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.
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.
Ironing clothes was the last straw. Employed as a housemaid at the Grand Hotel in Mount Magnet, Vera had had enough. Putting the ironing aside, she leaned over the ironing board and declared to her friend, “Hazel, I’m fed up; I want a change. I’m going to walk out.” Hazel exclaimed in response, “Me too!”
They later described what they were feeling as ‘the blues.’ To combat that feeling, in addition to leaving their place of employment, they decided to walk 595 km to Perth. Shaking hands on the plan, both agreed that it would add some much-needed excitement to their lives.
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.
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.
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.