Charters Towers – 150th anniversary of founding

Today is the 150th anniversary of Gold Commissioner W.S.E.M. Charters issuing the first protection ticket for a prospecting area to Mosman, Clarke and Fraser. Due to the 1871-72 wet season, it had taken Hugh Mosman, one of the discoverers of gold at Charters Towers, three weeks to ride to Ravenswood as he was unable to cross the flooding Burdekin River until well into the month. The granting of the protection ticket triggered an immediate gold rush.

A persistent Charters Towers myth is that the town had originally been called ‘Charters Tors’. Charters, after the first Gold Commissioner, and Tors, because the countryside reminded the miners of the rolling hills of Britain.

Charter’s issuing of the protection ticket on 26 January 1872 can be considered the birth certificate for Charters Towers.

W.S.E.M. Charters

Tor is Welsh for protuberance; a hill; a rocky eminence. However, the name ‘Charters Tors’ was actually a later creation. It was Tors that was a substitution for the original Towers, not the other way around as always suggested. This occurred somewhere after the turn of the last century, because all nineteenth century references always use the name ‘Charters Towers’. It was only in the twentieth century that the legend of Charters Tors was created and entered local folklore.

In the first year of discovery in 1872, the goldfield of Charters Towers was only a convenient geographical description. The reality was 4000 or 5000 miners scattered across several kilometres of country, with three villages – Upper camp, Just-in-Time, and Millchester. Each contained some of the amenities to serve them. But these three camps were collectively known as Charters Towers in the first year of the goldfield discovery.

It was Upper Camp, based around Mosman Street, that eventually became the administrative and governmental centre and retained the name Charters Towers.

The origin of the first part of the name Charters Towers cannot be disputed. In January 1872, W.S.E.M. Charters happened to be temporarily presiding as Gold Commissioner at Ravenswood when Mosman lodged a claim for a new protection area for his new find. Later in 1872 he was to become the Gold Commissioner on the new field that now held his name.

It is the origin of the second part of the name Charters Towers that has been debated.

The Ravenwood Miner’s correspondent at Charters Towers started his report published on 17/2/1872 entitled ‘Charters Towers’ by:

Such is the name which Mr. Mosman’s camp has been christened … The place was named (I am told) by the prospector ‘Charters Towers’ in honour of the big man from the Cape.” (W.S.E.M. Charters)

In local publications of the time the township was always referred to as the Towers or Charters Towers.

Hugh Mosman

In 1872, Superintendent Gold Commissioner John Jardine had visited the new goldfield now administered by Charters. In his report to the Queensland Government, he described that goldfield as “of a very peculiar appearance”.

It is a large-Barren undulating flat, very scantily wooded and grassed, extending from the Burdekin to the Broughton River, and dotted with a number of very remarkable pyramidal peaks of granite, rising abruptly from the plain to a considerable height, their fantastic shapes having suggested the name of ‘The Towers’.”

This was written on 31 December 1872. It was the granite hills of “a conical or sugar-loaf shape, from one to 200 feet in height” that suggested the term Towers. This was written at the end of the first year of the founding of Charters Towers.

Indeed, in Jardine’s letter of instruction from the colonial government dated 12 September 1872, he was instructed to investigate the Charters Towers. Nowhere is there any mention of ‘Charters Tors’.

Possibly the first appearance of the word ‘Tors’ occurs in an article entitled ‘Premier Goldfield of Queensland’ published in The Queenslander, 29/12/1894.

The name of the goldfield was thus innocently announced in compliment to the mining warden, and the second word ‘Tors’ or ‘Towers’ referred to the appearance of the surrounding country, which is so prettily embellished with a large number of these peculiar looking conical peaks.”

Further references to the name ‘Tors’ was in Jubilee History of Queensland:

The warden on the Ravenswood field at the time was Mr. Charters and the new field read his name in association with the granite ‘tors’ forming the most characteristic feature of the scenery. The name ‘Charters Tors’ soon became corrupted into the now favoured Charters Towers.”

It appears that authors at a later date tried to instill some romance into the naming of the town. It is unusual for a single syllable word to be corrupted into one of two syllables.

It is true that Tors means hills, but it was not the original name used. At no time in the first two decades of the founding of the goldfield was there any mention of Charters Tors.

The legend goes that over the years Tors became Towers. This is not true. It was the other way around.

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