A Lonely Death

While searching for timber about two miles north of the Darlot Road and opposite the 19-mile well, Edward ‘Old Ned’ Ashbury and his mate, Mr Scott, stumbled across the skeletal remains of a man. They returned to Lawlers and, on 5 May 1901, Edward reported what they had found to Sergeant George Pilkington.

Map
The East Murchison Goldfields – where the remains were found. Lawlers is highlighted in red. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

Two days later Sergeant Pilkington and the Warden, Archibald Clifton, left Lawlers and travelled to the location. They successfully found the bones and came to the conclusion that (due to their condition) the man had been dead for at least two years.

Bleached
“The remains was very much bleached & appears to have been there for about two years.” Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia.

On the man’s feet were an intact pair of blucher boots with “large nails, heel lips and toe plates.” The man had been wearing white mole skin trousers (only part of which remained) and a white felt hat. Close to his feet was “an old two blade pocket-knife with the large blade open.” A two shilling coin and a penny were found nearby.

Hobnailed Boots
An example of hobnailed boots. Courtesy of Orbost & District Historical Society & Victorian Collections.

The Sergeant and the Warden continued their investigation and searched the vicinity. About four and a half metres away they found two water bags “with tin match boxes for necks“. Over two metres away was a canvas pouch with a valise strap. There were no documents nor any items that could help identify the man.

Despite carefully searching the area, Sergeant Pilkington and Warden Clifton found no other pieces of the man’s clothing nor anything resembling his swag. Having done all they could, they buried the unknown man close to where he had died.

On 8 May 1901 Sergeant Pilkington wrote his report and sent it to Sub-Inspector Fred Orme of the Cue Police Station. Even though there were no clues found at the site he noted at the end that “inquiries will be made.

With no significant leads, and with many other cases to investigate, it appears that no major police inquiries were made to try and identify the man. The press, however, played its own part. The news made its way into most of the Western Australian newspapers and trickled through to a few newspapers in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.

The Argus (Victoria) printed their Western Australian news on 8 May and included a brief paragraph about the remains found near the (incorrectly spelt) town of ‘Gawlers’. Even with the mistake, it sparked some hope in the mind of a Victorian resident. A little over a week later they approached their agent ‘Hendy, Leary & Co.’ and asked them to write to Perth’s Superintendent of Police on their behalf.

Unfortunately, barely any information was provided. The client’s name was not given and all that was mentioned was that they thought it could be their relative who was named ‘Olive’.

Hendy & Leary
Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia.

There is no indication that the police followed up on the tiny lead. Perhaps, in the end, it was just too difficult. At the time, finding remains in the outback was an all too common occurrence. It is likely that they simply assumed that the man’s death was another in “the long roll of deaths from thirst in the lonely bush…

There’s never a stone at the sleeper’s head,
There’s never a fence beside,
And the wandering stock on the grave may tread
Unnoticed and undenied…
A. B. Paterson

Sources:

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