Hervey’s Range Road

Part of the narrative of the early exploration of North Queensland lay in the hope of discovering a navigable river to the inland which would make settlement and the movement of produce to market, much easier. Without such a river, road access to the hinterland across the coastal ranges was an essential ingredient for any new settlement.

This was a matter of keen interest to anyone prepared to invest in pastoral properties when the North Kennedy district was opened up at the beginning of 1861. Two such men were Robert Towns and John M Black whose widely different backgrounds and interests were to merge so effectively in the shaping of North Queensland colonial history. By the middle of 1864 they had formed an equal partnership, J M Black & Co, in which Town’s money and Black’s considerable pastoral holdings which Towns described as ‘ small principality1 joined together for their mutual benefit. This principality consisted of ‘a broad sweep of pastoral land from present day Charters Towers east to the coast and south to the Burdekin’s mouth.’ 2

The ‘Landing’, established on the northern bank of the Burdekin River by E S Antill on his Jarvisfield holding, served the purpose of port and harbour. It was however subject to seasonal inundation by the river, which caused well documented destruction in March 1864. Very soon after this Cleveland Bay was discovered from inland, and Black was quick to explore and survey the surrounding country. He produced two maps of Cleveland Bay, which clearly marked, ‘port for vessels’ and ‘road to interior over sound country’. Towns was so impressed that he wrote to his long-term associate in London, that ‘Mr Black had discovered a snug little harbour & a road into the interior’.3

At the end of 1864, Black and his workmen began clearing and surveying the settlement on the north bank of Ross Creek, which proceeded with remarkable speed. He also turned his attention to the development of the road that he had already identified to the inland pastoral properties over Hervey’s Range. In December Captain Macbeath visited the new settlement and could report that:

Mr. Black informs me that there is an excellent road, and no rivers to cross, from Cleveland Bay, where he is erecting large receiving stores for wool, etc.; but the road is not opened, only by his own teams, which brought down ten bales of wool each, which was sent to Sydney by Mr. Towns’ ships, who, Mr. Black informs me, is going to make a depot of Cleveland Bay for his ships in the Pacific and China trade.4

Perhaps Black was distracted by the considerable development at Cleveland Bay and the first land sale held on 31st July 1865, to concentrate fully on the construction of the road to Hervey’s Range. It was reported that Black received a government grant of £1500 for this project5 and although it was supervised by one of his close associates, Andrew Ball, matters did not progress smoothly. In early August it was optimistically predicted that the road would be open within six weeks,6 but the cutting of the steep slopes at Thornton’s Gap was subject to landslides, and Ball’s workforce were prone to discontent:

Murder at Cleveland Bay —

On the evening of the 11th ultimo a barbarous murder was committed at the new township of Townsville, the victim being a quiet inoffensive labouring man. Mr. Black, J. P., rode to the scene, and finding the ruffian had made off, in the absence of any constable on the spot, forwarded the warrant to Bowen. Thus, long before the police can hope to reach Townsville, the fugitive will have put a safe distance between himself and his pursuers It appears that on the evening in question Mr. Ross had “shouted” some brandy for the road party working on the main range at the back of Cleveland Bay. A dispute afterwards arose between the overseer, Ryan, and a man named Byrnes.

The quarrel, which commenced in words, soon came to blows, and ultimately Ryan ran to his tent, took down a carbine, and declared he would shoot the first man who came near him. Byrne also obtained a carbine, and approaching Ryan, said, “I’ll shoot you;” upon which Ryan fired at Byrnes without taking effect, and the other levelled his gun at Ryan, but the cap missed fire.

Alarmed by the report, and the angry words, the work men began to collect round the disputants, and among others a man named Livingstone came up. Byrnes now seems to have been literally mad with drink and excitement, and turning round he pointed the carbine at Livingstone, saying, “If I can’t shoot Ryan I’ll have you, you,” and his words soon became too true, for the cap which failed to explode at the first attempt now took effect, and poor Livingstone fell wounded in the pit of the stomach.

The unfortunate victim lingered in mortal agony for forty-eight hours, and his last words were, “It was Jem Byrnes who shot me; see justice done to me.7

Hervey’s Range c1912

The site of this episode and reportedly the site of Livingstone’s burial is known as Dead Man’s Gully to this day8 and bisects Thornton’s Gap at the top of the Range.

Further problems with the management of the road works were revealed later in the year by Frederick Byerley in his Report from the Engineer of Roads, Northern Division, to the Queensland Parliament.

‘And at Cleveland Bay, where the expenditure was entrusted to gentlemen living in the neighbourhood, a fifth of the grant for cutting the range has been expended in the transport of a party from Brisbane, commission and charges alone, and the plant purchased – since sold for a trifle, – when plant was lying idle in Bowen, from which a party might have been equipped and forwarded at slight cost.’ 9

In November of 1865 Archibald MacMillan was appointed Superintendent of Works; Kennedy District based in Bowen. He now took charge of the construction of the government road from Townsville to the West via Thornton’s Gap. From this time on we have an accurate chronology of events because he left a diary of his activities for the year.10 On January 19th 1866 MacMillan made his first inspection of the road from Townsville and reached:

Meade and Freir’s Public House on a branch of Camal Creek at 3 o’clock, 28 miles (from Townsville) – at foot of range-walked up ascent very steep, total height about 800 ft. Blacks cutting entirely destroyed. Wrong expense and thrown away as far as future use is concerned. Sandy with large granite boulders. Reached road on top of range in 1/2 an hour – 30 miles.

Detail of MacMillan’s 1866 map 

A few days later on January 23rd MacMillan met with Frederick Byerley and together they ‘decided on a permanent line’ for the road. The subsequent survey map memorialised the name ‘Thornton’s Gap’, probably because the name was synonymous with a gold claim made at about the same time.11 Mr W Thornton and Mr D Gibson were associated with the supposed discovery of gold on Keelbottom Creek, near present day Mt Gibson. The discovery was soon found to be suspect by the prospectors who made the trip along the Range road which would have been challenging even for those travelling by foot.

‘The gold diggings are not doing much. The number of diggers has increased considerably, but though they are all sanguine of ultimate success, they are at present scarcely making wages.’ 12

But there was also a Thornton with local credentials who is described by MacMillan as having been ‘a former manager of Dotswood.’ Perhaps they are the same person?

By March the government work had begun and shortly afterwards a road party of some 60 men and an expert foreman by the name of Chapman arrived from the south and MacMillan tells us that:

‘While man was getting horse, went to the Range with Chapman. Found work progressing rapidly and have come to conclusion that Black got little done for £500.’

Work continued whilst MacMillan left to survey the ‘Thompson’ and returned to Bowen on July 20th, after a trip in which ‘my horses have done nearly 700 miles in four weeks and are about done.’ There he learnt of the sudden death of Chapman by a kick from a horse and decided to travel to the Range at once. At Cleveland he examined the ‘papers and books’ and then inspected the works, before returning to Cleveland where he met J M Black and learnt of ‘Chapman’s carrying on ever since I went to the Thompson.’

Despite these setbacks on September 18th 1866 MacMillan recorded in his diary that he had, ‘inspected the range early and found that MacLaine (had) attended to instructions – the road is now open and a very good one.’ And soon after it was reported in the Port Denison Times that ‘Robert Williamson’s two teams carrying 7 tons on two drays’ came down,’ 13 and by December there were 20 teams on the road.

Sketch from MacMillan’s Diary

A Note on Names

When the first pastoral leases were taken up on the Burdekin Black established the Fanning River station, and Philip Somer and Mathew Hervey took up Dotswood on Keelbottom Creek. The Range is named after the latter, but when the name was given currency is not clear. On Black’s map of 1864 it is simply marked as ‘Main Range 2000 ft’, and he would have known Somer and Hervey well. On the MacMillan map of 1866 it is named, ‘Main Coast Range’, whilst it does include the title, ‘Thornton’s Gap’.

Confusingly, there is a drawing of the Range in MacMillan’s diary of 1866 which is labelled, ‘Byerley’s Range’. Frederick Byerley was the Engineer of Roads, Northern Division, and as such was Surveyor Archibald MacMillan’s boss. The name has not survived in the record, but on the same drawing there is a ‘Frederick’s Peak’, a name which has survived, and although not credited as such in the Queensland Place Names Database, there is surely too much coincidence for it not be named after Frederick Byerley?

1 Towns to Brooks, 16th April 1864 ML Towns MSS Item 52, no 107
2 Black to Gold Brumby P. 37
3 ML Mss CY 678 Towns to Brooks 17th May 1865 (Manion Papers TCC Local Collections)
4 Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, 12th January 1865, P. 4
5 Thuringowa Past and Present Diane Vance and Gai Copeman
6 Port Denison Times 11th August 1866
7 Toowoomba Chronicle and Queensland Advertiser 14th September 1865, P. 4
8 Cummins and Campbell’s Monthly Magazine March 1932 P. 60
9 Votes and Proceedings 1866 p 1480.
10 Courtesy Lyndon MacMillan
11 Port Denison Times 31st January 1866
12 Brisbane Courier 17th March 1866 P. 4
13 PDT 29th September 1866