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During September, October and November of 1858 an estimated fifteen thousand people passed through Rockhampton on their way to Canoona Station, about 65 kilometres to the north. Times were hard for the pick and shovel miners of the Victorian Goldfields, so the report of a new strike in the far north of N.S.W. caused great excitement and lack of caution. A man named Chapple was given the dishonour of first discovering gold at Canoona in July of 1858 and causing men to dream big dreams. Unfortunately their dreams turned to dust when it was realised that although there was gold in payable quantities, there was not enough for more than a few hundred men. The news of the discovery had spread like wildfire, but the disappointment of the first miners failed to do likewise and so shiploads of people kept flowing in. The small settlement of Rockhampton with its Native Police Camp and two buildings was now overflowing with tents and huts all along the riverbank as far as the eye could see. With the arrival of more people than food to feed them, prices quickly soared and in no time the stores on the goldfields were emptied. Many men had sold all they owned to pay their passage north and. were now walking away with nothing and not knowing where their next meal was coming from.

When the first Police Inspector arrived on the diggings he found that a small band of Diggers had gotten together and made up a code of laws that seemed to be working quite well. In his first report to the Inspector General of Police he told of the sorry plight of most of the diggers, but also of the good luck being experienced by those of the first rush who were early enough to acquire the best claims. An early miner, Mr. Hall estimated that his party had dug over 2,000 ounces with more to follow. The most gold was found within the depth of 12 inches from the surface.

With disappointed and destitute miners returning to Rockhampton, the now overflowing township was thrown into social and economic chaos. Before the end of November more than seventy ships had sailed into Keppel Bay.

The failure of Canoona was perhaps the real beginning of Rockhampton as many broke and starving diggers took jobs on properties, in stores and any other local work they could find. Canoona was also a lesson to hopeful miners of the future. Whenever a new goldfield was discovered in the district, the miners were a little more cautious.

Although the miners of the l858 rush believed they had been duped, the fact remains that quite a lot of gold has been extracted from Canoona and weekend prospectors are still earning pocket money there today.


The following names are mentioned in J.T.S. Bird's account of
"The Canoona Rush"


Mr. Chapple
R.A. Parker 
Mr. Palmer 
Mr. Hardy 
Mr. H. Friend 
William Ellis (hotelkeeper)
Daniel Martin (butcher) 
Mr. Hitchcock 
Mr. Till, Dr, Robertson 
Const. Frederick Woods 
Capt. Curran 
Capt. O’Connell
Mr. Landsborough 
Mr. G.P. Pilkington 
Lieutenant G.P.M. Murray
Mr. Ramsay 
James Atherton 
Mrs. Vaughan 
Mr. Pene 
Mr. Perry 
Mr. Thozet 
Mr. Albrecht Feez 
Mr. W. Kasch 
Mr. Justice Milford 
John Scanlan 
William Purcell 
John Austin 
Bill Sparkes 
Teddy Macintyre 
Ned Bitton 
Paddy Sinclair
Mr. Johnson (sole survivor of the 1857 "DUNBAR" wreck)
William John Brown 
Capt. A.E. Sakes 
Capt. Hunter.


Legislative Assembly

(Canoona, Port Curtis.)
 Ordered by the Legislative Assembly to be Printed, 
7 October, 1858.


 M. C. O’Connell, Esq., C.C.L., to The Colonial Secretary.


  27 September, 1858

            I have received this Mr. Elyard’s letter of the 18th instant, (No. 58-435,) intimating to me, as well as to the Bench of Magistrates at Rockhampton, that had been considered expedient, in consequence of the numbers of persons now proceeding to the Fitz Roy Gold Diggings, at once to proclaim this place as one for holding Petty Sessions; and that a Clerk of Petty Sessions, who was also a Gold Receiver, and who had a deputation from the Customs, had likewise been appointed.
           2.  I was also informed that a mounted inspector, 3 mounted troopers, with 1 sergeant, 4 foot police, and 1 detective, had, under instructions to the Inspector General of Police, been ordered to proceed to this district.
           3.  I have now to apprise the Government of the arrival this afternoon of Mr. Maxwell Hutchinson and the detachment of police above-mentioned at their destination; and I have to express my thanks for the aid which has been provided for this district under the trying circumstances under which it now is placed.
           4.  Within the last few days there have arrived here, by eleven vessels – five of which were steamers – about 1,043 persons (according to the best information I can obtain), and I understand about 700 of these have already proceeded to the Canoona Diggings – distant thirty-five miles from hence.
           5.  In addition to the numbers I have given, there may be computed about 300 as arrivals overland, who are also at the diggings; and the distribution of the populating in this neighbourhood may be said, at the present moment, to be situated thus, viz:- 1,000 at the diggings, and between three and four hundred at Rockhampton.
           6.  I must remark, however, that of the 1,000 persons supposed to be at the diggings, 700 are about arriving, or have been there only one or two days.
           7.  But I am given to understand that some thousands of persons are already on their voyage hence from Sydney, and that considerable numbers may be expected from Melbourne and other ports.
           8.  This is an announcement which, I confess, causes me considerable anxiety for the peace and good order of the district, as the pressure of such a vast increase of population on its means of subsistence must, inevitably, in the first place cause much inconvenience, and, no doubt, much individual distress.
           9.  I am also bound to take into consideration the fact, which is notorious, that many have come up into this newly located country with but trifling means of support, under a vague hope that gold is to be obtained without that expenditure of time and labour which its very value ought to teach them is necessary to its production.
           10.  There has yet to be solved also the problem whether the Gold Field which has been productive to the few who as yet have been working it, will prove equally profitable to the much larger numbers  who now appear inclined to look to it for a means of livelihood, and this is a question, momentous as it is, which nothing but experience can resolve.
           11.  There are elements of disorder here which induce me to ask you for an increased force of police, of 1 sergeant and 6 men mounted, and 4 dismounted men.
           12.  I propose to station the Inspector and all the mounted men together, with three dismounted men, on the diggings, the remainder of the dismounted men being at Rockhampton.
           13.  I am happy to be enabled to state, that up to the present moment I have received no information of any outrage having been committed, wither here or at Canoona, beyond an assault which occurred on board one of the vessels in the river this morning, and which I have to inquire into to-morrow.
          14.  The cause from which I apprehend most discontent at the present moment is from a possible scarcity of flour, through the difficulty of obtaining a sufficiency of carriage for goods hence to the Gold Fields; but as I trust, from the best inquiries I can make, there is a sufficiency of this necessary article here, or on board the vessels in the river, I hope some means will be devised of transporting it, either by land or by water, to some point within reach of the consumers.
           15.  I add a few memoranda on a separate paper upon some points which appear to me worthy of immediate consideration, should the present influx of population to this district continue.  And I beg to assure you that no effort on my part shall be wanting to secure, as far as practicable, the peace and good order of this district.
                                                                   I have, &c.,
                                                                  M. C. O’CONNELL,
                                                                  C. C. L.
The Honourable
     The Colonial Secretary,


 MEMORANDA upon some points which appear to me worthy of consideration, if the present influx of population to Port Curtis should continue.
          A Harbour Master ought to be appointed, with jurisdiction extending from Port Curtis to the head of navigation on the Fitz Roy.  He would require a crew, with a decked boat of twelve or fifteen tons, as well as a whaleboat.
          A Custom House should be established at Gladstone, to compel all foreign vessels to call in there.  Vessels of large tonnage, or drawing more than nine feet six of water, cannot easily navigate the Fitz Roy; and for foreign vessels to unload in Keppel Bay, where there is no settlement, nor much probability of one for some years to come, would, it appears to me, open the door to many frauds upon the revenue.  Moreover, there are several dangers about the entrance into Keppel Bay, and large vessels with passengers would lose very little in time, and gain much in comfort to their people, by transhipping them in the harbour of Port Curtis, instead of in Keppel Bay.  I fear there will be some sad loss of life if passenger vessels continue to use the entrance by Keppel Bay in bad weather.
          There ought to be a lighthouse erected – I think on Gatcombe Head.
          The Fitz Roy River and the inner passage between Keppel Bay and Port Curtis ought to be surveyed and buoyed off.
          Two different townships on the river might be laid out and sold at once, in addition to Rockhampton, which, as it is surveyed, ought to be offered for sale as soon as possible.
          The townships I allude to would be one at the crossing place of the river nearest to Canoona, and the other on the north bank of the Fitz Roy, some eight or ten miles below Rockhampton – at least this latter place is worth examining, to discover whether it offers any advantages over Rockhampton itself.
                                                                            M. C. O’CONNELL
                                                                            C. C. L.
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