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5. Chapter V Gold Seekers' Adventures

Prospectors' moods—Respect for law and order—A bush mystery—Murder in a mosque—World-famous criminal—Discovery of Coolgardie's richest reef—Personal narratives.


PROSPECTORS were usually rough diamonds. Money made by them, after hardship and danger, was spent merrily. Men who had been poor all their lives and suddenly found themselves in possession of a few thousand pounds, lost their heads, became madly extravagant and threw money away in foolishness, chiefly drink. Wild and reckless, a favourite toast was:

“Here's to the man with ragged clothes
And hasn't time to mend 'em,
But d——the man with bright half-crowns
And hasn't the heart to spend 'em.”

Diggers who received large sums for a show have been known to light their pipes with pound notes. There have been occasions when they would go to a bush shanty, become drunk, and out of a spirit of devilment break everything in sight and then ask the shanty keeper what was the cost of the damage. He would estimate the value, and he would be handed over the money for what the rioters considered their fun.

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“Yes, the boys are a bit boisterous at times, but there's no real harm in them and they are as splendid a lot of men as ever lived.”

This was the remark that was made to me by a policeman I met on horseback in the bush. We lighted a fire, boiled a billy and had tea together under a gum tree. He went on: “They are good fellows, kindly hearted and as honest as daylight. I am in charge of an area as big as England, there are small parties working shows all over it, many of the men are constantly on the move.”

Then we talked of what I was as well acquainted with as he. We remarked that the men did not carry bowie knives or revolvers. Sometimes prospecting parties had a rifle or a shot-gun mostly to get wild turkeys, which were an agreeable change from the daily menu of “tinned dog.” Offences such as theft were rare, but were promptly dealt with. A tin dish was beaten to produce a gong-like sound and there was a “roll up.” If the charge was proved, the usual punishment was for the offender to be expelled from the goldfields. He was well pleased to be let off so lightly, and was careful to obey the expulsion order, knowing that it would be dangerous for him if he didn't. In the absence of the warden disputes between diggers as to the ownership of claims were also decided by a “roll up.” There was a universal respect for law and order.

The crimes that were committed during the prospecting years were the more notable because of their rarity.

“I remember the murder of one prospector,” said the policeman. “It was a mysterious affair at Bardoc. A party of diggers in September, 1894, saw a man

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filling in a hole. Later, it occurred to them that this was rather strange. Men do not usually trouble to fill up holes they make in the bush when looking for gold. They returned next morning. The man was gone. On making an investigation there was clear evidence that a murder had been committed. The body of a man was found with the head bashed in. It had been buried in an endeavour to conceal the crime. The remains were not identified, and the murderer was never discovered.” For long the occurrence was discussed round camp-fires as an undiscovered bush mystery. Various theories were advanced. One was that two men had made a rich find and when returning with valuable specimens one man murdered the other in order to get all the gold.

The constable then spoke of a murder, but of a different kind. It occurred amongst the Afghan community, who were chiefly camel men and carriers. The prevailing opinion about the Afghans was that they were honest so long as they wore their shirts outside their trousers. When they wore their shirts inside their trousers they were viewed with suspicion and no longer trusted.

The victim of the murder was a rich Mussulman, Tagh Mahomet, who was shot whilst praying in the mosque at Coolgardie. A fellow-countryman, Goulam Mahomet, crept behind him with a loaded revolver in his hand and shot him in the back. Goulam calmly drew the remaining charges out of the revolver and went to the police station and surrendered. A difference had arisen between them, and Goulam thought Tagh would assassinate him and so he determined to get in first.

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Goulam was in due course hanged, but to the last he declared that he had committed no crime as what he did was in self-defence.

On the scaffold he was dressed in spotless white clothes, was barefooted and wore a red fez, and his last words were: “There is no God but one God, and Mahomet is His prophet.” About twenty of his fellow-countrymen covered his grave with flowers. The condemned man thought he would not have been hanged had he been a white man. He said he was hanged because the English never forgave the Afghans for the massacre of British troops in the Khyber Pass.

Mr. Thomas Talbot, who was well known on the goldfields, told me his personal experiences with one notorious murderer who arrived at Southern Cross before the finding of gold at Coolgardie. In a written account sent to me Mr. Talbot stated:

“There was an engineer on the Fraser mine, where I was a trucker, called Baron Swanson. His work was to maintain the batteries and machinery in working order and keep the pumps going underground, which at the time gave considerable trouble. He was very clever with machinery and the pumps, and was considered the best man the mine had so far at the work. He often had yarns with the trucking lads. Most of us liked him. There was one man on the mine, ‘Black Charley’ he was called, and he disliked Swanson. They were ever at enmity. ‘Black Charley’ always said he was a bad man, a man who was callous and

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would stop at no crime to achieve his purpose. It was merely instinct with ‘Black Charley,’ for he could give no reason to justify his condemnation.

“With the fair sex Swanson was a special favourite. He made no secret that he was engaged to be married, but, notwithstanding, the few women then at Southern Cross allowed themselves to be fascinated by him. He readily gave them diamonds, or what purported to be diamonds, and seemed to be lavishly generous to them.

“He was preparing a cottage in which he and his future wife would live. She was a Melbourne girl and she was coming to West Australia to marry him. I and another young man helped to mix cement. We carried the cement into the little cottage for him to put in a cement floor.

“While the renovation of the cottage was in progress, one day, to our surprise, a constable came to the mine and read a paper to the engineer and arrested him for murder. I will never forget how calmly he took the news. He assured the constable it was a great mistake, and told his friends that he would soon prove his innocence. When he left on the coach a large crowd assembled to see him off. He wished them all a merry good-bye and promised them he would be back amongst them before long.

“The trial in Melbourne proved that his real name was Deeming, that he had murdered a number of wives and that the method adopted for disposing of their bodies was to bury them under cement floors. He was hanged, but several women believed he was innocent and mourned his end!”

Photograph Facing Page 88: Chained to a Tree. An early day goldfields police prison.

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Strangely enough, amongst prospectors doubt was commonly expressed that Bayley and Ford were the actual discoverers of the far-famed Coolgardie reef known as Bayley's Reward. It was a favourite topic amongst them. They argued about it over bars in bush shanties, in camps and wherever they congregated. Some prospectors gave the credit to three new arrivals in Australia named Harry Baker, Dick Fosser and Tommy Talbot. Baker was from London, Fosser was a Swede, and Talbot, who was then twenty-one years of age, had come from Devonshire. They were all young men, and, owing to the strike on the mines at Southern Cross, were idle when Bayley and Ford rode into Southern Cross for stores. The three men noticed the presence of the two prospectors, who had five pack horses. Bayley and Ford came from the east, they purchased requirements for some months, packed their bags and returned seemingly on their own tracks. Baker, Fosser and Talbot were tired of doing nothing. The spirit of adventure was aroused in them. It was winter, and the weather was cool and pleasant. At my request Talbot wrote for me the following account of their adventures:

“We bought four horses (country types), three pack-saddles and bags, one riding saddle and bridle. We packed about 550 lbs. of rations, and we had our swags in addition. We then got a black fellow who was supposed to know the back country.

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“When we started off we felt we were blessed with the good wishes of our workmates. The trip would be a hard one, but we were in a cheerful, hopeful mood. Three of the horses were laden with our requirements. That meant there was only one saddle horse between the three of us. We took turnabout to ride. Bayley and Ford had followed the track of Hunt, an old-time explorer. The only difficulty we had in keeping to it was when we came to rock catchments. Then it became indistinct.

“The first day we came to rocks about twenty miles from the Cross. It was where Bayley had camped, and we also camped there. During the evening our black fellow was restless. I knew something of the ways of aborigines, having had experience of them with cattle work. I proposed that we should take turns at watching him during the night. I feared he might give us the slip or do us in. He knew we were watching him. I could see that by the way he was watching us. We got him to make his camp near us. The only firearm we possessed was a new .44 Winchester rifle. It was kept between us as we lay down. The long night wore on. The native often sat up, warming himself and all the time keeping his eyes on us. We maintained our vigilance till morning broke.

“Just at daylight the native got up, put the billy on the fire, listened for the sound of the horses' bells and pointed to where they were feeding. It seemed to us that our suspicions were unfounded. Our vigilance was relaxed. He was allowed plenty of latitude. Later, we missed him. We called,

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looked around and went some distance from the camp in search of him. Then the truth dawned on us. He was gone. He had run away and left us to it. His skill as a tracker and his knowledge of the bush were invaluable to us, and his absence we regarded as a serious loss.

“Still, there was no reason why we should not have breakfast; we were hungry and ate heartily whilst we discussed the matter. Black fellow or no black fellow, we were determined to carry on.

“The first few days passed. It was monotonous and tiring plodding on. There was little to cause excitement. It was perplexing at times to follow the track over ironstone hills and granite rocks.”

A heavily laden party with insufficient horses makes slow progress. There was not much change in the appearance of the country. Men get weary, they become disheartened and tire of each other's society. There is little to arouse their interest. It is a great break in the monotony to meet unexpectedly another party of prospectors. This is what happened to Talbot and his companions. He records it thus:

“At what is now known as Gnarlbine Rock we met four prospectors with a native. One of them was Jack Reidy, and the others were Hogan, Cherry and Johnson. We camped with them for the night, told them our intentions and gave them the news from the town in general. Reidy showed us where Bayley's tracks turned north-east off Hunt's track that we had been following. He said they had camped near where Bayley and Ford were, they had several talks with them, and Reidy's

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party put in a few days' prospecting, got several bits of gold, but nothing worth reporting. We tried to persuade them to return with us, but they said they had enough of it and had no rations. They intended to return to the Cross, work for a while and then have another try at prospecting later on.

“The following morning we bid good-bye to Reidy's party and started on the trail. That night we camped at a rock some nine miles from what is now Coolgardie. Our ponies got away from us, and that made us late in starting in the morning. The following evening we camped at a gnamma hole in which there was water. There were several fresh horse-tracks about, so we knew we were not far from where Bayley was camped.

“Next morning off we went again. I was on foot. I was a good tracker and led the way. After going about half a mile over ironstone country, I was surprised to hear the words ‘Good-morning.’ I looked up and saw in front of me, Bayley. We all had a talk.

“I told him we were prospecting, and he said, ‘There's a bit of good country worth prospecting right here.’ Pointing to what was afterwards known as Fly Flat, which was a few hundred yards away, he remarked, ‘That flat is worth a trial.’

“Because of what he told us we returned to the gnamma hole and put up our camp there. We decided to give the country a trial. After dinner we went to have a look around. We put in a bit of work on Fly Flat, and between us we got over an ounce of gold that afternoon. I picked up a small

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nugget, and I now carry that nugget on my watch-chain. Several days were spent by us fossicking, getting a little gold here and there, as gold could be got almost anywhere.

“Bayley and Ford were camped at the north-west end of a huge white quartz blow, known as the Big Blow. Ford was working a small leader which was about worked out, being only a surface show but good. Bayley was mostly away from the camp. He prospected a distance of from twenty to twenty-five miles around, camping out a night or so whilst Ford stayed and worked the leader. Bayley found Red Hill and specked several ounces alluvial on that field. When he returned from his outside trips he would often have a yarn with us, but Ford was an old ‘hatter’ who would never have a conversation. Evidently he looked on us as if we had no right to be there, and gave us the impression that he feared we might rob his camp.

“One beautiful morning in September, 1892, we went out prospecting as usual. The sun was shining, the sky blue, there was a cold snap in the atmosphere that created a fresh feeling. We went to where we had picked up a few specks and some specimens the evening before and thought we might find a leader or a payable reef about. Soon one of us picked up a specimen that was very rich. Then we specked about following the traces up the side of a hill. Before we got to the top we found abundance of gold, in fact gold appeared all about us. It was glittering in the sunlight for at least twenty yards in front of us. Needless to say we were thrilled. I think for quite a few minutes we

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went off our heads with excitement. Our thinking powers quickly returned. In less than half an hour we gathered £1,700 worth of gold and specimens. On the top of the ridge was the cap of the reef with gold in plenty studded in hard quartz. This El Dorado was to become afterwards the famous Bayley's Reward reef. Great was our delight, not knowing how we were to lose it. We had no thought of pegging it out.

“A heap of rich specimens was collected by us. They were too valuable to leave lying about and too great for us to carry to our camp. We thought it wise to plant most of them in a hole we had sunk the day before in a hollow when trying for alluvial. About a sugar bag full of specimens was carried down and fresh dirt was thrown over them. This was the means of our losing the mine. In this heap there was not less than £700 worth of gold. Bayley told me so afterwards. The richest specimens we carried to our camp. Our coats were off and we tied the sleeves, filled them with golden quartz and so carried them.

“When leaving with our loads it was about 12.30 p.m. It was near dinner-time. We were all planning and talking and building castles in the air. Our fortunes were made, in our opinion, and we were full of joy and happiness. The bush was thick, and we thought we would make a short cut and go back a way none of us had travelled before. We were too excited to note the direction we were going. After walking for about half an hour and not reaching our destination we began to realise we were lost—bushed. We wandered

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most of the afternoon, but stuck to our loads and became fatigued and knocked up. Just before dark we climbed the highest hill we could see and tried to locate ourselves. The hill was later known as Toorak. The night was calm and still. Not even the lightest breeze was blowing. About midnight we heard a horse bell. Off we struck in the direction from which the sound came and we found our horses. They were near our camp, standing over the rock hole waiting for a drink. We watered them, then went to the camp, and turned in quite knocked out.

“It was natural that after our tiring adventure we should sleep rather late next morning. After breakfast we left for our reef find, taking with us an axe, tools, etc. By this time our excitement had cooled down and we had returned to sanity.

“On our arrival, to our dismay, we found Bayley and Ford busy pegging our find. We protested. They said all was fair in this game and that we were three young fools and should have pegged the ground.

“An argument ensued, and Ford took out a revolver and threatened to shoot. Bayley said to Ford, ‘Put away that gun, there's to be no shooting.’

“Bayley added, ‘There will be a great boom soon; you fellows should peg on to our pegs on the south of the lease we have pegged, and if you don't make a mess of things you will get £5,000 or £6,000 for it.’ Bayley also said, ‘We have only pegged a short distance south of the rich shoot.’ This was right.

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“The specimens loaded with gold that we buried were kept by Bayley and Ford. They picked out the richest and dollied the poorer ones. Bayley brought all this gold to Southern Cross. It caused a sensation, and so Bayley and Ford secured Bayley's Reward mine.

“Bayley told me it had been their intention to shift camp the morning they discovered the gold find we had made but failed to peg out. Had we discovered the find one day later Bayley and Ford's names would never have been associated with it. The specimens we brought to our camp contained 340 ounces of gold. Bayley was agreeable to let us stand in with him, but Ford stood firm and would not agree.

“We three were young men, strange to the country, and were bluffed out of the mine and the gold by two older and more experienced men. We pegged the lease afterwards known as Bayley's South. We knew so little of the ways of the world that we were even done out of that. There was a man in whom we had confidence. We thought his knowledge and influence would be of use to us in the disposal of the lease. At his instigation we agreed to accept £800 for our lease. He got £200 for what he did and we thought it all right, but subsequently we found out that he had stood in with the purchasers.”

Photograph Facing Page 96: A Native Prisoner Taken to be Tried.

The theory advanced by some of the early Coolgardie prospectors was that Bayley and Ford had pegged a prospecting area which took in part of the

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rich chute referred to by Talbot as discovered by his party. When they saw the chute the morning after it was found and it was not in their ground they moved a couple of pegs sufficiently to embrace the whole of the chute. In shifting the pegs they were legally within their rights, as the other men had failed to peg the ground and so protect themselves. It was also asserted that Talbot's two mates wanted to peg the chute, but Talbot said Bayley and Ford were going to leave the locality and they would then have all the ground they wished. Hence the three men's loss.


Bayley and Ford always indignantly denied that it was not they who discovered Bayley's Reward. As Ford said, “From the time we pegged it out until we sold, our title was never questioned.” They were experienced prospectors who had been looking for gold in various parts of Western Australia and had made a good discovery in the Murchison, but were not satisfied and travelled south. In July they reached a place called by the natives Coolgardie. Ford thus writes about what happened:

“In the morning we went out for the horses in order to give them a drink. I was leading my horse over what is now called Fly Flat when I picked up a piece of gold weighing about half an ounce. We were more excited over that little bit of gold than any we found afterwards. That day we picked up about 80 ounces on the flat, the largest of them being about five ounces.”

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Ford goes on to say:

“There must have been a wandering prospector out there in 1888, as we saw where he had pegged out a claim which had the date 1888 on it and he had tied his camel down at the water. This claim, however, had no gold. Whoever he was he must have cleared out or else was killed by the blacks. I tried to find out who he was, but could not.”

Ford further states that the weather was very rainy and they had to sleep in wet blankets for more than a month. “It was lucky for us,” he adds, “that it was wet, as the blacks made for outback, where food was more plentiful.”

Bayley and Ford were not the only prospectors east of Southern Cross. The rainy weather had induced another party to follow in their tracks. Bayley and Ford, having discovered a good alluvial field, were determined to keep it to themselves until it was convenient for them to announce it. Ford writes:

“One afternoon up came a party of men with a black boy. They camped a little way from us. Bayley and I walked down to them. I knew two of them: Jack Reidy and German Charley. In the morning they brought their horses, and we asked them to stop as we could get colours of gold and it would only take a few more days to prospect the country and then we could all go together. They would not, and we threw our hats up when we saw the last of them. They were very green, for a blind man could tell that we had found gold, otherwise we would not have stayed

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there. We had between 200 and 300 ounces of gold at the time.”

About ten days after that Bayley and Ford had to go to Southern Cross for provisions. When they arrived there the miners were on strike. They bought a light load of provisions and did not tell anyone about their finding alluvial gold in Fly Flat. When they were leaving they said they were going out to see what a prospector named Jack Reidy was doing. It was raining when they started back. They met Jack Reidy as he was returning to Southern Cross. They told him they were going to see what “he” had found. He said he had had no luck, and they then informed him that they would travel northward to the Murchison. They got on their horses and started for their camp, Fly Flat. Reidy was evidently suspicious. He felt they had made a good find. So convinced was he of this that he afterwards related how he followed them for a few miles and on reconsideration, thinking he was mistaken in the impression he formed, he turned back.

It was when Bayley and Ford returned to Fly Flat that the really important gold discovery was made. The Fly Flat find was merely rich alluvial, but the presence of a gold-bearing reef indicated the possibility of a valuable goldfield. Ford thus writes of what happened:

“After we got back to Fly Flat, Bayley went over what was afterwards our prospecting area. In a leader he found rich gold. We shifted our camp to there and got about 200 ounces. The gold was in decayed quartz. I started prospecting a big blow and found gold at both the north and

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south ends. I went to what was later Bayley's Reward and picked up gold and saw gold in the reef, but did not touch it as we had enough gold in the camp. I commenced to make bags to pack the gold we had, for we had to report the find. Bayley was away horse-hunting. He had his work cut out attending the horses as there was very little water.

“Three young men were camped at the water. They were for ever poking about our claim. One morning they asked me to show them the pegs. I pointed them out to them. We walked past where the gold was in the reef, but it had not been touched. I came back to the tent and packed the gold in bags.

“Bayley came back about six o'clock. He asked if I was at the reef, and I told him I was only down to show the chaps the pegs.

“He said, ‘They have been at the reef and have taken the stone.’

“He went to them next morning, and they gave him some stone, but I do not think all they took.”

I have given the story of each of the two parties. Perhaps it was well for Talbot that it was not he and his mates who received the reward that went to Bayley and Ford. Later he became interested in pastoral properties, wisely invested the money he made out of them and became a wealthy man. It was more than forty-two years after the Coolgardie discovery that I last talked to him. He was then sixty-three years of age; low-sized and a typical bushman; tough, wiry

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and weather-worn. His black hair was tinged with grey; he had quick, ferret-like eyes; his hands were horny; his clothes were ready-made, ill-fitting and not too new; he was possessed of tireless energy and was ever on the move, travelling about attending to his multifarious interests; a saving man, but not mean. For years he lived in the Eucla country on his station, Mundrabilla, with his family. That was before the Trans-Australian Railway was built. For four years his wife never saw a white woman. But that was long ago, and later the family lived in a beautiful villa near Perth, commanding a picturesque view of the Swan river.

I jokingly remarked to him that he was reputed to be worth a quarter of a million. “If you are,” said I, “you deserve it, you have well earned it.”

“I'm not worth that much,” he replied. “I don't know what I'm worth, and that's a fact. When I left England I was but sixteen years old. My father gave me £8. I have that £8 yet.”

Talbot had attached to his watch-chain a gold nugget. It was the first he had picked up at Coolgardie.

The story told by Talbot and the story told by Ford as to the discovery of the Reward reef at Coolgardie differ wildly. It is still a matter of contention amongst old prospectors as to which story was true. An old prospector friend of mine, Jim Cassidy, told me that Bayley freely admitted that Talbot's party first discovered the reef, but did not peg it out.