1910s shot from the river to boat sheds on the Esplanade

1910s shot from the river to boat sheds on the Esplanade

Triple Tragedy

Kathleen Cumpston (nee Lambe), was born in Bridgetown in 1882. In the early 1900s she and her husband Thomas lived in Fremantle and South Perth where their two sons Roland and Eustace were born.

In January 1910 Thomas was charged with unlawful possession of 1.8kg of medical grade opium he intended to sell. The opium was confiscated and he was fined the value of the opium - £10 (around $1400 today). Later that year they moved up to Southern Cross where Thomas took up Haddon’s Lease and began months of unsuccessful prospecting.

It was reported all was well and Kathleen came down to Perth for a holiday in mid-October 1911, but in truth she had left Southern Cross due to her husband’s cruelty. For the first week she stayed with friends in Perth and sought advice from Alfred Russell JP, who advised her to see Police Magistrate Augustus Roe, and she said she would.

“She also remarked that her husband had no complaint against her, and that he was a bad man.”

The Daily News, 4 November 1911

During the second week she stayed with her sister, Charlotte Watson, in Northam. Kathleen left there with her boys, Eustace (3) and Roland (6), on the evening of Thursday, 2 November, and caught the train to Perth, where she said she intended visiting a friend in South Perth.

But Alice Johnson, a passenger in the same carriage, said she told her:

“she had left Southern Cross two weeks ago and had since been travelling backward and forwards in the train. She seemed to be very weary, and said that she had been unwell, and had not had any sleep for three months. She was, she said, getting into such a state that she could not sleep at all. She did not know what she was going to do in Perth, and she had no idea of where she could get a room. Later in the journey she said that she did not care what happened to her. The train reached Perth at 10.50, and when Mrs Johnson said ‘good night’ to the deceased, she did not answer.”

Southern Cross Times, 8 November 1911

Perth cab driver, George Cooper, was on the corner of Barrack Street and St George’s Terrace and saw her at 12.15am walking down Barrack Street, wheeling a crying Eustace in a go-kart and leading Roland by the hand. He watched her walk back and forth between Moir’s Chambers and the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) before he asked if she was looking for something. He noted they were poorly and rail thin, but clean.

Kathleen said she was trying to get into the WCTU but had found it closed. George told her if she walked up the stairs someone would let her in. Oddly, she said she wouldn’t bother.

Kathleen then said she was trying to get to South Perth, but George told her she’d missed the last ferry of the night by nearly an hour. She said if she couldn’t get across the river, she would come back, and walked off into the bright moonlit night, Roland crying “You are going the wrong way, Mummy!”

George kept an eye out for them but they never returned.

At 7 the next morning George Colquhoun, horse trainer, was walking on the foreshore, east of the WA Rowing boat sheds, when he saw the bodies of Kathleen and Eustace in very deep water near the newly dredged embankment. Kathleen’s hat was on the retaining wall and her go-kart, in which she’d wheeled Eustace, at the roadside.

Water Police Constables Rewell and Vernon retrieved the bodies and brought them to the morgue where they were identified by Kathleen’s brother, James Lambe. James expressed concern about Roland (6), so they returned to the same spot and dragged the river, recovering his little body half an hour later.

Kathleen, Eustace and Roland were buried in the same casket on 4 November, the funeral paid for by Thomas finally having struck gold on his lease just two days prior to his wife’s and sons’ deaths.