Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Palmerston, Christie (1850–1897)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Christie Palmerston (1850?-1897), explorer and prospector, claimed to have been baptized Cristofero Palmerston Carandini in Melbourne, and to be the son of Jerome Carandini and his wife Marie, née Burgess. A North Queensland myth fathers him on Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865) who was 10,000 miles (16,093 km) away at the appropriate time.

Christie is said to have left Hobart as a youth to work on a station in the Broad Sound area of Queensland and thence to the Palmer gold rush in 1873-74. He was certainly at the Hodgkinson rush of 1876, where he first made his name as a pathfinder. Cooktown merchants, fearing rivalry from the new port of Cairns as an outlet for the Hodgkinson trade, backed Palmerston and W. C. Little to cut a track in April 1877 from the goldfield to an even more convenient port at Island Point. Palmerston discovered a route along the Mowbray River, and this led to the founding of Port Douglas. Because of the rivalries between the mushroom ports of North Queensland for the hinterland traffic, Palmerston was often employed to cut tracks between the Atherton Tableland and the coast, mostly through difficult, precipitous and scrub-covered country. In July 1880 he connected Port Douglas with the newly-discovered Herberton tinfields. Late in 1882 he cut a track from Mourilyan Harbour (near Innisfail) to Herberton. In December 1884 he blazed a route from Herberton to the new South Johnstone diggings and in 1886 found gold on the upper Russell River but in no great quantity.

Respected as a consummate bushman, Palmerston was on unusually close terms with the Aboriginals whose allegiance he won by his firmness and skill as a shot. He hated the Chinese alluvial diggers, with whom he carried on a running feud. In 1887 when the Russell gold rush proved disappointing he induced over 200 Chinese to go to the diggings, where with a posse of Aboriginals he prevented any Chinese leaving for several months, while he levied tribute from all comers, sold provisions at exorbitant prices and beat up any malcontents. After this adventure he settled down in Townsville, where at St Joseph's Church on 6 December 1886 he married Teresa Rooney, an architect's daughter and violinist; they had one daughter who left descendants. Palmerston found town life dull and, after a brief spell as a Townsville publican, moved to Borneo and then to Malaya where he worked for the Straits Development Co. He contracted fever in the jungle and died at Kuala Pilah on 15 January 1897.

Probably because of his theatrical background, Palmerston loved display and mystery-mongering. Yarns about his mysterious origins, hairbreadth escapes from death and hidden finds of gold proliferated around his name. Few records survive to indicate the truth about a hardy and skilful bushman who had rare insight into the life and habits of North Queensland Aboriginals in the first years of white contact.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away (Brisb, 1963)
  • F. Reid, ‘Christy Palmerston, North Queensland's super-bushman’, Cummins & Campbell's Monthly Magazine, Jan 1933
  • J. W. Collinson, ‘Rise and decline of Port Douglas’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4 (1948-52), pt 4
  • F. W. Woolston and F. S. Colliver, ‘Christie Palmerston—a North Queensland pioneer, prospector and explorer’, Queensland Heritage, 1 (1967), no 7
  • W. S. Walsh, Report re assault case against Palmerston, 5 Dec 1887, CSO 9984/1887 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Palmerston, Christie (1850–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/palmerston-christie-4361/text7089, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Carandini, Cristofero Palmerston
Birth

1850
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

15 January 1897
Kuala Pilah, Malaysia

Occupation