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Pryke, Frank (1872–1937)

by H. N. Nelson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Frank Pryke (1872-1937), prospector and miner, was born on 27 March 1872 at Sofala, New South Wales, seventh child of John Pryke, London-born miner, and his Irish wife Catherine, née Mongan. Keen sportsmen, the Pryke brothers competed in athletic meetings and three played Rugby for Goulburn. Frank served an apprenticeship at Baxter's tannery in Goulburn but, failing to find work there or in New Zealand, joined his eldest brother Dan prospecting in Western Australia.

Frank and Dan in 1896 followed other Australian miners to New Guinea and joined ten prospectors going up the Musa River. The expedition took seven weeks getting up the river, the carriers deserted, and Frank was tossed off a raft in rapids and 'nearly pegged out' before he regained camp. After some months on a small field near Bartle Bay he tried various North Queensland fields.

In New Guinea again by 1900 Frank teamed with George Klotz to mine on the upper Mambare. They 'did fairly well', only pulling out when their labourers' contracts expired. At Milne Bay they recovered their health on 'fowl and fish and occasional blowouts on pig'. In 1901 Pryke and Klotz found gold just inland from Cloudy Bay and in about three months washed 370 ounces (10.5 kg). In 1902 Frank, partnered by Dan, opened a second small field in the Keveri Valley and settled into a routine: they recruited in the islands, mined through most of the year, then rested and 'jubilated' in Samarai or Australia before again taking a schooner out recruiting. In 1906 Frank and his youngest brother, Jim, shifted to the Gira River, sometimes crossing the German New Guinea border, to mine and prospect on the Waria.

With gold production declining, the government of Papua agreed in 1909 to finance a prospecting expedition. Matt Crowe, Frank and Dan Pryke were nominated by the miners to take the expedition inland from the Gulf of Papua. After six months the Prykes were back in Port Moresby where they received a reward claim on a tributary of the Lakekamu River, a field which in 1910 became 'a little hell'. Many of the 200 white miners were soon destitute and in the first six months over 250 Papuan labourers died of dysentery. The Prykes did 'fairly well', but the field declined. Elected to lead another joint government-miner expedition in 1911, Frank Pryke was shot in the chest with an arrow while attempting to make friendly contact with a group of tribesmen near the Vailala River. He recovered but the expedition found only 'colours'.

Finding a shop and billiard saloon in Moree, New South Wales, a 'mighty slow way of accumulating a fortune', Frank in 1914 joined a prospecting trip up the Fly River financed by Sir Rupert Clarke. Frank and Jim found no worthwhile prospect, and Frank again suffered an arrow wound during a sudden attack. On his return to Australia he was variously billiard-saloon proprietor, publican and storekeeper. Jim enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was killed at Broodseinde, Belgium, in 1917.

On 18 March 1925 Frank Pryke married a divorcee Ina Sarah Mingay Cruickshank, née Howard, at Coogee, Sydney, but next year he left his store at Rushcutters Bay when he heard about a gold strike on Edie Creek in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. He made the exhausting walk from Salamaua to take up a valuable claim. He retired in comfort to Coogee.

Just above medium height and strongly built, Pryke was admired by other miners for his skill and tenacity as bushman and prospector. Genial, patient and thoughtful, he judged men by their actions, and admired those who overcame physical hardship. He took the Bulletin and the North Queensland Register into his camps, and he wrote verse, some of which was privately published in 1937. But his most valuable writings were his brief diaries and his numerous letters to Dan. Direct and unpretentious, the letters are a unique record of the miners' methods and attitudes. While involved in several incidents in which Papua New Guineans were shot, Pryke deplored unnecessary violence, respected his long-term Papuan workers, and had a son by one Papuan woman companion. Born into a Catholic home, he lost his faith, and was married and cremated with Anglican rites.

Although often ill in late life, Frank Pryke travelled through the islands and to England. Survived by his wife, he died at Coogee on 5 August 1937 and his ashes were buried on Samarai Island.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Nelson, Black, White and Gold (Canb, 1976) , H. Nelson, ‘Frank Pryke …’, in J. Griffin (ed), Papua New Guinea Portraits (Canb, 1978)
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, Aug 1937
  • Papuan Courier, 29 Oct 1937
  • Bulletin, 11 Apr 1918, 12 Jan 1928, 22 May 1929
  • Pryke papers (National Library of Australia and State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

H. N. Nelson, 'Pryke, Frank (1872–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pryke-frank-8126/text14195, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 25 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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