By William Hill


        I must recall the fact that the famous Palmer Goldfield was opened up in November 1873 when Howard St. George and A. C. Macmillan arrived from the South, by way of the Endeavour River, with a party of diggers and Government officials. Then the big rush set in, which continued for about two years. I relieved Warden Coward in April 1876, and my camp was at Byerstown, halfway between Cooktown and Maytown. My staff included a C.P.S., three orderlies, and three black trackers, with a liberal supply of horses.

        The wily Chinese tried every dodge to evade payment of mining fees, and would cheat you, if possible, with spurious gold. I had on several occasions to round up and arrest mobs of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty, escort them miles to my camp, and then draft them out like sheep, retaining their swags until they found ten shillings. Sometimes we were kept up all night by small mobs coming to the camp to redeem their property, which the C.P.S. had duly docketed, giving the owner a duplicate ticket. I carried a long, light chain on a pack horse, with seventy-five pairs of hand-cuffs attached, so I had accommodation for one hundred and fifty, and on camping, we opened one part of the chain and secured the lot round a tree.

        We were often on duty away among the ranges, for two or three weeks at a stretch, rounding up the outside camps and scooping in revenue. This was most distressing work for men and beasts for we had to travel for miles up the bed of the Palmer River, in a gorge between ranges, struggling over boulders, in terrific heat. We were rarely free from fever, and I had sometimes to lie down in the dust on the main road, shivering like an aspen leaf for an hour or two, and after this came a raging fever which often made a man delirious. We were in frequent peril from the blacks, who were constantly on the watch, ever on the alert, and a very strange cannibal lot they were. We had invariably to keep a strict watch all night, when camping out.

        A clever swindle was perpetrated while I was on the Palmer by a very old offender, who was very smart, but not smart enough for old Constable Clohesy. This man procured an unused one-hundred cheque book, and having provided himself with red braid, a pen and a bottle of ink, he rigged himself up as a Warden’s Orderly, stuck up Chinese on the road, and issued to them what they took to be genuine Miners’ Rights, receiving ten shillings each. He victimised over sixty unsuspecting Chinese, and then rode to Cooktown, timing himself to catch the steamer going South. But Clohesy was one too many for him, and nabbed him just as the gangway was being pulled in.

        As Wardens, we were often wrongfully accused of cutting off the Chinamen’s tails; but I remember when the then Premier was visiting Cooktown, he had to cross a hand bridge, and was amazed to see three genuine pig tails; recently cut off, hanging on each side of the handrail. But this was the work of some of the anti-Chinese Cooktown larrikins.

        My billet was a good one, but my salary was well earned, when I tell you that during the nineteen months I worked on the Palmer, my collections for Miners’ Rights and business licenses amounted to the sum of £5,707. I was the first Warden to visit Thornborough on the new Hodgkinson Goldfield. My chief Orderly was Bill Norris, who was afterwards at Charters Towers. He and I swam the Mitchell River in high flood. Previously we stopped a mob of two thousand men at Byerstown, who were waiting for the river to go down before continuing their march. In three days I returned with the opinion that the new field was a rank duffer, as far as alluvial was concerned. This report saved a lot of hardships and misery.

        Gambling was an awful curse on the Palmer. Chinamen were fleeced of their money and were then compelled to resort to crime in order to get an existence. We did our best to improve matters, and made several exciting raids on the gambling houses. The black troopers took infinite delight in this sort of work; and it was very funny after a big haul to see the troopers lugging six or eight Chinese in each hand, and holding them by the pigtails.

        One night I reserved for myself the duty of tackling the Boss, a man I wanted badly. When we made our rush, I vaulted over the heads of the crowd around the table and gripped the man. All the lights went out, but I stuck to the Boss and got a hitch on him. Someone kicked me on the ankle, and I was crippled for nearly a month. On the night in question, nineteen of us captured over sixty. When we escorted the lot over to the camp, I had to be carried on the back of a big black trooper. Next morning I fined the lot ten pounds each, giving my kicking Boss the extra privilege of contributing fifty pounds. All the fines were paid.

        One night, during the time a large number of people were camped at Byerstown, waiting for the Mitchell to go down, I was in a sound sleep in my tent, and awakened by an awful scream. Norris heard it too. So we aroused the camp and some of the Police, and after a time, an unfortunate woman was found lying on the ground in a small tent, with her arm completely chopped off below the shoulder. The wretch who did this was never found; but I believe that the woman eventually recovered.

        On another occasion a man was stabbed through the heart by his mate, and no motive could be discovered. Then a store was ransacked by the blacks and the storekeeper was butchered. Scores of other exciting incidents made life on the Palmer active enough, and one had always to be prepared for emergencies.

        I often met Jack Hamilton, who was practising as a medico. He had a private hospital at Maytown, and a story is told that a bully came a long way to punch Jack. But he caught a Tartar and got an awful thrashing. Then he had to go to Hamilton’s Hospital to be cured and pay up for all expenses.

        Early in 1877 I visited Warden Sellheim at Maytown. His camp was a mile from the township, and the first morning there I rode with him to his office, and on the road we met a constable who was riding out with the sad news that Sub-Inspector F… had just shot himself. We went at once and broke open the door of the poor fellow’s office, to find he had discharged a rifle into his mouth, his head being blown to pieces. I noticed two holes in the iron roof, one of which was made by the bullet, and the other we found out afterwards was made by a piece of the skull being blown clean through the iron, as I found the piece on the roof.

        Another sad scene I witnessed when about to camp at the bottom of the hill. Our horses were all unsaddled when we heard terrible cries, and saw a man staggering down the hill, several blacks chasing him, but Norris, Vick and I were soon in full cry, and a few of the myalls lost the number of their mess. The man had a spear through him, and though we managed to extract it, he died shortly afterwards.

        Passing from grave to gay, let me here relate a laughable fish yarn that actually happened to W. O. Hodgkinson, the late lamented Crown Minister, explorer, politician, editor, and versatile writer. My Camp at Byerstown was situated on the top of a steep bank overhanging a small creek, which after heavy rain was full of large bream. Hodgkinson, who had tried his luck in this hole before, arrived at my camp late one night, when we were all away on patrol. After having tea, he threw his fishing line over the bank, and was soon rewarded with some palpable bites, but not being able to hook anything, he gave it up after a time, rebaited his hook and left the line set.

        Early next morning, on going to secure a prize, he found the creek was dry! The bites had come from small sand goannas!

        Regarding Hodgkinson’s exploring, I was at Georgetown when he made his famous start to explore the north-west country, from Cloncurry to the South Australian boundary in 1876. Tremendous preparations were made, and excitement and whisky ran high when we were wishing the party bon voyage. After a month or so of privations, the party reached what they had hoped to find a magnificent stretch of splendid country, which they decided to christen the “Oswald,” but instead of finding new country, the poor travel-worn party arrived at a well-appointed station, with a comfortable house, piano, tennis court, and plenty of bottled beer!  We did not hear much about this particular trip afterwards, but they traced the Diamantina to the border, and went from the Cloncurry mine to Lake Coongi in South Australia, the whole journey lasting from 13 April 1876 to 27 September 1876. The party included W. Carr-Boyd (“Potjostler”), Kayser, Norman Macleod, and a black trooper named “Larry.” Hodgkinson wrote a very interesting report of the expedition.

        Townsend, the officer in charge of the Native Police camp at the Laura, was a character, a good-hearted “fool-to-himself” sort of fellow, and many a long, rough ride we have had together, as I was authorised to requisition his detachment when on any special or urgent duty. We frequently passed hordes of Chinamen heavily loaded, in single file, carrying goods to the Chinese merchants at Maytown, and I have seen them carry over two hundredweight on a bamboo across their shoulders, under a blazing Palmer sun, twenty miles a day. They often collapsed and died on the road, and we had to gallop on to find their mates whom we had actually to force them off the road!

        Townsend had three fine dogs in his camp, christened J.C., H.G., and V.M., and when these animals died he had good fences erected round their graves, with headstones inscribed “Sacred to the memory of…” on the lot! Probably these extraordinary graves are still in existence.

        Only for the influx of Chinamen the Palmer would have given profitable employment to thousands of Europeans for many years. The hordes of Chinese, at one time about twenty thousand, absolutely worked out the bed of the river. The amount of gold obtained by them was enormous, and thousands of ounces of gold were taken back to China privately, as one of the Boss Chinamen told me he sent home at least one thousand ounces a month for some considerable time, and I believe him.

        Just to show how easily gold was got on the Palmer, I was in my office one morning when a European miner came in for a Miner’s Right. He told me he was going prospecting, and next morning the same man came to me and asked if I would put a bag into my safe for a time. He said, “It’s a few specimens I got yesterday in about three hours.” He said he was up a gully looking for his horses and found that one of them had kicked a large stone over, disclosing a nest of nuggets. I asked him how much he got, and he replied, “Weigh the lot, sir, please.” And I did, and found the lot weighed one hundred and seventy-nine (179) ounces three (3) pennyweights, the smallest piece weighing seventeen (17) pennyweights. The nuggets were lovely to look at, all water worn and of the most fantastic shapes. One “beauty” was exactly thirteen and a half ounces.

        When the banks decided to open branches at Maytown, I had the whole staff of four banks camped with me for two or three days. The managers were Alfred Halloran, Cecil Becke, Paddy Shields, and McClardy, all old friends. Each brought three or four assistants, so the party of fifteen made things hum, also a considerable hole in my larder and store of medical comforts. It paid me well though, for not only had I a very good time, but it seems one of their pack horses, loaded with tinned meats and other luxuries, knocked up about ten miles from my camp, so they left the load a bit off the road for anyone to appropriate. Needless to say, Norris and a tracker were soon away and secured the lot.

        My work having been so severe, and the continual attacks of fever telling at last on my constitution, I hailed with delight my transfer back to my old home at Ravenswood, as Police Magistrate and Warden. Before leaving the Palmer the Chinese gave me a tremendous send-off, letting off a cart load of crackers, but whether for joy or sorrow at my departure is still an unsolved problem.

Cummins and Campbell




Episodes in the Pioneering Days

By “Tramp”


        During my peregrinations through the Central Districts of Queensland in the years 1899 and 1900 various journeys were made by buggy in the company of the late P. J. Brannelly, then Inspector of Police at Rockhampton, who, in the early days of his career was a young police officer stationed at Clermont and other sections of the districts where the tragedies herein dealt with took place. From the information furnished by the old time police officer as the scenes were revisited, the accounts of various pioneer residents who played some part in the punishment of the blacks, and the early day records of the Rockhampton “Bulletin” and “Capricornian,” these articles are compiled.


The Will’s Massacre


        It was during one of the journeys to the Springsure district the opportunity was afforded to not only visit the scene of the Will’s Massacre, but to also interview one of the members of the tribe which carried out the murders, and was one of the few who escaped death by the guns of the avengers. The survivor, an intelligent native of about fifty years of age, was well known to the Police Inspector, and the following is the story he related to us in broken English.


The Native’s Story


        “Long time ago, when me only little phella boy my countrymen killam altogether white phella man and plenty white Mary and piccaninny- make him dead longa mullah-mullah. He plenty fright then, so talkem flour and clear out bush. Byem-by plenty white man come up, chase black phella all about, shoot with gun. Father belonga me and plenty blackphella jump longa big water hole, but white man bang-bang all time, kill him altogether longa water. Me little phella stop longa water, put head under water-lily, no see. Beyem-by dark come, creep out, white man no kill.”




        This massacre took place at Cullin-la-ringo, not far from the present township of Springsure on the afternoon of the 17th October 1861, and was probably the worst in the history of the pioneers of Queensland. At the time Cullin-la-ringo was a new station just taken up by the Wills family, huts had been built, and about 10,000 sheep introduced, while plans for enlarging the place were being carried out. The blacks in the district were very numerous but were kindly treated and evidenced every feeling of friendship for the whites, and as far as could be afterwards ascertained, there was no reason for the outrage beyond a desire for plunder and sheer lust of blood. So secure from trouble with the natives did the pioneers feel, that although there were plenty of firearms on the place, they were never carried by the men working about the station. Occasionally the shepherds or outside workers would be surrounded by the blacks in a friendly manner, and on one occasion a teamster was felt all over without further interference. The reason for the sudden change of feeling will never be known, that it was sudden was evident from the appearance of the bodies when relief arrived.


A Grim Warning


        The first warning of the trouble was received when a man named  Moore, who had been working on the place, arrived at Rainworth Station, situated about thirty miles from Cullin-la-Ringo, and then occupied by Mr. Gregson. Moore reported that during the morning about sixty blacks had been about the place, but left before midday, apparently on good terms with everybody. After dinner he was sleeping in the shade a short distance from his hut, and was awakened by the shouting of natives in the camp, peering through the bushes he saw the blacks attacking the Overseer’s wife (Mrs. Baker), this was followed by a faint cry of “murder” and accompanied by a dull thudding sound from a nullah-nullah as her head was smashed.

        Concealing himself in a mob of sheep close by he crawled to the creek and made his way on foot to Rainworth, arriving next morning with his terrible story. Questioned regarding any defence offered by the attacked, Moore stated he heard one shot only. As there was a number of men working at Rainworth, Mr. Gregson mustered all hands, and with the firearms available, set out for the scene of the tragedy, arriving late that night.


A Terrible Sight


        Nothing could be done until the first glimmer of daylight when frightful discoveries were made. In front of his tent was the body of Wills, the owner, a revolver, from which only a single shot had been fired, was in his hand, and close by, a loaded shot-gun.

        Scattered around were the bodies of the women and children with their skulls battered, and horribly mutilated. Some of the women had still their sewing in their hands, and the children had apparently rushed to them for protection. In the hut Moore had left was the body of the cook. Not far away was the body of the cook. Not far away was the body of a bullock driver, with whip still in hand, and the body of his off-sider was near the team of bullocks, still yoked up, but three of them were strangled.

        The Overseer, Baker, one of his sons, and another man had been killed at the sheep yard about a mile away, having apparently fought hard for their lives, and their bodies were terribly mutilated. Scattered about the run were the frightened sheep, with the bodies of the shepherds lying by.


Nineteen Killed


        The first duty of the relief party was to the dead. Nineteen bodies were found and buried. These included, H. S. Wills, the owner, Baker, the overseer, and his wife, Elizabeth and David Baker, their grown up son and daughter, and two small children aged five years and seven months, respectively. Patrick Manion, his wife and two daughters, aged eight and four years; Henry Pickering, George Elliott, Chas. Weeden, George Ling, James Scott,  E. McCormack, and others whose names are unknown. Of the total of 22 on the place at the time only three escaped- Moore, the man who carried the sad news, and two shepherds, who were some distance away at the time. T. H. Wills, the owner’s son, James Baker, and a man named Albury were also working on the place, but at the time of the massacre were away with the teams.


The Plunder


        When the sheep were mustered, 300 were found to be missing and the station was a complete wreck. In the store cases had been smashed, and blankets, clothing, axes, tools, firearms and ammunition, and even books formed part of the plunder. All the loaded firearms had been placed in a fire, but a canister of powder emptied close by had not been exploded.




        The feelings of the relief party can be well imagined as they gathered up the broken bodies of the women and little children and the next task was to follow up and award a just punishment of the fiends who had committed the outrage. The tracks of the natives were picked up and at various halting places numerous articles were found, no doubt having been discarded when the spoils were divided.


The Camp Attacked


        About twenty five miles out from Cullin-la-Ringo, the main camp of the natives, containing from 200 to 300 blacks, was reached in the late evening. As the relief party was only a small one it was decided to wait until morning to make an attack.

        At daylight the horses were left behind and the avengers crept silently to the camp and attacked, but the blacks immediately retreated to cover on a steep hill and the attackers could not follow.

        A considerable portion of the plunder left in the camp was recovered, and a quantity of native weapons were broken up and burned. At this stage the natives raised loud cries, and bombarding the small party with spears and stones, started to descend.

        As the blacks were now in strong force the whites were in danger of being cut off from their horses and were compelled to retire, the natives again retreating to cover on the hillside.

        Report of the massacre had meantime circulated throughout the district, and the surrounding station owners felt it was time a thorough punishment should be carried out to deter the natives from further murders. This feeling was strengthened by the fact that a few years previously the Fraser family had been murdered by the Dawson River tribes, and shepherds and travellers were frequently killed.


Squatters and Police


        Of the aftermath a good deal of information was gleaned from the late P. F. MacDonald during a visit by the writer to his station, “Yaamba,” on the Upper Fitzroy River in 1899.

        As soon as the report of the massacre reached him, Mr. Macdonald organised a party and set off to render assistance. The native police were also soon on the tracks of the murderers and the country surrounding Cullin-la-ringo was combed by the squatters, station hands and police. Grim toll was taken, and the treacherous myalls were shot down in large numbers, even the gins paying toll and falling to the rifles of the native police.

        That the early day native troopers took a fiendish delight in wiping out natives of both sexes is one of the regrettable features of these old time reprisals, but once they were granted the right of attack, they were hard to restrain. It was also well known that in these massacres the gins frequently encouraged their men to deeds of outrage against the whites, and were equally culpable in their perpetration.

Cummins and Campbell









        Perhaps one of the most romantic stories of lucky miners in Queensland concerned Jacob Steer, who found gold on the Boompa field, 12 miles south of Milton, out from Miriam Vale on the Gladstone line.

        The field was only 12 miles square yet it turned out to be one of the richest in the State.

        Steer was an unusual sort of hermit prospector, and in the golden days of this State, one or more such men could be found on almost any field. They generally kept to themselves, prospected alone and if they found anything in the way of gold bearing stone, they also kept the discovery to themselves, or concealed it from others for as long as they could.

        The finding of gold cannot be kept secret for any length of time, and sooner or later some prowling prospector is sure to hear of it.

        Steer selected a patch of likely looking ground on which to dig a claim. This place he called “Mt. Jacob,” and the “plant” with which he treated the stone was unique. It consisted of a flat topped boulder and a water-worn rock. Steer supplied the power. He crushed the stone he dug from the earth between the upper and lower stones, and when the ore was reduced to powder, he blew dirt away and put the golden dust into a match box.

        I have stated that Jacob Steer was eccentric. He only visited the nearest township at long intervals to purchase provisions. He only spoke to those he could not avoid, and he never referred to his claim. The small amount of gold he sold in town would not have attracted attention had it been alluvial, but someone noticed that it came from an ore body. Then prospectors began to look around the ground near where Steer camped. With them around, Jacob Steer rolled his swag and left for Ravenswood. Before his departure, he sold his claim to a syndicate.

        During the next three years, much gold was taken from the old hermit’s claim. One crushing of 198 tons returned 468 ozs of gold. Then the gold petered out, and after spending much money trying to locate it again, the syndicate  gave up in disgust. It was about this time that Jacob Steer returned from Ravenswood.

        The syndicate transferred the claim to the old man, convinced that it was worked out, and I would like to state that he again located gold in it or somewhere on the field, but the truth is that he died soon after the claim was transferred to him.

        His unique “plant” was afterwards exhibited in Brisbane, but after that I do not know what became of it. It should have been placed in the Brisbane Museum.


        Now this is the story of James Elliott, the man who is credited with the discovery of the Cloncurry field.

        His mining life was tinged with romance and tragedy. His story has nothing to do with gold, but perhaps he will be better remembered as the discoverer of the rich copper mine afterwards called Mt. Elliott. That mine was his lump of luck. It is believed that the copper taken away from Mt. Elliott amount to close on £4,000,000.

        Elliott was not always lucky. During the Cape River digging days, he was running the mail to the field from the coast, and he was popular with all he came in contact with.

        Then a Chinaman was robbed and murdered, and Elliott was arrested on suspicion of doing away with the murdered man.

        Circumstantial evidence was strong but as was shown afterwards, it was wrong. Despite this Elliott was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for life.

        Two years later, a man died in a western Queensland town, and before he drew his last breath, he confessed that he had murdered the Chinaman.

        Soon afterwards, Elliott was granted a free pardon. It was while working as a stockman in the Cloncurry district that he discovered Mt. Elliott.




        In the boom days of the Palmer field when Chinese coolies were scattered about the country trying to pick up every speck of gold that was to be found, one of the coolies coming from Cooktown suddenly collapsed after carrying two bags of rice for several miles. The other Chinese in the party left him where he fell. Later the weak man staggered along the road, but wandering into the bush in the dark he became bushed.

        Several days later, a white packer came across his dead body near Hell’s Gates and there was a black’s spear through his body. What interested the packer more than anything else was a piece of quartz in the hand of the dead coolie and it was richly studded with gold.

        He had found the rich stone in his wanderings, and it must have been taken from a rich outcrop of gold bearing stone. Probably the dead man would have gone back to it had he lived.



        Several prospectors were camped at Campbell’s Creek in the Palmer country when they were surprised to see a skeleton of a horse wandering feebly towards them, and the animal had a pack on his back.

        Inside the pack bags were two smaller bags filled with rich gold speckled stone which were undeniable evidence that the horse had come from men who had opened some of the finest ore seen in the North before, or for long years after.

        The horse was alone. His tracks were run back for many miles, but there was no sign of human footprints. It was never known where the horse came from or who were his masters. There was nothing in the pack bags except the gold studded quartz to indicate the owners of the outfit but it would have been a safe guess to say that they were killed by the blacks, the fate of many a man during the Palmer’s golden days.



In Search of El Dorado

By “Tramp”

Cummins and Campbell




        From the early days of 1858 when gold was first discovered on the upper Fitzroy River and the rush to Canoona set in, until the day of gold discovery at Tennant Creek and Portland Roads, the prospector has played a large part in the opening up of settlement. Travelling over practically unknown country, menaced by hostile blacks, stricken by fever, and frequently meeting death by starvation or lack of water, the prospector stands out as a man of whom Australians may be justly proud.

The Old Brigade

        During my early day peregrinations of North Queensland’s noted gold and mineral fields, and particularly during the period of from 40 to 50 years ago (1890s-) it was my good fortune to meet, travel and camp with many of the old time gold seekers of the North. It is to be regretted  that much of interest regarding the early day gold discoveries has passed away with the death of the old timers, their achievements are unrecorded, and their lasting resting place is unknown to but few of the present generation.

        I may however briefly mention some particulars of those of whom my memory is still green. J. V. Mulligan after his discovery of the famous Palmer goldfield and the prospecting of the Hodgkinson, was to be found on any new strike in the North.

        Shortly before his death I met him on Nettle’s Creek, prospecting for tin dredging country in the Mount Garnett district. Later, he drifted to Mount Molloy where he died on 24 August 1907.

        In the little cemetery at Mount Molloy township a tombstone carries the following inscription:


Sacred to the Memory of

James Venture Mulligan

Prospector and Explorer

Died at Mount Molloy

Aged 69 years


Erected by a few old friends.


        A more imposing monument stands in the rough country of the Hodgkinson Goldfield which he explored and knew so well. It is the vast pile of sandstones, comprising Mount Mulligan, named after him, and in later years the scene of Queensland’s most tragic colliery disaster.


George Clarke

Charters Towers


        Of George Clark, who, with Mosman and Fraser, was one of the discoverers of Charters Towers in 1871, I recently presented in this magazine some information regarding his closing days.

        Mr. A. Linedale, a well known prospector, has also recorded full particulars of his final prospecting venture when he met his fate at the hands of the hostile natives of New Guinea.

        Following his discovery of Charters Towers, Clark was a prominent figure in the mining camps of the North. A couple of years before his death, the writer accompanied him on a visit to the Mareeba Goldfield, when gold was reported in 1893. Shortly afterwards, he played a part in the Irvinebank district, and was appointed leader of a prospecting expedition to Papua where he was murdered by the natives in 1895.

        Two of the prospectors who accompanied him on this fatal journey occasionally visited Townsville. One was A. Linedale, closely connected with the early history of Irvinebank and Chillagoe, and the other was Robert Parsons, a well known Knight of the Road.


Newell and Atherton



        The first discovery of tin on the Herberton field, was made by John Atherton in 1879 during a journey from the Upper Herbert River to his new station at Emerald End, Mareeba.

        As he traversed the country where Herberton now stands, tin was noticed in one of the creeks. Not being interested in mining, he reported the matter to John Newell and party who were then working tin at Tinaroo Creek in the vicinity of the station homestead.

        In November 1879, a party consisting of John Newell, William Jack, and a few others, proceeded to the spot but met with a good deal of opposition from hostile blacks and returned without locating anything of value.

        In April of the next year, 1880, Newell, Jack Brandon, and Brown again left Tinaroo to prospect the reported find and met with such success that in the closing days of the same month, the prospecting claim was pegged, which afterwards became the famous Great Northern Mine.

        The Warden’s office was then at Thornborough, on the Hodgkinson, and when the claims were applied for, a rush set in and before the end of the year over two thousand men were on the ground prospecting.

Both Newell and Atherton were frequently in touch with the writer and the information was secured from them, and has from time to time been recorded in the columns of Cummins and Campbells Magazine.


The Scrub


        It was during this early period John Atherton discovered the Atherton scrub which was named after him. For many years the old pioneer carried on his station work at Mareeba until in 1913, the last divide was passed, and the writer was present at his graveside when he was laid at last in the little private cemetery on the banks of the Barron River, within sight of the old homestead he had formed in the days when the surrounding country was a terra incognita, and Cairns but a collection of shacks.

        John Newell, who led the prospecting party to Atherton, made his home in the township of Herberton which he had founded, and with his fellow prospector, William Jack, built up the fine commercial concern (Jack and Newell), with its numerous northern branches, which was started in the late 1870s in a shack at Tinaroo Creek. John Newell died about 1937 and was laid to rest within a short distance of his rich tin discovery.

God’s Acre

        It was over 40 years ago when paying a visit to Herberton that John Newell conducted me to a small cemetery long abandoned in which many of the men at the first rush were buried. At the time many old slabs marking the graves were still standing, but have since been destroyed by passing bushfires.

        The inscription which could still be read furnished proof of the wonderful grit of the old prospectors who formed the first flight, several being past the allotted span when they struck out for the new field.

        Of these one record was

        “John Cairns died 10 December 1884, Aged 81 years.”

        Another emphasised the tragic ending of one of the pioneers. It read

        “John Ward Skene, killed by the blacks. 31 March 1882.”

        These graves were situated on the country below which the Deep Lead was afterwards discovered. This was an old river bed sealed by the basalt of volcanic eruptions, and from the wash of which good tin was won, by men tunneling through the basalt. What more fitting bed could be found for the last sleeping place of the plucky prospectors who opened Herberton.


Bob Sefton

The Coen


        Following the invasion of the Palmer in the early 1870s, Bob Sefton, a veteran explorer, and prospector in Caper York Peninsula, left Cooktown, left Cooktown in 1876, and accompanied By Verge, Watson, and Goodenough and discovered the Coen goldfield which, after the alluvial had proved somewhat disappointing to men of the Palmer goldfield, merged into reefing, and various mines gave rich returns during the 1890s. Verge afterwards discovered gold at the Normanby. After playing a prominent part in early day mining on the Peninsula, Sefton went to the Malay Peninsula, and his report of the country carrying rich tin resulted in a very active programme which was carried on until the war put an end to the same temporarily.

        Sefton, however, realised little permanent advantage for himself. About 1915 or 1916, he was in the employ of the writer, opening up a group of gold shows at Northcote on the Hodgkinson. From there he drifted back to the Peninsula where he was reported to have died.


Christie Palmerston

The Russell


        As a prospector and explorer of the northern portions of Queensland, the name of Christie Palmerston will long be remembered in outback Queensland. As a track blazer he was renowned for his achievements in penetrating the unknown jungle country of the coast and highlands, and the Palmerston Highway in the Cairns district perpetuates his memory.

        It was during one of those olden day journeys that he discovered and reported gold in the Russell River.

        After many years of exploration in northern jungles and Cape York Peninsula, he drifted to the Malay Peninsula where he attained further notoriety in prospecting the jungle country for gold.

        He died at Kuala Pilah in January 1897 where his burial in a lonely grave terminated the career of one of Queensland’s best known pioneer prospectors.


Other veterans


        Many other veterans, who played their part, and played it nobly in opening up the early day goldfields of the North, lie in unknown graves in the country they traversed in search of their El Dorado.

        Of these Billy Lakeland, prospector of the Rocky, whose bones were discovered many months after his lonely death in Cape York country, and Bill Baird, discoverer of the Batavia Goldfield, who was killed by blacks while working his find, my recent Old Time Mining Records in this journal have furnished full particulars.

Not least in the roll of honour should be harry Harbord, a veteran of the Palmer and discoverer of the Anglo Saxon at Limestone. He died at Port Moresby when over four score years of age.


The Old Spirit


        The old spirit still exists and the lure of gold still has its charm to lure men to the unknown spaces. Although the danger of hostile natives has been eliminated, there are still (1948) the risks of famine, fever and lack of water.

        [And of course, today, the perils of getting irretrievably lost in the vastness of Cape York wilderness area, notwithstanding G.P.S., four wheel drive, and detailed maps, and the resurgent danger of being eaten by crocodiles, of bitten by black snakes or death adders, or stung by deadly box jellyfish, falling off perilous mountain climbs, or just drowned in the killer whirlpools of raging northern rivers. In the 21st century Australia is still being “marketed” to overseas tourists as the land where everything is “deadly” and that is not confined to the murdered fate of Peter Falconio or Irene Suttle.]