The Palmer goldfield, 1873-1883

Kirkman, Noreen Suzanne (1984) The Palmer goldfield, 1873-1883. Honours thesis, James Cook University of North Queensland.

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This study comprises six chapters of varying length, dealing with six separate aspects of the Palmer's first decade. Chapter one describes the physical setting and early European contact with the area, placing particular emphasis on Hann's expedition of 1872, and Mulligan's the following year, which led to the report of payable gold that initiated the rush. The historical problem evident on many other mining fields, that of giving due credit to the actual discoverer, is the subject of some discussion in this chapter. There seems little doubt that Hann knew he had found a major gold field, but, apparently reluctant to take responsibility for initiating a rush far beyond the frontier of settlement, he left it to Mulligan to seek celebrity and financial reward. The first uneasy months of the rush are described, up to the proclamation of the field, where the narrative sequence is abandoned.

Chapter two assesses the nature of alluvial mining on the Palmer, the problems of administration on a large field with a scattered and mobile population, and the effects of slow and difficult transport methods on settlement and mining. The third chapter describes underground mining: the optimistic companies which installed machinery and sank shafts, eventually yielding a mere six per cent of the Palmer's total gold production at great financial loss. Chapter four concentrates on the European community and its way of life, bearing in mind that from early 1875 the Europeans were a minority group on a Chinese gold field: a rare experience for Europeans in Australia.

The final chapters look at Chinese and Aboriginal involvement in the events of the Palmer's first decade, as comprehensively as is possible from evidence almost entirely European in origin and thus usually hostile, or at best indifferent, toward those groups. Chapter five identifies the two phases of the Chinese rush, the origins of the participants, their mining methods and lifestyle, as well as examining the European reaction both locally and in parliament, and the legacy of discriminatory legislation which arose directly from the circumstances of the Palmer. The sixth chapter summarizes the little that is known about Aboriginal life on the Palmer before 1873, and describes the initial contacts which shaped the subsequent policies of both Aborigines and Europeans on the field. Violence appears to have been a European initiative; the Aboriginal response, the European counter-response, and the role of the Native Police were to have many repercussions on settlement, transport and mining throughout the decade.

There are disadvantages in abandoning a chronological approach to pursue such topics. One most evident to the reader is that certain sources and events must be mentioned in more than one chapter; Hann's and Mulligan's experiences play an important part in chapters one and six, the wardens recur in descriptions of administration particularly in connection with the Chinese and the profound impact of the Hodgkinson rush in 1876, re-shaping all aspects of life on the Palmer, is described in every chapter except the first. However, any repetition that arises is inevitable in a thorough analysis of the many effects of those events: the pursuit of narrative probably accounts for the superficial nature of much that has been written on the Palmer in the past.

Item ID: 57117
Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Keywords: Aborigines; alluvial mining; Chinese; exploration; gold mining; gold rush; history; Indigenous Australians; James Venture Mulligan; Palmer Goldfield; Palmer River; prospecting; William Hann
Copyright Information: Copyright © 1984 Noreen Suzanne Kirkman
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2019 03:52
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History) @ 75%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History @ 25%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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