The Range Hotel was built in 1866 by James Mead and William Freer at the ‘foot of Hervey Range’ 40km west of Townsville in Far North Queensland. It was one of five hotels built along the newly constructed Hervey Range Road that linked the new port of Townsville to the inland supply town of Dalrymple. A small hamlet was quickly established around the Range Hotel with documentary evidence mentioning a stables, a blacksmith shop, a butchers, at least two houses, a campsite, a cemetery and a government-run toll gate. This small community, of which only the names of the publicans and first blacksmith were initially known, primarily existed to provide food, alcohol and rest for the early travellers, bullock-dray drivers and miners. The hotel only remained open for 18 years, closing in 1884 as new gold mines, roads and railways opened up across the landscape. The Range Hotel site complex was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 2009 with the only remaining physical evidence of its prior existence at this time being parts of the old road, three headstones in the small cemetery and a huge number of broken bottles and ceramics.
To increase our understanding of this early settler site detailed historical document and genealogy research has been combined with the findings from five archaeological investigations. The genealogy work has revealed the names of a number of previously unknown women and children who lived in the hamlet, with Isabella McNeill, wife of the first blacksmith, playing a pivotal role in the daily lives of the other residents. At least 12 children were born in the hamlet, with five of these births occurring in the Range Hotel. Seven people also died in the hamlet, including three children: Sarah Mead, daughter of the hotel’s first publican, died aged two weeks, Duncan McNeill died age six from accidentally drinking poison, while his ten year old sister Elizabeth died after being bitten by a snake as she was walking to put flowers on his grave. These children along with two of the Range hotel’s publicans, George Hume and Patrick Fogarty, and a hotel guest called Francis Earl were all buried in the hamlet’s cemetery between 1866 and 1881.
Range Hotel Archaeological Project
The archaeological excavations were carried out on a yearly basis between 2010 and 2014. The investigations formed part of Marianne Clarkson’s PhD project, ‘The Road to Townsville’s Early Success: the engendered cultural landscape of Hervey Range and the community ‘at its foot’ (available later in 2016 in the JCU library) as well as the Archaeology Honours class. The locations of the blacksmith shop, a rubbish dump, a large stone floor thought to belong to the hotel’s stable block and a possible house site were identified. These findings have enabled the community and cultural landscape of the hamlet to be investigated more fully so that we can better understand the role of both individuals and small communities in the settlement of Far North Queensland.