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Maytown Township

  • 602255
  • Maytown Town Reserve, Laura


State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
1 June 2004
Mining and mineral processing: Mining camp/settlement
2.2 Exploiting, utilising and transforming the land: Exploiting natural resources
6.1 Building settlements, towns, cities and dwellings: Establishing settlements and towns
Construction period
1874–1920, Maytown Township (1874c - 1920s)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century


Maytown Town Reserve, Laura
Cook Shire Council
-16.04920093, 144.28993388


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

Maytown Township is significant as the major settlement on the Palmer goldfield. Founded beyond the frontier of pastoral occupation, it became an important centre for administration, communications and cultural contact with local Aboriginal people and Chinese miners. The town site contains building footings associated with administration and commerce.

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

The presence of stone kerb and channelling is rare on far northern goldfields and survives as testimony to the desire for a permanent settlement in the region. Other structural remains are well represented and better documented than at other abandoned mining centres in north Queensland.

Criterion CThe place has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Queensland’s history.

Maytown cemetery is a significant cultural heritage component of the place and contains important historical documentation for the interpretation and understanding of those who lived in the area whilst gold mining operations were thriving along the Palmer River.

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

As the commercial centre for the Palmer River goldfield, Maytown Town Reserve still demonstrates an extensive coverage of historical archaeological remains including campsites, graves, pig ovens and charcoal kilns. The township site and associated places are central to understanding and interpretation of the entire Palmer River goldfield.


After James Venture Mulligan's discovery of gold on the Palmer River in August 1873, a rush followed and was sustained for several years by further alluvial finds. An estimated twenty to thirty thousand people made their way to the field or Cooktown in the early years. It was regarded as an ideal "small man's field" for diggers without capital and experience had the opportunity to get rich quickly (Kirkman, 1980:116-117).

The alluvial mining communities tended to concentrate in ephemeral canvas camps. The most substantial were Palmerville, Maytown and Byerstown, whose establishment reflected an eastward movement of the mining population along the river. In May 1875 became the administrative and business centre of the field.

Originally called Edwardstown after the local butcher, Jack Edward, the town was surveyed in 1875 by A.C. Macmillan who named it Maytown after his daughter. In 1876 there were 12 hotels, 6 stores, 3 bakers, 3 tobacconists and stationers, Edwards the butcher, lemonade factory and a surgeon. The sheer size of the population, estimated in May 1877 at 19,500 for the field, kept money circulating among commercial houses for essentials and luxury goods, but at the same time, there was little financial investment in the permanent manifestations of settlement.

By 1882 the number of hotels had declined to six, and there were two European Stores, 10 Chinese stores, two banks, two butchers, baker, blacksmith, saddler, chemist, lemonade factory and printer. A post office existed from 1876 to 1945. By 1877, the Golden Age newspaper was printed followed by the Palmer Chronicle in 1883.

Mining Warden Phillip Sellheim, an educated family man residing at Maytown, bemoaned the lack of social institutions and initiated the establishment of a hospital, school and Miners' Institute Library, although these did not eventuate until the 1880s when most of Maytown's population had departed (Kirkman, 1980:120). In 1886 the population was 154 Europeans and 450 Chinese (Hooper, ibid). There was no Christian church, but there was a Chinese temple.

By the turn of the century the town had a branch of the Government Savings Bank, a state school, courthouse, school of arts, hospital, police barracks, one hotel, eight stores - four of which were Chinese, a baker, saddler and Miners Institute. The population was 252 Europeans and 422 Chinese (Hooper, ibid).

By 1924 only Wah Chong and Company's store remained operating. Buildings like the school, which closed in 1925, remained abandoned until World War II in the hope of a mining revival.

Today there are only the remains of the baker's oven, stone kerb and channeling along the former Leslie Street, telegraph poles, floor paving, a cemetery with 16 headstones from 1875 to 1986 remaining and in Duff Street a replica hut built by the Palmer River Historical Preservation Society.


The township was not surveyed in detail during this survey. The place is located on the north bank of the Palmer River near the junction of Butcher's Creek. The area contains a high concentration of building surfaces and footings. Some street alignments are discernible and one street contains carefully laid stone kerbing and gutters. Dominant structural remains include a brick baker's oven, timber uprights for the school, a Chinese temple site, and burnt timber stumps and corrugated iron sheets of the police station. A stone commemorative cairn and an (inaccurate) replica of a miner's hut have recently been constructed in the centre of the town site. The cemetery contains about 40 identifiable graves including 16 with headstones.

The earliest headstone is dated 1875. The latest headstone is dated 1986 marking Sam Elliott's grave.

Plant: Nil

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Location of Maytown Township within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
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