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Crocodile Creek

Early in June, 1866, a party of miners succeeded in bottoming a shaft - rather a paddock - in the bed of Crocodile Creek, and, what was of much more importance, found payable gold. Miners began to quickly drop in from various places, and a lot of shafts were bottomed on gold. It is not quite clear who first got gold in the creek, but Messrs. William Brady, Thomas Feely, and their mates were among the first. From the creek bed claims were taken out in all directions. Early in August there was a population of at least a thousand persons, and the unemployed rushed there from all parts of the colony, as did also a number of Chinamen. A Lot of Rockhampton people started stores and hotels on the field. Coaches were put on the road from town, and when the gold began to come in the importance of the field was recognised throughout Queensland. Gold buyers used to go out to the field, purchase considerable quantities of gold, and so put cash into circulation.

The stores and hotels were naturally of a flimsy and temporary character, but they were erected rapidly, whilst every facility was afforded the miners to spend their money without going into town. Day by day the population increased, and by Christmas it was estimated the number was over 3000 persons, which included a number of women and children, and about a thousand Chinese. All were not getting payable gold, but a large number were, including some hundreds of Chinese. The Europeans who were not getting gold were exasperated by seeing the Chinamen securing the treasure which they considered rightly belonged to them. Meanwhile Mr. John Jardine had been appointed Gold Commissioner, and he resolved to protect the Chinese, and give them all the privileges of the white population, which, of course, only increased the number. Chinatown, as the lower portion of the place was termed, was steadily becoming an abomination, with gambling, opium smoking, and other evils, which included the Chinese luring young girls of twelve or fourteen years of age into their premises.

The gold won was not all confined to the creek and flat, for several other gullies, including the Five mile, were opened, and some of them turned out a fair amount of gold. Many of the gullies that ran into Crocodile Creek also contained gold, and some claims in these paid their owners well. Among such places were Slaughter yard, Commissioner, and Poverty gullies. The work in the Crocodile Creek claims was very laborious, for the huge boulders had to be lifted out of the way, whilst some claims were wet, and required almost constant bailing. As a rule the best gold was obtained on the sidings of the granite bottom, and not in the deepest ground. Indeed, it became a proverb almost, that those who struck heavy water in the deeper ground obtained light gold, and vice versa.

Among the diggers were a lot of new chums who came up from Brisbane, which at that time was crowded with unemployed. A good many of these men were quite unfitted for such work, and some of them did not want work at all, but on the whole the people were law abiding, and would have been thoroughly contented if the Chinese had not held many of the best claims. It was the law, of course, that was at fault, but it was many years later before an Act came in force to exclude Chinese from mining on all goldfields for two years from the date of discovery.

Butcher's meat, bread, and stores of all kinds were cheap, only a shade above Rockhampton prices, while coaches ran daily at a fare of 2s. 6d. each way. Among the early storekeepers at Crocodile was Mr. Christian Jagerndorff, and for thirty nine years the veteran has remained faithful to the old spot. He has reared a big family on the creek, and notwithstanding that he has passed the allotted span of human life, and that he has been battered about by numberless accidents, including the loss of a leg, the old "King of Crocodile" is still full of vigor.

Many estimates have been formed of the quantity of gold won at Crocodile from the alluvial diggings, but nothing more than an approximate idea can be arrived at. Mr. R. L. Dibdin was the principal gold buyer in those days. He paid a weekly visit to Crocodile to make purchases, and in addition he bought gold in town. Mr. Dibdin built an office at Crocodile at the latter end of 1866. At first he bought gold for himself, but subsequently he purchased for the Bank of New South Wales. He was never molested on the road either going or coming, though he was well known to be travelling with either gold or cash. Mr. Dibdin never kept a record of the quantity of gold he purchased, but he estimates it at 50,000 oz. In all probability he did not purchase more than half of the gold obtained at Crocodile, in which case the total quantity won would be about 100,000 oz., all of which was alluvial gold. That will possibly be the outside quantity, for after the first twelve months, when the principal claims were worked out, the bulk of the population disappeared, and the gold yield of course fell away. At any rate, it may be assumed that Crocodile yielded somewhere between 80,000 oz., and 100,000 oz. of gold, worth about (3 15s. per oz. The gold on Crocodile was of a coarse character, heavy, and fairly well water worn. Occasionally nuggets of an ounce or two in weight were found, but not many much bigger. One Chinaman is said to have found a nugget that weighed 9 lb. in weight, and if the story is correct, the nugget was the largest reported. Coming, as this diggings did, when there was a financial crisis in Queensland, it helped the colony over difficulties which were pressing on all sides.

Several of the diggers and residents of Crocodile in the early days have won distinction in various walks of life. Among such was Mr. John Hamilton, who was so long a member of the Legislative Assembly, and did so much both in the House and out of it for the reform of the mining laws. Mr. Hamilton worked a claim on the flat, and met with an accident there that seemed likely to end fatally. One evening he was hauled up from the underground workings by the windlass, and in the usual way he sat down for a second or two on the edge of the shaft. He was all wet and slimy, of course, and in shaking his foot to free it from the rope in which it had been placed, he slipped off the round log on which he sat, and fell 27 ft. to the bottom of the shaft. He dropped partly into the well hole, where the water broke his fall, but his right arm struck the edge of the well slabs and he sustained a nasty wound. He visited Rockhampton as soon as possible, and had the injured limb attended to. It did not improve, though and finally two doctors told him it would be necessary to amputate the arm to save his life. Hamilton declined to suffer such a loss, saying he would sooner die. His medical attendants accordingly washed their hands of him, and Hamilton had to doctor himself. The arm was in a high state of inflammation, and Hamilton bathed it with a carbolic lotion, at the same time taking a cooling mixture internally. He was stopping at the Commercial Hotel at the time, and during the night, in a half delirious state, he drank from the wrong bottle, and narrowly escaped death from poisoning. He bore his sufferings with a patience and fortitude but seldom witnessed, and finally subdued the inflammation, and saved his life and his arm also. It was years before the arm thoroughly healed, and not until a splinter of bone had worked out.


The bad feeling between the white diggers and the Chinese continued to increase, and on several occasions there seemed a likelihood of a conflict, "John" by no means showing the lamb like disposition he is credited with. Indeed on several occasions there were offers to fight over trivial quarrels when the Chinese were in excessive numbers. On the 7th of January, 1867, a row occurred, which has always been spoken of a riot. How the row first started it is difficult to say with certainty. Gold had been found near the Chinese garden, and some of the Chinese claims, not having been properly pegged out, were taken possession of by some white men, when a row ensued. This was in the afternoon of the day named. One Chinaman used a tomahawk on a white man's head with such force and dexterity that the poor fellow was nearly butchered, and was shouting for help with the blood pouring over him. This acted like lighted match on a dry gorse rick. Shouts to "roll up," soon brought wildly excited men from all directions, and a regular onslaught was made on the Chinese.

What followed cannot be justified, of course, but in extenuation it must be remembered there was a cause of complaint against the Chinese in many ways, quite apart from the fact that they were getting much of the best of the gold, while a lot of white men had to put up with hard work and small returns for it.

It was estimated that 200 white men assembled and began to pelt the Chinese with stones. Some of their tents and humpies were burned, their goods smashed, and the flying Chinese were fairly hunted from their houses. One Chinaman had a white wife who kept a hotel or grog shanty, and when the men rushed the place she smartly thrust a glass of brandy in the hands of the first comer, doing the same by many others. The result was that her premises were not molested. In all, some thirty tents and humpies were burned, which included two or three small stores. Probably some of the goods were stolen, and many of the Chinese roughly handled, but in the main the object was to hunt the Chinese from the field, the idea being that the Chinese should not be allowed to hold claims. White Australia ideas, however, were not then as widely held as they are now, and most of the magistracy and business people in Rockhampton sympathised with the Chinese, while those who were not of that opinion could not acquit the Europeans of blame in using violence and destroying property. That more was made of the affray than was warranted is certain, for no Chinaman was seriously injured, and very few received more than blows from the fist.

When the news was received in town, Mr. Jardine called out the police, and orders were given for the Volunteers to hold themselves in readiness. Mr. Jardine, Sub Inspector Elliott, and all the police available, started for Crocodile. It was then found that only a couple of hundred men had attacked the Chinese at all, and most of the white residents had done all they could to shelter the flying Celestials. The so called rioters were in hiding, or else fortifying their courage with grog. Ten of the supposed ringleaders were promptly arrested and brought into town and lodged in gaol. Application was made for bail, which was not allowed, and innocent and guilty were placed under lock and key. Against a few of these men there was no evidence at all, and the magistrates had no option but to discharge four of them, two being able to conclusively prove an alibi. Six men were committed for trial on a charge of riotous behaviour, and what seemed particularly hard was that bail was again refused.

In due course the committed men were brought up for trial at the Supreme Court, in March, 1867. The prisoners were:- William M'Caul, John Cunningham, Abraham Solomons, John Stone, Daniel Galvin, and John Sullivan. The jury were:- Messrs. David Cadwallader, Henry Forbes, G. A. Den Taaffe, George Francis, W. Cadden, Samuel Fielding, W. J. Chapple, Moses Galloway, John Dunn, Benjamin Edgar, Charles Considine, and Alexander Dickson. The Attorney General (the Hon Charles Lilley) prosecuted, and the Hon. R. Pring and Mr. Hely appeared for the prisoners.

As the trial went on, it soon became evident that the identification of the men by the Chinese was not very strong, and the whole case soon assumed a less serious aspect. It was proved that two Chinamen commenced the assault, and all that followed arose from that. The final result was that the two men - Cunningham and M'Caul - were found not guilty; and Solomons, Stone, Galvin, and O'Sullivan guilt on the third count - committing an affray - and were each sentenced to nine months imprisonment in Brisbane Gaol.


It can be well understood that the large quantity of gold found in Crocodile Creek and the gullies running into it, soon caused miners to try and find the reefs from which the gold came. Several reefs were found in the mountain and elsewhere, and some of these yielded good returns. In one mine Shambrook and party unfortunately got mixed up in litigation with the usual disastrous results. The same year that Crocodile was opened - 1866 - Messrs. Price, Keledas, and another opened the Hector reef. There being no crushing mills in the district, Messrs. Price and party sent a ton of their ore to the Sydney Mint, and obtained a return of 6 1/2 oz. from it. This was very encouraging, of course, and a lot of claims were taken up on the same line. In fact the reef was worked westerly for a long distance.

In August, 1867, the Pioneer Quartz crushing Company was formed in Rockhampton. It was purely a crushing company. The plant was obtained and erected near a lagoon in what is now Hunter's paddock, opposite the Hector Hotel. The first directors of the crushing company were Messrs. R. M. Hunter, H. Jones, H. W. Risien, W. Jager, and H. Schmidt, with Mr. W. O. Hodgkinson as provisional secretary. On Mr. Hodgkinson's retirement, Mr. R. L. Dibdin took up the secretaryship.
Mr. Dibdin, by the way, owned No. 3 on the line of reef, and it was arranged that he should have the first parcel crushed, which took place on the 27th of March, 1867. The stone was estimated to yield about 2 oz. per ton, but forty three tons were put through for a total of 14 oz. As the cost of crushing was 30s. per ton, the gold obtained did not pay the battery charges. This was the first crushing ever put through locally and needless to say, it was very disheartening.

The other owners tested their stone in turn, but eventually the machine holders and Price and party amalgamated. The Hector mine is said to have paid till the pundic stone was reached, when the battery could not extract the gold. Tenders were eventually called for the purchase of the land, mine, machine, and everything in connection with it, and the Late Captain Hunter became the purchaser of the lot for (500. There was 200 acres of land included in the purchase, and (150 worth of quicksilver was lost in the tailings. It is estimated that nearly 10,000 tons of ore were treated at the battery.