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Brief History

Discovery MarkerCharters Towers, the town they call ‘The World', was born to the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning.  Hugh Mosman, George Clarke, John Fraser and their horse boy Jupiter had been prospecting to the south of what is now Charters Towers when their horses scattered during a fierce thunderstorm.  It was while searching for the horses the next morning that the first Towers gold was discovered.

The discovery point was just near the modern day intersection of Mosman Street, Rainbow Road and Black Jack Road and was at the end of the year 1871 or the very beginning of 1872. The party returned to Ravenswood to register their find which they named Charters Towers: 'Charters' for W.S.E.M. Charters, the Gold Commissioner - the big man from the Cape (Charters was said to be about 6'6" tall and weighed some 20 stone) and 'Towers' because of the conical shaped hills in the vicinity of the discovery.

A rush of ‘fortune seeking’ men quickly followed and a small settlement named Millchester formed on the water at Gladstone Creek. By the end of 1872 some 3000 souls inhabited the new field. The alluvial men left early on for the Palmer River discoveries, but the hard rock miners remained, seeking the gold in the deep veins underground. Charters Towers, rather than Millchester, soon became the main settlement. Literally 100s of shafts were sunk during the lifetime of the field and the ore raised was processed through many large treatment batteries.

The goldfield did not reach its peak of gold production until 1899. During the period 1872-1899 the place changed from a rough settlement with bark and calico buildings to a thriving City of some 25,000 inhabitants. The City, by that time, had properly formed streets, some wonderful houses and many grand public buildings lining the two main streets.

A plentiful supply of water for domestic and other purposes was pumped to the town from a Weir in the Burdekin River about 9 miles to the north. Underground electricity was also supplied to parts of the main town area.

It is estimated that 6,000,000 ounces of gold was won in the first 40 to 50 years of the life of the Towers. All religions were strongly represented on the field and in 1890 the miners could quench their thirst in no less than 65 hotels registered on the field. Sports, music and the arts all had fantastic followings. It was said that everything you might desire could be had in the Towers. There was no reason to travel elsewhere for anything. This is why the town became known affectionately as ‘The World’.

The decline of mining following World War 1 also saw a decline in the population. The town then became the supply centre or hub of the then Dalrymple Shire as well as the educational centre for students from all over North Queensland. 

Traditional Owners

AboriginesHuntingFor tens of thousands of years, the ancestors of the traditional owners the Gudjal people (pronounced Goodjal) lived on country in this Region.  For the Aboriginal community, the land has a spiritual meaning. Gudjal people lived across the Region, especially along the Burdekin and Broughton Rivers, around the basalt country and its lagoons and west to the magnificent White Mountains National Park. Whilst Gudjal people have always lived in the Region, many other Aboriginal people have lived in the area and travelled widely within the Region concerned with not only the physical land, but also its spirits throughout history.

Gudjal country shares borders with the Gugu Badhun, Yirandali and Jangga people with whom strong connections still exist.  The country throughout the Charters Towers Region historically supported, through its rich country side and permanent waters, a significant indigenous population prior to European settlement. The shared connection to the land by the traditional owners and the pastoralists from an environmentally sustainable perspective is critical.  The traditional owners of the Region believe that the preservation of the land is imperative in protecting the natural and cultural values of their homelands. 

Detailed History

The Europeanisation of North Queensland began officially when the land district of Kennedy, north of Cape Palmerston, was opened for pastoral settlement in January 1861. Thousands of years of occupation by groups of Aborigines preceded this overture (including that by the Kudjala people). Material evidence of that long holding around Charters Towers is scant, although their descendants perpetuate this phase as a living history. 

First Interests

European knowledge and interest in the lands of the Burdekin stemmed from Ludwig Leichhardt's passage along the Burdekin River while making his way to Port Essington in 1844-5. His and subsequent reports of the land from the likes of the Gregory Brothers and the Allingham family effected further investigation prior to the official opening by the new colonial government of Queensland. 

Seaports

Principal architect of this interest was George Elphinstone Dalrymple who led a privately funded survey and "take over" of the Burdekin Watershed in 1859-60. This, and his subsequent work for the Government, deemed him to be named Father of North Queensland.  Those who stocked their runs with sheep and later cattle used Bowen as their coastal outlet., with support from ports at Cleveland Bay (Townsville) and Cardwell, which were opened for northern landholders in 1864. The inland township of Dalrymple on the Burdekin River was established at the same time as a staging point for those on the west bank and beyond. 

Rewards and Finds

These settlements, together with the run holders, soon faced an economic impasse as local markets for products proved too small and grander markets were too far away. In 1865 a group of Townsville businessmen decided the discovery of payable gold would swell their economic hopes through an influx of people. They offered a discoverer's reward and in no time reports were made of gold on the Star River. The Colonial Government also, introduced a reward system for gold discoveries and this too was followed with better discoveries on the Cape River in 1867, the Gilbert River and at Ravenswood both in 1869. Not that reward was the sole driving force. Richard Daintree, some time part owner of Maryvale Station, who went on to become North Queensland's first government geologist, was instrumental in the finds on the Cape and on the Gilbert through his experiences as a geologist. 

Discovery

As a find by chance, the Ravenswood Goldfield sustained the greatest hope. It stretched mining interest across the Burdekin with discoveries on the Broughton River watershed in late 1871. Three outside prospectors, Hugh Mosman, George Clarke and John Fraser, in the company of an Aboriginal horseboy Jupiter Mosman, came into this area in December 1871. They were attracted to a cluster of conical and square topped hills to the north and camped on the other side of the largest of these hills, where they made a discovery of gold in the outcrop of the North Australian Reef.

"Masses of quartz were strewn about the surface, which we at once saw were very rich, and when afterwards crushed they yielded 3 oz. and upwards to the ton."

Within a few days they found ten other rich reefs. On the 26 January 1872, Mosman applied to Gold Commissioner W.S.E.M. Charters at Ravenswood for a protection area. The discoverers went on to name the place in his honour. 

Charters Towers

Bow Street 1893"Such is the name which Mr Mosman's camp [sic] has been christened. It is situated about 15 miles from the Broughton township and is certainly the most remarkable and promising goldfield ever opened in Queensland. It is the general opinion that the whole country from Jessop's and Dumaresq's camp on the Broughton to 4 miles beyond the main camp on the Fifteen Mile will be auriferous and already some 60 or 70 prospecting areas have been pegged out. Mr Mosman [sic] the prospector of the field has certainly a name of wealth on his claim, and deserves the prospects before him for his perseverance in opening up such a promising field, and by his gentle-manly conduct in giving all information and assistance to miners and parties visiting the place, has gained the good prospect and respect of the whole community. He has three distinct payable reefs running through the ground, with outcrops showing an average width of four feet, but in many places they are much wider, and there must be many hundreds of tons of surface stone that will pay splendidly to put through the mill."  (Ravenswood Miner: 17/02/1872) 

Mosman Street

The rush to the place was immediate, with men from the south of the colony arriving as early as March. By the end of the month, 25 claims were laid off as far north as the St Patrick, south-east to the Washington and west to the North Australian. A business area with better access to a permanent water supply was marked out as well on a low ridge north of Mosman's Camp with its main thoroughfare named Mosman Street. Here the first storekeepers, blacksmiths, butchers and hoteliers went to work.

"For a long time the buildings, business and private, were of a typical new goldfield variety - calico or bark - and leading hotels were constructed of saplings stuck into the ground and lined with calico, the whole being covered with iron." 

Millchester

Mills UnitedWater was needed to crush the gold bearing rock as well. So when the first machine areas were pegged beside Gladstone Creek, another township quickly developed. It was soon named Millchester and was centred along a ridge above the confluence of Gladstone and Buchanan's Creek. Buchanan's was the first crushing machine at work there and was quickly followed by Plant and Jackson's mill, the Venus. Superintendent Commissioner Jardine took temporary charge of the goldfield at the end of 1872 when Charters' administration floundered. In the resolution of events Jardine declared Millchester the site of government and directed the goldfield's courthouse and Commissioner's office be erected there as well as the telegraph to terminate there.  It was here that the first Northern Miner was printed and the first banks and assayers did business as well.  It was also the site of the goldfield's first school.