‘A pathetic story’

From the Northern Territory Times and Gazette on 14 February 1885 is this moving account of a mother’s struggle to get help for her ailing baby, and of the assistance given to her by an unnamed Chinese man.

On Christmas Day William Cooper, a bush laborer living in a wild part of the Little River district, twenty-six miles from Tumut, brought into town the remains of his infant daughter, six months old, who died from exposure and starvation in the bush. An inquest was held on boxing-day, when a verdict in accordance with the evidence was returned, the jury adding a rider that the mother had done all she could to preserve the life of her child. Cooper was absent at Brendabella woolshed at the time.

On Wednesday, the 17th inst, the mother started for the nearest neighbor’s place, which was four miles off, to get a message to go to Tumut for physic for the sick child. She took with her the deceased and Freddy, a boy six years old, and a dog. Rain came down, and a storm followed, and in the wild mountainous country the woman lost herself. On Thursday, the mother’s milk having failed, she killed the dog to nourish the baby on the blood. She and her son Freddy ate a little of the raw flesh, there being no fire and no other food. On Friday night the baby died. Next day she carried the baby’s corpse as far as she could when Freddy sank down exhausted. She left the boy to watch the corpse near a creek, and wandered on herself very weak and footsore.

On Sunday afternoon she found a Chinaman’s hut and a Chinaman and a European named Taylor went to search. They camped out at the head of Dubbo Falls that night, and next day they found the boy Freddy sitting on a rock beside the corpse of the baby. He was ‘keeping the flies of Cissy.’ The starving lad had been over a day and two nights alone with the dead baby. The Chinaman gave the boy food in small quantities, and then carried him and the corpse five miles to the nearest hut. Afterwards they took the mother and boy home, where two little children (three and two years of age) had remained all the time.

It seems likely that the mother was Eliza Cooper, who with her husband William had eight children between 1875 and 1890, living first at Yass/Patrick’s Plain and then Tumut. This baby, Annie, was not the only child she lost – three years later her five year old son Mark also died.

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