Cape York Telegraph Line


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John Richard Bradford's Expedition into the Cape


John Richard Bradford


J.R. Bradford was the Inspector of Lines and Mail Route Services from 1882 - 1895. He was an excellent bushman and no stranger to the North. He had supervised the construction of the Telegraph Line from Cooktown to Palmerville in 1874 - 1876 and had been involved in the surveying and building of other lines in the north as well. He retired as Electrical Engineer in 1910 and died in 1936 at the age of 87 years.


Telegraph Line to Thursday Island and set out from Brisbane by ship for Cooktown. He left Cooktown on 6 June 1883, with a party of six together with 36 packhorses and food supplies. With Bradford were William Healy, James Cook, William MacNamara, John Wilson, Jimmy San Goon (a Chinese) and Johnnie (an Aboriginal.)

Bradford's party left the existing Cooktown - Palmerville route at a spot known as "The Black Soil" or "The Lagoon". This spot is now Fairview Lagoon where Fairview Telegraph Station was subsequently established.

On the way to Cooktown, Bradford spent some time in Townsville collecting information and copying maps from Dr R.L. Jack's expeditions. He also talked at length with Sub-Inspector Fitzgerald before leaving Cooktown. As a result the Bradford expedition was well equipped and well prepared for the journey. Even so Bradford and party struck trouble.
When several days out from Fairview, some of Bradford's horses showed signs of poisoning. Poisoning of horses plus poor feed along the way was a constant problem and Bradford's troubles are closely related to this.

Many horses sickened and were subsequently abandoned when they became exhausted. Meanwhile Bradford and party pushed on.On 22 June, Camp 5 was made on the banks of Saltwater Creek where Musgrave now stands. Bradford noted the Hann River and also named the Morehead River on this section. He also named Healy Creek and Matvieff Creek (A.F. Matvieff was the Superintendent of Telegraphs and a close personal friend of Bradfords.)

Moving north from Saltwater Creek the blazed tree line to the Coen gold field was struck on 26 June and followed via the Stewart River to Coen.

Lalla Rookh Station had been taken up by the Massey Brothers in 1882 and covered the headwaters of the Stewart River. Charles Massey was later speared by aborigines and died after a long painful ride on horseback to get assistance. The name Lalla Rookh has long since disappeared. The old Lalla Rookh homestead was on Station Creek, a tributary of the Stewart River.

Silver Plains now takes in much of the Lalla Rookh run whilst other parts east of Coen are included in other properties nearby. nearby. on 8 July, Camp 12 was made at Coen. Coen was abandoned when Bradford arrived. The Coen River was named in 1623 by Jan Carstenaz, a Dutch 'Pera". (Dr. R.L. Jack insists on spelling Carstenaz as "Carstenazoon",) then prospectors found alluvial gold in a river in the area in 1876 they assumed it was the same Coen named by Carstenaz. Unfortunately they were wrong as the Coen River they named is only a tributary of the Archer and does not flow into the Gulf. Perhaps the Archer River was he real Coen named by Carstenaz. Jan Pierteraz Coen was the Governor of Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now known as Jakarta, the Capital f Indonesia).

Coen did not die although Bradford found it abandoned. As an alluvial gold field it was disappointing. However in 1887 reef gold was found. at the Wilson Reef and in 1893 the Great Northern Mine was found. This mine really put Coen on its feet and by 1895 there was a population of 367 at Coen. This mine has been worked intermittently on a number of occasions, the last being in the late forties and early fifties. Rumours at Coen recently suggested it may be worked yet again. This mine has produced over 50,000 ounces of gold during its lifetime. Bradford continued north towards the Archer and Batavia Rivers.

Camp 13 was opposite Mt Croll where he named Bourne Creek after the Inspector General of the Post and Telegraph Department. (Bourne Creek still appears on many maps of the area but it is better known locally as Deep reek.) Bourne gave outstanding service to Queensland. From 1861 - 1902 he occupied various positions in the Post and Telegraph Department and finally retired in 1909 as Public Service Inspector for Queensland. Camp 1i4 was where Bourne Creek and Croll Creek both join the Archer River. The Archer River had been named the Peach by Dr R.L. Jack so some confusion with names is very evident . On 19 July, Bradford crossed the Batavia River "about 200 yards below a waterfall a few feet in height" The Batavia is another Dutch name from the seventeenth century. It was subsequently changed to the Wenlock to avoid confusion with Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. North of the Batavia Riverr Bradford struck real trouble with the country he described as a "wet desert .`` He tried to keep to the ridges to avoid wet areas but wrote:'' . . . the ridges were of a reddish sandy soil and were terribly undermined with ants. My horse actually sinking on several occasions so deep that his nose touched the ground. From now on the horses really were in trouble. Two were abandoned near Glennie Creek. On 24 and 25 July more horses were abandoned and then a at Camp 25 Bradford himself had a severe attack of "fever and ague. ''

On 26 July, Camp 27 was pitched on one of the area. This was later named the Ducie by Frank Jardine. Bradford continued north over "the poorest country I have ever seen" until he reached Camp 30 . Bradford believed the creek at this site was Jardine ' s Skardon River . Later maps show the Skardon River some 16 miles north of Camp 30 where McDonnell Telegraph Station was situated. Dr Jack believed the river at McDonnell should have been the Carpentier River, so more confusion of names. The Carpentier is another of Cartenaz's Dutch namings. Carstenaz also recorded the Red Cliffs of Weipa long before the world had heard about bauxite. There is little doubt that what Bradford named MacDonnell Creek is actually the headwaters of Dalhunty River.

Camp 37 was on the Jardine River at the junction of the McHendry River. This is This is some 50 kilometres upstream from the telegraph line. By this time Bradford had serious doubts that any of his horses would last the journey. Rations for his men were almost exhausted mainly because a pack horse loaded with all their beef was lost. I t seemed as if the last part of the journey would be on foot. The party headed north-west in an attempt to find better travelling.

Camp 46 was near the beach at the mouth of Cowal Creek and Camp 47 was at Red Island Point. Bradford examined Red Island Point as a possible cable terminus, but decided it was unsuitable. A more favourable spot was near Peak Point. From here Bradford led his party eastward to Somerset arriving there on foot on 29 August, 1883. Of the original 36 horses only 13 eventually reached Somerset. Frank Jardine gave the party a warm welcome.

Four days later the party crossed to Thursday Island gathering Information on soundings , currents , etc on the way . On 5 September, Bradford set sail for Brisbane to present his report.

Following J.R. Bradford 's report the Queensland Government moved quickly to have a line built . The Post and Telegraph Department report of 1885, includes the following : '' Extension to Cape York ( Thursday Is land ) Tenders are now called for and will be received up to 13th July next for this line , which has been divided into two sections 200 miles each , more or less. The iron poles requisite has been ordered by wire from England, and will no doubt arrive here before the acceptance of tenders is decided upon." The successful tender for the southern section was Messrs Brodziak and Degen. Thev started at Fairview with a gang of 47 men and completed the souuthern section to Mein by October 18 8 6 - ahead of schedule.

The route taken by the line followed very closely on Bradford ' s route. The route surveyor laying out the route was Mr . W. Healy - Bradford ' s second -in-command on his original journey. The contract price was 15,237 pounds and 11 shillings . The line consisted of one wire mounted on the apex of a steel 'Oppenheimer" pole. The wire was 400 pound to the mile galvanised iron (G.I.) wire.

Telegraph offices were constructed at Fairview , Musgrave , Coen and Mein. Fairview was a name that had arrived on the scene since Bradford's expedition. John and Jane Thomas arrived at Fairview in 1884. Jane Ann remains buried there today.

Another early name in that area is "Olivevale"'' . In 1874 Harry Jones took up Boralga Holding and named the property "Olivevale"'' Fairview Telegraph office is on Boralga Holding . Harry Jones was later murdered by an aboriginal youth he had befriended at Koolburra . Fairview Telegraph office took over from Laura and was opened for business on 16 December , 1887 . Laura Telegraph office was then closed only to re-open a year or so later when the railway reached that centre .

The second station opened was Musgrave , which began business on 23 December, 1886. The name Musgrave comes from Sir Anthony Musgrave, the Governor of Queensland in 18 8 6 . Coen was the next station to open on 29 December , 1886 . It had been hoped to open Mein about this time also. However, the building was delayed by the wet season , as was the supply of telegraph equipment. Meanwhile, work on the northern section was progressing slowly. Contractors for this section were an English firm of Messrs Gordon and Moreton . Work started at the northern end at Paterson . There were two "Patersons" associated with the telegraph line. The Hon. Thomas MacDonald Paterson , Postmaster General after whom the northernmost station was named. The other was Frank Paterson, a surveyor, who surveyed most of the northern section and supervised much of the work.

Work on the northern section was delayed by transport difficulties and by wet weather. Frank Jardine was given the job of arranging the delivery of material to the work gangs along the line. Even so with the arrival of the wet season in the summer of 1886/87 only 35 kilometres of line from Paterson had been built and about 200 kilometres of clearing completed . Work stopped in November 1886 and did not start again until after the wet. Before work stopped , the station at Paterson had been erected and the next repeater south at McDonnell had also been completed . McDonnell was named after John McDonnell, Under Secretary and Superintendent of Telegraphs of the Post and Telegraph Department. The same John McDonnell was also an uncle of J . R . Bradford .

In November, 1886 , the laying of the cable from Paterson to Thursday was completed. The following is an extract from the annual report of 1887. '' This cable in length about 18 knots , is double-cored and weighs from twelve to thirteen tons per mile at the shore ends and eight tons per mile in the middle . A very good course was taken by the Cable ship "Recorder" through the boat channel. The work was completed on the night of November 17th last.
The contract of theEastern Extension Company with the Government to suppply, bring out , and lay the cable was faithfully and successfully carried through '' . "The acting Government resident (Mr. Milman) gave much assistance, and the use of the "Albatross '' in carrying out this work ; and but' for this there would probably have been a delay . '' Following the wet season work continued south to Moreton. Most writers say Moreton is named after the Hon. Matthew Moreton, one of the partners in the construction contract. J. Gribble states Moreton is named after B.B. Moreton, brother of the Hon. Matthew Moreton, which appears to be the correct version .

B.B. Moreton was Postmaster General in 1885. There were four others who also were Postmasters General in 1885 so his term of office must have been short (in fact March and April1885). The Moreton's brother was the Earl of Ducie and his name also appears on a map of the Peninsula as Ducie River. However various writers seem to be confused as to which Moreton was the brother of the Earl of Ducie. The final gap in joining the two sections was between Moreton and the next station south at Mein .

For a short period another "pony express '` operated between the two until the final connection was made . The name Mein comes from the Hon. C.S. Mein who was Postmaster General in the Queensland Government in 1879/80 and again in 1884/85.Mein Telegraph Station opened on 14 July 1887, followed by McDonnell, Paterson and Thursday Island on 25 August, 1887, and finally Moreton on 1 September, 1887.
All the stations referred to were built like forts to protect staff and equipment from the "wild blacks '' .

The buildinggs were constructed of heavy gauge galvanised iron and, on two diagonally opposite corners, a .protruding gun port was built , Each port gave a clear view along two sides of the building as well as forward viewing . All windows were fitted with steel shutters which could be bolted from inside. Some water tanks were built inside the building so that no-one had to venture outside for water, nor could the blacks spear the tanks or poison the water. The buildings were built on special stumps and under the building was protected by iron also. There was a set of stairs going down from inside the house as well as an external set . The building comprised a number of rooms surrounding a closed in verandah area with open verandah at the front. They were officially described as eight roomed.

Stations were sited carefully . As the only transport available at the time was horses , food and water for stock was important . Fairview has its lagoon, Musgrave has Saltwater Creek and also some hot water -springs , Coen has the Coen River as a back drop , Moreton the Wenlock River and McDonnell the Skardon River .

The problem site was Mein . There is no permanent running water at theMein and watering stock in the long dry season was always a problem. Wells were provided but tendered to drop in level during a long hot summer and were really only partially successful. A couple of deaths by suicide did nothing to help Mein's reputation. There are two known graves at Mein today. [ One is reported to be a lineman named Stafford who shot himself whilst `' in a delirum with fever '' . The other is Norman Dawson, a contract Linesman there in the war years . The Annual Report of 1887 gives a foretaste of things to come. The report states : "This line will be very expensive to work , and the receipts from the different stations, Thursday Island and Coen excepted, .little or nothing .

The 1888 report states:'The line was opened with a cable rate of 2 shillings added to the ordinary rate, but on the 6th April the charges were accumulated to those between any other Queensland stations a stations and the other colonies; thus, South Australia cand send a ten word message to Thursday Island for 3 shillings; with 3 pence for each extra word, while Queensland is charged 9 shillings and 9 pence for each extra word if sending a telegram to Port Darwin. ''

From 1887 until the Second World War, development in the Peninsula was slow. What was life like for the staff working at the various Telegraph Stations and along the line at this time?

1887 saw the connection of Thursday Island to the Telegraph network.H istory also records that in 1887 a line was built from Junction Creek to Herberton and, eventually on to Cairns.
From that time until the Second World War, development in the Peninsula was slow. What was life like for the staff working at the various stations along the line during this period? I a nutshell life was pretty tough at least by modern standards. For ears the only transport on the ground was by horse travelling was slow and uncomfortable. Supplies were obtained a couple of times a year at the stations north of Coen. The normal method was by ship or boat to a suitable landing point, then by pack horse or wagon to the station concerned. Fresh food would have been a rarity. Fresh vegetables would only be available if grown locally - which was not easy in that climate. Fresh meat would be available at times when local graziers killed. Other times salt beef would have been the norm. No fresh bread unless you cooked your own (chances were the flour would be weevily too) and no fresh milk unless you owned a cow or goat. Mil was delivered by pack horse as well and this continued until after the Second World War . Mail to Coen was sent by boat to Cooktown, railed to Laura and then by fortnightly pack horse to Coen . From Coen another pack horse mailman started a fortnightly run north. Life was definitely slower in those days than it is now. Etertainment was rare and the Coen Races would have been the social event of the year.

Records show many of the old time staff were single men. Wives seemed to be a fairly rare commodity in those days.Medical services would have
been non existent .

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