Muscular womanhood – the formidable Lynch Sisters of Gympie

The Australian bush, and Queensland probably in particular, has produced many heroines, who have faced dangers, privations, and adversities with stout hearts. In the great work of pioneering they took a very big part. They played the game right through and were worthy of Victoria Crosses, which did not come their way, but posterity is the gainer in the worthy sons and daughters which have succeeded them. So reads a report in the Queensland Times of Ipswich in 1920. A recent writer gives an Instance of what muscular women of late years have done. About 10 years ago, near Gympie, Mary and Maggie Lynch were familiar figures driving their bullock teams. Afterwards the girls went wood cutting round about Kilkivan and Nanango, and Mary won a wood-chopping contest against all the men who entered. The Lynch sisters were brought up on their father’s farm at Glastonbury, near Gymple, and as he had not the money to employ labour Mary and Maggie did the work for their earliest years. They are tall, powerful women, as strong, If not stronger, than the average bushman.

This report which did the rounds of the newspapers in 1920 seems to be based on someone’s recollections of the sisters and gets the names wrong. There were four Lynch sisters involved in timber-getting around Gympie and the South Burnett in the years before and after 1900. Nell (christened Helen, born 1879), Mary (b 1880), Kate (1882) and Rose (1885) (with another sister, Lizzie, born 1883) were the eldest of fourteen children born to Cornelius and Ellen Lynch and these five sisters came along before the first of their seven sons, Michael, was born in 1886.

Lynch Family, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 34273

Nell, Mary, Kate and Rose Lynch with the tools of their trade, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 34273

Irish immigrant Cornelius Lynch selected land near Gympie in 1872 and married Ellen Flynn in 1879. It seems that their cattle died during an infestation of tick fever and Cornelius returned to timber-getting. Producing five daughters before the first of his seven sons, Cornelius taught the oldest daughters the timber trade, and the girls being tall and strongly built made a success of the trade, competing successfully for contracts against the men in the business. Much credit should be given to Ellen who gave birth to fourteen strong children between 1879 and 1902. Ellen’s life was summarised in the Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette after her death in 1916.

The death occurred in Brisbane in the Mater Misericordiae Hospital on Monday morning of Mrs.Ellen Lynch, wife of Mr. Cornelius Lynch, of Glastonbury. The deceased lady, who was 59 years of age, was born in County Tipperary, Ireland and came to Australia 38 years ago, practically the whole of the time being spent in the Gympie district. In the early days she was known for her Gaelic dancing. Mrs. Lynch was married on the field 30 years ago and leaves a family of seven boys and seven girls.

The Lynch sisters gained public attention when, becoming well known for their timber cutting skills, they were asked to appear and give demonstrations at local shows and other public events. Their appearance in the Kingaroy Show was reported in the Cairns Morning Post in 1908.

The big and popular feature of the day at the Kingaroy annual show (says the local “Herald”) was the wood chopping contest by the Misses Kate, Nellie, Mary, and Rose Lynch. The ladies entered the ring in sensible working garb, being officially escorted. Their logs were prepared previously by the men folk competitors, and having taken their places they, chopped with fine swinging blows and keen rivalry, whilst snapshots clicked and the crowd watched quietly and keenly every cut. As Miss Mary’s log toppled over, and Miss Nellie’s followed the crowd burst into the ring like a deluge. The girls were overwhelmed with congratulations and. cheers were given right heartily. It was some time before they could reach their dressing-room. The exhibition was a most novel, honest, and attractive event, and would make a fortune for an entrepreneur.

Lynch sisters demonstrating their wood sawing skills at the Kingaroy Show, Queensland, 1909, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 34274

Lynch sisters demonstrating their wood sawing skills at the Kingaroy Show, Queensland, 1909, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 34274

Nell and Kate Lynch appeared in the Brisbane Cricket Ground as the star attraction of the Ambulance Brigade sports carnival in 1911 as reported in The Telegraph.

A notable feature of the carnival was an exhibition of woodchopping by the Misses Lynch, two typical Queensland bush girls from the Kingaroy district, who claim to be the champion women woodchoppers of Australasia. Each proved herself to be an adept worker, both with the axe and the crosscut saw. They first engaged in a contest of cutting with axes through upright hardwood logs 30 inches in circumference. The event was very interesting and exciting, Miss Nell Lynch winning in 2 mins. 56 3/5 secs., with Miss Kate Lynch only 3 secs. behind. Afterwards they cut through a similar log with a saw in 1 min. 29 3/5 secs.

Lynch sisters, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 57596

Two of the Lynch sisters posing with a pine tree, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 57596

The timber-cutting partnership of the Lynch Sisters was eventually disbanded when Rose, Mary and Nell were married. Tony Matthews in his book True blue Queenslanders describes the sisters as exceptionally hard working and also proud and self reliant and that they lived in the men’s camps under canvas without any kind of modern conveniences. … Yet the life the sisters lived in the bush did in no way reduce their femininity. Early male timber-getters and selectors remember them as being attractive, handsomely attired in their Victorian dresses. The sisters were also very intelligent, ‘real ladies’ as one pioneer described them.

Tea break for the Lynch sisters, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 137892

Tea break for the Lynch sisters, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 137892

As a footnote, it could be added that the Lynch brothers seem to have been fine strapping lads as well. Certainly James Lynch, who was killed in action in 1916, meets that description in the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser.

Word has been received that Gunner James Joseph Lynch was killed in action on July 4. The news was conveyed to his father, Mr. Cornelius Lynch, who is a resident of Nanango. The young soldier, whose mother died some years ago, leaves behind six other brothers and seven sisters. He was the fifth son and was 26 years of age. Two other brothers are at the front. Gunner Lynch who was a Gympie native, enlisted in Gympie in June, 1916. He was a splendid type of Australian, was 6ft 2in tall, and a fine all-round athlete. He was employed as a timber classer in the railway service.

Gunner James Lynch, one of the soldiers photographed in The Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 1918, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Image number: 702692-19180921-s0028-0001

Gunner James Lynch, one of the soldiers photographed in The Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 1918, Image number: 702692-19180921-s0028-0001

The Lynch sisters have been included in a list of the most significant people in Gympie’s history by the Gympie branch of the National Trust. The list will be narrowed further for inclusion in a book to be published next year for Gympie’s 150th Anniversary. With competition including James Nash, who made the original gold discovery at Gympie, former Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, and Major General Sir William Glasgow on the list, the Lynch sister’s inclusion in the final selection is not certain but if chosen they would be worthy inclusions. The full long-list was published by The Gympie Times in September.

Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland