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

  ― 86 ―
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.

  ― 87 ―

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

  ― 88 ―
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.