Children’s stones tell sorry stories of early days

The gravestones of the children in the Albany Pioneer cemetery tell some fascinating tales of the dangers of childhood.

“Died of convulsions”, “died of ant sting” and “accidentally injured while playing” … read some of the more obvious stones.

Frank Betts’ poignantly worded gravestone at Albany Memorial Cemetery. Image Sharyn Moodie

There was no story to be found on Catherine Runciman, who died convulsing aged two in 1914, or Frank Betts, whose demise by ant occurred at age 10 in 1907.

But five-year-old Charles Leslie Hynam’s story made the newspapers.

Known as Leslie (his father was also Charles), the boy had only been playing outside with four friends for a short while when one of them rushed back into the house, crying out to Charles senior that Leslie and another boy, Willie, were “under the sand and couldn’t breathe”.

The boy, John McLeod, pointed out where the children had been, and the frantic father picked up an old shovel lying nearby, but was afraid to use it for fear of hurting the children.

He began to dig with his hands and came across Willie Kay, who was lying “insensible”, face down in the sand.

He handed the boy to a bystander and kept digging until he got out his son, also unconscious.

He carried the child in his arms to the hospital, and although the doctor arrived in a matter of minutes and attended him for three or four hours as the boy convulsed, the child died the next day.

Image Sharyn Moodie 2022

John McLeod, who lived with the family in Festing street, told the subsequent inquiry that the boys had gone to play in the sand bank, which was the result of some recent road works.

When it began to rain they took shelter under the sand bank.

“He removed about a shovel full of sand from the bottom of the bank and Johnnie Edwards removed the same quantity,” a newspaper report of the inquiry stated.

“They sat down with their back to the bank and about two minutes later it gave way”.

Leslie had been sitting in the centre of the boys.

McLeod scrambled out and pulled two other boys out. Unable to see Leslie and Willie he ran for help.

The jury’s determination after a ten-minute deliberation was that the death was an accident.

They added a rider:  That the Albany Municipal Council in future, when taking away sand, should have the excavation slope and cut left with a vertical or upright face, so as to avoid the possibility of future accidents occurring.”

For the story of young Nellie Spencer, who died from the extreme heat at Cue, click here.

Source: The Albany Advertiser, Friday 30 May 1902, p4

Albany, WA

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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