Rain damps fire too late for firefighter

Tambo cemetery, Queensland: Sacred to the memory of Mark Cavanaugh, who met his death while assisting to extinguish a bush fire 24 March 1891, aged 36.Image: Sharyn Moodie

As the shearer’s dispute of 1891 raged around him, a union carrier named Mark Cavanaugh was burned to death helping to put out a bushfire.

The strike, which sparked the development of the Australian Labor Party, was over the use of non-unionised shearers. From February until May that year, central Queensland was on the brink of civil war.

 Striking shearers gathered in armed camps outside of towns and the government sent in soldiers to protect non-union labour.

 The unionists fought back by “raiding shearing sheds, harassing non-union labour and committing sabotage although the incidents of actual violence or arson were few, ” according to Wikipaedia.

Although the fire which Cavanaugh was fighting was not deliberately lit, unrelated stories claim unionists had been lighting fires in the general district. This fire started at a nearby grazing property, and was attributed to sparks from a travelling sheep camp getting away.

 Rain soon put out the fire Cavanagh was fighting, but it was too late. It was presumed that he had been thrown from his horse and stunned.

He was badly burned and taken from Tambo Station to hospital by a four-in-hand team (four horses, one carriage) from Tambo Station and died in hospital within a few hours.

The poor fellow was roasted from his head to below his knees, and his clothes were burnt completely off, except a little portion of the  legs of his trousers. 

newspaper report
Tambo Hospital in 1900, nine years after Mark Cavanaugh died there. State Library of Queensland.

Tambo, Queensland.


Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser,  Wednesday 25 March 1891 p 5

The Ballarat Star Wednesday 25 March 1891 p 4


State Library of Queensland

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

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