The Atkin Family

Two Irish Patriots

Dr Kevin Izod O’Doherty

Kevin O’Doherty was born on 7 September 1823 into a Catholic family in Dublin.

Kevin Izod O’Doherty

O’Doherty first arrived in Australia in 1849, when he was transported to Tasmania from Ireland for advocating the cause of a free Ireland. After his pardon in 1857, O’Doherty became a doctor. Eventually he and his wife, a radical nationalist poet, Mary Eva, known as ‘Eva of The Nation’, settled in Brisbane, where he became a leading surgeon. As a Member of the Legislative Assembly, O’Doherty introduced Queensland’s first public health Act, the Health Act of 1872, and contributed to public education.

Robert Travers Atkin

Robert Atkin was born on 29 November 1841 into a Protestant family at Fernhill, near Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland. 

After the early death of Robert’s father, his mother took the family to France where Robert was educated. Back in England, Robert was found to be suffering from early indications of consumption (tuberculosis). So, Robert, with his family, decided to emigrate to Queensland on medical advice to seek a warmer climate. They arrived in Brisbane in March 1865. Robert worked as a campaigning journalist and Member of the Legislative Assembly, and promoted the cause of liberal democracy.

Robert Travers Atkin

In Brisbane

The Fenian (Irish Nationalist) Dr O’Doherty and the Protestant Robert Atkin became friends and made common cause to make Queensland a more democratic and fairer place. Robert Atkin and Kevin O’Doherty may have had their differences over Irish independence, but as public figures and unpaid Members of Parliament, these friends had a shared vision about Queensland’s future. They and other reformers, like Charles Lilley, opposed the vested interests of the squattocracy. Robert Atkin argued for fairness towards people in the North, for new railways, and for new industries of cotton and sugar. Atkin described the Polynesian Labourers Act as a legalised system of kidnapping. He and his colleagues did not want Queensland to become a plantation state, built on slavery, like the Deep South of the United States had been.

ON 28 November 1867 in Tank Street, Brisbane the birth on Robert’s son, Richard, was attended by Dr Kevin O’Doherty. Robert Atkin’s career as a campaigning journalist, newspaper editor and MP was short. By late 1871 his health was in terminal decline, and he died at Sandgate in May 1872, aged only 30.

Robert’s widow took his son, Richard (Dick), back to Wales where he was raised in Wales by his loving mother and by his grandmother, Mary Anne Ruck. He won scholarships and was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. Lacking connections in the law, Dick struggled financially at the junior Bar. However, his intelligence and work ethic were recognised and he became a successful barrister. In 1913, he was appointed as a judge, and shortly after was elevated to the Court of Appeal. His judgments were of exceptional quality and in 1928 this led to his appointment to the highest court in the United Kingdom – the House of Lords.

Dick Atkin

The Robert Travers Atkin Restoration Project

The original St Margaret’s church at Sandgate. Both Robert Atkin and his sister, Grace Atkin donated 50 pounds each toward the building of a church on the hill at Sandgate. The first stone was laid by Walter Barrett, the Mayor of Sandgate on 9 August 1891. In 1892 the building was rendered unsafe due to strong winds. The Atkin memorial can be seen on the right.

The original St Margaret’s Church at Sandgate

The memorial was restored in 1937 and is currently undergoing a further restoration. It is to dedicated on 29 May 2022. Full details available here

See also the Robert Travers Atkin Restoration Project on Facebook:

The Atkin Family Memorial today


A Letter from Gaill (Stevens) Macciocca

My dear friends,

It was so good to see you after all these years.  It’s funny how we can forget so many things until we start talking to old friends and family. After our chat I started reminiscing about people we knew and places which held some degree of curiosity for us as kids growing up in Sandgate. As you will recall, my dad knew everybody as a Black and White Bus driver. The old buses used to pick up all around suburban Brighton and Shorncliffe and then through Sandgate into The Valley and ‘Town’. Dad, or Jimmy Stevens as he was known to the locals, would do the school run as well and every kid would get on the bus and say “hi Jimmy” except for us kids.  As my friends, your parents would make you say “Hello Mr. Stevens” and I had to address Dad as “Dad” not “Jimmy”.

Black and White buses (photo State Library of Qld)

A couple of things I remember:

Saturday afternoons in the late 50’s were often spent meeting up at the Bonny View Hotel at Bald Hills with our uncle, aunt and cousins from Chermside.  The pub had a family afternoon in the outdoor beer garden, which had swings and a stage.  We would have Panda potato chips and a double sars.  Dad and uncle would have a beer and rum chaser and the ladies would have a shandy.  We would listen to this group of young kids play guitar and sing.  Their names were the Gibb Brothers – the Bee Gees.

Dad would always tell me that when I went to the Sandgate Beach Picture Theatre as a 13 year old going to the matinee, in 1963, I was not to sit up the back because that’s where the “lovers” sat and if he found out I was with a boy, there’d be hell to pay.  Besides the naughty kids rolled the Jaffas and Coke bottles from the back to the front and ‘bodgies and widgies’ sat up there too. I also couldn’t sit down the front ‘cause that was “bad for the eyes”.  So in the middle was the option. It was always hard to find a seat there!!!

Sandgate Beach Picture Theatre

Insert image Sandgate Beach Picture Theatre

Dad’s bus used to terminate outside the Beach Theatre and he would do up his “run sheet” there and talk to the locals wandering down to the then very sandy stretch of swimmable beach directly in front of the Theatre – between Cliff Street and Third Avenue.  There was also a covered shelter with bench seats on either side and a big wooden bench table in the centre.

Each Easter, a sand sculptor would come to Sandgate and create a full scale sand sculpture of the last supper under the shelter.  It was quite sensational and people would come down in masses to have a look at it then take a dip in the beach or at the wading pool, which was where the Swimming Pool is now.  Oh and remember the old bathing boxes that the nuns used for their dips right next door to the salt water baths which were adjacent to the beach shelter.

Bathing Box (photo Sandgate Historical Museum)

            Every Anzac Day there was the parade through Sandgate down Brighton Terrace to the Sandgate Memorial Park.  You reminded me of the old air raid shelter that was there in the park. I think it was covered with a large concrete block – not very secret- the shelter being underneath somewhere. We were kind of fascinated by it but were never able to go down to see what it looked like. Perhaps the concrete was put over it to stop curious people from going down or maybe it was covered in.

There was a rotunda there where the band would play on Sundays. They would also go up to Moore Park and play in the rotunda up there. Alternate Sundays I think.

I laughed when you told me about old Cyril who is 91 now and recalls when he worked as a boy at the food counter of the Bon Accord Theatre. That was in Rainbow Street, on the service station site now, near the old ice works, which is now Jeays Hardware site. A fire gutted the theatre in the late 50’s unfortunately.  Cyril would serve the theatregoers with their drinks and food before the picture started.  He would then race off to get his “catch of the day” down in Cabbage Tree Creek or on the beach somewhere.  Amazingly he would return in time to serve the food at interval!!!  Must have been some sort of a record!

The grandpa of one of our other friends, a well-known family identity in Sandgate, had the first horseless carriage in Sandgate. After drinking with a mate at the “Billiard Club” which I have been told is still in Sandgate opposite the Town Hall, I recall from memory, took a wrong turn on his way home in the dark and ended up in the “First Lagoon” (now ironically mostly a car park). The other irony of this story was that the next morning he had to get his mates with their horses to help him get his horseless carriage out of the lagoon!!!

One more thing I remember was the funny little arcade almost opposite the police station called “The Laurels”.  I never did find out where that name came from but they had lots of funny little shops in there and they were very dark.  The nuns would walk past the Laurels down to the shops and we would all hide in case they “grabbed us” and took us to the home for the homeless children down on the beachfront.

We also got scared off going near the First Lagoon as there was an old Aboriginal tale about the Bunyip, which lived there.  As I went to the State School we used to sneak out the back of the school, across the school grounds with the biggest Moreton Bay figs (we used their roots as caves when we played at lunch time), towards the back gates of the school over the “forbidden” section of the grounds known as “the cliff” and down to the lagoon to see if we could “catch” the bunyip taking a dip.

Oh and remember when Sandgate School had the fires?  The first one was in 1958 – I was in Grade 3.  The beautiful old main building was gutted. Some dissatisfied pupil they thought. The next year another old building went and my class had to go into a demountable building – they sadly removed our favourite Moreton Bay fig to make more room. That building was so hot.  No fans or air conditioners in those days.

Oh, how simple our lives were.  Sandgate was a great place to grow up and I thank my parents for giving me those wonderful years down at the Bay. As you will recall, on the weekends Dad would “march” all of the neighbourhood kids down to the beach for a swim.  He was so good with kids and we would all climb all over him and dive off his shoulders into the water, and he would give us “drag” rides through the “ripples”.  The water was much cleaner in those days. There were always lots of soldier crabs and those little clear jellyfish that we would throw at the boys when they teased us!  In the early sixties, when surfing became popular, Sandgate kids had their own version of “surfing”.  It was known as “skimming” and you used a “skim board” which was large and round like an oversized skimming stone. You would get on in the edge of the water and skim along. It was great fun! The boys from my class called themselves “The Sandgate Ripple Riders”.

Dad also let us put the little green frogs all over him when we played in the backyard.  Those days there were thousands of them.  Makes you wonder what we have done to the environment doesn’t it.

Well I could go on forever, reminiscing but have run out of time.

Perhaps we will catch up again soon.

Take care

Gaill (Stevens) Macciocca

Age: 53 years

A Sandgate landmark – the town hall today

(Extract from ‘Moreton Bay Letters’ Peter Ludlow 2003)