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Brief History Of Port Douglas, Far North Queensland

The Douglas Shire runs along the eastern coast of Far North Queensland from just north of Cairns, near Wangetti, to the Bloomfield River, south of Cooktown. Port Douglas is now a resort village on the coast.

Mossman is inland and is the seat of the Douglas Shire Council. Daintree is village north of Mossman, the former centre of the timber industry. Cape Tribulation is the centre of the Wet Tropics Heritage rainforest, north the Daintree River.

Captain James Cook passed the coastline. Soon after, the Endeavour struck the Great Barrier Reef and was beached at Cooktown for lengthy repairs.

Yule Point was named for Lieut C.B. Yule, commander of the Bramble on her voyage north with HMS Rattlesnake

James Venture Mulligan discovered payable gold inland on the Palmer River
George Augustus Frederick Elphinstone Dalrymple named ‘Island Point’ while searching for a suitable port for the Palmer River goldfield

April. Christie Palmerston, William C. Little and aboriginal guide Pompo discovered a route from the Hodgkinson goldfield to Island Point, which would now become the port.

June 30. The S.S. Corea, from Cooktown anchored off Island Point. The next day the Inlet was surveyed, and the harbour was named Port Owen. It was also variously known as Terrigal, Owenville and White Island Point and Salisbury before it was finally named Port Douglas.

Cooktown businessmen established branch offices in Port Douglas and a jetty and stores were erected.

Sept. The 'Bump Road' (Palmerston’s track) was opened

Oct. Surveyor Frederick Horatio Warner laid out the town of Port Douglas

Nov. Official notification from the Queensland Government that the area was to be named Port Douglas after the current Premier of Queensland John Douglas. The main street became Macrossan Street in honour of the local parliamentary member.

Dec 12.
The first mail was dispatched to Thormborough

More businesses moved from the Cairns area to Port Douglas

Feb. Police Magistrate Edmund Morey was transferred from Cairns to Port Douglas to commence conducting a Court of Petty Sessions.

Four Mile Camp, later named Craiglie was set up as a Packers and Teamsters village.

The Port Douglas cemetery was established.

The Port Douglas Hospital was built where the Tropic Breeze caravan park now stands.

April. The first land sale. 171 town lots at the going rate of 25 pounds per acre were offered for sale at the police office (i.e. a tent). Lot 28, on the corner of Macrossan and Wharf Streets, valued at six pounds, fourteen shillings and fourpence halfpenny, was bought, and a single storey hotel, the Buchanan Family Hotel, was built by W.H.Buchanan. Renamed as the Court House Hotel
The North Australian Hotel, later known as the Central Hotel, was built as a single storey structure by Denis O’Brien

July. The number of licensed hotels in the district was 21.

Nov. The light was exhibited for the first time on the new lighthouse erected on Low Isles. (The original 1878 lens for the light is on display in the Court House Museum at Port Douglas)

The town had hotels, banks, a community hospital, two newspapers and government services. Race meetings were held on Four Mile Beach

Nov. The Port Douglas Court House was substantially finished
Buchanan’s Family Hotel changed its name to Buchanan’s Court House Hotel.

Nov 11. Pupil number 1 was enrolled at the Port Douglas State School No. 334 on Murphy Street.

Port Douglas enjoyed a boom period, soon eclipsing Cairns as the port for both the Hodgkinson and the Herberton mining fields.
St Mary’s Catholic church was erected on the hill.
Jack and Newell, merchants, built a wharf near the Inlet’s entrance.

July. Messrs. Murphy and MacDonald established a coach service from Port Douglas, and in September Cobb and Co. took it over.

Cairns was chosen as the terminus for the railway and this killed any further development of Port Douglas. This was the birth of the Kuranda railway line.

The Queensland Census lists the Chinese population of Port Douglas town as 142 and Port Douglas hinterland as 487. Chinese were almost two-thirds of the district's entire population.

Jan. The committal hearing of Ellen Thomson and John Harrison at the Port Douglas Court House. Ellen was convicted, perhaps wrongly, of killing her husband William and was sent for execution to Brisbane. She is the only woman officially hanged in Queensland, on 13th June 1887. John Harrison was also hanged that day. (More information)

The railway between Cairns and Mareeba was opened. Passengers still used the Bump Track to get to the railway to Cairns.

Mr J.S.D. Crees, at Ferndale was growing lemons, oranges, mandarins and mangoes after the tick pest wiped out his cattle herd.
The Douglas Divisional Board Tramway Wharf was constructed. A portion of it survives today as the Port Douglas and District Combined Clubs

Oct 9. The first Gazette newspaper was published.

An extension to the rail line was built from the Mossman Sugar Mill to the Tramway wharf for transporting freight, sugar and passengers.
Of maybe 23 pubs in Port Douglas’s heyday, only four were still trading: the Exchange (owned by F.D.A. Carstens), the North Australian (to become the Central in 1919), the Caledonian and the Court House Hotel.

Census: population of Port Douglas 331, with 6,000 in the district.

A larger timber wharf and storage shed were erected, later known as Fisherman’s Wharf and Ben Cropp’s Shipwreck Museum.

March 16. Severe cyclone. Two were killed. Within 24 hours, 16 inches of rain fell. Most buildings were damaged. Many were never rebuilt because of the town’s uncertain future.

Pugh’s Almanac lists the population of Port Douglas at 250

The business centre began to move to Mossman near the sugar mill

The Caledonian Hotel burnt down

Aug 23. A new hospital was opened in Mossman. The Port Douglas Hospital was demolished in portions about 1935

July 17
. Sir Charles Kingsford Smith landed on Four Mile Beach

Dec 17.
The official opening of the Cook Highway along the coast between Cairns and Mossman, bypassing Port Douglas.
The Shire offices were transferred to Mossman, which became the centre of the Douglas Shire.

Aug 1. A toll was introduced on the Cook Highway at Buchan Point and Pebbly Beach. It remained in force until 1947.

Dec 24. Passenger rail service between Port Douglas and Mossman discontinued. Passengers then caught the sugar trams.

The biggest employer, the wharf, was down to 15 ‘sugar lumpers’.
Betty Cumming bought the Court House Hotel.

April 13. Electricity was switched on

The lighter Konanda shipped the final load of bagged sugar. Thereafter the cargo was sent by road to the Cairns Bulk Sugar Terminal.
Albert Whiting became the licensee of the Court House Hotel and married Betty Cumming in 1959. They ran the hotel together for the next 20 years.

The population of Port Douglas was about 100

June. The Port Douglas School closed

June 22. A Cobb and Co coach re-enacted its trip to Melbourne

The Government sold the court house and the police cells to Betty and Albert Whiting and they were removed to beside the Court House Hotel.

The first daily cruise to Low Isles began with the Martin Cash

The Shipwreck Museum was opened by Ben Cropp on the council wharf

Aug 29. Quicksilver began the first daily cruise to the Outer Barrier Reef.

Cairns International Airport was opened
Quicksilver’s first mooring platform was anchored at Agincourt Reef

Oct. The Sheraton Mirage resort, developed by Christopher Skase, officially opened

St Mary’s was moved to the park and named St Mary’s by the Sea.
Aug. A 3 month long domestic pilots’ dispute halted the growth of tourism

The population of Port Douglas was 2,500 and the Shire was 9,867.
The Mossman Court House and cells were sold and moved to Port Douglas to become the Clink Theatre

Nov. The Clink Theatre opened

The Port Douglas Court House was returned to the police reserve and restored for use as a museum. It is the second oldest building in Port Douglas after the school house, both being completed in November 1879

The old Shire Hall was removed from Macrossan Street by a private purchaser and relocated in Craiglie. The Outrigger Heritage was built on the site.
Brian Ray’s group renovated and remodelled the Court House Hotel

Ex-President Clinton was in the bar of the Central Hotel at the time of the 11th Sept destruction of the New York World Trade Centre towers.
Census figures give the population of Port Douglas as 6,137