CAPE RIVER GOLD FIELD

The historical mine areas that comprise the Cape River Gold field are located in the region surrounding the town of Pentland, about 250 kilometres south-west of Townsville. The Cape River Gold Field was proclaimed in the Government Gazette in 1867, only two years after Townsville was established. Its population peaked in late 1868 at about 3,100. Of these about 1000 were Chinese miners and traders.  At the time the field’s populations exceeded the combined populations of Townsville and Bowen.  The field attracted miners from gold fields to the south the nearest being Peak Downs 300 kilometres to the south east. Miners also arrived from other colonies and overseas.

Up to 1870 the Cape River gold field had produced about 40,000 ounces of gold (about 1200 kilograms). These amounts of gold and the miners it attracted led to the rapid development of other fields in northern Queensland, including The Gilbert River (1868), Ravenswood (1868) and Charters Towers (1872). All of these ensured the success of Townsville as a port and town.  Production at the Cape River field never achieved the stellar amounts of the Ravenswood and Charters Towers fields because it lacked significant hard rock gold deposits. The rich alluvial and deep lead gold deposits were almost exhausted when the other regional fields became active, and as a result the Cape River field was administratively absorbed into the responsibilities of the Charters Towers gold commissioner.

The Cape River gold field was never entirely abandoned and it has seen sporadic mining activity into the 21st century. Some of these ventures have damaged the archaeological remains of the gold rush era mines but enough remained for a research project that investigated the spatial nature of mining technology and settlement at this historically significant gold field.

The Archaeological Project

The archaeological project was the basis of John Edgar’s PhD project, A place not much very better than Hades:  archaeological landscapes of the Cape River Gold Field, North Queensland.  The project investigated two small settlement sites one dating from the earliest phase of mining in 1867, and the second from a revival in the 1880s when the Pentland Reefs were mined. The artefacts were used to date each site and provided insights into activities at the field. They offer brief and fragmentary glimpses into nineteenth century life and also show the rapid changes in the technologies of food production, storage and transport through the latter half of the century. The artefacts on this website are a small selection of the 5000 artefacts unearthed, from two of 161 sites.

The Cape River gold field presented an opportunity to archaeologically investigate the landscapes of an alluvial field that had not developed significant reef mines or a permanent township. Many surface artefacts were preserved by the dry climate but fragmented by stock and human traffic.

 

  • Richard Daintree – Co-owner of nearby Maryvale station; Government Geologist 1868, and Agent-general for Queensland from 1872. Daintree was an avid photographer of rural colonial Queensland.
  • Brothers William and Frank Hann – Frank Hann ran Maryvale station withRichard Daintree, William ran nearby Lolworth Station. William led an exploration of the unexplored far north interior in 1872 and although gold was located on the Palmer River, it was not considered significant at the time. Frank opened up rich cattle country in the Kimberley of Western Australia in later life.
  • W.S.E.M. Charters – Cape River gold field’s first and only Gold Commissioner. Charters has been viewed as a controversial figure in his handling of disputes at both Cape River and later at Charters Towers.  He appears to have acted in good faith on each occasion, although this has been questioned.

Stone Building - upper cape

Stone dam near alluvial workings, Upper Cape river diggings area (image Dr John Edgar)

 

fireplace-lower cape

Collapsed stone fireplace, Pentland reefs area, Lower Cape diggings (image Dr John Edgar)