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James Venture Mulligan (1837–1907)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

James Venture Mulligan (1837-1907), prospector, was born on 13 February 1837 at Drumgooland, County Down, Ireland, son of James Mulligan, farmer, and his wife Maria, née Lee. He later adopted his second name. On 25 February 1860 he sailed in the Curling for Victoria and landed in Melbourne on 10 June. After an abortive attempt to join the Burke and Wills expedition he moved to New South Wales and settled in Armidale, where he opened a butcher's shop and learnt prospecting on the Peel River and other northern goldfields. In Queensland he joined the rushes to Gympie in 1867, Gilberton in 1871 and the Etheridge in 1873.

On 5 June Mulligan led a party of six from Georgetown to investigate a reported gold discovery by William Hann. Despite Aboriginal hostility he returned on 3 September with 102 ounces; after proclamation of the Palmer goldfield the party received £1000 reward in 1875. In 1874 he had led three more expeditions covering much country which later included the Hodgkinson goldfield. Though he found little gold his careful but determined leadership enhanced his repute among miners. On 29 April 1875 he led a government-sponsored expedition which passed the sites of Mareeba and Atherton, crossed the Herberton Range and discovered tin in the Wild River but found little gold. On 23 October he left Cooktown and returned on 13 March 1876 with sufficient gold to stimulate the Hodgkinson gold rush. As the Hodgkinson was mainly a reef field many disappointed prospectors blamed Mulligan.

In 1877 Mulligan settled at Thornborough on the Hodgkinson, running a store with his old mate, James Dowdall, but in 1879 the partners were declared insolvent. After paying a dividend of 1s. 10d., they were discharged in 1881. Mulligan returned to prospecting and was subsidized by the government in 1890 to prove the Palmer conglomerates. Though the gold was not payable he found antimony.

Widely respected for his bush skills and religious principles, Mulligan became a justice of the peace in 1894. In Brisbane on 5 November 1903 he was married by an Anglican minister to the 47-year-old widow Fanny Maria Buls, née Rolls. On 23 August 1907 he was fatally injured in trying to protect a woman against a drunkard and died next day in the hospital at Mount Molloy.

Mulligan enjoyed exploration as much as prospecting and was never secretive about his finds. His lively diaries, published regularly in the Queenslander, were republished in 1875 as A guide to the Palmer River and Normanby goldfields. His name is commemorated by Mount Mulligan, a plaque at Mareeba and the Mulligan Highway.

Select Bibliography

  • R. L. Jack, Northmost Australia, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1921)
  • G. C. Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away (Brisb, 1963)
  • H. Holthouse, River of Gold (Syd, 1967)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1874, 2, 755, 1876, 3, 395, 1891, 4, 241, 266
  • Queensland Government Gazette, 1879, 1, 796, 1417, 1881, 1, 45, 2, 533
  • G. Pike, ‘James Venture Mulligan: prospector and explorer of the north’, JRHSQ, 4 (1948-52), no 4
  • Brisbane Courier, 3 Sept 1873, 29 Mar, 24 Apr 1875, 27 May 1876
  • Queenslander, 15 Apr, 3 June 1876, 28 Mar, 4 Apr 1885
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Mulligan, James Venture (1837–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


13 February, 1837
Drumgooland, Down, Ireland


24 August, 1907 (aged 70)
Mount Molloy, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death


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