Day 91 – Tuesday, 23 August 2022

We woke up this morning to a very blustery wind, with gusts up to 60 kilometres per hour. We had to close all the skylights and windows as the wind was trying to blow the shades inside the van.

Today we headed back onto the Great Northern Hwy and went to see the Heritage Town of Cossack. As we were approaching the turn off for Cossack, we were pulled over by the police for a breathalyser test. The wind was still so strong that the officers were in danger of being blown away.

Cossack is an historic ghost town located 15 kilometres from Roeburne, within the City of Karratha. It was originally named Tien Tsin after the boat that carried the first settlers to the region in 1863, and the town was once the North West’s main shipping port.

It was renamed Cossack after the warship that carried the State Governor to the Pilbara in 1871.

It has carefully maintained remnants of the early settlement and includes some of the oldest buildings in Western Australia, positioned on the waters of Butcher’s Inlet.

While Cossack no longer supports a resident population (during tourist season the caretakers live in caravans at the back of the buildings), it does have some facilities and services available, such as a backpackers accommodation, venue hire for weddings and events, and recreational activities including kayaking, Staircase to the Moon (depending on the position of the moon over the mudflats), as well as observing birds, turtles and mudskippers etc.

It was a fascinating look at some of the hardships our early settlers experienced.

The Tien Tsin brought pastoralist Walter Padbury to the harbour at Cossack in 1863. His settlement on the banks of the De Grey River was the first pastoral enterprise in the Northwest.

The early settlers at Cossack were prevented, by law, from bringing cheap convict labour with them, leaving them at the mercy of high freight rates and high labour costs.

The Aboriginal people of the Harding River area (Ngarluma People) were therefore incorporated into the colonial work force surprisingly quickly and had mainly replaced expensive white labour within two years of settlement.

Galbraith and Co advertised themselves as being merchants, shipping, stock, mining and general commission agents, who also bought and sold pearls and pearl shell.

Galbraiths were based in the Southwest of Western Australia, and they were the forerunners of many companies from the southwest taking over the frontier by outside interests. As such, ownership of the Northwest industries changed.

Pastoral stations also changed hands and merged until, by 1898, fifteen mainly Southwest owners monopolised the land in the Northwest districts.

At the same time as this was happening the pearling industry and coastal trading were taken over by British interests. Cossack stores ended up in the hands of merchants from Fremantle and Perth.

While earlier stone buildings in Cossack were built out of sandstone collected from the beachfront, the Galbraith Store was the first building constructed from local ironstone (or bluestone some call it). It was completed in 1891.

Much later the building was almost destroyed by a cyclone, but was restored in 1984, and has now been used by the Cheedtha Aboriginal Community as a workshop, art gallery and cultural tourist outlet.

The Courthouse, built in 1895 during Cossack’s declining years (as were most of the stone buildings still standing today) is admired as a fine example of Government Architect, George Temple-Poole’s work.

Local stone and bricks, brought to the port as paying ballast, were utilised. Large masonry rusticated piers (Hello!!! English please!) supporting a verandah on all four sides. The roof rises high to a clerestory, which adds scale to the single storey building.

Masonry rusticated piers are a type of masonry treatment in which the blocks making up a wall etc are articulated by exaggerated joints rather than being flush with each other – I had to look it up myself.


Think _l l_ style (but turn it sideways). That’s the best I can do until you see the photographs. It really looks beautiful.

This beautiful building never really had the long and glorious career imagined for it by its architect. Since the restoration of the old Courthouse (beautifully done) it is now used at house the William Shakespeare Hall Society History Museum.

William Shakespeare Hall (1825-1895) was a pioneer settler of the Swan River Colony. He was an explorer, pastoralists, pearler, Justice of the Peace, and Chairman of the Cossack Municipality.

Born in London, he arrived in Fremantle in 1830 with his parents, and for a while they lived in a rusted-out hulk before his father received land grants in Mandurah. The locality of Hall’s Head is named after the family.

Hall joined the Francis Gregory’s expedition in 1861 to explore the Northwest. In 1863 he managed the first sheep station in the Roeburne district for the owner, John Wallard. It was called Andover Station. After two years he had established the station and returned to farming in Perth.

In 1865 he married Hannah Lazenby, and she came to live with him in Cossack. They had five children but only three of them survived to adulthood. They went on to achieve great things in their own fields, just like their father.

William gave up farming and followed various business pursuits over the following years, including shop keeping, pearling and pearl trading.

He drowned in Cossack Creek during an early morning swim in February 1895, as a result of a heart attack, and he is buried at Cossack Cemetery together with his wife and sones. He was 70 years old.

The eulogy in the West Australian paper read, “the mortal remains of the father of the district, the model of intrepidity, integrity and honour, an honoured husband, a revered father, and true friend, and unquestionably the most esteemed personage who had ever associated himself with the North”.

The Cossack pearling industry peaked in the 1870s, before the fleet relocated to Broome, due to the depletion of the shell beds and regular destruction of the fleet caused by cyclones. (They had some beauties.)

Mother of Pearl shell was used across the world for buttons, cutlery, hair combs, jewellery items and inlay for furniture, and pearling became a profitable secondary income for pastoralists.

Diving suits, introduced in 1881, helped to combat many of the hazards associated with diving. The suits allowed divers to search and gather shells in deeper water, and the crew could work outside the hazardous cyclone season, collecting shells between March and November.

Cossack was a multinational town. In 1890 it was recorded that 1,173 people comprising 86 Europeans, 92 Aboriginals, 19 Chinese and 976 Malays – Japanese, Indonesian and Filipinos – were employed on a total od 171 steamers, luggers, schooners, cutters and small boats.

The most capable divers were Aboriginal women who could dive to a depth of 60 feet – 18.3 metres.

Three attempts were made in Cossack to establish a viable turtle soup and oil industry in the 1880s, 1920s and 1930s. The products harvested from the turtles ranged from turtle shells, turtle soup, jelly, oil, meats and

Only turtles over 200 lbs (pounds, equal to about 91 kilograms) were harvested, and a 250 lbs turtle would return 80 lbs of red meat. Each turtle produced about 50-pint tins (28 litre tins) of soup. Green turtles were the most prized for their meat, and Hawksbill turtles supplied the best shells.

By the 1930s the project failed for several reasons; the economic depression, the company’s failure to establish a domestic market, and the high cost of shipping the canned soup overseas, mainly to Britain. (I am sure the turtles were very happy that it failed.)

The township of Cossack was dissolved in 1910 following the construction of the Point Sampson Jetty. It was eventually abandoned in 1950 after much damage from several cyclones. The port at Cossack was not built to handle modern shipping.

In 1977 the township was classified by the National Trust and restoration works on various remaining buildings was carried out in the 1970s and 80s. In 2006 the Cossack Township Precinct was placed on the State Heritage Register on a permanent basis.

In January 1910 land adjacent to Cossack was gazetted as a Quarantine Reserve. However, in 1911 Bezout Island was chosen as an alternative site. It was 19 kilometres from Cossack across the bay, and great difficulties were encountered while maintaining the camp with fuel, water and stores, often in very dangerous conditions.

It was abandoned in 1912-13 and the quarantine area at Cossack was re-established. The first suspected case of leprosy in the Roeburne district was that of a Chinese cook who had worked several pastoral stations where cases of leprosy subsequently occurred.

Mozzies and sandflies were a constant source of discomfit. Those patients who were physically fit could earn extra rations by working teo hours a day in jobs such as cutting wood, building amenities and making paths.

By 1931 more than 1550 metres of path were constructed using shingle and shells. (Some of the shells can still be seen in the pathways today.)

The Cossack Leporsarium was closed in 1931, and the seventeen remaining patients were transported to Darwin. Furniture, stores and sundries were dispatched to Perth, and mia mias (temporary shelters made of bark, branches, leaves and grass), sheds and the main ward were burnt to the ground.

The first recorded policemen in Cossack were the Water Police. They were responsible for law and order among the pearling fleet and trading vessels.

They were also responsible for ensuring pearlers conformed to the working conditions for their divers, such as policing the use of Aboriginal women and children.

That their task was very difficult can be seen by the number of Acts of Parliament passed into law to try and regulate the industry. No less than 19 Acts, sets of Regulations and reports were generated between 1869 and 1905. Whaling, another maritime industry, required only one Act, as did the Pastoral Industry.

The handsome Customs House and Bond Store was completed in 1897. It incorporated a 7,000 gallon (27,000 litres) underground water tank, as securing reliable water was always a problem for Pilbara residents. Despite its strong construction it was severely damaged by a cyclone in April 1989, which also ravaged the town.

Since the renovation is 1983 the building has been used for events such as bush dances, weddings and theatrical performances.

The first building associated with commerce was Howlett’s Store, built in 1872. It was the first constructed in the area designated for commerce. McRae and Company bought the adjacent lot at the same time.

The McRae and Co store was renamed the North West Mercantile Store after the owner, Farquhar McRae (don’t you just love Scottish names?) died during the measles epidemic in early 1887.

The Post Office and Telegraph Office were housed on the top floor od the building constructed mainly of friable stone (stone that breaks into smaller, more manageable, pieces when hit) and local shell limestone in 1884.

As early as 1872 people living in Cossack had been calling for their own post office as they had to wait for their mail to reach them from Roeburne, 13 kilometres away.

The completion of the building was more than a convenience as it meant the Telegraph had arrived, and the Northwest frontier had taken a giant step forward. For the first time they were directly connected to the rest of the world and news could be instantly relayed.

The first light beacon at the Port of Cossack was a crude timber frame on Reader Head (magnificent views), the dark bluff point on the north entrance of Butcher’s Inlet. From the frame hung an oil or kerosene light.

The Jarman Island Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters were built in 1887-88. When completed, the lighthouse was the 7th along the West Australian coastline, and the only one north of Geraldton.

The Lighthouse was built with prison labour, using pre-formed cast iron sections from England, and it was named after Captain Jarman, the skipper of the barque Tien Tsin.

On the way back to the van we called into Woolworths for some fresh bread and some water. Then I spent the entire afternoon and evening going through photos and finishing the entries into the diary. It is now Russell’s turn at the computer while I wash the dishes that he will then dry