In 1864 the settlement of Burketown took place: ‘… Mr O’Connor went to Burketown in March I866, first as storekeeper, and afterwards as Postmaster … the majority of the inhabitants were a rough lot … many of Mr O’Connor’s neighbours were men and women whom he knew from his previous professional experience to be criminals against whom warrants were out.’ He had previously been a police officer.
The Gulf Fever evacuation shaded into a process of gradual abandonment from 1866 on, that had much to do with the depressed economic condition of the State. Despite this downturn in the fortunes of Burketown, Mr George Phillips, the Government Surveyor, drew up a plan of the Town of Burke – Albert River, and forwarded it to the Surveyor General in October 1866.
The Plan had 6 sections bounded north and south by Sloman and MacIntyre Streets; east and west by the Albert River and Burke Street. Beames Street running north – south, bi-sected the town, while Bowen and Gregory Streets, running east – west completed the division, each with a number of allotments, some stating trading areas.
Strangely all the allotments throughout the planned area appear to have been sold and quite a number were built on, though not often with substantial constructions. In Section 1 two shopkeepers were Ellis Read, and O’Connor, whose store had a dwelling. Dr Polding had two allotments.
Section 2, included E. J. Byrne (no trade shown), O’Connor’s Butchers Shop, Hardy and Nelson Publicans, Hooley and McDonald Publicans, J. G. MacDonald’s Store, Gerry Publican and a three-block reserve fronting the river.
Burketown in those days was a ‘four pub town’. McDonald and McLennan Publicans operated on the site of the present Burketown Hotel. There was another butcher by the name of Cuningham, and Hrazie(?), a Cordial Manufacturer.
Section 6 had eight of its twelve allotments reserved for Police and Post and Telegraph purposes.
As time went on commercial and other services were quite well catered for with agents, auctioneers, accountant, bakers, carpenters, coach builders, dairymen, drapers, engineers, plumbers, produce merchants, tinsmiths, wine and spirit merchants and even a watchmaker. All of them could advertise in the Burke Telegraph Weekly newspaper and communicate with the wider world through the mail and telegraph.
Pugh’s Almanac of 1902 records the population of Burketown as 200 (300 during the meatworks season) and the district census 1,111 people in 1901.
By 1905 the details were slightly different, and mention was made of the Meat Export and Agency Co. works on the banks of the Albert River approximately one mile from town. Chinese gardeners grew excellent vegetables and exported them to Thursday Island.
The single fare to Brisbane by steamer was £13.10s; return fare was £24.
With its blacksmiths and providores, businessmen and laundresses, drovers and line repairers, saddlers and carriers, the people of the hinterland, stockmen and managers, Burketown was busy enough, even though not always profitable.