DEATH OF STANSMORE
Where the Margaret River forces its way through the Ramsay Range, a fine
pool enclosed between two steep rocks has been formed. This is a
permanent pool, and abounds in fish of various kinds. Above and below it
the river was merely a dry expanse of gravel and shingle; a month later
it was a roaring torrent, in places twenty feet deep. Close to the pool
we noticed an old dray road, the old road to Mount Dockrell. I asked
Warri where he supposed it led to, and he answered "Coolgardie!"
Curious that one impossible to bush in a short distance should be so
ludicrously out of his reckoning. Time now being no object, since the
numerous ducks and fish supplied us with food, we camped for two days at
the pool, enjoying its luxuries to the full. Our larder contained a
bucketful of cold boiled ducks, a turkey, and numerous catfish and
bream--rather a change from the sand-ridges! As to bathing, we felt
inclined to sit all day in the water. I think we enjoyed ourselves more
at that pool than any of us could remember having done for a long time.
The desert was forgotten, and only looked back upon as a hard task
All were as happy and cheerful as could be, speculating as to what sort
of place Hall's Creek was, and in what way our sudden appearance would
affect the inhabitants. Charlie was sure that they would receive us with
open arms and banquet us, the lord mayor and the city band would meet us,
and a lot more chaff of the kind. Only eight miles, I reckoned, lay
between us and the telegraph line and the Derby-to-Hall's-Creek road; and
we made bets in fun whether we should reach the line before or after a
certain hour; as we started our march on the 30th there was no happier
little band in the wide world. Charlie followed one side of the river,
carrying the gun, as we meant to celebrate the arrival at the telegraph
line with a pot of kangaroo-tail soup. To pass the ridge of rock, the end
of the Ramsay Range, it was necessary for us with the camels to keep wide
of the river bank and descend a steep little gorge. As we started to go
down we saw some kangaroos jumping off towards Charlie, and presently
heard a shot. A shout from us elicited no reply, so we concluded he had
missed, and continued on our march.
When we reached the river bank again, I looked out for Charlie, but
somebody said he was across the river-bed in the long grass. After about
an hour's travel it struck me that he should have rejoined us, or else
that he had shot the kangaroo and was delayed by skinning or carrying it.
No thought of any mishap entered my head, for a prolonged absence of one
or other of us was of common occurrence. However, after another half-hour
a nervous feeling came over me, and, stopping the camels, I sent Warri
back to see what Charlie was about. Before very long Warri returned,
hardly able to speak from fear mixed with sorrow.
"What on earth's come over the boy?" I said. Then he blurted out,
"Charlie dead, I think." "Good God! Are you sure?--did you speak to him,
or touch him?" I asked, as we ran back together, the rest with the camels
following behind. "Him dead, lie 'long a rock--quite still," Warri
answered, and he had not spoken or touched him. Panting and
anxious--though even then I thought of nothing worse than a sprained
ankle, and a faint in consequence--we arrived at the foot of the rocks
where Charlie had last been seen, and whence the sound of the gunshot had
come. Right above us, caught by a ledge on the face of the rock, fifty
feet from the ground, I saw Charlie lying, and clambering up somehow at
full speed, reached his side.
Good God! Warri had spoken a true word. There was no spark of life in the
poor old fellow. What a blow! What an awful shock! What a calamity! I sat
dazed, unable to realise what had happened, until roused by a shout from
below: "Is he hurt?--badly?--not DEAD!" "As a stone," I answered; and
that was what we felt in our hearts, a dull weight, pressing all sense or
strength from us.
How to describe that sad scene? Poor old Charlie! one of the best and
truest men that God ever blessed with life; such a fine manly character;
so honest and generous--a man whose life might stand as an example for
any in the land to follow; from whose mouth I never heard an oath or
coarse word, and yet one whose life was spent amongst all classes, in all
corners of Australia; such a true mate, and faithful, loyal
companion--here his body lay, the figure of strength and power, he who had
been most cheerful of us all. It seemed so hard, to die thus, the journey
done, his share in the labour so nobly borne and patiently executed; the
desert crossed, and now to be cut off on the edge of the land of promise!
Ah well, it was better so than a lingering death in the desert, a swift
and sudden call instead of perhaps slow tortures of thirst and
starvation! Poor Charlie! the call of death is one that none of us may
fail to heed; I only pray that when I am summoned to the "great unknown"
I may be as fit to meet my Maker as you were.
It was easy to see how the accident had happened; the marks on the rock
and the gun were soon deciphered. He was carrying the gun by the muzzle
balanced on his shoulder, the stock to the rear; on climbing down a steep
place, his heels--his boots had iron heel plates--slipped, he fell with
his back to the rock; at the same time the gun was canted forward, fell
right over, striking the hammer of one barrel on the rock at his feet--the
cartridge exploded, and the charge entered his body just below the heart.
Death must have been instantaneous and painless, for on his face was a
peaceful smile, and he had never moved, for no blood was showing except
near the wound. An accident that might have happened to any one, not
through carelessness, for the gun was half-cock, but because his time had
We buried him between the rocks and the river at the foot of a large gum
tree. No fine tombstone marked his grave, only a rough cross, and above
him I carved his initials on the tree, C. W. S. 30.11.96.
There we laid him to rest in silence, for who was I that I should read
holy words over him? "Goodbye, Charlie, old man, God bless you!" we
said, as in sorrow we turned away. The tragedy had been so swift, so
unexpected, that we were all unmanned; tears would come, and we wept as
only men can weep. A few months past I heard that a brass plate sent by
Charlie's brothers had arrived, and had been placed on the tree by Warden
Cummins, as he had promised me.
In due course we reached the telegraph line, without enthusiasm or
interest, and turned along the road to Hall's Creek with hardly a word.
Stony hills and grass plains and numerous small creeks followed one
another as our march proceeded, and that night, the first in December, we
experienced a Kimberley storm. The rain started about 2 a.m., and in
twenty minutes the country was a sea of water; our camp was flooded, and
blankets and packs soaked through and through. The next morning every
creek was running a banker and every plain was a bog. However, the camels
behaved well and forded the streams without any fuss. That day we met
some half-civilised natives, who gave us much useful information about
Hall's Creek. With them we bartered a plug of tobacco for a kangaroo
tail, for we wanted meat and they a smoke. They had just killed the
animal, and were roasting it whole, HOLUS-BOLUS, unskinned and undressed.
We saw several mobs of grey kangaroos feeding in the timber--queer,
uncanny beasts, pretty enough when they jump along, but very quaint when
feeding, as they tuck their great hind legs up to try and make them match
On December 4th we arrived at Hall's Creek; the first man we met was
Sergeant Brophy, of the Police--the first white face we had seen since
July 21st. At Hall's Creek at last, after a somewhat prolonged journey of
1,413 miles, counting all deviations.