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The first European exploration of the Pilbara region occurred when F.T. Gregory was in the area in 1861.
Cossack was established in 1863 and was first known as Tien Tsin Harbour after the barque on which Walter Padbury, the district's first settler, sailed to the site. It was the first port established in north-west Western Australia.
The name Cossack was adopted in 1871 to pay tribute to the HMS 'Cossack', the ship used by Governor Frederick Weld to travel to the area.
The townsite and port at Cossack were declared in 1872. Cossack became a municipality in 1887, which was also the year that a horse drawn tramway was constructed between the port and the town of Roebourne, 12 kilometres away.
Cossack's early development was as a port for the region's pastoral produce.
Pearl divers were also operating from Cossack from the 1860s. The industry peaked during the 1870s, during which time labourers from China, Malaysia, Japan and the Philippines all worked on pearling luggers operating off the coast.
The Asian pearl divers used Cossack as their winter base and a number of Japanese headstones remain in the Cossack cemetery's Asian section today.
The centre of the pearling industry relocated to Broome in the 1880s, however it was in this decade that gold was discovered in the Pilbara and Cossack became an entry port for the goldfields.
Cossack's original buildings were timber and galvanised iron structures, which were often chained to boulders and cement blocks in the ground to protect against cyclone damage.
The town's first stone building, a post and telegraph office, was constructed in 1884. The Georgian-style building was constructed of bricks transported to Cossack as ships' ballast. Its ground floor was initially used as a customs office until a purpose-built customs building was constructed in 1895.
The bluestone Galbraiths Store became Cossack's second stone building when it was constructed in 1891.
The customs house and bond store (1895) were designed by the Public Works Department under the administration of chief architect George Temple Poole. The customs house and bond store were built using local bluestone in the Romanesque Revival-style. The building remained in use until the 1940s.
The old courthouse was also probably designed by Poole in 1890 but was built with a number of alterations from its original design in 1895. The double-storey building ceased to operate as a courthouse in 1910 when the municipality of Cossack was disbanded.
The police quarters and lock-up (1898) were the last stone government buildings constructed in Cossack during the 1890s. They have also been acknowledged as the design of George Temple Poole.
By 1900 the harbour at Cossack had silted up so badly that large ships found it impassable. From 1910 Port Samson, six kilometres north, became the area's major port.
Cossack's remaining residents were relocated in the 1940s. Development of Cossack as an historic site began in 1976.
The ghost town of Cossack, 1480 kilometres north of Perth, has today been restored and is a tourist attraction containing a number of National Trust listed buildings.