On 21 January 1896 it was reported that the remains of a man were found lying alongside the overland telegraph line, about five miles from Coorow. Police Constable Simpson of Geraldton was sent to investigate and near the body he found a swag and a bible held open with two sticks. He could not find a waterbag and the absence of such an important item resulted in the assumption that the man died from dehydration.
While it was generally reported that the man was unknown, a piece of paper held the tiniest of clues; written on it was the name ‘R. Bell’. Despite the existence of the name there was not enough information to absolutely confirm his identity. With such a hopeless case, it was noted that the man was “another victim added to the long list of those who have perished in the dreary bush.“
As he was acting as the Clerk of Courts and Mining Registrar in addition to his normal workload as Postmaster for the town of Yalgoo, William Meleng decided that he had better start the day early. At 5:30 am on Friday, 13 February 1903, he arrived at the post office and began the task of sorting through the mail.
A package wrapped untidily in a piece of Sunday newspaper caught his attention. He removed the newspaper and found within it a cylindrical parcel which was neatly wrapped and sealed thickly with gum at both ends. The elegant handwriting (thought to be a woman’s) indicated that the intended recipient was ‘Mr S. W. Lowndes, storekeeper, Yalgoo‘.
Not much had changed in two years. The investigation into the Mount Magnet murder had ground to a halt. The police had not been able to identify the victim and they had not been able to identify the perpetrator. North of the town the Rose Pearl continued to sit abandoned save for a few old prospectors. It held fast to the truth surrounding the crime but still had one last secret to share.
At 5pm on 17 November 1902, Reuben Brooker and Charles Pollock were trying their luck prospecting in one of the old shafts known as the Black Swan. Reuben went down into the mine shaft and at the bottom (60 feet) began the task of removing earth which was blocking a drive. While doing so he came across a rotting chaff bag tied with a piece of lace. The ominous odour arising from the bag was enough to convince him to send it up to Charles.
While we are not privy to the inner workings of John Ward’s mind, it appears he had been doing a lot of thinking. He saw and heard something in early November 1898 and had been mulling on it ever since the dismembered body parts were found in the Rose Pearl. He probably always intended to keep what he knew to himself however during a visit to Pierce’s Miners Club at 10pm on 9 January 1899 (and likely after a few drinks) he soon loosened his tongue. In the presence of Mr Pierce, Mrs Pierce, Miss Pierce, a boy named Pierce, Donald Hay and Henry Baldwin, John Ward commenced talking about the Mount Magnet murder.
At 1am on Saturday, 5 November 1898 John Ward was in Mount Magnet and was at his camp near the Railway Station when he heard a noise. He went to his door and looked across the road to see two men fighting in front of a French brothel. One was going through the fence while the other was leaning against it. John then heard three groans and all was quiet.
His mate, Louis Maddalena, was sharing his camp. Louis became curious as to what was going on however John told him not to bother getting up as “it was usual to hear rows at that place.” They both went back to sleep and John stated that during the day he went across the road to the spot where the fight had taken place and saw blood both inside and outside the fence.
The following blog post contains descriptions which may be distressing to some people. Readers are advised to proceed with caution.
Note: many different names were used to identify the mine featured in this blog post. For continuity, I have opted to use what appeared to be the most commonly used name, the Rose Pearl.
For six months the mine known as the Rose Pearl sat dormant on the outskirts of the town of Mount Magnet. The company that owned it was being restructured and more time was needed to arrange for work to begin again. Until that happened the mine shafts were covered to prevent accidents and the Rose Pearl was essentially abandoned.
John Pringle had been the mining manager before the closure and as time lapsed on the exemption granted to the owners it became apparent that the likelihood of the mine operating again was slim. By mid-November Mr Malcolm Reid was interested in taking over a couple of the leases and lodged an application to do so. Wanting to view the mine for himself, he approached Mr Pringle asking if he would be willing to show him over the lease.
Early in the morning on Sunday, 27 November 1898, Mr Pringle and Mr Reid travelled north from Mount Magnet to the Rose Pearl mine and descended the ladder of the shaft known as ‘Big Ben’. They were about halfway when Mr Reid noticed a terrible smell. It intensified as they continued down the ladder to the bottom of the shaft (110 feet). Finding it overwhelming, Mr Reid lit his pipe.
A report reached here by last night’s mail that the skeleton of a man has been found on the coast near the Donnelly River by Mr. G. Giblett. The body is supposed to have been there some time.
20 October 1892
While no doubt shocking, finding a skeleton was not an altogether unusual occurrence in Australia. People often headed out into the bush or the outback and, if they did not have adequate experience in such environments, soon found themselves lost and often succumbed to the elements. What makes this case interesting is the age of the bones, the sheer amount and variety of objects found nearby and the mystery of who exactly the individual was.
In the early 1870s a man by the name of Thomas Scott visited Western Australia and in particular Pinjarra. He was there for about three days when he mentioned that he had passed an elderly woman dressed in a light dress standing on the Pinjarra Bridge. He did not know it at the time but what he had seen was the Pinjarra ghost who was said to haunt the bridge over the Murray River.
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.
The Daily News Friday evening edition was first to break the story and deemed it interesting enough to be front page material. They ran with a concise headline, one which would immediately catch the public’s attention:
Skeleton Found At South Perth
Perhaps readers were initially sceptical of the find. It was, after all, 1 April 1938 – April Fool’s Day – and The Daily News had even printed an image of a young boy being ‘fooled’ by his friends. Was the skeleton another joke?
Earlier in the day, sewerage workers employed by the Water Supply Department were digging an eight foot deep trench on the fence line of a row of houses located between First Avenue and Fremantle Road (now Canning Highway) in South Perth (today the area forms part of Kensington) in order to connect the houses to the main sewerage pipes.
Mr William Mason was one such worker and, as he was digging, he started to come across bits of old wood. He ignored the wood but halted work when his shovel suddenly hit something solid. Carefully digging around so as not to cause any damage to the object, he eventually uncovered it, removed more dirt and came to the realisation that what he was looking at was actually a human skull.