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John Atherton (1837-1913)

Pioneer settler on the Atherton Tablelands

John Atherton, the first European settler on the Atherton Tablelands

The first Europeans in the Far North were lured by the prospect of quick fortunes made in gold or other precious minerals. They moved from mining field to mining field and creek to ravenous river in search of a rich vein, or an alluvial treasure trove of gold, silver, or tin.

The miners helped to 'open up' the country, but for the most part, were not settlers. They carried a swag and a few essentials, and rarely had an intention to stay beyond the point of making their fortune, or giving up in despair.

John Atherton had settlement, and long term plans in mind. He headed to the newly discovered tropical plateau over the ranges from the headwaters of the Burdekin River with 1500 head of cattle, 200 horses, two wagons, his wife Kate and their two eldest sons. They plied through the thick scrub. What little track existed had just been newly blazed. Atherton passed the spot that now bears his name as the town of Atherton, and settled near the present day town of Mareeba at the junction of the Barron River and Emerald Ck. He named the homestead 'Emerald End,' and a nearby hill bears the name of his wife - Kate's Sugarloaf.

John Atherton also named many local landmarks such as Shanty Creek, Granite Creek, Mt Twiddler, Tichum Creek, and Tinaroo.

John Atherton was not only a cattleman but has also been given the title of explorer and bushman. He blazed one of the first tracks from the Tableland to Cairns, and led William Jack and John Newell to the Tin - bearing country around what was to become the town of Herberton.

This excerpt of a newspaper interview was reproduced in Glenville Pike's book Pioneers' Country Pinevale Publications, 1976.

One night in May, 1900, about fifteen or more of the old pioneers, including John Atherton who had come up from Emerald End, held a meeting. They had a load of half green wood, a tin of kerosene, and built a bonfire on the side of the road...Also in the equipment was a case of whisky, a kerosene tin of water, and two empty porter cases for tables near the fire.

They started the fire going with a gallon of kerosene at about 8 o'clock, and everybody settled down to some solid drinking and speechmaking. Finally, they got around to the purpose of the meeting. Someone stood up and said: 'well, Mr. Putt, we are having this open air meeting to give this town a name.'

Edward Putt turned around and touching Mr Atherton on the shoulder, said, 'We will call it Atherton.' And that is how Atherton got its name.

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