adventurer, man of mystery, explorer, trail blazer.
Palmerston represents an altogether different type of
explorer and track blazer to those others whose names have
become familiar to us. Mulligan, Doyle, Robson, Atherton,
McLeod, Mazlin, etc. His method of exploration was different
too. He was of a class apart. He was to some an enigma most of
the explorers and vanguard pioneers , who opened up our
northland had a defining aim, a projected purpose in view
ahead of their journeys.
Palmerston’s name has been woven into the fabric of
many legends which, as time goes on, become more colourful.
His contribution towards district development had been
great, and his is a name that will live on. A outlaw living
for a time in a cave on the banks of the Pascoe River up north
– thus one supposed authority. “A man of mystery,” said
others, not without reason. Coyyan made the acquaintance of
Palmerston in 1881 when he met him at the Three mile near
Herberton, and camped with him for several weeks. Afterwards
the tracks of both men crossed on many occasions, and their
final meeting was at Ross Island, Townsville, where Palmerston
conducted an hotel. Coyyan refutes the statement that this man
was a man of mystery. To those who knew him intimately he
probably was not, to others his nature stood as such.
Going back into Palmerston’s earlier days, it is known that he worked for Mark Christian on Millanjie Station, in the Broadsound district, doing general station work. Christian had brought him as a youth from Hobart town. Palmerston then went to the newly opened Palmer goldfields. Probably it was the love of adventure, the desire to see new country rather than the thought of acquiring riches that sent him there. On the Palmer Christy came into sharp conflict with the authorities, and was for a time compelled to live almost as an outlaw. What the cause of his disagreement with the police was, does not matter at this stage. He had no real reason for the supposition that he would be connected with the happening. Perhaps false counsels prevailed; perhaps it was his independent nature. In any case Palmerston went bush for a few years, moving at will over a wide area, appearing in unexpected localities, living mostly upon the game provided in forest, scrub and stream. During the period of his isolation from civilisation as it was in those days much careful and laborious exploring of the Daintree and Bloomfield was partings was done. He rendered good service to a lonely home on Leadingham Creek when myalls attacked it with its solitary occupant a woman. It was while dispersing these blacks that he captured the boy, Pompey.
those days Palmerston’s home was either the wild bush itself
or the homes of two friends- Frasers, of Mitchellvale, and Sam
the Roman’s wayside shanty. It was at Frasers that Sergeant
Crowe made a very determined attempt to arrest Palmerston, but
the bushman was too quick and got into the shelter of the
timber near the homestead.
very temperate in his habits, indulging little if any in
liquor, and also was not a heavy smoker. During 1879 or 1880
his diary was published in the Queenslander, and it
gave a record of his and Fraser’s exploring of the Daintree
and Bloomfield areas.
time he suffered severely from eye troubles, and it was feared
that he had contracted a disease from the handling of poisoned
spear points used by some of the blacks. In consequence of
this eye affliction he made a trip to Sydney to consult an eye
specialist. There were, however no further serious
developments of the disease.
at the beginning of its brief prosperity, was taking an
interest in its back country, and for the purpose of making a
comprehensive prospecting survey a sum of£150 was collected by the local
residents. The Government of the day subsidized this sum on a
pound for pound basis. J. V. Mulligan was asked to lead the
party, but he recommended Palmerston, who had considerable
knowledge of the region through which prospecting was to be
carried out. This was Palmerston’s first serious attempt at
prospecting, and he wisely chose two experienced miners, Harry
Hammond and Robert Beattie, as co-partners on the trip. Their
starting point was from the Springs, where Jack Ganes kept an
hotel, but during the first week and for the rest of the trip,
Hammond and Beattie discarded Palmerston as leader, although
for their mutual benefit and safety they travelled together.
The trip gave no very profitable results, but as the years
rolled on, small fields such as Mt. Armit, Mt. Windsor, Mt.
Spurgeon, Mt. Alto, and Mt. Carbine, were opened up within the
scope of country covered previously by Palmerston, Beattie and
The trip as
regards prospecting may have been a failure, bit its carrying
out brought Palmerston’s name well before the public. There
was then an agitation for a suitable port to tap the
hinterland, and Palmerston was retained by the Government to
inspect or discover a possible route from each port.
On the Port
Douglas side, Palmerston was ably assisted by Bob McLean and
Dave Gregory. The latter kept an hotel on the first section of
the Port Douglas- Herberton road, quite close to the former
point. The Cook Highway of today touches the site.
were blazed, one via the Mowbray and the other by Cassowary
Creek. Neither found favour in the eyes of Surveyor de Lesser,
and the port itself was marked down as unsuitable.
On the Cairns
side, Palmerston’s efforts were not appreciated as a track
finder. For one thing, very many old timers resided there,
and, as prospectors, they knew the district, and in a manner
resented the calling in of an outside opinion. Still,
Palmerston fared well in the Cairns district, for just at the
time, Swallows were engaged at the erection of the Hambledon
Mill, and, being southerners, were taken up with Palmerston’s
fame as an explorer, opening their house to him as a guest.
Johnstone- Mourilyan side, the thick jungles gave Palmerston
full opportunity for his skill as a bushman.
It has to be
remembered that the belts of scrub were often as much as sixty
miles in breadth, and only those who knew the jungles before
they had been despoiled by man know the task that Palmerston
had to face. All supplies necessary had to be carried by the
individual track finder. Later, as the natives haunted the
settlements, their use as carriers was obtained.
Palmerston’s sole purpose been the discovery of gold, the
credit of the Jordan fields mild rush would have been his, for
several of the tracks made b y him are cut through the
auriferous belts, and one of his main camps was situated
within 200 yards of where the prospectors afterwards applied
for and were granted the P.C. area. These tracks were
condemned as unsuitable for railway purposes, but many years
after, one of them goes through the present town of Millaa
Millaa was opened up to Glen Allyn as a pack track, but few
were they who ever used it.
some rough and anxious times in the jungle land, and although
he had two good boys, Pompeii and Bowenkie, he had always to
be on the alert. On one occasion when the myalls attacked him
in the gorges of the Beatrice, it became a question of
fighting his way out through the bombardment of stones that
the Aborigines threw down from the steep, scrub clad lands. On
another occasion when he was resting on Badgeree Creek he was
set upon but the bullets from his rifle went straight and the
attack was frustrated. During the early part of 1886,
Palmerston explored the Russell River, and on one of his
trips, his boys found gold in Werrimbah Creek and the lower
reaches of the river. He reported his find at Geraldton (now
Innisfail) and at the same time, George Clarke reported and
applied for a prospecting claim which he named “Coupe,” and
which was situated on the high lands of the Russell stream.
Clarke’s discovery was reported to the Herberton Warden.
Gold had been
found on the Johnstone during the year 1884, but the miners
there soon left for the new field. Palmerston erected a store
at the base of Mt. Bartle Frere. He received ten shillings per
head for piloting 200 Chinese on to the field, and their
numbers increased until there were about a thousand of them
scattered over the gold bearing area. The difficulties of
transport were great. Pack teams were not to be had, and roads
consisted only of blazed lines or half brushed pads. Natives
or Chinese were used in the transport of supplies. Palmerston,
after a time, disposed of his business to a Chinaman, and
then, for a brief time, resided in Geraldton. He went thence
to Townsville and got married. At Townsville he was for some
time hotel keeping, but the wanderlust was too strongly
ingrained within his nature, the call of the wild was too
insistent, and he drifted across to the Straits Settlement as
a prospector for a large mining combine. It was there that he
passed away after a severe attack of malaria, ending a
colourful career and leaving much of value to posterity.
The above has
been taken from Coyyan’s notes. On certain aspects there may
be a difference of opinion. Much else could be written of
Palmerston. For instance there is a touching story told of the
illness and death of Pompey, Palmerston’s ever faithful little
friend who passed away at an early age in Herberton.
John Fraser of
Mitchellvale, became one of
Palmerston’s closest friends. His first meeting with
the bushman- explorer was made under strange circumstances.
Fraser was out on an isolated part of his run one day and at
noon sat down under a tree to eat his dinner. He was
astonished to hear a shout, and looking about saw coming
towards him through the bush a man heavily armed with
revolvers and a rifle. Little clothed, tattered by many weeks
of bush travelling, the newcomer presented a strange
spectacle. At ease when he learned who Fraser was, the man
introduced himself as Christy Palmerston. Fraser took him to
the homestead and fitted him out with new clothes. Palmerston
remained at Mitchellvale for months, doing a little
prospecting and keeping a watchful care over the movements of
Many men have
contributed to the work of exploration that went on after
Leichhardt, Kennedy and others had blazed criss-crossing lines
throughout the Northland. None deserved more honourable
mention than does Christy Palmerston, and it was but a merited
reward that naming of the great new highway linking Innisfail
with the Cairns district. Track blazing through the scrubs was
altogether different to that carried out in the pen bushland.
These days one sees a marked contract to conditions prevailing
in Palmerstons’ time.
Published 1941 Cairns Post
By Clem Lack
No headstone marks the grave of Christy Palmerston, at Kuala Pilah, in Malay; the morose, taciturn adventurer, who blazed the pioneer trails in North Queensland would have wanted it that way. He could not have foreseen that his fame, real and legendary, would increase in the years after his death, and that his name would be perpetuated on the maps of Queensland.
Around the campfires in the lonely places of the far
North and great North West, men still talk of Christy
Palmerston, and his exploits, and the tales handed down from
their fathers and grandfathers before them, lose nothing in
Legend persists that Christy Palmerston was an
Englishman the natural son of Lord Palmerston, England’s great
Prime Minister, and that his mother was the beautiful Italian
Countess Carandini, whose fame as a singer won her world wide
repute. Actually he was the son of a dairy farmer in the
Gippsland district of Victoria.
The assertion has also been made that he was the well
educated product of an English public school but the later
General Reginald Spencer Browne, who knew him in the North
Queensland days, said that he spoke no language but that of
the blacks, and his own English tongue, the latter “rather
He was a man of solitude and mystery. There was nothing
of the hawk-eyed swash-buckling adventurer of the romantic
story book about his appearance. He was a saturnine, lean and
wiry little man with a withered arm, who might have been the
living embodiment, except for the flapping cabbage tree hat he
wore, of Rider Haggard’s small-boned hero, Allan Quartermaine.
His skin was tanned so dark by the northern sun that he looked
almost as black as the aboriginals who were his constant
Lonely and aloof he came and went from the Northern
outposts of white settlement in the early 1870s with a silent,
almost stealthy swiftness, stalking ahead of a body guard of
blacks, with Pompo, his devoted black boy trotting at his
heels. Pompo, on the authority of J. W. Collinson, died at
Herberton in August 1882.
No man knew better than Christy Palmerston, the wild
Palmer country, the impenetrable jungles, the inaccessible
mountain ridges of the Cairns hinterland. During his long
absences in the wilderness, he lived in the same primitive
fashion as the blacks. When the white man’s ration of corned
beef and damper gave out, he lived on the native diet of
wallaby, succulent tree grubs, edible nuts, and yams, and,
perhaps, a sleek carpet snake, prize piece dé resistance of
many an aboriginal banquet. He had a thorough knowledge of the
tribal customs and mentality of the black man, and could speak
their language with ease.
In studying Palmerston’s remarkable life, it is
difficult to tell where fact ends and legend begins. His fame
has been embellished by a thousand stories illustrative of his
ferocity, courage, and knight errantry, the virtues and vices
of his complex personality.
There is no doubt that he lived for many of his earlier
years in the northern jungles outside the law. The times were
wild and lawless, and the early American West was not more
untamed, than the far North of the 1870s and 1880s, when
savage myall warriors roamed the jungle clad valley and
mountain slopes, as blood thirsty and ferocious and as cunning
in ambush as the red men of the American frontier.
Certain it is that Christy Palmerston must have been as
tough, as ruthless when occasion warranted, and as fearless as
those hard-bitten men in the coonskin caps, carrying the
long-barrelled smooth-bore rifles in the crook of their arms,
who broke the unknown trails for the conestoga wagons of the
American West. He would have been at home in the company of
Daniel Boone, Colonel Bowie, Davy Crockett, Wild Bill Hickock,
and other semi legendary heroes of early American frontier
history because he belonged to their kind, loving the lonely
places and the solitude of the bush, with its lurking
treachery, and menace of sudden death.
Among the legends of Palmerston which have come down
through the years is that he robbed and terrorised Chinese
prospectors whom he detested. He would raid them in their
camp, and when they fled in panic, collect the sacks of
alluvial gold they had left behind.
There is no doubt that Palmerston shared with the
blacks and the whites a bitter antipathy towards the Chinese,
and he is credited with having violently resisted the yellow
man’s invasion of the Palmer and Upper Russell goldfields.
But J. W. Collinson, in his ‘Early Days of Cairns,’
points out that Palmerston “for a consideration,” brought over
200 Chinese from Geraldton (now Innisfail) to the Lower
Russell rush in March 1887.
He was equally the terror of the savage myalls who were
among the most treacherous on the Australian mainland, and
waylaid and murdered lonely white prospectors, and slaughtered
the Chinese wholesale. After two prospectors had been speared
to death, Palmerston picked up his rifle, and with his retinue
of black retainers, loping behind him, made a terrible
punitive raid against the myalls, wiping out more than a
Many shady deeds on the wrong side of the law doubtless
could be chalked up against Palmerston, but his turbulent life
in the early days of the Palmer from 1873 onward, was a
reflection of the lawless conditions of the time. But the good
and worthwhile deeds of Palmerston outweighed the bad.
Many a settler he saved from the blacks; he discovered
and nursed sick prospectors; he tracked down and rescued men
who became lost in the jungle. The police esteemed him highly,
because he was in fact, worth an entire detachment of native
Warrants for arrest on various charges in the criminal
calendar dating back to the early 1870s were never executed.
Because his services in exploration and settlement, his many
acts of charity and kindness to men, women and children, old
charges which had hung over his head for years were tacitly
His achievements as an explorer were considerable. No
man did more to open up the Cairns and Herberton hinterlands.
From the middle 1870s until well in the 1880s, he traversed
enormous tracts of country where white man had never
previously trodden. He explored the Mulgrave, Herbert,
Beatrice, Tully, North and South Johnstone Rivers, and the
Russell and Barron Rivers to their headwaters.
He discovered the Upper Russell goldfield, thus opening
up the fertile jungle lands at the heads of the Johnstone and
Russell Rivers. He discovered the Daintree Pass, and when tin
was found at Herberton, his trail blazing through the scrub
clad ranges enabled the establishment of Port Douglas. He also
hacked a path from the almost inaccessible tableland to
Mourilyan Harbour. The Palmerston Range, and the Palmerston
lands, lying west of Innisfail and east of Millaa Millaa, and
the Palmerston Highway to Ravenshoe, are geographical
memorials to his fame as an explorer.
After many years of prospecting and exploring in North
Queensland, Palmerston married a Miss Teresa Rooney of
Townsville in December 1886, settled down in that city. His
name as shown on the Marriage Register was Christofero
Palmerston Caradini. Their daughter Rosina Caradini was born
in 1889. Rosina later went to Melbourne to study music and
became an accomplished violinist.
In the early 1890s Palmerston answered the call of
adventure once more. He left Australia for Singapore and
prospected for tin in Borneo and Malaya. He never saw
In the Malayan jungle, he contracted fever, and was
carried by stretcher from the Pasu Concession in Negir
Sembilan to the hospital at Kuala Pilah, when he died on 15
January 1897, a lonely enigma of a man to the last.
His diary which would have been of inestimable value is
believed to have been stored after his death, in a Government
office in Kuala Pilah, where it was destroyed by white ants.
By J. W. Collinson
A history of Cairns would be incomplete without a
reference to this most extraordinary personality, who roamed
the jungle, in the years when Cairns was but an infant. So
much of tradition has grown around his doing, that it is
difficult to place any historical value on many statements
made by pioneers. It is asserted that he assisted Bill Smith
in his exploratory work at Trinity Bay in 1876.. But in all
the published accounts by Sheridan, Spence, Sachs, Doyle,
Geary, Smith, Douglas, Warner and others, it is significant
that the name of Christie Palmerston does not occur.
In June 1877, his name first appears in history, when
he explored and opened the track from Rifle Creek to Port
Douglas, following the Mowbray River gorge. Subsequent
references show that he was concentrating on prospecting at
the head of the Daintree River, and to those who have seen the
country over which Peter Botte stands sentinel, some
appreciation will be accorded to the man who penetrated the
dense scrub to fossick in the creeks and gullies. For us that
record is preserved in his diary published in the Brisbane “Courier”
in January 1881, in which he also refers to earlier events,
such as the discovery of the McLeod River, in company with
James Venture Mulligan, in the early days of the Palmer.
At the time that the vicinity of the Barron River was
being tried for a road over the range, there is no evidence
that prospectors had been attracted to that district.
Palmerston himself admits in 1882, that the Barron Gorge was
quite new to him. He certainly possessed general knowledge of
the scrub country that was conceded by Dr. Logan Jack, W. H.
Monk, and Archibald Meston in their exploring work in the
ranges and dense jungle.
But a camp fire tradition had become woven into some of
the historical narratives and eventually accepted as
authentic. He acquired a knowledge of the blacks and their
customs, that enabled him to work alone, save for the company
of his native boy, Pompo, until death claimed the little
fellow at Herberton, in August 1882. But it is certain that
from the year 1882, he was able to enlist in his parties a
number of natives as carriers, and on his journeys in the
scrub was scarcely distinguishable from his native companions.
G. E. Dalrymple in 1873 had noted slightly different
racial characteristics in the blacks at Trinity Bay; and as
they were scrub-dwellers for the most part, their habits were
determined by their environment. They were fierce and
treacherous, made substantial canoes from cedar logs, were
adept in making fish-traps, and unlike the dwellers of the
open country, had more choice of game and fruit. Dr. Logan
Jack noticed that the blacks of the Russell scrubs did not use
spears. On the sand dunes of the site of Cairns were relics of
camps, with heaps of shells, of a small species of black-lip,
found in the mud of the foreshore. Cannibalism was common
everywhere on the coast, and castaways on that coast never
lived to tell their story. This cannibalism belonged to their
tribal customs. Generally, a young woman was clubbed unawares
to furnish an addition to some festive occasion.
Christie acquired the knowledge from the natives with
regard to edible nuts, roots, yams, and fruits, and native
fisheries, and he was able to supply them with game with his
fire-arms; so this remarkable man roamed the scrubs, making
his home with the children of the soil, independent for the
time being of civilised comforts.
When he was commissioned to search for some possible
route for a railway over the range, he did this single-handed,
penetrating country through which he must have been the first
white man to go. He certainly shared with the blacks and the
whites a strong antipathy to the Chinese. Tradition credits
him with resisting the Chinese on the Palmer, and being the
prime mover in intimidating the Chinese who attempted to enter
the Upper Russell Goldfield. Yet it was Palmerston who for a
consideration brought over 200 Chinese from Geraldton to the
Lower Russell rush in March 1887. His official reports of the
trips he made to find a railway route were published in
abridged form in the “Courier” in the beginning of
1883, the six trips being from Port Douglas, Hartley’s Creek,
Barron River, Wright’s Creek, Mulgrave River, and
records his associations with Palmerston, and his method of
working the boys. Later on Mr. Meston refers to the work of
Palmerston indirectly in his account of the ascent of
Bellenden-Ker and Bartle Frere, and also to the ascent of the
Lamb Range up Wright’s Creek. At the latter place he was able
to refute Palmerston’s statement of an area of thousands of
acres of good land, a report that was the cause of great
excitement in Cairns in 1882. J. V. Mulligan, in his
description of Palmerston, published in 1881, pays tribute to
his sterling worth as a companion, Mr. Monk found him at all
times a most useful and trustworthy guide, allowing for a
certain lack of conversational ability due to his restless
nomadic habits and association with natives.
Two notable accounts are those of General Spencer
Browne in his “Journalist’s Memories,” and Ion L.
Idriess in “Men of the Jungle,” but in each of these
cases no attempt has been made to particularize his exploits.
The effect has been to strengthen the belief in much of the
legendary rubbish that has been published from time to time.
Palmerston himself does not by his own records conceal the
fact that his rifle often spoke in self defence, but his was
not of a degraded nature seeking after bloodshed. His
turbulent life in the early days of the Palmer from 1873 was
no doubt due to the conditions prevailing at the time. Mr. B.
G. Howard, Protector of Aborigines, acquits Palmerston of at
least one serious allegation made against him in 1875.
John Fraser, of Mitchell Vale Station (1875 to 1885),
with his brother Harry Fraser, was for a number of years in
close touch with Palmerston, accompanying him on some of his
prospecting trips on the McLeod, Mary, and Daintree Rivers;
and this association was always amicable and satisfactory.
Many kindly acts are remembered when Christie gave his
services to assist Fraser and Sons to conciliate the blacks.
It was John Fraser who took the first mob of blacks to Port
Douglas in 1878 to accustom them to the white man’s ways.
In October, 1881, Palmerston joined the party in the search for Mrs. Watson, and her child, from Cooktown along the coast to Cape Bedford. The Mitchell country claimed Palmerston, till in 1882 he was commissioned by the Hon. W. Miles to seek a possible railway route from Herberton to the coast. From that time onwards, his sphere of operations shifted to Herberton and the country of the Johnstone and Russell Rivers. His association with G. E. Clarke, Alick Munro and others at Herberton, was the beginning of a most useful term of activity and exploration. It is from this term, too, that his diaries found publication; and though his contributions to the Press were considered crude, yet his notes never lacked descriptive ability, though deficient in technical detail.
In all six trips were made to find a railway route,
which formed for the most part the basis of the routes
surveyed by Mr. W. H. Monk, and incorporated in Mr. Ballard’s
report to Parliament in 1884, in which the Cairns route found
preference. The people of Geraldton (now Innisfail) were
indefatigable in their efforts to secure the railway, and
retained the services of Christie Palmerston through the
Johnstone Divisional Board. But in the end, as Palmerston
himself relates, they failed to pay him the amounts promised.
This so piqued him, that in his journal he purposely left out
distances and directions.
In the meantime he had still carried out prospecting
for gold; and in that mountainous country was able to locate
gold in many places, though not in sensational quantity. It is
fair to acquit Palmerston, so far as his own published
accounts are concerned, of much of the legend that has grown
in later years. Neither would the accounts of W. H. Miskin, W.
H. Monk, Dr. Logan Jack or A. Meston lend much support to
those legends. His paper read before the Royal Geographical
Society at Sydney in 1886, has had several distortions in the
Press quite recently, where all the events have become mixed
up with matters of another occasion. His discovery of the
Upper Russell Goldfield with Clark and Joss was his best
contribution to the opening of the dense jungle country at the
head of the Johnstone and Russell Rivers.
The last act of the drama of his life was played in the Federated Malay States, a full account of which appeared in the “North Queensland Register,” of 24 February 1897, and only this year (1938) recounted by Miss Heale in the “Register,” of 19 March.