The result was what most of Geraldton wanted. Knowing there would be a post mortem and a new inquest, letter writer ‘Groper’ turned their attention to Claude’s mother. She was elderly and was said to have been supported by Claude, who regularly sent her half his pay. Concerned at the inquiry being left solely in the hands of the police, they suggested the establishment of a fund to raise money to pay for a solicitor to represent her. ‘Groper’ gave ten shillings and, within three days, they received donations of about two pounds. With the money, they hired Arthur Altorfer to represent Emma Cotton.
At 7:30 am, while lumpers loaded wheat onto the ss Millpool, Captain Arthur Eves gazed out across Champion Bay. As he looked down, he noticed something floating in the water. Unable to see what it was, he descended from the bridge to the forecastle. Using binoculars, he realised that what he was looking at was the body of a man. He sent a boat to retrieve it and subsequently identified it as Claude Cotton, a member of his crew.
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.
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.