Cooktown Cemetery

Cemetery steeped in history

For a free snapshot of any town’s history, one of the best places to visit is the local cemetery.

I’d never considered a cemetery to be a tourist destination until my late husband, Don, and I visited Norfolk Island. Soon after arrival, he made a beeline for the cemetery!

“That’s odd,” I thought at the time. Now I know Don was on to a something akin to a time capsule of local history, full of fascinating stories. 

Don was thought to have descended from a crew member on the Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty, best known for a mutiny led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian in the South Pacific in 1789.

The dark, curly hair and olive skin of Don’s close relatives were reputed to be an indication of Tahitian blood in the family tree.

However, once we returned with the news that many of the mutineers’ children and grandchildren were born out of wedlock, talk of the family’s links to the famous ship suddenly ceased.

Such ‘indiscretions’ of the day were frowned upon, as were the mixing of races and religions.

While evidence of these customs can be seen at most cemeteries, it’s particularly prominent in the Cooktown Cemetery in Far North Queensland, which dates from 1874.

The cemetery layout is an example of late 19th century planning with denominational divisions being apparent with Roman Catholic, Church of England, Protestant, Chinese and Jewish sections. 

Most Chinese and Aboriginal graves are not marked. A relatively recent addition is the Rebels’ Corner where the layout is less structured.

Walking through the Cooktown Cemetery, I discovered many fascinating stories of the town’s pioneers.

They included Mary Watson and her infant son Ferrier who perished on Lizard Island, the Normanby Woman buried in 1886, and Elizabeth Jardine, the wife of John Jardine who established Port Somerset near the tip of Cape York in 1864.

Find out more about the Cooktown Cemetery

For more information visit the Cooktown website. Better still, if you’re visiting the area, take a walk through the cemetery or visit the Research and Archive Centre, 121 Charlotte Street, Cooktown or phone 07 4069 6640.

Cooktown Cemetery

Mary Watson and her infant son, Ferrier, of Lizard Island, are interred in the Cooktown Cemetery.

For unknown reasons, Elizabeth Cooper was buried in a separate section of the Cooktown Cemetery.

Kristian Parkes, who died in 2016, is in the Rebels’ Corner of the Cooktown Cemetery.

Rock around the croc at Cooktown

Rock around the croc at Cooktown

When this year’s Discovery Festival at Cooktown kicked off last week, even the wildlife put on a stunning show to welcome the deluge of visitors.

Spotted on a bank of the Annan River just south of the town in Far North Queensland was Blackie, the five-metre male croc that rules the area.

Last time I visited Cooktown, locals said I’d catch of glimpse of Blackie but he was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t even offer a few bubbles of water to suggest his snout was just below the surface.

This week, however, he was there in full view where I could see him from the safety of a high bank on the opposite side of the river.

Rock around the croc at Cooktown

Blackie makes an appearance.

Organisers of this year’s Discovery Festival also went above the average water mark with a full weekend of festivities in celebration of James Cook’s landing in 1770.

Located at the mouth of the Endeavour River on Cape York Peninsula, Cooktown is where James Cook beached his ship for repairs after sustaining serious damage on a nearby coral reef.  

In 1873, the town was settled as a supply port for the goldfields along the Palmer River. It was known as Cook’s Town until 1874.

Located about 330 kilometres north of Cairns, Cooktown today has a population of about 2500. Numbers swell radically every June for the annual Discovery Festival.

This year’s jam-packed program included activities and events for all ages starting with a Mayor’s Maroon Community Ball on Friday night. The 1RAR Army Band provided the music and again entertained crowds in Anzac Park on Saturday.

Fire dancers, fireworks, buskers, paintball, markets, street parade, helicopter flights, harbour cruises, dancing, workshops, competitions, tours and a wet t-shirt competition were just some of the other highlights.

The festival culminated on Sunday with a costumed re-enactment of James Cook’s historic landing in Bicentennial Park where still in place is the rock to which His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour was tied in 1770.

A huge crowd gathered to watch the impressive show that preceded a ceremonial firing of a full-size cannon by a lucky spectator who won the opportunity in a ticket draw.

Below is a glimpse of festival fun at Cooktown. 


Discovery Festival

Cooktown Discovery Festival 2017