Death of a Bushman – a family story

I was recently sent this most poignant story from OFH reader Ray Jackson. Although it occurred in Queensland, there are many incidences like this in Western Australia. It tells a tragic family story:-

Life was very hard in the Charleville area of Queensland in the late 1800s and work was very hard to get. Two young men from the area had been successful in gaining employment on Millie Station. They were Peter Bruce and his younger brother Adam Bruce. The two men were well known in the area as shearers and bushmen.

Together with a companion, George Chaplain who was a stockman on Mount Morris Station the three were headed on the Adavale Road towards Millie Station on 14th September 1884.This was about a seven or eight hour ride. It seems there was some urgency to reach the station, perhaps to ensure they did not miss out the promised jobs.

However, they stopped after about 12 miles and rested for a half hour or so. Shortly after the three left the main road and were about a mile and a half from the station and through the first of the station gates they were overtaken by a very large thunderstorm.

They continued on for another mile and it was raining very hard and Adam Bruce said ‘’we had better turn off here and camp overnight in that gully near the creek’’. George Chaplain was against stopping and said ‘’no, we’ll go on to the station and shelter there’’. Adam asked his brother ‘’what should we do?’’. Peter said ‘’please yourselves, I can stand the rain’’. Chaplain said ‘’come on then, let’s move on and go to the station’’.

By this time, it was raining really heavily when they reached the last gate before the station. Peter Bruce leaned over his horses neck and undid the wire on gate. While he was doing this he overheard his brother say to George Chaplain ‘‘I am very frightened of lightning’’. Chaplain said ‘’me too’’.

The three passed through the gate and were riding abreast and had made about ten or twenty yards from the gate when a very bright flash of lightning seemed to come straight down. Peter Bruces’ horse fell forward onto his knees and then recovered himself.

He looked around and saw Adam Bruce and his horse lying in the middle of the road. He called to Chaplain ‘my poor brother is killed’’. He got off his horse and ran to his brother and caught hold of him. He was then still in the saddle and his horse was lying on his right leg. After trying to pull the horse up by the bridle he had to force the front leg of the horse up to release the body of his brother. He then held his brothers lifeless body against his legs and called again to Champion ‘’my poor brother is dead’’. The two men ran to Millie station and returned to the scene with some other men who helped carry the body to a carriers camp that was nearby.

Next day a Policeman from Charleville came and examined the body and the scene. He found Adam Bruce had a burn mark around his head and his back was very badly discoloured with an exit wound on his lower body. There was a burn hole in the saddle about two inches from the back and a corresponding wound on the back of the horse. Adam Bruce’s cabbage tree hat was near the body of the horse and it was torn to pieces from the strike.

Next day Peter Bruce buried his brother in a temporary grave by the side of the Avadale Road while he had a coffin made in Charleville. He then re buried his brother in Charleville Cemetery.

This story is compiled from the Police Officers report to the coroner that I have and contains sworn evidence from Peter Bruce and George Champion.

Peter Bruce and Adam Bruce were brothers of my Great Grandfather Andrew Bruce and so were my 2nd great uncles.

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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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  1. Ray Jackson says:

    Adam was my 2nd Great Uncle Moya, and as I have been delving into the other side of my grandparents families I have discovered that on my Grandmothers side one of my Cousins a few times removed has his death recorded as ”Struck by lightning whilst sitting at his fireside”. I think I will be a bit more cautious when we are sitting out in the bush sitting around the fire admiring the thunder storms. Ray.

  2. Alwyn Evans says:

    two sad stories from the same family!

  3. Avril Dalby says:

    A very sad story

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