History of Gilberton

Tom Stephen Martell was born on 8th Jan 1842 in Guernsey to farming parents. He came to Australia aboard the Abdalla in 1855. In March 1867 he married Lydia Abigail Jones. Tom was already an established teamster. History shows us that three Martell brothers came north to Pentland and family took up Bettsvale station. One brother headed to the cape (Cape York), one headed to Gilberton and one stayed in Pentland on Bettsvale station. Tom, as a teamster, was the lad who headed to Gilberton and quickly made it home for his family. Tom not only carted ore from the local mines in the Etheridge  such as Mt Hogan Percyville ,Gilberton, Ortona to Townsville but also brought supplies back to sell to the hungry miners that roamed the hills in the gold rush days on Gilberton goldfields. It would take him six weeks turnaround; nowadays it takes six hours.

We do not have the exact date of their arrival at Gilberton but records as well old police documents tell us they were certainly at Gilberton in August 1869 and the family built a stone fortress which was finished by January 1870. (As it was documented in the old police records held by the family, which sadly got burnt in house fire in 2003 along with other old documents and handmade household furniture, made by great grandad Michelmore.) The stone fortress still stands today 150 years later.

We know Tom started a butcher shop in 1869 as soon as he arrived and he bought his cattle from Chudleigh Park station, 60 miles south west of Gilberton. There is no doubt in our minds that is how the Gilberton herd started – poddy dodging along the way. He also took up Gilberton station; they called it Ellengrove but shortly after renamed it Gilberton. It consisted of two leases (277OL431 & 330OL159) and in 1965 lease 329OL158 was added.

Tom was a clever business man. Even though he took up Gilberton, the family never paid rent until 1916. We did have a letter from government in 1890 stating if he didn’t pay his eight years of rent, they would come and take his stock. The reply was, “Come and find them.” (Sadly, we lost those documents in the 2003 fire.) But the tone/language of each letter was quite funny to read. The family must have got a fright as in 1916 they officially paid all due fees and took up the lease officially.

Thomas also had a pub/hotel called The Rising Sun at Gilberton up to 1883, as well as a butcher shop.

In 1873 there was a vicious attack on the white and yellow people. In family records as well the old police records, it stated 43 people were murdered during a raid from the blackfella Tagalag better known as Takalka people. This was the biggest tribe but it mostly was Jana people. Only once did we ever hear about the Wamian people joining force to attend the raid. The three tribes had met at what is known as Eight Mile – eight miles downstream from Gilberton, their fishing hole had been fished out by the invaders , white and yellow people meaning European and Chinese so they retaliated, and a mass grave was dug and all (black, white and yellow) were buried in it only short distance from where the stone fortress stands today.  This was stated in police records held by the family. It was then, due to Gilberton township’s lack of police protection, that everyone threw their possessions into the main street and burnt what they could not take and fled from Gilberton to the Palmer River gold field. Only a few people remained other than the Martells and few prospectors. While still keeping their cattle at Gilberton, the Martell family moved to Georgetown for a short time as we know Tom became the soda water manufacturer in 1874 and Thomas Ernest was born in Georgetown early in 1875. They then returned to Gilberton and reoccupied the stone fortress as their living quarters for a few years as we know their first daughter Lydia was born in 1882 in the stone fortress that stands today. They continued to run their cattle at Gilberton and supply beef to Ortona, Percyville and Mt Hogan goldfields.

It was at this time that the family also took up Christmas Hill, a small block where they ran horses and bred them for the army. Christmas Hill was 50 miles to the east of Gilberton. Thomas and Lydia lived between Christmas Creek and Gilberton and had 15 children. Sadly, only five survived. Some of the children are buried at Gilberton and it is believed that rest are in unmarked graves at Christmas Hills.

In 1895 Thomas Stephen senior was riding his own horse in the Maiden Plate at Oakville (also known as Kidston race meeting) on New Year’s Day when he was dashed against a box tree suffering fatal head injuries. Young Thomas was with his father and saw it all; he tried to assist his father but Thomas Senior was killed instantly.

It was several days before news got to his wife Lydia at Christmas Hill that her husband had passed away; the mailman rode in with his packhorse and had to give the horrible news.

To help funds, young Thomas Ernest continued to breed horses and in 1902 sold most of them through agent Haggarty to the Indian Army as remounts. Thomas accompanied them on their voyage to India where he broke in each horse for its specific purpose such as cavalry or pulling guns. During this time while Tom was away, young Lydia continued to look after cattle at both Christmas Hill and Gilberton. She would walk bullocks across to Perryville to the butcher as well mustering around the neighbouring stations. Lydia junior was now a young teenager way beyond her years. She was known as the best horse woman and cattle person in the district. Lydia rode side saddle for many years and there wasn’t a horse that could throw her.

 Jack Lethbridge, formerly of Glenmore Station, believes she was the best horse woman and cattle person he had ever seen, with her knowledge and ability to read a cow. When Jack once asked Lydia how did she know that cow was going to run that way or this way, she politely told him, “You have to think like a cow.” Her passion for looking after the land was also something people in the district looked upon as something out of the ordinary. Lydia believed in stocking lightly and reading the land. In those years, it was very hard as there was only limited water along the river in addition to a well that the family sank  and called Edmon’s and bailed water.

Jack Lethbridge, formerly from Yarraman/Glenmore station, who knew Lydia, says “She was a splendid horsewoman and rider and a top hand with stock. As time went on, she rode astride and I remember her well in her divided skirt with such a neat seat on a horse, and with splendid hands.” There wasn’t a horse that could throw her and not a beast that could outwit her. During this period, Lydia meet Ernie Michelmore as Ernie worked on Robinhood Station across to Oak Park and was also a well-respected stock person.

Jack Lethbridge also wrote the book called ‘The Michelmores of Gilberton.’ (interviewed jack Lethbridge May 1990)

The family still ran their cattle at Gilberton and horses at Christmas Hill but in 1908 drought and funds played a major role and nearly finished the family off. Instead, they dissolved the family partnership and sold all their cattle to James Clarke from Robinhood station, including their brand.


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