Five years after the separation of Queensland from New South Wales in 1859, the settlement of Burketown took place. It was 1864 and hopes were high for the development of the new Gulf Port in which John MacDonald figured as a major player along with the Towns Company.
In 1863 MacDonald entered into a business partnership with Captain Robert Towns, the founding father of Townsville, and in 1864 he led a small expedition, struck the Gregory and rode forth a few miles below its confluence with the Nicholson, where he set up a depot.
Towns and Company were merchants and shippers. What was known of the Albert River indicated that it had potential as a port with all the advantages of proximity to Asian markets and to the great potential of Queensland’s pastoral resources that were then and remain still, a robust thread in the fabric of Northern Development. Additionally Queensland was a new and liberal state, enthusiastic for expansion into areas that would repay a risk and at that time there was risk capital available.
‘…Towns and Partners entertained a “vision splendid” for the development of Northern Queensland by their Company, dreaming of a flourishing port, closer to world markets than the older colonies. During 1865 … those dreams…‘ were to be realised.
The Albert River was central to the colonial settlement of the region. Expectations of its use were greater than the limitations on large vessels entering allowed, imposed by the bar at the river mouth and the channel depth.
The new runs in the Gulf needed to be stocked, and in June 1865 the Jacmel Packet of 115 tons, listed as the first schooner to enter the Albert, laden with her ‘…wide assortment of cargo, including pigs, dogs, fowls, houses, and stores, drays and rations of rum and other spirits…’, arrived from Sydney.
In September l864 Donald McGlashen had left Bowen Downs with 1,500 head and reached Beames Brook. The settlement had been made and during December 1865 Ellis Read commenced advertising in the Port Dennison Times his establishment of large stores at the Albert River.
The original wharf no longer exists but the location has been identified as probably the same as the Old Wharf. The surviving photographic record shows merchant stores clustered about the wharfage footing as well as the wharf itself. The wharf is believed to have been rebuilt on the re-settlement of the town, after Gulf Fever had caused evacuation of the inhabitants to Sweers Island.