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Brief History Of Mossman, Far North Queensland

The Kuku Yalanji have inhabited this area for at least 9000 years. The rock scarp on Mt Demi above Mossman is called the Good Shepherd, or ‘Kubidi’ or Goobidi’.

1870 - 1880

Dec. George Augustus Frederick Elphinstone Dalrymple named the Mosman River (later changed to Mossman) for Hugh Mosman while searching for a suitable port for the Palmer River goldfield. He also named Mt Beaufort and Wyanbeel (sic) Point, one of the few indigenous names he used. He named the low jungle range the Heights of Victory, and the Heights of Dagmar because it reminded him of the Dagmar Cross.

Dan Hart and his 7 men went to Mossman where they cut 40,000 super feet of cedar.

Oct 15. William Thomson applied for Selection No.28, the first homestead selection applied for and taken up in the area. He grew maize for the Port Douglas teamsters, coffee, coconut trees and mulberry. He was murdered in Oct. 1886. His wife Ellen and her lover John Harrison were hanged for the crime.

Mar. Dan Hart, a native of Jamaica, finally secured Homestead Selection No.35, which is now the western half of Mossman town where the caravan park now stands. His Jamaican experience helped him pioneer sugar cane growing in the district. He also grew vegetables, maize, coffee, persimmons, pomoloes, mangoes, pineapples, citrus, coconuts, and bananas on his property Coolshade. Mossman was first called Hartsville, and then Thooleer after the property near the port on the river.

Nov. R.O. Jones applied for The Cedars selection on the north side of the Mossman River, opposite the present caravan park. His daughter Gwendoline was the first white girl born in Mossman.

Thomas William Wilson took up Portion 72 of 160 acres. He grew corn, fodder, fruit, dairy cattle and experimented with sugar on the eastern half of what is now Mossman town. He donated two acres for a school and sold, at a reasonable price, most of site of the sugar mill. Thomas, Wilson, and William Streets are named for him

A sailing boat transport service was established between Mossman River and Port Douglas by Thomas Wilson and R.O. Jones.

A saw mill was established in Mossman.

1881 - 1900

Oct. William Henry Buchanan, a Scot who built Buchanan’s Family Hotel (later the Court House Hotel) in Port Douglas in 1878, selected Portion 114, 400 acres of land on the south bank of the Mossman River and named it Bonnie Doon.

Samuel Johnston (born 1840) from Derry via Bundaberg selected Drumsara named after the family home in Ireland.

Yorkshireman John Pringle and wife Bridget settled in Mossman at Fairymount, Portion 135, growing rice and maize for the teamsters prior to planting sugar cane. One of their five sons, James Mossman Pringle was the first white child born in Mossman in 1883. Because of the lack of a sugar industry in 1886 John mortgaged his land and it was let out to Chinese. By 1891 there were a dozen Chinese residences.

A sugar mill was erected on the Brie Brie estate by a wealthy Melbourne investor Harriet Parker, but it was not successful and closed in 1888

Mango Park, portions 198 and 206, was established by John Dorrens Johnston, brother of Samuel Johnston of Drumsara

Sydney Algernon Barnard from Melbourne and his brother Frederick William took up Boonandarra. In 1885 he was clearing a track when he was speared by aborigines and died aged 23. He is buried in the Port Douglas cemetery. A ‘posse’ pursued the aborigines and many were killed.

With the introduction of the Pacific Islanders Act, no Kanakas were to be imported after 1890. This would deal a severe blow to the sugar industry so the Act was amended and extended until 1900. Land was owned by the whites but cleared and worked by Chinese, Hindu, Punjabi, Japanese and Kanaka labour.

George Low Choy harvested cane in Mossman and supplied labour. He was moved out of the industry by a law passed in 1901 by Mossman Mill preventing Chinese having shares, deciding to pay two shillings less for Chinese cane. There are doubts that the Mossman Mill would have started if the Chinese hadn’t taken the risk to try cane farming.

R.O. Jones built the first rice mill at The Cedars. About 200 Chinese tenants of R.O. and Dan Hart were rice growers and cleared large areas of land.

When the Cairns railway reached Myola, the importance of Craiglie for the teamsters ended. The two single storey galvanised iron hotels were moved to Front Street Mossman to become the original Royal Hotel and Mossman Hotel.

Raymond D. Rex and Mr Hawson developed Nayne on the Little Mossman and grew sugar. He married R.O. Jones’ daughter Gwendoline in 1903.

The Mossman River Receiving Office was elevated to an unofficial Post Office. It became official in 1910.

Sept. The sailing ship Westfield arrived with machinery for the Mill.
Tick Fever, or Redwater, appeared in cattle herds of the district and the farmers turned to cane.

The Exchange Hotel was built by Denis O’Brien, who also built the North Australian Hotel (now the Central) in Port Douglas in 1878.

23rd Aug. The Mossman Sugar Mill commenced. The first cane to be crushed was from Bonnie Doon. It is the most northerly mill in Australia.

There were 200 kanakas cutting cane as well as Chinese. More recruits came in 1899 and 1900.

31st Jan The Mossman River State School opened

The Sugar Milling Co. commenced rail passenger service from Mossman to South Mossman

A timber church was erected on the St David’s site

Aug. A telegraph station was opened with a telephone station at the post office and the name was shortened from Mossman River to Mossman.

A Government grant of £22,000 (Pounds) was given to build extension to the rail line. The line ran from the Mossman Sugar Mill to the small Tramway wharf in Port Douglas (the present Combined Clubs building) built by the Council.

1901 - 1930

The locomotive Faugh a Ballagh and two passenger cars ran two return services each day, Mossman to Port Douglas.

The population grew to 6,000 in the district.

Jan. An extension to the cane tramway connecting Mowbray to the Mossman Central Mill was opened.

March 30. The Douglas Shire Council was created, replacing the Douglas Divisional Board.

The Douglas Shire Council constructed a new larger wharf in Port Douglas to handle general cargo and later for the storage and shipment of bagged sugar. This was later known as Fisherman’s Wharf and Ben Cropp’s Shipwreck Museum.

The Mossman Cooperative Butchering Company was formed

The Catholic church was opened by the Rev. Dr. Murray

Following many people being affected by a mild form of plague in 1906, 60% of the cane was burned before cutting.

16th March. A cyclone, the second in 5 weeks. The timber church in Mossman was destroyed. The Exchange Hotel, Callaghan Walsh’s store, the Mossman Butcher shop and Lunn’s Coronation Hall were damaged as well as many homes and farms. The Mill was badly damaged and the manager’s quarters and men’s quarters were destroyed.

Construction of the stone church, St David’s, began.

Richard Lunn introduced the first motor car to the district and set up Mossman’s first garage.

Mossman Gorge was gazetted as a government reserve of 64 acres. J.D. Johnston had donated the land and insisted it become a reserve for the local aboriginal community.

The business centre began to move from Port Douglas to Mossman near the sugar mill.

March. The first continuous telephone service was inaugurated

Aug 23. A new hospital was opened in Mossman.

The Miallo school building was erected.

1931 - 1945

Dec 17. The official opening of the Cook Highway, running along the coast between Cairns and Mossman.

The Mossman to Daintree road was completed with Finnish roadworkers

March 12. A cyclone damaged the Exchange Hotel.

Cooya Beach was affected by storm surge and cane was torn out of the ground

Dec 24. The passenger rail service between Port Douglas and Mossman was discontinued.

Feb 22. The stone was laid for the new Shire offices in Mill Street


The US 2/15 Engineers began the Rex Highway over the range to Mt Molloy. The highway was completed in 1949 by the Queensland Government although not fully bituminised until 1983. Named after R. D. Rex, chairman of the Shire.

July 31. A bomb was dropped on the Zullo farm, eight miles north of Mossman. Now a monument marks the spot.

1946 - 1980

The old low level Foxton Bridge over the Mossman River was replaced by a higher level timber bridge.

5th Jan. A letter delivery service started from the Post Office

Dec 12. The new Post Office was opened on its new site in Front St.

The stone St David’s church was completed and dedicated.

The first Mossman Show. The Victor Crees pavilion was completed in 1953, named for the first president of the Show Society.

John Verri’s store was built in Front Street

The RSL Memorial Hall was opened.

Feb 1. The Mossman Secondary Department (high school) opened in the QCWA Hall. It is the only secondary school in the Shire.

M. C. Lemura’s and Bartolo’s stores were built in Front Street

The Mossman Rotary Club began with foundation president Bill Reese

Mill Manager L.J.F. Prince had two way radios fitted to cane inspectors’ vehicles and the diesel and later the steam engines.

Last rail transportation of sugar to the wharf in Port Douglas. Thereafter the cargo was sent via road to the Cairns Bulk Sugar Terminal.

The Mill first experimented with the Massey Fergusson chopper harvester, a mechanical cane harvester.

Aboriginals from the Daintree Mission moved to Mossman Gorge

Amalgamation of the Mossman Gorge section with the Daintree National Park created what was then Queensland’s largest area of National Park.

An IBM 1800 process control computer was installed in the Mill.

Jan. 30 Mossman High School transferred to its new grounds.

The centenary of Mossman was celebrated

St Augustine’s Catholic Church was opened.

The new library was built.

The last year that cane was cut by hand.

The Mossman markets began in the grounds of St David’s church

1981 - 2006

The Chapel and Vestry were added to St David’s.

The Bicentennial Pool Olympic pool opened

The population of Mossman was 2,200 and the Shire was 9,867.

The Mossman court house and cells were sold and moved to Port Douglas to become the Clink Theatre

Oct 7. The Douglas Shire Council moved into new offices in Front Street.

Town and Country opened their shopping complex

The new Foxton Bridge was opened

“Thin Red Line”, an American feature film about World War II, was filmed at Drumsara, in Mossman and Daintree, directed by Terence Mallick

“South Pacific” the musical, was filmed for American NBC in Mossman and Rocky Point, starring Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jnr.

Census first release figures give the population of Mossman as 1,962.

Power was put underground in Mossman township and all electricity poles were removed.

Compiled by Pam Willis Burden March 2006
Revised 2007
A more detailed time line history has been published as a Bulletin and is available for $2 plus postage from the Douglas Shire Historical Society.