Unfortunately, Alexander Kennedy, the first passenger on a QANTAS airline service, is best-remembered for demanding that first ticket in exchange for putting money into the early company. I say ‘unfortunately’ because it’s neither a fair portrayal of the situation nor of the man and his valuable part in creating the outback airline.
Kennedy was born into a farming family in Dunkeld, Scotland on 11th November 1837.
One evening in 1861, about the time Burke and Wills were getting lost in the Gulf of Carpentaria region, Kennedy saw a sign on a building: ‘Wanted: Young Men for Queensland’. Queensland was then a very new name. Queen Victoria signed the papers declaring the portion of New South Wales north of the Tweed River a separate state on 6th June 1859. That’s why Queensland Day is celebrated on 6th June.
To build the population, Queensland sent agents Europe, mainly Germany and Great Britain, to encourage migration. Kennedy met Henry Jordan whose task was to find workers for the Central Queensland area around Rockhampton. His sales pitch was effective. On 6th August 1861 Kennedy boarded the ‘Persia’, the first migrant ship from Plymouth direct to Gladstone.
The 454 passengers were out of sight of land until they reached Gladstone on 16th November. Kennedy transferred to a coastal steamer to travel up the Fitzroy River to Rockhampton where his first job was helping remove tree stumps from the town’s streets. The Archer brothers had settled at Gracemere in 1855 but the discovery of gold in the area three years later brought other people in. When Kennedy arrived, the population was 698 – 259 were women.
Kennedy then worked on sheep properties on the lower Dawson River and at Springsure for Peter McIntosh. At one stage, they looked for land as far west as the upper Thomson River but with the country in drought, they went back to the coast to grow sugar.
In August 1871, Kennedy married Marion Murray whose family had migrated from Scotland to Victoria in 1847 when she was six months old then moved north to Rockhampton.
McIntosh abandoned sugar and took up ‘Lorne’, near Tambo where the Kennedys’ first son, Jack was born. In 1876, the year their second boy, Hope arrived, McIntosh died and Kennedy decided to strike out on his own. His first property was ‘Emmett Downs’, south of Isisford but it had no permanent water so he sold and moved from sheep to cattle.
He travelled along the Diamantina, northward along the Hamilton, across to the McKinlay River and on to Sulieman Creek. In 1877, he selected part of ‘Buckingham Downs’. Over the next few years, he moved to ‘Noarnside’ which he renamed ‘Noranside’ where third son, Norman was born in 1880, ‘Teddington Lock’ which was later renamed ‘Bushy Park’, and ‘Calton Hills’, named after a suburb in eastern Edinburgh.
A daughter, Euphemia, was born on 29th May 1882 but died a week later when floods prevented the family from getting to medical help at Cloncurry. One of the reasons Kennedy supported the aerial service was that he could see benefits for remote families if sick children could be flown to treatment. Whenever he spoke about the air service after his first flight in November 1922, he always mentioned the benefits he saw for the women of the west.
In 1885, Kennedy was elected to the Cloncurry Divisional Board (forerunner to the Council) and held local government positions for 30 years. He and Cloncurry founder Ernest Henry blazed a new route from Cloncurry to Camooweal, a distance of 322 kms which they mostly covered on foot.
The Kennedys entered a partnership with Roger Sheaffe which saw them living on ‘Devoncourt’ for 20 years. They sold to John Collins & Sons in 1907 and moved to ‘Bushy Park’. Webber Brothers bought ‘Devoncourt’ and then sold it to McMaster Brothers. Fergus, the youngest of the brothers, was helping at ‘Devoncourt’ when he met and became friends with Paul McGinness in Cloncurry late in 1919.
Jack Kennedy found the copper deposit which became the Duchess Copper Mine while he was looking for straying cattle in 1895. They sold it to a British company but missed another major mining opportunity. Alexander Kennedy had ridden across where Mount Isa now stands for 40 years without seeing anything valuable because he didn’t recognise silver ore.
When James Campbell Miles made the discovery which created the only city in Western Queensland, Kennedy bought shares in Mount Isa Mines, Limited. Sons Jack and Norman worked for the company.
Late in 1919, the Kennedys retired and moved into Cloncurry for a short time. It’s highly probable that Kennedy met McGinness during that time. Somebody advised McGinness to find McMaster to help make his idea for an air service a reality. On circumstantial evidence, Kennedy emerges as the most likely person to have given that advice.
By the end of the year, Alexander and Marion had moved to Chaseley Street in the Brisbane suburb of Auchenflower. Their block is now part of the Wesley Hospital complex.
McMaster went to Auchenflower in July 1920 when he started finding investors for the proposed air service. Kennedy offered £200 ($400). McMaster challenged him to ‘Make it 250.’ Kennedy said he would if he was promised the first ticket when the new service began. A stubborn ego or a bit of a joke and a vote of confidence that this new idea would literally get off the ground soon? McMaster had nothing to offer but a vision. There was no company, no aeroplane, no service nor any guarantee that there ever would be. Bearing in mind that Kennedy was almost 83, McMaster’s first reaction was to say, ‘No.’ If he made a promise, he had to keep it and Kennedy might not live long enough. Kennedy, though, was a firm believer that it would happen before he died and McMaster eventually agreed.
Kennedy became a Provisional Director on the interim Board of QANTAS – until 10th February 1921 when the first full Board meeting, the only one in Winton, was held at the Winton Club and he stood down. He was also an £8 000 guarantor for the company’s first bank overdraft of £30 000. If the company had gone broke, he would have been one of the biggest losers.
Kennedy’s faith was well-placed. Just under 2 years later, on the 3rd November 1922, when he was 8 days short of 85, Alexander Kennedy climbed into the back seat of an Armstrong Whitworth FK-8, engineer Arthur Baird wound the handle of the inertia starter then climbed in beside him. Pilot Hudson Fysh took off for Winton, McKinlay and Cloncurry.
Fergus McMaster was the chairman of both the Provisional and first Boards of QANTAS. Proving his dedication, he was at the smoke concert which was held in Longreach to mark the arrival of the first stage of the service from Charleville on 2nd November. That’s when he made his often-quoted speech that he saw the flight ‘as a small beginning which would develop into one of the greatest services in the world.’
After that, during the night, he drove to Winton so he could be there when Kennedy arrived at 6.30 next morning. Kennedy presented McMaster, rather than the Post Master with the mail bag, an action McMaster later said he saw as a great honour.
After a cuppa with the locals, the flight continued. When Kennedy landed at Cloncurry, he told everybody that he felt 20 years younger and that he’d never travel any other way than by aeroplane from then on. He also had encouraging words for Ivy McLain, who, 2 days later, would be the first public and first female passenger on an airline service in eastern Australia.
Kennedy was the first QANTAS frequent flyer. He travelled to Cloncurry, and then to Mount Isa when the service extended there, at his suggestion, in 1924, to visit family twice a year until his death at the age of 96 on 12th April 1936. Marion died on 1st September and the ashes of both were flown on a Qantas Empire Airways DH-86 to Cloncurry.
On 5th December, Eric Donaldson in the QEA Flying Doctor DH-83 Fox Moth, flew the caskets to ‘Devoncourt’ where they were placed in the bottom of a 2.4 m granite column which was erected at the entrance to the property. The Australian Inland Mission’s Rev Fred McKay led the memorial service.
What became of QANTAS Ticket No. 1? Fergus McMaster and Alexander Kennedy were both on the Council of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland and arranged for the ticket to enter their collection where it remains today. Fifty years ago, Qantas produced a collection of replica material for staff and as media packs for the 50th anniversary. A copy of the ticket was included. Many people who come across one in museums or in Grandad’s bits & pieces mistakenly think they’ve found a unique treasure but, sadly for them, it’s another of those many copies.