By 1850, a regular shipping service began between Queensland and Europe via the Torres Straits. Fishermen from southern ports seeking beche-de-mer and tortoise-shell visited the Cairns area at the same time.
In 1873, George Dalrymple was sent to investigate the northern coast and to establish a port for the Palmer River gold rush.
He named the Macalister Range behind Hartley’s Creek. Dalrymple and his native police were one of the first exploring parties to encounter and clash with the Yirrganydji.
After the establishment of Cairns, legendary bushman Christie Palmerston was asked to conduct a detailed survey of possible railway routes through the coastal ranges between Port Douglas and Innisfail. On 3rd June 1882, he named the “nice stream of water” he found Hartley’s Creek after the Sub-Collector of Customs, Robert Hartley. He thought that the mountain range behind Hartley’s Creek was “the lowest gap in the range” and could offer “a splendid road all the way” to the tin mines at Herberton. The privately owned and unopened Quaid Road now follows this route over the Macalister Range to the Atherton Tablelands.
Tin and tungsten-bearing quartz were discovered at Hartley’s Creek in 1907 and a minor rush took place. There have been several periods of intensive prospecting since then, but the amount of tin produced has always been very small. During the depression years of the 1930s groups of farmers tried their luck without much success. Small-scale tin mining continued at Hartley’s Creek until the early 1980s. Miners and their families made an important contribution to the township’s distinctive history and special identity.
Loggers and graziers also visited the coast during the early years of last century. Members of the well-known Veivers family hauled timber out of the coastal ranges with bullock teams and also ran herds of horses in the Hartley’s Creek area. With the help of Aboriginal men, they cut a track from Kuranda to Hartley’s Creek.