Forsayth was originally known as Finnigan’s Camp, after the prospector who discovered gold nearby in 1871. Within a year the settlement had become Charleston Township and it continued to grow despite near desertion when its inhabitants rushed to the Palmer River Goldfield in 1874 and to the Hodgkinson in 1876. After a slump in the mid-1880s, the township was again a flourishing centre by the mid-1890s, having five hotels, a school and a court of petty sessions. By the late 1890s base metal prices were high and a number of promising copper deposits were opened up in the Etheridge district, at Charleston, Einasleigh and Ortona, and several were acquired by a subsidiary of the Chillagoe Company. This led the company to commence a rail link in 1907 from Almaden to Einasleigh and the Charleston area, which was completed in January 1910.
The Etheridge Railway terminated at a new settlement on the other side of the Delaney River. First known as New Charleston, it was renamed Forsayth after the railway’s commissioner, James Forsayth Thallon. During the year, all the buildings in Charleston, including the police station and the school, which had previously been at Gilberton, were moved across the Delaney River to Forsayth. New buildings and services followed the opening of the railway; these included a hospital, a new courthouse and a new school built in 1912, and a public hall built two years later.
In 1914 the Chillagoe Smelters were shut down and the town’s importance as an ore-loading facility and centre for miners and their families declined as mining activity in the area was scaled back. Forsayth remained the railhead for transport to the west, although plans in the 1930s to extend the railway to connect to the Croydon line did not proceed. From the 1980s, renewed mining activity in the area and increased livestock traffic revived the town. Today Forsayth is a service centre for road transport and regional tourism.
The Goldfields Hotel has been the only hotel in Forsayth since 1917, when the mining boom subsided and the smelters ceased to operate. Cattle grazing emerged as the major local industry following the war years and the rail line was reconditioned in 1951 to become an important transport link to Cairns for livestock and freight. Cattlemen and drovers replaced miners and prospectors as the hotel’s patrons. By the late 1980’s, road trains had become the favoured mode of transport for livestock and the rail line once again met hard times.
It was around this time that opportunities were explored to promote the rail journey between Cairns and Forsayth to tourists and a fledgling tourism industry emerged. Since 1995 the Savannahlander rail motor has operated a weekly service transporting rail enthusiasts to Forsayth. The gradual upgrade of local roads has also seen an increase in self-drive tourists making their way to this outback region.
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