JOHN ASTLEY COOPER 1867-1898 was the son of the Rev Robert Jermyn Cooper 1820-1916 who was Vicar of Fylingdales for 56 years. Some time after 1891 John went off to Western Australia. The following account descibes his sad ending. This is a draft written by Peter J Bridge of Hesperian Press, Vistoria Park, Western Australia of a chapter of a book on Bangemall - a gold mine. The actual book has yet to be published.

The location of the Bangemall Inn gives an indication of the whereabouts of the mine.    
        A gold mine image

Bangemall. The death of Registrar Cooper. First draft 9 April 2007.

John Astley Cooper had been the Mining Registrar at Bangemall for seven months when on the morning of Saturday 29 January 1898 he walked out to his death. The following is compiled from several accounts written at the time by Percy St Barbe Ayliffe and possibly a visiting journalist named Jackson.

A correspondent writing under the date February 7 from the Bangemall goldfield on the Gascoyne furnishes the following particulars concerning the melancholy death of Mr J.A. Cooper, late mining registrar of the Bangemall goldfield.

A very sad affair has occurred here within the last few days. On Saturday morning, the 29th ult., Mr. J. A. Cooper, who has been mining registrar here for the past seven months, started on foot without a water bag to look for his horse, which generally runs about four or five miles away, near a small clay pan, in which there was a little water. Mr Hepburn, the evening before, had offered to send a native for the horse but Mr Cooper declined as he would like the walk himself. When the day drew on and there was no sign of Mr. Cooper returning, some uneasiness was felt by the men on the field, but as he had on a previous occasion been to the water, it was at first supposed that he was waiting there until his horse came in to get a drink. However, as it got near sundown, it was thought best to start some one out to see what had become of him, so a native was immediately dispatched with a water bag in the direction he was supposed to have taken, then Mr Hepburn having a horse handy went to see if he could find any trace of him. He followed Mr. Cooper’s footprints some distance, and, night coming on, camped, on a hill about six miles away, and lit a fire, remaining by it all night in the hope that the lost man would see it and come to it. In the morning he returned to the field to ascertain if the lost man had put in an appearance, and to obtain a fresh supply of water. As there was no word of the missing registrar four or five men went out in search, and at first succeeded in finding his tracks on a horse pad going up a different flat altogether from the one where he was supposed to have gone. His tracks were then followed for about 12 miles to where they struck a gum creek, but owing to the hard and stony nature of the ground they could be traced no further. Slight rain came on, effacing the tracks. Search was kept up all Sunday and on Monday morning word was sent to the Thomas Police Station about 40 miles distant, which accounts for the police not being informed before. The search in the meantime being kept up by several residents.

When with all despatch Constable T. Binning, of Thomas Station, came here, he sent out to where the diggers horses run and had all the horses, some 15, that were easiest found, brought to the field. Then all the men on Bangemall that could, some 17 mounted white men and four natives, started out. He also arranged to have water carted to as near where the tracks were last seen as possible as it was a very dry piece of country. At the starting point it was decided to search the country in a face and riding within sight of each other. Seventeen men were thus engaged, while two drays with large tanks on board were sent to places arranged, so that the seekers, if not successful, would be able to camp near where the tracks were lost and resume search next day. However, on the evening of the first day of this organised search, as the party were making back to the drays, Cooper’s tracks were picked up crossing a bit of soft crab hole country by one of the natives (Rob) and after 1 miles of difficult work where the track was again lost in the stones, the body of the lost man was found in a water wash about 14 miles in a direct line from the field. As, however, the country where he was lost is very rough, stony and rugged it would be impossible to say how far the lost man had traveled, but it must have been close on 30 miles. He evidently got to the place where he died on Saturday night as he had lit a fire and made a camp. He must have died before mid-day on Sunday, for rain which fell early in the afternoon had covered his tracks. This would have made it almost impossible for anyone to have found him in time to save his life. The weather on the Saturday and Sunday that he was out was fearfully hot, the former being one of the hottest days we have had this summer and the night was also fearfully close and muggy which no doubt helped to overcome him so quickly.

The body of Mr. Cooper was brought to the field and buried on Sunday the 6th at a site selected as a cemetery one and a-half miles from township. The funeral was largely attended, all the residents and miners of the field being present. The service was impressively read by Mr Binning, to whom great credit is due for the able and systematic way he organised the search, for from the time of his receiving word of the missing man until the body was found no time was lost. Great praise is also due to Messrs Hepburn, Gray, and others for their untiring efforts to find the lost man. Night and day they worked with little rations and water.

All the miners and residents of the field wish to express their heartfelt sympathies with the bereaved parents and friends of the deceased registrar.

As the field has about 30 men on it at present, and the appearance of increasing, it is necessary that police be stationed here, as several men have been lost and perished within a radius of 20 miles during the last 12 months.

In 1930 Thomas Binning of Winderie, Carnarvon, wrote to the Truth newspaper to correct a romance on the subject of Cooper’s death. In this he states that the body was found by the police tracker Mugga Bunna (Bald Head) Jack. Binnings two principal bushman offsiders were Dick Gray and Ted Davies. The coffin was made and a grave dug near the main camp by a man named Jackson who was a journalist.

Binning enclosed a letter from Cooper’s family:

The Vicarage
Robin Hoods Bay
Nov 3. 98

My dear Mr. Binning

I cant tell you how grateful I was to get your letter – you told me everything I had longed to hear for so many months.

Did you ever meet him? He was the brightest of us all & so fond of his home & such a favourite.

Thank you – for the great respect you shewed to him after death –Your letter is a comfort.

Your sincere & grateful friend

Margaret Cooper

[Margaret Cooper 1864-1931 was John’s elder sister.]

Cooper had come to WA from England about three years previously and had sojourned on the fields for a time. After returning to England and coming out again he obtained a job in the Mines Department in 1897. He was in the Under Secretary’s office for a brief time before he was promoted to the position of mining registrar at Bangemall. He was considered a most useful and capable officer.

Unfortunately the personal file of JA Cooper has been destroyed, but a few police files are extant, including Binning’s report. P.C. Riely, 91, held a public auction of Cooper’s effects, including his horse, resulting in 31.16.1. Together with 20 that had been lent to A.McCarthy and 3.12.0 in cash made 55.8.1 to be forwarded to the Curator of Intestate Estates in Perth.

The Bushman’s Relief Fund whose object was to help those in distress and to provide a decent burial for those in indigent circumstances, was started from a donation of five guineas by the Rev R.J. Cooper in November 1910, in gratitude of the bushmen giving his son reverent burial. Percy St. Barbe Ayliffe, A.W. Woolley, and W. Sukroo took the matter up, meetings were called, a concert held, local folks co-operated and the Fund came into existence. To date, 1913, 382 had been raised.

To be concluded.

Peter J Bridge