Portland Roads 1920-30s GOLD RUSH

In the early 1920s gold fever arrived in the Portland Roads vicinity. Over 100 prospectors joined the rush to the nearby Batavia (Wenlock) Goldfields. In 1934, Jack Gordon prospecting near the ‘little’ Claudie River headwaters in Iron Range, discovered a large seam of gold at the later named Gordon Creek in the middle of the now National Park. These mines proved very successful and the gold rush put the Iron Range area on the map, with Portland Roads as the staging point for miners and equipment going to the Batavia, Gordon Creek and Packers Creek mines for about 30 years. At the time of the mines officially closing in 1956, the Queensland Government Mining Journals reported a total yield of 6,530 ounces of gold had come from the region.


The following extract has been taken from an article which appeared in The Morning Bulletin Rockhampton, on Friday November 6, 1936, entitled GOLD ON THE PENINSULA.

“To the uninitiated the name Portland Roads in connection with gold mining that is now in progress on York Peninsula conveys little other than a sense of location, a geographical point. Even knowledge that it is on Weymouth Bay, and just north of Cape Weymouth, sheds little further light on the subject. To the historian, however, Weymouth Bay becomes Thomas Thynne Bath, 3rd Viscount Weymouth, who married Elizabeth, daughter of William Bentinek, who was the second Duke of Portland, and the reason of an English viscountey and dukedom being so represented on the north-east coast of Queensland is to be found in the fact of Weymouth being a prominent figure in British politics and also a patron of Captain James Cook, whose gratitude was expressed – as it was on many parts of the coast of Queensland – by bestowing these two names on parts of his new discoveries.”

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“About sixteen miles to the south is Cape Direction, so named 147 years ago by Captain Bligh, who took his direction therefrom while passing from the Coral Sea through the Barrier Reef into the inner passage. He also named Restoration Island from the fact of reaching there on May 29, which was the 129th anniversary of the restoration of the monarchy in England. Nearby are Albatross Bay and Cape Griffith, the first commemorating the Government steamer of that name, which operated from Thursday Island, and the other keeps green the memory of one of Queensland’s more forceful Premiers, one of Australia’s most brilliant jurists. The Janet Range was so named after his wife by Logan Jack, who also named Tozer Range for a former Queensland Attorney-General, while Aylen Hills and Pascoe River recall two officers from hydrographic surveyors on board the Queen’s ships.

Out of this rich heritage of historic names the mineral area there has received the name Claudie River Goldfields, from which it is obvious that operators there are more concerned in assays than in history.

Even the fact that Bligh on his epic voyage came to the one part of the coast of North Queensland where gold lies seaward of the east coast range, or that – unknowingly – Cook set his flag on Possession Island on a good gold prospect, or that a member of Flinders party discovered on Good Island the first traces of copper to be seen in Australia, does not appear to interest them. Their main problem is access from the sea, the Janet-Tozer Range cutting them off pretty effectively from the land. The landing place north-west from Cape Weymouth is still much as nature made it, with the result that goods arriving in large quantities have to be landed piecemeal and in part on the northern, and in part on the southern trip of the infrequent steamer. On the other hand, it was held by an inspecting geologist that Portland Roads is the natural outlet for the Batavia River field, which lies sixty-five miles to the west of the Claude River field. At present the outlet for the Batavia is through Port Stewart, on Princess Charlotte Bay, 125 miles to the southward, and the geologist intimated that, even without improvement or additional facilities, Portland Roads offers better port facilities than does Stewart River, and although the present track over the range to the west-ward would require a considerable sum to turn it into a trafficable road to serve the Batavia field, he was ‘informed by local truck drivers … that other gaps and spurs could be used to provide a fair road’.

The first important discovery of gold was made by Mr J. Gordon, on Packer’s Creek, in June 1934; but prior to this prospector’s had worked over the Iron Range, where gold deposits were found subsequently to exist in a bed of schists approximately four miles wide, and said to extend about ten miles south and another twenty miles to the north to the vicinity of the mouth of the Pascoe River. It will be noted from this that the gold bearing area is of considerable extent. On the Iron Range area, however, only about five square miles have been prospected, the ground being held by over thirty leases. According to the geologist, gold has been shown to occur free in quartz reefs at several places over a length of two and a half miles, while ‘dish prospects from some of the other quartz reefs are good, and indicate the probability of payable mines being developed.

The Scrubby Creek area lies north-west from Packer’s Creek, and although there has not been development work, the average value of 32.5 tons of stone sent from these workings to Chillagoe was 2.67 oz. of gold.

From this report, it appears that a considerable tract of the first part of Australia seen by Bligh is gold-bearing and that in payable quantities. The population of the field at the time of making his report was estimated by the geologist at just over one hundred, of whom about twelve were women. About eighty-five percent of these are on the Iron Range centre, where the greatest development has been made. Costs are high and transport inadequate and expensive, yet there appears to be prospects of the field carrying a considerably larger population, and adding materially to the gold production of the State.”

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