The history of Port Douglas is a series of booms and declines.  

When gold was discovered on the Hodgkinson River in 1876 the rush was on to find a port for its dispatch.  In 1877 Christie Palmerston carved the Bump Track down to the coast and Port Douglas was quickly settled by merchants.

In November of that year, Colonial Treasurer the Hon J.R. Dickson and Queensland Parliamentarian John Macrossan visited and confirmed that the town was to be named after the current Premier of Queensland, John Douglas.   The inlet was to be called Dickson Inlet.  Government offices and banks were established, a court house and the lighthouse on Low Isles were erected.

By 1882 there were 14 hotels in town.  It was a boom period and Port Douglas overtook Cairns as the main port for gold and tin mining fields.  But in 1885, the rail link from the Tablelands was joined to Cairns, and development in Port Douglas soon declined.  

Tick fever ravaged the cattle herds and farmers turned to sugar cane, with the first crush at the Mossman Mill in 1897.  A small rail line was built from the mill to the Port Douglas wharf in 1900 for sugar, freight and passengers and the population of Port grew to 331, with four pubs.  The export of sugar had revived the port.

But during the massive cyclone of 1911 sixteen inches of rain fell in 24 hours.  Two people were killed and many houses were damaged, some never to be rebuilt. By 1920 the business centre was moving to Mossman to be near the Mill.

When the Cook Highway along the coast between Cairns and Mossman was opened in 1933, Port Douglas was bypassed.

The last time sugar was railed to the wharf in Port Douglas was in 1958.  After that, it went by road to Cairns.  Port Douglas reverted to a sleepy fishing village.  In 1960 its population was about 100.  Tourists began to discover this quiet paradise in the 1970s and Jim and Jo Wallace started Quicksilver tours to the Outer Barrier Reef in 1982.

In 1984 the new Cairns International Airport brought tourists from around the world to re-awaken Port Douglas.  Christopher Skase built the 5-star Sheraton Mirage Resort on Four Mile Beach in 1988 and Port Douglas once again experienced a boom.

Port has since become a popular destination for Australian and international visitors keen to visit the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree World Heritage Rainforest.  Property prices continue to escalate but still many people are moving here to live in tropic bliss.


Thank you Douglas Shire Historical Society

This is an excerpt from the Douglas Shire Historical Society's publication Port's People. The Society operates the Port Douglas Court House Museum in Wharf Street which is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays between 10am and 3pm. 

Volunteers are available then to answer your historical questions. The Society has also published Port's People of which the cover is below. The book is a wonderful way to discover the real Port Douglas through the eyes of many of its local celebrities since its beginning. 

Copies are available for sale at the Court House Museum, the Port Douglas Post Office and Whileaway Bookshop.  If you are from out of town and would like a copy, please contact the Douglas Shire Historical Society.