Christy Palmerston, adventurer, man of mystery, explorer, trail blazer.


Christy Palmerston


        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.

All through 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.

Palmerston was 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.

About that 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.

Port Douglas, 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 Hammond.

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.

Two tracks 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.

On the 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.

Had 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.

Palmerston had 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 the blacks.

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.


From Coyyan’s Notebook

Published 1941 Cairns Post




By Clem Lack

Truth 3 December 1950


        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 the telling.

        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 indifferently.”

        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 companions.

        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 score.

        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 police.

        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 cancelled.

        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 Australia again.

        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.



Early Days of Cairns

Christie Palmerston

By J. W. Collinson

Cummins and Campbell Magazine 1938


        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 Goldsborough.

          Dr. Jack 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.

Notes from a researcher
The station "MILLANJIE" is "WILANGIE", and sometimes spelt "WOOLANGIE".
WILANGIE is as spelt in obituaries of Mark Millet Christian in Qld. newspapers in 1928. And WOOL is as spelt in the reports of a court case in Rockhampton in 1869 re charges against Christopher Palmerston. (references are available on Trove). The latter specify that WOOL was at Broadsound, as the writer says (elsewhere on this site): MILLANJIE, Broadsound district. The obits. say [at/near] Clairview, which is presumed near Rockhampton.
The court reports make clear that Mark Christian did not know Palmerston. His brother William was Palmerston's employer.