Striking it rich in Croydon

In the dusty heart of the Gulf Savannah, a tale or two has been shared, family histories rediscovered and fame and fortune lost and found. Some stories are almost too sordid, a little too unbelievable, totally scandalous or just plain strange, but that is what family history is all about and at Croydon’s True Blue Visitor Information Centre, you may just discover yours.

More than 100 years ago, the mineral rich goldfields of Croydon’s Golden Gate turned this outback town, along the Savannah Way in Tropical North Queensland, into a thriving bush community drawing people from all walks of life who left their families and jobs behind in the pursuit of fortune. Today, thanks to the life’s work of one man, their history lives on and can be shared with future generations.

Boasting a genealogical database of more than 18,000 people put together by local resident Chris Weirman, Croydon has become the last outpost for people tracing their family’s history.

Anthony Styan, acting manager for Heritage Culture and Tourism at Croydon Shire Council, says Croydon is the last place people expect to find such a comprehensive database, but with the town’s rich and colourful history, it is only fitting it should house such a precious collection.

“Croydon was often the starting place for families who immigrated to Australia,” Anthony explains. “It was a cultural melting pot made up of English, Scottish and Irish people who came in their thousands to work in the goldfields. A large Chinese community also flourished with the migrants establishing important vegetable gardens and farms to feed the townsfolk.

“Some might hear a rumour in the family that their great grandfather was a gold miner, but are not quite sure where to start. This is where we can help – if they were born in Croydon, died in Croydon or have any sort of record of being here, then we will find it.”

Anthony says there is nothing more rewarding than rediscovering a person’s history. “It feels fantastic. People get a real kick out of it.

“Imagine going to a museum, looking around and knowing that someone with your DNA and ancestry has walked the streets and stood in the very building you are standing in. The experience is so much better with a personal connection.”

Visitor Michael Daly discovers a personal connection when researching his family’s rather strange history involving the genealogical collection and his Irish second great uncle Michael Magnor.

What happened to this man has been a mystery for more than 130 years. Michael Magnor joined the British Royal Navy and while on shore leave in Australia he deserted, changed his identity and went gold mining.

He was said to have made a fortune, Michael explains. “When writing to his family in Ireland, he was careful to use an alias and only sent newspaper clippings to show where he was at that time. In his last letter to his sister in 1878, Michael Magnor said he was in Sydney and looking for a boat to go to New Guinea, but as he could not find one he said he would go some place else. No one heard from him again. In 1938 there was an article by Frank Reid in the Brisbane Sunday Mail about the missing fortune of Michael Magnor.”

Using the resources of the genealogical collection and recent information from a cousin, Michael corroborates there is a Michael Magnor, who died of pneumonia and was buried in Croydon Cemetery in 1890. With no record of his death or any travel to New Guinea, Michael believes this is more likely to be his long lost uncle.

As far as mysteries go this is one of the most intriguing, where did Michael Magnor’s fortune go, did he make it to New Guinea or did he return to the goldfields of Normanton or Croydon? Who knows, but what we do know is that there are certainly more family stories waiting to be discovered within this treasure trove of names, dates and facts, which contributed to the history of this bustling golden town during Australia’s foundation years.

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