Grim Yarns

There is a sickly odour of the sepulchre permeating the atmosphere, and the chief employment of the idle is to stand around and swap ghoulish stories – yarns that are dank, dismal and dirty, and reminiscent of dry bones, festering corpses, foul whiffs from the charnel house, blue mouldy of ghostly visions, and grisly spooks and other horrors…

And so it is that wherever Death casts a shadow, people will have some kind of story to tell. In late November 1894, the Coolgardie Miner had heard of several such grim yarns. Unable to resist “dabbling in mortuary matters“, they diligently reproduced them in an article.

During a funeral procession the horses were reported to have simply refused to budge. After a deal of coaxing they were encouraged to move and the group finally arrived at the cemetery, only to find that the grave hadn’t been dug. Mourners waited patiently in the sun as the grave digger set to work. After two hours the work was complete but it was still found to be a foot too short and so they waited some more until it was dug to the required depth.

Then after much tribulation the deceased was laid to rest.

A funeral procession circa 1897.

A shocking story from Hannan’s (Kalgoorlie) was then recalled where the funeral procession itself became lost in the bush. It was noted that there was no track in the bush from the camp at Hannan’s to the cemetery and thus the funeral procession wandered around confused until they were eventually discovered.

…and by the aid of a compass and much argument found the way to the bone-yard.

Added to their collection of yarns was a mortuary event that occurred at the Golden Bar Mining Company near Coolgardie.

John Hale had only recently arrived in Western Australia from Victoria when he died at the mine. Mr W Meade reported the death to the police, only to be told that as the man had died intestate the death should be reported to the Acting-Curator of Intestate Estates. After much running around, Mr Mead finally found him, advised him of the death and was told to speak to the police.

Dejected, Mr Mead returned to the mine. The body remained in the same position while a sick man and other people were camped nearby. It was not until 4 pm that a constable and a tracker arrived with a horse and dray. The assumption was that they were there to take the body away. That assumption was incorrect. The police were there to seize the man’s property on behalf of the Acting-Curator of Intestate Estates. The body continued to lie, exposed to the heat and “falling to pieces in the sun“, throughout the night and during most of the following day.

An extract from Mr Mead’s letter addressed to the editor of the Coolgardie Miner.
Courtesy of the New York Public Library

The final yarn was a ghost story that was sadly missing specific details but was nevertheless admitted to have been a complete fabrication by someone with a well-used imagination.

Amused by the continued dark tales being discussed, the reporter joked that if someone were to start a new paper in line with the public’s current taste they should “print it on black paper with white ink, and decorate it with skulls and crossbones, and photographic views of purgatory, and call it the Daily Ghoul, or the Evening Horror, or the Death Watch, ‘edited by Dismal Jemmy’.

Sources:

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