Search form toggle
Port Douglas Waterfront and Flagstaff Hill 1950

Before Rex Park and the stinger pool. Port Douglas waterfront and township 1957. Arrow points to an old fish trap established. Image E.M Loveday

Port Douglas, Mossman and Daintree History

Port Douglas History - An Overview

Image 1:  Four Mile Beach 1985                        
Image 2:  Dickson's Inlet 1985               
Image 3:  Main Beach Four Mile 1985

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.

Image 1:  From Port Douglas hill looking onto now Macrossan Street - 1885
Image 2:  Christie Palmerston 
Image 3:  John Douglas QLD Premier

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.

Image 1:  Four Mile Beach previously named 'Ocean Beach' 1900       
Image 2:  The Sugar Wharf 1917                
Image 3:  S.S Innamincka 1913 - off Four Mile Beach

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.

Image 1:  1911 Cyclone levels town
Image 2:  Queens Hotel Mossman - 1899
Image 3:  Port Railway Station 1910

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.

Image 1:  The Old Sugar Wharf 1955
Image 2:  Low Isles off Port Douglas 1955
Image 3:  Four Mile Beach 1955

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.

Image 1:  Captain Cook Highway 1985
Image 2:  The Magnificent Beach 1984        
Image 3:  Four Mile Beach 1985

Port has become a popular destination for Australian and international visitors keen to visit the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree World Heritage Rainforest.  Property prices are escalating and 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.

The Douglas Shire Historical Society

The History of the Douglas Shire is rich with centuries of highs and lows dating back to the first gold rush pioneers in 1876. Now as we enjoy the regions 140th birthday the regions two largest developments namely Sheraton Mirage Resort and the Reef Marina are being bought back to life. 

Port's People

Locals' stories of Port Douglas

2005 138pp

Pam Willis Burden

$15

Raindrops and Sugar Crops

Tales from South of the Daintree

2010 136pp

Pam Willis Burden

$15

Port Douglas Wedding Venue

The iconic St Mary's by The Sea chapel is one of the most picturesque in the country for a Port Douglas wedding. However, it's wooden and stained glass interior also holds a vivid history.

Accommodation date selection

Key:   X Today's date