Charters Towers – Victorian Heritage

Charters Towers in 1890 was Queensland’s second largest town (population 30,000) and referred to by locals as ‘the World‘, due to its cosmopolitan nature and the fact that anything one might desire was there, so why travel anywhere else!

In 1907 Charters Towers was proclaimed a city.

Today, about 8,000 people call Charters Towers home

(Charters Towers is 1,350km/850miles north west of Brisbane; 135km/85 miles inland from Townsville).

The story goes that on Christmas eve 1871 Jupiter Mossman, a 12 year old aboriginal boy was out with Hugh Mosman and two other prospectors when a flash of lightening caused their horses to bolt. Jupiter found not only their horses but a nugget of gold at Towers Hill.

Image: Historic Charters Towers

Charters Towers 130 years ago

The gold in this region proved to be double the grade to that found in the Victorian goldfields and 75% more than the WA goldfields.

  • By 1892, 217,000 ounces of gold was being extracted per year
  • By 1899 300,000 ounces of gold
  • Between the years 1872 – 1917, 200 tonnes of gold had been mined.
Image: Royal Private Hotel, Charters Towers
The central precinct of Charters Towers is today classified as a conservation area, with sixty buildings listed on the Australian heritage register. Some of the best preserved Victorian buildings can be found in this central one mile square.
Royal Hotel, Charters Towers
The Royal Private Hotel is a classic with its cast iron lace-work framing the verandahs.
Royal Hotel, Charters Towers
Although today’s safety regulations have required a few modern additions!
 
Image: Bank of NSW, Charters Towers
Not surprisingly, with a town that exploded into life from massive money making ventures many of the classic austere buildings started off in the late 1800’s as banks ~
Such as Wherry House (above) that was originally the Bank of New South Wales in 1889.
City Hall, Charters Towers
And City Hall, built in 1891 originally housed the Queensland National Bank.
City Hall, Charters Towers
The Australian Bank of Commerce (below) was also built in 1891 but ceased to house the bank in 1931.
Australian Bank of Commerce, Charters Towers

 

The need to raise capital for the region’s deep reef gold mines resulted in Australia’s only regional stock exchange being opened in the town in 1890.
The Charters Towers Stock Exchange (pictured below) was designed by Sydney architect, Mark Day in 1888.

 

In the 1890’s it was connected to the outside world via three telegraph calls a day, five days a week!
Situated at the intersection of Mosman and Gill Streets it was at the heart of the town’s financial district.
The Charters Towers Stock Exchange operated for 26 years until diminishing gold returns and a decline in population saw its closure in 1916.

 

Stock Exchange, Charters Towers

 

Today, the stockbrokers offices have been converted into shops.
And an assay mining museum created for the town’s new focus – tourists.

 

The D.S & Co building (below) was occupied by Fossey’s until 1996 when Fossey’s and Target merged so the building now displays a slightly incongruous combination of a 21st century brand logo with early 20th century typography advertising the shops wares (or should that be wears!)
Charters Towers
Wares for sale: “Variety Girlswear, Hosiery, Babywear, Boyswear, Underwear, Mens wear, Manchester, Footwear, Ladies Fashions”
Charters Towers shop
A close up under the awning reveals Target’s shop-front with art-deco glass decoration forming a frieze along the top of the window.

 

Belle - Fashion Boutique, Charters Towers
More modest buildings now house cute boutiques with classic Australian bull-nosed corrugated awnings.
Charters Towers Clock Tower
In the centre of Gill Street is the Charters Towers Post Office that was built in 1892.
I love the old photograph (below) taken in the early 1900’s showing the same street ‘alive’ with horse drawn carts and some of the first automobiles.
Charters Towers Clock Tower
While the Post Office was built in 1892 the Clock Tower wasn’t added until six years later when it was imported from England in 1898.
Clock Tower Charters Towers
Although mining is still a part of Charters Towers’ life, with the aid of modern extraction methods, the huge surrounding Dalrymple Shire is primarily cattle country.

 

There is a hint of irony that just as the Stock Exchange back in the 1890’s needed to be connected to the outside world by telegraph to support the mining industry, that the modern day outback outfitter (pictured below) needs to be connected with the outside world via their website.

 

Charters TowersHaving driven for days across the Barkly Tablelands (in the camperbus pictured above) seeing only the occasional distant homestead…
Plotting our route
It was a surprise driving into Charters Towers 1,400km/870 Miles from the Three-ways junction off the north/south Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory, to find such an established old ‘city’ in this northern region of Queensland.

Charters Towers MuralIf you’re feeling tempted to visit but need an excuse, in the last week of April and first week in May, Charters Towers holds its annual ‘Ten Days in the Towers’ festival.

The historic town comes to life with a mixture of line dancing, bush poetry, talent quests and historic tours, as well as two country music festivals – the All Australian Jamboree and the Charters Towers Country Music Festival – where music can be heard wafting from the town’s many bars and venues, while buskers entertain passers-by on the streets of the central business district.

Charters Towers Mural

 

 Have you been to Charters Towers?

Were you surprised by its Victorian heritage?

Where have you witnessed some classic Australian Victorian architecture?

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18 thoughts on “Charters Towers – Victorian Heritage

  1. It’s amazing how much fabulous architecture can be found in the most unexpected places! But sadly for many small Aussie towns, there isn’t the funding to keep it maintained. Another 100 years and they’ll be trying to recreate what’s gone forever …

    Don’t mean to be maudlin – it’s great to see towns that have got it right, like Charters Towers, Burra (SA), Winton (QLD) and Uralla (NSW).
    Red Nomad OZ recently posted..Aussie ABC – I is for Islands!My Profile

    • Wonderful that you’ve brought up Burra in SA –
      I heard from a friend who stayed in one of Burra’s old stone miner’s cottages and commented on what a great renovating job they’d done there…

      You’re right that it takes fore-sight though –
      Capturing the spirit of a place before its too late and the essence evaporated forever.

  2. Linda I love the pictures you took of the town. Yes Charters Towers was an amazing look at the past. We unfortunately were on too tight a schedule to return the caravan to spend the time to really get to know it.
    I was dying to go into the saddlery but it was past closing time.
    Parking in front of the store on a slanted shoulder almost damaged our awning as I did not calculate where it put the top in relation to the signs.
    Driving on the opposite side of the road too was a trip. LOL

    • It was a little bit of a whirlwind tour – but such fun!
      Yes, for you, you weren’t only upside-down, but when it came to the roads, also back-to-front LOL
      At least you have the saddler shop’s web address ;)

  3. Charters Towers looks like a really interesting old town. Love your pics, and the inclusion of historical photos. I think it’s so important to highlight the historical aspects of Australian towns so that the past can be preserved for the future. Thanks for an illuminating post :)

    • Pleased you enjoyed the historical photos Johanna –
      It seemed amazing to see what had previously trodden that very same road as I walked that day in Charters Towers.
      The passing of time and what has gone before :)

    • The Victorian heritage came as a surprise having had days of just seeing miles of outback as we crossed the Barkly Tablelands!
      As you can see the light was fading as we arrived late afternoon… but on the run, captured as many of the buildings on camera as I could :)

  4. Never been here but love the images and history. What a story the town can tell and I love the old images. My husband loves to go off the beaten track and find places like this, he never goes the same way twice if he can help it!

    I so love your Maps,
    ciao lisa

    • I feel a little the same as your husband – preferring if I can to keep exploring fresh pastures –
      There’s so much to be seen in this world and as we have no hope of seeing it all, we may just as well try by where possible, never going the same way twice!

      Thanks for the compliment re my maps :)

  5. Loved they photo’s
    Im looking for Family of Robert Grainger Wood born ? 1901 Charters Towers QLD around 1901 married Nancy Uren 1923 Charters Towers QLD family names kids are Barbara
    Spencer
    Robert
    Nancy my mother in law she cant remember family so I need help thanks will get their 1 day god bless

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  8. Charters Towers is a fascinating town – thanks for your blog. I have read that during the heady Goldrush era it was part of the international circuit for major opera companies and orchestral concerts. It attracted music teachers from the UK and most houses had a piano – where did they go? It obviously has a strong tradition of country music festivals today but how great would it be to have an opera event?

    • What an amazing fact Alison!
      Charters Towers having the most pianos per capita in Oz in 1890 and being on the International opera company tour circuit!
      Times do change – and Oh so fast!
      I believe Undara Lava Tubes (inland from Cairns) holds an annual Opera in the Outback
      We were lucky enough to have Lyndon Terracini set up NORPA when we were living in Northern NSW who brought each year an amazing cross section of the arts to Lismore including Opera :)
      You need people with vision to create wonderful events for all to enjoy :D

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