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
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
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
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
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.
Episodes in the Pioneering Days
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.]