As the son of an aristocrat, Hope had no experience of sugar, but he had the capital to set up an industry. His first foray into tropical agriculture was in cotton growing, but he became convinced that sugar offered better prospects than cotton. In response to an offer by the London Society of Arts of a medal for the first ton of sugar manufactured in Queensland, he planted 20 acres of sugar cane at Ormiston and in 1864 his mill crushed the first commercially grown cane.
The machinery supplied by the famous firm of D Cook & Co. of Glasgow consisted of a powerful single crushing unit driven by a steam engine, an open battery, a Bour pan, granulators and a centrifugal machine. Hope engaged J W Strachan, a practical engineer with experience in the Jamaican sugar industry and in 1863 with improvised equipment he crushed the canes and boiled the juice to produce a sample of ration sugar.
By early 1864 the mill building was under construction and later that year the first crush produced 3 tons of sugar and 15 cwt of molasses, the first time sugar was produced commercially in Queensland.
Production increased over the years and by mid-1867 50-60 tons of sugar were ready for the market. Ormiston was the only mill south of the Brisbane River until 1867 when the Pimpama and Malungmavel mills opened. A boom in 1869 saw many more sugar mills constructed, and in that year the Ormiston mill had its best year producing 132 tonnes.
As he needed extra labourers for his plantation and mill, Hope bought 30 kanakas at £6-0s-0d per head in 1864. Although Hope provided them with dormitories, the Islanders preferred to live in their own huts on the property.
Unable to fulfil his contract to crush a neighbours cane due to mechanical breakdown, Hope was taken to court and ordered to pay compensation. He lost the appeal, and vowed to leave the sugar industry and never return. He sold much of his property and eventually returned to Britain in 1884. However, Ormiston House and its surrounds were not sold until 1913.
Hope’s greatest success was in stimulating cane growing and in fostering the growth of the industry in Queensland. His title as the ‘Father of the Commercial Sugar Industry in Queensland’ was well deserved. He supplied plants for several experiments by John Buhôt, provided cuttings for plantations in the Oxley district, and advised other sugar pioneers such as C B Whish.
In 1935 the International Society of Sugar Technologists erected a cairn at Ormiston to the memory of the pioneers of the sugar industry. Constructed of granite from the three important sugar growing areas around Cairns, Herbert River and Giru, its base of unworked stone rising to partially dressed stone and then on to the machined capping stone, representing the Industry’s pioneering days, its progress and its present efficiency. The plaque at the base of the cairn was donated in 1994 to commemorate 100 years since the death of Louis Hope.