Reginald Spencer Browne was born at Oaklands, Appin, New South Wales, on 13 July 1856, the son of William James Merrick Shawe Browne, pastoralist, and his wife Rachel, nee` Broad.
His father, a native born scion of an already old Australian family, was superintending officer of Yeomanry and Volunteer Corps in 1854.
Reginald Spencer Browne was educated at Appin, Corowa, and in England.
He became a journalist, and, in the words of H. J. Summers, contributor to the Australian Biographical Dictionary, he "precociously" published slim volumes of verse in 1874-75 from the offices of the Deniliquin Pastoral Times and the Albury Banner.
He was subeditor of the Townsville Herald in 1877, and editor of the Cooktown Herald in 1878.
When Sir Thomas McIlwraith arranged a cabinet syndicate to control the Observer in 1881, Reginald Spencer Browne moved to Brisbane as its editor and married Violet Edith Fanny Sutton of Maryborough on 13 October 1881.
Reginald Spencer Browne joined the Brisbane Courier in 1882, and stayed there for nearly all his working life.
An associate editor of the Queenslander, he discovered and encouraged the poet George Essex Evans.
Reginald Spencer Browne was commissioned in the Queensland Mounted Infantry on 20 December 1887.
He was said to have found work briefly on the London press to facilitate military study.
He published Romances of the goldfield and bush, a volume of slight prose sketches in London in 1890.
Reginald Spencer Browne commanded a flying column of his regiment in western Queensland during the shearer's strike of 1891 but was, nevertheless, always sympathetic to trade-unionism. He was promoted captain in 1891 and major in 1896. In November 1899 he sailed for South Africa as a special service officer with the first Queensland contingent, carrying the local rank of major. With active service in many fields, he was appointed C.B., received the Queen's Medal with five clasps, was invalided to Australia in November 1900 and mentioned in dispatches in 1901. His return to Brisbane was said to be a triumph.
Reginald Spencer Browne progressed slowly through the literary hierarchy of the Courier, but devoted much time still to soldiering as Lieut-colonel commanding the 13th Light Horse Regiment from 1903, and colonel of the 5th Light Horse Brigade from 1906; in 1911, he was transferred to the reserve.
Reginald Spencer Browne was disappointed in his aspirations in 1906 to become Lieut-Governor of Papua and in 1908 acting State Commandant. As an old friend and political adherent of Sir Littleton Groom, he transmitted regular political intelligence and worked informally for the Liberal Party.
On 4 March 1915, Reginald Spencer Browne joined the Australian Imperial Force as Colonel commanding the 4th Light Horse Brigade. When it was broken up, he took over the 6th Infantry Brigade at Gallipoli, at the age of 59. He served at Lone Pine and Quinn's Post and was evacuated on 10 December 1915, but, too old for further service, was given charge of the Australian Training and General Base Depot at Tel-el-kebir, Egypt, on 20 March 1916 as Brigadier General.
Publication by him in 1915 of The Heroic Serbians won him the Serbian Red Cross. In 1916 in England, he commanded the Australian Training Depot at Salisbury Plain, then moved to No. 2 Command Depot at Weymouth where he probably met the novelist Thomas Hardy.
He returned to Australia, unfit, in November 1917, commanded the Molonglo Concentration Camp at Canberra from February to December 1918, was then demobilised, and was formally retired on 20 October 1921 as honorary Major General.
For two years he was State President of the Returned Soldiers' and Sailors' Imperial League of Australia.
Between 1925 and 1927 Reginald Spencer Browne contributed a weekly article in the Courier, giving his memories of men and events in Queensland of his time. These were published as A Journalist's Memories in 1927; the book is still the source of much of both the history and legend of early Queensland.
In later years Reginald Spencer Browne was a famous Brisbane identity. He was nominally financial editor of the Courier Mail, reporting only the limited operations of the Brisbane Stock Exchange. He also edited the Queensland Trustees Review.
His first wife Violet Edith Fanny Sutton having died shortly after his marriage, with no issue, on 7 August 1889, he had remarried Catherine Fraser Munro, a noted musician and amateur actress. He died childless on 9 November 1943, his second wife having predeceased him the year before.
A JOURNALIST’S MEMORIES
Queen of the North – W. H. L. Bailey – Cooktown “Herald” and “Courier” – Chalmers, Missionary – The Palmer Men
Cooktown, as far as climate and natural beauty go, is Queen of the North.
If it be that good, Americans when they die go to Paris. I have a hope that when it comes to the laying down of my burden, Cooktown will be my refuge.
Early in 1878 the town was still fairly prosperous, though the glories of the Palmer goldfield had departed, and in Charlotte Street, there were about a dozen hotels, including two of the best in the North – Balser’s Great Northern and Henry Poole’s The Sovereign.
The place has much in the way of historical association and two are conspicuous – the spot in the harbour where Captain Cook made fast to a tree; and the North Shore beach, where he ran the Endeavour up to be cleaned and mended.
The geography of the locality in the matter of names represents much of the great navigator’s harsh ordeals.
The whole place is very beautiful.
From Grassy Hill, which slopes down to Charlotte Street, the Customs House, and the harbour, one may look southward on “the long wash of Australasian seas”, the break in the line of beaches at the encroachment of the Annan, the wild scenery of Mount Amos, and away towards Port Douglas.
Eastward is the breaking water on the Barrier Reef and islands stretching away to the north.
On the North Shore is St. Patrick’s Point, between which and the town the wide blue Endeavour River sweeps out to the sea.
Then east and north are further stretches of beach, until the slopes of Cape Bedford are reached.
Cape Bedford looks best silhouetted against a rising moon.
Beyond it is Cape Flattery, and between those twin Capes flows rapidly the deep waters of the McIvor River, with its wonderfully fertile banks.
At the back of the town stands sentinel the jungle covered rugged Mount Cook, an imperishable monument to the captain of the Endeavour, the intrepid explorer of the waters which bear the name of his good ship.
For boating, fishing, shooting, botanising, and conchological study, is there any place on our earth to rival Cooktown – or was there 45 years ago?
For a bathe on a day’s quiet, where is there another Finch’s Bay – named from a manager of the Bank of New South Wales, who married one of the beautiful daughters of E. Henriques.
Forty eight years have passed since I first lived in Cooktown; over 45 years since I saw it last, but the memories of it are fragrant.
The men and women of those days were splendid types, but of them more anon.
I had gone on to Cooktown to do literary work for Mr. William Leighton Bailey, the proprietor and editor of the “Herald”.
It feels now rather a complimentary circumstance that after a week or two, the editorial work really, if not nominally, came to me.
Mr. Bailey was a remarkable man.
If one may imagine a tropical Bond Street, it would be said that every day he was tailored there. His dress was immaculate; his home – and a generously hospitable home it was – had every refinement.
He was a reader, scholarly, and with a wide knowledge of art. In music he excelled. His was one of the most wonderful tenor voices I have heard – and I have heard many, from Jean de Reszke down – and it seemed remarkable that he should have missed an operatic career.
W. H. L. Bailey minus his eye glass would have been as great a shock as if he appeared in a bathing suit.
He knew everyone, everyone knew him, and yet he was usually reserved. In many respects he was exotic.
There were many other splendid men, educated and of good breeding, in Cooktown, and thereabouts, but the editor – proprietor of the leading paper had naturally, and above them all the grand manner.
Not so long ago, when I was President of the Queensland Institute of Journalists, the president of the New South Wales Institute visited Queensland – his native State. He also was a Leighton Bailey, a son of my old chief at Cooktown. We entertained him here, and there seemed to be a transposition of periods.
When Bailey of the Sydney ‘’Evening News” spoke, I could close my eyes and hear his father speaking over the wide sea of years, laying down some important point in the amenities of journalism.
Another newspaper chap and I bought the “Herald”, and its business, but the bad times came, and I’m afraid that the deal was not a satisfactory one for the vendor.
Bailey, Snr., now lives in England.
He had a big family, but his son in Sydney is the only one I have seen since the Cooktown days.
The “Herald” was a good paper, and became, in the time of the Bailey control, a supporter of the McIlwraith policy; but Mr. Bailey had left Cooktown, or at any rate had given up control of the paper when the late Charles Hardie Buzacott visited Cooktown in the interests of the then coming party.
The strength and statesmanlike qualities of McIlwraith already were influencing the public thought of the country.
Later on the late Mr. W. H. Campbell, M.L.C., did some work on the “Herald” on his return from a trip to New Guinea as representative of one of the Melbourne papers.
Campbell was an artist as well as a writer, but he didn’t stay long in Cooktown.
He skipped off to Blackall and established the “Western Champion”, became a pastoralist, a member of the Upper House, and a few years ago passed to his rest.
At Barcaldine later, he was joined by my old partner, Charles John James, a young English printer, educated, an organist, and a man generally of high type. The old days we spent with friend Penno and others at Mr. James’s home on Grassy Hill were very happy.
The reptile contemporary was the “Courier”, owned by Mr. F. C. Hodel, a native of Jersey, I think – of one of the Channel Islands at any rate – and though rather a typical Englishman he loved to speak a little French. My French was of the Ollendorffian order; but there was in it an earnest of good intent, and we became good friends. The editor was John Flood, who, as a youngster, had “left his country for his country’s good”, having been compromised in the movement to secure Home Rule for Ireland. It was he who recommended me to McIlwraith, Perkins and Morehead, who had bought the “Observer” in Brisbane, and it was his wire which reached me in the North offering me the editorship of that paper.
In after years, I saw him in camp at Lytton as Captain Flood, commanding the Gympie company of the Queensland Irish Volunteers.
“John,” I said, “ what would they think in the Old Country if they saw you in that uniform?”
He replied: “I was never a disloyalist. If we had had the Government in Ireland that we have here I should have been wearing the Queen’s uniform all my life.”
John Flood is dead, and Francis Charles Hodel is dead. The last-named left a large family of fine men and women, and one of the sons, Mr. Joseph Hodel. was a member of the Legislative Council. Mr. Fred Hodel was for some time on the Brisbane “Courier” staff. Another son was a Mr. Harry Hodel, and a daughter Mrs. E. F. C. Plant.
A memory of those old days came to me not so long ago. The editor of the “Queenslander” was away and I was acting for him. A Christmas story, “The Romance of Golden Gully” was received, a remarkable story, with touches of real genius in it. I wrote to the author – Walter Sikkema – telling him it had been accepted, and that a proof would be sent. He replied, asking me if I remembered him, as he was “printer’s devil” on the Cooktown “Courier”, when I was editor of the “Herald”. It was under capable literary men that he got the touch which made “The Romance of Golden Gully” so fine an epic of the North.
“There were giants in those days” – physically, mentally, and in good citizenship, and the officials were able men.
Harvey Fitzgerald was inspector of police, and died in Brisbane a few years ago. He gave up an army career after going through Sandhurst, and came to Queensland, joining the Native Police.
He had a beautiful home on the slopes between Cooktown and Finch’s Bay, and leaves a big family, who live at Clayfield.
Alpin Cameron was a rugged Scot of good family , and was one of the old Burnett squatters, being an expert in sheep. A kindly soul and very popular, despite the fact that he carried out his duties of Stock Inspector in the North with unbending earnestness. His son, Alpin, was afterwards manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Brisbane.
Bartley Fahey was Sub-Collector of Customs, a fine horseman, a good sculler, and generally good all round in a boat. On leaving the Government service, he was appointed to the Legislative Council, and was well known in the social life of Brisbane. Mr. Fahey, barrister, is a son.
Howard St. George was police magistrate, known as “The Saint” and so addressed by his familiars. He had a difficult job in the early days of the Palmer, but was fearless and just, and the people appreciated his qualities.
Inspector Clohesy, head of the Police Department, was a wonderful man, full of genuine Irish wit and kindliness. The news of his death, late in 1878, or in 1879, was received in Cooktown with sincere regret.
James Pryde, C.P.S., was one of a well known Esk family, and he married a daughter of Mr. J. C. Baird, manager for the A.S.N. Co.
Dr. Helmuth Korteum was a Schleswieger, and had the principal practice at Cooktown, in addition to being Government medical officer. His principal joy was in kangaroo hunting.
Sub-inspector Moore was in the Police Force, and, though usually very mild, knew how to deal with a rough crowd.
Julian Allen was postmaster at Cooktown, and afterwards at Townsville.
Thomas Holder-Cowl was telegraph master, and had been transferred from Normanton, whither he had been despatched from Brisbane to establish the cable station, which, however, did not materialize, the Overland Line being taken to Darwin. Mr. Cowl was afterwards head of the Telegraph Department in Brisbane.
On December 10, 1923, a few old friends, including one or two Northerners of the ‘seventies, met in the wide God’s Acre at Toowong for the laying to rest – as the conventional phrase goes of Willie Hill. The occasion was not, to me at any rate, one of any great sadness. It was a case, as Adam Lindsay Gordon had it: “A good man gone where we all must go.” It was the inevitable. Rather would I have deemed it a sadness had our old friend lived on until a wasting process made a real physical age inevitable.
The last time I saw him we were discussing his new book. How smart and keen he was, though in his eightieth year, and yet he was a man who had seen some of the hardest of the pioneering days – exposure, hunger, sleepless nights and often face to face with death. Death was a thing he never feared. When the German Mutter murdered his country woman, Mrs. Steffan, at the cottage on the Donnybrook Road, near Ravenswood, and took refuge down an abandoned shaft, a mile away, Hill went after him. Mutter was armed with a big knife, with which he had committed the murder, but that did not worry Hill. It was like a terrier going to earth after a badger. Hill was lowered 18ft into the shaft, got a candle, and followed his man into an underlay. Having borrowed a revolver from one of the police (Mr. Peter Murphy , of Brisbane, and later M.L.C.), Hill was ready for a fight, or thought he was, for the revolver was not loaded, but he brought the man out with the assistance of Mr. Murphy, who had crawled down to help his chief. Mutter was hanged.
On another occasion Hill had been called to Brisbane to answer some absurdly false charge, and was carpeted before the Colonial Secretary (afterwards Sir Arthur Hunter Palmer).
After hearing a great deal in the way of hostile reports, Hill was asked for an explanation. He began, as usual, with his stammer, when Palmer, who was a great believer in the honour and ability of our old friend, said: “Oh, damn it, Willie, sing it!”.
That “broke up” the serious conclave.
Those who care to know what officers of the Queensland Government had to do in the pioneering days should read Hill’s book, “Forty Years Experiences in North Queensland”.
In all those days of adventure, he kept close to his heart many of life’s sweetest things, with good books and music. One of his great delights, even in the wild days of the North, was to train young people to sing, to form church choirs, play the little American organ, and to enthusiastically lead in that devotion of art to worship.. For Willie Hill was a Christian man, despite the dare devil of his nature.
It may surprise many to know that the old hands of the North were church goers. Shortly after my arrival at Cooktown, several of us went to the Church of England to hear a New Guinea missionary preach. It was James Chalmers who, in later years, was killed on the west coast of the Possession with a brother missionary. It was thought that the natives would never touch Chalmers, but the Goorabari were bloodthirsty and treacherous, and they desired the heads of the white men. In 1878, Chalmers was a strong man in his prime, full of missionary zeal, and yet very practical. His sermon in the Church of England at Cooktown was a simple statement of mission work. I found him more convincing as a quiet talker than as a preacher. To him we owe much, as he paved the way for the opening up of the country, now under the British flag, which we know as Papua.
At church on the night of which I write, the lessons were read by a keen, hard conditioned young man – say in the early thirties – dressed in spotless, white sun bronzed, and clear of eye, and the very picture of an athlete. I had not seen him before, but later we were to row together in pairs and fours in many a hard tussle, and at Cooktown and Townsville, we were never beaten. It was J. W. Knight, the second officer of Customs and later Sub-collector and Water Police Magistrate at Port Douglas.
In 1878, there were three banks in Cooktown.
The Bank of New South Wales was managed by H. Macpherson, whose people were big hardware merchants in Sydney.
The manager of the Queensland National Bank was R. Tennant Shields, familiarly known as “Paddy” Shields, one of the best and most generous of men.
The Australian Joint Stock Bank was managed by Robertson, a quiet straight going Scot.
With Shields was Ernest Murray, who was in our four – an undefeated four – with Knight as stroke, I as bow, Street the solicitor as No 3, and Percy Bliss, and the younger Henriques in succession as coxes.
The best known lawyer in the North in those days was William Pritchard Morgan, a keen criminal advocate. He later returned to Wales, discovered gold, and caused a sensation by a big London flotation. He was returned to the House of Commons for Merthyr – Tydvil, which he represented until Keir Hardie beat him.
Like Willie Hill, Morgan was a wonderful natural musician.
Practising in Cooktown at the time also was Edwards, an English solicitor, who succeeded Mr. Robert Little as Crown Solicitor of Queensland.
Edwards was fond of a racehorse, but his health precluded his following any robust sport.
His partner, Street, was also an Englishman, and besides being a good man with an oar, was the leader of the wonderful Amateur Dramatic Society which we had in Cooktown.
Mr. Henry J. Dodd, of Wooloowin, formerly of the Telegraph Department, and who sent three gallant sons to the Great War, will remember our production of “Kenilworth”, for he played in it. Street was not only a clever producer, but a first class actor.
William Pritchard Morgan’s partner was Hartley Tudor Price, who married a daughter of Stephan Mehan, one of the founders of Drayton, and some years after Price’s death, his widow married Monty Scott, the well known artist.
Another Cooktown solicitor – steadfast, capable, warm hearted, and always ready to extend the helping hand – was Mr. J. V. S. Barnett.
On one occasion he pulled me out of a libel action, the plaintiff getting a farthing damages.
Barnett was one of those great lawyers whose chief aim seemed to be to keep their clients from going to law.
He married Florence Henriques, who was the most beautiful of the “rosebud garden of girls” in the North, and his sons have gained some distinction in the law. My most grateful memories are always with J. V. S. Barnett.
A fine stream, the McIvor River, meetings the sea between Cape Bedford and Cape Flattery. It was named for a bank manager at Cooktown who went some distance in from the enbouchment.
The pioneer of the McIvor country was Mr. Charles H. Macdonald, who was supervisor of the Government road works at Cooktown, with a very big district. Macdonald was a brother of P. F. Macdonald of Yaamba, and of J. G. Macdonald P.M.
He and some others took up land on the McIvor, and spent money on improvements, but after 12 months, the Government of the day refused to confirm the selections, and returned the deposits.
For something like 35 years the country remained unused. It is beautiful country to look at, but like the Proserpine, is in a dry belt.
Macdonald and others used to go out by Webb’s place at Oakey, and then in north west for a crossing of the Endeavour, but I went up by boat, probably the first to do so, and we were rather lucky to get back., for the blacks were aggressive.
At Cooktown in those days, we had the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.
The parson at the first named was the rev. R. Hoskin, a fine type of an English university man, and he had a warm welcome.
The Jewish community joined in the welcome, and we had some fine fellows there of that faith – the Brodziaks, S. Samper (Mayor of Cooktown), Louis Wilson, Josephson, and others.
Our padre did good work at Cooktown.
At the Roman Catholic Church was Dr. Cani, a warm hearted Italian, just broad enough to hold the sympathy of all classes. He was afterwards Bishop of Rockhampton. He was like the late venerated Father Canali, of Brisbane – everything went to the poor – and on an occasion when he was to go to Rome to pay his devotion to the Head of the Roman Catholic Church a score or so of the people of Rockhampton had to find him an outfit. Of even the simplest and most familiar garments he had denied himself.
Dr. Cani was very good to me, and we were warm friends.
I was going over to New Guinea with my French friends, Auguste Naudin and Chambord, and the Doctor proposed to go with us. Before our cutter sailed, I was down to it with malaria, and Dr. Cani was also ill and forbidden to travel. The boat was attacked by natives, up at Cloudy Bay, I think, and Naudin and Chambert were killed and eaten.
Dr. Cani said to me: “The Lord wishes us to remain here!”
Or, as he put it in his sonorous way: “Iddio desidera che si stia al mondo!”
At Cooktown, in 1878, one friend was a smart young sergeant of police, who later, through sheer grit and courage, rose to the rank of sub-inspector.
He was a lithe young Irishman, who had come to Australia as a boy, and he was bearded almost to the waist.
How we have dropped that natural attribute of masculinity – the beard.
My Cooktown friend I met in later years when we were out in the Keniff country, at the head of the Warrego, after Dahlke and Doyle had been murdered, and it was mainly owing to his skill and vision that the murderers were brought to justice, and one of them hanged.
Well, to get back to our mutton – though it was chicken.
In Cooktown we bachelors had not too varied a diet and often my friend would ask me to have a bit of luncheon with him in his office. It was invariably chicken.
I once in after years, remarked that my friend Dillon – well, it’s out now – was rather extravagant, and then heard a story.
It was the custom of Chinese witnesses to take the oath by cracking a saucer, blowing out a match, or cutting a cock’s head off.
It was not difficult to suggest to a witness before the case came on that the magistrate or judge was always much more impressed at the decapitation of a chicken, than the mere cracking of a saucer, and – well, it would have been a pity to waste the chicken.
Quong Hing was a fruit merchant, and perhaps he also did a little in the way of eluding Bartley Fahey and his officers with shipments of opium.
At any rate he owned a junk, and she made mysterious voyages out New Guinea way, and returned with a few bags of beche-de-mer and perhaps some other stuff.
Now in Cooktown was a high official – a man of great charm and steadfast character – whose wife had her sister living with them. Quong Hing had a family, and his wife, like himself, was getting on in years. She will be remembered as one of the very few Chinese women with lily feet of the old fashion.
It fell upon a day that Quong Hing went for a trip to China, and on his return he brought another wife – young, beautiful as the moonlight flooding a pavilion of white wistaria. That was a favourite phrase of a young Chinese who had studied in London and Paris.
On meeting the returned fruit merchant, I said: “Hello, Quong Hing, you have two wives now.”
“Yes,” he said, “allee same Missee…” naming our old friend the high official.
Needless to say, the story did not reach the high official’s ear; but it shows how very misleading the observations of European domestic life may be to the Oriental.
Chick Tong was the manager in Cooktown of Sun Ye Lee and Co., and in Brisbane, many years later, he was a general Chinese merchant.
He was very fond of riding, and had a fine cut of a piebald, of which he was very proud. I agree with the Arabs that the piebald is own brother to the cow; but Faugh-a-ballagh (Chick Tong’s pronunciation was very queer), was a game and pretty fast horse, and had a groom to each leg.
We always had at the Cooktown races an event for Chinese riders on Chinese owned horses, and the riders had to wear their pigtails – the upeen was the custom then – down.
Chick Tong nearly always won.
But his vaulting ambition led him to nominate Faugh-a-ballagh in ordinary events. In a Flying Handicap, the piebald looked like a winner, but it was arranged otherwise.
Chick Tong would not trust a European rider, so put up a groom. When it came to a convenient turn, Billy Matthews – a noted rider, trainer, and runner of those days – just took Faugh-a-ballagh for a little trip off the course, and the horse Starlight, which the correct party backed, won, the piebald being second.
In a later race with much the same field, Chick Tong went to Billy Matthews, and ingenuously said: “Looke he Billy Matthews, ‘spose you takee Starli’ ‘long a bush. I give you two pong (pounds).”
Whether Billy took the two pounds, and whether he took Starlight into the bush, or whether Faugh-a-ballagh won, it is not necessary to say, but Chick Tong was only a few years before his time. With a decent horse and his perspicuity, he might have made a California bungalow and a Rolls Royce car, on some of the courses of Barataria – for instance.
The Chinese had votes in municipal elections, and in those days, it was the law that payers of rates above a certain amount had three votes.
All the Chinese “heads” were what were called “three deckers.”
A municipal vacancy had occurred, and some of my enemies – how one’s vision clears after long years! –induced me to run against Mick Lynch, an hotelkeeper, and a really warm hearted chap.
We were most excellent friends, and each asserted at meetings that the other was the better man, and the ratepayers should vote accordingly.
It only goes to show that Mick Lynch was the more persuasive. We had a “gentleman’s agreement” that we should not canvass the Chinese or roll them up to vote. Late in the afternoon of election day, my friends discovered that some of my opponents were bringing in Chinese voters, and that I had been caught on a cross. We nipped into George Ryle’s waggonette, and soon ran in a dozen or so of the “three deckers,” and I won, and so became an alderman at the age of 21.
The Chinese were proud of their victory for “Missee Blong” (the nearest they could get to Browne).
As for being an alderman, I plead youth and inexperience of the world. While an alderman at Cooktown, and in consideration of circumstances of the election, I was known as “the representative of Chinatown.”
At Cooktown, I rented a cottage from Mr. E. Henriques, and with Mr. George Cooper, a solicitor, kept house.
We had two very fine Chinese – a cook, and a houseboy. The houseboy was Ah Jan (pronounced “jarn”). He was a clean, hefty lad about 18, and I made him my sparring partner. Early every morning after tea and biscuit and every evening before dinner we had a turn with the gloves. I taught him all I knew – which wasn’t much – and he became fairly smart with a very strong right punch.
The Chinese houseboys objected to being called “John”. It was as offensive as “Paddy”, perhaps more so.
Ah Jan especially resented it even from my guests.
One morning he came from the butcher’s with the day’s meat, but with his pigtail disarranged, his face flushed, and a bump on the forehead.
I asked: “What’s the matter, Jan?”
He excitedly told the story” “I go long a butcher shop. That butcher boy, he takee me “John” (with emphasis on the John); “you likee fightee”. I talkee he, “I felly (very) likee fightee.” All li. I fightee he too much. He cli (cry).”
Later in the day, I saw the butcher boy, a big lump of a chap,, and he obviously had had a bad doing.
The men in the shop, who, to their credit, had seen fair play, said that Ah Jan was a “fair terror”, and that he stood off, and boxed the other boy to a standstill. If anyone tells you that a Chinese lacks pluck or the sporting spirit – well tell him he is a pro-German.
In Cooktown, it was recognised that there was a big leakage of revenue through the contraband introduction of opium, and Mr. Fahey, as Collector of Customs, was very hurt.
Perhaps he did not worry so much about the loss of revenue as about the feeling that he and his staff were being outwitted by the Chinese. The keenest scrutiny was exercised, traps were set, watch was kept, but the leakage continued. Now, the Chinese are very fond of eggs, and there was no Egg Pool in Cooktown in 1878 or 1879. The local production of the “elongate ovate bodies” as Mr. Tryon would describe them, was very small, and the Chinese imported.
The eggs came encased in well salted clay, and were landed in quite edible condition. That is, edible from the Chinese point of view. Now, Mr. J. W. Knight, the second officer of Customs, was of an inquiring turn.
he thought he would like to sample some of the eggs. So he took a couple of eggs from an opened case and told the importer he would have them for breakfast. The importer pleaded with Chinese earnestness that it was not a “Numbah One” case, that he would open another case, that so gracious and so great an officer should have of the best, not eggs imported for coolies. The Chinese protested to much. Mr. Knight sensed something and incontinently reduced the egg to the position of the late Mr. Humpty Dumpty when he fell from the wall. Where was the white, where was the yellow? The contents of the shell were made up of a thick, treacleish substance. Opium!
The Chinese in due season, unearth all that is left of their compatriots – just bones – and ship it off to the Flowery Land, so that there may be familiar scenes and sympathetic associations, when the cymbals clang and the drums beat for the Oriental equivalent of our Last Day.
The first shipment from Cooktown caused a flutter in the Customs dovecote. In the export lists there was no heading for human bones, and though Bartley Fisher was a philologist, he gave up any attempt at an official definition. Mr. Knight was equal to the occasion. He entered up “Specimens of Natural History: 3 cases.” And that became the formula for such exports.
My first trip to the Palmer was with Mr. C. H. Macdonald, referred to earlier – officer in charge of road works, pastoralist, and really the explorer of the McIvor River country.
We went out to Byerstown, which was named after Johnny Byers, who was formerly head of Byers and Little Bros., hotel and storekeepers, butchers, gold buyers, bankers, and all sorts of things.
Johnny Byers was a little above middle height, stoutly built, heavily bearded, and with all the free ways of the pioneer men.
The Little brothers included “Billy Little” who was an identity on the Palmer, the Etheridge, and the Hodgkinson, and was a member of the Legislative Assembly.
From him, we have a remark which has become common. He was discussing the Cairns Railway project, and referring to part of the route, said – “Why Mr. Speaker, a crow could not fly down it without a breeching.”
Johnny Hogsflesh, who ran the mails to Maytown, was with us, and took us some short cuts, which were very risky.
From Byerstown on, the country was very rough. Maytown was very dull, but outside there were places I am glad to have seen before their complete desertion.
We were out at what at what was known as the Queen Reef District where the Huddys kept the hotel, and saw the almost abandoned works of the Ida and other mines, which the late Dr. Robert Logan Jack always held would be worth reviving.
The heavy hand of depression was on the whole area, and “failure” was “writ large upon it.”
Away some miles from Maytown, and nestling in a watered gap of rugged spurs, was one of the monuments of failure – the building and machinery of the Lone Star Mine.
Like the Queen Line, the Lone Star promised well. The reef was small, but very rich. Money was easily forthcoming, and at great expense a plant was erected. Then at a depth came the rush of water, and more refractory ore, and the place was abandoned.
We stood on the hills, looking down on a very lonely Lone Star, where so many hopes were buried.
In those days, there were still some thousands of Chinese on the Palmer, taking sections of river bed and drift, in a face; but over the whole place was written “Ichabod” for the glory had departed.
It would be absurd even at this period to say that Charles Nolan or Mr. Nolan, “Charley Nolan”, was one of the conspicuous figures left on the Palmer. He had a store near Revolver Point, which had been one of the very rich spots of the field.
The river flowed along, but every yard of “dirt” had been tumbled over and over again until there would not have been enough gold left to cause an uneasiness if dropped into one’s eye.
Charley Nolan was a little over middle height, spare, erect, blue eyed, and with a long, fair, beard. He was a cultured man, a delightful companion, a generous and staunch friend to hundreds who sought his help when the Palmer waned.
Later on, he went to the Johnstone River, and established a successful business, and there his name is continued in Nolans Ltd. He was a typical pioneer.
It went without saying that we should pay our respects to the Warden and Police Magistrate, Mr. P. F. Sellheim, the father of Major General Sellheim.
Later, Sellheim was well known at Charters Towers and Gympie as Warden and Police Magistrate., and then as Under Secretary for Mines in Brisbane.
Before entering the public service, he had done a good deal of pioneering pastoral work.
We went out and dined with him at his home overlooking the river, a few miles out from Maytown.
Sellheim was born in Austria, was of a noble family, and had a very keen objection to being considered in any sense a German.
He married a daughter of Colonel Morissett, a British officer serving in Australia.
The Warden told us some amusing stories about Maytown in the days of its glory. After a good clean up, the miners would get a washtub and fill it with champagne and carry it round the town, ladling out liberal helpings with a quart pot. Any one who refused to drink had his head dipped in the bubbling wine – at least that was the alternative laid down; but Sellheim, in his quaint way, put it: “It is not on record that any Palmer man was ever dipped.”
The Warden was a splendid type, and knew well how to handle a rough crowd of diggers. Those who met him in Brisbane later will remember how courteous he was, how capable an officer, and how relentlessly he put down all humbug.
I did not know many of the bank men, just a few, including young Lotze, of the Bank of New South Wales; Egerton Chester-Master (son of Chester-Master, the Usher of the Black Rod in our Legislative Council), of the old A.J.S. Bank, and earlier there were Kent, of the Q.N. Bank; F. W. Burstall, Parnell, and Cecil Beck, of the A.J.S.
“Jack” Edwards, the king of the Palmer, and the head of some of the biggest trading, pastoral, and butchering affairs, was a man of great ability. He was a wonderful organiser and money maker, but his money belonged to any one and every one who sought help. The Edwards River commemorates the name of one of the sturdiest and truest of the pioneers.
John Duff and Tom Leslie were Palmer men who were associated with Edwards, and afterward had pastoral holdings in partnership with O’Callaghan. The last named was a splendid type of man, about 6’ 2” and 14 st in weight, with a dark beard. I did not see much of him, but he was always spoken of as a very able business man, of simple and temperate habits.
“Jack” Duff and “Tom” Leslie came down to Cooktown in my time, and opened a butchering business, and Fred Pogson was their bookkeeper and financial man. Two more popular men than Duff and Leslie could not be found in the North. They were generous to a fault. Leslie should have made his mark in politics, but he would not touch “the game”. He was remarkably well informed, and a keen judge of affairs.
“Jack” Duff married a pretty Miss Reynolds, of the Reynolds’ Hotel family, and a sister of Owen Reynolds, who was a well known carrier to the Palmer and an owner of teams. I don’t think that any man in the North impressed me more than Leslie, but Duff, from his great charm of manner, was the more popular. Duff and his brother Dave were handsome, fair bearded and blue eyed men, straight and stalwart as Vikings of old. Both Duffs and Leslie came of good Scots blood.
The Palmer and Cooktown, and especially Palmerville, had no better known man than Maurice Fox. He had a brother Pat., who was not so prominent, but was also a splendid bushman. Maurice Fox was a daring explorer, and there was abundant evidence that he was the discoverer of Lukinville, but he did not convince the Mines Department, and failed in his application for the reward.
Maurice fitted out many prospecting parties. He was a fine looking fellow, and it was a treat to see him ride into Cooktown with his wife, who was tall and graceful, and a consummate horsewoman.
Mrs. Fox wore the long flowing habit which was the fashion of the day, a black hat suggestive of Hyde Park, and from it swept a blue silk veil.
Their horses were always perfectly turned out thoroughbreds, and fit to win races in the pretty good company of the North in those days.
A fine man and a fine type was “Jim” Earle, station owner and carrier, with a wife and family well representing a good old stock from the Old Land. Some of his family are, I am told, now in the Cairns district. They ought to be good types of Queenslanders, but the older of them were only kiddies in my time.
Then there were the Wallace brothers, Sandy and Charlie Wallace. Probably they were Hunter River natives, also of good Scots stock. They had station property, and were carriers, and no dance, no cricket match, or race meeting or sports gathering would have been complete without them
There was also William Webb, of Oakey, who had drifted into possession of the hotel, and was concerned in the early settlement of the McIvor country. He married a sister of Willie Till, who was a compositor on the Cooktown “Herald” in the days when C. J. James and I ran it.
One might recall hundreds of the splendid men and women of the North. They were really a type.
Speared by Blacks – A Finch’s Bay Tragedy – The “Queenslander” Expedition – Law in the North – Our Social Life – A Gold Robbery – James V. Mulligan – Heroic Mrs. Watson
Mr. W. J. Hartley and Capt. Sykes were speared by blacks on the North Shore of Cooktown Harbour.
Mr. Hartley was a merchant, and later entered the Public Service, being Police Magistrate at Mackay.
Captain Sykes was Harbour Master at Cooktown, and later at Rockhampton.
A big cedar log had washed up on the Sandy beach under the long range of hills leading out to Cape Bedford, and the two thought to spend a holiday in towing the log over to Cooktown.
It may be mentioned that in my time, the blacks all through the Cooktown and Palmer area were wild. They had not made peace with the whites, and entered the towns to degenerate. They were stalwarts of the scrub, the river, and the sea.
Hartley and Sykes had left their boat afloat, and early in the afternoon, were “jacking up” the log so as to get a towing rope under it.
Suddenly down came a shower of spears, and both men were rather badly wounded.
Hartley jumped up, and, I think, fired a revolver, and the blacks decamped.
Then Hartley – a tall, strong, man of the Puritan type – broke off both spears, ignoring his own severe wound, carried Sykes on his back to the boat and pulled over to Cooktown, about seven miles.
Both made good recoveries.
The native police were away, and the day after the spearing I took a small party out to recover the Hartley and Sykes gear. With me were the late W. H. Campbell, afterwards M.L.C., and owner of Jacandal station near Barcaldine, Charley Harris, owner of our boat, and a lad about 19, whose name has slipped me. We were all good shots and well armed. The lad was a sure hit up to 300 yards, and we left him in the boat to keep her off the sand, to cover our retreat in case we had to run for it, and to pick us up quickly.
Not a black did we see, but we lunched from some of the cooked food of the camp, burnt the mimis – which were particularly well built of bent saplings and ti-tree bark – and recovered everything our adventurers had left, even to their boots.
A week later Sub-inspector O’Connor, with his troopers, found 31 bucks bathing on a small beach towards Cape Bedford, and the report of the day was that all but three were accounted for. It was a sharp punishment.
O’Connor had crossed the Endeavour about 10 miles up, and moved round in the rear of the blacks.
One holiday morning, Cooktown was shocked by the drowning of three children, who were bathing at Finch’s Bay and had gone out too far. One of the bereaved was my old friend, John Clunn, a contractor who, with his sons, later went into mercantile business and pioneered storekeeping at Port Moresby. Mr. Clunn was a sturdy Englishman, and he and his family were very much esteemed.
He wrote some rough notes of a lament which was in his mind, and from them I made some verses, published in the Cooktown “Herald”, and the following occurred:
Let flowers be plucked to strew the path o’er which the dead are borne;
Flowers murmur not.
God plucks our flowers to strew his throne;
Then murmur not.
The lines were inscribed on the memorial stone erected in the Cooktown Cemetery.
That cemetery is the resting place of many gallant Queensland pioneers.
The Cooktown “Independent” of December, 1923, referring to these “Memories,” and to a published picture of a group of the old officials, said:
“Out of the group not one is alive today, except, perhaps, Sub-inspector Moore, and four of the departed lie in Cooktown Cemetery – Dr. Korteum, Julian Allen, Jas. Pryde and Alpin (‘Dad’) Cameron”.
The establishment of the fire brigade was the inspiration of Compton, the saddler. Compton, it may be mentioned, was a very fine tenor singer, and the first to introduce in the North the pathetic song, “The Vagabond”.
Another of our good singers was George Wise, a basso, who was with M. and L. Brodziak, merchants, and “O! Hear the Wild Winds Blow” was his masterpiece.
In Brisbane, in 1919, he came to see me on my return from the big war.
But these are digressions.
At 21, I was more or less a veteran soldier, and was selected as drill instructor to the brigade, but a better was soon found in my old comrade, “Tom” Barker, then of the Cooktown “Courier”, and who, like myself, had had some service in the New South Wales Artillery. Barker, for years a well known member of the staff of the “Queensland Times” at Ipswich, was a stalwart at about 6ft 4in. At Cooktown, he was right smart and soldierly.
In Sydney, when he was serving in the artillery, Larry Foley selected him as a “white hope”, but, beyond handling the gloves with the cream of them down there, he had no ambition for the ring.
He was recalled to Queensland – by his mother – and obeyed, returning to Ipswich and taking charge of the “Ipswich Observer” in January, 1879. His name was on the “Observer” imprint in 1880.
Now, about the fire brigade. Well, it flourished, and I am sure we should all have done good work had a fire broken out in Cooktown. But, though the times were bad, Cooktown had no “fire bugs”, and we had to live on the stories of the happenings during a big fire in 1876.
The principal store in Cooktown was that of John Walsh, who had a right hand man, E. Power, a cultured Irishman, of good family, who looked after the financial side. There was also Thomas, who was in charge of the Port Douglas branch, a very refined and very well educated man of good old type, and Ambrose Madden. The last named was a strapping young fellow, nearly 6ft high. I used to ride his racehorse “Jibboom”, and over matters quite apart from racing or anything else sensible we had a turn or two at fisticuffs, no one being much damaged. Madden wasa w arm hearted, good chap and long years after we were glad to meet each other, with all our little quarrellings behind.
John Walsh was elected member for Cook, and the business went to Power, Thomas and Madden.
Then Power returned to Ireland, and the business was Thomas and Madden.
Mr. Thomas was the father of Mr. F. J. Thomas, Managing Director of Mactaggart Bros. Ltd. of Brisbane.
Later, Thomas and Madden closed down, as, indeed, there was no business to do.
Another big business was that of Walsh & Co., Callaghan (or “Gympie”) and Michael Walsh. This firm also had branches at Port Douglas and Cairns. Callaghan Walsh, the head of the affair, was a well educated man, and none of the great hearted generous men of the North had less regard for self. At the same time he was capable and enterprising, a real pioneer type, one of the class which opened the way for later generations of Queenslanders, in the early days in Brisbane, in the West away to the setting sun, in the North up to the rocky headlands of Cape York.
Then there were the Brodziaks, the brothers Mark and Louis, and S. Samper, who was Mayor of Cooktown.
There were smaller places as well, and quite a lot of big Chinese stores, which did a good business with the Palmer.
The principal hotels were the Great Northern and the Sovereign. The first named was owned and managed by Sinclair Balser – a Hunter River native – and his wife, and the Sovereign was owned and managed by Henry Poole and his wife. Both were excellent hotels, beautiful rooms, first rate Chinese cooks, and goodly company.
I am told that the liquors sold at these hotels were equal to anything in the land.
The commercial travellers were always welcome, and a splendid type of men we had – Percy Bradford, John Bancroft, John Hardcastle, Whitehill, “Joe” Davis (of Hoffnung’s, then quite a youngster), Fleming and others.
Where could there be found a finer team? Personally I would sooner journey with the commercial traveller than with any one even in what we are pleased to term these degenerate days. But in the 1870s, the commercial traveller was a gentleman trader, and of the courtly type.
It is worth noting that the men I have mentioned – and there were others whose names have temporarily gone from me – were very sober, a great example in the old hard drinking days.
Cooktown was a delightful place for boating.
To me, the sea hath its charms, but “when the breezes blow”, I generally follow the example of Sir Joseph Porter and “seek the seclusion which a cabin grants” – or the lee gunwale.
Jim Dunscombe raffled a fine yawl, the “Mary Ellen”, and it seemed a happy chance that I should win her, since the name had for me a peculiar (though, as usual in those days, evanescent) charm.
It became necessary that I should fit her out and provision her and take parties out a sailing. One night we were boating up the harbour and had struck some nasty squalls. I was anything but a champion at the tiller and the after –sail, and good old Harvey Fitzgerald slipped aft and said: “Here, Browne, let me try her. It’s getting late and squally, and – well, I have a wife and kiddies!”
After that deposition and in consideration of being pretty well “broke” through fitting out the “Mary Ellen”, I was very glad to accept a reasonable offer for her from Mr. W. J. Hartley. At any rate, I was safer – and so, no doubt, were my friends.
The “Queenslander” expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria, with a view to a “Transcontinental” railway, had as leader Mr. Ernest Favenc, with Mr. Spicer Briggs as surveyor.
The return to Brisbane was made by steamer, and at Cooktown, my house mate, George C. Cooper, solicitor, and I had them to dinner at our cottage.
Favenc and Briggs were pretty heavily bearded on leaving the Gulf by steamer for Cooktown, but en route, the scissors and razors had been at work, and on landing, they looked quite smart – and disappointing. Of course they were suntanned and hard, and were in splendid fettle.
We had quite a pleasant time, and the townspeople were in the usual hospitable spirit, the Mayor – as mayors will – having recognised the interest of the occasion, and taken something delectable from the ice.
Certainly, Cooktown did our guests right well, and Favenc, in his later writing, recognised as we all do, the high quality of the social element in the place and its picturesque charm.
The expedition was responsible for much useful knowledge as to the potentialities of the area traversed, and led to the profitable occupation of a good deal of country which formerly had only been nominally settled.
Our Court House at Cooktown was of wood, but in the matter of accommodation, was rather better than official buildings in remote places.
The Supreme Court judge in my time was Mr. Justice Sheppard, whose headquarters were at Bowen.
The late Sir Pope Cooper, then a young barrister, was Crown Prosecutor.
Mr. George Crawford, a Brisbane man, who held a position equivalent to that of Crown Solicitor, was in the team; also, a Mr. Jenkins, who did the job usually allotted to the sheriff. Charles Jenkins, I think, was his name, and he was Welsh.
The judge was of the old fashioned, courtly English type.
He would have made a splendid Lord Chancellor in “Iolanthe”, but probably the famous “patter song” would have seemed to him a blasphemy of the profession.
Pope Cooper fitted in well with the judge, and was, as in later years, always exquisitely turned out.
Virgil Power also came up as Crown Prosecutor once or twice, and I thought – and still think – he was one of the finest advocates Queensland has ever heard.
A good many years afterwards, I heard Mr. Virgil Power in the defence of a Government agent in a case in the Supreme Court, Brisbane, connected with certain allegations of “black-birding” in a South Sea recruiting incident. The defence was dignified, without a suggestion of the bathos so often taken to a jury. It was keenly logical, eloquent, and – successful.
Judge Hely, a very fine lawyer, and a very fine man, came along, taking the District Court, with the amiable and kindly “Tom” Daley as Crown Prosecutor.
They also had a good team. Judge Hely heard a case brought by the proprietor of the Cooktown “Courier” against the “herald” for an “Eatonswill Gazette” sort of libel.
Street appeared for the plaintiff, and J. V. S. Barnett appeared for the “Herald”, of which I was the editor.
A claim for £1000 was made, and damages were given of a farthing, without costs.
Probably there would have been heavier damages, but there was a queer element in the case. After the libel was published the “Courier” proprietor, who was an elderly man, was good enough to make friends with me, and even after some of his friends had pushed him into the issue of a writ, we often met socially. He was a kindly-natured chap, really, of half French descent, and he loved a pleasant little talk over a glass of claret and the little suppers at my cottage. There wasn’t a grain of malice in him. When Street, with tears in his voice, examined the plaintiff about his agony of spirit after the horrible libel, the judge sat up and took notice.
The Barnett, in cross-examination, asked: “Were you and the defendant not quite good friends after the libel?”
“Yes, we often met. Indeed” (impulsively), “I often went and had supper with him at his cottage.”
The Judge Hely put down his pen and closed his eyes, and later on the jury said there certainly had been a libel, but it had been, in their opinion, absolutely condoned. So the jury thought, and As I went up Charlotte Street after the verdict for a farthing, several friends handed me each that humble but uncommon coin, In over 48 years’ experience as a more or less responsible journalist, that was the only time I libeled anyone. At any rate, it was the only time I was found out. With such luck, someone should present me with a half share in the Golden Casket ticket!
Mr. Ah Shue was the Chinese interpreter in all the courts.
He was a shrewd elderly Chinese with a good education, and apparently had been a clerk in some European house in his own country. His wife was European, and he had a very estimable family of boys and girls, some of whom did well in the Education Department as teachers. Mr. Ah Shue, true to his blood, was literal and argumentative. He was a burden to Mr. Justice Sheppard, especially when it was necessary to push business through to catch the steamer for the South. It was difficult to get a “yes” or “no” answer to a question.
“Did you see the prisoner on the day of the murder?” asked Pritchard Morgan in a well-known case connected with the early days of Lukinville.
“Now, Mr. Interpreter,” the judge interposed, “there is a direct categorical question requiring only ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Now please put the simple question, and give the court the simple answer.”
“Yes, you Honah,” replied Mr. Ah Shue, and turning to the Chinese witness he began a harangue.
The witness replied with a harangue.
It went on for several minutes with waxing and waning emphasis. The court was uneasy. The judge obviously was in despair. Then came a shortening of question and answer, then a succession of monosyllables, like voice and echo, and Mr. Ah Shue turned with a face beaming with conscious rectitude and success, and said: “He say ‘No’, you Honah!”
A Chinese friend wrote me out a précis of the colloquy, and I memorized it, and it was always my masterpiece in the way of a “parlour trick” at little social gatherings.
The climax, as an after-thought: “Oh, if you are telling this story (with the long strings of Chinese), remember that it is in Cantonese. You must have an audience which understands Cantonese.”
That never failed to secure a laugh, especially when the joke was spotted. A British medical colonel, on a little occasion at Telephone-el-Kebir, said: “But how could I do that, Browne? I don’t know that bally Cantonese!”
Bill Rodgers, who, no doubt, in some remote past had been sprinkled in his church in Dorset as “William,” was a typical Palmer digger. He was steady and hard-working, but with all the staunch “no darn nonsense” of the bulldog breed.
Working a claim on Lukinville, Bill, with others, had missed gold, and practically the claim was abandoned.
Some Chinese came along, started work in it, and, with the proverbial “Chinaman’s luck,” got on to good gold.
This soon got abroad, and Bill Rodgers went down from his camp and asked, “What are you doing in my claim?”
Of course, the Chinese gave the usual equivalent of what our boys in France put as “Non compree.”
It was “No savee.”
The Bill, as a Britisher will, proceeded to establish the axiom that his claim (or is it his home?) is his castle, and several Chinese were bundled out.
The others set upon him with their long-handled shovels and he had a bad time.
So he went up to the camp and got his Snider (rifle) and returned, but the Chinese rushed to the attack uttering the most atrocious threats (presumably).
Bill picked off the leader – or his Snider went off
accidentally, or something of that sort – and there was a
magisterial inquiry or “
Crowner’s Quest,” as Bill put it, and later a committal for trial.
Pritchard Morgan outshone even his usual luster in the defence, and certainly it was proved that the Britisher acted in defence of his life. “Not guilty” accordingly.
The social life of Cooktown was pleasant. There were picnics to Finch’s Bay per boat, and the North Shore on moonlight nights often rang with merry voices and beautifully sung music. We had some real musical talent and Joe Phillips of the A.S.N. Co – long ago sleeping the sleep of all good fellows – was our conductor.
The there were dances - formal and impromptu, and one of the formal affairs was very brilliant. It was given by the Leighton-Baileys, and they were ideal hosts.
On one occasion, the opening of a new Customs House, we gave really a splendid ball. It was warm weather, but we had imported tons of ice, which, fern covered and flower decked, was placed in heaps along the walls, with a great central mound beautifully lighted and decorated.
And the supper and refreshments generally!
One waggish lady, later a Brisbane resident – and God bless her good heart and many charities – said we had “all the indelicacies of the season!”
That was one of the bravest and most cultured of women, a real pioneer, Mrs. Holder-Cowl.
We had a splendid skating rink in a big otherwise unoccupied warehouse; we gave evenings, with dancing and skating, and had quite a nice little string band.
One of our club, the master of our skating, was a slight, good-looking young fellow, whose speed and grace were a revelation. Today he is Mr. Henry Heindorff, the founder of Heindorff Bros., of Queen Street, Brisbane. I wonder if he remembers those old joyous days and all our good comradeship?
Our private theatricals have been referred to in an earlier article. They were really elaborate, and Street, the lawyer, was an experienced producer.
One of our best things was “Kenilworth” in which Henry J. Dodd, of Wooloowin, played “the good part” “Varney.”
My favourite was “The Field of the Cloth of Gold.”
In both of these plays we had the help of a very sweet and beautiful girl, Miss O’Brien, whose mother had a private school, and whose brother Frank is a station man now out Cunnamulla way. The younger brother, Ned, went to his rest at Maryborough in 1924 or 1925. Miss O’Brien later became Mrs. O’Byrne, and though a grandmother, remembers with great delight our old days and plays at Cooktown.
Dodd reminds me of an incident. Queen Bess (Street) and Amy Robsart (Phil. Tolano, a brother, by the way, of the famous Joe Tolano), as fully robed, were respectively gracious and graceful, but one evening a little rift occurred in the lute, and these wonderful beings in wonderful robes, glorious with paint and powder, threatened to hang each others noses.
“Those were the days when our beards were black” – those of us who could grow beards.
In August, 1880, I intimately knew the persons concerned in a case brought later in Brisbane by the Queensland National Bank to recover £800 from the A.S.N. Co., the value of a box of gold. The gold contained in the usual sealed box had been shipped by the bank at Cooktown on the steamer Victoria, Captain “Tom” Lake, on August 7, 1880.
On arrival at Sydney the box was empty. The point really was whether the evidence for the bank was correct – that the bank officers had packed the gold, screwed down and sealed the box, prevented any access to it during one night, and had taken such precautions that tampering or substitution were impossible before delivery to the steamer.
A jury in Brisbane considered that the delivery of the gold had been made, though it was admitted that on three occasions gold had been missed from the bank.
Yet the ship gave a receipt for the gold, and it was perfectly clear that a clever member of the crew, or a number of the members, could easily have got to the treasury safe of the old Victoria.
Or at any of the ports a couple of experienced men could have got away with the gold, or passengers might have travelled especially to make a haul.
At any rate, the jury found for the bank, and the A.S.N. Co. had to pay.
The names of the bank officers will be well remembered in Cooktown – Richard Tennant Shields, the manager – Finlayson, W., D. Hobson, and old Giovanni Ciaverriza, commonly known as Antonio, a tall, weird chap, who was thought to be a little soft, but who was as sharp as a needle, and, like many Italians, extremely keen on saving his money.
George Ryle took the gold with the usual escort from the bank to the steamer in his waggonette.
As to the three robberies from the bank there were all sorts of rumours, and one was that Chinese from whom the stuff, had a clever system of substitution. Were the whole of the robberies made under the noses of the bank officers by clever and daring legerdemainists?
As a very observant youngster, I had become acquainted with some of the tricks of the gold trade in the Ovens district of Victoria. One of these was for a buyer to persistently finger fine gold and just as persistently run his finger through his well-oiled hair. After this had gone on for quite a long time, with much chaffering as to the quality of the gold and the risk of adulteration, the parcel would be bought, weighed, and paid for, and the buyer would go home and wash his head. The “wash-up” would have a profit other than that of cleanliness.
On the Palmer, at Cooktown, and all through the area the Chinese – and perhaps other people – had a method of “dosing” gold. The crude plan was to mix brass filings with it and, with certain forms of brass, deception in the case of an ingenuous buyer was not difficult, but when the game became known buyers invariably carried a strong magnet, which was run through the parcel. And the Chinese always expressed the deepest wonder when the brassy particles were hauled out by the magnet. An enemy had done it, of course – like the man who has brought his watered milk from someone else.
Then the Chinese got another plan. They had brass filing washed in gold with a view to defiance of the magnet.
What counter the banks and other buyers had to that I do not remember.
The reference to the shooting of blacks by the native police near Cape Bedford after the spearing of Mr. W. J. Hartley and Captain Sykes caused some enquiry from friends and from strangers, who were shocked at the measure of punishment.
I know of only one other heavy shooting in my part of the North, and that was on the Princess Charlotte Bay waters after the murder of two white men.
It must be remembered that where the blacks are in the wild state, and where murders of whites are committed, there can be no arrests and no trial by jury. Identification of ringleaders also is impossible.
If there is to be a lesson it must be sharp, and, in a sense, ruthless.
After the punishment following the spearing of Hartley and Sykes, a white man would have been safe anywhere in the neighbourhood of Cape Bedford or Cape Flattery, and up the McIvor, and after the Princess Charlotte’s Bay punishment that country was pretty well safe.
It must not, however, be thought that men in the North, the splendid band of pioneers, cruelly or recklessly shot aboriginals. There were some ruffians who boasted of their wanton murders, but they did not boast in the presence of the real pioneers. Let any man run down the long list of names which are so well known to old Northerners and ask if one would shoot a fellow creature unless his own life was actually in danger?
William and Frank Hann, Mulligan, Edwards, Earle, Morris, the Duffs, the Wallace brothers, Leslie, Callaghan Sefton, Doyle, Maurice Fox, Jack Williams, “Billy” Nunn (who was himself badly speared through sheer forbearance), Nolan, Watson – one might fill columns of names of brave, steadfast men who opened up the North, and who would suspect one of them of being vindictive or wantonly careless of human life?
Why, in the old New Guinea days, in the time of the “Colonist” and “Emma” expeditions, when it was no-man’s land, the explorers made their own laws, and the committee, with Peter Brown at their head, had power to impose death for certain offences, and one of those offences was the killing of a native.
It is well for those who have never lived in lands where there are no Acts of Parliament, and where there is no mantle of police protection, to understand that the pioneer diggers of the North were brave and enduring and forbearing. And no brave man will wantonly kill.
Our Northern comrades were no more murderers than you or I. The man who boasted of killing blacks was quickly sent to the Coventry of those days.
The discoverer of the Palmer and the Hodgkinson was “Jim” Mulligan. A creek in the far North and a mountain in the Cairns hinterland, and some faded old records, are the memorials of one who was true to his second name.
Yet “Jim” Mulligan was not an adventurer in the ordinary sense. He was not a swashbuckler, and he was not a swindler. He was too conventional for the first and too honest to be chevalier of industry.
I like much the way Robert Logan Jack refers to the exploring prospector, with whose name Australia once was familiar. He speaks of Mulligan’s personal charm, his humanity, his kind big heart, and his persistency in the face of difficulty. In many Queensland hearts there is still a remembrance of generous acts by the big, bearded Irishman, for it is only a few years since he went to his rest.
James Venture Mulligan was born in County Down, Ireland, and came to Australia in 1859. The Gympie rush attracted him to Queensland in 1867, and later he went to Charters Towers, and to the North.
Now, William Hann had first discovered gold in the Palmer River, but found nothing payable, or, if he did, did not report anything payable. As Dr. Jack said, it was a risky thing to report gold in those days and cause a rush.
The diggers had a rough and ready way with those who disappointed them.
It was Mulligan and party who struck the rich gold on the Palmer and filled the North with thousands of men with the aura sacra fames.
It was Mulligan and party who opened up the Hodgkinson.
“J.V” was well educated, and, with the fine manner which sits so well upon the Irishman who will believe that the world loves him, and that if he has a grievance it is not willfully imposed. He stood up to the world modestly when he had wealth, and when it melted out from his easy hands he stood four-square to all that adversity had for him.
Now what is Queensland doing to show regard for these men whose memories should be to our young people an inspiration?
Mrs. R. B. Watson, whose christian names were Mary Beatrice, was teaching in Cooktown, and was a good pianist. She was very reserved, rather delicate looking, and perhaps seemed nervous. Often it is such people who, when face to face with danger, and even with death, are the bravest.
Mrs. Watson, with her baby boy and a faithful Chinese servant, faced the terrible ordeal of death from thirst without a whimper.
Her well-kept diary has not a word of complaint.
She was living out on Lizard Island with her husband, Capt. Watson, who was engaged in beche-de-mer fishing.
Watson went north to inspect one of his fishing stations, and several well-known Chinese were left to look after the camp.
The mainland blacks made a raid and speared the Chinese, and Mrs. Watson fired a carbine, and they got away in their canoes.
She knew they would return, and so, with her boy, Ferrier, and a wounded Chinese, Ah Sam, she paddled away north in half of a ship’s iron tank, which had been used for the boiling of beech-de-mer.
They landed on No. 5 Howick Island and hoped for rescue, but passing steamers did not see their signals.
Then came the ordeal of thirst, and slowly, painfully, but without a complaint, the three went to their death.
One thing always struck me as a great tribute to the fidelity and innate goodness of the Chinese character. Ah Sam suffered much, and “prepared to die.”
Then the diary says: “Ah Sam prepared to die.” He would not die at the little camp, went away by himself lest his passing should distress his mistress.
Ah Sam was a gentleman, and it is hats off to him!
Watson was recalled on the tragedy being discovered. He was a quiet, strong man of the sea, yet the story runs that between the night when he heard the news and the next morning, his hair turned white.
Happily synchronizing, the visits of Bishop Stanton of North Queensland and the Carandini Concert Co. were a delight to Cooktown.
The Bishop stayed with Parson Hoskin at the Church of England rectory, and I had several very interesting talks with him. As a fact, I now see, the Bishop made me do most of the talking. He practically turned me inside out spiritually and mentally. Probably he didn’t find much in either pocket.
Dr. Stanton was a fair-sized man, English to the backbone, well bred, and scholarly. He was cheery and inspiring, and, as the first Bishop of North Queensland, fairly well placed. As concerned things Australian – far North Australian- he was a typical new chum, and I doubt if he ever got to the real depths of our ideas. Certainly he did not “shy” at our language, but he was rather old to get our viewpoint.
Louis Becke had met his Lordship at a garden party at Townsville, and wrote me a summary of observations. Louis was flippant and irreverent, and I do not care to publish my remembrances of the letter. Yet it would have made Dr. Stanton smile – he was a ready smiler.
The Caradinis included Madame, I think her daughter Rosina, and Marie the graceful and ever the grand dame, with her voice of silver and her heart of gold.
Then there was the old tenor, Walter Sherwin, and one or two of less importance.
The concerts were really great, and we tried, in our little way, to give the artists a good time.
Mrs. J. B. (Inspector) Isley, the mother of Harry Thomson and Frank Isley, of Brisbane, gave a delightful evening, and the Bishop absolutely shone.
Madame Caradini was a wonderful woman – an artist to the finger tips, and should never have left grand opera, for she probably would have been world- famous as a dramatic soprano.
Australia may never again know so popular a family in its musical life.
Christy Palmerston – A Northern Hero and Mystery – The Cooktown Hotels – “French” Charlie – John Murtagh Macrossan – Chester and Pennefather
Christy Palmerston, a Northern identity, now sleeping where the just –if there be any such- and the unjust together rest, was probably the most picturesque figure of the early days.
He was a remarkable bushman, indeed, he was not happy except in the lonely life of scrub or in the broken ridges and wild gullies of the Palmer.
Usually his companion was a black boy devoted to his master, who gave him every consideration. If Christy was down to it with a bit of malaria or other trouble, the boy would not leave him; if the aboriginal was sick, the hard bushman nursed him with that extreme tenderness and solicitude which comes so often from what we in rather a banal way speak of as a lonely heart.
Christy Palmerston was a lonely man, a “hatter”, but, contrary to usual opinion, that was not because of a grudge against society.
He was often said to have been of distinguished paternal ancestry, to which he had not a legitimate claim, and to have a most romantic connection on the distaff side. All that came from the irresistible desire of people to weave round a lonely man a burnous of romance, to put a “Family Herald” halo upon him.
Until Christy Palmerston appeared as a youth in the Rockhampton district we know nothing of him.
In the North, his reputation in the eyes of the police – and the police were big-minded, generous men- was not good.
To those who knew things, the stories of chivalry did not obscure the unproved knowledge of other affairs.
The police held him in great esteem.
He had moved across the Palmer area to the wild scrubs and mountains of the Cairns hinterland. There, living in the semi-wild state, he did generous service to white men. He saved many from the blacks, he found out and nursed sick prospectors and “fossickers”, he tracked and rescued many whom the dense jungle had swallowed up.
He was worth a whole detachment of native police. Often when the police were out on duty, Christy Palmerston put them on the right track. Though warrants were at one time out for his arrest, the police neglected to recognise the nominal duty.
After a few years the whole hinterland rang with his deeds of charity, and his wonderfully skilful helpfulness to the early settlers, and the police cancelled certain old declarations against him.
This was with the approval of the Government, and every man, woman, and child in the Cairns to Herberton area. The eagle had ceased to prey, and had given its strength, courage, and skill where they were most needed. In due course Christy Palmerston died. An area in the North, which the Government is opening up to settlement, is named Palmerston. It is a tribute to the work of the man in his saner days. He married into a well-known family in the North, a musical family, and his daughter became well known on the regular stage as a singer.
It will be asked, as it has been asked scores of times, what class of man was Christy Palmerston? He was not at all the type of the ordinary Northern pioneer. In the first place he differed temperamentally from them. He was morose, and in my days he had little of the spirit which is helpful to his country or his fellow man.
In later years he did those splendid services of which mention has been made; but in the 1870s, he kept to himself and for himself. I found him to be about middle height, wiry, lean, very dark, and intensely self-conscious
One notices little manners in a man, which soon show whether he has ever known what are regarded as society, rather than social, amenities. Christy Palmerston spoke no language but that of the blacks, and his own English, and the latter rather indifferently. He did not seem to have had any of the education of a lad of gentle birth. I know that the tale ran that he had been at a great public school, and that on learning the story of his birth he dashed off to the wilds. To me all that is nonsense. In my opinion, Christy Palmerston was an Australian, a Victorian probably, of respectable parentage, but who had drifted. His lonely and risky life on the Palmer was temperamental. In the later years, when he did only good things, I saw just the sobering influence of years, and appreciation of the rottenness of one side of the old life. To tell this is to give a faithful picture of one whose name in the old days of the North was better known than that of the Governor of the Colony. In the Cairns hinterland days there was ample evidence that under his bushman’s exterior, and far above the milder phases of life, there beat a heart of gold.
I write now of Cooktown hotels.
Almost I had written the Cooktown “pubs”, a term which I hate, but which is so comprehensive a colloquialism. These hostelries were sadly reduced in number since the flowery Palmer days, but they were of interest, and so were the landlords. Start from the A.S.N. Co.’s wharf up Charlotte Street, on the southern or south-western side, and the first place was “French Charley’s,” Charles Bouel, a clever Frenchman, a capable man, and a fine host, was in many ways, a dreamer. Two great objectives were in his mind, the establishment of the sugar industry in New Guinea, with the local native labour as a great colonizing scheme – the country was No Man’s Land in those days – and as an incentive to British annexation. The other was the establishment of a gigantic Mont de Piete, so that the temporarily embarrassed might finance themselves in little undertakings at a small rate of interest. This was not to be a sordid scheme, but something great and lustrous. Poor Charlie Bouel! I saw him down to it, a hopelessly crippled invalid, and the furniture in his little bedroom sold for debt, and I was not able to help him.
Then we came to Mrs. Easton’s, where there was a good piano, and a plump and cheery landlady who mothered the youth of the town, and who sand like a bird.
Then Andrew Thredgold’s. This landlord was elected Mayor of Cooktown, a steady going Englishman of the reliable type.
Then Dan Galvin’s –which was very convenient to the “Herald” office. Dan often financed a week’s wages for the printers, Willie Till and others.
Then Lower, the undertaker, had a place, then Mark Ruge, a fine man of the agricultural type, whose step-daughter I knew as a flaxen-haired little maid, but now a grandmother living at Eagle Junction, the wife of Mr. Symonds, who was at one time a Resident Magistrate in New Guinea.
On the corner of the street leading up to the hospital was Wholahan’s. This family came from Campbelltown, New South Wales, ten miles from my birthplace.
On the opposite corner was Poole’s Sovereign Hotel, one of the two houses of which Cooktown was very properly proud. It was a most orderly place – notwithstanding that Edwin Townsend, that wild young sub-inspector of native police, did gallop in one day with a pal whose name I do not give, and on his horse, chase Henry Poole half-way up the stairs.
And we wore coats at dinner.
A little higher up was another hotel, near Walsh & Co’s, and opposite was a low-class place, run by low-class Chinese.
On the same side, higher up, was Balser’s Great Northern Hotel, with its wide verandahs and balconies, and its most comfortable rooms. This hotel was very circumspect. If a few of us youngsters were inclined to “rough-house” a little of nights, Mrs. Balser, the wife of Sinclair Balser, the landlord, would come along like a Lady Macbeth, and we were at once good. Why? Because she was a firm, strong, good woman, and we loved her. If any chap had said a rude or mutinous word to her half a dozen, however exuberant they might have been, would have separately taken him to mighty sharp account with a little meeting at Finch’s Bay –oh, not with pistols or axes – in the event of an ample and accepted apology not being made.
Back again to the other side there was “Mick” Lynch’s, next door to the butcher’s shop of “Jack” Williams, and then at the next corner a well-conducted place kept by a man who later made a lot of money in Herberton. His name, I think, was “Joe” Maskrey.
Higher up was the hostelry of “Jimmy” Neil, also the blacksmith, the Captain Cook Hotel, and a little farther out on the opposite side, Tom Wholahan’s.
The out towards the Tow-mile, the Reynold’s Hotel, which was the inn of all the carriers of the better class.
Teams went out to the Palmer in 1878, good bullock teams, which could take their load up the hill Gentle Annie without much trouble. On one occasion a team, bullocks, wagon, load, and all, went over a siding and rolled to a halt in the ravine below. None of the bullocks were killed, the wagon was soon hauled up, and repaired, and all the goods were saved with one exception. A case of brandy was hopelessly smashed. It was never stated whether the liquid contents were mopped up by the thirsty earth or – otherwise.
A great deal of the transport was done by packers, some using horses, others horses and mules, and some mules only. The mule was really the liner of the rough roads and by-ways.
The crack outfit was that of “Ned” Fein or Finn,, “the flying packer”, a wiry little Irishman, noted for his safe deliveries and rapid trips.
In the old days it was worth about £100 per ton to Maytown, or nearly 1 /-- per lb.
Then as the road improved, and times dipped, the price fell to £70. In my days it was about £20. Facilis descenus etc, Charlotte Street,
Cooktown, even in 1878, was a stirring sight when the packers and teamsters were loading up, and there were some quite big spurts to Palmerville, the Coen, and Lukinville.
The four carriers who stood out conspicuously were the Wallace Bros. (Charley and Sandy), “Jim” Earle, “Tom” Morris, and the Reynolds Bros. Maurice and “Pat” Fox also ran teams, but not so regularly. For outside work, however, it was the day of the packer, and the load which a mule could take was remarkable. I have seen one of them carry up to 300 lb. On this subject of transport the Chinese basket-carriers may also be counted. In my time there were still trains of them with the tremendous loads up to 200 lb., and in the earlier days the tracks were lined with them.
Some of the Chinese dropped by the wayside, and sometimes were deserted, and others got back to Cooktown, and to the hospital, with a queer form of paralysis of the legs.
Some of the paralyzed died, and others were shipped off to their own Flowery Land. It was said that the leg trouble was on account of the heavy loads carried. The outfit was just the ordinary pole across the shoulders, and a basket at each end.
We know very little of the history of John Murtagh Macrossan. The North had it that he was of a good Irish family, was educated with a view to ecclesiastical life, but did not continue his studies, and came to Australia.
Certainly he was a refined and scholarly man, but, as the Scots put it, “dour”.
It was considered peculiar that in the North he should have been a “hatter” – that is, one who works by himself instead of in a mateship.
It would have been trying, however, for Macrossan, the student and recluse, to have chummed in with and lived with some of the elements of the gold rush.
I first met him in Cooktown when the McIlwraith party was making its dash for the Queensland Treasury benches, with the leading line of its “window dressing” the £3,000,000 loan. That almost took away the breath of Queensland, but it won the election.
Macrossan came up to help the candidature of Fred. Cooper, barrister, against Pritchard Morgan, the solicitor. Until Macrossan’s coming, it was a guinea to a gooseberry on Morgan; but John Murtagh got over the rough journeys to the more populous parts of the great Cook electorate, and his fiery eloquence and steam-hammered propaganda just turned the scale.
At Cooktown, in our big hall, when Macrossan was dealing with Morgan, someone called out: “Drop a brick on his head!”
Macrossan replied, “No, No! Leave him to me. I’ll drop bricks of argument on his head sufficient to build you a new Cooktown hospital!” (Overwhelming cheers).
Mr. Macrossan was considered by Pressmen generally as not easy to catch and “hard” for news. That was correct for a time, but he found that some of the Pressmen could hit back, and they did. The Minister unbent, and he did not usually give way.
Cooktown was closely associated with Thursday Island. “The Island” as it was called, was regarded as the key of Torres Straits, which in turn was regarded as the gateway from the East to the Eastern Australian waters.
The central figure was the police magistrate.
Henry Majorbanks Chester, a great administrator, a man of extraordinary courage, and one who sturdily and worthily and without any littleness upheld the dignity of the law in that far flung Australian outpost.
After coming to Australia, he was in various ventures, but was never better placed, but was never better placed than as an administrator, who had to accept serious responsibilities.
The crowning act of his life was in 1883 – the hoisting of the British flag on New Guinea, and the declaration of annexation of the country, under instructions from Sir Thomas McIlwraith, then Premier of Queensland. But of that, something will be said later.
Another man, well known as the “Island” was our old friend, Captain Pennefather (pronounced Pennyfeather), who, like Chester, came from distinguished British stock, and was navy born and bred. He was one of the firm of Brown and Pennefather, merchants, pearl fishers, agents, and all sorts of things. Later on the firm dissolved, and Pennefather got command of the surveying ship Pearl, which carried a couple of guns, and probably was the first thing in the way of a Queensland navy.
In the Pearl, he came to Cooktown, and we had many pleasant days ashore and afloat. He was a keen sportsman, a skilled fisherman, and a capital shot.
Later, he became a police magistrate, and then head of the prisons department as Comptroller-General.
He raised some fine boys, who did good service in the Great War, and they, with Mrs. Pennefather, were a great solace until, at the call of the deep, mysterious voice, he passed to another life.
Robert Raff, who died in Brisbane a few years ago, was also a merchant pearler on “The Island”, and, like the others, he got out when the bad times came.
There were men up there whom one met only as they went South by the E. and A. steamers, the true pioneer type, and, had things been left to them, the pearling of the Straits would never have fallen into the hands of the Japanese.
It was a saying in the later 1870s that the Chinese skinned the Palmer of gold, and the Japanese were skinning Torres Strait of its pearlshell.
Thursday Island, however, like Cooktown, made its star of New Guinea. They hitched their wagons to it – but the string broke.
Such a friend when these “Memories” were first appearing: “You have said nothing of Ben Palmer!”
Now, Mr. Benjamin Palmer carried on a tailoring business in Cooktown, and reared a large family of what were in my day, very fine girls and boys. He was the leader of democratic thought in the town, he was a fluent and effective speaker, he was solid, active, and wore a long brown beard. There was much in him that was reminiscent of Sir Henry Parkes.
Mr. Palmer was a great reader and a great classical student, and, like the professor of Latin, so beautifully drawn by Oliver Wendell Holmes, sought classical names for his children. There were Demosthenes, Cicero, Atlanta, and so on. But in so far as their associates went, the names were blasphemed. Demosthenes readily became “Mossy”, Cicero became “Kicky”, and sometimes “Cissy”, while Atlanta was familiarly abbreviated to “Attie”.
I don’t know that the vulgarizing of the names distressed Palmer père; perhaps he was too philosophical.
He was a good citizen, and did Cooktown a good service.
He had one great stroke of fortune –he missed getting into Parliament.
Another was Louis Borghero, the proprietor of the Maytown coach and the mail contractor, and his driver was Brady, a chap who had a limp through the ill-setting of a broken leg.
And who could forget John Davis, who made money on the wharves, and was mayor of the town for more than one term?
Then there were well-known men in the aristocracy of commerce – F. Beardmore and E. A. C. Olive. Both were agents, auctioneers, and that sort of thing. Beardmore had many relations in Queensland, and was a capable business man. whose office manager was the cheery “Bob” Humphrey.
Olive was about 6 ft 4 instructions in his stockings, had served in a good British regiment, and was a cultured man and scholarly. A son carries on the business, and it was pleasant to see the good name in a copy of the Cooktown “Independent” which the editor kindly sent me.
Then there was Dall, the Town Clerk, a strapping Victorian, about 14 st in weight, and who would dance all night and be earliest to Finch’s Bay for the mututinal bogey; and R. Smith, the auctioneer, another great man physically, warm- hearted and gentle. And Cleve was a conspicuous figure, and so was Eiche, the auctioneer, (pronounced “Ikey”), but of these two, more to follow.
Many people in Cooktown wore coats even in the summer; but a great majority wore white slacks, a shirt with a collar open at the throat, a good hat for shelter, a belt and a pouch, and light boots.
At dinner at the hotels and at our quarters we wore coats.
For dances we wore orthodox evening suit.
There were two rebels – Cleve and Eiche. Both were distinguished looking men – Cleve, a Jew, probably from Saxony, and Eiche, a regular John Bull. Each turned out beautifully laundered – the best that Ah Sing could do – spotless white shoes, “regatta” shirts, white drill slacks, and each with gold-rimmed glasses; really elegant middle-aged men.
Cleve submitted to the coat at dinner, but Eiche was untamable. On a trip from Sydney to Cooktown on a steamer commanded by Phillips – formerly of the ill-fated Florence Irving – Eiche went down to dinner immaculate, but coatless.
Captain Phillips vainly remonstrated. Eiche was immovable – that is, mentally; but Phillips had him forcibly removed from the cabin. Eiche brought an action for assault and battery, false imprisonment, damage to his clothes and his dignity, but Captain Phillips triumphed. The Great Coat Question was settled.
It may be mentioned that Eiche was a grand old chap, but a little intolerant of opposition. And he absolutely snorted at a Malapropism.
When he ran for Parliament against Morgan and Fred Cooper, he had erected a rostrum on the flat opposite the “Herald” office from which to address the electors. It was described in the paper – by an incorrigible compositor, or a wicked editor – “the Eiche Nostrum,” and the office thought a cyclone had struck it. In those days there were always back doors to newspaper offices through which editors escaped.
William and Frank Hann – The Coen Rush – Lawn Hill Shooting Case – Fight at Battle Camp – Shooting Blacks – New Guinea Prospecting – The Early Scientists
A little may be said of the prospectors of the Far North.
We all know William Hann and his party first struck gold on the Palmer, but they did not report anything payable. That was left to J. V. Mulligan and party. Those men were of the wonderful pioneer type.
William Hann and his brother Frank were educated men – which was not at all an unusual thing – and when in the towns they found their friends amongst the good folk who were recognised social leaders.
William Hann, when I knew him, had a station property in the Townsville hinterland. He was a man well over 6 ft in height, straight as a guardsman and with a full black beard, into which certain silver strands were stealing.
He had a family of daughters who used to come to Townsville to dances – the assembly dances and those at the homes of the social cream – and one of them was taller than her father.
William Hann had done a lot of exploration work looking for pastoral country, prospecting as a sideline, and generally making known the wilderness.
He was a good talker and read much.
Frank Hann was not as tall as his brother, and in later years suffered somewhat from the effects of a bad break of a leg which was not properly treated. He was very fair, whereas William was dark, was a sunny-natured and most generous man. Most of his time was spent in exploration, but his home in the later years of his life was at Lawn Hill, inland from Burketown.
The names of William and Frank Hann will ever be cherished as pioneers of the North Queensland “Never Never”.
They were of the finest type, clean-living gentlemen of the bush, and, like, so many others whom one affectionately remembers, were good friends of the blacks.
Woe betide the man who boasted of “nigger shooting” before William or Frank Hann.
The date is given as early in 1878 when the Coen rush occurred. I thought it was later, and I had not a little to do with the rush.
Robert Sefton (afterwards the promoter of the Raub gold mines in the Malay Peninsula), Sam Verge (one of an old Macleay River family of New South Wales), Watson, Doyle, and one other whose name I do not remember came into Cooktown, their second visit from the Coen, and rumour had it that they brought a tidy parcel of gold. As a fact it was 140 oz. (vide Dr. Robert Logan Jack’s book). They kept very quiet as to the result of their work on the Coen, and would not say that they had or that they had not struck payable gold. One sees now that they were correctly diffident. They had struck a considerable area of auriferous country, but it was not rich, and the gold was of poor quality.
A finer lot of men one could not possibly find. All stalwarts, educated, sober, and clean-living.
Cooktown was intensely interested, and at last became a little impatient.
As a youngster I knew the Verge family and especially Willie Verge, who was a surveyor in the Hunter River district, and through Sam Verge (who stood about 6 ft 3 instructions., a reserved and gentle-natured man), I became very friendly with the party.
I was, and am, a newspaper man, and had much thought for my paper.
One morning we sat talking. Sefton, Verge, Doyle and myself, and I pressed very hard for a declaration. At last I got something. I saw my partner, Mr. C. J. James, who also had the news instinct, and a level head as well, and in an hour a “Cooktown Herald Extraordinary” was on the street, a little slip of paper, but containing the eventful announcement that “we” were aware that payable gold had been found.
There was great excitement. The prospectors hurried down to the Police Court and formally reported to the official Pooh Bah, who was warden, the discovery of a payable field. Then the fun began.
The prospectors did not anticipate that I would have been so “quick off the mark” with my news; they did not think I would have gone so far; but they gave me a lead and I took it. They were merely hustled into doing a thing which they should have done earlier, but they could not quite make up their minds.
Some people question the right of a newspaper to publish news, but a word may be said in reply.
Publication is all a matter of judgment, so long as a confidence is not broken or advantage taken of a private conversation.
In my day I have had an important news item given me by a Queensland Premier. “May I use it?” I would ask.
“Yes, but don’t give it with my authority.”
Then my informant would say to someone else that the statement was unauthorised, that it was premature, that it was – Oh yes, it was true, but those confounded newspapers got hold of a great deal too much.
No confidence was broken in the publication of the Coen discovery.
Robert Sefton was keen to get the publication; but some of the party thought the field would be disappointing on account of the poor quality of the gold, and they did not like to take the responsibility of a rush.
My early lessons in news getting were: “Get it honestly, break no confidence, get it quickly, and, for goodness sake, take it direct to your chief. Don’t consult outside people who are interested”.
The late Mr. P. F. Sellheim, afterwards Under Secretary for Mines, but then Warden on the Palmer, at Maytown, in his report to the Under Secretary for Mines for the year 1878, speaking of the Coen, recounted the earlier history, and then said, “A rush was got up.”
When Cooktown had recovered from the shock of the “Herald Extraordinary,” a meeting was held in a hall, a little back from the street, and between the Sovereign Hotel and Allen’s “hairdressing saloon”, as the “professor” himself loved to call it.
The Mayor was in the chair, and there were some flowery speeches, sententiously referring to the “undeveloped potentialities” etc of the Cooktown district.
Then Mr. Callaghan Walsh in his usual practical way proposed that a fund should be opened and arrangements made with the prospectors to blaze a track from the Laura to the new El Dorado – which, of course, was the proper term in those days.
The prospectors agreed on consideration of payment of £200 to blaze the track, and they did it, and it was “All aboard for the Coen!”
Most of the diggers, including those from the Palmer, went per foot.
Transport to the field from Laura was not difficult, but later there was water transport round to the mouth of the Stewart River, just north of Princess Charlotte’s Bay.
I was amused lately to read of the discovery of a “new port” which had been called “Port Stewart”, and a well-written account of the service from Cooktown by cutter, with only a 40-mile land journey to the Coen.
Port Stewart is no new place. Warden Sellheim’s 1878 report on the Coen, published in 1879 by the Mines Department, was correct only up to its date. He spoke of “universal disappointment coupled with loss of time and money.”
That was true at the time. The alluvial gold was worth only £2 / 10 / an ounce, and the reef gold only 25 /-, and “in five months the field was deserted.”
There was a revival later. The reefing discoveries some 10 years after the rush kept a population of up to 200 and 300 people going for a long time.
The Great Northern was worked for 23 years, and the 1904 of the Department put it as “one of the greatest mines in the State,” but the gold value was only £2 / 7 /.
In 1887 the Wilson mine was opened, a couple of miles north of the township, and was worked for three years, but “without conspicuous success”.
It was in 1892 that the Coen became a recognised reefing field, and from 1893 to 1916 down to the depth of 500 ft., 52,000 ounces of gold was obtained, valued at £114,400, or £2 / 4 / an ounce.
And in 1893 the official reports show that 367 men were employed.
It is not correct, therefore, to say that the Coen was a “duffer,” and events justified the report by Sefton and party of payable gold.
The Batavia River and other waters, both on the eastern and Gulf sheds, were explored and well tested.
It was the opening up of the Coen which led Mr. Dickie to Ebagoolah and to the discovery of the Hamilton and other small fields, which provided employment from time to time for a lot of men.
A few of the Coen identities are still in the land of the living, and others of a later date who did a lot of pioneering.
My friend, Mr. Bateman, of Toombul and Woodford, was in the police force, and stationed on the Coen, and he saw some very rough days, but that was a good while after my time. Mr. Bateman knows the country east of the township as well as he knows Melton Road, and has on several occasions journeyed by boat to Cooktown.
In towards the Coen from Princess Charlotte’s Bay a good deal of sandalwood was taken out, shipped to Cooktown, and was destined for the East. The Chinese love the odour of sandalwood and the cabinet work from it is much esteemed.
Forty miles below Palmerville, and on the Palmer River, the rush to Lukinville took place in about the middle of 1878. It was a good, old-fashioned rush; and Cooktown sat up and smiled, the hope being that the long –deferred renaissance had arrived. For a good many months, the outturn of gold was considerable, and probably not less than 10,000 men, the greater portion being Chinese were pulling along.
Supplies were drawn from Cooktown by means of bullock wagons and packers, and stores were unreasonably dear. Beef at times was down to 1d per lb, there being a good deal of cut-throat competition. This arose through butchers not paying fair prices for cattle travelled to the field. The cattle owners, rather than take any old price, put up yards and tents, and cut up their own beef. The butchers then began to undersell, and there was a reply from the stockowners. The diggers got the benefit.
The Chinese at Lukinville ate meat, though not in big quantities. They roasted it, cut into little cubes about the size of dice, and with a little sauce, made it quite palatable.
They also had dried fish of various sorts, and generally were able to make up something better than the damper and beef diet of the European diggers.
The Lukinville area was like the rest of the Palmer, all shallow alluvial, but there was not so much bar gold won. It may be well to explain bar gold. The Palmer had in places quite a rocky bed, and across the stony spreads were little breaks or “ripples”, and against these the water carried the gold. In some places large quantities of clean gold were taken out, and did not even require a washing over. It was like picking up wheat – good shotty gold with all the Palmer virtues, and far and away better than the poor stuff on the Coen.
Some 8000 Chinese had found their way to Lukinville, and had not been there long before faction riots began. Mr. P. F. Sellheim, in his report (1878) said: “I regret to have to refer to some serious riots that took place amongst the Chinese at the beginning of the rush, during which four men were shot dead, and many others were more or less seriously wounded.”
Mr. Sellheim did not overstate the situation as far as the wounded were concerned. Probably 200 were casualties, and some were shockingly smashed up. It is quite likely, too, that a good many died and were buried without report to the authorities.
The “clash of the different tribes”, as the warden put it, was a fierce quarrel between the Cantonese and the Macao men. The last mentioned came from the island of Macao at the mouth of the Canton River, and were Portuguese subjects, just as the Chinese of Hongkong were British. Macao belonged to the Portuguese. The Islanders and the Cantonese were very bitter enemies.
At Maytown and Palmerville, and indeed all through the Palmer workings, the tribes or sections had tacit arrangements for what the diplomats term spheres of influence, and those arrangements were strictly adhered to.
Mr. Sellheim said: “This no doubt useful division was upset by the rush, and the circumstances was taken advantage of by some gambling vagabonds, who were the ringleaders, for the furtherance of their own personal ends.”
Without anything that could be called intelligent organisation, the battle began – about 6000 Cantonese against 2000 Macao men. Many were armed, many with Snider rifles or carbines, but others had to get to close quarters with sticks, picks, axes, and shovels. Some of the Chinese were very plucky, and went into battle with determination; others were shifty and nervous. It was not unusual for a Chinese to look out from behind a tree, and spot an enemy, say a quarter of a mile away, then dodge back and stick the Snider out, pull her off, and then to bob out from cover to note the effect of the shot.
Generally, my impression was that at a distance the Chinese were nervous, but at close quarters they were fierce fighters.
Warden Sellheim and the police would stop the fighting one day, but it would be revived on the next, and this went on for some time. At length it was suggested that certain leaders should be arrested, and an armistice arranged. By this time the “gambling vagabonds” had done fairly well, and the time was ripe for a modus vivendi. About 30 men were arrested, and in a little while agreed to go to their respective factions, and recommend the adoption of different spheres of work. The decent Chinese were glad of the chance of getting down to steady work, and an amateur delimitation commission was appointed. In three or four days the respective areas were defined, and that saw the end of the fighting.
In my opinion there were between 20 and 30 killed in the little war of Lukinville. At times it was a hot shop, and one never knew where the Snider bullets would lodge.
Lukinville was named after Mr. George Lukin, Under-Secretary for Mines, father of Mr. Justice Lukin, and a brother of Mr. Gresley Lukin, a one-time managing editor of the “Courier”.
The Chinese, as usual, took the river in a face, and worked on syndicate lines, and the Europeans stuck to an area recognised as their. The place in time was worked out, and deserted.
Cooktown is practically all timbered country, but there is nothing on the coats or in the immediate hinterland which might be termed useful timber.
It does for fencing and rough buildings, but in my days all the sawn stuff used was landed from schooners, chiefly from Maryborough.
The timber merchants were Hector Menzies, John Sullivan, and Johnston & Severin.
Mr. Menzies was a Scot, and on several occasions was Mayor of Cooktown. His yards and offices backed onto the Cooktown Harbour, and were opposite the police station. Next to him were the yards and offices of his rivals.
John Sullivan was a fine type of an Irishman.
Johnston was a North of Ireland man, and was one of the best of citizens. His partner, Louis Severin, was a big heavyweight Frenchman who later on moved down to Cairns, reared a fine family, and then departed in peace, as so many of the old Northern school have departed. Severin, though about 18 st. in weight, was as active as a cat. He taught, or tried to teach, me some of the aggressive and defensive methods of savate, and on one occasion Mr. David Duff, of the Customs Department, a very speedy sprint runner, essayed to give him a 10 yards start in 50 yards. To our astonishment Louis Severin “romped home”. The gallant Frenchman had various hates. One was for a monarchist, another for a German He was a republican, but an ardent lover of his homeland. It may be interesting to know that timber in Cooktown in those days was little dearer than in Brisbane today.
The Cooktown “Independent” which has been very appreciative of these memories, on February 7, 1924, had the following “Reminiscences of Early Days of Cooktown,” by Spencer Browne, still running through the Brisbane “Courier”.
Many of them are very interesting; but there are few in Cooktown today who can go back and recall the incidents of 42 years ago.
From our personal memory everyone of the old pioneers mentioned – and there are many – have passed beyond the Great Divide.”
Dr. Thomas Tate, after whom the Tate Telegraph Station and the Tate River itself are named, first came into notice in the old days of the North as the medical officer of the ill fated Maria, which was wrecked up Hinchinbrook way when conveying a prospecting expedition from Sydney to New Guinea.
Dr. Tate landed at Cardwell in one of the boats from the Maria in March 1872. In the same year he joined William Hann’s expedition to explore certain Gulf of Carpentaria areas and the southern section of the Cape York Peninsula.
Dr. Tate was appointed botanist of the expedition, but he also was available if any of the little party needed medical or surgical help.
A note from Miss Gertrude Tate in February 1924, mentioned that Dr. Tate survived, and was resident in North Queensland, the last of the Hann expedition.
A little more may be said of William and Frank Hann and of the members of the Hann 1872 expedition. Many inquiries have been made, and information has been sent in from various parts of the State. William Hann came from Wiltshire, in England, where he was born in 1837.
In passing it may be remarked that Australian exploration, even so late as 1872, was mainly undertaken by English, Irish and Scotch, with the exception of Leichhardt. Australians did not seem to have the spirit of enterprise and adventure that were conspicuous in those men from the little old islands in the Grey Northern seas.
The Hanns were settled at Maryvale, on a tributary of the Burdekin, in from Townsville.
The Hann expedition had for its main object a report of the country as far north as the 14th parallel, especially as to its character and mineral resources, with a view to future settlement.
The party were William Hann (leader), Norman Taylor, formerly of the Geological Survey of Victoria (geologist), Frederick Warner (surveyor), Thomas Tate (botanist), and Jerry, an aboriginal.
A correspondent at Northgate gives a reminder of the shooting at his home, Lawn Hill, of Frank Hann.
Joe Flick, a half-caste horse-breaker, had, during his master’s temporary absence, misconducted himself, and Constable Wavill, who was on patrol, was sent for. Joe had barricaded himself in the kitchen, and was armed with a Snider and a liberal supply of cartridges.
Calling on Joe to surrender, Constable Wavill approached the kitchen and was shot dead.
Frank Hann then appeared on the scene, and, in reply to a demand for surrender, said: “Yes, if you come up Mr. Hann.” Frank Hann was approaching the kitchen when he was shot through the breast and fell severely but not mortally wounded.
Troopers had arrived and battered the place with bullets, Joe replying. When the darkness came, Joe ceased firing and crept away out of the building, but he was found mortally wounded a short distance from the kitchen. He had been hit in several places.
“Willie” Webb was one of the first party of 96 diggers landed from the Leichhardt at Cooktown, on October 25, 1873. He was also in the first party - under Mr. Macmillan, later of the Roads Department, and Mr. Howard St. George, who had Perry, William Hann’s blackboy – which made the journey from Cooktown to the Palmer.
When I knew Mr. Webb he was landlord of a hotel about eight miles from Cooktown, on Oakey Creek. Reference has been made to him in an earlier chapter. He married in Cooktown a Miss Till, whose brother was a compositor on the “Herald” staff in my day. He had an excellent memory, was a good and true citizen, and there was in his nature the usual bigness and generosity of the pioneer. He supplied the late Dr. Robert Logan Jack with a good deal of material concerning the earlier days of the Palmer Rush.
On September 17, 1872, William Hann and party had been attacked by blacks, and the advance party for the Palmer had, on November5, 1873, a somewhat similar experience. The place became known as Battle Camp. Mr. Webb’s story of this later attack is plainly told. At about 5 o’clock on November 5, while the stars were still shining, a crowd of natives came up yelling out a terrible war cry, and they got within about 70 yards of where the party were lying on the ground.
There about 40 natives in the first rank, and as many more in reserve some distance behind.
Just as day was breaking, Mr. Macmillan and Mr. Howard St. George advanced towards the blacks.
It may be as well here to follow Mr. Webb’s own words:
“I noticed that they (Macmillan and St. George) fired over the heads of the blacks, but some of the men fired straight at the blacks, some of whom fell. Thereupon the blacks ran away, and were pursued as far as a large lagoon, and all that went there stayed there.”
That means, of course, that the blacks were shot.
Mr. Webb went on:
“In the meantime, some of the horses rushed up to the camp in a state of great alarm. One horse went into a waterhole almost up to his back. Then, about a mile away, a party of blacks had got 14 horses, and were driving them away. The blacks were yelling loudly, and the horses, which had hobbles and bells on, were mad with fright, when Johnnie Anderson, Jack the Blower, Jimmy the Poet, and a tracker jumped bareback on four of the horses that had come into the camp, and went for the blacks who were driving the 14 horses. With the first shot fired by the little party, the blacks ceased to yell, and made off. The horses were brought back to camp. None of them had been speared as they were too wild to let the blacks come to within spear range of them.”
A Government inquiry held at Cooktown decided that the diggers were justified in defending themselves.
But five days later Mr. Webb had an unpleasant story to tell.
Of the incident at Emu Creek or Kavanagh Camp, he says:
“A lot of blacks were shot while we were at this camp. I do not know why, as they had not interfered with us. I saw three bodies in the water of the St. Geogre, and I heard shooting while I was fishing. Some of the diggers brought two gins and three pickaninnies into the camp. The gins had in their possession a looking glass, a razor, and the hair of a whiteman, and two papers, which proved to refer to the sale of a horse to a man of the name of Leahey. It was supposed that this man was one of the diggers from the Etheridge who had been killed by the blacks on the Palmer.”
These incidents were before my time at Cooktown and the Palmer, and I have dug them up because some of my remarks on the morality of shooting blacks have been questioned. I have never asserted that there was not, on occasions, full justification for shooting blacks. On other occasions, the shooting was not excusable.
Those who knew Macmillan and Howard St. George would know that they would not shoot to kill if they could avoid it. Nor would Willie Webb. Other men of less experience and with remembrances of men being killed by the blacks, would not wait for an actual attack if blacks approached.
A favourite method of the blacks in the Palmer area – and probably elsewhere – would be to assume a friendly demeanour, and then, when opportunity served, attack.
“Let the blacks be taught to keep away” was the policy of the more cautious or reckless.
As to the shooting on November 10, to which Mr. Webb referred, and the presence of gins and pickaninnies, I have heard various discussions. On the one hand it was asserted that if the blacks meant mischief they would not have their gins or little ones near, but I have heard very experienced men, such as Jack Edwards, Mulligan and William Hann, say that the women and kiddies were sometimes used as lures or as a pretence of benevolent feeling.
It is hard to say when shooting is or is not justifiable. The bravest and most experienced men did least shooting.
Willie Webb on one occasion saw some blacks getting a baptism of fire. They were out of spear range, but a Snider bullet dropped one of them dead. The other blacks picked him up, looked vainly for the spear, and thrust their fingers into the bullet wound. Then they tried to stand the dead man on his feet. It took a couple more shots to make them realise that the fire from the rifles could slay at a long distance. But blacks soon learn what a rifle shot means.
Take the shooting at Battle Camp. I have no hesitation in saying that it was justified. Had the party of whites been unarmed or surprised every one of them would have been speared. In the wilderness, when it comes to a question of fighting for life, we cannot temporize with Exeter Hall. It was the wanton slayer of the native who had the scorn of decent men in the North.
Early in 1878 and all through that year the eye of the gold digger turned to New Guinea. Even the name, as Carl Feilberg wrote in the “Specialities” published in the “Queenslander” of those days, had in it the ring outgoing gold.
Every vessel coming into Cooktown from New Guinea was promptly visited and eager enquiry made for news of gold. A few enterprising prospectors had gone over there upon the discovery by Missionary Goldie of some gold in the river which bears his name.
One would take a skiff and row out to the vessel on its arrival – a cutter, schooner, or just a whaleboat with a yawl rig – and present the skipper with the latest files of papers and discreetly catechize him. Not only so, but thin, sallow men sitting about the deck or recumbent awaiting transport to the Cooktown Hospital were asked for a story of their experiences. These were sufferers from malaria or dysentery. Almost invariably the story was of failure, but reasons therefor were numerous.
Every returning man had the idea that a second Palmer would be found not far in from Port Moresby. Some of these chaps recovered and went back as veterans; some wandered down to the Hodgkinson, whence came some rather good reports of reefing; and others lingered on for a while, and then “put on one of Lower’s Overcoats.” Lower was the undertaker. The overcoat was a coffin. The prospectors sleeping out there in the little cemetery at Cooktown are many, and many of them were good and true pioneers.
In 1878, the Colonist and Emma schooners fitted out for New Guinea – the firstnamed at Sydney, and the Emma, I think, at Cairns. These were staunch and comfortable vessels, especially the Colonist. A considerable number of men were brought up from the South by the Colonist – some experienced miners, others just out for the trip. One of the adventurers was named Neville. He had money, and, as usual, he was associated, in the minds of the people who loved mystery and romance, with half the people in Burke’s Peerage.
Neville was a good hearted chap, and, as the old saying went, “No one’s enemy but his own.”
He went down to it with malaria and complications, and he sleeps the long sleep between Port Moresby and Laloki, a little wayside grave which was fenced and over it a cross erected.
At Cooktown the Colonist took on other men, a lot of tip-top miners, but the names of most of them have gone from me. There is a record somewhere, but Brown was often Smith, and Smith Jones, and Jones Robinson. I know we had Peter Brown, who had been one of Mulligan’s party, and two Fullerton brothers, both very musical and with charming voices. They were well known in the North.
Camps were made where the present town of Port Moresby stands, but there was no town in those days – just the native villages and a native people who had become peaceful and to an extent civilized through the influence of missionaries – Goldie, Lawes, Chalmers, and all those splendid men.
It was proposed to try Laloki for gold and then get along to the Goldie.
The Laloki had a good deal of water in it, and some of the men adopted what they called a “blind stabbing” plan –that is, they dabbed down their long –handled shovels in the stream, and brought up earth, which was examined for gold.
It may be said that the Laloki was a blank. A depot was established there, and a move then made to the Goldie. This river was well prospected, though there was rather too much water, and the experienced miners were able to endorse the statement of the Rev. Mr. Goldie, that the country was auriferous. It could not, however, be said that at any time payable ground was discovered. A little gold was taken to Cooktown, but the papers there were well informed, and published records of the exact situation, and no rush occurred.
Except in the North-west, where the adventurous Dutch had established a colony with a more or less formal annexation, New Guinea was a No-Man’s Land.
It had no flag, it had no laws save the tribal doctrines of the natives and the ethics of Christianity and peace set up by the missionaries.
The first thing the Colonist part did was to establish law. A committee was appointed. Peter Brown was elected chairman –practically head of the Government – and a code was drafted, criticised in meeting, amend, and then passed.
Somewhere I have seen the names of the committee and a copy of the law. Such things should be preserved. They indicated the Britisher’s first desire – law and order.
Penalties were provided, and had it been necessary the stern, strong, just men of the committee would have imposed a death penalty.
One young fellow was tried for shooting a native, but it was proved that he had been attacked with a view to murder and robbery, and he was honourably acquitted. He acted purely in self defence.
While the Colonist men remained alone on New Guinea, there was decency, no interference with native women, there were no “wrong ‘uns” in the party, and the record when properly set out will be a tribute to the men of British blood.
A good supply of stores was taken over, yams and pigs were obtainable from the natives – all on fair trading – and there was established between Port Moresby and Cooktown a transport service which enabled the prospectors to get a good supply of food and clothing.
It may be remarked that the search for gold by the Colonist and Emma parties failed for the reason that there was not payable gold in the area tested. The history of the past 40 years has justified the decision of the prospectors in so far as alluvial gold is concerned, at any rate.
The schooner Emma jumped off from Cairns. I do not wish to say too much about the party, for it included some of our best Northern men from the Etheridge and the Hodgkinson.
These men keenly felt some of the Emma associations. The vessel carried material for grog shacks with a big stock of liquor and general stores; also a number of womenwho should never have been allowed to go over there, and some beachcombing scallywags who thought that there would be scope for their peculiar talents in the event of a rush. It may be said that the better class men joined up with the Colonist lot.
The opening up of New Guinea brought into Cooktown some very distinguished scientists. The most famous was Professor Charnay, an eminent anthropologist. He was very amiable and very encouraging – a blocky, powerful man. I did a lot of work for him by way of notes and collections. He was good enough to nominate me for membership to the Scientific Institute of Paris and the Anthropological Society of France.
Later Charnay went to Mexico, and made some very great discoveries there, which sent his name ringing around the world.
Another friend was Baron Mikluho Maclay, who specialised in the fauna of the country, but in his native Russia was a well-known biologist. He was slight, nervous, and suffered from malaria. He settled in Sydney and married a daughter of Sir John Robertson.
Another who was collector rather than a scientist, was big, cheery Kleinschmidt, with his tall, distinguished looking wife, and their family of monkeys. “Little Smith,” we called him. He managed the business of Goddefroy Bros., in New Britain, and collected for the Goddefroy Museum of Hamburg. From him I learnt the art of skinning birds and preserving their skins.
“Little Smith” was a very skilful taxidermist. He stayed at Poole’s Hotel when in Cooktown, and many happy days we had together.
D’Albertis also was distinguished visitor, but when he was in Cooktown I was away on one of my occasional trips to the Barrier Reef, to Lizard Island, or out to M’Carey’s or Henry Poole’s farms on the Annan River.
Dr. Jack’s Expedition – Louis De Rougemont – White Women with the Blacks – Place Names – Tragedy of Gold
Dr. Robert Logan Jack, who had been employed on the geological survey of Scotland, came to Queensland as Government Geologist in 1877.
Reference has been made to him in these Memories on several occasions, but only a passing comment has been made upon his survey of the cape York Peninsula and of the country west to the Mitchell.
Dr. Jack came to Cooktown in 1879, and in August made a trip extending over six weeks and to somewhat beyond the Peach River.
For a moment a digression can be made.
It is often assumed that this river takes its name from the poisonous plant observed by the intrepid young Jardines in 1865 which had leaves like those of the peach tree.
I am not a historian, but am strongly of the opinion that the river was named “for”, as the Canadians put it, Dr. Benjamin Neave Peach, a Scottish geologist, and a friend of Dr. Jack.
At the end of November 1879, a second expedition was undertaken, Dr. Jack having in his party J. J. Macdonald, J. S. Love, now of Townsville (a step-son of Dr. Jack, and then only about 16 years of age), and a blackboy.
Allied to the party, but not of it, was a party of prospectors under James Crosbie, who was, of course, “Jim” Crosbie, a New Zealander, and an educated man who had been mining and share broking in Victoria.
He was mining on the Hodgkinson when selected for this job.
The parties were supposed to travel together, but as independent commands.
Reference to Dr. Jack’s book, “Northmost Australia” clears up the relationship, which at the time the expedition started from Cooktown, was rather a puzzle to me.
A telegram from Geo. L. Lukin, Under Secretary for Mines, to Crosbie, under date Brisbane, November 18, contained the following: “You have separate outfit, and are entirely independent of Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Jack. Mr. Jack takes the opportunity of party going out to accompany it for the purpose of making geological notes of the country travelled over and to render any assistance in his power to the party, but is instructed to make his geological surveys subordinate to the main object of the expedition, that is, the discovery of alluvial goldfield. The only authority he has over the prospectors is that he shall direct what country shall be prospected for the first four months.”
Dr. Jack, under date November 7, had a letter on the subject at greater length but not so clearly setting out the situation.
Dr. Jack had wired the Under Secretary that he considered the instructions of November 7 “fair, reasonable, and workable,” and he relates that the party worked harmoniously.
Crosbie’s mates were Layland, Hume and Hamil, men whom he had selected and who throughout were subject to his instructions.
Between Jack and Crosbie there was mutual respect and esteem, which was not at any time disturbed.
It is mentioned in Dr. Jack’s book, from which I am glad to refresh my memory, that he and his step-son, James Love, at the time the pages were written, were the only survivors of the expedition; but Dr. Jack has since gone to his rest, and Mr. Love alone remains. He is a well-known station owner in the North, but is better known as a shipper of horses to India, as a bloodstock breeder and as the importer of Chantemerle and other good horses.
The party worked up to Somerset, and had a hearty welcome from Mr. Frank Jardine.
It was a very rough trip, and practically throughout the blacks were very bad.
I had left Cooktown prior to the return from Thursday Island by steamer, but, as mentioned in an earlier chapter, Dr. and Mrs. Jack lived at Eagle’s Nest, Melton Hill, Townsville, when I was staying there, and from time to time I heard something of the happenings.
Dr. Jack was particularly charitable to the blacks, and did not believe in shooting even in defence save as a last resource. He suffered severely in consequence, and others of the party narrowly escaped.
Writing on one incident, he said: “I have been blamed in some quarters for want of firmness in not having shot some of the blacks on the first appearance of treachery; and it is easy to see that an opportunity of striking terror and inspiring respect occurred when two natives were found hidden in the grass> i refrained from taking that opportunity simply in the hope that the affair might be got over without bloodshed, and from a disinclination to commence hostilities which might result in the loss of more of our horses, and we could spare no more. We had been free of the despicable savage warfare ever since we left the Nisbet Valley, and I was in the last degree averse to renewing the strife with a new tribe.”
That was generally the outlook of the better type of pioneer, but sometimes forbearance was not a virtue.
Louis Grien became better known to the world as Louis de Rougemont. It was he who wrote the startling stories of exploration and adventure which blazed the original line of the “Wide World Magazine.”
I knew him well in 1878-79, in Cooktown and Port Douglas, and especially at the last-named town where he had a business as photographer. He was very tall, probably 6 ft 2 in., very spare, sun-tanned, and with a decided shoulder stoop. Of his country I am not sure, but think he was Swiss, probably a French Swiss, for he spoke French well. He was a man of the sea, a lover of adventure, and, though somewhat taciturn, was a very interesting companion. Though we all knew that he had seen many strange places, and was fairly learned in the common fauna of Torres Strait, it was a surprise and a shock when the notorious Louis de Rougement was unveiled as Louis Grien.
At first it seemed that some clever literary scamp had built up the wonderful tales on Grien’s actual experiences; but later the obvious enjoyment of the notoriety indicated that he had done the inventing. The most obviously fraudulent part of the story was that dealing with the conjured-up, long-lost explorers, though most people were the more tickled by the tale of flying wombats. The riding of the turtles in the sea pools of the Torres Strait have also been laughed at, but they probably were true.
Louis Grien, no doubt, like many another, had the fun and excitement of a turtle ride in water too shallow for the creatures to dive. Yet I have never seen the wonderful control of the turtles such as Grien claimed.
It is not generally known how he came to assume the name of de Rougemont.
Those who served in the South African war from Belmont on with Pilcher’s column will remember a very fine, lovable major of Horse Artillery named Roger de Rougemont. I said to him one day, in fun, “Are you connected with the famous de Rougemont?”.
And he said, “Yes.”
The he told me that Grien was valet or man-servant, not to his father, but to a friend of his father, and evidently thought the name would “look well on the bills,” as the old actor managers had it. Poor old Louis Grien! He gulled millions; he had a meteoric flash of glory, but ultimately he got back to earth, and the glory departed.
A topic of never- failing interest in the North was that of the presence of white women living with the blacks. On the North-east coast there are a good many old wrecks, some of which have not been identified, and it is likely that in cases the sea had taken its tribute, survivors had got ashore, and all signs of wreckage had disappeared.
Several stories have been told, and without doubt one is authentic. That is the story of captain Pearn, who, in 1878, I think, reported having seen a white woman at Cape Granville. A search was made for her, but without success. The blacks would, on the presence of white men being discovered, get her away to the scrub and remain hidden while there was any prospect of losing her. The story of the Cape Granville woman, as told to me, was that as she was hurried away she waved her hand to the white men. It was with great reluctance that the endeavour to get nearer and rescue her was abandoned.
Dr. Jack, on the second Cape York expedition, met a black named Billy, one of a treacherous crown, and Billy said he had seen white women, but on being pressed as to time and place her became sulky and silent. Dr. Jack strongly suspected that Billy knew something of the white woman seen at Cape Granville. Captain Pearn’s idea was that male survivors of some wreck were killed by the blacks, and the woman spared for a worse fate – a camp drudge and an article of common ownership.
It may be suggested by the Royal Geographical Society of Australia that there should be a readjustment of nomenclature in Cape York Peninsula.
Thus the river appearing on the map as the Pascoe – and in Dr. Jack’s reports – should be pasco.
It was named after a descendant of Nelson’s flag-lieutenant, who hoisted the “England Expects that Every Man will Do his Duty” at Trafalgar.
This was pointed out to me by my old friend and South African war comrade, Pasco, of Toowoomba, formerly manager there of the Bank of Australasia.
Dr. Jack’s Peach River, it transpired, was the Archer; and it would be interesting to have the confusion between the Alice and Philp Rivers removed.
The Archer River was named by a pastoral pioneer, Frank Johnson, who was first manager of Koolatah Run, taken up for McEacharan and Bell many years after my time in the North. Johnson named the river after his wife, who was a daughter of Mr. Paul Atkinson, a well known musician in Brisbane in the eighties, and a sister of Mr. H. W. Atkinson, architect, of Brisbane.
Later on, John Dickie named another stream the Alice, and from it the Alice Goldfield took its name (vide Jack’s report), and when the mistake was discovered, the name of the field was changed to the Philp.
“Confusion would be avoided,” said Dr. Jack, “if the river were also named the Philp River.”
In passing, it may be said that, in my opinion, the givers of our geographical names pander too much to politicians who occupy office “as an accident or offence,” and ignore the pioneers of the country who toiled and suffered in a spirit of really unselfish heroism, to give to civilization and their posterity the great fertile wilderness of our Australia.
Dr. Jack’s reports – generally as accurate as they are scholarly and modest – are not infallible.
On the return to the Laura from his first expedition, he mentions the hospitality of “Mr. Hugh Fitzgerald.”
This should be Hervey Fitzgerald.
Mr. Fitzgerald was a well-known officer of the Native Police, and later inspector in the general force. He came from a branch of the family of the Duke of Leinster, and died in Brisbane in 1923.
Out at Nundah, and a fairly near neighbour of mine for some years, is a tall, straight, and athletic-looking Queensland pioneer, Mr. N. P. Willmann, a native of Denmark, and, like the general run of his compatriots who come over here, a good staunch Australian.
They have so much that is in harmony with the best qualities of our forbears from the British Isles and Ireland.
Mr. Willmann was in the first big party that left Maytown for the Coen rush, and between that field and the Palmer he spent five and a half years. Later he was on Lukinville, but too late for the “plums.”
Mr. Willmann reminds me of a remarkable tragedy following a gold robbery on the Palmer. His memory, on the other hand, was jogged by a reference in one of my articles to bar gold – that is, caught in the little bars of rock extending across the bed of a stream.
The scene of the first part of the story as given by Mr. Willmann was the Palmer, the second in his old home at Copenhagen, Denmark.
A man named Jens Abrahams was mining at German Bar, on the left-hand branch of the Palmer, and shifted camp to Jessop’s Gully. In the afternoon he went down to the gully, and at once struck gold. He got a lot in his billy, estimated at about 300 ozs. of gold, worth £1200.
He decided to adopt an old digger plan of hiding the gold. He buried it and made his fire on top of it, deciding to start for Cooktown next morning.
He had no firearms, but had a good sheep dog. Twice during the night the dog woke him, but he took no notice. At a third awakening by the dog getting up on his blankets, he rose, and saw a man lifting the billy from the fireplace. The thief fled, and Abrahams after him, but the thief turned and fired a revolver at the digger, wounding him in the leg. Then both visitor and gold disappeared. About a year later Mr. Willmann made the acquaintance of Abrahams, who was then hale and hearty.
After leaving the Palmer, Mr. Willmann had a trip to his native Denmark, and there met a man he had known in Rockhampton in 1874, who, at the time, (1874), was on his way to Cooktown with a mate.
In Copenhagen, the man, Kryger by name, asked: “Did you know Jens Abrahams on the Palmer?”
“Yes,” Mr. Willmann replied, “I knew him well, and we were living in the same camp.”
Kryger said, “Well, he left his bones on the Palmer.”
Mr. Willmann was able to deny that, as when he left Australia, Abrahams was working in Charters Towers. Each described the man, and it clear that the same Jens Abrahams was referred to. Then Mr. Kryger said: “When I was in Cooktown the police came there, reported that they had found a man dead in the bush, and had more gold in his possession than any one who had come from the Palmer at that time.”
When Mr. Willmann knew Jens Abrahams, he was rather a good-looking fellow, and always carried a hair brush, comb, private letters, and papers in a billy-can.
After hearing this story from Kryger, Mr. Willmann concluded that, before he buried his gold in the fireplace, Abrahams had put his private letters and papers and perhaps his miner’s right, in the billycan, on top of the gold, all ready to start for Cooktown. Thus the man who took his gold, and fired at him would also have taken the papers, and from them the police believed that the dead man was Abrahams.
What caused the death of the thief was never ascertained. It was assumed that he thought he had perhaps killed Abrahams, and so kept off the regular track to Cooktown, and succumbed to malaria or some other trouble.
No doubt the Cooktown – Palmer tracks and forests hold many tragedies of the kind.
Mr. J. J. Bizzell, of Streatley, West Rockhampton, whose sons have a big motor garage in Roma Street, may not have forgotten the night, a Fifth of November, when some young ruffians took his big lamp from in front of Ulrich Mader’s bakery, embowered it in convolvulus wreaths from Mrs. Cowl’s garden, and went around the town begging for subscriptions.
Altogether £8 / 12 / 4 was collected, and it went to a church or hospital fund. Poor old Ulrich Mader! He was mad with anger until he saw the result of the collection. Then he was all smiles, and at once, and very discreetly, constituted himself as treasurer.
Mr. Bizzell I remember well. He was able to do practically everything, from washing out a prospect to icing a wedding cake. When he reached Cooktown – long before my time – he was a new chum Englishman and one may readily believe that the first job offering was his.
Now that is all about Cooktown. It has been a delight to throw my mind back to the old days in that beautiful spot – fertile, healthy, and destined to be some day a great city and port. The hinterland soil is rich, and there is mineral wealth yet to be won.
Never again may it see the feverish boom of the Palmer days, but a settled prosperity and the establishment of a strong Australian outpost, so peopled as to be its own defence. Vale! old town. Round you are woven the memories of splendid men and women, the flower of the North, the best of Australian pioneers.