On 18 May 1886, drover, Harry Bower, collected siblings Amy and Sam from Irwin River and accompanied them overland to Fatfield Station. They arrived at Arrowsmith, dined at Warerdo, and continued south. Four miles on, the rocks at Stockyard Gully caves became visible. Before they reached them, Amy asked if there was any water in the area. Harry pointed to a clump of trees in the distance where they could get a drink, and Amy responded that she could wait until they got there.
As they approached the caves at sunset, Harry remembered there was a chance they could get some water inside. He said to Amy and Sam, “There is a drip down in that cave. I will go down and see if I can get you a drop of water.” He took with him a pannikin and entered the cave. Seventy yards in, he stopped and stared at what he thought was a dog lying on the ground. To the left, he could see something else. Cautious, he went back to the entrance to find something to light his way. Having dismounted from their horses, Amy and Sam stood at the entrance peering into the darkness. Turning back to the cave, Harry gazed at another object, assuming it was a log. As his eyes adjusted, he realised that what he was staring at was the remains of a man.
The body was in an advanced state of decomposition. Still on the feet were a pair of white socks. He turned to leave, and something glinting caught his eye. Lying on the sand was a gold watch and chain with a ring attached to it.
Returning to Amy and Sam, Amy asked Harry, “Have you broken your watch?” Harry replied that he had not. Noticing that his demeanor had changed, she questioned, “What is the matter with you? You don’t look like you did when you went down that cave.” He told them about the dead man and asked if they would be afraid to go inside. Both said they were not.
Harry cut off some dry palm leaves and took them with him as all three entered the cave. Once inside, he lit the leaves to provide light and looked closely at the body. Despite the decomposition, he thought he knew the man. There were no other tracks in the vicinity, and he presumed the man died from illness or lack of food and water.
They continued further into the cave to look at the other objects. What he thought was a dog was a pair of boots. Further on was a black felt hat, four boxes of matches, 12 sticks of tobacco, a pair of spurs, a pocket knife, and two empty Holloway’s pill boxes. Once at the spot in the cave where there was a drip, they saw part of a pair of leather leggings. The man had placed them under the drip to catch the water, but the water would not pool; it soaked through the material.
The water dripped from about 30ft above through the rocks, and it only gave about two drops a minute.The Geraldton Express and Murchison and Yalgo Goldfields Chronicler (WA : 1896 – 1905); 14 February 1902; Page 4; Large Caves Beyond Dongarra
Looking at the tracks, Harry thought the man must have walked back and forth from his spot to the drip until he no longer had the energy to do so. When he could not walk, he crawled. Climbing up to the drip eventually became impossible. His final act was to drive the blade of his pocket knife into the ground.
Harry, Amy, and Sam left Stockyard Gully and went to Cockleshell Gully, where they stayed with John Grigson. Once they arrived at Fatfield Station, Harry changed his horse and rode to Dongara, where he reported what he had seen to the Justice of the Peace Samuel Moore. Together, they reported the discovery of the remains to Constable Richard Troy.
Constable Troy hired a waggonette and placed a jarrah coffin in the back of it. Along with Harry and another man named Jack, they drove out to Stockyard Gully. With no suspicious circumstances, they placed the remains in the coffin and, on Sunday, 30 May 1886, they buried the man at the front of the cave, with Harry reading the Church of England burial service. After filling in the grave, the men went their separate ways.
While it was not easy to identify the remains, it was thought the man was James Cook. He had travelled to Greenough on horseback with Mr and Mrs Hamersley and left for Perth on his own on 25 March. He was not well and did not have any money or rations with him. His horse was nowhere to be found, and having checked with people who knew him, they confirmed he did not arrive home.
Sixteen years later, in 1902, Harry shared the story with The Geraldton Express and Murchison and Yalgo Goldfields Chronicle. He thought the Guildford volunteers were going to arrange a headstone, but it fell through. Over time, the bush covered the spot where they buried him. He noted, “…I don’t believe to-day that there are many, bar myself and the young Stokes’ of the Greenough Flats, who could find the spot where the remains lie.”
- 1902 ‘Large Caves beyond Dongarra.’, The Geraldton Express and Murchison and Yalgo Goldfields Chronicler (WA : 1896 – 1905), 14 February, p. 4. , viewed 17 Oct 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article258538035
- 1886 ‘NEWS AND NOTES.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 3 June, p. 3. , viewed 17 Oct 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3763214
- 1886 ‘NOTES FROM DONGARRA.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 3 June, p. 3. , viewed 17 Oct 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76212843