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Capricorn Coast Sitemap:
History of Early Settlement of Rockhampton & Gracemere
by Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson is an artist, author, businessman, science nerd, and social commentator based in Queensland, Australia.
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Before reading this article, I recommend
you first read:
- History of Rockhampton & Environs - The Darumbal Tribes
Following an earlier near-miss by Spaniard, Luis Vaez de Torres in
1606, the first European explorer to map the Central Queensland
coastline was Lieutenant James Cook in 1770. While Cook did not make landing
on the Capricorn Coast, he named several landmarks; Cape
Capricorn, the Keppel Isles, Keppel Bay, Cape Many Fold (later
renamed Cape Manifold), and Shoal Water Bay (later renamed Shoalwater Bay).
In 1804, Matthew
Flinders explored the Capricorn Coast in much greater detail.
Flinders spent the best part of a month in the shallow bays, making
landings at Curtis Island, Port Clinton, Shoalwater Bay and
Phillip Parker King followed in 1820 but
encountered difficulties when his ship, the Mermaid, ran aground.
In 1843, an extensive survey was carried out by Captain Francis
Price Blackwood on HMS Fly and Captain Charles Yule who commanded
In 1844, Sir Thomas Mitchell explored the
region far west of Rockhampton on his fourth great expedition.
In 1846, having initially planned to explore the region with
Mitchell several years earlier, Dr Ludwig Leichhardt followed.
Leichhardt discovered and named the Dawson and Mackenzie Rivers, and
on his return trip, he stayed with his friends and explorers, the
Archer family at Gayndah.
Leichhardt shared with them his
discovery of the Dawson and Mackenzie, and noted that they flowed in
almost opposite directions but somewhat easterly.
he suspected the existence of a much larger river that flowed into
the sea. He surmised that if such a river existed, it would
almost certain promise fertile grazing lands.
Inspired by Dr
Leichhardt's learned opinion, brothers William and Charles Archer
set out on trek in 1853. Along the way, they discovered the
Dee River, and purportedly discouraged by its stench, almost turned
back for fear of running short of water.
continued into the Dee Range, and once at the peak near the
present-day town of Mount Morgan, they looked out at a panorama of
green native forests with the Pacific Ocean beyond, and snaking
through the landscape was the mighty river that Leichhardt had
professed they would find.
They named it the Fitzroy River
after the Governor of New South Wales, who ironically was a vocal
critic of Sir Thomas Mitchell, the man who had first explored
The Archers descended from the range and
on their way to the river, encountered a lake which they decided
would be a good location for a settlement should they decide to
return. They named it Gracemere; Grace being the name of their
brother Thomas' new bride, and 'mere' meaning lake.
continued on to the river then followed it east. They reached
a rock barrier, near the city centre of present-day Rockhampton.
Beyond the rocks, the rivers expanses opened up, and they realised
its true proportions and potential.
They marked out lots ahead
of applying to the Government to stake claim to the 70 kilometres of
river frontage and its hinterlands, and they called it the Gracemere
They returned to their properties in the south and
prepared. In 1855, Charles Archer returned to Gracemere ahead
of a sturdy body of men, mostly Germans.
This time though, he
came not as an explorer but as a settler with bullock trains,
several thousand sheep, and provisions enough to start a new
settlement. Meanwhile, his brother Colin went to Maryborough
to oversee construction of the ship Elida, which would carry their
first clip of wool.
So keen was their ambition and precise
was their planning, that within six months, the Archers and their
party cleared land for a sheep run, built living quarters,
constructed a loading wharf on the river, clipped their first wool,
and shipped it back to Sydney.
The story of their success and
the rich grazing lands spread like wildfire throughout the new
colony and Europe, and new settlers began arriving within months.
In 1856, the
Elliott brothers arrived at Gracemere and soon after, took up
landholdings at Canoona, north of present-day Yaamba. There,
Philip Elliott and his party came under fierce attack from the
Darumbals, possibly of the Taroomball tribe. Elliott was seriously wounded by a spear and one of
his men was killed.
However, Elliott had brought with his
contingent of native police who turned near-certain loss into
victory. For the Darumbal Aboriginals however, this battle
would prove to be only the first of many, and each battle would be
more fierce than the last.
With abundant grazing lands and
waters from the Fitzroy River and its many tributaries and lagoons,
the region continued to expand rapidly. In 1858, the town of Rockhampton was officially proclaimed,
and the following year, gold was discovered at Canoona.
History would record the find as disappointingly small, but along
with the gold rush came new pastoralists, and the lands around
Canoona, Shoalwater Bay, and Byfield were quickly claimed.
Across the river from the new township of Rockhampton, new pastures
were also expanding. On one particular property though, near
the coast and just beyond the
Berserker Range, the gold rush was about to begin again. Near the banks of Nankin Creek, more gold was found.
The settlement would become known as Mount Chalmers, and this time
the find was substantial.
Also at this time, the first seeds
of a scandal were born, for it was apparent now that seams of gold
traversed the region, and talk of the mother lode was on everyone's
Twenty years on, and twenty kilometres away, a
fraud unequalled in Australian history would occur, that even in the
present day is still known as the 'Greatest Mining Swindle in History'.
 The Archers owned extensive
holdings in Norway, and indeed, the brothers were born in
that country. Subsequently, they often drew upon Norse
mythology when naming landmarks. The Berserker Range and the
suburb of Berserker in North Rockhampton are named for the Berserker
warriors in Norse Mythology. Other namings include
Tolderodden, Eidsvold, and Sleipner.
return trips to Scandinavia in the ensuing years, the Archer family
promoted the virtues of settling in Rockhampton. During the
late nineteenth century, Rockhampton was the largest intake port for
Danish and Swedish immigrants in Australia.
Suggested further reading:
- Geography of the Capricorn Coast
- History of Rockhampton & Environs - Early Settlement
- History of the Capricorn Coast - Early Settlement
- History of the Capricorn Coast - Coming of the Railway
Local History index page