The Herberton Mining Museum is situated in Herberton, the oldest existing town on the Tropical Tablelands 90 minutes west of Cairns, in Queensland, Australia. Enfolded in its landscape, with streets dotted with jacaranda trees, Herberton is a pretty little town set in rugged, granite hills on the western edge of the Atherton Tablelands. It seems to stretch out along the hills and meander across the ridges. Located 122km from Cairns at 915 metres above sea level, it is now a quiet town with a population of about 1,000 people. There are only hints that it was once the most important town on the Tablelands and there are plenty of ways for you to see why and explore more. A walk around town reveals many historic buildings. Often built during the periodic boom times, many are classic examples of the styles in vogue at the time. There is enough ambience left to believe that a Cobb & Co coach might be groaning up the hill to town or a crowd of miners might tumble out of a pub to go teetering down the street to ‘fight the good fight’.
Herberton’s main claim to fame is tin mining. Tin was reported in the district by James Venture Mulligan in 1875, but Jack’s follow-up prospecting party in 1879 could not find commercial quantities. On their second trip, Willie Jack and John Newell, Thomas Brandon and John Brown found tin in payable amounts in Prospectors Gully, beside which the town of Herberton now stands. That was in April 1880.
John Newell rode overland to Thornborough to register the discovery. By July, Thomas Horan was surveying the land for the mining freehold and drawing up the grid for the first town allotments, even showing the alluvial workings of tin scratchers along the Wild River on his map. September saw the first families arrive, complete with young children. Jack had his store and a butcher and baker were already plying their trades, all before Christmas 1880. Further finds came rapidly, resulting in the founding of new towns such as Watsonville, Irvinebank, Montalbion and many more. The tin boom also sparked closer settlement and paved the way for the modern towns of Atherton, Mareeba, Malanda, Ravenshoe and confirmed Cairns as the major port in far north Queensland.
By the early 1900s the town was booming with two newspapers, 17 pubs and a brewery, several merchant establishments, midwives, dressmakers, chemist and an important district hospital. Things have changed since then and Herberton is much quieter now, but the people of Herberton have a strong appreciation of history and its museums, of which there are several, are a demonstration of that interest.
© Herberton Mining Museum History Association 2023