The Palmer River Gold fields are a major component of the history on Cooktown. It all began way back in 1872 when Billy Hann set out on his overland journey of exploration and announced that he had found traces of gold in a sandy bed of a river he named after Arthur Hunter Palmer (the then Premier of Queensland). This inspired the explorer/prospector Venture Mulligan to investigate further and in 1873 he confirmed the discovery that sparked a huge gold rush, drawing prospectors not only from Australia, but also from around the world, mostly China. The Chinese miners would re-work the diggings of Europeans as they moved on to find richer diggings. As gold reserves were extracted, anti-Chinese sentiment grew. There were several confrontations between the settlers and the Aborigines from the area. The conflict became known as the Tong Wars.
The main settlement on the gold field was Maytown which began as a camp in 1873, and then grew into a town that served as the administration center for the area. The gold find on the Palmer River was felt to be so significant that the Queensland Government forwent the usual protocol and began preparing the mouth of the Endeavour River to service the gold field giving rise to Cooktown. By the late 1880’s many of the established gold claims began to fail, which resulted in the return of many Chinese to their beloved homeland.
I always see the directional sign to Maytown on my way to Mt Carbine after visiting Cooktown and the more I research the history of the area, the more I am drawn to see the remains. I am led to believe that although most of the surface gold has long since been prospected, there remain a handful of deeper mine projects in the area.