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II

In the new hastily built towns of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie a source of dread to business people was the constant fear of fire. The structures were of most inflammable material—hessian, canvas, wood and galvanised iron. The dryness of the atmosphere increased the danger. No insurance company would cover the risks involved. There were several serious fires. Numerous buildings and their contents were destroyed, but often well-meant efforts to save property were responsible for most of the harm done.




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The cry of “Fire!” aroused the wildest excitement. There was no organisation to cope with the danger, and men rushed about, each acting individually. Crockery would be thrown into the streets and thus smashed to pieces by some wild-eyed person anxious to save it from the flames. In a mad frenzy the mob would tear down and destroy the contents of a building that was in no danger.

In a hotel fire in a two-story wooden building a parrot in its cage was among the “saved.” A man rushed out on the balcony holding at arm's length the cage containing the bird, which was cursing frightfully in protest. Leaning over, he hurriedly dropped it on to Hannan Street and rushed back for more. When landing, the cage telescoped and almost flattened. The parrot, from the ruins of the cage, swore so volubly and thoroughly at the surrounding crowd of hardened diggers that even they were all hushed in awe.

My kindly hearted friend, the Rev. E. M. Collick, of the Anglican Church, showed himself a true Christian and was universally beloved. At the end of November, 1894, he reached Coolgardie and found that the reports of the prevalence of fever were correct. During the summer he buried an average of five or six men daily. The coffins were made of packing cases, and underneath the thin coating of black paint could be discerned directions such as, “This side up with care,” “Stow away from boilers,” and “Keep in a cool place.”

As a rule the funeral party comprised the undertaker and the clergyman. In consequence Mr. Collick was


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obliged to assist the undertaker to place the body into the coffin and lower it into the grave. Numerous sad and pathetic messages for relatives were entrusted to him. Many tragedies were revealed to him in the tents which comprised the Government hospital by men who had hoped to retrieve the past by making a fresh start on the goldfields. Sons of bishops, titled men, clergymen, doctors, and ex-army and navy officers found a last resting-place in the local cemetery—often under assumed names.

The fare from Coolgardie to Kalgoorlie by coach was £5. Unable to raise the money, Mr. Collick walked to the latter centre. After holding services and visiting hospitals he tramped on to Kanowna. At that camp he stayed with Mr. Harkness, the manager of the Western Australian Bank. The bank buildings consisted of a canvas humpy. On the advice of the police, the manager carried a revolver everywhere he went.

At the alluvial diggings Mr. Collick informed the men that he was going to conduct a service. “We will have women and goats here next,” they said, “and then good-bye to the gold.” Returning to Kalgoorlie, he was offered a block of land in Hannan Street for £20. The land was purchased by the secretary of the church and sold a few weeks later for £100. The proceeds were devoted to the purchase of Boulder shares at £1 each. These were sold for £5 a share.

From Kalgoorlie Collick commenced the long tramp back to Coolgardie. About 1 o'clock in the morning following his departure he met a teamster, and asked him for a lift. “I am the worst swearer on the road,” was the candid reply. It was decided, however,


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that Mr. Collick should drive the team, while the owner had a sleep. Everything went smoothly until a pub was reached. The team stubbornly refused to go any further. In desperation Mr. Collick awakened the teamster. “The language was frightful,” observed Mr. Collick, “but off we went.”

Mr. Collick told me that in Kalgoorlie split logs constituted the seats in the local church. Members of the congregation often complained of splinters.

Bishop Riley, who was then paying his first visit to Kalgoorlie, announced his intention of taking the service on a certain night. A bellringer—a runaway sailor—who was a Cockney, was engaged to inform the town of the event. After ringing the bell he shouted, “You —, roll up and hear the — Bishop, who will convert you from your — ways.”

One form that Collick's philanthropy took was sympathy towards a most forlorn community. Dirty and scantily clad in cast-off shirts given them by kind-hearted prospectors, the natives were a picture of despair. He made friends with the poor wretches. When hungry they never came to him in vain. He clothed them, saw they had blankets, tended to the sick amongst them, and every Christmas arranged that they should have a great feast. No wonder they almost worshipped him.

There were shrewd speculators in those days who made huge fortunes. They were not horny-handed sons of toil or men of the boisterous type, though most of them were gay adventurers. Able and farseeing, they often acquired, for a few thousand pounds,


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mines that later they were able to sell at high figures. Immense sums were also made “bulling” or “bearing” goldmining shares. It was rare for men who made money by these means to retain it for any length of time. They lived extravagantly, but it was lost chiefly in further speculation.

One friend of mine, Howard Taylor, was amongst those who were successful in acquiring money. He was a Londoner educated in England and Germany, had had experience in a stockbroker's office, spent some time in South Africa, and in 1890 reached Western Australia and engaged in prospecting for gold. A year later he walked to Southern Cross, where he worked for a couple of months on one of the mines as a surface trucker. After that he became the pioneer stockbroker of the goldfields, made a considerable sum out of goldmining, was elected to the Legislative Council, and was one of ten Western Australian Parliamentary representatives who attended meetings of the Federal Convention that framed the Commonwealth Constitution. Politics were not to his liking.

After a couple of years he went to London, where, by Stock Exchange transactions, he multiplied his wealth. He purchased a yacht from an Italian prince, figured in society, and was elected a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. His London career, however, was short. Some unhappy speculations were responsible for heavy financial losses. He returned to Australia with what little money he had left, and spent the rest of his days living quietly in Melbourne, chiefly playing bridge, at which he was an expert.




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More remarkable experiences were those of Harold George Parsons. After leaving Oxford, where he had a distinguished career, and acquired a great love of the Classics, especially of Greek, he was called to the Bar in London. Instead of practising law he took to journalism, became connected with many British journals, and was a regular contributor to the Saturday Review. Generally, he was viewed in literary circles as a writer of much promise. He arrived at Western Australia the year after the discovery of gold at Coolgardie, and walked to the goldfields as “a swamper”—that is, he paid to have his belongings carried on a dray whilst he trudged along beside it. Speaking to me afterwards he said:

“I travelled with men who were roughly dressed. My clothes were well cut, made by the best of tailors, and I felt out of place and uncomfortable in them, so I tried to make them look shabby and old. I tore them and rubbed them in the red dust of the track. The clouds of dust from the horses, in which I walked, helped me. They were soon in a state that allowed me to establish good fellowship with my fellow-travellers.”

Parsons went to Hannan's Find, pegged out leases in the neighbourhood of the Golden Mile, returned to London, and came back a wealthy man, though most of his money was in shares.

He was a director on the boards of several mining companies and had visions of becoming the Cecil Rhodes of Western Australia; was elected Mayor of Kalgoorlie; he also entered Parliament as a Member of the Legislative Council, and the money he had made he put back into mining.

A slump occurred; he was not fortunate in his ventures,


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and before long he was poor and heavily in debt. He retired from Parliament and all his public positions, a broken man, and returned to London, where he resumed journalistic work.

When he was first in Western Australia he met a widow, good-looking and attractive and the mother of grown-up charming daughters, who were even better looking and more attractive. Parsons became friendly with the family. He was then under twenty-five years of age, but it was not to the young ladies that his attention was directed. The friendship between him and their mother steadily increased despite the vast difference in their ages. In London, when he had become wealthy and he was much sought after, he sent for her and they were married there. The marriage was a success. On their return to Kalgoorlie Mrs. Parsons, as mayoress and in other public capacities, helped him considerably. She was an excellent woman, and his devotion to her was marked. She was tactful and self-possessed, and to Parsons the dominant influence in his life. I knew them both well, and the impression I formed was confirmed by a letter I got from him a couple of years after he had finally left Western Australia. He told me how he had resumed his old life in London, how during his absence he had lost touch with literary life, how his enthusiasm for journalistic work was not what it had been, and how he found working difficult after his hectic goldfields experiences. He referred to his many troubles, was generally depressed, and went on to say, “And now I have to tell you of the worst trouble of all, and that is that my poor wife has been ailing for some time and the doctors say the end is not far off. I refuse to believe it. It is too dreadful.”


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The Boer War was then on, and Parsons concluded his letter by saying, “If what the doctors predict proves to be true and the worst happens, life will have no more for me, and the kindliest future fate can have in store for me is that my life should be ended by a Boer bullet.”

It was only a few months later that a cablegram in the Australian papers, reporting an engagement in South Africa, mentioned that the casualties included: “Harold George Parsons, Lieutenant C.I.V., dangerously wounded by bullet in chest.” His wife had died, and I was told by those who were with him in the war that he was a puzzle to them, for he ignored danger and constantly raised himself against the skyline in the face of enemy sharpshooters.

Thanks to surgical skill and the care of nurses he recovered from his wound, and was offered and accepted an important Imperial Government appointment in tropical Africa. Whilst there he did his duty thoroughly and most efficiently and never spared himself. After a couple of years' excellent administrative work he died. The Times, in an obituary notice, said that, “By his death the Empire has lost one of the most brilliant of its young men.” When he died he was but thirty-three.

Another friend was Bob Gleddon, a curious mixture, a surveyor by profession, who was successful in wise speculation, chiefly in town blocks in mining centres and in Perth. In a few years he had all the wealth he wanted, and he left the goldfields. After that his wanderings were far and wide. Once whilst I was visiting


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London I met him accidentally in Piccadilly. He had just returned from Algeria, having made an extensive tour of the interior. Dressed in a rather shabby suit, with a dust-covered Australian hat and smoking a short pipe, he was a strange figure amidst the throng that filled that fashionable thoroughfare. I always liked him, and I think he liked me, and we had much to say to each other.

“You never met my wife. Come to dinner to-night and meet her. I often talk with her of you, and she would be charmed. We are simple people and live simply so don't change; come as you are.”

When I went “as I was” to the mansions he gave as his address, I was met by a flunkey with yellow stockings and calves that looked as if they were padded. My name was shouted out as I was ushered into a large drawing-room full of well-known London people, the ladies arrayed in their best and the men immaculate in white waistcoats and swallow tails. Gleddon himself had undergone a wonderful metamorphosis and was the most resplendent of the whole resplendent crowd. I gazed at him reproachfully. He explained: “My wife has a dinner party and, as you had so far to go to your hotel to change, I did not tell you, and so I asked you to come as you were, for it was the only chance of getting you. Come,” he added, “you must have at least two of these potent cocktails and then you'll be at your ease and you'll forgive me.” Mrs. Gleddon was charming, and the cocktails were not necessary to restore self-possession where the hosts were so tactful and thoughtful. That and other similar evenings in London gave an insight into a social side of Gleddon's character that his goldfields friends never suspected.




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Many years later—it was in 1927—he returned to Western Australia. He was over seventy years of age; he was very ill, and he was depressed in spirits. In the meantime his wife, to whom he was deeply attached, had died; they had no children and he was a lonely man. A great admirer of Cecil Rhodes and his scholarship system, he had often discussed with me our Western Australian University, of the Senate of which I was a member. We talked of its early struggles, its finances and its future. He told me in strictest confidence that he intended to leave all his money to the University for scholarships. Later, visiting him at a hospital, I found him worrying about a business deal. I told him not to worry during his illness over business affairs but to leave them to his agent.

“I would not worry about my own affairs,” said he, “but they are not now my own affairs. I want to make the best deal I can for the University.”

The next day the collapse came and he was no longer able to do business or even recognise his friends.

When he told me the contents of his will, he estimated his estate as then worth £68,000, and said almost apologetically, “I wish I had a greater amount to leave to the University, but I have done what I could.”

I assured him he need have no regrets. A property such as his was a substantial bequest to any University, and it was bound, owing to its location in the heart of the city of Perth, to increase in value. Even if it were far less valuable it was the whole result of his life's labours. And, after all, no man can give the public more than that.




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One of my friends was Bishop Gibney, the head of the Catholic Church in Western Australia. There was a high percentage of Irish amongst prospectors and pioneers, and the Bishop was a frequent visitor to the goldfields, where he built several churches and brought the nursing sisters of the Order of St. John of God and established a hospital for them to carry on their work. Later he got the Christian brothers to open a college for boys at Kalgoorlie. Teaching sisters under his auspices controlled schools for girls and small boys. A kind-hearted Christian gentleman, he was tolerant towards those who differed from him and keenly desirous of serving humanity.

From him I learned first-hand the story of Ned Kelly. He was present when the bushranger was captured and had talked with him and his relations and with people who were supposed to have helped him and his gang to evade the police. To have met a man who saw the last fight of the gang and who had heard much about them was a novel experience. The story he told me was sensational. We often talked of it, but the Bishop was modest about his share in the event. A friend, however, showed me a press cutting of an account from the Melbourne Age, written by a newspaper correspondent who also saw Ned Kelly captured, and published a day or two afterwards.

The last and the most notorious of the Australian bushrangers inherited lawlessness. Ned Kelly's father was transported to Tasmania from Ireland in the forties of the last century for shooting a landlord. Another account says it was for killing a man in a


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faction fight. When the sentence was served he removed to Wallan, about forty miles from Melbourne. Whilst there he formed a gang of horse thieves, but their operations interfered with a more powerful gang, by whom the elder Kelly and his associates were ordered to leave the locality. The order was obeyed and the ex-convict took up his abode in the King Valley.

Cattle-duffing and horse-stealing in those days were common in the remote and wild parts of Australia. Fences were almost unknown, stock wandered over a great area, the natural increase was considerable, many animals escaped branding, and holders of immense areas often did not know their own boundaries. All this was conducive to the stealing of livestock.

The new arrival found a scope for his energies in the rough country where he lived. He died in 1865, leaving a family of three sons and four daughters. Ned, who was eleven years old when his father died, became an accomplice of a bushranger who was betrayed and captured. Ned escaped punishment. His brother Jim was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in 1871, and when released he went to New South Wales and became a bushranger, was captured and got ten years' imprisonment. Ned and a third brother, Dan, served terms of imprisonment for horse-stealing.

There was a continual feud between the Kelly family and the police, with whom they had various brushes. Ned Kelly became the leader of a number of outlaws. They shot three policemen, and the Governments of Victoria and New South Wales offered rewards totalling £8,000 for their capture dead or alive. For more than two years the Kellys remained at large, now and again making sensational raids on


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towns and robbing banks. They had numerous sympathisers who could not be tempted by Government rewards to reveal the gang's whereabouts. The country was mountainous, rugged, clothed with scrub and trees, inaccessible, and the police and black trackers experienced failures and disappointments.

Bishop Gibney, then a young priest, was collecting subscriptions for orphanages in the vicinity of Glenrowan in Victoria. He learned that the gang was at bay and that a battle was in progress, so he hurried to render any spiritual assistance that might be needed.

The last desperate stand of the Kellys evidently made a vivid impression on his mind. He described to me how they had “stuck up” the hamlet of Glenrowan, how they had imprisoned some forty of the inhabitants in one of the two hotels, how they had pulled up the railway lines at a bend so that the driver of a train from Melbourne would not see the danger until too late, how a special train with police from Melbourne had been stopped and warned and escaped disaster, and how eventually the police got to Glenrowan and besieged a hotel of which the gang were in possession.

About sixty shots were exchanged. The superintendent in charge of the police was wounded badly by a shot in the wrist. Screams from women and children imprisoned in the hotel caused the police to cease fire for fear of injuring innocent people. Later many, but not all the prisoners left the hotel, and it was found that two of them had been wounded by the firing—one, a girl of fourteen, in the head, and the other, a boy of nine, in the hip.

Intermittent firing was kept up during the night


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between the outlaws and the police. It was afterwards learned that one of the outlaws, Byrne, was shot in the groin as he was drinking a nobbler of whisky in the bar. Soon after he died in great pain.

The morning broke beautiful and clear. The police, who by this time numbered more than twenty, were disposed under cover around the hotel. Suddenly and unexpectedly they were attacked in the rear. A tall figure was seen close behind them. They thought at first it was a blackfellow. Over the arm there was a grey coat, and he walked coolly and slowly until he was amongst the police, and then he opened fire. Nine policemen fired at him point blank. The force of the bullets made him stagger, but he laughed derisively and tapped his breast. He was well protected by a suit of armour. The police knew him to be the redoubtable Ned Kelly. He fought only with a revolver. For half an hour the contest went on. Finally, a police sergeant, when within about ten yards of him, fired two shots into his legs, where there was no armour. This brought him down. The sergeant rushed at him and seized the hand that held his revolver. The outlaw fired it once, but ineffectually, and he was over-powered. He fought fiercely until stripped of his armour, when he became quite submissive and accepted the situation.

When the police first arrived at the hotel Ned Kelly was outside and had fired and wounded the police superintendent. In the return fire Ned Kelly was wounded. He could not, without risking his life, join the members of his gang in the hotel, so he jumped on his horse, and in the excitement got away in the darkness. He did not mean to desert his companions.


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He was riding his grey mare and could have escaped had he wished. In the morning he returned to fight his way back to them. It was in that endeavour that he was captured.

The siege of the hotel continued. Further police arrived. There were still prisoners inside, and their presence embarrassed the attackers. About midday some thirty men and youths suddenly rushed out holding their hands up. Most of them were terror-stricken. They feared the bushrangers in the hotel and the police outside. A youth was seriously wounded in the shoulder by a police bullet. Some of those who had been inmates of the hotel were supposed to be sympathisers with the outlaws, and a couple of young men who had come out were arrested and handcuffed. After one o'clock the fire of the police was not returned, and the assumption was that the outlaws would keep quiet until night-time, when they would try to escape under cover of the darkness. In the mean-time the police had telegraphed to Melbourne for a field-gun. There were then but two of the gang in the hotel, Dan Kelly (brother of Ned) and Steve Hart.

There were many friends and relatives of the besieged outlaws on the scene. When Ned Kelly was captured, two of his sisters were allowed to remain with him; Father Gibney also talked with him. One of the sisters, Mrs. Skillan, was a conspicuous figure dressed in a dark riding habit and wearing a jaunty hat adorned with a white feather. The priest made several attempts to go to the hotel to urge surrender, but he was prevented by the police, who thought he would be shot and they would be held responsible. The police were agreeable to allow the sisters to


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approach the hotel and ask the men to come out and be arrested, and the priest endeavoured to get them to do so, but neither would consent. They were bitter and did not favour surrender, even though they must have realised that to continue fighting meant certain death. They were all desperate.

The besiegers decided to set fire to the hotel. A constable succeeded in placing against weatherboards a huge bundle of dry straw and set light to it. Kate Kelly and Mrs. Skillan became wildly excited as they saw the flames spreading through the building and shooting from the roof. Mrs. Skillan, crying, “I will see Dan,” rushed forward, but to enter the building then would have endangered her life. She was therefore prevented from going near it.

An old man, Martin Sherry, was still in the house. He was badly wounded, but he was there when the last prisoners had escaped. What then happened was thus described by the representative of the Melbourne Age who was present:

“Father Gibney said he would save Sherry. The brave clergyman was loudly cheered by the spectators as he rushed boldly to the front door. He was soon lost to view amongst the smoke, and directly afterwards a mass of flames burst from the walls and roof of the building. A shout of terror from the crowd announced the dread of the crowd for the safety of the courageous priest. Some of the police had got in through a back door, and soon after the crowd were relieved to see them and Father Gibney emerge from the burning house carrying with them Sherry, who


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was in a dying state, and the dead body of Byrne. They said Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were lying upon the floor apparently dead. Their bodies could not be removed. When the building was demolished two charred skeletons were raked out from the smouldering débris.”

Ned Kelly was hanged in the Melbourne gaol. He crowded a great deal of horse-stealing, cattle-duffing, bushranging and other crimes and sensationalism into his twenty-six years of life.

Bishop Gibney always made light of his own doings at the siege of the Glenrowan Hotel. “What I did was nothing,” he used to say, but he was not averse from discussing the Kelly gang and their doings. He was certain both Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were dead before he was forced by the fire to leave the hotel. Ned Kelly's armour weighed nearly 100 lbs., and others of the gang had similar armour. The suits were made by a blacksmith out of plough-shares. Ned Kelly's armour showed that it had been hit seventeen times by police bullets.

“They were a wild, reckless, lawless lot,” said the Bishop, “and the wonder is they had so many sympathisers, even amongst those who ought to have known better.”

“Is there any truth in the statements commonly made that they were persecuted by the police and so were driven into becoming outlaws?”

“The police had to do their duty. The Kellys and their friends thought they were too severe in their exercise of it, but that is the viewpoint of most wrongdoers. The judgment of no man can be trusted in his


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own cause. There were stories of great cruelties perpetrated by the Kellys towards the police, and there may have been retaliation. I must say,” said the Bishop, “the police I met were fine fellows, and when Ned Kelly was captured I know they treated him with great kindness.”

“Possibly,” I remarked, “Ned Kelly a thousand years hence or less will be the most romantic figure in Australian history. His bravery may help to redeem his crimes in the minds of novelists. Poets are certain to weave strange fancies round his memory. Robin Hood robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Moss-troopers, who included so many heroes of story-tellers, ravaged the grass-grown borders of England and Scotland and stole whatever cattle and horses they could find. Young Australians in the year 3000 A.D. may have the story of Ned Kelly told to them without disapproval and with suppressions and embellishments in their school books.”

“Well,” said the Bishop with a smile, “you may be right. Anything may happen in 3000 A.D., but it will never happen with my consent in the schools under my control.”

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