Five little graves – Baldock Family Tragedy

It is of the most humbling experiences  to read through the Boulder Cemetery death register. The stark reality of life on the Goldfields in the later years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th is reflected in the names, death details and monumental inscriptions of those who lived and died here. The tent and tin towns shimmering in the heat and red dust haze and  the lack of water . Many on the list had short lives. The average age for a childs death was about four years. Still births, infant mortality would make up a large proportion.
The following story of the relatives of my friend Bronwyn Hatcher was told to me some 15 years ago and I am sure you will agree it is very sad tale.


Childs Funeral

Childs Funeral

While searching through the local records for a branch of my husbands family called ‘Baldock’ I stumbled across the registered deaths of five children all from the same family buried in the Boulder Cemetery:-
Thelma Evelyn Baldock aged 8yrs buried 4th Feb 1939
William Desmond Baldock aged 11 yrs buried 4th Feb 1939
Lawrence Baldock aged 3 days buried 20th Jan 1923
Lillian Baldock Aged 2 hrs buried 30th April 1921
Mahalah Baldock aged 5 hrs buried 24th April 1919
All five were the children of Thomas Alfred and Thelma Lillian Baldock and all were born in Boulder City.
Apart from the sadness I felt for this poor family a number of things intrigued me. Firstly the name ‘Malhala’, a rather exotic name for the child descended from Lincolnshire stock, what was the story behind this. name? While the deaths of Mahala, Lillian and Lawrence were testimony to the high infant mortality rate of the times I wondered why the lives of the other two children who were much older had been cut short.
It took some years of research through family members and trailing through microfilm (NOTE: No TROVE in those days) to find the following story:-
The father of the children ‘Thomas Alfred Baldock, was born in the Victorian Goldfields at Eaglehawk in 1893 and arrived in Boulder aged 6yrs with his parents and six older siblings. His parents were Thomas and Oreannah Baldock. This couple also had left behind an infant child in the Eaglehawk cemetery. The family planned like many others, to move to the west and make their fortune. Thomas was to grow up at 10 Davis Street, Boulder. Many of his extended family also joined them from Victoria and on the 22nd Oct 1918 he was to marry Thelma Lillian HAMES.  Their first child, a daughter, was called Mahalah born 23rd Apr 1919 and only lived 5 hrs. It seems that Thelma had heard this name from the Afghan camel drivers. It was to be another three years almost to the day that a second daughter was born and she too died after a few hours. Their first son, Lawrence was to be born in 1923 and was to cling to life for only three days. At the time of the death of this last baby the couple was living at 95 Wittenoom St, Boulder and although Thomas had a secure job it must have been hard to deal with this grief.  In 1925 another daughter, Joan Margaret was to arrive followed by William  and then Thelma. These children thrived and the growing family moved into a larger home at 74 Davis street, Boulder.
Thomas was now working as a platman and was earning more money but tragedy had not yet finished playing a part in their lives.
Early in Feb 1939 William (11) and Thelma (8) were playing in a cubby they had built in their backyard. They had boxes and blankets and a cellulose doll and had taken some candles from the house to play with. There mother was unaware of the danger till she smelled smoke and found both children asphyxiated.  One can only imagine the grief of Thomas and Thelma making the trip to the cemetery again to place their children with their siblings. Their only surviving child, Joan Margaret was to marry L M Robertson in 1943 and moved to Victoria park, she died in 1972.

Baldock Family Grave, Boulder

Baldock Family Grave, Boulder

Inquest:-CHILDREN ASPHYXIATED.    TRAGEDY ON GOLDFIELDS.Fumes from “Cubby House” Fire.   Kaloorlie  Miner, Feb. 3rd 1939

Two children aged eleven and eight years, lost their lives by asphyxiation at Boulder today.  They were William Desmond Baldock  (11), and Thelma Evelyn Baldock (8), son and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Thomas Baldock. of Davis-street, Boulder.
The children had been playing in a “cubby house” in the back yard of their home, and it is believed that a celluloid doll which the girl had been in the act of dressing was ignited by a candle, that pieces of dress material, canvas and a chaff bag on which they had been lying
caught fire, and that the fumes were un able to escape and enveloped the children and suffocated them.
With the help of other small children in the neighborhood, William and Thelma Baldock had dug a hole about 4ft. square and about 3ft. deep in the south-eastern corner of their back yard.  Over the top of the dugout they had placed sheets of corrugated galvanized iron to
form a roof, throwing earth over the iron to make the dugout more realistic. The children gained admission to the dugout through an aperture large enough to admit only one at a time. A round iron tank from which the top had been re moved had been inverted over the whole  “cubby house” in such a manner that a small doorway cut in the tank was placed directly above the entrance to the dugout,
The two children left to play in their “cubby house” about 8 o’clock this morning. About 8.50 o’clock, after she had washed up the breakfast dishes. Mrs. Baldock missed them. She found It necessary to tip some rubbish from a tin into a bin at the rear of the yard, and while
doing so she called her children. Receiving no reply, and becoming slightly alarmed, she looked around for them and her attention was immediately attracted by smoke emanating from the children’s play house. Mrs. Baldock rushed to the “cubby house,” flung the iron tank aside, and saw her two children lying Inert on the floor of the dugout with thick, pungent fumes curling about them. She dragged
her little girl from the fumes. Her screams attracted a neighbor, Miss Annie Radanovich, and together they extricated the little boy.
Dr. L Way was called, but he immediately pronounced both children to be dead. They were both rather badly burnt, but neither sufficiently to have caused death. Their legs in particular were severely burnt, and the little girl was burnt on the side, while both their faces were
blackened. Dr. Way ascribed death to asphyxiation. It is assumed that the children held Thelma Baldock’s celluloid doll too close to the candle, which Ignited it, that the pieces of material with which she had been dressing it caught ire, and that these in turn fired a piece of canvas and a bag on which the children had been lying. The children apparently had been lying on their faces at the time, with their heads
opposite to the aperture by which they had entered. The heavy, pungent fumes caused by the bag and the piece of canvas (portions of which were found later) were unable to escape through the small outlet and quickly enveloped the children. Lying with their heads well away from the aperture, and in such a small enclosure, the children would have had difficulty in escaping promptly, and it is believed they
would lapse very quickly into unconsciousness.
The victims of the tragedy were two of Mr. and Mrs. Baldock’s three children. They attended the Boulder Central School and had only recently returned from a holiday at the coast.
The following two tabs change content below.
My name is Moya Sharp, I live in Kalgoorlie Western Australia and have worked most of my adult life in the history/museum industry. I have been passionate about history for as long as I can remember and in particular the history of my adopted home the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. Through my website I am committed to providing as many records and photographs free to any one who is interested in the family and local history of the region.

Latest posts by Moya Sharp (see all)


  1. Jeanette Radisich ( née Beer) says:

    Very sad reading of this poor family. I grew up in the same house 74 Davis greet Boulder. It was our family home from1954, my sister Still lives there now.
    There was a family named Baldock living behind us on the corner of Wittenoom Street, more than likely related to this family.

  2. Meghan Kent (nee Baldock) says:

    What an sad story, Those poor parents. My maiden name is Baldock. I wonder if down the track I will find a link in my family tree.

  3. I really enjoy reading the stories Moya.

Leave a Reply