Attention history buffs: Here’s how you can learn about Cooktown’s fascinating 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 in the late 1970s.
Soon after our plane touched down on Norfolk Island, he made a beeline for the cemetery!
“That’s odd,” I thought at the time.
What I know now is that Don was on to a something akin to a time capsule of local history – cemeteries are full of fascinating stories dating from the area’s earliest days.
Family legend has it that Don’s family 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 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.