary Macleod on 25 April 1848 in Edinburgh and had 8 children (James Henry, Alexander Walter, David Rose, Katharine Rose, William Macleod, Mary Macleod, Eric Walter & Edward John).
Mary McConnel (nee Macleod)
Mary McConnel (nee Macleod) was the daughter of Alexander and Katharine Macleod from Edinburgh. Mary was responsible for setting up the schoolhouse at Cressbrook, which was the first public school of its kind, founded prior to government schools in Queensland. Mary’s contribution to the education of youth in Queensland has been honoured in the founding and naming of the Mary McConnel Schools in Forest Lake and Springfield in 2003, as well as the Mary McConnel School of Early Childhood at Shafston International College in 2015.
Most significantly though, Mary was responsible for the establishment of the first children’s hospital in Queensland (second in Australia to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne), namely the Hospital for Sick Children in Brisbane in 1878. The hospital later became known as the Royal Children’s Hospital, and it now the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital.
David Rose McConnel
David was the second surviving son of D.C. and Mary McConnel. David was responsible for introducing the Montessori education system to Australia with his daughter-in-law, Thelma McConnel. The first learning centre was set up in Toowoomba and they received many accolades for the implementation.
Katharine Rose McConnel
Katharine was the eldest of two daughters of D.C. and Mary McConnel. She married liberal politician and owner of Caboonbah Homestead, Henry Plantagenet Somerset. Interestingly, prior to marrying Katharine, the Somerset family and her brother James Henry were in partnership in land at Mt Stanley, with J.H. McConnel owning the land at Caboonbah. Katharine’s mother Mary did not like the idea of Katharine living too far from Cressbrook, so James swapped the land at Caboonbah with that at Mt Stanley so that Henry and Katharine could make their life closer to Cressbrook.
Mary Macleod McConnel
Mary was the second daughter of D.C. and Mary McConnel. She married Alfred Banks and published a book, ‘Memories of Pioneer Days in Queensland’ as a continuation of the memoirs written by her mother Mrs. D.C (Mary) McConnel entitled ‘Memories of Days Long Gone By’.
Eric Walter McConnel
Eric was the seventh child of D.C. and Mary McConnel who purchased Mt Brisbane Station in 1914. Mt Brisbane was one of the first runs to be taken up in the Brisbane Valley by the Bigge brothers in 1842. Eric became manager of Mt Brisbane in 1893, subsequently becoming partner and owner outright. Eric was Chairman/Mayor of the Council of the Shire of Esk from March 1915 – March 1916. The property now continues to be run by his great-grandson John McConnel along with his wife Carli and their children as the prominent Mt Brisbane Pastoral Company Droughtmaster Stud.
James Henry (J.H. or Harry) McConnel [second generation owner of Cressbrook]
James McConnel was the oldest son of D.C. and Mary McConnel. He was born at Bulimba House and raised from an early age in England and Edinburgh.
James returned to Cressbrook as a young boy and was tutored by Mr. Donald Cameron, who became the first Headmaster of Brisbane Grammar School. At 17 years of age, James was sent to Emmanuel College at Cambridge University, followed by a wool-classing course in London.
Following his marriage in 1876, James went into partnership with his brothers and father David in 1871 under the title ‘D.C. McConnel & Sons’. Under James’ instruction, Cressbrook saw significant changes. Whilst continuing the Hereford Stud operations, James also founded the partnership Cressbrook Dairy Company with his siblings and Cressbrook farmer Thomas Coleman, which led to the founding of the Cressbrook Condensed Milk Factory on the banks of the Cressbrook Creek in 1898. The Cressbrook Condensed Milk Factory was the first of its kind in Australia. This business interest combined with the expansion of the Brisbane Valley Railway Line to Cressbrook meant that farmers no longer needed to cart their milk to Esk.
In 1904, James donated further land for the establishment of a township near the condensed milk factory, which he subsequently named Toogoolawah, after the indigenous name for the area in Brisbane where the McConnel’s farm and residence, Bulimba House, was located. James then gifted further land for the establishment of St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Toogoolawah in 1906, as well as land for the town’s recreational precinct, subsequently named McConnel Park in the family’s honour. After many years working with the Esk Dairying, Agriculture & Industry Association, James was responsible for founding the Toogoolawah Dairying, Agriculture & Industry Association with his son Edgar in 1913.
James also had many official roles in varied organisations over his lifetime. He was Chairman/Mayor of the Council of the Shire of Esk from January 1886 – March 1888, February 1896 – February 1899 and March 1913 – May 1914. He was president of the Queensland Club in Brisbane in 1904 and 1913, with his father, D.C. McConnel being one of the Clubs original members. He was also President of the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland from 1907 – 1910.
James married Mary Elizabeth Kent of Jondayan in 1876 and had 10 children (Dorothea, Hugh, Kent, Edgar Cannon, Elspeth, Barbara, Katharine, Ursula, Judith & Kenneth).
Mary (Madge) McConnel (nee Mary Elizabeth Kent of Jondaryan)
Madge was the wife of J.H. McConnel and an owner of Shafston House in Brisbane. Madge took an interest in the development of the Toogoolawah district, which included founding the Amateur Tree Planting Club and the Gardening and Progress Association of Toogoolawah. She was also responsible for financing the shingle roof for the St Andrew’s Church in Toogoolawah and the extensions to the House at Cressbrook, namely the main verandah, loft and shingle roof, with the proceeds of the sale of Shafston House.
Dorothea, eldest child of J.H. and Madge McConnel, married George Elton Mayo, social theorist and industrial psychologist.
Ursula Hope McConnel, M.A.
Ursula, daughter of J.H. and Madge McConnel, became the first female Anthropologist in Australia, best known for her studies of the Wik Mungkan people of Cape York Peninsula.
Kenneth Hamlyn McConnel
Kenneth, youngest child of J.H. and Madge McConnel served in the Royal Australian Army in WWI and WWII and later became a renowned Australian architect. Kenneth married Mildred Mort of Franklyn Vale, who was a descendant of the first superintendant at Cressbrook, namely Henry Mort.
Mary Elspeth McConnel
Elspeth was a daughter of J.H. and Madge McConnel, who lived on Moorabool with her husband Bevis Gerald White. In 1954 a sidesaddle owned by Elspeth was prepared for Queen Elizabeth II in case she wished to ride it during her visit to Brisbane in her Royal Tour to Australia. The sidesaddle, now in possession of 5th generation McConnel, Mrs. Rosemary (Robin) Neumann (eldest daughter of Duncan and Erica McConnel) is lined with a Red Deer skin, which was shot at Cressbrook and still bears the markings of its maker F.W. Mayhew of Seymour Street, London who was under Royal Warrants of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII, and King George VI.
Edgar Cannon McConnel [third generation custodian of Cressbrook]
Edgar was the eldest only living son of J.H. and Madge McConnel. He attended the Brisbane Grammar School for his secondary studies, and later at the Downton Agricultural College from 1902 to 1903 obtaining a Certificate in Theory and Practice of Agriculture.
In 1912, Edgar bought his own property ‘Braceborough’, near Charters Towers and lived there until after his father’s death in 1914, when he moved back to Cressbrook.
Edgar was responsible for founding the Toogoolawah Dairying, Agriculture and Industry Association with his father, J.H. McConnel, in 1913. Edgar remained President of the Association from its beginning until 1927.
Although never seeing active service due to a medical condition, Edgar was a member of the Australian Light Horse Brigade and helped to train Australian Light Horsemen in Brisbane during WWI. A renowned horseman, Edgar was also responsible for founding the prominent Cressbrook Polo Teams A & B, who won numerous trophies in Queensland and New South Wales.
Edgar continued to own Braceborough until 1946, whilst continuing to manage the prominent Cressbrook Hereford stud at Cressbrook, and, until his death in 1947, oversaw the running of Glenhaughton and the Auburn stations, owned by McConnel & Kirk Pty Ltd.
Edgar married Phyllis Murray-Prior of Maroon in 1909 and had 4 children (Duncan Cannon, Elizabeth Claudia, Margaret Rose and Helen Hope).
Duncan Cannon McConnel [fourth generation custodian of Cressbrook]
Duncan was the only son of Edgar and Phyllis McConnel and was raised on Cressbrook.
Following completion of his secondary studies at the Geelong Grammar School, Duncan jackerooed on Bluff Downs and Toomba at Charters Towers (then owned by the White family) from 1929, and then at Cubbie Station under employment of the Australian Pastoral Company.
In 1936 Duncan was made manager of Glenhaughton, where he lived with his wife, Erica, following their marriage in 1940.
In 1942, Duncan returned to Cressbrook with his family before joining the RAAF, where he became a Leading Aircraftsman. He completed flight training at Kingaroy in Queensland, Narromine in New South Wales and finally in Canada, although he never saw active service as the war ended just as his training was completed.
Upon his return to Australia, Duncan managed Auburn Station from 1946 – 1947, returning to Cressbrook in 1948, following his fathers death in 1947. Duncan was Managing Director of McConnel & Kirk Pty Ltd and returned to Glenhaughton with his family in 1960 until its sale in 1979. Maintaining his passion of aircraft, Duncan purchased a Cessna 172 (Delta Bravo Hotel), which he flew between Auburn, Cressbrook and Glenhaugton until 1979.
Returning full time to Cressbrook in 1979, Duncan was an integral member of the Toogoolawah Dairying, Agriculture & Industry Association until his death in 1996.
Duncan married Erica Webster St Clair in 1940 and had 3 children (Rosemary Robina St Clair, Diana Rose and Christopher David).
Erica Webster McConnel (nee St Clair)
Erica was the only daughter of Christopher Fenwick St Clair and Ethel Maud Cheesbrough and was descendant of the Lordly line of high St Clair, Scotland.
She attended New England Girls’ School with Duncan’s sister Helen, and was introduced to Duncan on a trip with Helen to Glenhaughton in 1939.
Throughout WWII, Echo entertained troops in Toogoolawah and Kilcoy dancing as part of a local women’s ballerina group, as well as volunteering as a member of CWA and the Red Cross. Echo maintained her positions in the CWA and Red Cross following the war, whilst also becoming an integral member of the Toogoolawah Gardening and Progress Association.