Covers of the book.

The front and back covers of the 240-page softcover book.

This meticulously researched, real-life account begins with a perilous journey in a migrant ship and traces the life and career of John Menzies, a Scottish mill-worker who became a publican in Brisbane, Australia between 1862 and 1881.

There are tales of larceny, murder and hard drinking; nights of celebrations and sporting victories; the travels of a Prince on a Vice-Royal visit; the scandal and politics of the town council; and the battle of rules between Australian football and Rugby.

Surprising stories and images reveal the music, food, inventions, costume and mood of the times. With the writing style retaining the flavour of the era, the author provides a fascinating insight into life in mid-nineteenth century Queensland.

pawky john at the union hotel

Original artwork — Portrait of John Menzies at the Union Hotel, 1866 by Roderick McLeod.

Some of the people you will get to know while reading the book.

Detailed maps show the locations mentioned in the book.

Reading the newspapers was an essential daily pastime.

From depictions of everyday life to accounts of major events, Brian Menzies’ chronicle of colonial Brisbane educates and entertains. His ancestor, John Menzies was a successful publican and boarding house proprietor. He extended hospitality to a wide assortment of customers, including entrepreneurs, petty thieves, a future premier, brawlers and drunkards, armed service volunteers, proud expatriates, and some who met untimely fates.

John Menzies also served as an alderman and became embroiled in the local issues of the day. There were contentious arguments about whether street lighting was even necessary, controversial proposals for night soil disposal, accusations of scandal and corruption, budget overruns and mismanagement of construction projects. There were discussions about problems with feral goats, and arrangements for a young Prince Alfred’s  highly anticipated visit that did not always proceed as planned.

Brian’s well-researched book has ‘something for everyone’. There are descriptions of lavish suppers and balls, concerts and carousing, horse races, parades and street demonstrations. Family matters are revealed. John Menzies was concerned with the price of beer, wine and spirits; his youngest daughter joined the burgeoning temperance movement. Another daughter journeyed more than eighteen hundred miles to find herself a husband. His son was a keen footballer, and played during the pivotal seasons in which two codes vied for dominance in Brisbane. The family also bore its share of misfortune, illness and death.

In sub-tropical Brisbane the everyday colonists strove to retain and impose their traditions and lifestyles – onto the landscape and its indigenous inhabitants, and in the face of storms and floods, disease and fires. Pawky John : The Life and Times of a Colonial Publican presents the events that touched John Menzies’ life and the people he knew, compiled from public and personal records of the times.

Some Reviews

“I enjoyed reading Pawky John. It took me to the times with many insights and surprising real life events. Kept me reading to find out more!”

Mary-Lou O’Shea      25th January 2020

I enjoyed very much Brian’s book, reading it from cover to cover. We would be excused to think that the book would mainly be of interest for the Menzies family but it’s not the case at all. Brian cleverly uses his great great grand-father as a vector into this account, for the purpose of depicting the life in these times in their many different aspects, such as the trip from England to Australia, the growth of Brisbane, the early beginning of sports, when players were not even sure yet what game they were playing or for how long. The weather, the city lighting, the visit of the prince Alfred, the politics are documented into many details, creating some kind of fascinating report full of information. This book is a must have for families whose ancestors migrated to Brisbane or Australia at the same time as Pawky John. I migrated only to Australia some 20 years ago but I felt however a great interest in discovering the city of Brisbane and the life there in the infancy of the Queensland colony, so different from the history you learn when you’re a European kid, like discovering a parallel universe that was existing at the same time. You also can’t help but noticing the incredible amount of research work done here by Brian. Well done!

Jean-Marc     29th January 2020

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pawky john thumbnail

Pawky John : The Life and Times of a Colonial Publican by Brian J Menzies. 240 page softcover book.


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