Jack & Newell is most enduringly associated with the Atherton Tablelands town of Herberton,
some 100km over the Great Dividing Range from Cairns.

It was here in 1880 that Willie Jack and John Newell’s prospecting party found the tin that would lay the foundation for their retail success.

Their discovery led to a rush of miners, and within months the town boasted its first hotel, butchers shop and three stores – one of which was William Jack’s.

This store became the headquarters of the Jack & Newell retail empire.

After quickly establishing their transportation networks between Herberton and Port_Douglas, Jack & Newell simply followed the miners, as they fanned our across the district seeking – and finding – new mineral deposits.

Between 1880 and the turn of the century, Jack & Newell established 20 general stores, some of which came and went as deposits were mined out, and some of which operated for the best part of a century.

Their Herberton store operated through until 1977, and is now registered on the Qld Cultural Heritage Register.

The building dates back to 1882 and with its pit sawn chamferboard cladding and intact timber interior, it remains the best surviving illustration of the genteel, local retail service that Jack & Newell came to exemplify throughout the Far North.

An 1880's shopping list

One of the remarkable things about Jack & Newell was its longevity as an old fashioned, family owned business.

And one of the great things about a family owned business is their reluctance to throw away business/family records!

In the case of Jack & Newell at Herberton, the firm kept its original ledger books right back to 1880, and has since donated them to James Cook University in Townsville.

They provide an incredible snapshot of the early mining days of the district.

Take for instance the 1880 account from Herberton under the name “Morris”:

September 1880
October 1880
flour, salts
moleskins, butter, pipes
cheese, tea, jam, flour, rice
comb, flour, acid, soda, salt, p killers

sugar, tobacco, matches, currants, flour, acid, soda
sugar, tobacco, potatoes
needles, rice, salt, tea
syrup, wood pipe

sardines, bags, sugar, painkillers, box matches, tea, boots
rice, salt, vinegar, pan handle, sugar
twine book
currants, syrup, tobacco, matches
p killers, flour, syrup
butter, pepper, sugar, tea
P pot, H Handle, hammer
matches, tobacco

bellows handle, fuse caps, detonators, drills, steel fracteur, explosives, sugar
bar soap, matches, potatoes, tea, butter, cabbage.
Total: £4 - 6
Credit 5.1.25 ore -30/-
Owing: £8 4-3
Total: £6 -12-7
Credit: 4-3-2 tin ore
Owing: £ 6-8-10

Other interesting items on the 1880s shopping lists include:

      • Nails
      • Note paper
      • Starch
      • Pick handle
      • Tin lobsters
      • Chlorodyne
      • Oil cloth
      • glasses

Ore accounts

Jack & Newell at Herberton was the branch most intimately connected with tin mining.

While this is partly due to the long association of John Newell with the Great Northern Tin Mine, it is also because small claims miners continued to operate around Herberton long after most of the small mining towns had vanished.

From the outset of its operations, Jack & Newell allowed miners to pay for their goods in tin.
These were know as “ore accounts’ and had their own status in the ledgers.

Norm Brown remembers …

“when the miner would come in, well he would get an advance of say 90% of what was the going price for tin, he’d get the balance later on after it was all finalised … but whatever he owed was taken out. He would have an account there … might have 1000 quid or pound in those days and they would just take it out of his cheque and give him the balance … it was called an ore account .. it was a separate account in the ledger … the bulk of it was done through Herberton.”

Unfortunately for one miner, Jack Crimmins from Mossman was a man out of his depth when it came to tin buying …

Listen to Jack Crimmins  --- or simply read the text below

“All I knew was sugar and we didn’t have anything to do with the price of sugar, but a chap in Mt Molloy went on holidays and they put me up there for a week to go and relieve him .. that was OK I could do the bookwork and stuff, but then one bloke came in with a bag full of tin and he said I want some money for this and I said I can’t tell you . I wouldn’t know how much tin is, I wouldn’t have a clue .. it looks like a heap of gibbers to me! So I had to send him away, I couldn’t help him .. but they used to trade in tin, and he had his bag of tin and wanted me to .. wanted some money for it .. and I couldn’t help him! I didn’t know if it was worth one dollar or a hundred dollars! "

Rod Newell remembers the hazards of Jack & Newell storing tin at Mt Garnet…

Listen to Rod Newell --- or simply read the text below

“I know in Mt Garnet years ago they used to stack the tin .. and the building was high off the ground and they came along with an auger and went up through the floor and into the tin in … because once you break the tin it runs and they didn’t find it until they pulled the stack down .. they’d probably bought it back again!”


Herberton was the only North Queensland town where Jack & Newell went head to head with
their main rivals – Armstrong, Ledlie and Stillman.

AL & S was established in Herberton by a couple of former Jack & Newell managers, and like
Jack & Newell, they also extended credit and delivered to all their customers.

At the height of their trade, AL & S had outlets in a number of Far Northern towns, including a
large retail business in Cairns, but the firm never reached the size of Jack & Newell.

But while Jack & Newell and AL & S may have seen themselves as competition, the locals had other ideas!

Dorrie Day explains how locals shopped in 20s and 30s.

Listen to Dorrie Day --- or simply read the text below

“There was Jack & Newell’s and Armstrong Ledlie and Stillman was exactly the same as what Jack & Newell’s was, and Billie Gane had a grocery shop and Mrs Gane used to be our dressmaker. That was all in the main street .. I did month about with the whole three of them as my family grew up, my mother did that too .. well we used to go and give them our order for once a month and they’d book it up for your for the month, so then when they were finished you’d go to the next one, just so they’d all get a living. Well they were helping, as you say Jack & Newell were helping, well Ledlie’s did the same. They kept the miners alive by giving them credit for the month and a lot of people did that.”

A measure of the influence of the two businesses in the town is the fact that the local Herberton School named its two “houses” Ledlie and Newell.

The Newell Family
Herberton was not only the headquarters of Jack & Newell, it was also the home of three
generations of the Newell family.

Along with John Moffat, John Newell is probably the most significant figure of the tin mining era in the Far North.

As well as founding the Great Northern Mine and Jack & Newell and working as Managing Director of both for 50 years, he was also a member of the Shire Council, the Mayor of Herberton, the MLA for the District from 1896-1902, a member of the Cairns Harbour Board, and vice-president of the Cairns Stock Exchange.

As a mine owner and manager in regional Queensland at a time when the Labor movement was recruiting miners and cane cutters, and the Qld Labor Government was buying into mines at Mungana, near Chillagoe in extremely dubious circumstances, it is safe to say that the Union movement and John Newell would not always have seen eye to eye.

This poem found amongst John Newell’s papers at Herberton, gives some clue as to John Newell’s thoughts.

Read the poem “Rambling Thoughts by a Man in the Street.”

Both his sons William and John (Bunny) went into the family business, but according to grandson Rod, there would have been little consideration in the early 1900s to the idea of John Newell’s two daughters Elizabeth and Margaret going into the firm.

None of the family appears to have inherited his love of politics, although his son Bunny did serve some time on the Herberton Shire Council.

More information about Herberton