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Chronological history of Townsville, 1770 to 1900 
 Skip Navigation LinksHome > About Townsville > History and Heritage > History of Townsville > Chronological history of Townsville, 1770 to 1900

YouTube video of 1770-1900 featuring audio of contents page and visual images.Colonial and Settlement History

 1770 to 1900

The traditional custodians of the land are the Wulgurukaba and Bindal people, who have lived here for many generations.


In 1770 Captain James Cook sailed along the east coast of Australia and named coastal features in this region including Cape Cleveland, Cleveland Bay and Magnetic (al) Island.  While  he did not land in the region he noted use of the land by Indigenous inhabitants. 


In 1819, botanist, Alan Cunningham and Captain Phillip Parker King were the first Europeans to record a landing in Cleveland Bay.  They collected botanical specimens to take back to England. 


In 1846, James Morrill was one of 14 crew members on board the barque, the Peruvian which was shipwrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Cast ashore near Cape Bowling Green 42 days after the wreck, he was the first European to inhabit the area for an extended period of time.

In early 1861 Port Denison (now known as Bowen) was established and became the first European


John Melton Black

 John Melton Black, 1830 to 1919

Andrew Ball

Andrew Ball

Robert Towns

Robert Towns, 1794 to 1873
West End Cemetery
West End Cemetery
settlement in north Queensland.


In 1864,  John Melton Black, then in partnership of Robert Towns, despatched Andrew Ball, Mark Watt Reid from Woodstock Station (south west of Townsville) to search for a coastal site where a suitable port could be established.   Ball's party reached the mouth of Ross Creek in April 1864 and they set up camp below the rocky spur of Melton Hill (near the present Customs House on the Strand). After further exploration of the surrounding area, Ball returned to Woodstock Station and reported the discovery of a site for a settlement.

The first party of settlers, led by WA Ross, arrived at Cleveland Bay from Woodstock Station on the 5th November.  Andrew Ball helped establish the settlement that would become Townsville.


During 1865, the first road to the hinterland was opened. This provided pastoral properties in the hinterland with direct access to the Port.

The first sale of allotments on Cleveland Bay was held at Bowen on the 31st July.  James Morrill was permitted to select and purchase an allotment at an upset price. 

Cleveland Bay was declared a Port of Entry on the 23rd September 1865.


In 1866, Robert Towns, entrepreneur and businessman agreed to provide financial assistance to the new settlement. Although he only visited Townsville briefly, the settlement was named Townsville in his honour. Towns died in 1873. A memorial to him is located at the top of Castle Hill.

Townsville was declared a municipality in February 1866, with John Melton Black elected first Mayor of the new municipality. It was also the year the first steamship arrived in the port.

A boiling down works was established at Hermit Park, sugar plantations were established at Hyde Park and Hermit Park, and a cotton plantation was established at Railway Estate.

The first newspaper, the Cleveland Bay Herald, was distributed on the 3rd March 1866 and in the same year, the West End Cemetery was established.  It operated as Townsville's General Cemetery until 1902.


By 1868, Townsville was the major port and service centre for the Cape River, Gilbert, Ravenswood, Etheridge and Charters Towers goldfields. The pastoral industry extended further to the west, and the sugar industry expanded in coastal towns both north and south of Townsville. By the end of 1867, Townsville’s population was approximately 300 people.

In 1869 the National School opened in North Ward.  It was located near the Leichhardt Street and Eyre Street roundabout.


 Port of Townsville
Port of Townsville
Harry Butler and Family late 1900's early 20th Century
Harry Butler and family late
1800's early 1900's
Townsville Prison
Townsville's first prison

In 1873 increased maritime activities prompted an attempt to develop the western side of Ross Creek seawards along the line of the present breakwater.  When the attempt failed the Government stepped in to improve existing harbour facilities.

The first mail steamer arrived via Torres Strait.

In 1873 James Burns set up a mercantile business in Townsville.  When he went into partnership with Robert Philp the manager of his Townsville operations in 1877 the business became Burns Philp and Company. 

From 1868 to 1872, Townsville's population grew to around 2000 people.


In 1876 the Anglican Diocese of North Queensland was founded and the census listed the population as consisting of 1148 females and 1527 males.

In 1876 Harry Butler and his family came to Picnic Bay and became the first permanent white settlers on Magnetic Island.

In 1876 the North Queensland Pastoral and Agricultural Association was formed.  The first show was held in 1876 at the Botanical Gardens Reserve. The industrial and horticultural exhibits were displayed in the old Supreme Court building on Melton Hill which was then the School of Arts.


In 1878 construction began on Townsville's first prison. The prison was situated in North Ward and was superseded by a new prison at Stewarts Creek (now Stuart Creek) in 1891. The original prison's administration block is now used by the Central State School and parts of the prison wall can still be seen in the grounds of the school.

A major fire destroyed a number of commercial premises between Stokes and Denham Street in 1877. A second fire in 1878 damaged the Town Council offices, with a large number of Council records lost.


In 1879 the Thuringowa Divisional Board was created.  The board covered an area of approximately 3219 square kilometres.   The area included Ross Island, Hermit Park, Magnetic Island, extended to  Crystal Creek to the north; to the Burdekin River in the south; and to the top of the range near Mingela.

The first bridge from Flinders Street to Ross Island (now South Townsville) was completed but subsequently dismantled as prior to its opening major flaws in the mechanisms of the drawbridge winches were discovered. 

 Old-Townsville-Railway-Station,-c-1900 WJ Laurie photo
Old-Townsville-Railway-Station,-c-1900 WJ Laurie photo


In 1880 a railway was constructed to the Reid River and Townsville's first Railway Station was constructed on the corner of Jones and Flinders Streets.

In 1881 the Townsville Show was held for the first time on its present site on Ingham Road.


In 1882 the railway was extended to Charters Towers to service the booming goldfield.

The first stage of the North Ward Townsville Hospital was completed. The two storey brick building accommodated 70 patients. Also in that year the Townsville Turf Club moved to Cluden from Cleveland Park in Garbutt. Townsville's population grew to 4000 people.

 Grammar School building nestled under the hill, Townsville, ca. 1900 courtesy of State Library Qld
Grammar School building nestled under the hill, Townsville, ca. 1900


In 1883 the first Land Office was built and the first secondary school The Grammar School, opened in temporary premises in Flinders Street. In 1885, the school traded 25 acres of land at Kissing Point for 10 acres of Council owned land at the northern end of the gardens and recreation reserve. Construction commenced on a new school which opened its doors on the 16th April 1888.  The original ‘School House’ still stands proudly on the school grounds.


In 1886 the coastline of Magnetic Island was surveyed by J.G. O'Connell. Surveyor J G O’Connell reported on the 25th October 1886 that five different parties were settled round the Island and that Picnic Bay was the favourite resort of Townsville holiday makers. The first freehold auction offered town lots at Picnic Bay in 1887.


In 1887 work commenced on the Victoria Bridge built to link Flinders Street with

 Victoria Bridge under construction - 1887
 Victoria Bridge under construction - 1887
Ross Island. The bridge was a swing bridge designed to allow shipping to sail upstream. It is one of only two of its type constructed in Australia.  It opened in 1889 but by 1924 the swing section ceased to function and continued to serve solely as a road bridge until 1975.  It was redeveloped in 1988 as a pedestrian bridge and again in later years to the form it is today.

A dedication service was held on the site of the proposed St James Cathedral on the 21st  June 1887.

Townsville's water supply came from Willmett's Well, opposite Mundingburra school, and Hubert Well, three to four miles from the town. The pumps were capable of lifting 864,000 gallons of water in 24 hours.


 Baths on the Strand, 1890
 Baths on the Strand 1890

In 1890 the Alligator Creek Meatworks commenced operation. The meatworks produced hides, fertilizers and glue basics. A meat preservation company also commenced operation.

The Council Baths were built on The Strand. Gender restrictions were the rule, and women were only admitted on Tuesdays and Fridays. Other baths were later constructed including the City Baths 1910,  Seaview Baths 1921, Queens Road in 1930, Rowes Bay in 1931 and at Kissing Point in 1933.

In 1891 a freezing works was established on the Ross. This was the first freezing works to be established in Queensland, allowing for the export meat trade from Townsville to the United Kingdom to commence.

The population of Townsville was 13,000 people.


In 1893, the State Minister for Lands declared that all land within 10 chains of the high water mark was to become the property of the future Harbour Board. No compensation was paid to owners of the resumed land.

Andrew Ball, a prominent Townsville pioneer, died in 1894 and was buried at the West End Cemetery.  Ball's Lane in Mundingburra is named after him. In more recent years, Andrew Ball Drive was named for him at Lavarack Barracks.


 Damage to buildings on the Strand, after Cyclone Sigma
 Damage to buildings on the Strand, after Cyclone Sigma
Cyclone Sigma struck the town on the 26th January 1896. The cyclone caused 600,000 pounds of damage to Townsville and several lives were lost.

In 1896 the Townsville Harbour Board was formed following the development of port and shipping in the city.


In 1899 gold production was at a peak and the bulk of which was shipped through Townsville port.  Hayles Magnetic Island Ferry Service began operation between Townsville and Magnetic Island in the same year.

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Discover the rich history of Townsville and the surrounding region in the Local Collection Room at our Flinders Street library and online.  

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acknowledges the traditional owners and custodians of Townsville, the Bindal and Wulgurukaba peoples.