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.

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Whatley Park Pensioners

What I love about history is the constant opportunity to learn something new. Research is always vital however this can be difficult if you’re not sure where to look. This may especially be the case where buildings or infrastructure is torn down. Once the physical reminder of history is lost, it’s likely the memory of it will be lost too. Generations upon generations of people are born and what was once well-known to many can become forgotten. The same can be said for stories.

As is often the case, I came across Whatley Station and the Whatley Park Pensioners purely by chance whilst searching for something else. At first confused (where in the world was Whatley Park?) I began researching and found myself learning a piece of Bayswater’s history which seemed as though it had (perhaps unintentionally) been buried in the past.

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Goodbye Chaps, I’m Off

Having already escaped from Coolgardie Gaol in January, police kept a close watch on George Thompson when they loaded him onto a train on 17 March 1897. He was to serve three sentences at Fremantle Prison; 12 months for stealing, four months for breaking out of gaol and three months for giving a false name to the police. Thompson was one of 14 prisoners being transported from Coolgardie to Fremantle on the midday train.

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The Great Jansen

The Great Jansen (Harry August Jansen) was touring Australia for the first time and was scheduled to perform at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth for two weeks. Opening on Saturday, 27 July 1912 he was described as a magician and illusionist and it was stated that his magic “eclipses anything hitherto attempted.

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Frog in a Hole

Harry Ainsworth had done it all. He’d struck gold at Lake Austin, made his fortune, moved into a grand house in Geraldton and in 1895 became Mayor. By the 1900s he’d lost everything. Hoping to recover some of his fortune, he returned to Lake Austin and once more began searching for gold. What he didn’t expect to find was a frog.

Lake Austin with The Mainland in the middle. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: 9022.M95H2).
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The Drummer’s Death

The regular jazz drummer who played in the orchestra at the Empire Dance Hall couldn’t make it to the flannel dance held on 9 December 1932. A call was made to Edward Cassey asking if he could fill in. Despite having never played at the hall and not knowing its location, he said yes.

Edward Cassey
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Bubonic Plague in Geraldton

The sudden deaths of two people who were said to have been perfectly healthy sent rumours swirling. Bubonic plague was reported in Perth and Fremantle in January and February 1906. Had “the much-feared disease” made its way to the port town? The Geraldton Express was the first to ask the question.

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Identification Made Easy

A hearing relating to a charge of assault came before the Criminal Court in Perth on 15 March 1906. No details were provided in the newspaper report but it nevertheless highlighted how a method of identification could be deemed inappropriate if carried out incorrectly.

A crime was committed, the victim made a complaint and an accusation was made against two men. When it became known, one of the men voluntarily reported to Fremantle Prison and agreed to participate in a police lineup. Dressed in ordinary clothes, he stood with a group of about 10 or 12 other men, all of whom were wearing prison uniforms.

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The Inimitable Mrs Tracey

From the 1870s onwards, Mrs Eliza Tracey was a serial litigant within the Western Australian Courts. Initially her husband, James, brought the cases but it is likely that he did so with the firm backing of his wife.

By the 1880s the Traceys had mutually separated and Mrs Tracey continued to pursue her own lawsuits. While she had the occasional success, for the most part, she barely won a case.

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