The Hodgkinson goldfields is an area I know well and is the link between Cooktown and my Chillagoe Day Tour. It came about in the of 1870’s on the back of the famous Palmer River gold rush. Again it was the explorer and prospector J V Mulligan who led the expedition that made the find against all odds. The diggers were excited because they thought the new field may have been the mother load from Palmer goldfield. The Palmer was ideal for poor miners because it had rich “alluvial” gold – nuggets and specks of gold that could be washed out of the sand in the rivers and creeks. Instead, the Hodgkinson was a “reefing” field. The gold was locked up in quartz rocks. It had to be dug out with explosives then loaded on carts to be taken to a crushing mill. A mill would pound the rocks to a fine sand to assess the gold. All of this took time and cost money and the miners arriving on the Hodgkinson were so disappointed and angry and initialy felt that Mulligan had misled them but
after coming to terms with the situation, busy little towns were growing up around the mines. Thornborough, Kingsborough and Tyrconnell were the early ones. Mulligan became a respected storekeeper in Thornborough. Like other storekeepers, he would give money and credit in his store to poor miners until they could get their next load of stone crushed and could pay him back but this was his undoing and he became insolvent after a couple of years of trading.
The Bump Track
The new goldfield was too far from Cooktown, so a new port was established. A track between Trinity Inlet and the goldfield utilised the Barron Gorge but the difficulties in negotiating the steep range proved too difficult so an easier track down the range was discovered in 1877. Opportunistic merchants from Cooktown soon arrived to continue taking advantage of the mining trade and this led to the birth of Port Douglas. This new track was called the Bump Track and was probably an old aboriginal trail. It served a large area of Far North Queensland and was in constant use until other tracks were established in the 30’s. (The Bump Track still exists and today it is used as a horse trail, mountain bike track and hiking trail). In the meantime, the Hodgkinson Goldfield was booming. Hard rockminers and business people like butchers, shopkeepers, and hotel keepers set themselves up on the goldfield and a tram track was built to Dimbulah in 1915 to join the Chillagoe line.
The mines were difficult to work and only a few prospered. Miners went off to other reported gold rushes, tin mines around Herberton and Irvinebank, copper and lead at Chillagoe and Tungsten deposits at Mt Carbine, in fact anything that would provide an income. It must have been desperate times for many and when I visit the ruins of these old sites, there is a definite feeling of the hardships endured.
Tyrconnell Gold Mine
By the 1900’s only a few big mines like the General Grant and the Tyrconnel produced viable quantities of gold. Today, although mining has ceased, the Tyrconnel Historic Gold Mine still stands with a working battery and many historically listed buildings on site. Many mine shafts are still accessible if you know where to look and I have even spotted small nuggets in the white quartz veins.