Queensland mountain tied to African history


Mount Bartle Frere in North Queensland. Photo by Peter Bell, Wikipedia Commons

Mount Bartle Frere is the highest mountain in Queensland, nestled within the serenity of Wooroonooran National Park in the Cairns region. But this tall, rocky landmark that towers over its scenic surroundings is linked to the dark history of Sir Henry Bartle Frere.

The peak was named by Scottish explorer George A.F.E Dalrymple after  Henry Bartle Edward Frere, a British imperial administrator of India and Zambia and also Governor of the Cape Colony in 1877. Sir Bartle Frere wanted to form a South African confederation, even though the Transvaal Boers wanted independence.

His policies caused multiple wars, including the Boer War and the Anglo-Zulu War, which took place over a six-month period in 1879 and killed 10,000 Zulus. “The choice of Sir Bartle Frere as High Commissioner reinforces the argument that confederation was primarily intended to bring South Africa into a state of defence,” Damian O’Connor wrote in The Historian.

Some remember Bartle Frere as the man who caused these wars. To others he is remembered for his distinguished career as an administrator and statesman of the Empire in India and later in South Africa. In North Queensland, his name is used for Bartle Frere Base Camp, Bartle Frere State School and Bartle Frere Road. There is no record of him ever visiting Australia.

Places in North Queensland named after Bartle Frere. Click on the map to see the interactive Story Map

The peak of Mount Bartle Frere reaches 1622 metres and is the highest point in the state. The mountain is in a national park filled with tropical plants, birds, and mammals. Before reaching the mountain, travellers embark on an enchanting journey through Bartle Frere trail. Walking through the rainforest, hikers witness unique vegetation and wildlife and hear birds singing. But in 2023 this beautiful place is still tied to a murderous history.

The mountain is known to the Noongyanbudda Ngadjon people as Chooreechillum. They have lived in this area and upheld a close spiritual connection with it for thousands of years.

At the nearby Babinda Information Centre volunteer Lorraine Shein said she doesn’t know any specific information about Bartle Frere or his history. “Not so much about the name, they just enquire about climbing it,” Ms Shein says.

Another volunteer at the centre, Patsy Hannam, said she doesn’t believe that many people in the area know much about Henry Bartle Frere. “Most people just accept it as a name and leave it at that,” Ms Hannam, who is also part of the Wet Tropics Management Authority, says. “Bartle Frere is very popular with hikers and of course Josephine Falls and the Boulders are at the base of Bartle Frere.”

A group of people sitting on the ground
The Anglo Zulu War in 1879 when the British fought against the Zulu kingdom. Photo by the National Army Museum

Henry Bartle Frere believed that the right course for the African Cape Government was to assert authority and enforce justice on both sides of agreed borderlines. He did this in 1877 by bringing warfare against the resistant Xhosa, before he moved against the Zulus in 1879.

Back then, the blood of thousands of Zulus covered the ground and the stained earth matched the bright red uniform of the British. “Britain was without doubt the strongest power in the region, but both the Zulus and the Boers were unwilling to recognize that and were determined to resist British influence,” O’Connor wrote.

Bartle Frere was born in Wales in 1815 and died in Wimbledon in 1884 after being charged with persuading and advocating a policy of aggression and war. This history is largely unknown to locals of Babinda in Queensland, as well as visitors who travel to hike beautiful Mount Bartle Frere.


This article is part of a larger project called Where What Why. You can find the whole collection of stories about places and their names here.