KIANDRA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
THE SCANDALOUS BEHAVIOUR OF
The behaviour of Gold Commissioner Frederick Cooper at the Kiandra and Crack-em-back gold fields was the subject of numerous complaints, almost from the time he took up duty as a Sub-Commisioner in Kiandra in 1860. This included a claim that while at the Thredbo (Crack-em-back) diggings:
Cooper, from a wealthy Sydney family, was only 26 at the time he took up his Kiandra post, having unexpectedly resigned his seat in the New South Wales Parliament. It was suggested he left to avoid a scandal, as a result of his drinking and allegedly outrageous behaviour. Previously, while at Sydney University, he had been the first undergraduate to be expelled.
A letter, published in the Alpine Pioneer (Kiandra’s Goldfields Newspaper) on 12 October 1860, made the following points.
More serious claims of bias against Cooper were raised by Samuel Hawkins in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald published in 17 August 1861, headed “JUSTICE ON THE GOLD FIELDS.” It began as follows.
Hawkins then documented a series of allegations of bias and mistreatment meted out to him and his partners in the Homeward Bound Claim at New Chum Hill. This included the following instance:
Hawkins’ letter writing did his cause no good, as he was immediately summonsed by Cooper, and summarily fined. During the hearing of this case, which was heard at a local hotel, Hawkins claimed he was given no opportunity to call witnesses for his case, and that he was assaulted by “ruffians” sympathetic to the Commissioner.
Following this incident Hawkins continued to pursue his grievances against Cooper. Eventually, on 12 November 1861, Commissioner Cloete recommended that Mr James Harrop Griffin, his replacement as Commissioner in Charge of the Southern Goldfields, visit Kiandra to investigate Hawkins’ claims. By this time a number of other grievances against Cooper had been raised by miners.
In January 1862 Commissioner Griffin visited Kiandra to conduct an Inquiry into the charges against Cooper. He refused a request by Mr G B Barton, the barrister representing Hawkins, to make attendance by witnesses compulsory. Not surprisingly, many witnesses were not available. Numbers of those who attended swore that Kiandra was an orderly place and that they were unaware of anything untoward in Mr Cooper’s behaviour. In particular Michael Bourke denied being the leader of the “Irish Mob” and denied saying he would swear to anything for Cooper, although he did accept he was known in the street as “the Commissioner’s tool.”
During the Inquiry a police witness (Constable Newman) gave evidence that Cooper had told the police to turn a blind eye while Hawkins was given a hiding (A link to the full text of Newman’s charges follows at the end of this entry). Other evidence was heard that Cooper had given orders for Mr Cohen (a Kiandra jeweller) and Mr Dixon, the Editor of the Monaro Mercury, to be beaten.
Despite all this evidence, and statements from three other complainants in addition to Hawkins, Griffin dismissed most of the charges against Cooper’s actions as “mere assertions, without proof.” In only one case did he censure Cooper, that involving the arrest of W A MacDonogh and his subsequent imprisonment as a vagrant for not being able to produce his Miner’s Right. Griffin said this action was, “if not entirely illegal – improper, harsh and uncalled for.”
He presented the results of his Inquiry in a memorandum.
Hawkins was not satisfied with the outcome of the Inquiry and continued to press his grievances. In May 1862 he petitioned the New South Wales Government with a list of charges against Cooper drawn up by Mr Barton, seeking 800 pounds in compensation.
After the Griffin Inquiry Cooper was moved to a government post at Eden. No further charges were laid against him. In 1864 he was called to the bar in Sydney and Queensland. After practising in Queensland and New Zealand he was elected to the Queensland Parliament from 1879 until 1883. Hawkins was never paid any compensation.
The correspondence relating to Cooper, including the Inquiry papers, can be found in Volume 4 of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly Votes and Proceedings and Papers Ordered to be Printed During the Session of 1862
Note: Material on these pages prepared by Hugh Capel: firstname.lastname@example.org