Somerset



Somerset is a historical ruin of Somerset homestead, a station established by John Jardine in 1863 and is 35 km north of Bamaga on Cape York opposite Albany Island. It is a good camping area and day trip with facilities for barbecues.

Somerset was established in 1863 by John Jardine who had visions of the town eventually becoming a major port. Having moved to Queensland he had been appointed police magistrate and gold commissioner at Rockhampton in 1861. His third son, John, erected the first buildings at Somerset. John Snr. served as magistrate until December 1865 when he returned to his old office at Rockhampton. He died there on 27 February 1874, survived by his wife, five sons and two daughters.

The first European settlers at Somerset arrived from Brisbane aboard HMS Pioneer under Commodore Burnett. The site chosen was Port Albany, the the passage between Albany Island and the mainland. The settlement was named Somerset after the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Duke of Somerset, who had lent his aid to the venture. The Governor, Sir George Bowen, wanted the new settlement to act as a sanatorium for the people who were at that time rushing to take up land in the Gulf country. There had been an outbreak of Yellow Fever at Burketown, resulting the in set of government for the Gulf region being transferred to Sweers Island. At the time, a beche-de-mer or Trepang station had already been established on Albany Island by Capt. Edwards. Trepang is somewhat live a large ell, and has always been popular on the Chinese market. Beche-de-mer was found on the reefs of Cape York southwards.

The first land sale was held in March 1865 with lots selling for an average of 150 pounds per acre. In 1866, Jardine's eldest son, Frank, settled on a station near Somerset and was appointed police magistrate in 1868. Confusion between his government and personal activities led to frequent complaints and in 1875 he was superseded by Henry Chester. Upon his arrival at Somerset, Chester recorded in his journal that the garrison there consisted of a sergeant and four constables, with five native troopers. There were also 17 horses and about a hundred cattle.

When the government station at Somerset was moved to Thursday Island in 1877, Frank Jardine's home at Somerset was the centre of civilization on Cape York. In 1884-86 he was in charge of transport for the construction of the Cape York telegraph line and in 1890 was prominent in searching for survivors from the wreck of the steamer Quetta.

Elaborate dinners for visiting dignitaries were served on silver plate made from Spanish dollars washed ashore, presumably from the wreck of the Quetta, that Jardine had found on a reef during his search for survivors. He died of leprosy at Somerset on 18 March 1919 and was buried near the beach at Somerset. He was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. Another brother, Alexander William, who was born in 1843 near Sydney, served on many government works in Queensland, and became chief engineer for harbours and rivers. He died in London on 20 March 1920.

This website is part of the Australia For Everyone network of travel and information websites.
Email Ph: 0412 879 698. Content © 2017, Australia For Everyone