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On 23 December 1871 Jupiter Mosman discovered gold at Charters Towers in North Queensland.
The Charters Towers gold fields went on to become one of the riches fields in Queensland.
Gold production came to a halt in 1917 but the gold never ran out. To this day the Charters Towers goldfield remains Australia’s fifth-largest gold producer and the richest gold ore grades of all the major gold fields.
On that Eve of Christmas 1871 a storm was brewing. Three gold prospectors and their Aboriginal boy, who was about 10 yeas old, prepared to make camp near to the high, rocky, tower-like formation which from a distance had reminded them of the tors, or rocky towers so often seen in England.
The gold prospectors were Hugh Mosman, George Clarke and James Fraser. The Aboriginal boy was Jupiter Mosman.
Before they could unload their pack-horse a terrific clap of thunder frightened it and sent it galloping off into the bush. With it went all their cooking gear and most of their supplies.
There was little talk among them as they hurried to set up camp and get a fire started to boil their billies and get some food cooked before the storm hit. Soon the thunder and the lightning rolled and flashed over them and a heavy downpour of rain soaked them and all the bush around them.
With daylight they were anxious to find the spooked horse and the equipment that it had carried away. The care of the horses was Jupiter’s job.
Whilst the others tidied up the camp and hung clothes and ground sheets out to dry, Jupiter went tracking for signs of the horse. The storm had set little rivulets of water flowing down the gullies from the hillside near where they had camped.
Jupiter found the horse at the base of the hillside, grazing near one of these rivulets. Having tethered the horse he knelt by the fresh water stream to scoop up a drink.
As he did so he saw the early morning sunlight glistening on a small stone in the water. He had been on the goldfields here in North Queensland long enough to know gold when he saw it.
Jumping with excitement he raced back to the camp site shouting to Hugh Mosman and the others to come and see.
“Gold! Gold! Gold!” It was Christmas Eve, December 24 1871.
In the next few days Mosman, Clarke and Fraser staked out three rich reefs near the hill which they had named Towers Hill. These reefs were the North Australian, the General Wyndham, and the Washington.
The three men were in a hurry to register their claims with the nearest Mining Warden, the Gold Commissioner at Ravenswood, Mr. W.S.E.M. Charters. On the 2nd January 1872 their claim was registered.
The new goldfield, to be called Charters Tors and then Charters Towers after the Gold Commissioner, was officially proclaimed on the 26th February 1872. It was to prove one of the richest in Australia.
Hugh Mosman had taken the young Aboriginal boy as his servant. The boy had such large, luminous eyes that Mosman decided to call him Jupiter after the Greek god.
At that time Mosman, his brother Adam, and their friend John Fraser owned Tarbrax Station. Another station, Kynuna, lay about halfway between Winton and Cloncurry.
Tarbrax Station lay to its south-west, south of the Flinders River and towards the head waters of the Diamantina River.
The people of the country where Kynuna Station was established were the Wanamara. West of them were the Kalkadoon.
Jupiter Mosman could have been either Wanamara or Kalkadoon.
It was not uncommon for Aboriginal boys and girls to be taken as servants on pastoral properties all across Australia.
It is evident that some of these children were brought onto the cattle stations after their parents had been killed in raids on their camps. Others were acquired in exchange for food, whilst still others were simply stolen from their families.
The editor of the Port Denison Times in 1869 reported overhearing a man say that he was going down to the Aboriginal camp at Queen’s Beach to catch a young one.
In 1870 squatters rode into the fringe camp on the Townsville common and took at least three children away. They finished up on properties as far away as Hughenden.
It was not unusual, too, for these children to be passed on from one owner to another.
There were probably a number of young Aboriginal children on Kynuna Station when Mosman asked for and was given Jupiter, sometime in the late 1860s.
Just imagine the wonder and excitement of those Christmas days in 1871 for the three prospectors – Hugh Mosman, George Clarke and James Fraser – and Jupiter.
They quickly found the outcrops of gold bearing rock that indicated the reefs below them. They found surface gold just like what Jupiter had found, but it was the gold reefs that they were seeking.
They marked out their claims on the best of the reefs that they found and sent Hugh Mosman to register their claims with the Gold Commissioner in Ravenswood. At most Mosman would have had a 150 km ride back to Ravenswood, across country.
He probably rode that in a couple of days. No doubt Jupiter went with him since he was Hugh Mosman’s horse boy, not to be left to the other men. His claim was registered on the second day of the new year, 1872.
Almost two months later on the 26 February 1872 the new goldfield of Charters Towers was officially declared.
Young Jupiter Mosman would have been there in the midst of the excitement of those early days of discovery and desperation. In those first few weeks as each day saw new miners coming onto the field, eager to stake out a claim, pitching their tents, ready to follow up each rumour of new strikes, he would have been there watching and wondering at this fever for these rocks that shimmered in the sunlight, and the grey stone with its tiny flecks of gold.
There would be few who would have known or wanted to know his version of how the gold was discovered. As far as they were concerned it was Clarke, Fraser and Mosman who were the discoverers.
If they noticed Jupiter at all it was only to dismiss him as Mosman’s boy.
Around the age of thirty Jupiter went droving. A nephew of Hugh Mosman, was to overland a large herd of cattle from near Kynuna Station to Wodonga in Victoria. He invited Jupiter to join the drive.
After the passing in Queensland of the 1897 Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act and subsequent amendments, Aboriginal pastoral workers were given a minimum wage.
At first this was bitterly opposed on the grounds that setting a minimum wage for Aboriginal workers opened the way for non-Aboriginal workers to claim a minimum wage too.
The minimum wage for Aboriginal workers in the pastoral industry was set at five shillings a month at first.
Like other Aboriginal workers, Jupiter would have found a large part of his wages being taken and held for him by the Government Protector. He would not have been able to use that money without the permission of the Protector.
In 1917 a Charters Towers solicitor, W.T.Mitchell, wrote to the Under Secretary of the Home Secretary’s Department in Brisbane, requesting on Jupiter’s behalf that he be exempted from that section of the 1897 Act which required that half of his drover’s pay be paid to the Protector of Aborigines.
The request was rejected by the Chief Protector of Aborigines on the grounds that Jupiter being an Aboriginal covered by definition in the Act was not entitled to the exemption.
The real reason for denying the exemption is revealed in a report on Jupiter to the Chief Protector of Aborigines by the local Protector, Sub-Inspector of Police Ryan.
I have the honour to report, he said, that Jupiter Mosman (an Aboriginal) is an intelligent old man who has been with white people all his life.
He is aware of the value of money and no doubt could manage his own affairs, but is addicted to drink – he has two convictions.
I attach report by Acting Sergeant Andrews who knows the boy very well.
For Jupiter’s own protection I consider it is to his advantage to be left as he is.
On the issue of Jupiter’s being addicted to drink, Andrews had said that on those occasions when he did come to town, which would not have been frequent, he always had a quantity of cash and was able to get drink through his contacts in the white community.
Being as a result ‘in a half drunken state’ he tended to ‘become very impudent’. In the circumstances it is clear why the Acting Sergeant and the Inspector of police were reluctant to allow this ‘impudent boy’ access to the rest of the money that he had earned.
This inclination by the authorities to treat this ‘intelligent old man’ as an unreliable ‘boy’ was further evidenced in 1923 when M.J.Hogan, Superintendent of the Cairns Ambulance sought permission from the Chief Protector to bring Jupiter to Cairns for the Golden Seventies Exhibition to commemorate the discoveries of gold in the 1870s.
By that time Jupiter was the only surviving member of the group of four which had first discovered gold in Charters Towers. At that time Jupiter was working on Dotswood Station under a Mr. Real.
Approval to be absent from work for the ten days of travel and attendance at the exhibition were given by Mr. Real.
The local Protector gave his approval and the Chief Protector informed Superintendent Hogan that the Department ‘‘had no objection to Jupiter Mosman going to Cairns’’ provided that the costs of his journey to Cairns were sent in advance to the protector in Charters Towers.
Presumably on his return journey Jupiter would be handed his ticket at the Cairns station and sent on his way. No money for travel was to be trusted to Jupiter.
The date of Jupiter’s retirement from droving is uncertain. It was sometime in the early 1930s.
Jupiter had his savings banked and was able to live on them in Charters Towers for a few years. By 1936, however he was destitute.
Early in the year he became desperately ill and had to be hospitalised. On his behalf an employee of the railways in Charters Towers, George Foy, wrote to the Minister in charge of the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs saying that Jupiter was in hospital and not expected to live.
He reported that Jupiter’s bank savings were practically exhausted and not sufficient to provide a proper funeral for him. He went on to ask the Department to provide a sum of 12 pounds towards his funeral “in consideration of the native’s past service to the community”.
A trifling amount, surely, when one considers the millions of dollars in today’s money that his discovery of gold had brought to the Towers.
A memo from the Protector in Charters Towers to the Chief Protector on the 6 June 1936 states that Jupiter had by then been discharged from the General Hospital and that he was ‘quite alright again’.
As an addition he notes that “the contract price for the burial of a pauper in Charters Towers is 9 pounds”.
By the end of 1936 Jupiter was living in the Eventide home in Charters Towers. The Eventide homes were run by the Salvation Army and provided accommodation for old age pensioners and other elderly persons in need of care.
Jupiter was not entitled to an old age pension. What happened to the share of his pay that went to the Protector of Aborigines is not documented.
It seems, however, that one of the good citizens of Charters Towers, a Mr. J.W.Ward, wrote to E.M. (Ned) Hanlon, then Home Secretary in the Queensland government on Jupiter’s behalf and Hanlon was able to put him into the Eventide Home in Charters Towers where he was assured of shelter, a bed, clothes and food.
But this same good citizen was soon again writing, most apologetically, to Hanlon on Jupiter’s behalf.
Ward tells how he had tried to get public support for Jupiter by advertising in the local press and writing letters. It worked for a time, but the money soon cut out and “the old fellow had not got a shilling coming in from any source”.
This is what Ward asked Hanlon for:
I was wondering if you could grant him a few shillings a week either from the Aboriginal fund, or if you could earmark a few shillings from the Golden Casket. An old age pensioner gets 5 shillings a week in addition to his food, clothes, tobacco etc.
I must confess it is a bit impertinent of me to ask you to give him 5/- a week, but I was wondering if you could make it 3/- a week or do something to help the poor old chap.
Just 3/- a week to ‘help the poor old chap’ whose original discovery of gold had put so much wealth into the Queensland government economy.
He got his 3/- a week.
A hand written note of the 24 October 1941 on Jupiter’s file held in the Community and Personal History section of the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy and Development says: “This boy receives a pension of 13/- per month. Please advise Superintendent [of Eventide] to submit voucher monthly”.
Jupiter died on 5 December, 1945.
He was buried in the Charters Towers cemetery and many years later a headstone was erected to mark the site of his grave. He was thought to have been around 84 when he died.
Up until his death he was a well known figure in Charters Towers.
He could be seen daily walking down the city streets, dressed in a suit with shirt and tie and a wide brimmed black stockman’s hat.
Well respected and well liked, this dignified old man would be greeted by many as he strolled along. Although not a member of the local Aboriginal community, he was welcomed among them as an elder and senior man.
The local paper, The Northern Miner reported how, on the 50th anniversary of his death 5 December 1996, a large group of people including members of the local Aboriginal community held a service at his grave-side.
Jupiter was interviewed by Queensland author Jean Devaney in the early 1940s. When asked if he was too old to go prospecting any more he replied,
My word, no! I would get away with my packhorses tomorrow if the war was over and I could get stocks. I like prospecting best. I dream of finding gold. But I like cattle and horses, too. I dream of the big drive I once made. Thousands of head of cattle.
Aboriginal, prospector, drover, man of dignity – Jupiter Mosman.
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c. Marji Hill Author First People Then And Now
c. Marji Hill Artist “Discovery Of Gold At Charters Towers” painting on show at Jupiters Casino, Townsville
c. Marji Hill Artist “Portrait of Jupiter Mosman” painting on show in the World Centre, Charters Towers