On Christmas Eve 1872, a violent thunderstorm of apocalyptic intensity heralded the genesis of ‘The World’. This is not a biblical creation story but the tale of how the chance discovery of a nugget revealed one of Australia’s richest goldfields and led to the foundation of Charters Towers, a latter day El Dorado.
In the days before the storm, a small prospecting party – Hugh Mosman, George Clarke and John Fraser, with a 12 year old Aboriginal boy, Jupiter, as horse boy – had been scouting around a cluster of conical hills near the Burdekin River, southwest of Townsville. They were camped when the storm broke around them, bright bolts of lightning and booms of thunder shattering the night and startling their horses, which bolted panic-stricken into the darkness.
While searching for the horses next morning, Jupiter bent to take a drink from a shallow creek at the base of the hills and saw a nugget of gold glinting in the bed. The party explored the area and, within a few days, found many promising reefs running through the outcrops, some of them more than a metre wide. On 26 January 1872, Mosman registered two claims for his group, the ‘North Australian’ on the site of their initial discovery and ‘The Washington’ some miles distant. He named the area ‘Charters Tors’, after the Gold Commissioner W.S.E.M. Charters at Ravenswood and the likeness of the rocky outcrops to South England tors. In time, Tors became Towers and has remained so ever since.