Two Tales of the West


 A single gravestone, with just a name and date, in a paddock in the central west, becomes the starting point for a search to uncover the story of William Wilson. Andy Watson, the owner of the property, traces the events of William’s death to the shearers’ strikes of 1891 and 1894 and to the burning of the paddle steamer Rodney. Tracking down the culprits involves a voyage to England and, upon his return, a court case in Bathurst. Lack of conclusive evidence leads to an unsatisfactory decision, but the matter is finally resolved on the banks of the Darling River near the remains of the Rodney.


The Public Instruction Act of 1880 established many new schools in New South Wales. Mary Simpson is appointed to the one-teacher school at Gontentia in the far west. The tale describes her journey, the events of the opening of the school, and Mary’s first six months as the teacher. ‘A Light in the West’ is a tribute to the hundreds of teachers who, since 1880, have served with distinction in one-teacher schools.

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ISBN:   978-1-922229-23-6
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 196
Genre: Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: John Lambert
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2013
Language: English


John Lambert was a teacher of history and his stories reflect his belief that the past influences the present and our future. 

The two tales presented here bring the past to life. Fictional characters are placed in historical settings and the events are intertwined with authentic history. The tales provide human interest and are believable within their context.


By the same author 

A Land of Plenty

Beyond All Seas

Lost and Forgotten

Two Tales of the Mountains

Encounter Hall

Arthur King of the Britons

Risk and Reward


Read a sample:




The grave was in the back paddock, well down towards the Wellington Road. It was just a headstone, now lying flat, though originally it had clearly stood upright. The plaque, a rectangular bronze plate, was fixed to the stone by screws set in mortar, and read ‘William James Wilson d. 1894’.

When he had purchased the property, Andy remembered that the previous owner, Jack McKenzie, had made an offhand comment: ‘There’s an old grave in the back paddock, a bloke who was shot last century. I don’t know anything about him. The grave was there when I inherited the place from my father.’

Andy had taken no interest in the six months that he had been the owner and indeed may never have become involved with the story of the grave except that once a fortnight he would drive into Wellington for supplies. The track down to the Wellington Road passed within fifty metres of the grave and on 22 November 1920, a date he remembered exactly because of its significance for later events, he noticed that there were flowers alongside the headstone.

He stopped the car. He was sure no one from the farm would have provided the flowers and that whoever had done so therefore would have needed to make a special effort to come onto the property. He was intrigued that someone should make such an effort. The grave was about four hundred yards from the Wellington Road and though it would not have been all that difficult to reach it, a visitor would have to cross the cattle grid and come a long way onto private property. Of greater significance was the fact that the entry from the Wellington Road was five miles from the main road itself and would have required a good knowledge of the local area to find it. The visit to place the flowers was clearly a carefully planned exercise.

He walked across to the headstone and picked up the flowers. They were white roses, six of them, wrapped in silver tinsel paper. There was a card attached which had a handwritten message upon it: ‘The promise continues to be kept. Twenty-six years have now passed.’

Andy had been intrigued that someone had placed flowers on the headstone but the message on the card aroused an even higher level of interest. A quick calculation showed that twenty-six years was the time from the date of death on the plaque to the present date in 1920, but what was ‘the promise’?

He examined the card in more detail. The writing was neat, careful and fluent, probably female, but the hand of a determined, forceful person. The reverse of the card indicated that the flowers came from Paragon Flowers, Orange. The date was 21 November, only the day before. An address was given for Paragon Flowers.

There was no hesitation; Andy knew he had to find out why the flowers had been put there. It was a matter to be resolved.

But the only lead he had was the card. He kept the card and put the flowers back next to the headstone.


A special trip to Orange was not required for Andy had already planned a visit to the stock and station agent the next day. He wished to arrange the sale of fifty head of cattle.

Paragon Flowers was in the main street two blocks closer to the railway than the office of the agent. The proprietor was one William Russell, a large man, bordering on being obese, whose rather pronounced nose gave the impression of being a jug handle to the rest of his head.

The standard pleasantries were easily exchanged and William waited for Andy to explain his purpose in visiting the florist shop. Andy had been giving some thought to how he might phrase his questions, for trying to obtain information about another customer was not the usual sort of topic that one broached with a florist. He had decided that the best approach was the truth, for the story was in itself of considerable interest.

‘I have a property near Yeoval, west of Wellington,’ he began. ‘In the back paddock is a tombstone. The other day I discovered that someone had placed flowers next to it. The flowers had a card that indicated they came from your shop.’

He passed over the card. William glanced at it cursorily and was about to put it down on the glass bench when he began to read the message. The words captured his attention immediately.

‘Rather intriguing,’ was his comment. ‘What was the promise made twenty-six years ago? Was it just to put flowers on the grave or was there something else? And who is it who is keeping the promise?’

‘Do you remember the person who bought the flowers?’ Andy asked. ‘It must have been rather a costly purchase.’

‘We make at least thirty sales a day and many are roses, so it is difficult to be certain, but I think I can make a reasonably informed guess.’ A wistful look came over his face. ‘She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen: curly red hair, clear complexion, good figure, and quite remarkable eyes – they seemed to look right through you. She paid in cash, so I have no record of a name. She was not a regular customer and that in itself drew my attention.’

‘Did she ask for any directions?’

‘No. In fact she said very little and seemed to be in a hurry to be on her way.’

‘Any other clues?’

‘Only that she was well dressed and drove off in an old Ford that was parked outside. Well brought up but perhaps not a lot of money, I would guess.’

Andy expressed his thanks and left the shop. The trail was cold. He could think of no other action he could take, at least locally.

Some weeks later, however, on a visit to Sydney, made by train, he called at the Office of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and enquired if there were any records of William James Wilson. Andy had to pay £2 for a search to be undertaken by a records clerk but all that the search produced was the information that William James Wilson had died, as the headstone recorded, in 1894. The records clerk was able to add that the date of death was 22 November. That didn’t help much but what did help was that the clerk then added, ‘The information regarding the death was provided by the officer in charge of the police station in Wellington.’

Andy’s next visit, several days later, was to the police station in Wellington.

A rather tired constable at the enquiries desk gave him a cool but courteous greeting. ‘What can we do for you, sir?’

‘I was wondering if it were possible to gain access to the police records of 1894?’ Andy began. The direct approach always seemed the best and on this occasion certainly produced a remarkable change in the constable’s demeanour.

‘What on earth for?’ he exclaimed, suddenly very interested.

‘I’d like to check on the details of a violent death reported to the Wellington police station in November of that year,’ Andy continued in an even voice.

‘Do you have a specific reason and do you have identification?’

‘I’m Andy Watson and I own Trebmal, a property near Yeoval. In a paddock at the rear of the property is a grave with a headstone giving the date of death of William James Wilson, the occupant of the grave, as 1894. The Office of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Sydney tells me that the information on the death of William Wilson was provided by the police station at Wellington. They have also told me that he died of gunshot wounds.’

‘I’ll need to seek the advice of Sergeant James. Please take a seat and wait a few minutes.’

The few minutes became ten but then Sergeant James, recognised by his stripes and by his air of experience in handling even the most unlikely enquiries, came to the counter with a folder in his right hand.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting,’ he began, ‘but it took a few minutes to find the file. I don’t think we can help you very much. The file contains little detail.’

Here he paused and opened the cardboard folder. There were only two sheets of paper in it. The first of these was an official statement from the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages. He handed this and the other page to Andy.

A quick glance at the first page told Andy nothing more than he had already found out in Sydney, but the second page was of considerable interest. It was an official report from a Senior Constable Joshua Muir dated Tuesday 23 November 1894.



At 3.00pm on the afternoon of Monday 22 March, Mr Wilson Tompkins, the owner of Trebmal, a property near Yeoval, came into the police station to report that he had found a body in his back paddock. I telephoned Dr Bruce Parsons, the local doctor who undertakes regular police investigations, and requested that he accompany me. We took the police van and drove to Trebmal, following Mr Tompkins who was driving his own car.

Mr Tompkins brought us to the body which was about 400 yards from the back entry to the property. The body was that of a male person, aged about forty, who had been shot in the back. Dr Parsons confirmed that the bullet was from a cartridge fired at some distance, probably at least two hundred paces. Death had probably been instantaneous.

The body was lying face down and a great deal of blood had congealed under it. The body was clad in a dilapidated grey suit with a waistcoat. The trousers were held up by braces. There was no belt. The boots were worn, with holes an inch across in each sole. They had not been cleaned for a long time. The laces had broken and had been retied several times.

The light sandy hair was balding. The face was unshaven and the beard matted. Some blood had trickled from the mouth. The blue eyes stared out in rigor mortis. Despite the mask of death, there was still a sense of kindness in the features and expression.

I searched the clothes and the body. The only item that gave any information was a small New Testament which contained the name William James Wilson. There was no wallet and no money.

The body was already producing a strong odour and Mr Tompkins suggested that it be buried where it lay rather than be carted into Wellington. I insisted that the body not be touched until I could establish whether there were any relatives.

Accordingly, I drove back into Wellington and telephoned the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages. They assured me that there was no birth certificate and no information of any sort on William James Wilson. Similar phone calls to Police Headquarters, to Bathurst, and to Dubbo, also indicated that there were no records held on William James Wilson. I rang Mr Thomas, the Coroner, and informed him of the situation. With his concurrence I authorised Mr Tompkins to bury the body.

Subsequently, Mr Tompkins, at his own expense, placed a headstone on the grave.

Signed: Joshua Muir



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