In the latter part of the 19th century the small ship HMS Salamander played a little known but prominent role in the early settlement of the Cape York region. This 818 ton paddlewheel sloop, under the command of Captain J. Carnegie, first arrived with supplies and equipment at the new settlement of Somerset in July 1864, not long after this isolated but strategically important outpost had been established.
HMS Salamander provided a vital and on-going link for Somerset, bringing in supplies by sea, on average three times a year. As well, in February 1867, HMS Salamander was to bring the Reverend F.C. Jagg and Mr. W.I. Kennett to the new settlement. Jagg, a missionary priest and Kennett, a school teacher, were both representatives of the England based Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and were charged with establishing a mission at Somerset. However, despite making a concerted effort, these early missionaries were unable to overcome the challenges they faced, including a general lack of financial and logistical support as well as experiencing continuous conflict with the local Indigenous peoples.
John Jardine, the recently appointed government resident at Somerset, also used the HMS Salamander to bring in his own equipment, labour and supplies, particularly once he had gained permission to establish a cattle station at the tip of Cape York, later bringing in his two sons, Frank and Alex, to assist in this operation.
This image shows an artist’s impression of HMS Salamander around the time of the establishment of Somerset. HMS Salamander’s role in the early history of Cape York is now largely forgotten, however, its name does live on in at least one Queensland location, this being in the North Queensland coastal locality of Salamander Reef.
Brian Randall – Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland