The First Death at Paynesville

In February 1899, the Leighton brothers were progressing with the erection of the Tremayne Mill at Paynesville. To get the mill running, they needed more water and, thus, it was necessary to deepen the water shaft of the Lady Maude mine. Three shifts were put on to carry out the work. 

Locality Plan showing Paynesville. Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia (AU WA S2168- cons5698 1354).

On Saturday, 11 February 1899, Ernest Harbordt was working the night shift in the water shaft with his mate, Edmund Lowrie. Ernest was at the bottom of the shaft, while Edmund stood at the top on the brace. 

At about 1 am, Ernest sent up a bucket. Not long after, Edmund heard something fall and then a splash in the water. He looked down and noticed that the candle at the bottom had extinguished. He called out to Ernest, asking if he was okay. When he received no response, he yelled for help. 

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Sister May

Typhoid fever is still very prevalent in the colony. Last week 129 cases with 10 deaths were reported, as against 75 cases and eight deaths for the corresponding period of last year.

Coolgardie Miner (WA : 1894 – 1911); 22 April 1896; Page 5; Typhoid Fever

On 17 April 1896, Sister May, a trained nurse, arrived in Fremantle via the steamship Adelaide. She was born in Bridgewater, Victoria, in 1874, and at age 17, she commenced training to become a nurse at Inglewood Hospital in Victoria. After a year, she moved to Melbourne before leaving for Western Australia in 1896.

Sister May

Two days after her arrival, the Reverend Rowe inducted her into the Sisters of the People. The Sisters of the People was an organisation formed in the 1890s in conjunction with the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Their purpose was to provide nursing services to the sick who could not afford medical help. Often, they went to rural areas. After her induction, Sister May went where she was needed the most and proceeded to Cue.

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The Elvira Mystery

Two years before the murder at Mount Magnet, the Elvira mine, located north east of Coolgardie and near the Red Bluff, had been sitting abandoned for over a year. On 9 June 1896, Joseph Sorensen lodged an application and was granted a lease over the site.

Red Bluff at Coolgardie circa 1901. Courtesy of State Library of Western Australia.

Work began immediately. Joseph started clearing the mine out and on 11 August he was working on the north shaft. Having sent up dozens of buckets during the course of the work, he moved a slab of wood and came across earth mixed with stones. He began picking it away and as he did so, a skull rolled out.

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The Women’s Rush

Shenton Street in Menzies circa 1906

Following the discovery of the Golden Eagle nugget at Larkinville on 15 January 1931, gold was at the forefront in the minds of Western Australians. Reminiscent of earlier gold rush years, some men left their jobs to travel to the field in the hope they would strike it rich. Gold was the hot topic of the day and everyone kept their eyes peeled, including the women of Menzies.

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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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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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I – Murder at Mount Magnet

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.

Map
The Rose Pearl Mine in comparison to the location of Mount Magnet. Courtesy of Google Earth. With thanks to the Department of Mines and Petroleum for details with regards to the location.

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.

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