Cairns was founded in 1876 and named after William Wellington Cairns, Governor of Queensland from 1875 to 1877. It was formed to serve miners heading for the Hodgkinson River goldfield, but declined when an easier route was discovered from Port Douglas. It later developed into a railhead and major port for exporting sugar cane, gold and other metals, minerals and agricultural products from surrounding coastal areas and the Atherton Tableland region.
The estimated residential population of the Cairns urban area in 2015 was 147,993. Based on 2015 data, the associated local government area has experienced an average annual growth rate of 2.3% over the last 10 years. Cairns is a popular tourist destination because of its tropical climate and access to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.