The Naming of Mt Elliot

A Queensland Place Names search used to give this citation for the name;

‘Named after Gilbert Eliot (1796-1871), the first speaker and member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland’s first Parliament, which was formed in 1860. He was the member for the Wide Bay electorate. Spelling corrupted over time to Elliot.’

In the Australian Dictionary of Biography his name is given as Gilbert Eliott (1796-1871). He was the third son of the sixth Earl of Minto, born at Stobs, Roxburghshire, who with his wife and three children arrived in the Mary at Sydney in November 1839. He did not enter politics until 1859, in NSW, and Queensland in 1860 as member for Wide Bay in the first Queensland Legislative Assembly. However, in the ‘Narrative of a Survey Volume 1’ by Captain Phillip Parker King, master of the Mermaid, Mount Elliot is named as early as 1819, although it is spelt Eliot.

June 13th 1819
..low land….to the N.W. of which, Mount Eliot, a hill of considerable height, rises rather abruptly; and, as the shores of the bay were not distinctly traced, there is a fair reason for presuming that there is a river at its bottom. (Vol. 1 P191)

June 14th 1819
The next morning, we steered round Cape Cleveland and passed close to some straggling rocks on a reef that extends for four miles to the eastward of it. Cape Cleveland is the extremity of a mountainous projection, and like Mount Upstart rises abruptly from low land, by which it is separated from the lofty range of Mount Eliot. The wooded and uneven character of the land on its west side indicated so great a likelihood of our finding fresh water that I was induced to despatch Mr. Bedwell to the shore to ascertain whether a delay might be made profitable by completing our hold with wood and water. His return bringing a favourable report, the cutter was anchored in three fathoms, at about one mile from the extremity of the Cape, bearing North 60 1/2 degrees East. (Vol. 1 p191.)

                                                 HMS Mermaid

HMS Mermaid had been commissioned by the British Admiralty, and Colonial Office to survey those parts of the Australian coast that were not sufficiently covered by Captain Matthew Flinders in the Investigator in 1802. One result of these surveys (HMS Mermaid circumnavigated Australia three times!) was the production of a series of coastal maps intended to aid the rapidly growing marine traffic from Port Jackson (Sydney) to China, India and England.

In the same Narrative of Captain King’s, the ship the Lady Elliot is mentioned as having travelled down the inner reef in 1816 as the following extracts show;

May 28 1819
But we did not pass round Breaksea Spit until the next day. We then steered across Hervey’s Bay towards Bustard Bay and passed a small island that was discovered by the ship Lady Elliot in 1816 and that had not yet a place upon the chart of this part of the coast. (Vol 1 p180)

June 18 1819
At sunset we anchored about four miles to the eastward of the position assigned to a reef, on which the ship Lady Elliot struck, in 1815; but saw nothing of it. (Vol. 1 p198)

July 18 1820
At nine o’clock the next evening, having passed Indian Head in the morning, we rounded Breaksea Spit, and at midnight brought to the wind in order to make Lady Elliot’s Island. (Vol. 1 p352.)

The entries of May 28th 1819, and July 18th 1820 refer to Lady Elliot island, located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, east of Gladstone, whilst the entry of June 18th 1819, refers to what is now known as Lady Elliot Reef which lies directly east of Ingham only 2.4 kms from the coast.

Wikipedia has this description of the Lady Elliot;

It was a ship of 353 tons and had been constructed in Bengal. The ship was registered in Calcutta and was under the command of Thomas Stewart. The ship arrived in Sydney from Calcutta on 23 June 1816 with a cargo of mixed merchandise. The ship left sometime between 12 and 22 September for Batavia. The ship was carrying a cargo of hats, indigo, sealskins, turpentine tar and white lead. The ship never reached Batavia and the wreck was not found until some years after. The crew of 54 who were mostly Lascars probably drowned or perished on reaching shore.

NB: Research details compiled for the Queensland Museum Wreck Register (see also Australian National Historic Shipwrecks Database) indicates the vessel was refloated, as a Dutch newspaper reference (Javaasche Courant) announced the vessel’s arrival in Java in November 1816, i.e. after the supposed date of loss. The captain’s name for this voyage was Joshua Abbott

From Charles Bateson’s ‘Queensland Shipwrecks’:

Lady Elliot. Ship, 353 tons. Built Bengal; registered at Calcutta. Captain Thomas Stewart. Left Sydney for Batavia late in September 1816 but did not arrive. Several years later settlers at Cardwell found her remains near the mouth of a small creek. Apparently, the crew of fifty-four, mostly lascars, lost their lives. One of the first vessels to use the “inner route” between the Great Barrier Reef and the mainland when travelling between Sydney and Batavia. The captain named Lady Elliot Island on the southern Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the Lady Elliot was named for the wife of Hugh Elliot, Privy Counsellor, and Governor of Madras, from 1814 to 1820 . He married Margaret Jones in 1792 and they had nine children before her death in 1819. 

Interestingly Hugh was the second son of Sir Gilbert Elliot 1722-1777– not to be confused with our original Gilbert Eliott 1796-1871!

⇐   The small section reproduced here is from the ‘Chart of part of the NE Coast of Australia by Phillip P King Commander RN 1819, 1820, 1821 Sheet 1’ published 1824  which clearly shows Mt Eliot

In conclusion, it would seem unlikely that Mt Elliot could be named after Gilbert Elliot, Australian politician 1796-1871. The use of the name in the logbook of the Mermaid in 1819 would make that impossible, and yet the Mermaid clearly had records of the voyage of the Lady Elliot, enabling them to identify Lady Elliot Island ‘that had not yet a place upon the chart’. This would make good sense, as the ‘inner route’ was still very little known, the dangers of navigating the reef being so large. So, it looks likely that the intrepid Mr Stewart, master of the Lady Elliot, named the mountain whilst passing close to shore in 1816.

And finally, as my own surname is Elliott, I have taken a keen interest in the various spellings and misspellings of Mt Elliot over the years. There seems to be a consensus now that the correct version is indeed Elliot, but the constant errors are not just a modern predicament as the following extract from The Steel Bonnets will show;

Note – A curiosity about the name Elliot is that there are more than seventy ways of spelling it, from Ayelwood to Ilwand, and Dalliot to Ellot (which was the form most commonly used on the Border, along with Elwood.) Any permutations of l’s and t’s is said to be permissible except Elliott, which for some reason the family affect to despise. The old rhyme says;

The double L and single T
Descend from Minto and Wolflee,
The double T and single L
Mark the old race in Stobs that dwell,
The single L and single T
The Eliots of St Germains be,
But the double T and double L
Who they are, nobody can tell.