The SANDS OF TIME Collection – 28. Northern Tablelands

28. Northern Tablelands
Christie Palmerston, William Wellington Cairns & George Elphinstone Dalrymple — 1025 x 760 mm
© Robert Morgan

Explorer and Prospector

Christie Palmerston claimed to have been baptized Cristofero Palmerston Carandini in Melbourne, and to be the son of Jerome Carandini and his wife Marie, née Burgess.  Christie is said to have left Hobart as a youth to work on a station in the Broad Sound area of Queensland and thence to the Palmer gold rush in 1873-74.  He was certainly at the Hodgkinson rush of 1876, where he first made his name as a pathfinder. Cooktown merchants backed Palmerston and W. C. Little to cut a track in April 1877 from the goldfield to an even more convenient port at Island Point. Palmerston discovered a route along the Mowbray River, and this led to the founding of Port Douglas.  Palmerston was often employed to cut tracks between the Atherton Tableland and the coast. In July 1880 he connected Port Douglas with the newly-discovered Herberton tin fields. Late in 1882 he cut a track from Mourilyan Harbour (near Innisfail) to Herberton. In December 1884 he blazed a route from Herberton to the new South Johnstone diggings and in 1886 found gold on the upper Russell River but in no great quantity.

He settled down in Townsville and on 6 December 1886 married Teresa Rooney and had one daughter.  Palmerston found town life dull and, after a brief spell as a Townsville publican, moved to Borneo and then to Malaya where he worked for the Straits Development Co.  He contracted fever in the jungle and died at Kuala Pilah on 15 January 1897.

Few records survive to indicate the truth about a hardy and skilful bushman who had rare insight into the life and habits of North Queensland Aboriginals in the first years of white contact.


William Cairns was born at County Down, Ireland circa 1828. He served in various senior colonial civil service posts in the British Empire before being appointed Governor of Queensland from 23 January 1875 to 10 April 1877.  The position of governor was rarely a sinecure and although Cairns carried out his duties efficiently he was never popular in Queensland. His delicate appearance did not assist him.  Cairns condemned cases of cruelty by native police to Aboriginals, telling his colonial secretary that ‘inhumanity should never be resorted to, or palliated or left unpunished’. He was keenly aware of the prevalent injustice to South Sea islanders, describing the report of the 1876 select committee as ‘rose-coloured’; and he encouraged measures to reform prisoners.  He showed a keen interest in education and welcomed botanical and agricultural research.  When the governorship of South Australia fell vacant, his term in Queensland was reduced ‘from a considerate regard for his health, which it was thought might be benefited by his removal to a cooler climate’.  After only eight weeks in Adelaide, however, he resigned in May because of insomnia and ‘the effect of long tropical residence upon his nervous system’.

His earlier plans to speak for the colonies in the British parliament also proved vain, and after eleven years of retirement in England he died, unmarried, at a hospital in London on 9 July 1888.  In April 1887 Cairns was invested as a Knight Commander, Order of St. Michael and St. George (K.C.M.G.).

Explorer and Politician

George Dalrymple was born on 6 May 1826 at Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  He arrived in Australia between 1856 and 1858 and went to the Darling Downs where he was unable to take up land as he had intended. The unoccupied north attracted him and in February 1859 he published in Brisbane Proposals for the Establishment of a New Pastoral Settlement in North Australia and organised an expedition to explore the Burdekin River watershed (Kennedy district). His party, including Ernest Henry and Philip Sellheim, set out from near Rockhampton in August and reached the site of Bowen.

In August he went with Lieutenant J. W. Smith in the Spitfire to explore the coast and examine Port Denison as a port of access for the Kennedy. As officer in charge of the proposed settlement of Bowen, Dalrymple then planned the expedition to establish the township and led the overland section.  After he arrived Bowen was proclaimed on 11 April 1861.  In March 1865 he was elected the first member for Kennedy in the Legislative Assembly.  In 1867 he went to Britain to recover his health and returned to Queensland in 1869 and with A. J. Bogle took up Oxford Downs on the Upper Burdekin.  The venture failed, as did his imported traction engine which proved impracticable on northern roads. Insolvent, he was lucky to get a government post as Assistant Gold Commissioner on the Gilbert diggings in October 1871.  In September 1873 he led an official exploration of the coast north of Cardwell.  They reached the Endeavour River in October, just before Cooktown sprang up as the port for the Palmer goldfields.  They returned to Cardwell in December and Dalrymple, sick with fever, went to Brisbane.  After a summer in Scotland he went to St Leonards, Sussex, where he died, unmarried, on 22 January 1876.

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