The Lost Tin of Gold

A ten ton crushing is going through the little 3-head mill on the Lake Way lease from the Black Swan in a day or two. This parcel is bound to yield well, and I will leave further comment until the mill has had its say.

The mill had its say and the crushing yielded 97 ounces of smelted (heating the ore so that only the metal remained) gold. The partners of the mine, Ephraim Walsh and Jack Wallace, would have been pleased. From Lake Way (near Wiluna) Mr Charles Milton (a Commission Agent) brought the gold to Lawlers for transportation to Cue under Police escort.

Gold Escort
An example of a gold escort circa 1901. This escort was in Mulline.

At Lawlers he carefully packed and sealed the gold in a cigarette tin. It was to be handed over to the Western Australian Bank at Cue and in order guarantee that it reached its destination, Mr Milton paid escort fees to the registrar. In the presence of several other people, he handed the package over to Constable Worth of the Lawlers Police Station and Constable Doddridge of the Cue Police Station. It was then placed in one of Gascard’s coaches.

slwa_b4585510_1
Jules Gascard’s coaches outside his livery stables at Cue. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia.

The small tin was not the only gold on its way to Cue. Also on board was gold packed in boxes which were being sent to the Union Bank. As it was being lodged with a different bank it would appear that the tin was kept separate from the boxes.

Driving the coach was Edward ‘Ted’ Mahoney. The only other passenger was Mr Alan Paton, Manager of Alex. Matheson & Co. (merchants and commission agents). While it’s not known where the Constables were sitting, it’s likely one was positioned on top of the coach while the other rode behind it. They left Lawlers on 24 April 1898 and travelled in a westerly direction towards Black Range (Nunngarra).

Gregory Street
Gregory Street at Black Range circa 1906.

At Black Range they rested for a short time. They also had a change of hands. Constable Leavers of Cue replaced Constable Worth who, presumably, headed back to Lawlers. Constable Leavers observed the gold being put into the coach and the party continued on their journey with Constable Doddridge sitting on top and Constable Leavers travelling behind them on his horse.

Black Range
Black Range (Nunngarra). Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia.

Travelling westerly along the track to Cue the party would have passed noted cliffs and what was recorded on the map as ‘The Dismal Scrub’. The scenery was not considered interesting.

There is not much in the way of scenery along the road. A long stretch of mulga is appropriately termed the dismal scrub, and several breakaways and granite ridges furnish the only relief to the awful monotony.

Positioned along the route were Nesbitts Well, Junction Well, No. 1 Well and Woodley’s Soak. In order to ensure that they did not overwork the horses, they may have stopped at one or two along the way. All the wells were considered to be in good working order with windlasses and buckets provided to access the water. They were fenced to keep animals out and covered to prevent birds and insects from getting into them. If they were there at the right time, perhaps the birds were a source of interest.

By the way, the wells are liberally patronised by birds. Hundreds of bright plumaged parrots flock to the drinking troughs in the early morning before starting the business of the day, and keep up a noisy chatter while waiting for someone to haul up a fresh supply.

Government Well
A Government well located between Lawlers and Black Range circa 1907. Wallaby Knob is in the background.
Route
The likely route taken from Black Range (Nunngarra – right) and the wells located along the way. The Dismal Scrub is situated in the middle.

By the time they reached the Millie Outstation Well (top left on the above map) Constable Doddridge knew he had a big problem on his hands. The tin of gold was missing. He waited for Constable Leavers to catch up and informed him of the terrible news.

Given the fact that the tin was not packed with any of the other boxes, an image is conjured within the imagination of a bumpy coach ride across a rough track and a lone, small tin bouncing around either on top of or in the coach. Perhaps it simply bounced out and was lying somewhere in the dirt.

Filled with concern and eager to locate the missing gold, Constable Leavers opted to retrace their steps. Alone, he rode back and inspected the track in the hope that he would find the tin somewhere along the side of the road.

He immediately returned over the track to the Black Range hotel, where he instituted an unsuccessful search for the lost gold. In doing this he suffered severely from hunger, as he set out on his search with scarcely a morsel of food.

Unable to find the tin, Constable Leavers returned to the coach and the party continued on their route, travelling around Lake Austin and onward to Cue. They finally arrived at night on 27 April 1898 and immediately reported that the gold had been lost.

Millie to Cue
The final part of the journey from Millie Outstation Well (bottom right) to Cue (top).

The Police at Cue quickly swung into action. Constable Smith and an Aboriginal tracker began the search along with Sergeant Connor from Lawlers and a Constable from Mt Magnet. Given that the gold had been entrusted to the Police and in turn the Government, it was imperative that it be found.

It seems those involved managed to keep the news under wraps for a couple of days. By early May the newspapers slowly began reporting about the missing tin and it did not take long before they started to question who would be held responsible.

If the gold is lost, the question arises as to who will suffer the loss. It is surmised that the Government will be responsible, as the escort fees were paid to the East Murchison Warden. It is the first time anything of the kind has occurred in the colony.

Constables Doddridge and Leavers did not participate in the search. With the blame placed firmly on their shoulders, they were noted as being suspended from duties until the Chief of Police arrived to conduct an investigation.

Naturally, the initial assumption was that the gold must have fallen off the coach. This however was disputed and considered impossible. If the gold did not fall off the coach there was only one other possibility; it was stolen sometime after the party left Black Range.

Despite conducting an extensive search, by 6 May 1898, The West Australian noted that no clue had been found as to the whereabouts of the gold. Its disappearance was shrouded in mystery and though many stated it had probably been stolen, no one seemed to know by whom.

The search was called off and everyone turned their attention towards Constables Doddridge and Leavers. With the loss “…considered gross carelessness on the part of the police…” they were soon dealt with by their superior officers. Constable Doddridge, who was in charge, was dismissed from the force while Constable Leavers was severely cautioned. Interestingly, when the Chief of Police was asked to confirm these facts he also added another piece of information, Constable Worth of Lawlers was also dismissed.

Not willing to give up completely (and probably not willing to have to reimburse the owners) it was reported on 7 June 1898 that the Government had offered a reward for any information with regards to the missing gold.

Reward

No one came forward. A Police officer in charge of the area as well as a Detective from Perth investigated the case thoroughly however they could not find enough evidence to charge the offender(s). The gold was gone.

Reports in the newspapers died down until late July when The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette reported on the Chief Commissioner of Police’s annual report which was tabled in Parliament. He stated that he regretted the incident and admitted that one officer (likely Constable Doddridge) did not show enough care while executing his duties. He went on to say…

The worst feature of the case is that there appears to be good reason for suspecting that one of the constables forming the escort was concerned in the crime, either as principal or accessory.

Given that Constable Worth was also dismissed it would seem that his behaviour was cause for suspicion.

The aftermath of the whole affair is also interesting to note. The Government admitted that they were ultimately responsible for the loss and in late August 1898 paid £389 3s 4d to the owners. Today, if 97 ounces of gold went missing in a similar fashion, it would cost them well over $100,000.

Furthermore, a decision was made by the Western Australian Government that the Lawlers gold escort route was to be changed. No longer would it travel west to Cue, it would instead head south where the gold would be handed over to the banks at Menzies. The new route was shorter and considered to have less risk.

The mystery of the missing tin of gold, how it disappeared from the coach, who actually took it and whether it was eventually found (or recovered) was never elaborated upon. I assume the Police would have been searched at the time so it would seem they did not have it on their person. Perhaps it was hidden somewhere along the track. One would think that if this was the case the person involved would eventually recover it. Given the publicity however, perhaps they couldn’t. It begs the question, is there still a tin of gold hidden in the outback on the old track between Black Range and Lake Austin?

Sources:

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6 thoughts on “The Lost Tin of Gold

  1. Nunngarra, the old town which predates Sandstone, is an Aboriginal word meaning Barb of the Spear. It describes the shape of the range of hills at Black Range where the original town was built.I enjoyed the story! Bob Sheppard

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