Henry Jordan 

Henry Jordan arrived in Queensland in 1856 to establish a dental practice in Brisbane.  He was elected to Queensland’s first parliament, and shortly after went to England as the colony’s first immigration agent.  On his return to Brisbane after six turbulent years, he tried, unsuccessfully, to establish a cane farm.  When that failed, he was appointed Registrar-General.  In 1983 he again entered parliament, becoming Minister for Public Lands in the Griffith ministry in 1887.  Throughout his public life, immigration, education, and the advancement of Christianity were his chief interests.        


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ISBN: 978-1-922229-49-6  Format: Paperback
Number of pages:190
Genre: Non Fiction

© Cover Design—Zeus Publications 2014

By the same author

The Last Veteran Zeus Publications 2009 


Author: Gerald Hugo Rée
Zeus Publications

Date Published: 2014
Language: English




As my interest in Henry Jordan started as a result of  archival research that I was undertaking on the subject of colonial public health, I must first thank the staff of the Queensland State Archives, who over a long period of time, willingly provided help and advice. 

Jonathan Richards, of the Griffith University School of Humanities, was also a willing guide through the complexities of the Archives as well as an invaluable source of information on nineteenth century Queensland.  

Much of this work would not have been possible without the facilities of the Queensland State Library, whose staff, again, were at all times, most helpful. 

The illustrations are all by courtesy of the John Oxley Library. The wonderful historical newspapers available on-line at made a huge difference to my life! My brother-in-law, John Mills, an enthusiastic genealogist, delved into the Jordan family history in England. Michael K. Stammer’s The Passage Makers, published by Teredo Books, Brighton, in 1978, a detailed history of the Black Ball Line, provided some excellent insights. 

My knowledge of nineteenth century Queensland history comes largely from Raymond Evans’ A History of Queensland, published by Cambridge University Press in 2007. My editor, Robin Adams, checked, with almost obsessive care, every fact and every paragraph.  To him I owe a particular thank you, for without his efforts, this book would never have seen the light of day. 

Any remaining errors are entirely my fault. My wife Berenice was happy for me to have something to do in my retirement and has supported me throughout the book’s long gestation. 



Speaking in the Queensland Legislative Assembly a few days after Henry Jordan’s death in June 1890, Sir Samuel Griffiths, then Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, said, ‘Mr Jordan has rendered perhaps more years of service to this colony than any other man in it…’ yet his name is not well known.

Jordan came to Brisbane in February 1856. He was a man of English middle class origins: his father, John, a Methodist minister descended from an old landed Devonshire family, combined his religious duties with a passionate interest in politics, which he always explained to his children. Henry Jordan was thirteen when the great Reform Act was passed; he was two months short of his fifteenth birthday when slavery, anathema especially to Methodists, was statutorily abolished in the British colonies. After finishing his apprenticeship in dentistry, Henry Jordan established himself in Derby, where he lived through 1848, that tumultuous year of revolution that also witnessed the decline of Chartism at home. Though he never indicated any interest in a political career in England, such events must have impacted on his thoughts and opinions.

Little is known of Jordan’s private life, either in England (he was thirty-three years old when he first came to Australia) or in Queensland. Dentistry in Derby provided him with an income but perhaps not the sort of challenges he wanted. In 1852, he accepted an offer from the Methodist Missionary Society to go to South Australia, where he would minister to the Aborigines of Mount Barker. Four years later he was in Brisbane.

Between 1860 and 1867, Jordan made an extraordinary contribution to immigration as the first Emigration Agent to the new, and barely known, colony of Queensland. Throughout the rest of his life he was often referred to as ‘Henry Jordan, the late Emigration Agent’ (or Commissioner, or Agent-General). As happens to any man in public affairs, he had his supporters and detractors.

Sometimes the newspapers lauded him, sometimes castigated him, but he seemed to take it all in his stride, with modesty and humility. His knowledge of Queensland was, of necessity, limited, since when he started lecturing in 1861 to large and enthusiastic audiences, much of the new colony was unexplored. But he had an intimate knowledge of both social and economic conditions in Great Britain, and used this knowledge to persuade intending emigrants of the advantages of Queensland over the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand or the other Australian colonies.

Jordan’s name is not well known, perhaps also because he never led his political party (the Liberals, at a time when ‘Liberal’ did not mean ‘Conservative’), and never achieved power in his own right, apart from a brief stint as Minister for Public Lands. He was much disliked by his political opponents, who attacked him both in and out of the Assembly, but he always countered their arguments courteously, using, where appropriate, proper documentation. Despite the attacks, he was rarely found to be at fault, an unusual situation for a politician.


What attracted me to Henry Jordan? I came across his name some years ago when undertaking research for a thesis on aspects of public health in Queensland; as Registrar-General, his annual reports were invaluable. At the same time I discovered that he was more than just a civil servant; his constant promotion of emigration struck a chord; I was a migrant myself, born in France, thence to England soon after the start of the Second World War, and later in life to New Zealand before coming to Australia in 1987. I hasten to add that I am not a historian by training.

In this brief story, based on parliamentary papers, newspaper references and archival material, I have tried to set down something of Henry Jordan’s life and achievements, from the time of his arrival in Queensland in 1856 to his death in 1890. Because of a lack of information on Jordan’s private life, thoughts, hopes or aspirations, it is not strictly a biography. I have tried to put the public man in the context of the growth and development of colonial Queensland. Emigration, and how to stimulate it, was the single most important political feature of his life; in many of his parliamentary speeches, he managed to introduce the subject, even if only marginally relevant. He deserves some recognition for his efforts.

In 1902, the editor of the Queensland Figaro noted that ‘two ladies also write me in reference to my notice of the Life of Hon W Brookes. They appear to be very indignant, and think Mr Brookes was over estimated. And they go so far as to mention the names of T.P. Pugh, ‘King’ Buckley, Henry Jordan and others as being more worthy of recognition.’

It has taken 111 years for a biographer to step forward, but I hope the ghosts of the two un-named ladies are satisfied.

During this period, Australia used British currency. One pound (£) was worth twenty shillings (s); one shilling was worth twelve pence (d). One guinea was twenty-one shillings. One pound, twelve shillings and sixpence would be written as £1/12/6d, or, sometimes, £1-12-6d. I have not attempted to convert pounds, shillings and pence into dollars at today’s values. One ounce is 28.35 grams. There are 16 ounces to the pound weight, i.e. 453.6 grams.

A note about spelling. In colonial Queensland, words with ‘our’ —labour, honour, colour, etc.—were sometimes spelled the English way, and sometimes the American (labor, honor, color.) I have chosen to use the English spelling, except where the American was specifically used in a written document.


Chapter 1 - part sample


On 24 February, 1856, Henry Jordan, thirty-seven, bachelor, arrived in Brisbane from Sydney on the small coastal steamer Boomerang. He planned to establish a branch of the Sydney dental partnership of Fletcher and Jordan, which had been launched in January 1855. The weather, as usual for that time of year, was sultry and the January rains had turned Queen Street, the main thoroughfare of the small town, to mud. Whether Jordan was appalled by the primitive conditions of the town, or galvanised by the challenge, he never said.

Jordan rented a wooden house in muddy Queen Street, near the School of Arts that had previously been occupied by Thomas Newton, surgeon-dentist; it was Newton’s death in October 1855 at the age of thirty-six that had precipitated Fletcher’s decision to branch out. Jordan intended to reside in the house, and be available there for consultations ‘between the hours of ten and four.’

Jordan was a neat man, of average size, impressively bearded, though both beard and head were already more than tinged with grey, always tidily but not fussily dressed. He exuded an air of confidence, of serious purpose and intelligence.

Jordan brought with him eleven years of dental experience, ten of them spent in the English midland town of Derby, where he had been a popular and much sought-after dentist. He also brought copies of a book he had written, entitled Practical Observations on the Teeth. It was not a scientific book; rather, as he said in his introduction, for the ordinary reader, ‘with the hope of making plain and generally intelligible much that it is thought important all should understand, but which hitherto has been too exclusively shrouded in the mystery of scientific technicalities.’ The book nevertheless contributed significantly to Jordan’s election to membership of the Odontological Society of Great Britain (the predecessor of the British Dental Association), and might have contributed to a sense among the local citizens (for he advertised the book for sale, at 3/6d a copy) that here in Brisbane was a cultured and erudite man, not the usual sort of fairground tooth-puller that people who had experienced life in Britain might have expected.

He also brought with him an abiding, broad and tolerant Christian faith. He had, after all, been raised in a Christian family, ruled by his father, John, a Wesleyan minister of religion with a keen interest in politics.

He was able to bring only limited colonial experience, a short time in Mount Barker, South Australia, as a missionary with the Methodist Missionary Society, and almost two years of dental practice in Sydney.

Aware of his own susceptibility to ill health, Jordan had insisted on paying his own way to Adelaide, so that, if he had to retire from the field prematurely, the Missionary Society would not be out of pocket. It was a generous and prescient move, for the enterprise failed in 1854 under threefold pressures: the Victorian gold rush, which had seen Adelaide’s population decline precipitously as men (and, on occasions, women with them) sought their fortune in Victoria and New South Wales; a particularly bad harvest; and a recurrence of the ill health from which Jordan suffered throughout his life. He made his way to Melbourne, and then by the steamer Hellespont to Sydney. Whether he hoped to find a ship bound for England, or whether he anticipated that the Sydney air would improve his health, before he had to make any major decisions, he met David Fletcher.

What prompted Jordan to take up the practice of dentistry in the first place is not recorded. He had originally wanted to study surgery. In about 1840 he started an apprenticeship in Lambeth with the delightfully named surgeon, Mr Boddy. Ill health forced him to abandon his studies after two years. Lambeth was at the time a damp and swampy area. Jordan lodged in Boddy’s house with the surgeon, the surgeon’s wife, Sarah, and their three small children. He appears to have been quite a severe asthmatic. No doubt proximity to the various infants’ childhood infections would have done nothing to improve his health.

At his father’s suggestion, Jordan then went on a short tour of America. Whatever the rationale for the journey, and it probably related to slavery, a subject in which Wesleyans took an enormous interest, Jordan returned determined to become a dentist. Perhaps the nineteenth-century dentist, though not as socially acceptable as the surgeon-dentist, was a step in the right direction; and a qualified dentist was certainly better than an unqualified tooth-puller. Jordan studied at the London Institute, established in 1806 for the further education of dissenters who were barred from attending either Oxford or Cambridge Universities. At the same time, he was apprenticed to a Mr Crampton, a surgeon-dentist of Lambeth, and later he studied under Edwin Saunders, who would achieve fame and fortune as dental surgeon to Queen Victoria.

 On the completion of his studies, Jordan set up in practice in Derby. Despite his successes in that town, he ached for more. He considered taking holy orders, but abandoned that idea when the Methodist Missionary Society asked him to come to South Australia, an offer he had accepted with great pleasure. There was already in Jordan’s life a sense of ‘the grass being greener …’


Despite the February rains and mud, Jordan found Brisbane in a state of excitement. The first parliamentary elections for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly were to be held in April 1856 and candidates were already staking their claims. The hot topics were ‘Separation’, that is, the separation of the northern districts from New South Wales, and the disposal of land.

There were two seats for the town of Brisbane (Stanley Borough), one for Stanley County, one for the Clarence and Darling Downs, and one for the rest of what later became Queensland. Voting was by secret ballot, an innovation for the time, introduced some sixteen years before it came into general use in the United Kingdom. Jordan at first thought that voting by secret ballot was somehow un-English.

‘Why should a man appear ashamed that the world would know how he had voted?’ he asked. Later, he changed his mind.

Thomas Holt and John Richardson were elected for Stanley Borough; Arthur Macalister, political chameleon and future premier, came third. Henry Buckley, a shipping and insurance agent who had supported Separation since the idea was first mooted in 1851, and soon became a good friend of Jordan’s, was elected for Stanley County, soundly defeating the surgeon and magistrate Dr William Dorsey, a resident of Ipswich since 1842, who had conducted a lacklustre and uncertain campaign. Dorsey had on another occasion famously reckoned that the area was almost too healthy for a doctor, claiming that most disease was due to intemperance or accidents, an opinion with which Jordan would quickly agree.

Among the many people Jordan met was one who would prove to be a staunch ally and a friend for the rest of his life. William Brookes had been the manager of the Brisbane branch of the Union Bank for some three years at the time Jordan arrived. He was a staunch Wesleyan, and had, as he explained to Jordan, political ambitions. Three years later, he gave up work in the bank, and bought an ironmongery. An avid reader, Brookes was familiar with many works of political philosophy and economy, especially those of John Stuart Mill. He represented North Brisbane in the Queensland Legislative Assembly between 1864 and 1867. He was, like Jordan, an enthusiastic letter writer, who had an opinion on anything to do with Queensland.

Jordan quickly established himself as a successful dentist, but the financial rewards were not as great as in either Sydney or Derby. He therefore invested a small amount of capital in a cattle and dairy station owned by Mr J. Zillman, one of the earliest settlers in Moreton Bay, close to the Caboolture River, which brought some relief. Many professional men, both then and in later years, found it necessary to supplement their incomes in similar ways. This would not be the only time Jordan invested in commercial speculation; he was named a director of a proposed Brisbane Gas Company in 1857, but nothing came of this; three years later he invested in the Moreton Bay Tramway Company, which hoped to build a horse-drawn, land-grant railway from Ipswich to Toowoomba. The company collapsed in October 1862. The Government bought the plans and specifications, which later formed the basis for its first steam railway.

But Jordan’s first interest was neither dentistry nor the cattle industry, rather the progress of the Methodist Church in this new land. He deeply regretted the schisms between the Church of England and the Methodists, and, even more, within Methodism itself. He was a generally tolerant man. ‘Unity, not uniformity,’ he said on more than one occasion, meaning, united in a Christian faith, but marching along the road to salvation to different tunes. Divine worship was so important to him that he once said that, if there were no other churches available except a Roman Catholic one, he would happily worship in this. It was not long before he became a member of the committees of the Moreton Bay Auxiliary of the Methodist Missionary Society and the Auxiliary Bible Society; he remained active in these areas for the rest of his life.

Very soon after his arrival in Brisbane, he met Nathaniel Turner, the Methodist missionary who had been instrumental in bringing the gospel to the Maoris of New Zealand and the people of Tonga. Turner’s later missionary work among the convicts of Tasmania had earned him the respect of the Governor of that colony, Sir John Franklin. Turner and his wife Anne had come to live in Brisbane in 1854 to be with their son, John Sargent Turner, the manager of the Union Bank in Brisbane, after the unexpected death of their beloved eldest son Thomas in January 1854 from typhoid fever. Turner was also at the time busy trying, with the help of Thomas Dowse, an ex-convict and now a Brisbane business man, to revitalise the Total Abstinence Society, originally founded in 1849, which had become largely ineffectual. In tune with Turner’s wishes, Jordan happily took on the mantle of teetotalism.

Jordan’s contact with Turner also brought him into contact with Turner’s daughters. The fourth of these was seventeen-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Hopkins Turner (generally known as Elizabeth or Lizzie).

Much as Jordan might have wished to find a wife in Derby, he found none who appealed; and a developing reputation for grumpiness did nothing to improve his matrimonial prospects. Elizabeth was different; she was well-educated by the standards of the time, a devout Wesleyan, but with a streak of independence and stubbornness that immediately attracted Jordan to her. When he asked her to marry him, she accepted happily. She saw no problem with the difference in their ages—such matches were not unusual in the peculiar circumstances of the small colony—and saw beyond the grumpiness to the potential in him. Sensible to the youth of his future bride, Jordan agreed to postpone the wedding. In June 1859 the couple started what would be thirty-one years of happy married life.


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