History of West Australia/John Michael Finnerty

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1160191History of West Australia — John Michael FinnertyWarren Bert Kimberly



ON foreign shores, in distant climes, the dreaming stranger allows his unbridled fancy to brood fondly over the scenes that emit the fascinating kaleidoscopic rays of gold. Focus his imagination as he may, he cannot in his sublime and blissful ignorance of its nature draw a striking likeness on his mental canvas. Beauteous, nay gorgeous, visions of burnished gold, lying glittering beneath a torrid sun; nuggets strewn everywhere, kicked sacrilegiously about by supercilious wayfarers; dreams of wealth, more wealth, self-aggrandisement and avarice—these are the fluttering visions of the sanguine; and these are many.

Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

How easy for the initiated, the experienced, to cast a Zolaic gleam over their bright and sunny picture. Without one touch of pessimism or melancholic depression—the result of fitful failure—they can paint a work of realism that, hung side by side with their never-to-be-realised ideal, would make the latter the subject of scoff and mocking derision. Think quietly, yet not phlegmatically, of the progression of bodily suffering, cruel thirst, famine, fevers, and fatigue—then weigh them carefully against a few glorious grains of gold.

Yet these time-honoured calamities are now the reminiscences of the few. Intrepid and steel-couraged pioneers bravely underwent these horrors—as ghastly as the miseries in Dante's Inferno—and made for others the way easy and the burden light. What should be the reward of their heroism? Millions benefit by their consequences, and millions deny one word of praise, one tangible sign of gratitude. Such is the attitude of the world to its benefactors.

This preliminary sketch of the reality and ideality of the goldfields is exceedingly apropos of Warden Finnerty. A name such as his is inseparably associated with the fields. He is the landlord of the golden acreage, with the powers and authority of a monosyllabic dictator. Yet, as he sits now in power of office, he can retrospect on the many hardships that were his only friends, and which have been drawn, and not overdrawn, in the introduction. By reason of his office, by reason of the dignity and ability with which he fills that oflce, his name is green in the history of Western Australia. The many and extended ramifications of his magistracy, the influence which he wields over wide areas, the complex web of the duties of officialdom, the stream of energetic control which percolates through every conduit-pipe of the province, stamp his impress on the areas of "individual option," and consequently on the colony.

Such is the attitude of the world

Mr. Finnerty was born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1853. His father, Colonel Charles Finnerty, originally attached to the 47th Regiment, was in charge of the staff officers of pensioners in Western Australia. The Warden was sent as a pupil to that princeps scholarum, Rugby. This ancient and well-endowed institution is notable for the effectual way in which it combines pleasure with work. A curriculum of study is provided which equals that of many universities, and is superior to some. Well may the Rugby student look back with enviable delight on his youthful days within her walls.

After receiving an education befitting a scholar and a gentleman, he left for Western Australia, arriving in the colony on the 28th September, 1874. For some time after his arrival he engaged in pearling in the north-west. For a certain portion of the year this industry cannot be successfully followed up, and in the interim he traded to the Malay Islands. For four years he combined these two commercial enterprises, and found himself singularly fortunate in his adventures. Pearling has attractions of an unique character. Its rewards, though fluctuating, are generally profitable, and the Warden by industrious attention and energy converted a bare profit into a handsome remuneration.

Feeling desirous of a change of life and a different outlet to his speculative resources, he established, in conjunction with the late Mr. J. H. Monger, an immense station on the Gascoyne in the north-west district, to which Mr. Finnerty proceeded as managing partner. He resided on the station superintending the joint interests and managing successfully their large stock. For two years they were more than satisfied with the returns, but the third year was one of "black death" to his stock. Over the extensive stretch of a million and a half acres of their estate a drought, unparalleled in the annals of the colony, swept with terrific severity, spreading havoc and death among his valuable herds and flocks. Pitiable and lamentable was the destruction, irrecoverable the loss; the accumulations and laborious winnings of their brief pastoral career disappeared before their eyes like a sinking wreck. With a fortitude born of a nil desperandum resolve they left their carcase-strewn station determined to face their fortune once more. In 1886 Mr. Finnerty received an appointment in the Government service as Inspector of Police for the northern part of the colony. The area under his charge stretched from Kimberley to Roebourne, a distance of several hundred miles. His adventures here in the bush and on the desert befit the romancist better than the biographer. For six months he struggled to fulfil the laborious duties incumbent on his office, and was not a little relieved when after a service of six months he was appointed Warden for the Kimberley Goldfields. So sudden a promotion, though in mere keeping with his merits and distinction, surprised him a little. He set out for Kimberley to assume the new duties of his office, and arrived there soon after the richest discoveries were made.

For two and a half years he dispensed justice where required, and decided questions of law when invoked. Impartial, stern, yet clement, he earned a reputation as an excellent judge, lawyer, and friend. Round his little tent, where he sat in magisterial array, probing into the alleged worth of this, and assigning a lease for that, there gathered a large crew, burning in their feverish haste to report to him their luck. His period of well-nigh three years' office in Kimberley was one of signal success. By his stern and warranted reprimands to, and judgments on, offenders, he succeeded in maintaining peace and order in a naturally disturbed community, and safety and security among the miners. The tropical climate of Kimberley, with its moist and humid heat, its abundant rainfalls in the summer, made it a paradise in comparison with Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. But the rush and excitement of Kimberley was destined soon to fade, and with the decadence of the field the Warden made his exit.

Now fire seemed to issue all along the goldfields' line. Discoveries in quick succession, swollen into big reports, came thundering from every quarter. They first surprised, then astonished, and gradually, through a series of emotional changes, paralysed the slumbering colony. His presence was immediately requested at Yilgarn, Southern Cross, and there he repaired as fast as the uncertainties of the route would permit. He had not been long established in Southern Cross before Arthur Bayley came down to report his famous find. Mr. Finnerty set out at once with Mr. Bayley for the scene of the discovery, and carefully inspected it. Satisfied with its auriferous qualities, he granted Bayley a lease, now known as the Reward Area. On completing his task he returned to Southern Cross, only to go back again to the regions surrounding Bayley's find. The duties of his sphere now alternated between Coolgardie and Yilgarn, and soon the latter must retire before the growing importance of the former. When Coolgardie was proclaimed on the 6th of April, 1894, he proceeded there as Warden and Resident Magistrate.

His labours now reached a maximum. The very atmosphere was charged with golden electricity, and he with all the energy his body could furnish, must struggle to serve the multitude of requests made on his presence and his pen. Gradually the constitution of several centres relaxed the strain of overwhelming labour. Other Wardens appeared to share the work, so that now Mr. Finnerty got breathing-room.

But as can be easily supposed, his office of Police Magistrate was no sinecure. Occasionally turbulent and riotous youths found their way into Coolgardie, and theft and robberies were not infrequent. By a judicious severity at first he soon diminished the number of lawbreakers, and that peace and equilibrium which he had effected at Kimberley were repeated in Coolgardie. The house of legal procedure was not in 1894 a palatial-looking mansion. His little tent was made to serve as Post Office, Registrar's Office, Warden's Office, and Police Court. It was situated at the railway end of Ford Street, at that time the prominent part of the town. We can easily picture the stream of mortals rushing every hour to the tent which, though small, held within its flapping canvas the legislative machinery that controlled the fields. Here was centralisation effected, not in a vast and spacious edifice like the provincial Roman legates' dwellings on the distant fields of Armenia, but in an unpretentious tent, modest, substantial, and rustic. Every question of legality was referred to him as judge, every point of morality decided by him on the bench.

Not far from his tent he mapped out the future site of the town, and all agree that his choice and judgment were good. A little tale as to the origin of the name Coolgardie is interesting etymologically. About 100 yards from the Warden's residence is the spot from which Coolgardie derives its name. There is a large tank there now, but previously there was a round natural "gnamma" hole, which used to hold 4,000 gallons of water, and this hole was always known among the natives as Coolgardie, and it was from this that the town derived its name. As to the disappearance of this historic hole, the Warden says:—"I went away for a few days from Coolgardie, and you can imagine my chagrin when, on my return, I found this hole blasted beyond recognition."

Mr. Finnerty can tell many an interesting episode of his experiences on the fields. One time, when Coolgardie was just coming into being, he stopped at a certain place and asked for two gallons of water for himself and his camel. That long-suffering and much despised animal had sauntered on for nine days without a drop of water to cool his sides. The Warden obtained his request, but had to pay for the luxury of a few gallons the sum of 15s. In the early days of the goldfields he shared the rough fate of the pioneer. To obtain the bare necessaries of life was often impossible, and many a meal had to be made on that old indigestible concoction, "tinned dog." In a land destitute of food, wealth or wisdom could not get what did not exist.

Speaking with the authority of a magistrate, Mr. Finnerty's words of praise and commendation of the good conduct of the men are welcomed. Still he cannot forget, nor will the citizens forget, that he has cemented this high ethical standard among the inhabitants. His judicial sentences ably coped with dangerous evils, and brought on a reign of security and harmony. Only once did it behove him to send out two official parties to quell murderous and riotous bands of natives, and this was in the Kimberley field. The Coolgardie Goldfield, over which he is Warden, has an area of 11,800 square miles. It comprises Londonderry, Mount Burges, Twenty-Five Mile, Wealth of Nations, Forty-Five Mile, Bardoc, Siberia, Lake Lefroy, Mount Morgan, and Hampton Plains Estate. When we consider the vastness of this area and its auriferous capabilities, we may well recognise its territorial importance and the consequent responsibilities of the Warden. Mr. Finnerty has, in the execution of his duties, proved himself a man of remarkable ability, and a careful and successful tactician. His gift of administration ranks second to his judgment, which is clear, synthetic, and logical. Never has his philanthropic aim of benefiting surrounding humanity been realised commensurably with his desire. Pressure of duties, official and in their nature public, always bridle his efforts to enter unresignedly on councils whose aim and end is or should be the greatest happiness. From the judge's bench he must hasten to the warden's chair to settle disputes and grant what is right. As chairman of the Quarter Sessions, as Sub-Collector of Revenues, obligations and duties of an extraordinary nature are imposed on his already taxed bodily and mental frame. No fewer than 6,000 leases have been granted from his offices in Coolgardie and Southern Cross.

He is Worshipful Master of the Coolgardie Lodge of Freemasons, and takes a supreme interest in the Masonic welfare. His personality is striking. Beneath his partially acquired sternness—the prevailing atmosphere characteristic of the bench—there flows an undercurrent of sympathy and good fellowship. And for his scrupulous dispensation of justice on the warden's bench, and for his unfailing attention to his magisterial duties, he is respected and admired. Justice and fairness are two virtues which the wiliest miner can never wrench from his grasp. Citizens of Coolgardie and its suburbs are one in their expressions of gratitude to the oldest-known name in the district.