Monday, 10 September 2012

The Range Hotel Graves

At the foot of Hervey Range, just outside Townsville, is a lonely little cemetery that lies hidden under wild scrub and lantana, and contains what may be the oldest headstone in the region.

The grave of Francis John Earl, who died in March 1866.  Photo: T. Fielding
The cemetery was associated with the Range Hotel, which was located at the bottom of Thornton's Gap on the old Hervey Range Road. Built by James Mead in 1866, the Range Hotel provided a rest stop for travellers before they made the dangerous journey up Hervey Range. At that time, the only road from Townsville to the goldfields and hinterland involved an arduous trip, first by crossing the Bohle and Alice Rivers, and then by ascending Hervey Range at Thornton's Gap. Travellers and carriers would stop overnight at the Range Hotel before attempting to travel up the range the next day. A trip with loaded wagons would have taken an entire day. Once at the top of the range, the Eureka Hotel awaited the weary travellers.

Hervey Range Road, c.1900. 
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The grave of Francis John Earl, a squatter who died of a fever, aged 25 on 12th March 1866 at the Range Hotel, is possibly the oldest extant headstone in the region. (The earliest headstone at Townsville's West End Cemetery dates to 1868, although burials occured there before that date). Two other headstones also lie in this cemetery, that of Mary Langton and John Henry Bell, which date to the 1870s.
The Range Hotel Cemetery, after clearing of scrub in August 2008. The Earl grave is on the right, the Bell grave is set back, slightly to the right of the centre of the photo, and the Langton grave is lying flat on the ground, and can be seen on the left.  Photo:  T. Fielding.
The layout of the graves suggests that there may have been more burials there, but no other markers now remain.  Given the positioning of the graves, there may have been as many as 21 plots, in three rows of seven.

The graves are a reminder of just how harsh pioneer life could be.  Mary Langton was 28 years old, with three small children to care for while her husband John Langton was often away working for long periods of time. John was a carrier who carried goods from the port of Townsville to the Dalrymple township. Perhaps living such an isolated life led to despair, as Mary committed suicide by taking poison and died in December 1873.

The third gave is that of John Henry Bell, second son of Charles and Mary Ann Bell, who died 11th May 1875 from inflammation of the lungs. Little John was four months old.

The headstone of John Henry Bell, died May 1875. Photo: T. Fielding
The Range Hotel closed in 1884 and its precise location is now a matter of speculation, although a bottle dump, thought to have been associated with the hotel has been located. An archaeological study of this site conducted by James Cook University in 2008 found over 400 glass bottle necks/finishes of varying colours.