Queensland Places - Coen

The name of the town of Coen is said to have been derived from the Cape York Peninsula river of the same name.  The river was originally named by the Dutch navigator Jan Carstensz, during his 1623 voyage through the region, in honour of the then Governor of the Dutch East Indies.

In the period following the Palmer River gold rush, from around 1873, further explorations to the north by a number of parties, eventually led to the discovery of alluvial gold on the Coen River.  An access track was surveyed and cut through from Battle Camp in 1878 and by July of that year there were more than five hundred miners on the field.  Coen’s population was to fluctuate during this early period with its isolation an on-going challenge to the town’s growth and development.  Later, in the 1880s the area was made available for pastoral leases which, together with the harvesting of sandalwood, provided a welcome boost to the town’s economy.  Mining however was still the main industry in the region and, as a consequence, the Coen Goldfield was officially proclaimed in 1892.  Evidencing its growth and prosperity during this early period, the town had soon attracted a school, a school of arts, three hotels, a post and telegraph office as well as a range of shops and businesses.

As gold mining declined from around the 1930s, Coen still remained an important administrative and social centre for the surrounding Cape York communities.  Also, during the Second World War, Coen was an important part of the forward defence network.  Isolation was however still a challenge, in particular in regard to communication, with one of the last pack horse runs in Queensland operating out of Coen as late as the 1950s.  As well, until the 1960s, when the Weipa-Bamaga area was developed, Coen was the most northerly town on Cape York Peninsula.

Great Northern Mine, Coen, 1905

This photograph, dating from around 1905, shows the Great Northern Mine at Coen.

Today, Coen remains an important regional service centre for the various communities in the area, local pastoralists as well as supporting the area’s tourist industry.

Brian Randall - Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland


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My grandfather John Patterson came to Australia in 1887 and was a miner in the early days of Coen and then Cooktown. I found an article in Trove that he was manager of the Great Northern in 1907. Could you possible email me a photo of the Great Northern as pictured or any information re: John Patterson. Many thanks. Nola Ford - living in USA.

Hi NolaThank you for your question. Could you please fill in our online enquiry form and our reference librarians will look into this for you. Here is the link – http://askslq.altarama.com/reft100.aspx?pmi=SEKkiqXPG2RegardsMyles Sinnamon – blog editor

I am really glad after getting stuff like this through this article,
I will try to read about it more after my chicago tour deals.

I would like to see Coen state school from 1972

Hi NolaThank you for your question. If you would like to fill in our online enquiry form with your details, one of our helpful librarians will assist you with your question. http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/services/ask-us It could also be worth you contacting Queensland State Archives as well. https://www.qld.gov.au/recreation/arts/heritage/archivesRegardsMyles - State Library of Queensland