PALMER DAYS – AND AFTERWARDS
(1873 to 1926)
Primary source or contributor used a pseudonym
Edited / written by Hugh Borland
The Call of the Palmer
Joe and I had been out having a look at aboriginal markings in caves some distance away. Coming back we had made a detour, riding around by Talavera Springs to see the great sandstone formations near there.
The aboriginal markings were entirely new to us, imprints of hands on rock walls and such like, while the sandstone kopjes, weather worn and towering high above the horses’ heads, interested us also.
Joe was riding a big bay horse known as Lightning- Lightning, because we had found him, a shivering little foal, after a terrible thunderstorm. I was on Joker. Our way home led us to a drover’s camp outside Gilberton. Of course, we got down and yarned for a while, bronzed bushmen and ourselves giving views on things in general, blackboys squatting by their own little fire.
One of the drovers was a most interesting personality. This chap had come north from New South Wales with Henry Smith in 1863, when Smith took up the country that was thereafter known as Lyndhurst. The big stream the party had camped on was thought by them to be Leichhardt’s Lynd River, so they called the run Lyndhurst.
Afterwards, Henry Smith and Edward Mytton discovered the true Lynd farther north, and then when the Jardines later on were making up to Cape York, the Lyndhurst traversed stream was given by them its name, Einasleigh.
The drover, I’ve long forgotten his name- turned his talk to the goldfield discovered by Mulligan. “If it’s any good, there’ll be a great demand for gazing country up there. Men must eat, you know, and beef will be needed. We’re from Oak Park, just delivered a mob to Gilberton; but it’s north we’ll be jogging next year if the Palmer is proved.
Late it was that night when we reached home. There was a full moon rising, big and round and golden. “Like a sovereign,” said Joe. “A good sign for Mulligan’s goldfield.”
At the camp, we found an animated conversation in progress. Pat, however, was doing most of the talking. Dad seemed to be weighing some matter up. “Tell you what, Jim (Jim was Dad), those who could get in early on the Palmer should make a decent clean up. Men are going helter-skelter through the bush every day, and Inspector Gough and Constable Dillon both told me that there’s a new port being made at the mouth of the Endeavour. That’s where most of the supplies will be landed- too far around the other way. This place doesn’t seem to offer more than a living. What about going to the new field and doing a little mining or starting carrying?”
Mum looked up in dismay. “More travelling, and we’ve hardly got settled here.”
I looked up in anticipation. More riding throughout days of brilliant sunshine, more listening at night to the weird bush voices, more new country to be seen, roads low on the river banks or winding around flanking hills- to me the world was wide.
Finally Dad spoke, first placing the blackened billycan among the coals: “We’ll have a pannikin of tea and a bit of Johnny cake. Here’s my plan. We’ve got a full load of supplies, so we’ll move north as far as we can before the wet sets in- up as far as Mt. Surprise if possible- and then make for the Palmer as soon as the rains are done and the ground fit to stand the wagon. Carrying or mining, either will do.”
Thus again the wagon wheels were rolling. “Gee over, Boko, gee, Red.” Grating of the turntable, grinding of the draw chains, creaking harness, grey dust over everything, slow miles passing by. So the pioneers pushed the frontiers further out. Oak Park, Lyndhurst, Spring Creek, with Carpentaria Downs to the west; sunrise saw the sun on our right, evening swung the great glowing disk low to the left.
Stations of the 1860s were those just mentioned. Spring Creek was taken up by Tom Collins in 1862, and stocked by him with a herd from New South Wales. Lyndhurst, at the time we passed, was changing from Shorthorns to Herefords and was to become famous for its “bally-faced cattle”- 35,000 of them, all Lyndhurst owned,, all with the B.I.S. brand on their hides. Manager of the period was John Fulford, co-partner over 1000 square miles of territory, level, timbered, and basaltic.
We chose this route because thunderstorms on the Basalt Tableland had ensured an abundance of burnt feed. The heat was intense, storms brooded over the sky, time was pressing. Christmas Day was exceptionally trying, one of those days that sap the energies of the most fit. Stifling heat prevailed, cicadas droned maddeningly on the branches. In the early afternoon isolated cloud showed on the horizon westward. We had camped for the day eating our Christmas dinner of salt, meat, doughboys, and black tea, under a roughly erected bough shed. We had drowsed awhile, man and beast feeling the heat, horses lazily flicking their tails at the irritating flies and keeping to the trees.
The bullocks rested in the cool, shady creek. There was the breathlessness of a storm working up, and at about half past two, the sky darkened completely. Movement of air was felt, almost imperceptible at first, then with increasing though spasmodic strength. Then came faint rumblings of thunder. Joe sat up. “She’s coming,” he said cheerfully. A soughing of wind from afar was heard and, terrifyingly, startling us all with its intensity, a flash of lightning raced down the sky, setting the thunder reverberating, and causing the stock to become restless. We were then all on our feet. Pat counted the seconds between the flash and the thunderclap. “Four miles off,” he announced. “It’ll be a pelterer,” said I. A pelterer it was. Lightning, thunder, high wind, driving rain. Bushmen know these storms. The bough shed was blown away; limbs were torn from trees; canvas flapped as we crouched under somewhat insecure shelter. Skies opened and poured out a deluge for 20 minutes- wonderfully cool the atmosphere became as the storm moved onwards. “None the worse off,” said Dad, as we looked things over. “Just as well I put aside a little dry firewood.” Mum was always a practical soul.
On New Year’s Day of 1874, camp was made on a creek below Mt. Surprise Station. We had done well to have got that far, for rain, the “general rain” that is really the wet season, had set in early. No further progress could be made for months, low lying country would be flooded, the Walsh, Mitchell, and Palmer would be in high flood.
Others were camped close to us ready to make the northern dash through a blaze-lined bush hitherto trodden by none whose tomahawks had marked the trees. Dust storms and rain, fires, too, had swept over and erased all marks of where we had made our temporary home. Camp site was in a pleasant little glade where a natural waterfall carried surface waters away on each side. Saplings, bark and boughs, with our few precious sheets of iron placed advantageously, gave us roof and walls. An anthill, four feet high, helped us in our cooking. The stock fattened, rains came and went; soon it would be time for the road. Don’t imagine, though, that up there on the bank of Elizabeth Creek, tributary of the Einasleigh, we lazed away our time awaiting the lifting of the wet. Tyres had to be cut and shut, wheel spokes replaced, harness to be seen to elastic-side boots to be mended. Extra bullocks were bought and trained to become as docile as the others. Shooting expeditions gave us a visit to the telegraph station at Junction Creek, from which, over the wires, had gone confirmation of the richness of Mulligan’s discovery. On 21 November 1873, Sub-Inspector Dyas had telegraphed: “Payable gold struck; great quantity obtained during month; provisions dear and scarce; blacks numerous and troublesome; 500 men on field.” So read the official message. Most of the men had steamed through the bush from the Etheridge behind Mulligan as he returned to the Palmer, after reporting his find. Blacks attacked and killed some of these diggers.
Written on pages of gold and largely in letters of blood, “Palmer days,” born into a world of feverish activity around the closing months of 1873 and the whole of 1874, living long, though at times somewhat ingloriously, is a classic that ever finds a reader even now when:
“The world is narrow and ways are short,
And lives are dull and slow,
For little is new where the crowds resort,
And less where the wanderers go.
They came, all manner of men, all nationalities, when they could, how they could. They faced dangers and hardships unequalled elsewhere in the colonies, except perhaps on West Australian fields. Many hastened blindly unprepared; many perished, their fate deterred in vain. Where gold was to be won, be sure there were men to be found for its winning.
It’s a long way back tonight. I am aged, bent, alone, am looking, but dreaming, sight is keen, and the olden days, the golden days, come unfolding before me. ‘Tis a review I’m holding, old-time mates I’m meeting, familiar scenes faint in the background of years, are before me. But even I may speak only with the knowledge passed on to me of the first six months of the Palmer’s life- its cradle days at Cradle Creek; Peter Brown had said on the 13th of July 1873 “We’ll cut down a Leichhardt tree and make a cradle to try this creek.” Peter cut down the tree, a softwood tree, given the local name of Leichhardt, and, taking turns at hacking out the pith and heartwood, the men fashioned a rough cradle. The party had taken over a month to reach that part of the palmer watershed. The 5th June had seen them leave Georgetown, Mulligan as leader of five others, Dowell, Watson, Robertson, Brandt and Peter Brown, whose Norwegian name was Abelsen. They moved through the bush by way of Mt Surprise, Tate River, and the Walsh, prospecting as they went. Heading north, always north, toward Bill Hann’s gold bearing country, the Palmer came into view on the 29th June. The expedition had trouble with the natives, first by having its camp threatened with destruction when the blacks deliberately set a grass gire going, and, secondly, by having huge stones rolled down upon it from an overhanging hillside. A close watch was kept at night. Two men on guard at the one time held the camp safe during daylight hours.
Cradle Creek was but one of the localities tried for gold, and by the middle of August, the party had reached and tried a promising spot near where afterwards the township of Palmerville was built. Then spoke Mulligan: “We’ve got enough gold for the time being. We’ll bury the tools and spare cartridges, get back to Georgetown, and return here with supplies to carry us through the wet.”
From the 24th August to the 3rd September, eleven days, they rode, lighthearted, brimful of hopes for the future. And thus the world, through an inland township, Georgetown, in the colony of Queensland, learned of a new goldfield. When that world heard colourful accounts of the rich patches to be worked, it acted promptly.
The Queensland Government sent G. E. Dalrymple, on the 29th September, to examine all inlets and rivers between Cardwell and the Endeavour. His little ships were the Flying Fish and the Coquette. With him were Sub-Inspectors F. M. Thompson and R. Johnstone, some native police, and a botanist, Walter Hill. Rivers and inlets were many, boisterous weather prevailed. Not until 24 October did Dalrymple enter the Endeavour, where 103 years previously, Cook sought a haven of refuge. But close behind Dalrymple- one day behind- came the sea borne rush of men willing to brave the many unknown perils, to suffer hardship, famine, and thirst and disease, in the hope of gaining wealth. Their vessel, the Leichhardt (Captain Saunders), moored under the slope of a great grassy hill. All night long the little donkey engine on the ship laboured to unload stores, tools and horses for the men who had scrambled ashore. The collection of newly erected tents was given a name- Cooktown.
By the Leichhardt had arrived a road builder, A. C. MacMillan. With him were members of his staff and several police. He had, also, the assistance of the Georgetown Warden, Howard St. George.
“We’ll wait a day or two and give the horses a rest.” That was MacMillan’s advice. “Rest be damned, let’s push on,” retorted the less prudent, five of whom started away on their own initiative. Never was retribution more swift. They crossed a river, the Normanby, the impetuous ones, about 30 miles west of their landing place. On the top of a range they hesitated and were lost. Which way to go? “This is the way.” No, that is the way.” “We are going along in this direction. You three can go over those ridges.”
Back at the mouth of the Endeavour, MacMillan and St. George held a conference. “We’ll take Jerry, the blackboy who was with Hann. We’ll start on the 27th and leave word for the diggers to push off on the 30th.”
Jerry led the advance party unerringly to Big Oakey Creek. “Hann bin campit here,” he said. They then sought a way onward, MacMillan, St. George and Jerry, but could not find a gap in the range where Oakey Creek begins. The main body of men, horsed or afoot, caught up with them, and on the Normanby some, too free with the use of their firearms, shot several blacks. “A foolish act,” warned the wiser ones.
The river was crossed and camp was made by a lagoon on the top of the range. “Mr. MacMillan, there are natives about,” said Billy Webb. At daylight the blacks attacked, but were dispersed, leaving many dead. The locality went down in history as “Battle Camp.”
The 5th day of November was eventful. It saw a consultation being held on a hill, “Consultation Hill.” MacMillan, as leader, addressed the men. “Listen, you chaps, my own party’s rations are scanty. We’re about 70 miles from the Palmer. I intend pushing on quickly’ leaving a line of blazed trees for you to follow.” Protests arose. “Mr. MacMillan, we need the protection of your well-armed party, and although you are better horsed, we’ll try and keep up with you.”
Loads were overhauled, valuable foodstuffs, even tea, flour and sugar were abandoned. Some of the diggers, mostly Queenslanders, kept pace with the official party.
The night of the 5th was spent at a chain of waterholes. “Welcome, welcome, waterholes,” said the thirsty. “Welcome Waterholes,” they have remained. Next day a river was reached and named the Deighton. Behind came the stragglers, many finding camp as MacMillan was again pushing off. Another river was reached. “I’ll name this the Laura, for my wife,” said MacMillan.
Southwest headed men and horses. Terrible were the privations of the ill equipped. November days were hot. The stragglers suffered from thirst. On the 8th of November, a Saturday, the top of a range was climbed, a forbidding mass of conglomerate. Perpendicular cliffs showed no hope of descent.
On Sunday, MacMillan and St. George went exploring along the Kennedy, named by Hann. The head of that river brought the party to the divide and over on to the fall, where the Palmer was crossed and camp made.
No writer to date has adequately described MacMillan and party’s journey from the coast. Along the route they had picked up the lone survivor of the over-eager five. They had seen the fires lit by another- fires seen but not recognised as appeals for help. There had been much uncertainty as to which direction the party should take. The journey had been full of incident.
From their last camp on the Palmer, MacMillan rode up the river. St. George rode downstream. MacMillan it was who found hundreds of diggers at work at the place now known as Palmerville- diggers who had come from the Etheridge and Gilbert. On Friday the 14th of November the goal was reached. Food was scarce, a little flour, and little else was available. Gold, however, was being freely won. Sub-Inspector Dyas sent his report over the wires from Junction Creek. Sub-Inspector Knott and the gold escort left the Palmer early in December, taking with them 5000 ounces of gold for Cardwell. A balance of 3000 ounces was being held on the field.
MacMillan again called a conference- food shortage, the coming of the wet season. What supplies were there were dear, flour two shillings and sixpence a full pannikin, meat (if any) a shilling a pound, tea anything above half a sovereign a pound, sugar high in proportion. MacMillan and 70 diggers, with about 150 packhorses, hastily left for Cooktown to get foodstuffs. Sub-Inspector Dyas provided the escort.
Of these things I learned years afterwards.
Cooktown! To very many now the name conveys nothing more than the perpetuation of a gallant navigator’s memory. To some it conveys a further and more recent interest because Cooktown was created as a port to serve the Palmer field.
But there is another section of people who regard Cooktown not merely for any link it may hold in connection with district history. Just as the voluntary exile’s thoughts at times turn yearningly to his homeland, be it England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, or even Australia, so do the thoughts of many go back to the town at the mouth of the Endeavour River, for to these Cooktown was home. To them it remains home even though:
Is lost when close at hand;
There is no pity in the passing years,
And only sadness in the coming home.”
Many returning to Cooktown have found that that was so. Grassy Hill, North Shore, Indian Head, Mt. Saunders, The Gap, Mt. Cook, Cherry Tree Bay, Finch’s bay, the old cannon, the Cook and Watson Memorials, Charlotte Street- familiar namings, sentinels ever faithful- but otherwise there has been no pity in the passing years.
Picture to yourself, if you can, Cooktown in the years that followed the opening of the great goldfield; Cooktown, its business pulse beating steadily, its hopes raised high; the Palmer a veritable treasure chest; the golden ‘seventies (1870s) that saw the birth of other fields, Herberton and Hodgkinson- spearheads in district progress; the foundation of cairns and of Port Douglas. Picture all these.
Cooktown in the 1870s was a Cooktown of intense activity. The early town planner in part dug out a main street from the slopes of Grassy Hill. Along this point of commencement for the hurrying, fevered, goldfield-bound traffic, were built the business houses. So lengthy was this parallel line of shops and hotels that its classification into Lower and Upper Charlotte Street became necessary. Money was plentiful, trade was brisk. Money was plentiful, trade was brisk. To the goldfield streamed the tide of humans, sending back news of the wealth, awaiting the venturesome.
Long and dangerous were the stages covered by teamsters and packers- the men behind the feeding of the tens of thousands that cluttered the field. Chinese kept pouring into the port in increasing numbers, making their way south-west. Europeans and Americans joined in the rush. The blacks, sullen and resentful, exacted revenge in crafty, cruel manner, sparing neither section but in the cannibalistic leanings showing a partiality for the flesh of Chinese. The world outside looked with interest to north-east Australia, toward Cooktown, favoured port for a super rich goldfield and Cooktown thought it was- in the 1870s- on the high road to permanency.
We had by this time travelled onwards from the Palmer over the water parting and down once again to the Pacific water. Our teams had made their slow way along the well-known track past the “Blacksoil”- Fairview this became- the Welcome Waterholes, Battle Camp, Normanby River and Oakey Creek. With this went other teams and naturally all safeguards were taken.
There was a shortcut, “Hell’s Gates,” used mostly by packhorses and opened by Inspector Douglas, of the Native Police- a wild, desolate looking dangerous defile flanked by overhanging rocks. Many diggers using it lost their lives. Seldom were convoys attacked. The lone teamster or packer- the solitary swagman were more tempting.
We made our home just outside the town, the “Four Mile,” “Three Mile,” “Two Mile.” You chose at will although the “Two Mile” was the more popular, because of the racecourse opposite. The whole of the locality was used as a camping ground by the teamsters and packers. A little creek meandered casually along through the “Two Mile.” There were hotels – it was a good, business stand.
Denis Callaghan, Denny O’Brien, Savages, were there, at one time or other. O’Brien, I know, went on to Port Douglas. Savages took up storekeeping in town. Our house was built where the Palmer road began to leave the flatter country and twist its way up the low-lying range that sweeps out in a great arc from Mt. Cook.
Home was to be of a permanent nature so a gable-ended framework of round bush timber, walled with bark and roofed with iron. A roomy lean-to and a big bark kitchen made things comfortable for all. We sank a shallow well, got water at a few feet down and a hollow tree trunk gave us a convenient watering trough for the stock. Numerous teamsters and packers hereabouts.
A lively scene it was. What a deafening noise prevailed. Just think for yourself. At the peak period of the Palmer rush there were 250 horse teams, 250 bullock teams and the better part of a thousand other units such as pack teams (mules and horses) and three-horse drays on the Cooktown- Palmer road.
Among the blacksmiths and wheelwrights best known to the carriers and packers were Mullins and White at the Two Mile- they’d taken over the business from someone whose name has escaped my memory. No noise, no bustle would you hear on the Palmer road today. Saddlers did a roaring business. Fred Gates had a shop adjoining the horse saleyards. Compton was in Lower Charlotte Street. Both were excellent tradesmen.
It would be impossible now to recall the names of all those who had business places in Cooktown as the opening pages of its history were being written. Some, because of their association with us in business, come readily to mind.
One of the big stores was that of Bower, Thomas and Madden. Our teams went forward and back on their behalf for years. An outstanding member of the firm was the last named, A. J. Madden. The store was in Lower Charlotte Street down toward the wharf. The firm sold all the commodities needed by a thriving community. Cabbage tree hats and hats of felt, trousers of tweed, moleskin, duck or drill; blucher boots from six shillings and sixpence upwards- elastic sided were dearer. For the ladies there were calicos, white and grey velvets and velveteens, silks, satins, muslins and fancy dress materials. Preserved potatoes were sold, also tinned butter and “fresh dairy butter from McCarey’s dairy”- the last as per advertisement.
Mixed was the stock, blacksmiths bellows and anvils, Old Colonial rum, whiskies, brandies, ales and porters, detonators, fuses, blasting powder, octagon steel, sugar from Mackay and the Herbert River. A firm, James Jackson, catered for users of hardware, mangles, coffee mills, paints, shoeing knives, and horse-shoe nails, breech loading guns, colt revolvers.
There were opposition firms, Chinese. Kwong, Yuen, Cheong, in Walker street, sold English goods of best quality; Fooh Chow Foo tea and Orange Pekoe tea; Gee Wah Chong at the intersection of Charlotte and Walker streets, advertised for sale “Fireworks, Chinese and European goods.” Dozens of Chinese stores did business.
I’m telling you of firms and individual shopkeepers who belonged to the Cooktown of yesterday, men who were there in reality.
Jim Neill was the first blacksmith in Cooktown. He also
built the Sovereign Hotel and the Captain Cook. A son of his,
Leslie Neill, took up the Annan country known as Killarney.
Tom Leslie, he of Palmer butchering, set up business in
Charlotte Street, Baird and McNeill were in the same line.
Both firms advertised themselves as “
Shipping and Family Butchers. Prime beef threepence and fourpence a lb.” Cordial manufacturers included Barr and Co., and John Napier.
In the lower portion of Charlotte Street was the timber yard of John Clunn and Son, painter and contractors. The same John Clunn afterwards built the Cooktown railway station at the foot of Walker Street, and still later opened business as general storekeepers on the corner of Walker and Charlotte Streets.
Miss Timoney was a milliner of the first decade in Cooktown. Her regular advertisement used to say, “Leaving Cooktown, selling off all stock,” but Miss Timoney and her drapery, laces, and millinery continued doing business even when the town was on the down grade.
The Townsville firm of Willmetts sold out to E. Pickering- you know this type of advertisement, “Bookseller, Stationer and Newsagent.” Brodyiak’s business stuck to Cooktown for long years. Bakers were J. L. Bizzell and J. L. Kerr- these among others.
A faded, broken copy, print still decipherable of a Cooktown paper was held by us as a link with the old town. It announced itself as the “Cooktown Herald, the Palmer River Advertiser and General Intelligence for North Queensland.” It sold itself at sixpence every Wednesday and Friday. There was another good paper published in Cooktown. This was the “Courier.” Fred Hodel was associated with it.
James Dick, the “Little Wonder Store,” near the Police barracks, featured all manner of ware: “Ladies’ elastic-sided boots, seven shillings a pair; lamp glasses, sixpence each.” Charles Watson was an opposition seller of boots and shoes. Solomon and Emanuel, wholesale and retail grocers, styled their business the Great Northern Stores. Tailors and Men’s Outfitters found representation in Edward D’Arcy, and Palmer Bros specialised in Pompadour prints, dresses and cords.
The first white girl born in Cooktown was the daughter of a Palmer carrier, Joe Newman. To the newcomer was given the name, Alice Cook Newman- Cook for Cooktown. The first white boy was the son of a businessman, Piers Seagren. To this boy was given the name of the river, Endeavour Seagren.
Excitement hovered long over the busy streets of Cooktown of the 1870s- excitement heightened by the knowledge that from all corners of the world an intensified series of spotlights blazing publicity had been focused and was being held steadily. Men walked the footpaths conscious of the fact that, however minor their part, they were actors in a swiftly unfolding drama. There were in those early years the essentials for a playwright; a work of historical interest, something that would take its place among the classics of all time.
Day after day a maze of wagons, drays, and buggies sorted itself out into an unending flow that began at the sea and disappeared beyond the ranges. Pack teams, loaded only as an expert can load, shuffled their way south-west and lines of Chinese coolies dangling loads on bamboos made painful hurry amid the dust clouds.
I have since that time seen the garish lights of every Australian capital, watched uninterestedly the changing neon signs parading the virtues of a commodity to sell, seen the transition of lighting, smoky slush lamp to electricity.
I have stood among the great crowds that unceasingly eddied in front of the stands at Flemington and Randwick. Nowhere, however, has there been that mystic something that was characteristic of life in Cooktown the port behind whose creation lay one of the most vivid chapters of Australian gold production. Saturday nights- and, indeed, any night- saw Charlotte Street in all the majesty of a town triumphant. The square framed lanterns, kerosene lit, swung outside each place of business; hotel hours were unrestricted; shops, big and little, were packed with town and country folk spending freely. Crowding back, crowding back from the past come memories, regrets and vague yearnings tinged with the sadness that is born of a realisation of days never to come again.
How tempting were the displayed pyramids of yellow oranges, red apples and golden mandarins in Chinese fruit shops whose lighting was provided by slush or kerosene lamps. How delicious was the taste of the red and white fish-shaped lollies that were sold from big glass jars! How interesting were those Chinese knick-knacks that could be bought for a few pence, queer little monkeys, unreal little figures. There was a curiosity in the studying, boy-like, of the mysterious concoctions brought out from the dark recesses of a Chinese storeroom, jars of ginger, sticky confectionary. And John Chinaman himself, too loose and too long his quaint garments ill fitting as his slip shod sandals. How readily hung his pigtail, how tempting his baskets as he jogged along. It’s all so laughable how these pictures come now to mind. Colourful? Yes. Glamorous? No- that Chinese quarter in Cooktown- mainly situated at the northern end of Adelaide Street; squalid, evil-smelling dens of iniquity, gambling hovels elbowing the stores set up by the better class representatives of the flowery land, opium houses, eating rooms, chop-sticks and rice bowls- all were there.
Pat, Joe and I used on Saturday evenings to ride in to town, leave our horses at Nicholas Armbrust’s Captain Cook Hotel (Jim Neill kept this for many years), and wander along, up and down the footpaths chatting to casual friends, mixing with the crowd, making new acquaintances, seeing much of interest with the interest ever fresh.
Hitherto, Clermont was the largest town I had been I, excepting of course, the brief period spent at Townsville and the human current that ebbed and flowed under the shop roofs of Charlotte Street was to me always offering something new.
One Saturday evening, soon after supper, we saddled up, feeling quite ready for a little relaxation after a hard afternoon’s work greasing harness and shoeing horses. We turned the horses loose in the roomy Captain Cook Hotel yard and got round to the front of the hotel- it was a single storey structure- in time to see a fight begin.
Fights were common enough, a sudden storm blowing up, then a quick calm followed by a handshake and several rounds of drink. This one, however, assumed the proportions of a brawl. One word brought on another; one participant roped in another, and the epidemic spread. Feeling was running high when we arrived. Pat was nothing if not Irish where a fight was concerned and jocularly he inquired, “Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?” As an answer somebody swung a hefty left and Pat crumpled up for a minute or two. When he recovered the fight became his and Joe’s, with Rob assisting vociferously from the veranda roof. We didn’t see much of the town that night.
On another Saturday night we’d been strolling up and down for quite a while munching fruit from paper bags, listening awhile to the music from a dance hall nearby. We’d joined in a conversation, a rather heated one, as to the respective merits of horses against bullocks for teamwork. There came sounds of shouting from along the street, sounds that quickly neared us. The crowd that had been walking in the street itself rushed to the footpaths revealing a runaway- two terrified horses drawing a light vehicle.
“Stop them! Stop them!” Everyone was shouting. No one seemed ready to accept the invitation until just as the runaways passed us, a man swung nimbly on to the buggy and by making a risky passage forward see-sawed the horses to a standstill. The anti-climax was provided. A form shot up from the floor of the buggy and a maudlin outraged voice demanded of his rescuer, “What sort of crimson joke is that to put over a man? I goes into the Steam Packet Hotel and Tom Weir, he says, ‘Haven’t seen you for a month. Have a drink.’ So I have six. Then I pokes along to the European Hotel and Watson there says, ‘Have a drink?’ So I has twelve. Then the yardman says, ‘Lie down, Dick, you look tired,’ and the bar being giddy, I says, ‘Take me to me buggy. I’ll be all right there.’ Then this cow comes along and tries to steal me buggy. That’s a hell of a joke to put over a man.”
The sight of men, in Charlotte Street, carrying holstered revolvers was not sufficient to excite comment nor of such interest to ask the why or wherefore of it. But the sound of shouting coming from the rear of Jack Pascoe’s Victoria Hotel, near the wharf, caused several, myself among them, to investigate. A tall young man was trying out a new revolver at a chalked mark on a tin. Bang! Bang! Bang! shots from a six-chambered Colt. All bull’s eyes were registered. We were applauding the feat when a policeman appeared, “What’s this? What’s this?” “Having some target practice, Sergeant.” Can’t do that here. Name please.” “Robert Jenkins; occupation, carrier; address, Four Mile, Cooktown.”
Bob Jenkins and I became very friendly after that. He was a New South Wales native and came north as soon as the Palmer broke out, bringing with him a mob of 80 horses for Wallace Brothers.
I’ve told you a little of Cooktown life in the years that came immediately after the opening of the Palmer goldfield. Many names come to mind as I think of early Cooktown. There were dozens of other hotels besides the ones that I have mentioned. The Steam Packet Hotel, previously referred to, had as a host, for some time, Bill Smith- the same Bill Smith for whom Smithfield in the Cairns district is named. The Great Northern was erected before the 1870s closed. Balsers controlled it for a period. I cannot forget Bea Wah’s Hotel- a sort of depot for Chinese going to or coming from the Palmer. Neither can I forget the annual Chinese New Year celebrations, the letting off of tens of thousands of crackers nor the howling of protesting dogs within a mile radius of Walker Street.
The Old Palmer Road
To others, not to myself alone, there is something of interest about the railway bridge that spans the Normanby River about 26 miles from Cooktown. It presents a study, both in times of normality and in times of stress. The Normanby is not at this point a wide stream. The encroaching mountains narrow the channel, but the current lacks nothing in its force as yearly, with increasing fury, it hurls itself upon the bridge that bars its way. But that structure was built to resist the might of the Flood King. The builder knew his work and anticipated the weight of attack, strengthening his defences accordingly. Thus, for over 60 years (1948), the turbulent troubled waters of the Normanby, with their battering reinforcements of trees and tree trunks, have been hurling themselves against the bridge which, though at times hard beset, stood firm to watch the churning waters fret themselves away to the merest trickle. Still, in the end the river must conquer.
It has a worthy opponent in the bridge structure, which has been specially designed to throw back the onslaught of the floods, often raising their angry crests 40 feet above the rails. A bridge of hardwood with a heart of steel is the Normanby railway bridge.
Not far above where the rails cross the river there was a coach stage on the historic Palmer road. Once on a time the lure of the goldfields made that road famous; livened it up with the tramp of countless thousands; spiced it with the ever-present dangers of the treacherous black; sowed it in seed times of sweat and sorrow; fertilised it with the life-blood of many; redeemed it with the sufferings that were the rule rather than the exception; hallowed it because of man’s humanity to man; and along its length of so many miles so many graves wove a chain of events, linked or unlinked, but all more or less connected with the one common object- the seeking of gold.
But no settlement beyond that brought about by the construction of the railway grew up around that part of the Normanby bridge. There the section terminus was, and scattered about were the homes and camps of the railway workers, with the customary transitory business houses. But for 12 years, until the time of railway construction to Laura, the road carried all passenger traffic, all supplies to the Palmer, and when, in the years 1884 and 1885, the rails were laid down, the lustre of the fields early richness had dimmed.
Bob Jenkins to whom I referred before, came often in pleasant contact with us. He it was who brought news of the murder by blacks of the MacQuarie Brothers at Hell’s Gates on the Palmer Road. The remains of the men were taken by the police and buried in the old police paddock near the Laura River. The MacQuaries had been well liked, and following the murder, a wave of indignation swept the district.
Although we ourselves were never molested we came across, upon one occasion beyond Battle Camp Range, all the evidences of attacks on Chinese. We were travelling slow, taking up a big load of goods this time from Jim Maker in Cooktown. The Maytown stores were getting ready for the wet season. We had camped the night before with two teamsters, Dan McGrath and Owen Reynolds, both of whom, as Cooktown folk will remember, were in the hotel line later on.
Reynolds had said, “I was coming down the range near Battle Camp and met an extra big lot of Chinese terribly heavily burdened. I warned them about blacks, signs of which I had noticed the day before. But they seemed as if they didn’t understand what I was talking about.”
McGrath, who was going our way, said, “I saw that lot in Chick Wan’s yard last week. They’re a fresh lot out from China. They’ll go up and down the road as coolies until their passage money has been paid back. They’ve been once up to the Palmer before.”
So, travelling on in company with Dan McGrath, we camped one night on the edge of a big swamp. “The horses are restless tonight,” said Pat. “I’ll take the gun and have a look around.” Joe called Brownie and went also. A few minutes later the sound of a cooee rang through the bush. It was repeated and Dad sent out an answering cooee. “Watch the camp,” he said. “Don’t move from it, but of you see anything suspicious, fire a couple of shots.” I was by that time seventeen years of age and quite able to look after myself, especially as I had bought a double-barrelled breech-loading gun- No 12 gauge- a good type. Back came the men. “There’s been some Chinese murdered, probably that lot Reynolds saw.”
Burnt flesh, scraps of Chinese goods, Chinese coins, provided gruesome evidence of a recent outrage. “We’ll report this to Inspector Stafford at the Upper Laura,” and that was all we could do.
Many Chinamen were speared as they jogged along the Palmer Road. Many whites were attacked also. Some simply disappeared. There was German Charlie who left his camp near Byerstown, his prospecting dish was picked up, but not a trace of German Charlie’s body was ever found.
Most terrible of all Palmer Road tragedies was the spearing of a whole family named Strau at the lagoons, which was afterwards known as Strau’s Lagoons. An old carrier- it may have been Archie Morrison- told us the story as we sat outside our home at the Two Mile. “I met this teamster on the far side of the Normanby. He had a dray, and his wife and family were travelling with him. I warned him not to camp near any place with likely cover for blacks, and keep his gun close handy. He did the opposite to what I advised him and camped near the lagoons, where there were great hiding places for blacks, and he didn’t seem to bother about firearms.” The blacks rushed the camp one evening. Poor Mrs Strau was cooking supper. She and her husband and one of the family were speared. A boy, who wasn’t at the time in the camp, escaped.
Inspector O’Connor, in charge of the native police on that part of the Palmer, severely punished the murderers.
I remember, too, a day when our teams were on their way back to Cooktown. We were between the Normanby and Oakey Creek, and met a big body of native police under Inspector Townshend. We learned that they were on their way out to Byerstown and Deep Creek. “Tom Morris of the Springs Hotel at Deep Creek is having trouble with the blacks, who are spearing his stock, and Jim Earl at Butcher’s Hill has reported the same thing.”
Many a time at Harry Jones’ Hotel and store on the Laura had I listened to tales of encounters with the aboriginals. Consequently in hearing some of these stories, I silently sympathised with the native population. In justice to these it must be said that the white men were not in many cases beyond reproach in their conduct.
“’Tis a faintly defined road, today, that old Palmer Road, and faint are the branching tracks of other years. I recall the turn-off that marked the divergence of the Maytown- Byerstown roads.” The turn-off was beyond Oakey Creek, and the route ran across to the west of the Normanby, went along by Cook’s Springvale Station, on by Butcher’s Hill and climbed along the basalt at the head of the Laura. Sam Douglas had a place, Maitland Downs, close by- called this property after his home town in New South Wales. The road went under the shadow of Jimmy Ah Chee’s Tableland and down to Byerstown. I’ve ridden several times over Warden Coward’s track which left the old Cooktown- Byerstown Road north of Butcher’s Hill, crossed the Laura Heads, climbed the Sussex Range south of Mt. Lukin, and went right up over Jimmy Ah Chee’s Tableland to the main Palmer Road.
I can see a patch of ridgy country, a land blasted by the ferocity of many a November storm. Through the waste of rocks and burned, stunted timber, twists a section of the Palmer roadway. Ahead lies the Battle Camp Range. Behind, far behind, is the coach stage on the Normanby, Nicholas Armbrust lived for many years at this stage.
Big Oakey, fourteen miles from Cooktown, was an important stopping place. Hotels it had, three at least. Quite plainly I can see one I knew well. It was Tom O’Shaughnessy’s. Closer in to town was the Six Mile- Pierres kept this. Nearer in still was Bradford’s.
The early carriers were receiving £60 a ton for loading from the port to Maytown- an average price. Cooktown to Byerstown loading was £30 a ton, about 75 miles the distance. In 1875 our teams were carrying Maytown goods for £80 a ton, although some carriers were receiving as high as £90. Those who had horse teams paid high prices for corn and chaff, and each and every carrier laboured personally to make accessible an easier route to the field, especially to that part beyond the Normanby.
It was George Robinson who found a way down the Conglomerate that had daunted MacMillan, and thus was reduced the distance to Maytown. Borghero was among the first to bring Cobb and Co coaches to Cooktown. Mick Brady took up the business afterwards with loading for the stores, Mackenzie and Jones and for the Chinese merchants as well. Often we took back with us broken-down Chinese who paid £5 each for the trip. Before Cobb and Co came, diggers used this method of travelling. Three pound was the fare for them.
How realistic old memories become. I saw, or so it seemed, as I told you this, the carriers of yesterday making headway across that burnt-out strip of upland: Costello, Barrett, Doherty, Maloney, the Fox brothers, Jim, Maurice, Peter and Pat, Yates, Emmerson, Lyall, Standen, Molloy, Charlie Wallace, Sandy Wallace, Cameron Brown, O’Keefe, Dan McGrath, Malachi McGrath, Jim and Frank O’Neill, Gliddon, Qualters, Roper, Savage, Lawrence, Grant Kelly, Alpin, Corfield, Kidner, Carroll, Askew, Earl, D’Arcy, German Frank. McKeown, Finn, Tiggerson, Tucker, Borghero, Patterson, others, others.
Some of the old carriers held fast to their faith in Cooktown. The majority of these found a last long halting place in the pioneers’ resting ground alongside the Two Mile Road. Others sought fields afar. Some pulled loading up and over the dreadful Port Douglas Range from 1880 until 1893.
Another of the well known Palmer carriers was John Thomas- one horse team alone of his was valued at £650. John Thomas had come north from Warwick, and when carrying days ceased on the Palmer, sold his seven teams and went to live at Fairview Station, not far from the township of Laura. There’s a marble slab on the property. It stands above the graves of John and Jane Thomas.
Cobb and Co’s coaches used to do the Cooktown- Maytown trip in three days. Brady, their local manager, was out for reform. “Give me two more relays of horses and I’ll do the trip in 48 hours.”
During the 1870s Maytown saw rapid changes. Bark huts and shops took the place of the calico tents that dotted the slopes or lined the main business thoroughfare, Leslie Street. Bark structures in turn were superceded by galvanised iron buildings. Grass-covered wayside graves appeared – diggers killed by blacks or by Chinese, diggers dead of fever. Always fever epidemics sweep a new field. Dr. Khortum and Jack Hamilton had a busy time attending to the needs of the sick. Chinese graves were plentiful, for there were many Chinese. They worked their way up and down the river, and where they built their grass huts- something like the mia-mias of the blacks- they planted vegetable seeds. The fought, too, among themselves. I remember hearing of a fight between two rival factions over ground rights. First they argued. Then they kicked over each others cradles and billycans. Then they got into it with old muzzle-loading guns, and when the lead gave out the Chinese threw sticks and stones. This was at the Stewart Town workings on the river. The disturbance brought out the police and the upshot of it was there was a general round-up of Chinese, and those without miner’s rights were imprisoned.
One particular happening is worth telling. Ah Ung, of Maytown, was killed by Ah Wah of the same town, reason not given, but Ah Wah had a trip to Townsville awaiting trial. The case came on for hearing at Port Douglas. The judge was present, also the Crown Prosecutor, lawyers and witnesses, but someone had forgotten to bring the prisoner up from Townsville. I’ll bet that it was the judge who that time said “Whaffor.”
I told you earlier of William Hann’s meeting with us on the Burdekin. Hann’s journey through the Peninsular had been made in 1872. Mulligan reported payable gold in 1873, and by 1875, the peak prosperity had been reached.
Alluvial deposits by then were nearing exhaustion- there’s no searcher so thorough as a goldfield’s Chinaman. The majority of the miners were in 1878 turning to reefing. Bob Jenkins in that year delivered the first stamps used at Maytown. A man named Jensen about this time erected a crushing mill at Echo Town, seven or eight miles up the left-hand branch of the river. One of the early reefs to receive attention was that of the Ida, prospected in 1875 by J. Myers, Harry Von Bremer, and Harry Brady. A township was surveyed by surveyor Kayser and given the name Ida Township. This was on Butcher’s Creek, north-west of Maytown. Thompson’s Victoria was a popular Ida hotel. The Anglo-Saxon was discovered in the mid 1880s by Harry Harbord, Jim Waters and a third man, Kummer. Two townships sprang up. Harbordville and Groganville. The Anglo-Saxon at the locality known as Limestone, and fostered by A. J. Madden of Cooktown, was one of the best of the Palmer mines.
The Comet, known originally as the Canton, was prospected by Chinese. They were scratching in the bed of Butcher’s Creek when they discovered the reef. The Comet was a splendid property. Charlie Weiss prospected the Lady Mary and Peter Jackson out down the first shaft on the King of the Ranges. Bill McGraw sank 80 feet on the Mountain Maid lease and Macauley’s Alexander gave ten ounces to the ton. But Palmer reefing was under many handicaps, necessarily high carrying charges, lack of machinery, poor timber growth, heavy water, these were but a few. Yes, I can still see that old Palmer Road, teams crawling by slowly, oh! so slowly; dust-mantled loads; boggy black soil patches, gradients, curved and broken. Almost forgotten are the days of yesterday. The stages varied, eight to twelve miles a day according to the grass and water; sometimes a longer stage had to be covered. The routine was the same, harnessing up, yoking up, while yet the grasses were dew laden, halting at noon to boil the billy, turning out in the early afternoon; amount of loading controlled by the state of the road, five to six tons aboard the waggons, two or three tons on the dray.
I remember a hot afternoon sometime in October. Joe and I were taking a load of flour up the Byerstown Range- a nasty range if ever there was one.
We’d spelled a while at the top of a succession of steep grades- pinches some term them. A horseman came through the bush. He was of medium height, slight of build, sharp eyed and heavily armed and mounted on a good animal. “Good day,” said he, lifting his cabbage-tree hat and wiping his forehead.
“Good day,” we returned.
He got down to business at once. “I’m Christy Palmerston. I’d like you to get a few things for me in Byerstown. Bring them out when you are on the way back. Here’s a list and money to pay for them: cartridges, tea, sugar, matches, tobacco, flour, soap, other goods. Say nothing about seeing me. I’ll be here to meet you.”
He rode away singing- a fine voice he had, too. The song, I recollect, was “Afton Water.” Christy Palmerston. Of course, we’d heard of him; something about some temporary unimportant trouble with the authorities. Palmerston took to the bush until matters settled down. A young chap. good rider, great bushman- that was Palmerston. He did much valuable exploration work in the scrubs north of Johnstone and elsewhere.
Gold first went to Georgetown or to Cardwell, but when the new route was opened, changed to Cooktown. One of the police escorts was under command of Inspector Clohesy. Carrying as much as five thousand ounces the escort was of necessity heavily armed. This saved it from possible interference.
When another metal, tin, came to be looked for, and the rich Granite Creek areas outside Maytown were discovered, we quickly made contact with the diggers there. A lively township sprang up at the Granite Creek tin mines of 1000 was on the spot in no time, four butchers’ shops, several hotels, sly grog shanties and opium dens. Rows between the whites and the Chinese were frequent. To venture into the Chinese quarter deserved and invited a “doing up.” Petty thieving prevailed.
We rumbled into the township one evening just as the sun was setting. We turned out, boiled the billies, had supper, and Dad and Pat sat smoking on a log close by. A party of diggers rode up. “Come and see some fun. We lost a sluice box and some shovels two days ago. They’re down where the Chinks are working.”
So out we
went, leaving Brownie to mind camp- a rare watchdog was he.
The Chinese poured out from their hovels when the diggers
showered stones on the roofs. “Whaffor? Whaffor?”
Each digger had a revolver. “We want Lum Yun and Lum Yet.” Both Chinamen were taken under protest to where the Chinese were working. “You stealem.” “No savee.” “No Savee be damned. There’s our box and shovels.” Straps were unloosed. Smack! Smack! Talk about a circus.
Occasionally the diggers came to the Dad as he was leaving Maytown, and would say casually, “Mc…, call at the camp as you go past. We’ll give you a parcel of gold to take down.”
The gold would be weighed- so many hundred ounces- and wrapped in sacking, would travel to Cooktown on the floor of the waggon. When the banks began buying on the field, things were done differently. Palmer gold was good gold, £4/2/8 per ounce, and five million pounds worth was won in the field’s first ten years. Besides this there was a vast amount sent out secretly by the Chinese.
Chinaman’s luck stood to one Chinaman in an unmistakable way. Jock McLean, riding in from Stoney Creek, was carrying 500 ounces on a packhorse. Coming down a hill by Purdy’s and Oakey Creek, he felt the pack and found that the gold was missing. A wandering Chinaman had picked it up and after a while went home to China on the success of his prospecting.
The days recall what the nights efface,
Scenes of glory and seasons of grace
For which there is no returning.
Our home at the Two Mile was a cosy little place, for Mum was a great housekeeper and made sure she had what conveniences were available.
“Joe and Rob, I want a patch of ground fenced in for the growing of vegetables. Dad, you’ll have to put another window in the kitchen or it will be too hot inside in the summer.”
We had a big broad verandah in front, ground floor levelled off by the use of antbeds. At one end of the verandah was a prolific vine. We called it a “poor man’s bean” vine, dark green leaves and beans, purple flowers, a never failing source of this kind of vegetable.
At the opposite end Dad and Pat had installed a square iron tank, a ship’s tank. Over it spread a grenadilla vine. We had plenty of rain water for drinking purposes; many a water bag was filled from that tank.
At first our furniture was of a makeshift character, made chiefly from packing cases, but as we settled down, we displaced this with furniture bought at Seagrens in Cooktown.
On each of the verandah posts were orchids, Cooktown orchids. Many a bundle of orchids did we bring down with us when we were making homewards. Battle Camp was thick with them. Pat used to land himself into extra work.
“Here, Mrs Mc…, Billy Webb gave me this plant; it’s a mango. He got some seeds from MacMillan. Webb says it grows into a big tree, so you’ll want to put it a bit away from the house. “Well! Well! Isn’t that nice. Pat. You’ll plant it for me, won’t you? Dig a big pit, place some rocks at the bottom, and get a lot of manure from the paddock..”
The mango seemed suited to Cooktown conditions, for in a few short years we were eating fruit from that very tree. It was a great shade tree, too, although a little messy when the leaves began to fall. One great drawback it had was that it got infested with green ants. You couldn’t climb the tree, so full of ants it was. Old Billy and his lubra, Maggie- she used to help Mum with the housework- had many feasts. They’d scrape handfuls of green ants off the tree, mix them in a billy-can of water and eat them greedily. I didn’t mind eating bandicoot or possum, but some of the blacks’ food and drinks were beyond my appetite!
The roomy detached kitchen had at one end an open fireplace the full width of the wall. Fire bars and a colonial oven were now the cooking facilities; the camp oven of our travelling days was put aside. House ornaments were made up principally of a few family photographs- you remember the old-time line of portraiture. There were a few coloured pictorial supplements of Christmas numbers of the “Town and Country Journal,” “Queenslander,” and “Sydney Mail.”
Sun Kun Fung and one or two more of the big Chinese merchants, for whom we did carrying, used to give us ugly looking dragon vases and like ornaments. We had quite a collection of them, for the Chinese were very generous, especially about Christmas time. A plain wooden clock, also a Chinese present, ticked on the mantel-shelf. Skins of wallabies and kangaroos covered the slab floors.
We were sitting one evening in March, 1876, on the front verandah, which looked down over the Cooktown end of the Palmer Road. Mum had washed and dried the supper dishes and was taking advantage of what sunlight remained plying her knitting needles industriously.
With Mum and I was William McCarey, of Green Hills, out the Annan way. Pat Carrigan and Joe, chancing the early lifting of the wet, had taken a load of goods up to a place on the Laura; Brolga, it was named by its founder, Henry Russell Jones.
Dear old Mum was talking in that calm, unhurried way, a matter of course manner generally adopted by the pioneer women, a changing from subject to subject just as fancy pleased.
“Mr. Jones was telling me that he came to Queensland in 1865, came from Liverpool, he did, and landed at Rockhampton. I’ve got an uncle in Liverpool. In his last letter he said there’s going to be a big canal dug between Liverpool and Manchester. How’s the butter doing, Mr. McCarey?” That was Mum’s way.
McCarey’s dairy butter was an eagerly sought commodity. His cattle, chiefly Illawarra and Herefords, ranged the countryside from Green Hills to Archer Point. McCarey had brought his wife and son and 200 head of stock overland from Townsville. The son, Tom, was killed on the Cooktown racecourse.
“Here’s Dad coming. Dear me, the man is in a hurry. Run and let the sliprails down, Rob.” That was Mum again.
Dad seemed greatly excited. He unsaddled his chestnut mare, slapped her neck playfully, and said, “Away you go, old girl.” Then, turning to us, he spoke breathlessly, “Mulligan has done it again!” Mum unconcernedly put down her knitting. “You mean Jim Mulligan, of the Palmer? Well, what has he done that you should get excited about?” Emphasis was laid upon the “he” and the “you.”
“Mulligan’s discovered another goldfield south from here on a river called the Hodgkinson, one of the Mitchell headwaters.”
Mum looked at Dad for a while in silence. Then she demanded sharply, “Does that mean, Jim Mc…, that we’ve got to leave this place now we’ve comfortably settled? Have we got to leave it and go looking for gold at the end of every rainbow Mr. Mulligan throws across the sky?”
Dad made haste to explain. He wasn’t going to go. He was satisfied here. Besides he didn’t think the new goldfield would be any good, not as good as the Palmer anyway.
Mulligan had indeed dropped a packet of news- news that was to have far reaching effects. His reporting of the discovery of payable gold on the Hodgkinson was to bring about results other than the winning of gold. His news was in time to be responsible for the creation of a thriving city, to throw open for development a vast territory, to be the means of settling thousands on agricultural areas, to establish new industries, to write many stirring pages of Queensland history.
Dad was right in his surmise that the Hodgkinson, Mulligan’s second gold discovery, would not be as good as the Palmer. That is, not if you valued it in ounces won, but it had more lasting, more beneficial results, for to the Hodgkinson is due the subsequent opening up of the great Cairns Hinterlands.
Mulligan told his story. Listen to it.
“I left Cooktown late in December of 1875, and going on to Byerstown, formed a party there. Fred Warner, a surveyor, was one of the party, Peter Brown or Abelsen, if you like, was another, and there were others. We left Byerstown on the last day of 1875, reaching Mt. Emu a couple of days later. We moved up Emu Creek, passed through a gap in the Granite Range. We went down a gorge along a creek that runs south-east into the McLeod River, where we spent a day or two prospecting between the Mitchell and St. George, getting a little gold. Here Peter got a touch of fever. We crossed the Mitchell and prospected between the Mitchell and Hodgkinson. By mid January we had crossed the eastern or main branch of the Hodgkinson. We camped then on the western branch. We prospected from this camp, which was two miles east of our turn back camp, when I first saw the Hodgkinson two years before- naming the river and exploring the heads of the Walsh. As January wore on, we did some dry-blowing and one day Peter came across the camp of Hugh Kennedy and W. Williams.
Kennedy and Williams shot at Peter, as in the gathering dusk, they mistook him for a black man.
On January 27 we were getting gold and on this day Kennedy and Williams called at our camp on their way to where McLeod was temporarily camped, 12 miles away. On February 7, heavy rain fell. We discovered several reefs showing gold freely, and we then moved on toward the Palmer with samples of stone from the reefs. On February 21 we reached the place where McLeod was then camped. On March 5 our camp caught fire, destroying all useful articles and rations. We thereupon rode straight to Maytown and reported the gold discovery to Warden Coward.”
History has recorded Mulligan as the man to be credited with the discovery of the Hodgkinson goldfield. Yet McLeod- the same Billy McLeod, of whom I spoke before- was no less deserving of credit. An old digger told me the story.
“McLeod was out prospecting before Mulligan left the Palmer. One of the Mitchell headwaters, coming down off the Coast Range west of the northern part of Trinity Bay, gave traces of gold. You’ll see this river marked as the McLeod on the maps. It is a clear cool running stream.
McLeod travelled on to another watercourse making north-west and unmarked upon the map he had. This watercourse was followed to where lay a strange shaped mountain. This was marked on Hann’s maps as Mt. Lilley. Later it was renamed Mount Mulligan. Prospecting around, McLeod worked payable gold on the eastern tributary of the main channel and was there when Mulligan arrived. McLeod was said to have asked Mulligan not to report the discovery of gold until they had got a fair share each at least of the alluvial patches. But the fire that went through Mulligan’s camp upset things.”
That digger’s name was J. T. Nicholls, and he told how McLeod, poor Billy McLeod, disheartened, drifted back to his old haunts on the Etheridge and Gilbert, farther out to the Flinders and the Leichhardt, and ended up on the Roper in the Territory.
We did not join in the headlong rush from the Palmer following Mulligan’s news. Our teams were busy, as much loading was coming our way. The first of the teams to reach the Hodgkinson were from the Palmer. Then came those of the Etheridge teamsters, whose aims and business were to follow new fields opening out. Cooktown traffic to the Hodgkinson went by the Palmer- a long, inconvenient route. As was the case when the Palmer broke out, eyes turned eastward to the sea. Surely some inlet on the Pacific Coast would provide a handy port for the new goldfield.
In the meantime all the hustle and bustle that is part of a field’s history was in evidence west of Trinity Bay. Two townships were formed. Thornborough for W. H. Thorn, Queensland Premier of the time, and Kingsborough. Mulligan set up a store at Thornborough. Never was a man more unsuited to storekeeping. His mates dubiously shook their heads. “Too restless,” said they, “too restless, too much of a bushman. Besides his heart is too big. He’ll give half of his stock away.”
Our friend, John Doyle, with a partner, Keyes, got together a mob of bullocks and commenced butchering in Thornborough. Dozens of hotels sprang up, bush stores and sly grog shanties did business around the reefs. Bitter disappointment was the lot of those who hoped to make quick rises on alluvial patches. There was comparatively little alluvial to be worked, but from many of the mines rich surface crushings were gathered. Mulligan’s reward claim, aptly named the Pioneer, was a fair show. Men who knew the bush were searching for a short track to the field. George Clark blazed a line from the Cardwell- Georgetown road, crossing the Seaview Range near the telegraph line and travelling thence by the Herbert and Walsh. The verdict upon it was unfavourable, “too far, almost 140 miles.”
Trinity Inlet came into prominence. Bill Smith, John Doyle, and a mate journeyed toward the coast. Jack Moran, looking out for lost horses, reached tidewater near some great white cliffs- here was a possible route.
In Thornborough, right in front of Mulligan’s store, Warden St. George presided over a meeting of miners. “There must be a short cut somewhere.” Bill Smith told of a harbour on Trinity Inlet; he had seen it while beche de mering. Further exploratory trips were made. Finally Bill Smith with two mates, Stewart and Lipton, went to Cooktown, sailed down the coast to Trinity Inlet, struck west over the rang to Thornborough. A way had been found. Sometime during 1877, toward the middle of that year, Dad came down from the Palmer on one occasion, and later seated at supper said, “Bob Jenkins wants one of the boys to do a trip with him to the Hodgkinson. He’s got a special load of machinery and his offsider is getting married in a fortnight, so Bob suggests that if either Joe or Bob went with the team it would be a good chance of seeing the Hodgkinson.”
I was only too pleased to get the opportunity and spoke before Joe could make up his mind. The Hodgkinson, like the Palmer, was a land of many townships. It was thriving under the influence of mines rich from the grass roots down to the depths as yet then unrevealed.
Thornborough, Kingsborough, Woodville, Beaconsfield, Northcote, The Monarch, McLeodsville, all were booming.
Jenkins had loading for the Homeward Bound on the range between Glen Mowbray and Spring Creek, machinery for the Jorgensen brothers and also loading for the Cairns brothers on the eastern edge of the goldfield. We delivered all this and camped awhile at a spot known as Egglestrom’s halfway by Thornborough and Kingsborough.
Dave Egglestrom, happy with his young fruit trees and his modest refreshment house, told us local news of importance.
Christie Palmerston had marked out a more accessible route to the sea, a route that would necessitate a new seaport. Down on the coast Cairns had been established to serve the Hodgkinson, but there were too many river crossings to be made. One stream, the Barron, had to be crossed three times. Palmerston’s track would do away with most of the river crossings. Already a teamster named Mackay had taken a load of goods on a dray up the new road.
Other teams were loading. Sub-Inspector Douglas had blazed a tree line along Palmerston’s track. No one seemed to know what to call the new port north of Cairns. It had no less than four names, Terrigal, Port Owen, Island Point and Port Douglas. The Trinity Inlet township, Cairns, had had the same confusion, Thornton, Dickson and finally Cairns.
At John Hoggsflesh’s hotel in Thornborough other news was learned: Smithfield, at the foot of the range near Cairns, was a lively township; Cairns people didn’t like the idea of that new port near them; Redmond at the Tyrconnell on the Hodgkinson, had crushed four ounces to the ton; a new claim, The Flying Pig, had been discovered; the Chinamen were coming on to the Hodgkinson; Martin’s mill was crushing; Harry Gadd and Jim Rolls were sinking on a part of the “pig” hill- you know the sort of conversation.
In Thornborough, too men talked of the great waterfall discovered by John Doyle on the waterway to which had been given the name Barron River; they talked of Mitchellvale, formed by the Frasers at the very head of the Mitchell, and of John Atherton’s newly established station Emerald End, across the divide.
And ceaselessly, as in a previous year, through the bush moved the police patrols. It was Johnstone who said on 28 September, 1876, “I have discovered the mouth of a river hitherto not recorded.”
It was Townshend going inland by Townshend’s Gap under the western slope of the Coast Range, who gave the river its name, “Barron.” Sub-Inspector Douglas, knowing every turn of the Palmer tracks, was chosen specially for patrol work in the new area. He, on 29 September, 1876, one day after Johnstone had sent his telegram to the Colonial Secretary, recorded his own achievements. “Brought 34 packhorses through the scrubs yesterday, packs each weighing 150lb.” His contribution was the useful “Douglas Track” over the coastal mountain wall. He and the Warner brothers share with Johnstone credit for the Barron’s discovery.
On the day before we turned the team homeward, Charcoal, one of the Police boys, and I climbed Cardigan Hill, and from its summit viewed a splendid panorama of Hodgkinson hills and valleys, watercourses and flats, ringed in by an irregular skyline. Eastward the granitic formation known as Hann’s Tableland lay bathed in sunlight. Westward we could see the long steep escarpments of the range men were beginning to call Mt. Mulligan, somberly brooding in the silent heat. Charcoal shuddered in realistic manner” “Wild phella black up there, him bad place. Big waterhole on top, plenty bush, plenty fish.” Charcoal clutched my arm and pointed as a column of smoke went up from the mountain top, dispelled then rose again. “Him talk alonga more phella! Him see us! We go quick!” Miles lay between, but Charcoal vigorously denied being mistaken.
The Hodgkinson received its name for W. O. Hodgkinson, Minister of Works in the Colony at the time. The men who early flocked to the field were representative of almost every country under the sun- the mine namings alone will tell you that. Such a heterogeneous gathering of men was never again to be seen on any Queensland field. The Hodgkinson was remarkable for the number of claims rich on the surface- one to four ounce stone- which didn’t live. A most peculiar feature of the stone was that it was the same as that of the Towers and Gympie, but failed to carry the values.