HOW THE NORTH WAS
Early Navigators - Dalrymple -
Kennedy - Covered Wagon Pioneers - William Hann - James Venture Mulligan - the
What lay beyond the ranges no
white man knew.
Captain James Cook of the little
“Endeavour”, sailing northward along our then unknown eastern coast, passed
Magnetic Island and Hinchinbrook, Cape Grafton and Trinity Bay- named for
Trinity Sunday, June 10th 1770.
From his quarterdeck, Cook
viewed the rugged coastline of this strange new land with misgiving- the steep,
jungle-covered mountains rising tier on tier from a low mangrove- fringed
What lay beyond those forbidding
ranges no white man knew.
The “Endeavour’s” oaken prow was the first in recorded history to cleave these tropic seas, yet others, phantom-like may have come and gone- Chinese, Portuguese, and Spaniard, leaving nothing but vague legend and one or two unexplained relics to mark their passing.
Captain Matthew Flinders in the
leaky old “Investigator”, beating north before the trade winds, passed far out
to sea in 1802. Captain King in the survey ship, “Mermaid”, sailed by in 1818;
he came again in 1821 in the “Bathurst” and sought shelter from a storm in
Trinity Bay. The survey ships “Beagle”, “Fly”, and “Rattlesnake” sailed by in
Not until the magic lure of gold
on the Palmer River in 1873 drew settlement northward, was a great deal of
interest shown in this savage coast. Then, at the spot where Cook had beached
the “Endeavour” for repairs, a lonely river mouth to which he gave the name of
his ship, was chosen as a likely port for the goldfield that lay deep in the
Northern wilderness, and an expedition set out to explore the coastline in
It was the North-East Coast
Expedition in two tiny cutters led by George Elphinstone Dalrymple, explorer,
politician, land commissioner, and one of the handful of visionaries who formed
the Colony of Queensland out of almost nothing. Coming in contact with true
tropical Queensland for the first time, he was impressed and delighted. He
likened the dense jungle of the Johnstone River area to that of Ceylon with
which he was acquainted.
On 16th October 1873,
Dalrymple and Sub-Inspector R. A. Johnstone of the Native Mounted Police from
Cardwell, then the nearest settlement to the south- sailed up Trinity Bay in a
whaleboat into what they thought was the mouth of a large river.
Dalrymple named Walsh’s Pyramid
after a cabinet minister and the nearer Mt. Whitfield after a merchant in
Cardwell. A native well providing fresh water was found at what was later the
intersection of Abbott and Shields Street in the centre of the city of
Dalrymple was disappointed to
find Trinity Inlet was not the estuary of a river with fertile soil on its
banks, but he was impressed with the inlet as a likely seaport for the interior.
Prophetically he wrote: “It may some day serve what may prove to be a highly
auriferous back country.”
The port of Cairns was founded
only three years later, in 1876, but that year also marked the death of
Dalrymple, one of the great men who made early Queensland but who is little
Over the blue-misted ranges
behind Trinity Bay where an unknown river, the Barron, cascaded by falls and
gorge to the sea, this vast north land slept for a century after Cook first
sighted it. Only its dark-skinned children roaming its ranges, rivers, and
bushland, knew its mysteries. They would guard them jealously.
To try and discover what lay
beyond that wall of coastal ranges was the object of Assistant-Surveyor Edmund
B. C. Kennedy- one of Australia’s most courageous explorers.
The lion-hearted Kennedy gave
his life when within sight of his goal, Cape York, and eight of his gallant
party died of hunger and despair. Only the faithful Aboriginal lad, Jacky
Galmarra, reached Cape York and the waiting ship, bearing the story of
Landing just north of where
Cardwell now stands, on 24th May 1848, Kennedy’s party, with
dwindling horses and supplies, hacked their way through the terrible scrubs of
the Coast Range for three months. Just how ignorant the planners in Sydney were
concerning the type of country to be traversed is indicated by the fact that
Kennedy had carts and a flock of sheep. After progressing through the dense,
sodden jungle, on slippery mountainsides in almost continuous rain for weeks, at
the rate of two or three miles per day, Kennedy left the carts behind and packed
all the gear on the horses.
Dark jungle creeks were crossed
and the roar of waterfalls heard; there was no grass, and the horses were
starving. At last, on 9th August, the expedition came out of the
scrub into grassed, forest country. Camped in the vicinity of the later site of
Mt. Garnet on 23rd August, one of the men, Goddard, went out to shoot
wallabies and was lost for two days.
Kennedy and his party camped on
the headwaters of Emu Creek, in rough granite ranges south-west of the present
site of Irvinebank, on 25th August. They followed Emu Creek down over
tin-bearing country to the Walsh River - a broad bed of sand with fine large
teatrees and she-oaks. They passed close to the present site of the township of
Kennedy thought the Walsh may
lead him to Princess Charlotte Bay far to the north, so he and his men followed
it in its tortuous course, its bed hundreds of yards wide and full of great
boulders and fallen timber, its steep banks almost gorge-like. The weakened
horses continually fell on the slippery boulders as they struggled along the
river bed. Carron suffered a bad fall and broke Kennedy’s barometer.
This country is as wild and
rugged now as it was in 1848. Impassable sandstone ranges tower line upon line
to the river bank, and southward lie more desolate ranges, known to later
pioneers as the “Featherbeds”- because they were the reverse of soft. In places
along the river, boiling springs bubble up from between lava rocks. Kennedy
spent his thirtieth birthday in this inhospitable gorge.
Ludwig Leichhardt, on his
expedition from the Darling Downs to Port Essington, had followed down the Lynd
River and discovered the Mitchell, which he named, in June 1845. Kennedy
gradually realised the Walsh was a tributary of Leichhardt’s Mitchell River and
it was taking him too far westward. Near where the present Beef Road from
Mungana crosses the Walsh, Kennedy turned northward and reached the Mitchell on
16th September. Here he had his first serious clash with the warlike
Aborigines of Cape York Peninsula. Dr. R. L. Jack, in his reference work,
“Northmost Australia”, vol. II. (1922) believed it was the Palmer River that was
reached on this date. He also thought Kennedy followed down the Hodgkinson, and
not the Walsh, to reach the Mitchell. When Kennedy was speared by the Aborigines
near Cape York, his journal was lost and only a few damaged notes and maps were
recovered. For a century, until they were deciphered, Kennedy’s route from
Cardwell to Cape York was not definitely known. The names he gave physical
features are still unknown.
The years rolled on. The
frontiers of settlement were pushed further northward as the pioneers followed
in the tracks of the explorers; sheep and cattle stations were founded,
settlements came into being. The establishment of the new Colony of Queensland
in December 1859 caused a great impetus to settlement. Exploring parties rode
the length and breadth of Queensland from Brisbane to Cape York, from the Cooper
to the Gulf. Within five years, Queensland was unknown no longer; Burke and
Wills, McKinlay, Landsborough, Walker, McIntyre, and others had explored the
Gulf and the inland plains. The Jardine Brothers had reached Cape York; the
northmost station had been established six hundred miles northward from the
earlier frontier at Rockhampton. The edge of settlement had leaped northward
from Rockhampton to Cardwell and to Burketown on the Gulf of Carpentaria; dray
tracks had been blazed all through the back country- a truly wonderful
achievement in the five years from 1859 to 1864. All the more remarkable because
when Queensland began it had only 28,000 settlers and only 50,000 out of its
700,000 square miles was explored, and it had an empty treasury.
But everyone was a pioneer, and
men, women, and children were willing to work. They had a vision of the future,
and they built for future generations. Compared with today, they built with
their bare hands, with flesh and blood, by their sweat, and muscle, and the
sinews of their only helpers, faithful horses and bullocks. The pick, the
shovel, dynamite, the block-dray, and a wood-fired steam engine or two, their
only labour saving devices.
As soon as news of the vast
pastoral empire the explorers had revealed was made known, land-hungry settler’s
as far south as Victoria packed their belongings on their drays, and with their
families and their flocks and herds, they pushed northward to the base of Cape
York Peninsula. Neither hundreds of miles of wilderness or hostile Aboriginal
tribes could stop them.
As the great wheels of their
creaking bullock drays slowly turned, the vast untamed land that spread before
them lured them on- the same lure that sent the American pioneers westward.
The Firth and Atkinson families
were in the forefront of the migration of pioneers northward. James Atkinson
joined Ezra Firth and his family on the northward trail and he and Firth were
partners on Mt. Surprise Station in early times, James Atkinson established
Farnham near Ingham in 1871 and bought Wairuna about ten years later. He founded
a dynasty of pastoralists.
Slowly the bullocks in the pole
drays of Ezra Firth, travelled onward. Firth, the former stonemason from
Yorkshire who was imbued with a spirit of adventure was bound for the northmost
frontier at the pace sheep can walk. The Moreton Bay district became the
Colony of Queensland, and the outpost of Bowen was established. For two years
the Firths lived by a lonely lagoon on the headwaters of the Burdekin River,
then moved on over the divide on to Gulf waters and took up Mt. Surprise- so
called because of the sound of the drays bumping over the basalt boulders
startled a tribe of Aborigines who fled into the scrub on the mountain. It was
Ezra Firth and his wife were
wonderful pioneers, but they are almost forgotten today. Success was theirs only
after long hard years of fighting the blacks, the elements, and the loneliness.
Descendents of Ezra Firth reside in Mareeba and Townsville.
Gold was discovered on the
Gilbert River in 1869, followed the next year by a big discovery on the
Etheridge; the frontier town of Georgetown was established. The country
north-east of Georgetown was still quite unknown as the 1870s dawned and the
gold rush-fever increased.
William Hann, pioneer of
Maryvale and Bluff Downs, was the one chosen by the Government to explore this
mysterious region. He was a fine example of the bearded bushmen of his day- 6
ft. 6 ins. tall and built in proportion; he was fearless, a born explorer and
leader of men.
He and his party of five men set
out from Firth’s outstation, Fossilbrook, in June 1872 with a team of packhorses
carrying supplies for five months. Hann named the Walsh, Tate, Palmer, Normanby,
Kennedy, Stewart, Hearn (Laura), Bloomfield, and other rivers.
At the same time, other white
men were out riding the trackless bush. Late in 1870, a party comprising Tom
Leslie, Jack Edwards, Harry Edwards, William Baird, Charlie Ross, Tom Hackett,
and John Duff, set out from Glendhu Station on the Upper Burdekin, and were out
in the wilds for months. Because their search for gold was in vain, their
expedition has been forgotten.
Hann named the Tate River after
the party’s botanist and the Walsh after the Minister for Mines. A Walsh
tributary was named the Elizabeth, and with a pastoralist’s eye Hann noted the
fine blacksoil downs-type country in the area. Wrotham Park cattle station was
to be established here.
Hann and two of his men, Taylor
and Tate, rode up the Mitchell River from their camp, over very rough country.
Away to the south amid blue-hazed hills and peaks they saw a conspicuous
flat-topped mountain which Hann called Mt. Lilley. It was probably Mt.
He named the Palmer River after
the Premier, Sir Arthur Palmer. The surveyor, Frederick Warner, discovered gold
in a gully nearby, thus winning a reward of half a pound of tobacco that Hann
It was left to James Venture
Mulligan from the Etheridge to report, the following year- September 3, 1873- of
the existence of a new payable goldfield on the Palmer. It was the greatest
alluvial goldfield in Australia since the Turon and Ballarat. He received the
Government reward of £1000, a reward that could easily have been Hann’s.
Incidentally, Hann and Daintree discovered the first copper lode in north-east
Queensland, on the Einasleigh River, in 1866.
A few old timers remain who
still remember J. V. Mulligan- the quiet, kindly Irishman whose name was once a
household word in the North. He did more than any other man to open up the vast
mineral areas of the Peninsula and the hinterland of Cairns.
Though Mulligan made many other
discoveries, his crowning achievement was the discovery of the Palmer Goldfield,
closely followed by the Hodgkinson. Though he was still searching thirty years
later and less than two years before his death, he could not find another Palmer
as he always hoped. There could never be another goldfield as fabulous as that.
In four years it yielded forty tons of alluvial. Its discovery galvanized the
whole of Queensland into activity, and soon all Australia was affected. The news
spread to New Zealand, Great Britain, the United States, and China.
Mulligan led the first party of
a hundred diggers with three hundred horses and bullocks from Georgetown to the
new field across 200 miles of wilderness. Behind the armed mounted men the teams
streamed past the Firths’ once lonely homestead; they followed Mulligan’s
roughly blazed tree-line, the bullocks groaning and straining under the
green-hide whips to haul the heavily-laden wagons through loose sand, over
precipitous ridges, and across dry rivers with banks of moving silt. Behind them
came men on foot with swags; they would be the first to succumb to sickness,
starvation, and Aboriginal spears.
In May 1954, a memorial was
unveiled on the Kennedy Highway just east of Mareeba to honour J. V. Mulligan
and his explorations. Present at the ceremony was an old lady who had known the
explorer and who was then the only surviving member of the party he had led from
Georgetown to the Palmer. She was probably the last survivor of the Palmer Rush.
She was Mrs. Mary Ann Finn, who was then a child with her parents, the
It was Mulligan who suggested
that a seaport for the Palmer be opened at the Endeavour River. Dalrymple’s
expedition reached there by sea only one day before the “Leichhardt” steamed in
and landed diggers, Government officials, horses, drays, stores, and building
materials to establish the new port of Cooktown, soon to be the third busiest
seaport in Queensland. At its zenith there were at least 25,000 white men and
Chinese on the Palmer and probably 10,000 in Cooktown.
But Mulligan went on searching
for new goldfields. He and his mates fought the blacks at the Battle of Round
Mountain, and after recovering from their spear-wounds set out from Maytown,
“capital” of the Palmer, after the wet season of 1874 to prospect the rivers to
Where Hann turned back at the
Mitchell, Mulligan pressed on over the rough ridges and discovered the
Hodgkinson River which he named after William Oswald Hodgkinson, M.L.A., founder
of the “Mackay Mercury” newspaper, crushing mill proprietor on Charters Towers,
and erstwhile despatch rider for Burke and Wills and McKinlay.
Mulligan and his mates rode up
the Hodgkinson, over very rough country, and the great rugged flat-topped
mountain Hann had seen from afar, came nearer. Mulligan’s companions insisted it
be named “Mt. Mulligan”, much to the chagrin of the man himself who seems to
have shunned publicity of that sort. But in this imposing rocky rampart, he has
a fitting natural monument. On this expedition, he failed to find the
Government had noticed Mulligan’s ability as an explorer, and when he set out
from Cooktown on a fifth expedition on 29th April 1875, he was
financed by the Government. He had an outfit of 23 horses and was accompanied by
Surveyor Frederick Warner, and four of Mulligan’s old mates- James Dowdell,
William Harvey, Peter Abelsen, Jack Moran, and also a blackboy, Charlie.
The expedition followed up the
eastern branch of the Hodgkinson, crossed the Granite Range- that prominent
landmark northwest of Mareeba- and came down on to low country bordering a fine
north- flowing river.
Mulligan believed it was the
Mitchell, for he knew it came from the south before turning west below the
McLeod River which he had discovered. Actually, he had passed over the source of
the Mitchell without being aware of it. He had now come upon a new beautiful
river- the Barron. Mulligan was near the later site of Biboohra which is the
Aboriginal name for the Barron at that point.
On May 26th 1875, the
explorers rode up the Barron’s eastern bank. Mulligan passed the Junctions of
Emerald and Granite Creeks and the site of Mareeba on the opposite bank, camping
near Rocky Creek. He traversed the present tobacco lands along the river. The
stone cairn on the Kennedy Highway with its appropriately worded plaque was
erected by the Mareeba Shire Council in 1954 to commemorate Mulligan’s discovery
of the area. He was the first white man to officially see the future site of
Mareeba. The pastoralist, John Fraser, may have been there the same year.
Near the present site of Tolga,
the explorers came face to face with the dense primeval jungle that then clothed
the Atherton Tableland. Mulligan marvelled at the great cedar trees and kauri
pines; he was forced to skirt the scrub and follow Aboriginal paths from pocket
to pocket. He remarked on the “villages” of well built thatched huts that he
saw. Dr. R. L. Jack, the historian, believed Mulligan’s camp of June
4th 1875 was between Prior Creek and Scrubby Creek and about two
miles south-west of the present town of Atherton.
When the horsemen got clear of
the scrub they climbed a rough granite range. Camped on a swift-flowing clear
mountain stream that ran in a general southerly direction and which Mulligan
called the Wild River because of its turbulence, a day was spent shoeing horses.
Mulligan spent the time prospecting. He brought back “a fine sample of tin
Mulligan wrote in his journal:
“There may be any quantity of it here, but of what use is it at present,
considering the price of carriage? Yet it is well for the future of the Colony
to know that there is tin in this locality.”
The nearest seaports, Cardwell
and Cooktown, were from 150 to 200 miles away, and inaccessible. But the
discovery of tin on the Wild River was to eventually have more influence on the
development of Far North Queensland than the opening of the Palmer, but Mulligan
was not to benefit personally. It is, however, another of the debts we owe this
great prospector explorer who has been overlooked by southern-produced history
Mulligan’s expedition rode over
the future site of Herberton about June 7th 1875, and followed the
Wild River down to the Herbert River.
They sighted a blazed tree line
“running fifteen degrees west of north.” This marked a vain attempt by the
people of Cardwell to capture some of the Palmer trade, and an extremely fine
piece of bushmanship on the part of the men who blazed the line- Scott and
Mulligan then headed south-west
for Firth’s outpost, Mt. Surprise, and arrived back in Cooktown on September 23
1875. He and his men had ridden 1100 miles in five months and some of the
previously unknown country hidden by the coast ranges behind Trinity Bay had
been revealed for the first time. Mulligan was convinced that somewhere in the
wild tangle of mountains in that dry bushland, probably on the Hodgkinson, a new
goldfield lay waiting.
The Hodgkinson Rush - When Life was Wild and Rough- Bill Smith, Douglas, and Doyle - Christie Palmerston - John Fraser - the Port Douglas Road.
Within four weeks Mulligan,
Warner, and Abelsen started out again from Cooktown, without Government
assistance, and with the wet season imminent. They left on 23rd
October 1875 and headed straight for the Hodgkinson. The reward that the
Government was offering for the discovery of a payable goldfield urged them on,.
The reward was £1000, a large sum of money in those days.
They struck gold on
17th January 1876 at a spot “due east of Mulligan’s Range (Mt.
Mulligan) where a large creek comes in, having Mt. Megan (McGann) on our north
side.” The gold was in alluvial and in outcropping reefs.
Unknown to Mulligan, another
veteran prospector, William McLeod, with two mates, Nat Williams (some records
say Robert Sefton), and Hugh Kennedy, were out prospecting the Hodgkinson hills
at the same time.
The first that Mulligan’s party
knew of them was when they heard their horse-bells. Peter Abelsen approached the
newcomers’ camp at dusk. In those days on the frontier when wild blacks and
lawless whites were abroad, it was customary to shoot first and enquire
afterwards. A bullet whizzed past Abelsen’s ear. Seeing a figure looming up in
the half light, Hugh Kennedy had grabbed his Snider rifle and fired. Soon the
two parties of explorers were shaking hands and joking over Abelsen’s narrow
By February 7th,
Mulligan had found several good quartz reefs and some patchy alluvial. McLeod’s
party prospected many miles to the east and south. The McLeod Hills were named
after this great bushman and prospector. He died of fever on the MacArthur River
in the Northern Territory in 1885
McLeod was a typical
contemporary of James Venture Mulligan. It was fitting that when the roaring
goldfields capital of Thornborough sprang up, the two principal streets should
be named in their honour.
On March 16th 1876,
Mulligan reported a new goldfield on the Hodgkinson to Warden Coward at
Byerstown on the Palmer. Mulligan and McLeod shared the Government reward. Thus
did Mulligan open the door to the development of one of Australia’s wealthiest
districts- Cairns and its hinterland.
The first coach service to
Maytown was apparently by way of Byerstown. The Brisbane “Courier”
reported in March 1876 that a service had been started from Cooktown. What a
rough journey it must have been, especially over the mountain spurs running into
the Palmer River between Byerstown and Maytown. Emanuel Borghero is listed in
Pugh’s Directory for 1878 as the “coach proprietor” in Cooktown “for Cobb &
Co”- probably the same “Manny” Borghero well known around Irvinebank and
Herberton some years later as a packer and handler of horses.
Byerstown was a transient town
that existed only while the gold lasted; a settlement of bark huts, tents, of
primitive grog shanties, stores that were only a few sheets of iron nailed to
sapling frames with canvas walls. They were the supermarkets of their day, being
crammed with crates of “bouilli” beef in seven-pound tins, bags of flour
(“twenty-fives” and “fifties”) a few tins of jam, bottles of Worcestershire
sauce, and tins of baking powder, all mixed up with prospecting dishes, miners’
picks, horse-shoes, “American felt” hats, boxes of flannel shirts, and Blucher
boots hanging from the rafters like strings of sausages. Somewhere there might
be found cases of dynamite and boxes of Snider cartridges, American axes, and a
few bolts of check gingham and turkey twill cloth to excite the ladies.
All this would have come from
Cooktown by bullock wagon to supply the needs of the miners at this new rush
where the last of the alluvial on the Palmer’s headwaters was being panned. When
all that was considered payable had been garnered and only enough left to
provide a few Chinese with a pittance, Byerstown would, along with the thousands
of gold seekers, vanish so that today it is difficult to find where it was.
But the pickmarks and the
cuttings, and washouts that are the eroded ruts left by iron shod wagon wheels,
Byerstown was a town of
yesterday. A town that never had a future; a town typical of many others which,
ghostlike, may still be found on some maps of North Queensland.
James Venture Mulligan,
accompanied by Frederick Warner and Peter Abelsen, ragged and half starved after
losing their supplies in a fire and held up for a week by the flooded Mitchell
River, rode into, Byerstown on jaded horses. They came in from the mountains to
the south and had been out prospecting and exploring for ten weeks during the
They were near exhaustion but
they were elated. Back in among those blue-hazed ranges there was gold- not
another Palmer, Mulligan cautioned, but it was a new goldfield.
Warden Coward of Byerstown was
excited. Mulligan was on his way to Cooktown and did not want the news to break
until after he arrived. But Warden Coward could not keep a secret. While the
tired prospectors slept, he sent a police trooper galloping through the night
covering the seventy miles to Cooktown.
Within days the gold rush to the
Hodgkinson was on. Excitement in Cooktown was intense; Cooktown little knew it
was the foretaste of doom: gold on the Hodgkinson would mean that within a year
Cooktown would have two rival ports- Cairns and Port Douglas. With a rich
hinterland which Hodgkinson gold was to be the key to its opening, Cairns would
completely supersede Cooktown as the major port north of Townsville.
At first, Cooktown was the nearest port to the new Hodgkinson field. As soon as news of the discovery reached the South, diggers arrived in Cooktown by the shipload.
Hundreds of men and horses
gathered at Byerstown until it looked like a depot for an army of cavalry.
Miners threw up good claims on the Palmer to do as they had done ever since gold
was first found in Australia- and there were some veterans who had been in every
rush since the Turon in 1851- to chase the will-o’-the-wisp of fortune at the
end of the rainbow.
On 30th March,
Mulligan rode out of Cooktown at the head of a motley throng. At Byerstown, the
crowd doubled in size. About four hundred men on horseback, on foot, and some
pushing wheelbarrows, followed Mulligan southward. There were about thirty women
also, many walking beside their men.
They cut a swathe through bog
and slush as the last of the wet season rain, thunderstorms poured down after
hours of steaming heat. On one of the creek banks scores of human bones and
skulls with gaping holes made by Snider bullets, were found years later. Thus
the primitive owners left mute testimony of their hopeless struggle. As a miner
of the day is said to have cracked: “It takes more than a few niggers to stop a
The gold-crazed horde plunged
into the flooded Mitchell River and scrambled on over the rough ranges to what
they believed was another golden river where Mulligan had made his strike.
At the beginning, Mulligan
warned everyone that the Hodgkinson was not a rich alluvial field and that most
of the gold would be found in the reefs. But most people refused to listen and
when he was proved right, they were bitterly disappointed. At one stage,
Mulligan narrowly escaped being lynched.
Life was rough and hard for
those staunch men and women, and children, too, who flocked to the Hodgkinson in
its early months. The blacks were hostile and tragedies occurred, but few
records have survived. Mt. Mulligan, known to them as Woothakata, was the
stronghold of the Wahoora tribe with the Muluridji further east.
Not only were the Aborigines
wild, but so were some of the white men. There were robberies, murders, drinking
sprees, brawls outside the shanties, and fist-fights without number. As on all
the old mining fields, drink was a terrible curse on the Hodgkinson also, and
many crimes and most of the rowdyism was committed under the influence of
liquor. When the real thing ran out, some shanty keepers made and sold their own
There was no law at first except
one or two Justices of the Peace. One of these was Dr. Jack Hamilton, a
particularly colorful character who was not only a doctor but a good boxer,
horseman, swimmer, foot runner, swordsman, and revolver shot qualities that
stood him in good stead in the Wild North of a century ago. In his shack
hospital on the Palmer, he saved many lives.
Sub-Inspector Alexander Douglas
with a Native Mounted Police detachment arrived in July 1876 and formed a camp
about four miles down the river from Thornborough, “capital” of the Hodgkinson
field. In 1877 he moved the camp to a beautiful spot on a hilltop overlooking a
lagoon, and called Baan Bero. It was about four miles north-west from the later
site of Biboohra. It could command the track to the coast opened at that
Mulligan opened a store and
hotel, built of bush timber and bark at first, on the corner of Mulligan and
McLeod Streets in Thornborough, named after the Premier of Queensland. Soon the
place had twenty hotels and shanties and at least a dozen stores of all kinds.
There may have been 10,000 people on the Hodgkinson at its peak, but as with
Cooktown and the Palmer, the number has probably been exaggerated. The
Government erected handsome brick buildings in Thornborough.
Four miles eastward, tucked away
amongst precipitous hills, on the slope of a spur around which curled Caledonia
Creek, the town of Kingsborough boomed and faded and like Thornborough,
eventually died. In their day, a century ago, they were the two largest and most
important towns inland from Cairns.
Though prospectors found the
barren gullies and creeks scanty in alluvial, very rich reefs were discovered,
and in the late 1870s and early 1880s the hills echoed to the thud of pounding
stampers. Spain’s mill at Glen Mowbray was the first to crush, followed by
Martin’s mill at Thornborough. These and other early plants were dismantled on
the Palmer and transported over an incredibly rough track by bullock teams.
Of the 4,415 known lines of reef
that were discovered, the most famous were the Tyrconnell, the Kingsborough
(which briefly yielded 17 ounces to the ton), General Grant, Hero, Columbia,
Waverley, Tichborne, Caledonia, Bismarck, Great Britain, Mark Twain, Black Ball,
Homeward Bound, Monarch, and the Flying Pig on top of Pig Hill overlookng
Thornborough; it returned 748 ounces from 84 tons of stone, and there were other
rich crushings in 1877. The Explorer, one of Mulligan’s claims, returned six and
a half ounces to the ton for a brief period.
Up to early this century when
the field had faded into insignificance, its yield was 300,000 ounces- small
compared with the mighty Palmer’s yield of three and a half million ounces, but
nevertheless the Hodgkinson was one of the North’s richest reefing fields after
Charters Towers. The gold-bearing stone was easy to get at first. The eyes were
picked out and when water level was reached the shafts were abandoned. In this
way, the old timers said, the riches of the old Hodgkinson were plundered. In
its first year the yield was 33,887 ozs.
Townships mushroomed around the
principal reefs. Few people now remember or have heard of the townships of
Wellesley, Waterford, Watsonville (not the town near Herberton), Stewart Town,
Union Town, Beaconsfield, New Northcote and Old Northcote which once flourished
and died as the gold ran out.
Back in those days of horse
transport, the Hodgkinson, hemmed in by high rough mountains, with impenetrable
jungle between it and the coast, was very isolated. Thornborough received its
first overland mail from Cooktown. In the early days of the rush, the Government
engaged a Chinese to ride with the mail, at a cost of ninepence per pound for
letters and parcels. What a long arduous ride every week from Cooktown to
Thornborough! But Chinese as well as Europeans, played their part in opening
this Pioneers’ Country.
The nearest telegraph office was
at Maytown, seventy miles away. The only way official and other urgent messages
could be got to the outside world was for a horseman to ride to Maytown. In the
wet season when the Mitchell was in flood, even this was not possible. A
telegraph line was opened to Thornborough on November 10th 1877; it
was constructed over the mountains from the Tate River on the line to Cooktown.
It was extended eastward to Cairns in 1878, and opened on August
30th. A branch line was erected in 1882 from Northcote to
A meeting was held in
Thornborough on Saturday afternoon, July 8th 1876, outside J. V.
Mulligan’s store. The warden and Police Magistrate, Howard St. George (a popular
official) presided. The object was to form an expedition to find a wagon road to
a convenient point on the coast. Five hundred miners rolled up. Bill Smith, a
packer and miner, and a former bêche-de-mer fisherman who knew the coast,
described the advantages of Trinity Bay as a likely seaport for the Hodgkinson.
Quickly £200 was subscribed as a reward to be offered for the discovery of a
John Doyle, an expert bushman
and horseman who had been in the Palmer Rush, accompanied Smith and a man named
Cardnow to try to penetrate the ranges to the coast. When Doyle came upon the
majestic spectacle of the Barron Falls tumbling into a jungle-filled gorge amid
clouds of spray, he was amazed. The Aboriginals’ name for the falls was
Doyle was the first white man to
gaze on the scenic grandeur they then presented. In Thornborough later, Doyle’s
report was scarcely believed. One influential person is supposed to have said
that if such a river as the Barron existed it must run uphill.
Bill Smith then returned to
Cooktown and attacked the range from the seaward side with two mates, Stewart
They arrived in Thornborough on
September 17 1876, having covered seventy miles on foot.
On September 20th
1876, Mr. Jenkin, the Thornborough correspondent for the “Townsville Herald”,
took up his quill and in neat copperplate wrote a despatch containing these
words: “Bill Smith and his mates have been the ‘lions’ of the place for awhile,
and the consumption of ‘James Hennessy’ has notably increased in the two cities
of Thornborough and Kingsborough, and along the Caledonia.”
With other mail, this news was
carried by the packhorse mailman over the dry dusty track over the ranges to
Cooktown and sent south by the regular mail steamer. It was published in the
“Townsville Herald” on October 10th.
It was now believed that a good
road had been found to the coast, but the Hodgkinson people were to be
Two police sub-inspectors,
Johnstone and Townsend, with nine Aboriginal troopers, sailed north from
Cardwell in the police whaleboat, powered by oars and sail, and landing at
Trinity Bay, met Sub-Inspector Douglas, Fred and Charles Warner (surveyors who
had also been exploring the ranges), and a detachment of Native Police. This was
on September 23rd.
They immediately began cutting a
track through the scrub, over Saltwater and Freshwater Creeks and on to the foot
of the range where the Barron River emerges from its magnificent gorge. Douglas
named the river after T. H. Barron, chief clerk of police in Brisbane, who
probably never saw it. Tracks of Bill Smith’s hobnailed boots were sighted. A
path was cut through the scrub up the incredibly steep range between Glacier
Rock and Red Bluff. In the scrub, the wild blacks were like flitting shadows
dogging every movement of these intruders. A trooper had to guard the
scrub-cutters and be ever watchful.
Meanwhile, Bill Smith had
started back from Thornborough leading 160 men on foot, carrying swags and
mining tools. Their hobnail boots cut a broad path through the dry speargrass in
the forest country and churned up the banks of Leadingham and other creeks as
they slogged eastward. They waded the swift flowing Barron River near the later
site of Biboohra. They thought the Barron was the Mitchell.
Warden Mowbray’s mounted party
which left Thornborough a day later, caught up with the footmen. With Mowbray
were J. V. Mulligan, Johnny Byers, E. M. Geary, Williams, Sharpe, and a dozen
others including the intrepid “Townsville Herald” correspondent, Jenkin.
He noted the mineralised country
in the area that was to become the short-lived Clohesy Goldfield in 1893.
Jenkin, his mind attuned to the surest means of transport of his day, believed
that if a gold discovery was made here it would cause a rush “to Trinity Bay
from which swagmen can easily reach the locality in two days.”
Following the newly cut
tunnel-like path through the jungle in single file, the correspondent came to a
pinch that winded both the men and the horses but they were “gratified by the
sight of the sea and a large river at the base of the spur on which we were
standing,” Jenkin wrote.
“From this we descended sheer
down about half a mile and after considerable swearing, slipping, and blowing,
we emerged suddenly on a splendid flowing stream [the Barron where it receives
Stoney Creek] with both sides covered in mountain scrub… We came to the
conclusion that if this was the dray track of Douglas’ and Bill Smith’s was no
better, Trinity Bay would remain in the possession of its dusky inhabitants for
The correspondent caught sight
of a fine tidal reach in the new river and prophesized that a town would be
built there. It was to be the site chosen for Smithfield- unwisely, as the flood
marks were ignored.
Mowbray’s party reached Douglas’
camp on the future site of Cairns on 30th September. The
“I am of opinion the Government
would not be justified in spending money on either of the present tracks… A
party headed by John Doyle are about to start out for the ranges again, hoping
to find a better road…”
John Doyle led a party
comprising Edward M. Geary, Harry Evans and William McCord from Trinity Bay on
6th October. After searching fruitlessly for “leading spurs” up the
range from the Mulgrave River to the Barron River, they finally found a route up
a spur on the northern side of the Barron. They crossed the river above the
falls at what became known as Middle Crossing (later Kuranda) and linked up,
with Douglas’ track at Grove Creek which would lead to Thornborough. This time a
passable wagon road had been found.
Edward Geary, who kept a diary,
definitely states that John Doyle was the discoverer of the famous Barron Falls,
whether this expedition or earlier, is not very clear.
Frederick Warner and
Sub-Inspector Douglas traversed the route Doyle had discovered and reported
favourably to A. C. Macmillan, Engineer for Roads, and work was immediately
begun by the Government with overseer McDonald in charge.
But although almost £10,000 was
eventually spent on it, the road proved too steep for loaded teams; they managed
to struggle up by double-banking all the way to the top. Part of the route is
now followed by the power line from the Barron Falls where hydro-electric power
has been generated since 1935. That year the poles for the line were placed in
position by Rod Veivers’ bullock team- the last time bullocks trod the
When Christie Palmerston found a
better road to Port Douglas in 1877 it was abandoned by teamsters; packers still
used it for a while.
Early in 1877 the first gold
escort from the Hodgkinson came down to Trinity Bay by this road. On its first
trip it was bailed up by a bushranger.
Packers camped at Kamerunga
roistered in nearby Smithfield and used Douglas’ Track at first, but soon it,
too, was abandoned in favour of the road to Port Douglas.
Situated possibly within a
stone’s throw of where the hold-up took place, is a nine-foot memorial cairn,
now a landmark on the Kennedy Highway. At the suggestion of the writer
(Glenville Pike) it was erected by the Mulgrave Shire Council, and the plaque,
unveiled on June 9th 1958, by Mrs. Daisy Hine, a daughter of John
Doyle, states that the monument is in memory of “The Men Who Blazed the Track
-1876- Those Pathfinders who, between June and October 1876, discovered the
Barron River, the Falls, and a route to Trinity Bay as an outlet for the
Hodgkinson Goldfield.” It carries the names of William Smith, John Doyle,
Sub-Inspector Alexander Douglas, Frederick Horatio Warner, Edwin Crossland, “and
the other pioneers of Smithfield.”
The old bridge over the Barron
River at Mareeba was fittingly named the Doyle Bridge, but the new bridge has
been named the Edmund Kennedy Bridge and the Cairns-Tablelands road is the
Kennedy Highway. Yet the explorer Kennedy was never in this locality. The name
of the real discoverer, John Doyle, should be transferred to the new bridge. A
street in Mareeba is named after him. This fine old pioneer died in Mareeba in
1932 when ninety years of age.
Cairns, founded in October 1876,
soon had its Hodgkinson trade strangled first by Smithfield then by Port
Douglas, and with a seemingly impassable mountain barrier at its back, it
withered and almost died. Only John Robson’s pack track to Herberton in 1882 and
construction of the railway over the range from 1886, was to save it from
extinction by Port Douglas.
When the wet season set in in
January 1877, the Hodgkinson
In heavy monsoon rain, teams
could not negotiate the Smithfield (or Doyle’s) Track and only packhorses could
struggle up and down the sheer mountainside on Douglas’ Track, and it too became
impassable. For long periods the flooded Barron River and Freshwater Creek
inundated the flats.
As for Cairns, it was a row of
huts and wooden buildings on a low sandridge surrounded by fetid mangroves, all
but under water at high tide or in flood rains; a foot of rain overnight was not
unusual in the January to April period. Only clearing, drainage, and filling
over many years was to raise Cairns out of the swamps to make it the beautiful
tropical city it is today, a Mecca for a quarter of a million tourists a year
seeking the winter sun. Few cities in Australia had such an unpromising start.
It speaks volumes for the tenacity, hard work, and stubborn faith of the
On March 8th 1878, a
cyclone threatened to wipe off its tenuous grip on the map, but somehow the
place survived. Smithfield, already practically deserted, suffered severe
flooding in 1878 and 1879. That was the end of what had started as a roaring
goldfields port, notorious for its sinfulness according to some writers, but it
was probably no worse than other similar settlements.
The story has been told several
times in print how Bill Smith, the pathfinder, had his horse shod with shoes of
Hodgkinson gold by Edwin Crossland, the blacksmith from the Palmer; and of how,
as his fortune waned, he shot the storekeeper Craig and then turned the gun on
himself. This has become part of the folklore of Cairns and as such it has
become difficult to separate fact from fiction. It provided heady stuff for the
background to the Cairns Centenary of 1976.
The Aborigines on the mountains
and on the coast waylaid the pack teams as they threaded their way up to the
A packer known as George the
Greek was attacked in the scrub near Middle Crossing (Kuranda). He arrived at
Groves’ shanty seven miles away with three broken-off spears in his legs. He
lost all his packhorses with their loads of stores needed in Thornborough. Most
of the packers rode heavily armed and were able to beat off the natives. Pat
Downey was another packer who was wounded in an attack at Middle Crossing; in
another attack he lost nearly all his horses.
There were wild white men as
well. A man wanted for horse stealing on the Hodgkinson murdered a packer on the
road known as Frank the Austrian.
James Atkinson’s nephew, John
Fraser, came north in 1874 to seek pastoral land. Equipped by his uncle, Fraser
and a companion named Arthur Temple Clark, set out from Farnham on the Lower
Herbert, for the North. They avoided the jungle on the western edge of the
Atherton Tableland and followed down Granite Creek to the Barron. They could
have been twelve months ahead of Mulligan, but the latter’s journey was official
and Fraser’s was not. On the headwaters of the Mitchell, Fraser decided to take
up several hundred square miles of country. It was well grassed and watered. It
was probably late in 1875 when he returned with 400 head of Lower Burdekin
cattle to stock it.
Fraser called his run
Mitchellvale. In the 1880s it was divided to form part of Brooklyn, Font Hill,
and Southedge. The Mary River where the Maryfarms tobacco community is now
situated, was named by Fraser after his sister, the mother of the later Harry
and Eric Baker. The former resided most of his life in the historic old
homestead near Mt. Molloy, recently demolished by a new owner. Eric died in
Mareeba in June 1979, aged 91. Born at Font Hill in 1888, his life was spent
among cattle and horses, on stations and on long droving trips. He was one of
the North’s fine old pioneers.
The Kokokulunggur tribesmen
speared Fraser’s cattle
was the mysterious Christie Palmerston.
Fraser was in his mustering,
camp one day when a bearded fierce-eyed man in red shirt, moleskin trousers, and
worn top boots, suddenly appeared out of the scrub. He carried a Snider rifle, a
Colt revolver, and a Bowie knife. He said he was Christie Palmerston, was wanted
on the Palmer for the murder of a Chinaman of which he was innocent, and vowed
he would never be taken alive. He told Fraser he had found a route over the
mountains to Island Point (Port Douglas) and that his mate was now at
Thornborough to claim the reward that was offered for finding such a track.
Years later, John Fraser wrote:
“He eventually got a reward and a pardon but he still remained in the bush. He
was a brave man who would face anything.” Today, Christie Palmerston- the son of
Madame Carandini, a famed opera singer of the times- is an almost legendary
figure, but all accounts agree on his superb bushmanship in the dense rain
forests of the country behind Cairns.
Several old timers have said,
however, he was utterly ruthless with the Aborigines. On one occasion he had a
horse speared at Mt. Pompo (near Mt. Molloy of later years) and a dozen black
men, women, and children were shot in consequence. In those days a horse was
considered of greater value.
Palmerston’s friends on the
Hodgkinson were evidently working on his behalf, for on 11th June
1877, an official report on the new route was issued, giving Christie Palmerston
full credit for the discovery.
The “Hodgkinson Mining News” of
Thornborough reported on 16th
June that at a hastily summoned meeting in front of the Royal Hotel, Mr.
Byers proposed that a subscription be opened to pay a reward to “Christie
Palmerston and his mate, Leighton.” Later, the newspaper referred to the latter
as Lakeland. He has also been variously called Layton and Little.
Whoever he was, this mystery
man reported at the open air meeting that after weeks in the jungle in the wet
season, he and Palmerston had found a route for a road down a main spur of the
Coast Range onto the coast plain near Island Point. They had carved their
initials, CP/WL on a tree on the bank of the Mowbray River, first sighted by
John Doyle in 1876. This historic marked tree stood until modern times.
After an abortive attempt at
establishing a settlement called, of all things, New Jerusalem, at the mouth of
the Mowbray, the inlet sheltered by Island Point was decided upon. Captain
Daniel Owen of the coastal steamer, Corea, recommended it as a proper
site for a new port.
Callaghan Walsh, a leading
Cooktown merchant, chartered the Corea, loaded her with building
materials and stores and arrived at the new harbour on 30th June,
1877. They found Mr. Jenkin and two friends, Pintcke and Ohlran, already in
residence, having come up from the Mowbray, and that they had christened the new
port, Port Salisbury “after the great statesman who lately represented England
at the congress of the Great Powers at Constantinople.”
Mr. Jenkin had neither quill,
ink, nor paper, but he stiff sent his despatch to his paper, this time the
“Hodgkinson Mining News”. He wrote in pencil on a sheet of bark to describe the
birth of the new seaport!
In Thornborough, a committee of
five were elected- Mulligan, Martin, Cosgrove, Swan, Cooper, and Booth- to draw
up a petition to the Government to open the road and make it trafficable. The
sum of £143/3/6 was quickly collected. The “Palmerston Reward Fund” reached
At a public meeting in Port
Salisbury on July 26th, six hundred people rolled up, indicating the
rapid growth of a goldfields port.
Correspondent Jenkin reported
that the area near the jetties was piled high with iron bedsteads, sewing
machines, handsome cedar tables, billiard tables, feather mattresses, kerosene
lamps, thousands of feet of timber, “an acre or two” of corrugated iron,
tarpaulins, and canvas for “instant hotels and stores”, and also smiths’ anvils,
bellows, carpenters’ and miners’ tools, and mountainous stacks of barrels
containing beer and spirits. Most of these goods were intended for the
The public meeting was held to
raise money for a party to go out and clear the scrub to allow wagons to get up
the range. Axe men from the settlement had already cleared about four miles of
road and were half way to the foot of the range. Later swampy sections were
corduroyed with logs cut and placed by hand.
By August, horse and bullock
teams were waiting impatiently at the top of the range for the scrub to be
cleared and cuttings made to ease the grade on the terribly steep “Bump”
Early in September 1877, a
convoy of thirty teams came down the road and camped at Craiglie, the best grass
and water nearest to Port Douglas.
Mackie’s six-horse dray was the
first to ascend the range, loaded with stores for John Fraser’s Mitchellvale
Station. Mackie settled near the headwaters of Leadingham and Cattle
A week or two later, thirteen
wagons left Port Douglas for the Hodgkinson, carrying over a hundred tons of
stores. Eighteen days later, the leading teams crawled over the last rough ridge
and the ponderous wagons, high swaying loads under dusty tarpaulins, wheels
turning ever so slowly, pulled by tired bullocks, plodded down McLeod Street,
The street was crowded on both
sides with timber and iron buildings, the sidewalks thronged with cheering
people, mostly men in the rough garb of working miners who called greetings to
the sun-browned flannel-shirted drivers trudging in the dust beside their teams,
long greenhide whips trailing over their shoulders.
There were shouts and handclaps,
excited barking of dogs, frightened horses pulling away from crowded hitching
rails, and round-eyed children clinging to their mother’s skirts, awed by this
momentous happening- the arrival of thirteen bullock teams all at once, and from
a new port on the coast, at that. An occasion as unusual and as important to
these folk as would be the arrival of some giant new plane ushering in a new era
in transport in this modern age.
It was an occasion for
celebration. Thornborough’s twenty hotels roared late into the night as round
after round of drinks passed between several thousand men, some singing, some
laughing, some arguing, congregated in the dim light of swaying kerosene
lanterns and smoking slush lamps to celebrate and to fight.
McLeod Street from Mulligan’s
store to the brow of the hill where a school and a church were to be built, and
from the corner up Mulligan Street to Wooster’s Hotel was a seething mass of
humanity. Over the babble of voices and the blare of music from squeaky
concertinas and overworked pianos coming from the hotels and saloons as the
proprietors made the most of this unusually exciting Saturday night with the
huge crowd in festive mood, there came a call over a loud hailer: “Roll up! Roll
up, to a monster meeting at Jim Mulligan’s!”
The crowd that had been wavering
back and forth uncertain of direction, now converged to hear what was happening
at popular J. V. Mulligan’s hotel and store in the centre of town.
A man of medium height, brown
bearded, Mulligan addressed the crowd in his soft Irish brogue. It was a vastly
different crowd now, he no doubt reflected, to the hostile miners he had
confronted, rifle in hand on horseback, at Glen Mowbray only a little over a
year before. They had been carrying ropes ready to lynch him because they
believed he had led them to duffer goldfield.
But all that was past. The
Hodgkinson’s rich reefs had fully vindicated his reports. The rumble of stampers
that was a constant background noise was music to his ears for it meant
continued prosperity for the field.
Resolutions passed at the
meeting included that of Mr. McPherson: “That the meeting regards the arrival of
the first teams from Salisbury with the greatest satisfaction.” Jem Cosgrove
proposed “that this meeting regards the arrival of the teams from Salisbury
within eighteen days as sure proof of the practicability of the road and is of
the opinion that the Government should be called upon to expend £1000 in forming
it for dray traffic during the ensuing wet season.” Johnny Byers seconded it and
it was carried unanimously.
A few days later the newspaper
reported that another nineteen teams were coming up the range on their way to
the Hodgkinson. A bridge had just been built over Rifle Creek but the “Bump”
section was so steep it took 36 horses to pull a wagon loaded with four tons up
The more direct road that was
blazed over the Granite Range from the present vicinity of Mt. Molloy township,
westward to Dora Creek, the Eastern Hodgkinson, and so to Kingsborough, was
unusable in the dry season owing to absence of grass and water. The longer route
was necessary- southward to the Big Mitchell, then the Mud Springs, Flat Rock,
and westward along the earlier road to Cairns through Northcote and so to
Thornborough. It was twenty miles longer but with plenty of feed and water for
the teams and no very steep grades.
The road was what the Hodgkinson
had been waiting for, but it was a terrible track by modern standards. One can
imagine, how the iron-shod wagon wheels churned out a deeply rutted track across
granite hills and gullies of knife-edged slate, sandy creek crossings, up
rock-strewn hillsides, and across teatree flats where the wagons sank to their
axle-beds in the wet season.
Yet to the Hodgkinson pioneers
it was a highway. In places it is still plainly visible, but it looks more like
a creek-bed than a road. The Government spent about £2000 on it, mainly on
cuttings in the “Bump” section and on Granite Range just west of Mareeba.
Between Sorensen’s Mud Springs and Flat Rock the pickmarks of the road makers
can be seen today.
At a meeting in Thornborough,
reported in the “Hodgkinson Mining News”, on 12th January 1878,
Stenhouse and Martin asked that Engineer MacMillan be requested to make the road
directly over the Granite Range fit for wheel traffic as it was 25 miles
shorter. Owing to its roughness and lack of grass and water, this short cut
remained useful only as a pack track. Most horsemen travelled down to Port
Douglas that way. These were the first roads in the Mareeba Shire.
In 1879 it was reported that the
road at the Port Douglas end was in a deplorable state “since the rains”. The
gold escort could not proceed on that occasion, past Rifle Creek and packhorses
had to be used. The Coast Range section was always a bugbear.
The gold escort was diverted
from Smithfield to Port Douglas in 1878. A former coach driver on the Palmer,
Johnny Hogsflisch, took the first mail by packhorse from Port Douglas to
Thornborough on 12th
The freight from Cooktown to
Thornborough had been £100 per ton, but it was much less from Port Douglas. A
carrier named Bill Clark is said to have taken the first wagon load of machinery
up “The Bump”- a six ton boiler for the Hodgkinson. In his first attempt the
wagon capsized and most of the bullocks were killed. It is recorded that the
first load of machinery reached the Monarch Mine at Beaconsfield late in October
Ted Troughton took a record load over this range some time in 1878. It was a boiler weighing nine tons eighteen hundredweight for Jackson and Plant’s mill at Kingsborough. He used two teams of bullocks yoked four abreast and the journey took two weeks.
Ted Troughton died in Mareeba at
the age of 103. He was born in Parramatta, N.S.W., in 1839 and arrived in what
was later to become Queensland in 1857. He was a resident of Mareeba, from the
late 1890s, and spent most of his active life on the roads carrying.
The old Port Douglas Road was a
lifeline to the pioneers. As they pushed further out, the road followed. The
slowly turning wheels of the heavy bullock wagons, and later the swifter wheels
of the Cobb and Co. coaches, overcame the mountains and linked the Coral Sea
with the Gulf of Carpentaria.
FROM THE PAST
The Tyrconnell and General Grant Mines - Relics of the Golden Days - Kingsborough, Thornborough, Beaconsfield, Northcote, and other Ghosts of Gold.
Every great mineral field in the
North has had its famous mine. Charters Towers, of course, had the Day Dawn and
others; Herberton had the Great Northern; Irvinebank had the Vulcan; the Palmer
had the Anglo-Saxon, and the Hodgkinson had the Tyrconnell.
The Tyrconnell worked on and off
for sixty years. Its poppet-head and chimney stand sentinel on a lonely rocky
hill overlooking Glen Mowbray and the deserted Hodgkinson field. There have been
moves afoot to preserve it for posterity through the National Trust.
Like the other great mines
abovementioned, romance also surrounds the discovery of the Tyrconnell,
according to the popular story. In the rush of 1876, Redmond pegged out this
likely looking outcrop of gold-bearing quartz and named it after an Irish
patriot of long ago. Not far away he pegged another reef which he called the
A couple of miles from the
Tyrconnell, a miner from the Palmer named Isaac Fretwell, who became one of the
pioneers of Cairns, found a fine-looking reef that he called the Great Britain.
When Redmond saw it he offered Fretwell both the Tyrconnell and Lizzie Redmond
in exchange for the Great Britain. Fretwell refused the offer, and it was well
for Redmond that he did so.
Redmond’s first crushing yielded
four ounces to the ton and he erected a battery. Throughout the years, crushing
from the Tyrconnell were regular and very rich. On the other hand, Fretwell’s
Great Britain was only a surface show.
Soon Redmond and his partner,
McGhie, were employing one hundred men, and Thornborough was kept alive for
years on Tyrconnell gold. Redmond became one of the leading men on the
Hodgkinson. Every month, heavily armed, he rode with his gold to Port Douglas,
taking the packers’ track through the mountains. On one trip, the packhorse
carrying the gold bolted in the rough country, but was recovered. Redmond sold
the Tyrconnell to a Charters Towers company in the 1890s, but its richest days
were then over. Records show that in 1878 the Tyrconnell produced 5023 ozs from
1898 tons of stone. Lack of capital hampered development, as it did most
Hodgkinson mines. After closing for a few years it was reopened in 1914 with
Oliver Reece as manager. At the end of World War I, a southern company worked it
and Thomas Harley was manager. Mrs. E. Volkman remembers Harley coming into
Thornborough regularly with a little bar of smelted gold and depositing it in
the Bank of New South Wales. Nearly 2000 ounces were produced between July 1918
and April 1919. Up to 1934, the Tyrconnell’s production was 52,753 ounces of
The machinery and boilers at the
Tyrconnell were all hauled there by horse teams- a tremendous feat in
mountainous terrain- the last by Jack Hay’s team in 1915. It was a 131 ton
Cornish boiler and it was brought to Thornborough siding on the Mt. Mulligan
line (then not long opened) by train. Hay had his old mate, Abe Rolls, with him
and between them they had 28 horses, two box wagons and a timber wagon hired
from Ward and Petersen of Mareeba.
The wet season was on and the
empty wagons went down to their axle beds and the horses to their bellies in the
boggy country between Dimbulah and Thornborough, but with the aid of a 300 ft.
rope they snigged the wagons through. On the road to the mine the wagon was in
danger of capsizing several times, but the load was balanced by twenty men from
the mine hanging onto ropes as the 28 horses hauled it around the sidelings in
the rocky hills.
The Tyrconnell closed in 1937
and reopened in 1939 with Amos Jones as manager. But for World War II, the
Queensland Gold Development Syndicate would have continued working, but the mine
closed for the last time in 1942. Amos Jones lived at the mine as caretaker
until just before his death about twenty-five years ago, riding into Mareeba on
horseback in the old time fashion. Some of the buildings are still in good
repair. There is a magnificent view- Mt. Mulligan on the north-west horizon and
a maze of tumbled peaks and rounded rocky bush covered hills in every other
direction. A ribbon-like wheel track can be seen winding upward through a saddle
to Kingsborough. From the Tyrconnell it dips steeply to a crossing of Explorer
Creek and the little valley of Glen Mowbray where the miners gathered in June
1876 outside Byers’ butcher’s shop threatening to lynch Mulligan.
The General Grant was a mine
once as well known as the Tyrconnell. It was the deepest on the field- 725 ft-
and dates from 1876. Early yields do not seem to be available, but in 1896 the
Cecil Syndicate was formed in London with English capital to rehabilitate and
develop the old mine, with Charters Towers mining men, Miles and Millican,
directors, and a very competent manager, William J. W. Richards, recognised as
one of the most experienced miners in Australia.
A three-chambered main shaft was
sunk and cut the reef at 300 ft. A level was put in, followed by two more at 500
ft. and 700 ft., each following the reef for about 750 ft. The Kingsborough
Battery owned by Knudstrop, treated 18,000 tons of stone, but the yield of just
over an ounce of gold to the ton was regarded as poor. Additional gold was
obtained from a cyanide plant, however. The company’s London shareholders
thought they would benefit if they had their own mill, and the Reconstruction
battery was built, costing £11,000. A dam on Caledonia Creek held twenty million
gallons of water. This was built in 1901, but the wet season of 1902 did not
eventuate and it did not fill until 1904, hampering milling operations.
The General Grant reef improved
and yielded three ounces to the ton, then decreased so that the rising costs of
the twentieth century made working unprofitable. About 20,700 ounces had then
been won by the Cecil Syndicate.
Today, from across Caledonia
Creek, the chimney and buildings of the General Grant stand out clearly on the
opposite mountainside. They are reached by a very steep track from the long
ridge upon which the town of Kingsborough was situated. There are mullock heaps
and a series of gaping shafts along the slope of the mountain with more workings
and remains of buildings in the gorge below. Buildings and a tramline are
teetering on the edge, in danger of falling 200 or 300 feet into Caledonia
The huge winding gear, boilers,
chimney, and some machinery remain, and again one wonders how, as with the
Tyrconnell, it was placed there by horse power alone. It has remained silent and
deserted since 1924. A faded Mining Regulations notice is still tacked up in one
building, dated 10th January 1920.
Operations of the Cecil
Syndicate caused a short lived revival in Kingsborough when its roaring days
were well past. The Syndicate bought Patsy Rowan’s Reconstruction mine lower
down the ridge from the General Grant as the reef seemed to be dipping that way.
Rowan was the father of Mrs. E. A. Volkman, Thornborough’s last original
inhabitant. She also owns the deserted Kingsborough battery that was built by
the Danish engineer Knudstrop; it has not worked since 1916.
The collapsed building with
rusting chimney and stout framework of still sound cypress pine tree trunks, is
a landmark on the bank of Caledonia Creek, surrounded by gum trees and brown
grass-covered hills gashed by rocky gullies rising vertically behind it.
Here at the end of a long ridge
encircled on three sides by Caledonia Creek, is the edge of the once large town
of Kingsborough- first called Kingston- with its ten hotels. The main street,
Jackson Street, ran up the ridge for about a mile with the Roman Catholic church
and Dr. Koch’s private hospital on reasonably flat ground at the top. There is a
magnificent view of blue rugged ranges on the north, east, and south, with the
General Grant hill to the north-west. A healthy site for a town. One can see
splashes of color from magenta flowered bougainvilleas marking the homes of
pioneers down on the meagre flats of Caledonia Creek- which they probably named
because of the hills so “stern and wild.” Possibly they reminded William McLeod
of his native land.
A track follows the big bend of
the creek and crossing, it is vaguely discernible running eastward into the
ranges- it was once the main road to the coast at Port Douglas. The brumbies
have their pads across it today.
The whole of the deserted,
deathly quiet, Hodgkinson country is redolent of the pioneers and their
Thornborough is only four miles
east of Kingsborough, but the road is such that it can take an hour in a Toyota.
This was once the main road to the coast and would have carried much traffic
between the two “twin cities” as they were known. There is evidence of much work
having been done on it- massive cuttings, sidelings along Caledonia Creek, and
stone pitching. A wall of boulders on a ridge above the road marks the site of
an hotel and store that once had a fine terraced garden, now a jungle of rubber
vines with several enormous poincianas still blooming, every year as they have
done for probably ten decades.
At the back of this once lovely
garden, among black basalt boulders high above Butcher’s Creek, is the grave of
its owner, Carl Alex Egerstrom, “Born in Sweden, 1829. Died in Thornborough,
1900.” He is said to have dug his own grave out of the rock and carved his own
tombstone from a natural slab. His friend, Knudstrup, made the brass plaque with
its inscription, when he died.
This place is known to the old
timers as Baker Burns’. Apparently, Jim Burns was the last owner and ran a
bakery here to supply both Thornborough and Kingsborough in the latter days of
the Hodgkinson field. Gordon Hay remembers he and his father resting their team
in the shade of these poinciana trees over sixty years ago.
Just, after leaving here the
road crosses Caledonia Creek for the third time. It is a wide crossing among the
giant teatrees and gums with one of the few waterholes nearby. Here is some
impressive evidence of the work of the pioneers. The crossing originally had a
causeway, not of concrete, but of huge flat basalt boulders, some as large as
dining room tables, extending all the way across, individually placed with great
care and stupendous effort in the very early days of the road- probably late in
1877 when improvements were made to the Port Douglas- Thornborough road.
From here, the road ascends the
Rob Roy Hill by very steep cuttings and sidelings for about a quarter of a mile,
deep ruts and loose boulders testing the climbing powers of even a Toyota. Up
grades like this the carriers hauled thirteen-ton boilers with teams of up to
Gordon Hay believes that Knudstrup’s battery, now ruins, at Kingsborough, was built by him in the early 1890s. Mr. Hay has recorded: “In the early times most of the gold was caught in an ordinary blanket spread over a table at the outlet of the stamper boxes. The blanket was taken off and washed in a tub and the gold collected. Later, a copper plate dressed with quicksilver and cyanide was used with a well at the bottom of the table with quicksilver in it. This was put into a retort pot on the fire and smelted, the quicksilver going out of the retort in a vapour into a tin of water and thus saved for further use”.
One of the bank managers in
Thornborough long ago, lost the keys to his safe. It was Knudstrup who saved the
situation. On his second attempt he made a key that would fit, much to the
relief of the banker. Knudstrup was working on an invention when he died. He was
building a three-head battery at the Monarch mine that was to be driven by a
windmill with 12 ft. blades.
Thornborough is a fine site for
a town, and judging by the signs that still remain, it was obviously a large
one- possibly with two thousand population. The road in from Kingsborough
becomes McLeod Street and runs down a long ridge to a flat near the river with
the main street, Mulligan Street, crossing it. It was fitting that the two
principal streets in this town, once capital of the Hodgkinson Goldfield, should
have been named after the two discoverers. The site of J. V. Mulligan’s store
and hotel, marked by remains of a cellar, stood on the right-hand corner with
the river flat in front- the place where 500 miners gathered at the open air
meeting on July 8th 1876 to discuss the need for a wagon road to the
The only building left from the
pioneer days is Mrs. Volkman’s house, once the Canton Hotel and part of a much
larger building. Wah Lee’s big store adjoined on the corner of Little Street
(named for Billy Little, later M.L.A.), with a few bricks marking the site
opposite in McLeod Street, of Horn and Petersen’s jeweller’s shop. It was a two
storey building and in the town’s latter period was a cordial factory. Next was
Geilis’ Commercial Hotel.
A fine view of Mt. Mulligan and
a panorama of other ranges is obtained from the hilltop where the Catholic
Church once stood, and from the site of the school on a lower level facing
McLeod Street. The stone foundations, 40 ft. by 20 ft. remain.
At the top of Mulligan Street
was Freeman’s Hotel on the corner of Muirson Street, Wooster’s Hotel opposite,
and lower down was Frank Grainer’s store and butchery. At the top of the street
was the police station, Court House, Post Office, and the telegraph repeater
station; all except Wooster’s and Grainer’s were built of brick and were
functioning up to the early 1920s.
These brick buildings, including
the school, were bought for a total of £100 by the Eureka Farming Syndicate (H.
H. Collins, secretary) of Dimbulah in 1932. They were pulled down and the bricks
used to build tobacco curing barns at Leafgold. Many of the bricks at
Thornborough were made by a builder named Bowcher. He built the school, opened
in August 1878 with fifty pupils, for £1050. Badly damaged in a cyclone in 1920,
it was repaired, but closed for good on 28th March 1924, for lack of
pupils. The first teacher, in 1878- 1882, was Patrick Houston, an Irishman.
The surrounding hills, brooding
and silent now, where thousands once worked over a century ago to wrest gold
from their unyielding rocks, bear but a few faint scars of man’s unrest.
Dominating the town site on the north is the Pig Hill, so called from a rich
mine, the Flying Pig.
Old timer’s stories are
recalled. One has it that on top of this hill an Aboriginal woman found a nugget
of gold as big as, and the same size as, a woman’s shoe. She showed it to Fred
Geilis, the publican, who generously gave her two shillings for it… James Rolls
and Harry Purcell took out a crushing of twenty ounces to the ton from the Pig
They talk about the time Bill
Clark brought his bullock team straight down the face of the Pig Hill with the
wheels locked with tie chains so they tore up the ground; the tracks were
visible for many years afterwards. It is so steep that a bulldozer could not
climb it without a winch rope. Bill Clark and Con Quill ran the two last hotels
to function in Kingsborough, in 1913. The school teacher was Ellie Rowan who
became the Mrs. Volkman previously mentioned.
Madagascar rubber vines have
almost completely covered the site of Thornborough; they are at Kingsborough
too, and all along Caledonia Creek and the Hodgkinson, Leadingham Creek, and
Pinnacle Creek. They are a curse in these areas and seem to particularly
flourish on nearly all the old mining fields.
Back in 1878, before Herberton
drew away their population, the Hodgkinson towns were flourishing. Pugh’s
Almanac listed the towns of Thornborough, Kingsborough, Stewart Town, and
Beaconsfield as the principal towns on the goldfield, with Northcote on its
eastern edge. That year the field produced 60,000 ounces of gold.
Storekeepers in Thornborough
were then J. V. Mulligan, Clifton and Aplin (a large merchant firm with branches
all over the North), J. Loldman, O’Donohue and Greenwood, and G. Schott. There
were ten hotels in the town itself, five in Kingsborough, three in Beaconsfield,
two in Stewart Town, three in Northcote, and probably a dozen others in mining
camps and along the carrying roads. In those days the number of hotels in a
mining town or on a field were indicators of the importance
In Thornborough in 1878 there was the Albion (D. McPherson); All Nations (German Charlie); Commercial (J. Little); Crown (W. Freeman); Lindsay’s; London (C. Crisp); Queen’s (G. O’Loughlan); Royal (J. Byers); Thornborough (J. Dowdell- one of Mulligan’s old mates); and Thornborough Arms (J. Middlemiss). Martin Bros’ Hercules crushing mill of sixteen stampers was at work on the river bank on the edge of town. W. J. Cosgrove was a mining agent and auctioneer, G. H. Boughtman an engineer, and Parker and Vautin, assayers.
The weekly newspaper was the “Hodgkinson Mining News”, published by John S. Reid. As we have seen, it published reports, now historically valuable, of the opening of the roads to the coast. Only a few tattered copies survive in Brisbane archives.
John Reid sold the “Hodgkinson Mining News” plant to William Douglas Reid and William I. Booth in August 1877. Reid became sole owner soon afterwards, and in May 1879 he sold out to J. R. Boyett. The paper ceased publication in July 1880 following a bitter libel case. There was actual physical violence and some of the paper’s type was thrown in the Hodgkinson River during a fight.
As a result, Kingsborough briefly had its own newspaper. A Mr. Pilbrow bought the “Hodgkinson Mining News” plant for 152 pounds and proposed to issue the “Hodgkinson Independent” at Kingsborough. It lasted until September 1881 when the boom town of Herberton looked more inviting. The plant was loaded on a bullock wagon and transported thereto, with M. C. Greene as editor.
Meanwhile, the Thornborough people were not to be outdone by their rival, Kingsborough. They subscribed 200 pounds and purchased a new plant to produce a new paper, “The Hodgkinson Miner”. It lasted until October 1881.
The two banks were the Bank of New South Wales and the Queensland National. Later there was a branch of the Bank of North Queensland also. The town supported two solicitors, F. A. Cooper and P. F. O’Reilly, and two chemists, J. Hopkinson and W. R. Irwin. The doctor was then Dr. E. Mohs. In 1880, Dr. J. E. Fonsworth of the Hodgkinson District Hospital was killed when thrown from his horse on the road to Kingsborough.
In those days of the horse, the blacksmith and saddler were important people: D. McPherson and B. Smith were blacksmiths and G. Badkin was a saddler. The lucky miners who wanted to dress for special occasions could get handmade suits from Mr. Halkier the tailor for three guineas. The ladies were catered for by Mary Smith, widow of the pathfinder, Bill Smith. On March 1st 1880, she married again- a miner named Robert M. Shaw. Thornborough people were also readers, for there were two bookshops- T. Willmett & Co. (a branch of a Townsville firm that still exists), and D. Roberts. Bakers were G. Wason and C. Crisp, and Johnny Byers and Little Bros. were butchers.
The official name for Kingsborough was “Kingston” but popular usage of the former eventually prevailed. It honored Mr. H. E. King, Minister of Works. (From 1874 to 1876 there was a town of the same name on the Palmer Goldfield).
The hotels in 1878 were Bindon’s; Royal (kept by R. McKelvey); McManus’ Hotel; Golden Cannon (Miss Muldoon); Reynolds’; King Christian (Petersen); and the Welcome (W. B. Stenhouse). The three stores were kept by Kiley, Henry and Templeton. G. Frankfort was a blacksmith, and A. McNutt and Carlton Bros. were butchers. Plant and Jackson who were early on the field from the Palmer, had the Vulcan Mill of sixteen stampers. Out along the Port Douglas Road was Rolls’ roadside hotel and farm where, like the Jacksons and other early day settlers, they bred fine draught horses for the carriers.
Some ten miles east of Kingsborough, on the headwaters of the Hodgkinson, was the town of Beaconsfield. Practically nothing remains there now, yet a century ago this town, named after the celebrated British Prime Minister, Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, had two stores, three hotels, and a good dam in the river, now long sanded up.
The hotels were the Monarch, kept by J. Weitzel who also had a store; the Exchange, (Norman James), and the Beaconsfield, run by D. N. Rice who was evidently a leading citizen for he had a store and a butchery as well. It was the Monarch mine and its mill of ten stampers that provided most of the employment, and there were other good mines nearby, such as the Just-in-Time which worked off and on until the 1930s.
W. M. Thompson discovered the Monarch in 1876. He and his mates raised enough rich stone to warrant the erection of a crushing mill and this was done with the assistance of J. Weitzel and H. C. W. Buls. The latter became a leading mining man on the Hodgkinson. His tombstone in the Thornborough cemetery is dated September 27th 1894. His widow, Fannie Maria, married J. V. Mulligan in 1905. A rocky hill near the Monarch mine was named Bul’s Pinnacle after him, though on modern maps it is misspelled as “Bull’s”.
Henry Buls led a party of diggers to the Palmer rush from the Etheridge and fought off attacks by Aborigines along the way. When the Hodgkinson broke out, he brought mining machinery from the Etheridge, cutting his own track across very rough country so that his bullock wagons could get through. This may have been the plant used for the battery at the Monarch mine. He bought out Thompson’s interest in 1878. Thompson, who later became a railway contractor, is credited with making the first sluice box and wheelbarrow on the Palmer Goldfield, thus being able to work more ground than with the old tin dish and cradle.
Northcote existed for no more
than ten years- 1877- 1887. It was prettily situated in a big bend of Leadingham
Creek where the Port Douglas Road crossed it. Several rich reefs were found in
this area and two crushing batteries were at work in 1880. The Princess of Wales
of twenty stampers was at Northcote itself and the other was on Slatey
The town was a coach change and
had a telegraph station, and at its peak boasted three hotels- the Northcote,
run by Thomas Nathaniel Cartwright who died in 1883 and whose ornate tombstone,
recently collapsed, is in the little graveyard that marks the site of the town
today- the Overlander, kept by R. Gummow, and the Dominion, run by McLean.
Another tombstone marks the
grave of Margaret Mary Johnston whose husband William had an hotel in New
Northcote in 1897. By that year, most of the town’s population had moved to the
antimony mines at the new town higher up Leadingham Creek. Mrs. Johnston was
burned to death on November 30 1897 when her clothes caught alight when cooking
Christmas puddings, probably over an open fire. Her coffin was carried at night,
by the light of hurricane lanterns over the rough track to the graveyard at Old
The Bimrose family had an hotel
near the battery on the opposite side of Leadingham Creek to Old Northcote. When
they heard of the new rush to Herberton, they hurriedly dismantled the timber
and iron building, packed it on a bullock wagon, and set out. The route they
followed down Leadingham Creek and across the Walsh River would have brought
them on to a blazed tree line which ran from Cardwell to the Palmer. This was
never more than a pack track and had been a vain attempt by the Cardwell
pioneers to capture some of the trade from the Palmer Goldfield. It was a
stupendous feat of path finding. Both Fraser and Atherton probably brought their
cattle this way.
With the rush to Herberton, it
was to provide a link with the Hodgkinson towns. Following this old road on
horseback, I found it barely discernible now, but there are a few cuttings and
piles of rock on the “pinches” where some attempt at road making was made. From
1880 to 1893 it probably carried a good deal of traffic. A telegraph line was
erected along it to give Herberton telegraphic communication in 1882, the line
joining the Cairns-Thornborough wire at Northcote.
An imposing natural gap between
enormous granite boulders as big as two-storey houses on this road was known to
the pioneers as “Little Hell’s Gates”, doubtlessly so named after a notorious
mountain pass on one of the tracks from Cooktown to the Palmer, where the
Aborigines lay in ambush and killed scores of white men and Chinese.
The township of New Northcote,
three miles up Leadingham Creek from Old Northcote, was reached by rough tracks
from either the latter or Beaconsfield through gaps in the Northcote Hills.
Antimony was worked at New
Northcote in the early 1880s and a smelter was erected, managed by John Mundey.
The brick chimney, sixty feet high, was a landmark until 1942 when someone
dynamited it for the sake of the bricks, but most of them still lie there in a
New Northcote had four hotels
and a school at the beginning of this century. The Winfield family were some of
its citizens. The Irvinebank Mining Company owned the antimony smelters at that
time, but because of low prices and the wind up of the company in 1919,
operations ceased and the town disappeared. Just after World War II, when
antimony was ninety pounds per ton, Dan Molloy had a profitable mine and battery
there. Up to 1941, Northcote had produced 1500 tons of antimony; the mines
included the Emily, Ethel, and Black Bess.
At Old Northcote, Harry Thompson
of Mareeba had a large gold mine and a battery in the early years of World War
II. It was called the Great Australian.
The Minnie Moxham gold mine is
further up Leadingham and was opened in 1912, having been missed by the early
Hodgkinson miners. Connected with it were Charlie Jenkinson, Fred Baines, Tom
Kelly, F. Gregory, and Bob Muhldorff of Mareeba. This mine worked off and on
until the beginning of World War II.
The gold reefs extended for many
miles down the Hodgkinson River below Thornborough. Opposite the northern end of
the great bulk of Mt. Mulligan, was the township of Stewart Town. There were
three hotels and two stores here in 1878, and the principal reefs in the area
were the Union, Geraldine, and Result. Blair and Co. had the Loadstone Battery
of ten stamps. The storekeepers were Barry Bros., Brophy Bros, and G. Miall. W.
Moore and J. Crowley were butchers. Another flourishing township was Woodville,
first called Watsonville, at the Dagworth mine.
Nearly a hundred years ago the
Union was a rich mine. The machinery for the mill was brought by Crowley’s
bullock team over the fearful track from the Palmer and erected by a man known
as “Darky” Green. Members of this mining syndicate were shadowy men of the past-
Lyons, Grogan Murphy, Hohenhouse, Johnson, Hughes, McManus, and Rank. Some of
their descendents are still with us. From the Hodgkinson came many of North
Queensland’s citizens who helped mould other towns and districts to
There were men like George
Jonathan Evenden from Rochester, England, who made, bricks and built some of the
brick buildings in Thornborough.
He arrived carrying his swag up
the packers’ track from Port Douglas, but the bricklayer’s trowel he possessed
was to prove more useful, and lucrative, than his miner’s pick and shovel. He
stayed for thirty years until his death in August 1907. He and J. V. Mulligan
were firm friends, and they both died within days of one another.
Evenden is distinguished as
being the first chairman of the Woothakata Divisional Board at Thornborough in
November 1879. He was chairman for many terms, totalling 22 years out of the 27
he served the Local Authority. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1883
and in the 1890s, when a magistrate, he caused the bush Aborigines to be brought
close to town to prevent them from being shot down like kangaroos.
Evenden brought his family up
from Brisbane in 1878. They rode on William Louden’s bullock wagon from Port
Douglas. Their home in Thornborough was noted for its beautiful garden. Mrs.
Evenden died on 16 July 1888. Grandchildren lived in Mareeba and Cairns.
The Woothakata Divisional Board
comprised most of the present Mareeba Shire and the name is reputed to be an
Aboriginal word meaning “mountain of strange shape” referring to Mt. Mulligan.
This early day shire covered 27,380 square miles. In 1885 the population was
1,800; there were 360 rateable properties and the revenue was a mere £643 per
annum! The first members, in 1879, were Hodgkinson pioneers - W. A. Martin,
battery owner; W. B. Stenhouse, publican of Kingsborough; W. C. Little, butcher;
T. Jackson, battery owner; B. Smith, W. B. Redmond, W. Blackmore, and R. Jones,
In 1885, with G. J. Evenden
still chairman, the members were H. C. W. Buls, Thomas Templeton, J. J. Denny,
R. C. Eagle, G. M. Towner, and W. Blisner. Secretary was Arthur Arnold Mayou.
The board (shire council) met in its hall in McLeod Street, Thornborough, on the
first Tuesday of each month. In 1919, with Thornborough a ghost town and Mareeba
in the ascendant, the headquarters were moved to Mareeba. John Rank the shire
clerk, moved with it. The building was also shifted to Mareeba where it served
for years until the present concrete premises were erected in Walsh Street.
Additions have been added in more recent times. Incidentally, G. J. Evenden was
John Rank’s father-in-law and his nephew is J. Arthur Rank, the film
Thornborough’s last burst of
activity was probably in 1914 when the railway from Dimbulah to Mt. Mulligan was
under construction and a sale of the first town lots at the latter place was
held at the Court House, Thornborough, on August 15th. W. Williams
was then the official in charge and the last warden at Thornborough. The
Cummings family who lived in what had been Wooster’s Hotel, were among the last
Gordon Hay recalls that Chinese
New Year was celebrated in Thornborough right up 1923 for Wah Lee’s store was
possibly the last business place to close. He also remembers that in 1913 he saw
squads of Chinese disinterring the bones of their countrymen, buried thirty or
forty years before and despite the absence of any markers they apparently knew
just where to dig. The remains, which after such a lapse of time, had to be
recovered by sifting the ground, were to be taken back to China. Gordon says the
Chinese must have been buried with their boots on as the sieving brought up
hobnails and steel heel and toe plates, eyelets, etc. Before the graves were
filled in again, strips of white paper were thrown in “to pay the devil.” There
was still a Chinese joss house in Thornborough at that time.
Extracted from Glenville Pike's
"Pioneers Country" Published 1976 for Cairns Centenary