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SAMARAI, B.N.G. to P. E. SEAGREN, BUSINESS MAN & POLITICIAN, COOKTOWN

The cover had a single blue ‘Four Corners’ TWO PENCE Queensland stamp postmarked with the 9 bar ‘B.N.G.’ (British New Guinea) as well as the unframed SAMARAI/ 16 JUL 00/ B.N.G. and the reverse, not seen, had an arrival c.d.s. of 20.7.00 (Figure 1).

Phers Erick Seagren (Sjorgren) was born in Sweden in 1845. Following an apprenticeship in cabinetmaking, he worked in his trade in Copenhagen before emigrating to the Queensland in his mid-twenties, arriving at Rockhampton in 1871. In 1873 he married, at Rockhampton, Rosetta Bradish, a London emigrant who also had arrived in Rockhampton in 1871. Intending to join in the Palmer River goldrush, Seagren travelled to Cooktown in February 1874, but chose instead to establish himself in his trade at the burgeoning port. He was one of the town's earliest citizens, and according to local tradition his son, William Erick Endeavour Seagren, was the first white male born at Cooktown, on 26 August 1874.

Cooktown was founded in October 1873 as the Endeavour River port for the Palmer River goldfields, and within six months had 20 restaurants, 12 large and 20 smaller stores, 6 butchers, 5 bakers, 3 tinsmiths, and chemists, fancygoods shops, watchmakers, bootmakers and saddlers; 65 publican's licenses had been issued for the Cooktown-Palmer River district, with 30 more applied for by April 1874. Two Cooktown newspapers were established in 1874, and the town was declared a municipality on 5 April 1876. A railway was constructed from Cooktown to Laura between 1884 and 1888, further opening the port to development. By the turn of the century the Cooktown-Palmer River district had a population of 35,000 (15,000 Europeans and 20,000 Chinese) and Cooktown had become the important centre not only of a thriving mining district, but also of pearling, bêche-de-mer, and pastoral activity.

In the 1880s Queensland Post Office Directories Seagren was listed as a cabinetmaker and furniture dealer and upholsterer; general importer, and a furniture, glass and china dealer. In August 1889, Seagren advertised as a cabinetmaker and upholsterer, whose furniture warehouse and china and glass bazaar was located near the Queensland National Bank in Charlotte Street, the principal thoroughfare of Cooktown. By 1898 Seagren had acquired the adjoining northern allotment, containing two shops, and c.1900 an upper level verandah was added to the northern side of his shop-house. This was enclosed below as shop space. Seagren acquired the adjoining southern allotment, which contained a small shop, in 1915.
By the early 1900s output from the Palmer goldfield was declining, and Cooktown's significance as a regional port correspondingly decreased. The Charlotte Street building survived the cyclone of 1907 and the 1918 fire which destroyed the buildings on the opposite side of the street, but following Seagren's death at Cooktown in 1934, aged 88, the furniture warehouse was closed. Seagren-manufactured furniture reputedly became collectors' items.

Seagren was a resident of Cooktown for 60 years, and a prominent and highly respected member of his community. He was actively involved in municipal work for many years, beginning with three years on the Daintree Divisional Board (1892-95) prior to being elected to the Cooktown Municipal Council in 1895. He served as mayor of Cooktown for two terms: 1898-1901 and 1905-08. He laboured for the improvement of the town with unsparing energy, and the excellent condition of the streets, footpaths, and other public works is due to his progressive methods when mayor. Seagren was a Justice of the Peace, and held positions on the Hospital Board and School Advisory Board.


In 1924 title to the Charlotte Street property was transferred to Seagren's only surviving child, Mrs Gertrude Blanche Muller, and following her death in 1949, to her children Mrs Malvine Rosetta Blanche Johnson and Erick Seagren Muller, who sold the building in 1952. Little has been recorded of the use of the building between the mid-1930s and the late 1960s, when Margaret Edmonds and Adrienne (Bobby) Gravenor established a newsagency, boutique and tourist information centre in the downstairs shop. They acquired title to the property in 1973, and by 1975 had converted the building into the Motor Inn Motel.

This cover appeared on Ebay with a starting price of $1,775, and it revealed a remarkable story about Seagren and his long career at Cooktown, in Northern Queensland. The map shows the proximity of Samarai*, New Guinea [green arrow] and Cooktown, Queensland [red balloon], a distance which could have been sailed in four days in 1900 (Figure 2).

 

I am indebted to the State of Queensland Environmental Protection Agency website for the information on Seagren and Cooktown.


* Samarai Island: Latitude 10 degrees 37' 0 South, Longitude 150 degrees 40' 0 East, an island located at the far eastern tip of New Guinea, near Milne Bay. It is a tiny island of 24 hectares in China Strait, only 5 kilometers from the mainland. Prior to WW II, it was the provincial headquarters of the Australian administration in New Guinea.

 
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