Monday, 27 November 2017

Alfred Henry Lambton - 1890s grazier & novelist

A grazier and novelist living in the Burdekin in the 1890s, wrote the first crime novel set in Queensland. 

Alfred Henry Lambton was born in Parramatta,  New South Wales in 1844. He is reputed to have brought cattle from the south to North Queensland in 1860, “and was some time in the employ of R. Towns and Co.” After his marriage to Eleanor Mary Sykes in 1875, Alfred and Eleanor settled on farming land in the Lower Burdekin and began raising a large family. Alfred was apparently a “very noted rider, and a fine man amongst stock”. But somewhat unusually for a grazier living in the Burdekin in that era, Alfred was also a novelist. Published in London in 1893 (only a year before his death in Ayr at the age of 50), From Prison to Power: a Tale of Queensland (in two volumes), is said to be the first crime novel set in Queensland. The novel centres on the fictitious cattle property "Banalba", located 200 miles inland from "Rockington" (modelled on Rockhampton). 

I came across Alfred while researching one of his daughters, Edith Mary Lambton, a nurse and private midwife who ran St. Monica's Private Hospital in Townsville in the 1910s. Edith was the second eldest of ten children born to Alfred and Eleanor. (I'm writing about Edith in my latest book, so stay tuned for more down the track!) While researching Edith I discovered that she was from a very interesting family. As well as her father, the grazier novelist, a number of her siblings had interesting lives/careers as well.

Edith's youngest sister, Elsie Idrea Lambton, was a professional photographer. Trained by the photographer Ada Driver at the Ada Driver Studios in Brisbane, in 1921 Elsie opened her own studio in Townsville after working for W. J. Laurie, taking over a studio in the Municipal Buildings in Flinders Street. In 1923 she opened the Elsie Lambton Studio and advertised her specialisation in "the very latest in portraiture"By 1927 she opened another studio, The Townsville City Studio, in the new City Buildings, with the photographer Jack Biehl.
A photograph of 1920s Flinders Street.
Note the sign on the right, for Elsie Lambton, Photographer.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
Another of Edith's sisters, Nellie Doriel Lambtonwho was twelve years her junior, also became a nurse. She trained at the Townsville General Hospital, successfully completing an examination there in 1918. Nellie married Townsville doctor Anton Breinl in 1919. Breinl was the first Director of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, which was set up in Townsville in 1910.
Nurse Nellie Lambton, Townsville, c. 1919.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.
Edith's brother, Alfred Harbord Lambton (1887-1979), became a Church of England priest and spent many years in parishes throughout North Queensland, including Townsville, Mackay and Sarina. He served as a Chaplain with the 11th Light Horse Regiment in the Middle East during WWI from September 1918 to September 1919. His work after the war was focused on Papua New Guinea, where he established a Mission at Sefoa, Cape Nelson, Papua. He was assisted in his missionary work by his wife Urara Mary Lambton (nee Dimmock). On one occasion, the launch they were in was wrecked in a gale and they had to swim for their lives, with the Rev. Lambton clutching their infant child while he swam.

Edith too, is a very interesting woman. She almost died in Charters Towers during an outbreak of typhoid fever there in 1903. She was nursing at the District Hospital when she fell ill. But I'll save Edith's story for my new book, which I'm hoping to release in 2018.

Selected sources:
The Australian Women's Register, available online at

Australian Chaplains in WWI, an online resource available at

A digitised version of A.H. Lambton's book is available online at