One name will be forever linked with Cape York Peninsula – that of tough, some say ruthless, Frank Jardine.
In the 1860’s Cape York was a wild, trackless expanse of rock, scrub and impenetrable rainforest, but the government saw the need for an outpost and supply station for the shipping trade. Police Magistrate, John Jardine, was despatched to Somerset to establish a settlement. His two sons Frank and Alex were commissioned to drive a mob of cattle up from Rockhampton, an amazing feat only 16 years after explorer Edmund Kennedy had pioneered a route to the Cape.
Frank ran the newly established cattle station and later was appointed Police Magistrate. He built a fine residence at Somerset and hosted many ship’s captains, explorers, scientists and officials. In 1872 a missionary boat stopped off on the way to New Guinea and Frank fell in love with a Samoan princess on board called Sana Solia. When the boat left, Frank chased it in his cutter and virtually kidnapped her and later married her in defiance of the missionaries.
He was dismissed from his post at that time and turned his attention to a pearl diving operation in Torres Strait. In 1877 the government set up its official base on Thursday Island and sold Somerset to Frank, who returned and ran both his cattle and pearling ventures.
At times Frank and Sana had up to 90 people from various shipwrecks staying with them. In 1879 a government geologist Robert Jack, convalesced at the homestead after being attacked by Aborigines at Captain Billy Landing. The biggest event Frank had to cope with occurred in 1890 when the S.S Quetta struck a rock off the Cape with a loss of 133 lives. It was Queensland’s worst shipping disaster and Frank was hailed as a hero after rescuing many of the 158 survivors.
Another stirring tale in the Jardine saga was Frank’s discovery of the wreck of a Spanish treasure ship, loaded with silver. More disaster struck Cape York in 1899 when a cyclone wrecked 50 pearling boats and 300 men were killed.
Even as a seventy-year-old Frank Jardine was still a living legend, riding his horse 50km a day as a government stock inspector. He died in 1919 and his beloved wife Sana followed in 1923. Both are buried above the beach at Somerset.
Sadly the old homestead burnt to the ground around 1962. The old gateway, stonework, rusty cannons and the garden area are now being maintained. The lasting heritage of Somerset will be preserved along with the honour and respect for pioneer, Frank Jardine.