THE PALMER RIVER AND THE DISCOVERY OF GOLD- Robert Logan Jack 

Leave The Mitchell For The North, 1st August, 1872. Camp 17. Telegraph Line. Mount Mulgrave. Camp 18. Garnet Creek. Camp 19. Mount Daintree. Palmer River. Camp 20 At Frome, Near Lukinville. Kennedy's Tracks. Discovery of Gold by Warner. Reconnaissance up the Palmer River and Prospecting for Gold. Camps of 9th and 10th August. Mount Fox. Traces of Cattle and an Unsuccessful Hunt for Beef. Camp of 12th August, on Site of Future Township of Palmerville. Better Prospects of Gold. Sandy Creek. Gold. Camps of 13th and 14th August. Site of Future Township of Maytown. Horse crippled by Sharp Slates. Furthest East at Mount Hann. Mischievous Natives. Return Journey. Camp of 15th August on North Palmer River. Reach Camp 20 On 16th August. Sheep And A Horse Missing. Natives Alarmed. Hann did not consider Payable Gold had been proved. Subsequent Prospecting and its Conspicuous Success.

 

HANN and his companions turned their backs on the Mitchell on 1st August, 1872, and for some distance to the north were favoured with good travelling. This led to an under-estimation of the distances covered, just as bad travelling leads to over-estimation. Those tendencies to estimation by difficulty are a weakness common to all explorers, and allowances have to be made for it in every case. No amount of experience on the part of a traveller will eliminate it, and the "fatigue correction" and the "easy-going correction" have had to be applied to my own estimates as well as to others. In following Hann from the Mitchell to the Palmer, and comparing his diary and sketch-map with the modern 4-mile map, the "easy-going correction" is applied freely and without apology. It may be noted, further, that, especially north of Mount Mulgrave, the Diary and Report both display some carelessness in giving (or omitting) bearings and distances, taking into consideration Hann's initial point at Camp 16 and the point at which he arrived on the Palmer at Camp 20.

Almost from the start at Camp 16 the course was directed towards a conspicuous mountain (Mount Mulgrave) which bore N. 5° E. Eight miles on this course. Camp 17 was pitched in a gully falling into the Mitchell through the medium of "Sandy Creek." [1] Eight miles further, Camp 18 (2nd August) was made on the divide between the Mitchell and the Palmer. From the Mitchell to Camp 18, Hann's route is now followed by the telegraph linefrom Walsh to Palmerville. The country rises northward from the Mitchell to the watershed on a gentle grade, the "bottom" being composed of mica-schist, but to the east of the Telegraph Line, and from Camp 18 to about 5 miles south, this rock rises abruptly in Mount Mulgrave to about 1,400 feet above the surrounding country.

[1) Maps of Australia are crowded with "Sandy Creeks" ad nauseam.]

On 3rd August, a northerly course was followed for 5 miles and a north-westerly for 15, over mica-schist country strewn with small quartz stones which were hard on unshod horses. The last 15 miles appear to have been in the drainage area of the Twelve Mile Creek, and Camp 19 was pitched on a creek which Hann named Garnet Creek from the abundance of small garnets in the washdirt of his unsuccessful prospecting operations in search of gold.Garnet Creek, from a comparison of Warner's sketchmap with the modern 4-mile map, is evidently a tributary of the Twelve Mile Creek. Mount Daintree, "a high hill with perpendicular sides, composed of sandstone and conglomerate resting on quartzite", lay 3 miles east of the camp. The camp, according to a sun-observation, is in latitude 15° 51' 59" S., but according to the 4-mile map is in 15° 58' S.

On 5th August, Hann and Taylor visited Mount Daintree, and after their return to Camp 19 the whole party moved 3 miles north-westward and camped on a river which was named the Palmer in honour of Sir Arthur Palmer, Chief Secretary of Queensland. Camp 20. The camp must have been about the site of the subsequent Frome Native Police Station, about 2 miles up the river (east) from Lukinville, which, a few years later, was for some time a busy centre of alluvial gold-digging. Hann gives the latitude of the camp as 15° 49' 14" S.; but according to the 4-mile map it is 15° 56'.

It was on the same river, and probably not far from Palmerville, that Kennedy camped on 15th September, 1848, when the natives displayed a determined hostility, burning the grass and attacking his party several times.

A sporting offer of a reward of half a pound of tobacco to the first member of Hann's party to discover gold had been open for some time, but it was probable that nothing was needed to whet their appetite for the precious metal. On 6th AugustWarner claimed and obtained the reward, and other members of the party followed up the discovery by obtaining "prospects" from all the little ravines falling into Warner's Gully.

Hann made Camp 20 the headquarters of the Expedition from 5th to 21st August, while prospecting operations were vigorously carried on. Down the river for 7 miles the prospecting gave only negative results, and this is remarkable in view of the fact that the site of the subsequent Lukinville rush must have been passed over. The Lukinville gold was in the form of fine dust, and for the most part went to reward the industry and patience of Chinese diggers.

Up the river, the flying party, consisting of Hann, Taylor, Warner and Jerry, met with more success. The first Camp was made on 9th August, 5 miles east of Camp 20 (about north of Mount Daintree), and further encouraging traces of gold were found. The second Camp, of 10th August, was 5 miles further up the river, say at the mouth of the creek on the west side of Mount Fox. Here gold was found in the bed of the river. The sight of fresh cattle droppings gave rise to high hopes of an addition to the supply of meat, but the hunt for the cattle led to nothing. The third Camp was reached in four hours of travelling on 12th August, and the distance may be estimated at 10 miles, which would place the camp about on the site of Palmerville. The latitude is given as 15° 32' 34" S. That of Palmerville, according to the 4-mile map, is 15° 59'. The results of prospecting here were "more flattering than hitherto", and Hann was now in hopes of being on the right track for discovering a goldfield.

On 13th August, a further progress of 12 miles was made up the river, the men prospecting on the way, with results "more or less favourable" and the fourth Camp was probably about the mouth of Sandy Creek[1] gold was found in the river bed at the camp of 13th August.

[1) The "Sandy Creek" of the Palmer, not the Sandy Creek of the Mitchell already mentioned.]

On 14th August, the party went 17 miles up the Palmer, cutting off bends of the river where it was possible to do so. The Camp of 14th August was about a mile below the mouth of Granite Creek. [2] During the day, gold was found in the bed of the Palmer as well as in ravines on both sides. About half-way, Hann must have passed the site of Maytown, afterwards the official centre of the Palmer Goldfield.

[2) "Granite Creeks" are nearly as common as "Sandy Creeks". Both belong to a family, which includes Stony Creeks, Oaky Creeks, etc., descriptive of some characteristic of the creek where it was first met with, and the name is of no topographical value.]

On 15th August, leaving Jerry in camp in charge of two horses, one of which had lost a shoe and been lamed by the sharp slates, Hann and Warner prospected the river above the camp, again finding gold, and afterwards ascended a high hill, from which a view up the valley gave the impression that the country was too rough for further progress. This hill, Hann's Furthest East, is without doubt the one which subsequently received the name ofMount Hann.

Returning to the camp, preparations for the return journey were in progress when a party of natives assembled and commenced to burn the grass. The appearance of the white men did not seem to impress them much, but as soon as they saw the black boy they retreated in haste. "The most ridiculous part of the affair," says Hann, "was that they were running in opposite directions, Jerry for his firelock, the natives for their safety." Hann and his companions completed the packing and travelled 8 miles down the river, making their Camp for the night on a large sandy creek, which they had already prospected. This creek was the North Palmer River, which afterwards proved very rich in alluvial gold.

Gold was found in the North Palmer on the following morning, l6th August. The Main Camp, No. 20, was reached in the afternoon. The excursionists were met by the tidings that in their absence all their fresh meat, in the shape of seven sheep and one horse, had been lost. The loss was responsible for four days' delay, which was employed by some of the party in prospecting in the neighbourhood of the camp, without much success. The sheep were recovered by Jerry, but not the horse.

On 20th August, Hann visited a camp of natives about a mile from his own, hoping to learn something about the missing horse, but the men precipitately fled, leaving the women and children behind.

Hann did not consider that his party had discovered payable gold, and summed up his operations as "flattering prospects". In reporting the discovery he was very guarded and deprecated anything in the nature of a "rush". In those days, indeed, to report payable gold was a serious responsibility, and diggers returning from an unsuccessful rush were ugly customers for the reporter to meet.

In this case, however, the hint of gold was enough to set prospectors on the track, and their success was beyond all expectations. In a few years gold to the value of five and a half millions sterling had been won from the Palmer and its tributaries. Of this amount over 94 per cent, was alluvial gold, only 6 per cent, coming direct from reefs, chiefly in the neighbourhood of Maytown.

 

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