In 1864, the British and Queensland governments established the settlement of Somerset on the Cape York Peninsula. Named for Lord Somerset, first Lord of the Admiralty, Somerset was intended as a refuge and supply depot for passing ships, a base to establish a connection with Britain via the Torres Strait, and a counter to the presence of a French colony (including a naval station) on New Caledonia. John Jardine was appointed as its first Police Magistrate and Commissioner of Crown Lands. An early sketch of Somerset shows a government residence, a customs house, a police magistrate’s house, marines’ barracks, and a medical superintendent’s house.
In 1864 – 65, John’s sons Francis (Frank) Lascelles Jardine and Alexander (Alick) William Jardine mounted an expedition to drive cattle overland from Rockhampton to Cape York. Despite heavy losses, they were able to establish a cattle station close to Somerset. Cape York’s Jardine River was named in their honour and they were made fellows of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1867, Frank succeeded John as magistrate. The actions of the Jardine brothers also had a darker legacy, as conflict between the expedition’s members and the region’s Indigenous population resulted in a significant Indigenous death toll. In the following thirty years, Cape York’s Indigenous population, which had numbered approximately 3000, was reduced to 300 by a combination of frontier violence, disease, and hunger.
Between 1864 and 1876, Somerset served as a regional centre. Afterwards, its importance rapidly faded, with government functions being transferred to a new settlement on Thursday Island, which also absorbed its role as a port. Nevertheless, Frank remained, and the Jardine family continued to aid seafarers. From the 1870s, Somerset was closely associated with the Torres Strait pearling industry. In addition to pearling, Frank kept beef cattle and founded a coconut planation. In 1873, he married a high-ranking Samoan woman named Sana Solia Sofala, with whom he had four children (Alice Maule Lascelles, Hew Cholmondeley, Bootle Arthur Lascelles, and Elizabeth Sana Hamilton). Succumbing to leprosy in 1919, Frank was buried at Somerset.
Today, only traces of Somerset remain. In 2018, the Somerset Graves Site (in use 1890 – 1962) was added to the Queensland Heritage Register. Its eight graves include those of Frank and three other members of the Jardine family.
- J. Farnfield. “Shipwrecks and Pearl Shells: Somerset, Cape York, 1864 – 1877.” In Lectures on North Queensland History: Second Series, edited by B. J. Dalton, 66 – 76. Townsville: James Cook University, 1975. https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:241807.
- Margaret Lawrie. “John Jardine and Somerset.” Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 14, no. 8 (1991): 318 – 336. https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:204149.
- Steve Mullins. “The Pioneer Legend of Frank Jardine.” PhD diss., Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education, 1982. http://acquire.cqu.edu.au:8080/vital/access/manager/Repository/cqu:12800.
- Queensland Government. “Jardine River National Park, Heathlands Resources Reserve and Jardine River Resources Reserve: Nature, Culture and History.” 18th January 2019. https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/jardine-river/culture.html.
- Queensland Government. “Somerset Graves Site.” Queensland Heritage Register, 20th January 2016. https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=650072.
- Brian Randall. “Queensland Places – Cape York – Early Exploration.” SLQ Blogs, John Oxley Library. 19th June 2013. http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/jol/2013/06/19/queensland-places-cape-york-early-exploration/.