Cooktown’s Gold Rush History
In 1873, large amounts of alluvial gold deposits were found at the Palmer river which sparked a huge gold rush, drawing prospectors from not only Australia, but also from around the world.
The population of ‘Cooks-town’, as it was then known, soon rose and the towns name was later changed to ‘Cooktown’ in 1874.
Gold flowed freely and people were drawn by the lure of gold. The population continued to increase and by the turn of the century it was the second largest township in Queensland. Cooktown’s population had grown and the town was serviced by sixty-five registered hotels, twenty eating houses, thirty-two general stores and a multitude of other businesses.
Custom’s House, the Quarantine Station and Immigration Hostel all helped control the large number of passengers and freight both in and out of Cooktown with five wharves servicing the transport vessels and a police station which handled all local and overseas shipping.
By the late 1880’s transport services also included bullock teams and pack horse teams to carry supplies, building materials, mining equipment and the Royal Mail which all ran between Cooktown, Rossville, Maytown, Laura, Coen and the Wenlock River to the North.
Unfortunately, the established gold claims began to fail and with the gold deposits steadily falling, so did the population, services and facilities. During the First World War, many prospectors were drawn into the ranks of the Australian Army which had a devastating effect on the already failing township.
In 1918 Cooktown was dealt another blow, with a number of commercial buildings in the main street burning to the ground. The town wells were depleted of water and the pressure was too low for the fire fighters to use so there was no alternative but to let the buildings burn themselves out and the vacant sites remain as a reminder even today.
Gold is still mined in the area but it may be a little harder to find as it is thought that over 40 tons was extracted during Cooktown’s gold rush although gold mining equipment can still be found scattered across the region.