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John Oxley Library

Queensland Places - Burketown

By JOL Admin | 9 January 2015

The town of Burketown, located on the Albert River, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, has a long and interesting history. In 1841, Captain J. Lort Stokes discovered the mouth of a river which he named the Albert, after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. Stokes’ party travelled in a longboat along this newly discovered river for some eighty kilometres, seeking fresh water. The surrounding country, having recently experienced favourable seasons, was in very good condition with expansive grasslands, influencing Stokes to name the area the Plains of Promise.

Burketown itself was named in honour of Robert O’Hara Burke, who had died soon after making the first successful south-north crossing of the Australian continent in 1860-1861. The first European settlers arrived in the area not long after Burke and his expedition partner William John Wills had passed through. By the mid-1860s, several cattle stations, including Gregory Downs, Floraville and Donors Hill had been established inland from the present location of Burketown.

By September 1865, the permanent population of the town had grown to around forty and by October of the same year a store and hotel were under construction. In its early days, Burketown grew slowly, with William Landsborough being appointed the first government resident and police magistrate in February 1866. The town’s first race meeting was held 25 July 1866, with the first official land sales taking place on 14 August 1867. The Burketown post office, opening in July 1866, was closed in 1871, but reopened on a permanent basis in 1883. A major challenge for Burketown, from 1866, was the devastation caused by tropical disease, thought to be typhoid, resulting in a large proportion of the town’s residents being relocated to Sweers Island, for up to eighteen months. As well, Burke suffered a severe setback in 1887, after suffering major damage as the result of a cyclone.

The Burketown Hotel, established in 1920 in a building originally used as the customs bond store, was destroyed by fire in 2012. The Albert Hotel building, originally the Burketown customs house is believed to date from the 1860s. Another famous Burketown Hotel, the Commonwealth, was built in around 1926, but was also destroyed by fire in 1954.

Commonwealth Hotel, Burketown, 1926, State Library of Queensland Neg. No. 46423

This image shows the Commonwealth Hotel in 1926, soon after it was first established.

Brian Randall - Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland.


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