James Venture Mulligan, an Irish immigrant, discovered the most important ore deposits in the Far North. In 1873, following directions given by explorer William Hann, he confirmed the presence of gold on the Palmer River.
- It was Mulligan's party that proved the Palmer payable, a river of gold, thus causing the mighty rush which within a few short months saw a fleet of ships within the mouth of a far northern river that had barely seen a ship since Captain Cook beached his stricken Endeavour there. Little did Captain James Cook dream … that this wild, outlandish spot would one day be called Cooktown, the broad river mouth packed with vessels of all descriptions, from the new cities of the south and even from China, brought there by the most romantic gold rush in Australia's history.
Ion Idriess, Back o' Cairns
Mulligan discovered alluvial tin in the Wild River (1875), which led to the founding of Herberton, more gold in the Hodgkinson fields (1876) and silver in what became known as Silver Valley (1880).
Thirty years after his first big discovery, he gave away the nomadic life of a prospector. He married and became a pub landlord in Mount Molloy, a town founded on copper ore. It was probably a relief for him to live in a town that wasn't connected with one of his finds.
There seems to be confusion over the identity of Mulligan's pub. Mount Molloy locals say it was the Pioneer Hotel, which no longer stands. The Queensland Environmental Protection Agency's book on heritage trails of the North identifies it as the National Hotel, which is still open for business on the main street. So here are some photos of what may be — but is probably not — the right pub.
By this time, John Moffat — another big name in the Far North's mining history — had taken over the Mount Molloy Copper Mining Company. After establishing a tramway to transport ore to Chillagoe, he found that the smelters there were unsuitable. He then built smelters on site at Mount Molloy and also opened a saw mill.
Things went well for a few years. The town prospered under a series of copper booms and construction of the railway south to Biboohra promised greater things to come. (Not for James Mulligan, unfortunately, who was killed while trying to stop a brawl between railway workers at his hotel.)
But the copper ore was running out and the smelters were finally shut down in 1909. After that, Mount Molloy persisted as a timber and railway town with a dwindling population. Closure of the sawmill in 1963 and the railway in 1964 almost finished it off. Now Mount Molloy is thriving again as an agricultural centre and tourist destination.