One of Cape York’s early, but perhaps lesser known, explorers was John Embley, who was a surveyor with the Queensland Department of Lands. Mainly at the request of the Queensland Government, Embley made a number of journeys of exploration through Cape York from the 1880s, adding to the information gained and recorded by various previous explorers. His journeys and surveys included inland from Princess Charlotte Bay (1883-4); Coleman to Kendall River (1884); Coen River (1884); the lower Mitchell River ( 1886); the Stewart River (1895-6) as well as the Weipa area.
In 1891, Embley selected land at Red Island Point and built a homestead which he was to name Thornbury. His main aim was to take advantage of the developing cattle trade, with stock being killed and refrigerated at Red Island and then shipped to Thursday Island. In 1895, he became a partner in York Downs Station, which had just been amalgamated from various previous land sections. In November of that year he navigated a new river in the vicinity of York Downs which was later to be called the Embley River. This newly navigated river was expected to improve access to York Downs with a landing place being established only some nine miles from the station. Embley’s business interests were diversified when he developed auriferous reefs on Possession Island, not far from where Captain James Cook had landed in 1770, raising the British flag. As late as 1913, Embley was still involved in exploring and surveying activities, this time in the Lockhart River area. During this later trip, he further surveyed the Lockhart as well as surveying farmlands which the government was keen to see developed.
In addition to the Embley River being named in his honour, the Embley Range, located to the north of Claremont Point also bears his name.
This image shows the Embley River in around 1901 with its densely forested banks. This scene gives us some idea of the isolation of the area as well as the natural obstacles which faced our early settlers and explorers.
Brian Randall – Senior Librarian, State Library of Queensland.