II – The Second Inquest

Part II – The Second Inquest follows on from Part I – The Death of Claude Cotton. Click the link below to read the first story.


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.

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I – The Death of Claude 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.

The ss Millpool (left) at Geraldton circa 1922. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: 028995PD).
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The Second Issue of the Victorian Express

An announcement tacked onto the end of an article printed in Fremantle’s newspaper ‘The Herald’ stated that Geraldton’s first newspaper was going to be called ‘The Victorian Express.’ The proprietors were Messrs. S. M. Stout & Co.

At 4 pm, on 11 September 1878, the first issue was pulled by the Government Resident, George Eliot. The town of Geraldton celebrated, and over 100 people gathered to witness the occasion. Residents decorated the buildings and the vessels in the harbour with bunting, and “beer flew around like a deluge.” A long-desired want, in the form of a local newspaper, was finally realised. It was noted that, “The proprietors of the Victorian Express have the best wishes of the community for the success they deserve in their laudable undertaking.

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Fowler versus Pollitt

When Tom Fowler (a well-known athlete of the Kalgoorlie and Day Dawn goldfields) heard about Geraldton’s champion athlete, James Pollitt, he decided to issue a challenge. Rumours started in early December 1908 that a running match was being organised between the pair. It wasn’t until January 1909 that the challenge was formalised, with an advertisement placed in the Geraldton Guardian.

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Geraldton’s Town Clock

The earliest reference in the newspapers calling for a town clock in Geraldton occurred in 1878. The Geraldton Express noted several townspeople had suggested the clock, and that they were willing to “contribute liberally” towards it. If the town council brought it up at the next meeting, those people would be happy to initiate proceedings to rectify a long-standing need in the town.

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A Tombstone for a Hearth

In September 1930, plumber John Cumming was employed to carry out drainage works along Post Office Lane in Geraldton. He had excavated eighteen inches below the surface when he came across part of a tombstone – the rounded upper portion and half of the right side.

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A Cabin Boy’s Adventure

Arriving in Bunbury on 28 February 1932, the King Lud began loading wheat and was one of many ships anchored at the jetty during (what was noted to be) an “unexpected busy period“.

SS King Lud circa 1931. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

It departed for Fremantle on 8 March and arrived on the following day. Upon their arrival, a report was made to the police stating that the cabin boy, Sidney James Chapman, had jumped ship and was missing.

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Mahomet’s Treasure

Abdallah Mahomet arrived in Western Australia in the 1840s and, by the late 1860s, had relocated to Geraldton. An early settler in the area, he lived on a piece of land two miles south of the town, surrounded by sand dunes and possessing its own underground water source.

The Government allotted to him for the period of his natural life about ten acres of ground, a small portion of which he regularly cultivated…

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954); 4 August 1880; Page 1; Country Letters

Making use of the plentiful water on his property, he took to growing vegetables, fruit, and flowers. Carrying two baskets at the end of a long pole, he regularly walked into town and offered his produce for sale.

As he grew older, he became known to everyone as Old Mahomet, and the area where he lived was called Mahomets Flats. Alcohol, however, was a problem in his life.

On 24 July 1880, 70 year old Mahomet left his home at 7 am, aiming to reach Geraldton between the hours of 8 am and 9 am. He went there on a specific errand but refused to state what it was until he got back.

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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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The Captain’s Boots

For about fifteen years Phillip Duffield worked as the ‘landing waiter’ for customs in Geraldton. His job was to monitor all the people who arrived at the port and ensure that they were not bringing contraband to the town.

Phillip took his job seriously. Such was his “surprising sagacity in diagnosing contraband and his incorruptible fervor in pursuing offenders” he soon became known to everyone as ‘Phil the Ferocious’.

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