Location: Queensland, Australia
AN OLD NORTHERN PIONEER: JAMES KERNS
(BY J. G. EASTWOOD, BABINDA) Living away quietly in out of the way corners of our State are a few remaining .members of.thäf crowd of adventurers who came up into this Northern portion of Australia, and laid the foundations of the civilization and progress that is around us now. The hurly-burly of modern life takes heed of.them; and it is only those liv- ing in the vicinity, and who come in contact with them, who know that they are still here amongst us. Tottering with feeble steps about Babinda, is one whose career shows in a striking manner the vast changes that have taken place in MNorthern Queensland within the past seventy years. During that peribd of time, the portion of the State lying north of Rockhampton has reached its pre- sent state of development from a region that wàs practically, unknown to the rest of the world, and did not contain any white people whatever. In 1859 following on a gold-rush, which is genérally looked upon as a failure, a small straggling township was formed, and was fostered and helped along; by the neighbouring squatters, the Archer brothers of Gracemere, became known as Rock- hampton. Starting manyears be- fore from New England with their cattle and sheep, the Archers' gradu- ally worked their.way north occupying country for a few years and then passing further on "ever on the north- ern trail", until they finally settled down, for good, on a chain of lagoons in the valley of the Fitzroy River; and which they named after one of the females -of. the family, "Gracemere." Desirous of helping on the forma- tion of a township, which would form the nucleus for the northern expan- sion, which appeared to be.at hand, they incited and encouraged'a few of the disappointed gold-seekers, who were inclined to stay and settle down in the new country ; and this is how the large city of Rockhampton got its first start. The settlements down south were busy with the big task of getting what was the Moreton Bay district of New South Wales formed into the infant State of Queensland. As a consequence, very little atten- tion was given to matters in suçh a remote portion of the new State, and the few enterprising adventurers living away up North, were left in a great measure to fend for themselves, and explains why in the new settlements of Bowen and Townsville government recognition and control followed on after private enterprise. Later on this was altered, and the Government in Brisbane commenced to lead and control the gradual devel- opment, which was to open up the whole .of the north-east coast within the next twenty years. Thus Bowen was formed in 1861, Mackay in 1862, Townsville in 1864, Cardwell next.year, and Charters Towers opened early in 1872. The Palmer and Cooktown at the end of the following year. .Three years later came the Hodgkinson and the birth of the port of Cairns, fol- llowed next year by the settlement of Port Douglas, and later on in 1880 and 1881 the opening up of the Johnstone River district, and the start of Ger- aldton, now known as Innisfail. Thus within the two decades, 1861 to 1881, the whole of the north-eastern coast; and territory behind had been transformed from a wild and primeval region, to a collection of white civil- ised lively little communities; each one intent on subdueing the, primitive sur- roundings; .squabbling among them- selves, and trumpeting aloud to all who cared to listen, that:each littlë town- ship contained the most energetic, re souceful;,and up-to-date citizens in the whole of Queensland, ENTRY OF JAMES KERNS Into this collection of striving and struggling communities came James Kerns (now so well-known to Bab- indaites as Old Jimmy Kerns) eager to try the newly opened North, and see what fortune, a stout heart and a sturdy body could get for him. Born in Ireland, and brought out to Sydney as an infant, his parents set- tled at Brisbane Water nearby. Brought up to the hard rough life of the bush-lad, and partaking of the hömely fare and daily toil of all those who didn't happen to be born with the proverbial silver spoton in the mouth, young Jim early acquired that facility for turning his hand to any task in front of him, which is so great a characteristic of early settlers in all new countries. Too ambitious to be satísfied with the projects around him, he journeyed north on to the newly-opened Clarence River district and joined the rough and burly band of men who were busy exploiting the timber resources of that fine and prom ising district. This was in 1859, and young Kerns was then about 18 or 19 years of age. He was engaged to go to the Clar- ence, to pit-saw hardwood for.the erection of an hotel, and also a school at what is now the township of Ul marra. Setting to work at what was then known as the Sand-spit, about eight miles below Grafton, he worked steadily along sawing the timber needed for the two buildings; and then desirous of a spelf got a passage to Sydney in one of the numerous schoon- ers, trading between the two places; and which was taking down logs for the Sydney saw mills. À few weeks spell anid the attract tions and delights of Sydney-town made a serious hole in the young fel- low's money, and so he hastened to look for a fresh job, Now just about this time, there was a certain amount of expectation among young, and en terprising spirits, of the newly-opened North; only lately admitted to self- government, as:the new State of Queensland. This government was just forming a new settlement up north on the shores of Port Denison, to be later known as the,town of Bowen. The slightly older town on the Fit:z- roy River, lately christened (in whis- key) as Rockhampton, was going ahead by leaps and bounds. UP NORTH Young Kerns, wishful to have a trip up north, and not very particular as to what portion be reached, so long as money was to be found there, en- gaged a passage in the brig. "Jenny Lund" just then loading up in Sydney îor .Port Curtis . and Rockhampton. 'Leaving Port Jackson, Captain Cur- ran, once the brig got clear of the land, found the soutb-east trade-wind so favourable that he clapped on sail and kept straight on for Rockhampton, intending later on to work down the coast to Port Curtis,-and land what cargo and passengers he had for there. Ön reaching Rockhampton, young Jim lost no time in getting ashore, and along with his were three of the other passengers of.the "Jenny Lind" who had been engaged to go to Port Cur- tis,, and whose passage had been paid to that port by their employers agent in Sydney; ready to go and work there on a station. However, on reaching .tlie Fitzroy River, there men, as soon as the skipper went ashore to report, his ship's arrival, hailed a boat, put their swags into it and were rowed ashore, leaving both their engagement to the squatter in Port Curtis and the brig simultaneously. Tricks like these were hard to check in those days. Rockhampton at this time was a very small place indeed, there being only three hotels in it; and about this time the number of public houses formed an infallible index as to the size of the town. Young Jim took on a job of bullock-driving for P. F. MacDonald, táking the team first to Yaamba, where Mr. Macdonald lived, ánd later on to Marlborough Station. On his return to Yaamba he left the team, and took on a job at his old game of pit-sawing; first cutting out the boards for a lock-up in the place. In those days the early comers were mainly a wild and unruly crowd, and the usual liquor being both potent and plentiful policemen and lock-ups were absolute necessities in the land. In a little booklet now before the writer, giving an account of an ex- pedition with sheep on to the Barkly Tableland in 1864, the author describes Rockhampton in those days as follows: "Rockhampton was then but a small hamlet, and owing to the heavy rain the streets and roads were in a fearful condition. Bul- lock teams from Peak Downs and Springsure were bogged in rows in the streets, and the whip-crack- ing and lurid language of the bul- lockies, made the township a little inferno. Then the drinking and rowdiness made night hideous. The few police had not much chance of coping with so many, all vieing with each other to turn the town red." After sawing the timber needed for the lock-up, young Jim went on cutting up for anyone reqùiring, and in a new and rising place like this found plenty to do. In new communities, hotels are usually the first buildings erected,; and so after a while he had to provide sawn timber for an hotel at Prinches- ter; and later on for one at Alligator .Creek, not far from Yaamba. By this time he had got fairly started at pit sawing for the requirements of the flourishing district, and with the ex- ception of a trip down to Sydney to spend some well-earned cash, he kept on for three or four-years: Then the wandering itch got hold of him'again, and he started on the northern track. It was a case of To the North; to the North, to the land of the free, Where the mighty mosquito hums aloud in his glee. TO BOWEN. Anyway Jim made for the new -thriv- ing town of Bowen, where he :was engaged to saw out the timber for a pub for a Mr. Hamilton; to be erected on the Burdekin River, about twenty five miles up from the mouth. Mr. Hamilton had just got his pub fairly going when he decided that the new township going up at Cleveland Bay, offered better prospects for, him, so' he got: Jim to pull down the newly erected place, ready for the arrival of: a teamster he had engaged to drive his bullock team loaded with building mat- erial io Cleveland; Bay. The expected driver not showing up, he then en- gaged Jm to drive the team, and this is how he first: entered the rising little township of Townsville. Mr.John Melton Black was at this time (as the representative of Robert Towns and Company of Sydney) was very busy opening up the bustling lit- tle seàport, on the shores of Clevë- land .Bay; making it the centre of busi- ness; activity for the adventurers who were flocking into these northern lands .Kerns then rented a waggon and tem of bullocks from Mr. Black, and went carrying for the general community, in addition to any for Towns and Com pany. He paid thirty shillings per week rent for the team and taking one day with another used to earn twenty-five to thirty shillings per day. Old Jimmy now admits that he at this period made the biggest mistake he ever made in his life, as just about this time the econd land sale came on, and although he was earning good money at the time, he stood by and saw allotment knocked down at £25 to £30 each, that afterwards were worth several hun- dreds and even more. When asked why he did not buy one or two and hold on, he answered that he did not intend to stay in Townsville and so let his chances slip by. For. one thing .young Jim .was bit- ten hard with, the itch for wandering around the newly opened settlement and so after about fifteen to eighteen months' stay in Townsville, he turned in his team to Mr Black; and started on the road to the Flinders River, and finally pulled up at Telemon Staton which is about forty miles down the river below..the town of Hughenden. At this time there was no town of Hughenden, the only settlement about being Robert Gray's station (cattle and sheep). The town did not come until 1875. nine years after James 'Kerns passed through. DAM MAKING On Telemon he got a job at mak- ing a dam about half a mile from the Station and there being only two men at it, the job lasted about nine months. Telemon Station at this time belonged to Mr. Robert Stewart, who had form- erly been an officer in the army. There were several ex-army officers turned into squatters about this locality. In addition to Stewart of Telemon, Mr. Robert Grey, of Hughenden, was an old army officer, as also was Mr. Fraser of Manuka, together with the former owner of Hughenden, Mr. Er- nest Henry, of Cloncurry. Now Mr. Stewart, whatever he had been when he was in the army, was notably careless in his dress when on the station, and was therefore. known far and wide as "Greasy Stewart." In addition to Telemon. Station which car- ried sheep. Mr. Stewart owned a sta tion nearer the coast and on the Bur- dekin River, called Southwick. Just before this, good gold.had been dis covered on the Cape River and a big influx of diggers ensued. Southwick Station, not being very far away, arid having a surplus of fat cattle fit for the butcher, it struck Mr. Stewart that he had better go down to Southwick and get some of his fat cattle driven on to the ready money market at the new diggings on the Cape. Jimmy Kerns' dam-makirig job was nearly finished, so Mr. Stew- art put him in charge of the station whilst he started off for Southwick expecting to be back again in three or four months time. However, as that lime passed and he did not show up, and especially as Kerns had heard some sensational account of the rich ness of the new diggings, he wrote down to Southwick, and told Mr. Stew- art to send someone up to take charge as he wished to get away. This was Jimmy's. second big mistake, as by the time the new man arrived to take his place, bad news had come from the Cape, so Jim decided on a trip down into the Gulf country instead. Just before this there had been an influx of sheep and cattle owners.tak- ing up and occupying the Gulf coun- try and right on to the Barkly Table land. The hope in front of these plucky pioneers was that as a new settlement was being formed on the Albert River and known as Burketown, the Gulf squatters would be able. to open up a profitable trade with Java and the East, in meat and also tallow and hides; besides getting vessels to load in the Gulf with wool and sta- tion produce for London. Two or three stores were opened in Bürke- town, which was attracting many of the stray travelling population of the .Gulf country. Thither Jim was making his way, when he struck a job whilst travelling down the Saxby River. The country on the Saxby and Flinders Rivers, known afterwards as Mullungera Station had been taken up by a Mr. Gibson, and he sub-let some of it to Messrs. Pickett and McNabb who were putting sheep on the place. They engaged Jim to help them with the work, and he stayed about six months, most of the time being engaged putting up brush yards for holding and sheltering sheep at night from the dingoes. Rations becoming very scarce on the place he left them, and finally arrived at Burketown, where he found things in a very bad state indeed. THE GULF COUNTRY. When J. G.Macdonald was taking up large areas of the Gulf pastoral country on behalf of a Sydney syndi cate. of capitalists, of which Sir John Robertson and Robert Towns were leading spirits, he chartered a brigan- tine, the "Jackmel Packet," and sent her on to the new settlement of Burke- town on .the Albert River, with stores and necessaries for the new stations. After finishing this work, the ves- sel had engaged in the opening trade between Java and the new Gulf ports. During these operations she had intro- duced into the new town a very severe form of the deadly fever that has al- ways given Batavia and Java ports generally such a sinister reputation. ft was just at the time.when this fever was raging in its most malignant form that James Kerns entered Burketown, He states that on the day he ar- rived; seven or eight were buried that morning arid nine or ten the next morning. Still they appeared to be a wild and reckless crowd. After the customary wholesale funerals in the morning, the afternoons were givèri to horseracing, followed by a gen- eral jollification and liquor-up at night, "Eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die," seems to haye been the rule of their lives.. One could buy supplies at this time in the place very cheap, a case of brandy for two pounds, and later on for thirty shillings. Every one wanted to sell and few cared to buy. The pestilence was usually termed "Yellow Jack" but: is generally con- sidered to be tec deadly Batavia 'ma- laria, made more severe by the rough unhealthy life of the people, Anyway whatever it was, Jim hur riedly made tracks out of the p'lace, and came back up the Flinders, and then on to the Cape .River diggings, where he struck a job of driving a bullock team down to Townsville Arrived there he saw Mr. Black and got a team rented from him again and started carrying between Towns- ville and the Cape diggings.Put in several trips at this, and then as the gold getting appeared to befalling off and the business fading, .he hand ed back the team and took a passage on the stearner from Cleveland Bay intending to travel south. On the way down, the steamer called in at Rockhampton and Jim going ashore and attending a horse sale where the animals were going as he considered "dirt cheap," bought eleven head, good young saddle hacks as he term- ed it, "going for a song." Traveíling with them on towards Bowen and the stations on the Burdekin, he sold most of them at a rattling good pro- fit. His intended trip to Sydney of course went to pieces in the Rock hampton saleyard, when he saw the cheap bargains in horseflesh. Roam- ing around the stations on the Burde- kin, selling his horses, he finally reached' Bluff Downs, where he took a job from Mr. Hann to make hurdles. Put in twb of three months at this work, and then suddenly made up his mind to have that Sydney trip which had been dropped in the Rock- hamptoni saleyard when he bought the horses. Reaching Sydney and having, as he termed it, a fly round, he was induced to take over a small restaurant in George-street, and it says much for Jim's capacity for adapting himself to his altered sur- roundings, during the course of a varied career that he managed to run the place for over six months and then sell out. As he himself put it - although a typical bushman and un acquainted with the occupation or course of business in a large city, he managed to go along without losing, anything, or gaining much profit, and then sold out even. The property be- longed to Sydney Burdekin, who every Monday morning used to come .round for his rent, £6 per week; and as Jimmy says, If you didn't stump up, out you had to go quick and lively." What made Jim anxious to sell out, was the accounts which were reaching Sydney of the sensa- tional golden returns from the Hill End diggings, just at this time. Everyone on the street was talk- ing of them, and the names "Beyer and Holterman" and "Tambaroora Flat" were in everybody's mouth. To: Jim, a typical bushwhacker, the call was irresistable, and so he seized the earliest opportunity to sell out of the restaurant and get away to this new Tom Tiddlers ground. Arrived at Hill End, he found all the likely looking ground pegged out, and so along with three others he took a contract from the owners of the "Confidence" claim, to drive :a tunnel at £2 per foot. Finished this job and got paid, and then started at his old-time work again, pit-sawing timber for making slabbing for the shafts on the goldfield. These slabs measured eight inches wide, and were one and a half inches thick. Jim put in about 12 months at this work, being paid at the rate of £1 per hun- dred superficial feet. THE WANDERLUST. Then the wandering spirit got hold of him again and he started off, reaching Bourke on the Darling River, and from there he made on to Cobar. This was just about the beginning ot 1873. Here he got work at pit sawing for a while, together with oc- casional odd jobs at general carpen- tering. Jim seemed to get settled down in Cobar, and things look ed bright and promising, especially as the captain of the mine, struck by the young fellow's general handiness,. .took quite a fancy to him and showed a desire to help him along. .When he had been thus engaged for eight or nine months, news reached Cobar of the new rush to the Palmer River away up in the North of Queensland The reports that reached the copper town, of the wonderful rich golden deposits created quite a sensation amongst the population of the place, particularly when some of the glow- ing, accounts spoke of the early ones picking up gold like potatoes out cf a field. Anyway it started Jimmy Kerns on the track agaiiv, and along with two mates he started off for the new rush; they having each of them two horses. Now from Cobar to the Palmer, the distance is about 1200 miles in a straight line, "as the crow flies," but as neither Jim nor his mates were crows, both horsemen, the way in front of them was by the roads zigzagging to the towns and settlements in the direction they were intending to travel. It shows the attraction which the distant rush had upon them to impel them to leave their steady permanent jobs for such a far off and uncertain reward. Long trips like this were much rarer then than they became later on. In the 'eighties and 'nineties it was a common thing to come across men travelling on horseback or foot for hundreds of miles, looking for work. The writer himselt, early in 1892, started out of Cloncurry with two. horses looking for shearing and af- ter zigzagging around the different stations and riding, about a thousand miles, eventually found himself in Blackall on the Barcoo River, and still looking for work. It was the time of the big drought, and work about the stations then was very scarce and hard to get. Travelling via Bourke, and thence by the Warrego River, Jim and his two mates crossed from its head on to the Barcoo,. following it up past Blackall, and then struck over and followed up the Thomson River, call- ing at the stations on the way along for supplies and information as to the road in front of them. From the head of the Landsborough they crossed over on to the Flinders, thence mak ing on through the basalt country ly- ing north of the Flinders, they even- tually found their way on to the Lynd River. Still striking North they crossed the Tate and the Walsh Rivers, passing over territory which has in these later days become well 'known and settled by a fairly numer- ous mining population, but which at that time was practically unknown and in the undisturbed possession of: the wild and savage aboriginals. For tunately; they passed along without 'äny collision with these native tribes,, and .emerging on to the. head waters of the Mitchell, finally landed at one of the mining camps on the golden river, the Palmer itself, the goal of their three months journey,. It speaks volumes for the hardihood andbushmanship of the three mates, that they had found their way safely through such a long and difficult pil- grimage. THE PALMER The. Palmer goldfield, the last rich alluvial area on the Eastern Coast which at ah resembled the early Vic- torian diggings of the 'fifties,. owes its. discovery to a Government assisted expedition uneor William Hann which was sent out "to ascertain as
- far north as the 14th Parrallel of la-
titude, the character of the country, and its mineral resources, with the view to future settlement and occu- pation." In the course of their jour- ney north from their starting point, Fossilbrook station, they came on to a branch of the Mitchell River and running it along and prospecting as. they went; on August 6, 1872, Frede- rick Warner, one of the party came into camp and claimed the half-a- pound of tobacco, which had been of-. fered by the leader to whoever first dropped upon payable gold. In 'his report of the expedition, Hann did not consider that his party had ac- tually discovered "payable gold" and .summed up his operations as shew- ing "flattering prospects." In reporting the discovery, he was very guarded and deprecatd anything: in the- nature of a rush. In those days indeed, to report "payable gold". was a serious responsibility, and diggers returning from an unsuccessful rush were ugly customers for the reporter to meet. However, the progress of this ex- pédition had been keenly watched by the critical eyes of several Northern goldseëkers, and on Hann's report be- ling made public a party of seven men,named j. V. Mulligan the leader, Brandt, Dodwell; Robinson, Abelsen, Watson. and Brown, left Georgetown on June 5, 1873. determined to have a look, at the place where Hann had reported as "getting flattering pros
Running Hann's tracks on when they came to them, they eventually reached the spot, dropping down on to the Palmer River on June 29, very near to what was later on to be the town of Palmerville. The months of July and August were spen. in prospecting the river itself, and the creeks running into it, with such good results that they de- termined (after, burying their tools and spare ammunition), to travel straight on to the Etheridge and re port their discovery: They arrived in Georgetown on September 3, having with them 102 ounces of Palmer gold. They sent off their report to the Government in Brisbane, and spell- ing in Georgetown for nine days, set off again for their new find, ac- companied by about 100 men and 300 horses on September 12. The rush to the Palmer had com menced, and Warner's first discovery, rewarded by the half-pound of to bacco, led within a few years to the getting of gold to the value of five and a half millions sterling. Incidentally it also led to a rush of adventurers from all parts of Aus- tralia, eager to reach the newly found Eldorado and partake of its riches, and amongst them (as we have seen) came Jimmy Kerns and his two mates all the way overland from far-off Cobar in New South Wales. SETTLING TO WORK. They settled down to work and did so well, that in a little over 12 months Jimmy had amassed over £500, after paying the costly tucker account. Packing .charges were so high and profitable, that he came down Cook- town, and buying five more horses, started off back with his team of seven horses loaded up with his own purchases, mostly spirits and flour. 'saving about £60 in freight up. Back to Cooktown again and bought two more horses at £15 each, making nine in the team; and off back on to the field again with all the horses loaded up, and Jim walking along- side, as the carriage up was half-a- crown a pound. Coming down he rode one of the horses, as he was travelling light, and reached Cook town in three or four days, going up took five or six. Later on he was persuaded to buy a waggon and a team of bullocks, but was nothing near so successful as he had been with the pack-horses. For one thing, there was more com petition amongst.the crowd of car riers now flocking into the trade, and rates of carriage were rapidly falling. By this lime (early in 1877) the Hodgkinson goldfield had got opened, and so Jim brought his team over and started general carrying, and kept going there for over 12 months, carrying and drawing in timber around about Northcote. .Then as the Hodgkinson field showed signs of falling off he brought his team to Cairns. He came down with his team on.the old Smithfield road, arid started drawing in red cedar for Jim Toohey, who was camped on the Barron River near Redlynch. Toohey and a man named Reid (formerly a pilot) cut the cedar, and Kerns drew it into the Barron near Redlynch. From there William Alley fixed it into rafts, arid towing it to Cairns shipped it away south. DULL TIMES. Things about this time (1881) be- came very dull, arid the times were so very bad, that the bank gaye notice of its intention to shift the branch to Port Douglas. In the midst, of the depression, Jim received an offer of a frontage allotment in Ábbott-streét, and near to where the Imperial Hotel now is, for £15 for the allotment and £15 for the old humpy upon it, £30 for the whole lot. However, as he reckoned that Cairns was about played out, and was thinking about shifting,ori to the coming big towri of Port Douglas, he refused to buy .and has lamented the refusal ever since. In giving his story to the writer, he related many incidents of the early days of Cairns. To show how the aboriginals in the vicinity were at this time, Kerns had three of his horses killed and eaten by them, and .: although they used to be all around they could hardly ever be seen by the Whites. One tirme when he had Bill : Harvey arid Tom Thomas cutting red cedar and Kauri pine for him on Wright's Creek, the blacks sneaked into and robbed the camp. The whites ábout mustered up.next morn- ing arid following after them, met another party of blacks coming down the creek carrying a mummy. On seeing the whites coming up the creek they. dropped the mummy im- mediately, and took to their heels, and the whites after them,, but the nig- gers were too slippery. Jim does not know what became of the mummy, but the blacks all got away clear and the whites had all their trouble for nothing. AN OLD NORTHERN PIONEER (1929, April 6). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), p. 11.