50 Treasures: The Croydon Miner

Our seventh treasure is a unique snapshot of life in Croydon and the surrounding goldfields in the late 1880s. Housed in Cairns, from the North Queensland Collection comes the Croydon Miner.

Dr Jan Wegner answers the question 'Why is this significant?'

In the 19th century, the birth of a newspaper was often celebrated in silk.

A few copies of first editions were printed on cloth instead of paper. This frayed piece of silk is the first edition of the Croydon Miner, earliest of this gold town's six newspapers. It is the only surviving copy of that newspaper.

The Croydon Miner, North Queensland Collection.  Photograph by Michael Marzik.
Gold was discovered on Croydon Downs Station, in north-west Queensland, in 1886. The rush brought in miners from all over Australia and within a year three mills were crushing gold ore. Croydon became the centre of a gold-bearing area of around 28,000 square kilometres, with many small townships and mining camps now long disappeared. By 1887 Croydon with 7000 people had become a complete urban centre with a surprising range of shops and services. They included local government, a hospital, three churches, Post Office, school, 19 pubs, and of course the Croydon Miner, followed within a few days by the Golden Age and a short time later, the Croydon Mining News. The town even stole a railway meant for Cloncurry, built from Normanton between 1888 and 1891.

Samwell Street, Croydon, early 1900s. North Queensland Photographic Collection, NQ ID 600.
  The Croydon Miner was typical of small regional newspapers of the time, which usually had just an editor/journalist and a compositor/printer who set the metal type and printed the paper. The Miner's compositor said that journalist Horace Wellington Harris arrived in the gold rush town "without a shilling to his name", but "Harris had a way with him." Not only did he sell hundreds of subscriptions to a paper that still didn't exist, he sold so much advertising space that it took up three-quarters of the first edition. The first edition was published on 24 August 1887. Newspapers took clear political stances: the Mining News was Labour, the Golden Age was Conservative, and the Croydon Miner was Liberal.

Church picnic held by ladies from the St. Margaret's Church in Croydon. North Queensland Photographic Collection, NQ ID 630.
 Harris was a seasoned newspaper editor and journalist, often described as 'clever' and 'imposing' – his nickname was The Duke. However, he had trouble keeping within his income, being declared insolvent twice in his career. It's not surprising that with three newspapers competing for business, the one that went broke was the Croydon Miner. It ceased publication sometime between July and October 1888 and the printing plant was sold to the owner of the Croydon Mining News, John Hoolan, who took it off to nearby Georgetown to start the Mundic Miner and Etheridge Gazette.

Over the course of 2020, JCU Library's Special Collections will be unveiling 50 Treasures from the collections to celebrate 50 years of James Cook University.  

Author Biography:
Dr Jan Wegner is a recently retired JCU History lecturer who now spends much of her time at the Cairns Historical Society and Museum. Born and bred in north Queensland, she has researched many aspects of the region's history.

Mr Francis Henry Reed of Westcourt, Cairns generously donated this rare north Queensland newspaper to James Cook University Library Special Collections in memory of his son, Simon “Ski” Reed (b. 8/03/1973 – d. 19/11/2016)