In the Rider Waite Eight of Cups, we are confronted with the moment of transition. We see a cloaked figure taking off to a barren land leaving behind eight golden cups. He is tired of what those cups, that he has spent so much time collecting, represent and is now setting out seeking a higher purpose. It may come from boredom and restlessness or from sheer necessity.
One extraordinary woman who kept reinventing and re-imagining herself, who filled many cups with fascinating stories, became known as the Eulo Queen. She is remembered, her infamy, celebrated in Eulo, Queensland, to this day.
Isabel Gray (1851?-1929), hotelier and storekeeper, was the daughter of James Richardson, army captain, and Priscilla Wright. On her first marriage certificate in April 1869 she was recorded as being born eighteen years before in England. When she married again in 1871 she claimed to have been born in Mauritius. Said to have been well educated in Switzerland, she was sent to Australia, probably in 1868. On 29 April 1869 at Warialda, New South Wales, Isabella Richardson married the 32-year-old Scots superintendent, James McIntosh. He died soon after. On 2 March 1871 at Roma, Queensland, Isabel McIntosh, widow and governess, married Richard William Robinson, station-manager of Spring Grove, Surat.
Her life was a series of re-imaginings and reincarnations, never sullied by her previous endeavours or what the gentle folk thought of her. Although short in stature, the tall tales of the Eulo Queen live on at the Eulo Queen Hotel and she imbues every hall of the pub itself today.
By 1886 Isabel and her second husband Richard William Robinson were hotel-keepers at Eulo (on the Paroo River) in Southwestern Queensland, an important Cobb & Co. staging post between Cunnamulla and Thargomindah and the coach junction from Hungerford. A few years later they had obtained the freehold, hotel and billiard licences of the Royal Mail Hotel and acquired the Empire Hotel. They also ran a store and butcher’s shop in Eulo and thus controlled most of the town’s economy. Eulo had fast become a gathering-place for travellers, graziers, Opal miners and merchants.
About this time the legend of the ‘Eulo Queen’ began. Although short, Isabel probably possessed some personal beauty with the physical sumptuousness so esteemed by contemporary males, and a complaisant husband enabled her to operate as a successful courtesan. Her bedroom was a scene of great activity. A stock of liquor there helped her to entertain groups of gentlemen with conversation and gambling. More intimate entertainment was available.
Opals were the key to her heart; she was captivated by these fiery gems. She used them as currency and for adornment, including a fantastic girdle of alternate large opals and nautilus shells. Some say she styled herself ‘Queen of Eulo’, but others consider admirers conferred the title. The 1893 financial crisis and the 1896 failure of the Queensland National Bank reduced her wealth.
On 18 October 1902 Robinson died at Cunnamulla. On 31 October 1903 Isabel married, at Eulo, a 29-year-old Tasmanian, Herbert Victor Gray. The bride was about 53 but claimed she was 35. She recouped her fortunes and in 1913 went to Europe where she lived lavishly. On her return she quarrelled with Gray; he beat her, and was charged with assault, convicted and fined £25. Isabel paid the fine but thereafter she denied Gray her bed and board. He joined the Australian Imperial Force, but died before going to France.
World War I ended with Eulo’s importance lost to railways and better roads, the opal industry in deep recession and the young men away on war service, many never to return. The Eulo Queen’s remaining enterprises withered on the vine. By 1926 she was living in poverty at Eulo, the military pension as Gray’s widow her sole support. Later she was admitted to Willowburn Mental Hospital at Toowoomba and died there on 7 August 1929. Buried in Toowoomba cemetery, she left an estate of £30
A Surveyors Perspective of This Region
The following comes from the writings of my great great Grandfather, George Chale Watson who was surveying the Eulo region in the decade prior to the Eulo Queen’s reign.
“Having made my measurements and adjusted the boundaries to the satisfaction of the runholders I retraced my tracks as far as Eulo, where I turned off to Cunnamulla, en route to this eastern part of the district, where I had some work. I reached Cunnamulla in November 1874 and found it a lively and pleasantly situated township. Being on the intersection of two main lines of traffic – namely the road along the Warrego into New South Wales and the route from St George to Cunnamulla – a fairly constant stream of traffic was passing through consequent upon the travelling of stock, the cartage of wool and the delivery of station supplies, whilst an increasing occupation of the West involved the moving about of all classes and grades, from rich squatter to the swagman and bookmaker. The principal occupants of the place were the Huxley’s (who kept the Hotel, exceedingly well conducted), Fred Ford, a storekeeper, the local blacksmith and their contemporary, the sergeant of police.
Finding some instructions from the Surveyor-General to extend the survey of Cunnamulla I diversified my feature surveying by the marking out of a few sections of town allotments, which occupied me a week, during which time, putting up at Huxley’s Hotel, I met with many denizens of the West, representative men who had won their spurs as pioneers, and whose preliminary exploits have proved the foundation of the Commonwealth in this part of the continent of Australia.
From Cunnamulla I proceeded further east and affected the survey of Noorama and Widgeegoara Creek where stations had been formed by Mr Edward Brown, the Messrs Howie and Mr John Bignell, the latter in Widgeegoara Creek. He was married to the eldest Miss Williams of Coongoola, one of the first white women who entered the Warrego District and certainly one of the bravest. Some years previous to 1874, when just married and residing on the Upper Bulloo at Tintinchilla station, of which her husband was the manager, upon one occasion a blackfellow stealthily crept into the dwelling and was in the act of tomahawking her when she flew out the opposite door, which fortunately happened to be open, and reached within sight of the stockyard, where Mr Bignell and his men were working.
Upon reaching Mr. Bignell’s station on the Widgeegoara I found Mrs Bignell upholding the traditions of pioneering, for she was living in an improvised shelter of a few sheets of corrugated iron. However, she found means, even in those primitive conditions to extend the traditional hospitality of Coongoola.
The whole of the Widgeegoara and Noorama country was like a luxuriant wheat field, covered with Mitchell grass. The Widgeegoara and Noorama creeks are actually billabongs which run out of the Warrego on to an immense southern plain which runs along the boundary of Queensland and New South Wales, extending from the Condemine waters to Grey’s Range on the west of the Bulloo River. It is only in a very high flood like that of 1874 that the Warrego overflows into the Widgeegoara and Noorama so that until dams were made and wells sunk the waterholes would remain for years unfilled. A few hundred yards of the canal cut out of the Warrego into the head of the Widgeegoara billabong would obviate this serious drawback. In fact the billabongs which break away from the Warrego, Paroo and Bulloo might be utilised by the extension of canals to irrigate the immense Southern plain referred to.
These surveys completed my work for 1874. I had located and classified about 200 runs and in the classification had materially augmented the revenue for many of the runs had been held throughout as half unavailable, which meant the rent was only paid on the available portion.
Source: G. C. Watson Building the Commonwealth