Monday 31 August 2015

Bamford Cemetery Mystery Solved

Eyes were strained to read the old cemetery records in the light of the campfire but it was clear enough, an enter titled 'Unknown'.  There was only a handful of burials in that small and almost forgotten cemetery at Bamford, the almost forgotten town where my Grandfather and his brothers and sister had grown up back in the early years of the Twentieth Century.  It seemed sad that some pioneer had been laid to rest there without anybody even knowing their real name.  The only information in the old records was that the grave contained a man of Irish decent who worked as a labourer and was approximately fifty years of age and had died of a fever in August 1904.  Not much to show for a lifetime but I might now be able to put a name to this forgotten burial.

This curious tale began with the discovery of a short article that had been published in a regular column featured in an old 1930's newspaper.  Written by someone using the pen-name of 'The Rover', the story tells of a old-time rogue who was known throughout the northern mining districts only by the nick-name of 'The Lamb o' God'.  This battler, wit, humorist and hard case was known in every North Queensland mining camp but very few knew his real name.  It was only when 'Rover' was acting as a electoral scrutineer in the old Griffith-McIlwraith days that he learned his name when he came in to vote, Bob Baylias.  He knew this man as on one occasion, when talking to Billy Shepherd and Jack Yeo outside Shepherd's hotel in Croydon, the Lamb came along.  "Well", he said, "here is the Shepherd, the Ewe and the Lamb and the Lamb wants a drink".  Those were the days of great prosperity in the North but the Lamb would still always advised a party to have their drinks before their ore crushing as they might not be able to have it after the crushing went through.  The Lamb was once threatened with a Law suit and as he had two young girls attending school, he settled some property on them which he feared he might lose.  But the case never came off and when he tried to get back the property, he couldn't.  He often said it was the only good turn he ever did and he did it unintentionally.

According to Rover, the Lamb died at Bamford and the last words he spoke was a joke.  He sat down on the verandah of the hotel with his back against one of the posts.  "I am going to have a sleep, boys," he said, "and if I die bury me near the beer casks".  When someone went to arouse him, he was dead.  Of couse they didn't bury him by the beer casks, but no body in town would have known his real name.  So on the official records he was a 'Unknown' and there is only one burial in the Bamford cemetery for a unknown and the details fit the Lamb.  A search of the Queensland records brings up only one person of that time that fits this mystery but the name is spelt as 'Bayliss' which could point to a simple mistake of memory on Rover's part.  So lets have a drink in his memory, be it Bob or Robert, Baylias or Bayliss, all the evidence points to the unknown grave of the Bamford cemetery being that of Mr Bob Baylias.

Wilesmith Family History

A new book was introduced to local history buffs at the recent Pioneer Women's Day event held at Watsonville.  The book, with its somewhat unfortunate title of 'Gold Expedition to Stannary Hills', (Stannary Hills is a tin mining town) tells the story of the epic life journey of Christina and Joseph Wilesmith.  The author, Mr Tom Freeman has woven much of the history of the Etheridge goldfields and the local Herberton tin mining district into the background of this story of the Wilesmith family who arrived in Gilberton during the gold rush of 1869, after having arrived in Australia from England five years earlier.  Mr Freeman has also added the story of many of the prominent identities of this time who became involved in the lives of the Wilesmiths while they mined gold about the Etheridge and later on the Hodgkinson goldfield before they moved to the tin fields where they found their prosperity and became known as the 'Wilesmiths of Watsonville'.  This book is a great read not just for the family history but also for the added general history of those mining days that have now long past out of living memory.