7 May 2012

Part 20: An Australian Prospector by Di Bouglas

Fans of the film actor, Humphrey Bogart, will remember that in 1948 he made a film called The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with the veteran actor, Walter Huston. Walter won an Oscar for his role as a grizzled old gold prospector, just two years before his death in 1950. Another Walter who tried his hand at prospecting, but as a much younger man, was Walter Swinfield who, according to the information we have, was born in New South Wales in 1879 and died at Bathurst in 1952, making him about the same age as his actor namesake.
Coolgardie in the 1890s

I have recently been using the Trove website of the National Library of Australia. They have digitised almost seven million pages of Australian newspapers and made them available for free on the site. A search for Swinfield produces over 350 results and I have been working through some of these to try and find out more about the Swinfields who emigrated to Australia in the 19th century.

A number of articles about Walter Swinfield caught my eye, all written in 1894. It seems that he was the victim of a confidence trick and his story, and the subsequent hunt for the tricksters, was picked up by newspapers across the whole of the country.
Coolgardie today
Walter was said to have been a young miner from Queensland, who was travelling to Coolgardie via Sydney and Melbourne, presumably to try his luck in the Western Australian town where gold had been struck in 1892. He was befriended in Fitzroy, Melbourne, by two confidence tricksters who succeeded in taking from him £28 in gold and £10 worth of opals. Their method involved a bogus inheritance and a betting game. The two men, Frederick Francois, alias Temple Perkins, and Francis Dawson, alias Johnson, were arrested soon after and eventually jailed. The full article can be read on the Trove website.
We know that Walter married Marie Nielsen in Annandale, New South Wales in 1900. Did they have any descendants? The closest relatives we are in contact with are Linda and Andrew Swinfield, the great-grandchildren of Walter's oldest brother, Henry. There must be people still alive who remember Walter. Did he find his fortune in Coolgardie? Did he and Marie have any children? We'd love to know if anyone has heard of Walter and his adventures.

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