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Early Granite Kerb and Channel System, Cooktown

  • 601731
  • Adelaide, Charlotte, Furneaux, Green, Helen, Hogg, Hope and Walker Streets and Webber Esplanade, Cooktown


Also known as
Stone Kerbing and Channelling; Early Granite Kerbing and Channelling, Cooktown
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
8 April 1997
Utilities—drainage, sewerage, waste disposal: Storm water drainage system
6.3 Building settlements, towns, cities and dwellings: Developing urban services and amenities
Pascoe, Thomas
Construction period
1882–1905, Early Granite Kerb and Channel System, Cooktown (1882 - 1905)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century
1900–1914 Early 20th century


Adelaide, Charlotte, Furneaux, Green, Helen, Hogg, Hope and Walker Streets and Webber Esplanade, Cooktown
Cook Shire Council
-15.46788895, 145.24987583


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

Cooktown’s Early Granite Kerb and Channel System is important in illustrating its important role as a prosperous regional centre and port, in the development of Far North Queensland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cooktown was established in 1873 as the port for the Palmer Goldfield – Queensland’s premier alluvial goldfield during the late 19th century. The kerb and channel work was initiated in the early 1880s when the Cooktown Municipal Council commenced a number of civic improvements.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

Such extensive and early use of granite kerb and channel, illustrating the confidence and optimism of local business and civic leaders in the future of Cooktown in the late 19th century, is one of only two examples in North Queensland, including Charters Towers, and therefore is significant for being a rare aspect of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

The place is an intact, extensive and rare example in Queensland of a late 19th century and early 20th century civic storm-water management system, using locally accessible material. It retains its kerb, channel, dish drains (shallow paved drain across a road), box culverts, gully pits (entrances to underwater drains), and underground drains, all constructed from a hardwearing material (granite).

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The Early Granite Kerb and Channel System, Cooktown has aesthetic significance, contributing to the overall aesthetic and amenity of the historic streetscapes of Cooktown and providing a high degree of unity to the townscape in its material and design.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The Early Granite Kerb and Channel System, Cooktown contributes to the uniqueness of Cooktown and is valued by the local community as an important feature of Cooktown's history and identity. The community’s strong association with the early kerb and channel is evident in the actions of the Cook Shire Council, which since the 1970s has been constructing new granite kerb and channel to complement the earlier work.


Most of the Early Granite Kerb and Channel System at Cooktown, located on the south bank of the Endeavour River in Far North Queensland, within the traditional land of the Guugu Yimithirr people, was constructed between 1882 and 1905. Particularly fine examples of this work are evident in Charlotte, Hogg, Furneaux, and Green Streets, but the full extent of the work is much wider, and early kerb and channel which is now below present street levels, continues to be uncovered as new roadworks are undertaken.

Cooktown (also known as Gungardie or Gangaar) is located within Guugu Yimithirr (or Yimidhirr) country, occupied continuously since at least 37,000BP.[1] After HM Bark Endeavour, captained by Lieutenant James Cook, struck a coral reef in 1770, it was beached for repairs for seven weeks on the south bank of the mouth of the river Cook named the Endeavour. Although relations between the visitors and the Guugu Yimithirr people were initially cordial, a cultural misunderstanding led to a confrontation, which was soon followed by an act of reconciliation.[2] The Endeavour River was not visited by Europeans again until 1819, when Lieutenant Phillip King visited in HM Cutter Mermaid while conducting a hydrographic survey of northern coastal waters. The next recorded visit following this was made by John Jardine in 1865.[3]

Gold was discovered on the Palmer River, over 100km southwest of Cooktown, by surveyor Frederick Warner in August 1872, and reported to Parliament in May 1873. Between June and September 1873, James Venture Mulligan led a prospecting party from the Etheridge River to the Palmer River, and a rush to the Palmer from the Etheridge ensued after his return. Cooktown (initially called Cook’s Town) was established when a party of police, government officials and miners landed on the south bank of the Endeavour River on 25 October 1873, with the aim of establishing a port and supply line for miners already on the Palmer. A party of miners soon left the Endeavour River for the Palmer, and the Palmer Goldfield was declared on 27 November 1873.[4]

Cooktown developed rapidly as a port and a supply and administrative centre. Initially it was a disorganised tent city, until the Government Surveyor James Read arrived in February 1874. The first land sale occurred in May the same year, while a government reserve was established east of Charlotte Street and north of Hill Street.[5]

Within six months of its establishment, the town had 20 restaurants, 12 large and 20 smaller stores, six butchers, five bakers, three tinsmiths, and chemists, fancygoods shops, watchmakers, bootmakers and saddlers; while 65 publican's licenses had been issued for the Cooktown-Palmer River district, with 30 more applied for by April 1874. There was an estimated non-resident population of 3,000 in the town itself, and thousands of men en route to the goldfields. Large numbers of Chinese miners made their way to the Palmer Goldfield via Cooktown, and Chinese storekeepers were amongst the earliest to establish businesses in Cooktown. Two Cooktown newspapers were established in 1874; a state school, customs house, courthouse, and several churches were erected by 1875, and the town was declared a municipality in April 1876. The 1876 census revealed a population of over 9,200 persons on the Palmer Goldfield, and Cooktown had a population of just under 2,200.[6]

Cooktown Municipal Council was established in 1876, but the earliest recorded stone kerb and channel work dates to 1882, during a period in which the Cooktown Municipal Council commenced a number of civic improvements, including stormwater kerb, channel and drains; footpaths; street lighting; and wharf extensions. A report in April 1882 noted that ‘at present the work of stone-pitching the gutters of the main street is being carried out, and this will be a great improvement’. [7] It is not known if this project used granite.

The improvement to the town’s stormwater management system had begun near the end of the gold boom on the Palmer River. The population of Maytown, established in 1874 on the Palmer River, peaked at 1500 in 1876. The Palmer Goldfield, the highest producing alluvial goldfield in Queensland, produced 45% of Queensland’s gold in 1877, while customs duties collected at Cooktown were second only to Brisbane, during 1875-1877. However, as alluvial yields dropped, the flow of Chinese miners bound for the Palmer through Cooktown decreased. Gold warden WO Hodgkinson proclaimed the field’s alluvial deposits ‘exhausted’ in 1883. Reef mining also proved to be uneconomical. Maytown’s population fell to 604 by 1886. Cooktown’s fortunes also declined, and the gold boom was over by 1885.[8]

Despite the decline of the Palmer Goldfield, Cooktown’s economy was sustained by the pearling, bêche-de-mer, and pastoral industries, the use of Cooktown as the main port for Queensland’s trade with New Guinea from 1885, and by the discovery of tin along the Annan River in 1886. Another source of economic stimulus during the 1880s was the construction, from 1884, of a railway. This officially opened to Laura in October 1888, but the line was never viable so was not extended to Maytown on the Palmer Goldfield. Public improvements continued in Cooktown during the 1880s, including the building of a monument [QHR 600421] in 1886 to Mary Watson, a victim of frontier conflict; and a monument to Captain Cook [QHR 601044] in 1887. A combined boarding school and convent for the Sisters of Mercy [QHR 600423] was constructed at Cooktown in 1888-9.[9]

The improvements to Cooktown’s stormwater system also continued. In mid-1884 the Council called tenders for 240 yards of kerb in Charlotte Street. The contract was let to Cornishman Tom Pascoe, a Cooktown resident, who tendered with a price of 6/- per yard. He used slabs cut locally from granite boulders along the slopes and spurs of Grassy Hill. In addition to the kerb constructed by Pascoe, culverts at the junction of Banks and Charlotte Streets were constructed by day labour over a two week period in the latter months of 1884, using stone cut from near the Seaview Hotel (no longer in existence) in about September 1884.[10]

Early in 1887 Tom Pascoe again successfully tendered with the municipal council, winning the contract to construct the Hill Street culverts. It is possible the large underground stone-pitched drain leading from Hill Street underneath Charlotte Street and the foreshore to the Endeavour River estuary, was constructed at this time also. At the same period, further watertable works and kerb in Walker Street was carried out by day labour.[11] In the second half of 1888 the Cooktown Municipal Council employed an engineering surveyor to draw up plans and specifications for new culverts at the intersection of Walker and Charlotte Streets, but these plans proved too expensive. The work was instead contracted in 1889 to Cross and Duffiey for £125. Taylor & Brown constructed a culvert in Hill Street for £21 in 1889.

During the 1890s the Cooktown Municipal Council continued the work of installing kerb and channel along the town's principal streets. In the second half of 1890 Thomas Pascoe was contracted to cut 500 yards (457m) of stone kerb at 2/8 per yard, a standard price for this work, and in the same period he constructed a culvert in Hill street for £45. A council quarry in Hope Street was operating at this period. In the second half of 1891 Cleary, Brown & Smith were contracted to split and stack 500 yards of kerb at 2/8 per yard. In October 1892 the Council voted a sum of £50 for work in Hope Street and 50 feet (15.2m) of kerb was constructed along the southern side of Hogg Street from the corner of Hope Street. Early in 1893 two men were employed by the council to cut kerb for future road works. By early April that year they had cut 159 yards (145.4m) of kerb and 54 yards (49.4m) of pitching. Between mid-1894 and mid-1895, 271 yards (248m) of kerb was constructed in upper Charlotte Street, and in November 1895 kerb was constructed along the southern side of Green Street from Charlotte Street. Further kerb along the eastern side of Charlotte Street, between Green and Furneaux Streets, was undertaken August-September 1896.[12]

Local government member Pher Erick Seagren continued to improve Cooktown’s streets in the late 1890s and early 1900s. A Cooktown resident for 60 years, Seagren was one of the town's earliest settlers, a substantial landholder in the district, and a prominent and highly respected member of his community. He was keen to encourage Cooktown's progress, and was actively involved in municipal work for many years, beginning with three years on the Daintree Divisional Board [1892-95] prior to being elected to the Cooktown Municipal Council in 1895. He was Cooktown’s mayor from 1898-1901 and 1905-08. M J Fox, in his History of Queensland, wrote of Seagren's contribution to his community: ‘He has laboured for the improvement of the town with unsparing energy, and the excellent condition of the streets, footpaths, and other public works is due to his progressive methods when mayor’.[13]

Early in 1898 the municipal council called tenders for 450 yards (411.5m) of kerb and 600 yards (548.6m) of pitching for kerb in Hope Street from Walker to Hogg Streets. It appears that the kerb and channel to lower Charlotte Street was undertaken in 1898 as well, and that similar work to upper Charlotte Street commenced in May 1899. By mid-July 1899, the kerb on the northern side of Furneaux Street as far as the hill above Helen Street was completed.[14]

Kerb in Green Street between Charlotte and Helen Streets was commenced in December 1900 and completed in August 1901. Kerb along Walker Street from the Commercial [now Cooktown] Hotel to the junction of Helen Street was constructed between November 1901 and March 1902. Kerb along Hope Street commenced in June 1902. In January 1903 it was reported that kerb and undertables were constructed in Helen Street between Walker and Hogg Streets and in November the same year the kerb was continued in Hope Street to the corner of Pryde Street. In 1904 a culvert and kerb was constructed in Adelaide Street and the Furneaux Street kerb was constructed in 1905.[15]

Despite these civic improvements, Cooktown’s fortunes declined in the early 20th century. In 1900 the Cook and Palmer census districts still had a population of just under 6,000, despite less than 1,300 persons being on the Palmer, Coen and Hamilton goldfields, with the municipality of Cooktown retaining a population of nearly 2,000. However, a cyclone in 1907 destroyed or unroofed many buildings, including the Masonic Temple, the Presbyterian and Catholic churches, and ten hotels. Many commercial buildings were rebuilt, but houses were abandoned as the population drifted to Cairns.[16] The later halt to overseas shipping calling in at Cooktown during World War I, a fire in the business centre in Charlotte Street in 1919, the evacuation of civilians during World War II, and a cyclone in 1949, accelerated Cooktown’s decline. By 1951 the town’s population was 300.[17] The population of Cooktown was still only 429 in 1961, but had recovered to 2,339 by 2011.[18]

The early and extensive granite stormwater system in Cooktown is one of only two such examples extant in North Queensland; the other example (c1884-1905) being in Charters Towers [‘Stone kerbing, channels and footbridges of Charters Towers’, QHR 602512]. Some sandstone kerb and channel also exists at Croydon, while red stone-like bricks were used in Normanton. There is also stone kerb and channel on Leslie Street in the remnants of Maytown [‘Maytown’, QHR 602255].[19]

The importance of Cooktown’s granite kerb and channel system to the aesthetics of the town is evidenced by it being a notable feature in photographs, from the 1880s to the present day. This aesthetic and streetscape importance is also acknowledged by the local community – from the 1970s to the 1990s, additional sections of granite kerb and channel were laid by the Cook Shire Council, in parts of Helen Street, John Street, Hogg Street, Walker Street, Charlotte Street and Howard Street.[20]

In 2021, the original kerb, channel and culverts from the 1880s-1900s continue to perform their original functions, with concrete slabs laid above them when necessary for pedestrian or vehicle crossovers. As some street levels in Cooktown have been raised since the Early Granite Kerb and Channel System was constructed, there is the possibility that some sections of kerb and channel may have been buried.


The Early Granite Kerb and Channel System, Cooktown, is located along Adelaide, Charlotte, Helen, Hope, Hogg, Walker, Furneaux, Green, and Hill Streets throughout the town of Cooktown in Far North Queensland. It is constructed of granite – a granular igneous rock composed mainly of felspar (orthochase) and quartz. The kerb blocks are typically 200mm thick and 600mm long and the channel is formed from various sized slabs. The early kerb has shallow drill holes, indicating that the stone was probably drilled by hand.

The kerbs have been constructed to several different depths, possibly dependent on the extent of stormwater runoff in specific area. On the western side of Charlotte Street adjacent to Endeavour Park [QHR 601044], there is 300mm high kerb with an 800mm wide channel (constructed in 1884-85). Directly opposite, along the eastern side of Charlotte Street, which is slightly higher, the kerb is 300mm high and the channel is 600mm wide. In the main town area in Charlotte Street the kerb heights vary from 300mm to 200mm, but the channel remains constant at 600mm wide.

Lower Furneaux Street receives large quantities of stormwater from the elevated areas of the town, and accordingly, there is a 350mm high kerb with a 1400mm wide channel.

In Hogg Street adjacent to Town Section 15 the normal kerb and channel becomes a drainage channel formed on both sides of the channel with granite and measures 400mm deep by 1100mm wide. At the intersection of Hogg and Charlotte Streets is a particularly fine granite boxed culvert, and at the intersection of Adelaide and Hogg Streets, an early stone-pitched dish drain.

The channel to the streets along the crest and upper slopes of the ridge running south from Grassy Hill direct stormwater run-off toward Charlotte Street, and just south of the junction of Charlotte Street with Hill Street, a large stone-pitched underground drain carries the run-off underneath Charlotte Street and the foreshore to the Endeavour River estuary (under Endeavour Park). Along Charlotte Street there are a number of vertical and side entry stormwater gully pits which appear to connect to early underground stormwater drains.

Features of Early Granite Kerb and Channel System, Cooktown of state-level cultural heritage significance also include:

  • All in-situ 1880s-1905 granite:
    • Kerb
    • Channel
    • Dish drains
    • Boxed culverts
    • Vertical and side entry gully pits
    • Underground drains.
  • Sub-strata 1880s-1905 granite stormwater infrastructure (includes sections yet to be unearthed within the heritage boundary).

Features of Early Granite Kerb and Channel System, Cooktown not of state-level cultural heritage significance are:

  • Post-1905 granite kerb and channel
  • Post-1905 drains inserted in early kerb or channel
  • Post 1905 underground utility services
  • Post-1905 steel grates to early granite gully pits
  • Concrete footpaths, kerb, channel, culverts and gully pits
  • Non-original pedestrian and vehicle crossovers, driveways and adjacent road surfaces
  • Concrete or bitumen overlaid on early granite stormwater system features
  • Signs, posts, signals and street lighting
  • Adjacent vegetation and grass
  • Any other features within the heritage boundaries, which are not part of or associated with the early granite stormwater system.


[1] State Library of Queensland, Indigenous Languages Map of Queensland,, accessed February 2021; Mark McKenna, From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories, Carlton, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press, 2016, p166.
[2] ‘Reconciliation Rocks’, QHR 650262; ‘Australia’s first reconciliation’, (accessed 6 August 2020); P Turnbull, ‘James Cook’s hundred days in Queensland’, (accessed 6 August 2020).
[3] R Ormston, ‘The rise and fall of a frontier mining town: Cooktown 1873-85’, Phd thesis, Brisbane, Department of History, University of Queensland, 1996, pp.7, 58. The Endeavour River was also visited by bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fishermen in the 1850s-60s, and probably also by timber getters in the late 1860s.
[4] Ormston, ‘The rise and fall of a frontier mining town’, pp.44, 64-9, 77-79; ‘Maytown’, QHR 602255; ‘Palmer Goldfield Mining Landscape’, QHR 600427; Queensland Government Gazette, Vol 14 No 114, 6 December 1873, p.2046 (goldfield declared).
[5] Ormston, ‘The rise and fall of a frontier mining town’, pp.87, 140-8.
[6] ‘Cooktown Cemetery’ QHR 601147; ‘Grassy Hill Lighthouse’ QHR 601241. Another source puts the population of Cooktown in 1876 as 2400, rising to 3000 in 1878, and reducing to around 1500 by 1881; although these figures have to be estimated, given the transient nature of part of the population of Cooktown (Ormston, ‘The rise and fall of a frontier mining town’, pp.151, 210).
[7] ‘North Queensland notes’, Brisbane Courier, 28 April 1882, p.3.
[8] ‘Maytown’ QHR 602255; Ormston, ‘The rise and fall of a frontier mining town’, pp.2, 4, 273, 350, 367. During the 1870s, 1876-7 was the year of greatest government expenditure on public works in Cooktown (£10,708); while in the early 1880s, the greatest expenditure was on the Cooktown railway (Ormston, p.306). ‘Cooktown, Queensland’, Australian Town and Country Journal, 28 June 1884, p.28 (‘Cooktown… is quiet from a business point of view’). The Chinese Immigrants Regulation Act of 1877 also imposed a £10 poll tax on Chinese entering Queensland, effectively ending Chinese migration (G Grimwade and A Meiklejohn, ‘Cooktown heritage Study, Volume 1’, Resource Consulting Services Pty Ltd, December 1993, p.12). In 1882, it was reported that the poll tax had reduced the Chinese population of the Cook district from 20,000 to 4000-5000; with about 300-400 remaining in Cooktown. The town’s population had fallen by a third between 1879 and 1882 (to 1593) (‘North Queensland notes’, Brisbane Courier, 28 April 1882, p.3).
[9] ‘Cooktown’, (accessed 3 August 2020); ‘Cooktown’ Darling Downs Gazette, 21 July 1886, p.2 (tin found on Annan River); Ormston, ‘The rise and fall of a frontier mining town’, p.346; ‘Mary Watson's Monument’, QHR 600421; ‘James Cook Historical Museum’, QHR 600423; ‘Cooks Monument and Reserve’, QHR 601044; ‘Grassy Hill Lighthouse’, QHR 601241.
[10] Cook Shire Council, ‘Nomination to the Queensland Heritage Register, granite kerb and channel in the Town of Cooktown’, October 1995 (information drawn from Cook Shire Council and Cooktown Municipal Council minutes).
[11] Cook Shire Council, ‘Nomination to the Queensland Heritage Register’.
[12] Cook Shire Council, ‘Nomination to the Queensland Heritage Register’.
[13] MJ Fox, 1923. History of Queensland: its people and industries, Volume III, Brisbane, States Publishing Company, p.672. The granite kerb and gutter was also seen as a monument to Seagren’s efforts (‘Impressions of Cooktown’, Cairns Post 22 February 1930, p.13).
[14] Cook Shire Council, ‘Nomination to the Queensland Heritage Register’.
[15] Cook Shire Council, ‘Nomination to the Queensland Heritage Register’. In 1903 the Cooktown Municipal Council became Cooktown Town Council, and remained so until 1932, when it became part of the Cook Shire (established 1919).
[16] ‘Cooktown Cemetery’ QHR 601147; ‘Cooktown’, (accessed 3 August 2020)
[17] Grimwade and Meiklejohn, ‘Cooktown Heritage Study, Volume 1’, pp.15-18; ‘Fire at Cooktown’, The Telegraph (Brisbane), 11 February 1919, p.5.
[18] ‘Cooktown’, (accessed 3 August 2020).
[19] ‘Croydon Historic Precinct Study’, GLADA Taskforce, June 1987; ‘On the out back track’ Townsville Daily Bulletin, 22 July 1907, p.3 (Normanton bricks).
[20] Cook Shire Council, ‘Nomination to the Queensland Heritage Register’.

Image gallery


Location of Early Granite Kerb and Channel System, Cooktown within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
20 February 2022
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