The Prison Log and “Sky Blue Goannas”

hollow log

The Prison Log

In the early days of Coolgardie, there was no provision for holding prisoners pending their appearance in court so Corporal McCarthy chopped a four-foot log from a three-foot thick trunk of a blown down salmon gum to which they were chained by a strong steel staple at one end and handcuffs at the other. (A strong steel spike driven into the log held the chain and the chain held the iron belt that locked the prisoner to the portable clink).

The first man to be put ‘on the log’ in 1893 was ‘a wildly hilarious person who was pursuing sky-blue goannas and was given a week on the log by Warden Finnerty’.

Within twenty-four hours, the drunk coalesced and developed a vigorous appetite for food, and having no power to discharge the prisoner, and no orderly, Corporal McCarthy had to cook the meals and wait on the voracious appetite of the prisoner.  To make matters worse, it rained, and according to the regulations, the police had to provide shelter for his charge. When it was suggested he was free to go, the prisoner refused, saying he had been given seven days detention and had to be given shelter and tucker.  In order to get rid of him, he was given 50lbs. Of flour, half a dozen tins of meat and a couple of gallons of water.

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The next man to be put ‘on the log’ was a notorious drinker named Anderson who promptly went to sleep. When he awoke, he hoisted the log onto his shoulder and made for the Exchange Hotel where he managed to ‘down a couple’ before being found by Corporal McCarthy who made him carry the log back to the police camp.

The last offender to be ‘logged’ was a notorious goldfields offender, ‘Pro Blank’, who was left on the log while Corporal McCarthy was away at Burbanks on duty.  A Melbourne butcher recently arrived in Coolgardie pulled up alongside where ‘Pro’ was lying, and looked curiously at the fine solid salmon gum log before inquiring what ‘Pro’ was doing chained to it.

‘I was on the booze,’ said ‘Pro’, ‘and me two mates fixed me here so I wouldn’t wander and fall down a shaft.’  ‘Want to sell the log?’ asked the butcher, as good sound timber was scarce.  ‘Yeah, I’m alright now, so if you can knock off this chain.’

The butcher knocked the chain off and gave Pro thirty shillings for the piece of timber, chain and all, and that is how the infamous log came to find its way into a butcher’s bough shop.

Did you know?:-

In the boom times of Coolgardie, and for some time afterwards, the charge sheets at the Police Station carried a column in which it had to be set out as to whether or not an offender was ‘Bond’ or ‘Free’, so they could be distinguished when on the street.

‘Bond’ men were compelled to yield right of way to ‘Free’ men and step from the footpath to the gutter if there was not enough room for both on the footpath.

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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.

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