James Venture Mulligan
J V Mulligan features prominently in Cooktown and my Chillagoe Day Tour but I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of James Mulligan before settling in the small but historic mining town of Chillagoe in far North Queensland. As I became more interested in the history of the area, Mulligan’s name repeatedly came up. He had written his name in the Donna Cave in Chillagoe – apparently the only record that he had visited and explored the area with the pastoralist John Atherton.
So if I was serious about studying the history of the region, I had to ask myself “who was James Venture Mulligan?” He was one of the greatest explorers in Australian History yet few people in the south had ever heard of him. Mulligan arrived in Melbourne from Ireland in 1859 with aspirations of joining the ill fated Burke and Wills expedition to explore Australia but then chose to make his way north, embarking on what would turn out to be a lifetime of travel and exploration after gaining prospecting skills on the northern goldfields.
Palmer River Gold Rush
William Hann reported traces of gold on the Palmer River in Far North Queensland and Mulligan decide to investigate regardless of the warnings of food shortages and the risks of being killed by aboriginals. His party reached the Palmer River in mid 1873 and spent a couple of months searching for gold in the river beds. He found what he believed was payable gold and because he had little funds, reluctantly reported the find to the Queensland Government to receive a one thousand pound reward. The find created the port of Cooktown and made Mulligan famous but not rich so he continued a nomadic lifestyle in a quest for more valuable minerals, discovering tin in the western foothills of Cairns that led to the creation of Herberton and another gold field further to the north that became known as the Hodgkinson Goldfield that was the catalyst to of creating of Port Douglas and Cairns.
Mulligan’s final years
In 1877 Mulligan settled at Thornborough on the Hodgkinson Goldfields and opened a general store but it was not meant to be and he began prospecting again. He died after being injured trying to break up a fight in the pub at Mount Malloy (west of Cairns).
Then there was Mount Mulligan, a free-standing conglomerate and sandstone massif named in 1874 while James Mulligan was searching the Hodgkinson River for gold and where coal was later discovered. A tram track was constructed to join the Chillagoe line in 1915 in an attempt to make the Chillagoe smelter viable and an explosion in 1921 killed 75 miners making Mount Mulligan the site of North Queensland’s largest mining disaster. The mine reopened in 1923 but was officially closed in January, 1958 when a hydro electric scheme eliminated the need for coal.