William Carr-Boyd - The Prince of Storytellers

by Norma King. Revised and Edited by Lorraine Kelly May 2020.

Warning: Language quoted is culturally offensive and does not represent the views of the author.




In the early days of Western Australia, there were a lot of colourful characters, but none were more colourful than William Carr-Boyd, who was known as the Prince of Storytellers.


In 1892, he was prospecting in the Murchison with Mr Adams and Dr Schnieder when they heard of the discovery of gold at Coolgardie. Carr-Boyd and Adams decided to go to Coolgardie, while Dr Schnieder continued prospecting around the Murchison. Before separating they each signed an agreement that if one of them found gold it would not be shared by either of the other two.


Carr-Boyd and Adams arrived at Coolgardie early in December 1892. In the meantime, Dr Schnieder; with Bob Rolls, George Slee and Jack Blackett pegged a lease. They went into Coolgardie to register the lease and the doctor met up with his two former mates. He boasted about-the gold find he had made and showed them gold specimens from this and another find he had made with three other men: Speakman, Ryan and Erickson.


Speakman, Ryan and Erickson went to Southern Cross to register their claim and on the way called into Ullaring to pick up some of their equipment. While holding the doctor in conversation, Carr-Boyd gave Adams the wink to follow the doctor's camel tracks back to where Speakman and party had pegged their lease. Adams jumped the lease.


The case was heard in Southern Cross at the end of January before Warden Finnerty. Adams was granted the lease. Warden Finnerty decided that Speakman's party had delayed too long at Ullaring before registering their claim. Afterwards, Carr-Boyd tried to claim his half-share from Adams, but he did not succeed. This case also came before Warden Finnerty. Carr-Boyd's chances of winning the case were dashed when Adams produced the agreement they had all signed on the Murchison. This lease later became known as the Premier.


In August 1885, a party of six men led by Charles Hall and John Slattery were prospecting in the Kimberley. They found gold in most of the places they prospected and claimed the 500 pounds reward from the Government for having found a new goldfield. Sometime earlier, Carr-Boyd had also been prospecting in the Kimberley, and when he heard about their 500 pounds reward, he disputed their claim. He said that in 1883 he had found a rich reef to the west of where the others found their gold and that he had sent several hundred-weight of stone to Melbourne. The Government, after examining all the evidence, decided in favour of Slattery, Hall and party.


However, his gold finds and legal battles are less interesting than his fantastic stories that were published in the local newspapers at the time. He regularly gave lectures, "where the admission price was small, but the amusement promised is in inverse ratio". One such article appeared in the Kalgoorlie Miner in 1896. This reported that Mr W. Carr-Boyd made a journey between Lake Carey in Western Australia and the Warrina railway station on the northern railway of South Australia. His party used six camels and travelled 519 miles. The Kalgoorlie Miner quoted Carr-Boyd's interview with The Geographic Journal, which is as follows: "In my opinion, the country between Lake Carey and Harlee Springs, which has been generally referred to, as 'an appalling desert' is well adapted for cattle and horses, with plenty of mulga and other sorts of bush suitable for fodder. Sheep probably would not survive, as there is little grass. All that is needed to render the whole country suitable for stock is to bore for water and open up various soaks or springs. We met natives at various times along the route from Mt Shenton to within 150 miles of Warrina. We saw fresh tracks daily. The only trouble we had was near the South Australian border and in spite of all our efforts to be friendly; a solitary native attacked me (Carr-Boyd) with a club. We saw no signs of stone weapons or implements as they were all made of wood. These natives were unlike any I have had experience with before. They are bone eaters, grinding down the bones of animals they had killed with seeds and mixing them with a little water before cooking."

More colourful articles about Carr-Boyd appeared in a Kalgoorlie newspaper called The Sun. The following piece was written in September 1899: "That placid romancer and bar explorer of Coolgardie's early days, Carr-Boyd, not long ago in London started a series of class lectures for mining students who had never been abroad, and at the same time dispensing much weird information to the jackeroo geologists and mineralogists regarding the modes of travelling and living when seeking the omnipotent ounces in the internals of Western Australia. After a month's teaching, he took them on a practice exploring trip through Epping Forest."

He was still in England two month's later when The Sun reported: "In a recent number of a Harmsworth periodical that calm bush liar, Carr-Boyd, worst prospector and best mate a man could possibly have, spreads himself and his switchback history over sundry pages of letterpress and pictures. Time was when this veteran did lucrative business with the jackeroo prospectors of early Coolgardie. Having led a party of these out to Mt Burgess he would continue for days cruising around that mighty range. When the water ran short he anchored the timorous band who imagined themselves up the Torres Straits and left with a camel (and cash) to hunt for the water tree, which he never failed to find at a condenser in Coolgardie. After a spree and a sing-song he usually went out again to the new-chums, who were half-mad with terror at his long absence. When asked if he could describe the wonderful water tree he solemnly informed them that he had the secret as well as a map clearly tattooed on his chest and if he died they were to cut the skin off that part and use it to save their lives."


In 1912 a group of men in Coolgardie were talking about explorers and the hardships they suffered. Carr-Boyd said, 'Don't you skite about exploration and privation unless you have to bait your fish hooks with a piece of flesh cut out of your leg.' Some of the company looked amazed and Carr showed them his corrugated calf. He said that this happened while he was up in the Cambridge Gulf: One of them asked if he had ever been near death. Carr-Boys said that he had: I was leading a company of English jackaroos out near Mt Burgess and kidded them they were up near the tropics. The jackeroos wanted to know what would happen if I should get bitten by a serpent and die? How would they find our way back to Coolgardie? 'Easy', I replied, 'On my chest, there is a tattooed map of the district and if I die, skin me and use my pelt as a guide.' Carr-Boyd went on. 'Would you believe it? I caught one of them trying to poison me! Poison me to get the locality of a gold-mine I had tattooed near my armpit!' 'What sort of poison did he try?' asked one of the crowd, but before Carr could answer a young man stood up and apologised for having tried to assassinate him. He explained, 'We tried to poison him by pouring plain water in his mouth while he slept'. 'You scoundrel', roared Carr. 'I often wondered how I got that sudden attack of pneumonia.'


The Sunday Times of 19 August 1917 reported that: "It was said in the Old Camp, as Coolgardie was then known as, that when the old battler was hard up, he hit upon the idea of personally conducting the new-chum scions of English nobility into the wilds of Australia so that they might write home to wondering Dukes and Earls an account of their adventures. He did quite a brisk business in taking them on camels around and again around Mt. Burgess, 12 miles as the crow flies from Bayley-street, camping from time to time and feasting from hampers, irrigated with champagne - at £100 per head. He had a party of about 20 blacks, decorated in war paint, planted in the bush, and they made a sham attack on each fresh contingent that happened along. Of course, the jackaroos had rifles and revolvers and blazed away for dear life. But Carr-Boyd had provided only blank cartridges! He was quite capable of working a payable pantomime of that kind and chuckled over it years afterwards"


The same article then tells of another time when he was entertaining some Victorian gentlemen of Dromana: "We were running a bit short of tucker out at a cannibal-infested place beyond Pendinnie, and the boys had asked me to make the best of the only commodity we had - some flour - until the stores arrived. I was just making a plain damper when I see a scrub eagle with the heart of an emu on the ground. The eagle flew when I threw a stone at it and dropped the heart, but as I couldn't track the bird through the air to wherever the niggers had given the bird the heart - they do it from an ancient religious custom - I had to be content with the heart. I put the heart into one damper and the rubber sole of one of my old camp shoes into the other, well boiling both the heart and the rubber sole first. When they broke open one damper they found the heart, and when they cut the other they pulled out the rubber sole. They thus had bread, meat and fish on the menu - the damper, the heart, and fish (the sole). The Dromana soak smocial passed a resolution to the effect that Mr Carr Boyd's bump of truthfulness seems to have sustained a severe blow early in youth, and that his capacity for veracity unvarnished was at a very low ebb!"


In 1947, Mr F. Bateson read the following about Carr-Boyd to members of the newly formed Historical Society in Kalgoorlie. "Early in 1894, I was offered and accepted a position on The Star of the East goldmine, eighteen miles east northeast of Nannine. Many parties passed through the Star on their way to Lake Way, now Wiluna. The most astounding of these was a party of young Englishmen of good family and means and they were led by Carr-Boyd who brought them out with him from England to take out prospecting. They were a circus: two spring carts, three horses in each with paid drivers - one to look after the horses and the other to cook and flunkey. The carts looked as though they were going to open an emporium in the centre of Australia. Wire stretches, kapok mattresses, marquees, stools, canvas washbasins and baths.

The men themselves were in keeping: two revolvers, a sheaf knife and a watch on their belts and a small rifle slung over their shoulder. Each were wearing riding breeches, top boots and spurs and with white helmets on their head. Carr-Boyd, in his wisdom and seeing how raw they were, took them out to Quinn's and by way of breaking them in set them to work dry-blowing and testing a reef But this broke them up instead; they only stuck it for a fortnight."


In 1903, one of the journalists of The Sun interviewed a Hindu gentleman who told him of his experiences with Carr-Boyd:

"I am the unfortunate fool who paid for Carr-Boyd's latest prospecting trip. I started with him from Mt Malcolm on June 29th on an agreement drawn up by a local solicitor by which I was to get a third of that big mountain of gold he was sure of finding in the wilderness. He said he knew exactly where it was and could hit it in a straight line without any trouble.

Being a stranger to the plausible one I fell in with the plan. I was to find the camels and he the rest. I paid for the camels and we started on the expedition. We put in a month at Laverton where, after a lot of persuasion he bought sixteen pounds worth of rations. That did not go far so I bad to buy fresh rations and all other things for the prospecting trip.

On our trip with only two camels, we went about 250 miles south-east of Laverton. Carr-Boyd could not keep his course for an hour. Bad bushmanship. When he circled too much he would blame the weather and swear gammon blind, and on my inexperienced self fell the task of steering us through the spinifex. We had one narrow escape. We had run out of water and just before we got to Mt Shenton we found an unexpected waterhole. Now let me relate the truth about that Reward Claim, called the Lord Kitchener, which is supposed to be Carr-Boyd's find. It was Harry Swincer who took us to that claim at Cosmo Newberry, which was worked by Bob Kirkpatrick in 1897. Now Carr-Boyd got lame on arrival at Cosmo and would not shift from the tent or water, which was three miles from the claim. At first, Swincer and I started fossicking and then we found a new leader showing gold. Swincer soon departed and I worked it myself for about three weeks.

The day I was starting for Laverton I took Carr-Boyd, who was apparently well again, over to show him the workings. He first wanted to take up the Reward Claim in bis own name. Just think of it! My camels, my rations, my tools, my labour and finding I was not to have my name on the lease paper. But I insisted and both our names were affixed to the application. Yet he gets all the credit of discovery. He is the man the papers say found the new goldfield.

I left the impostor in disgust, as it is against my religion to work with such as he. My object in telling you this is to save other unfortunate strangers from being imposed on by Carr-Boyd's skiting."

The journalist added:

"He (the Hindu) is not the first to fall victim to the ever-romancing Carr-Boyd. He knocked out a crust in the early days of Coolgardie by fastening on to unsuspecting English Johnnies who he induced to fit out prospecting expeditions, which invariably degenerated into picnics when the town was left behind. As soon as the grog and provender ran out he played on the new chum's feelings with harrowing tales of the bush and they were always glad to return to Coolgardie."


In January 1908 Carr-Boyd was in the newspapers once again. He was subpoenaed, much against his will, to give evidence before the Canning Royal Commission and responded by giving that extraordinary tribunal sufficient exploring lore to last a lifetime - How to locate water, to tell a kangaroo's track from a dingo's and how to find the nearest mulga pub by means of a divining rod - all these were subjects tackled by Carr-Boyd. 'Never chain a nigger up and treat him unkindly' says Carr, 'but if he attacks one of your party shoot him at sight.'


In June 1905, Carr-Boyd was in Laverton where he wrote a letter to the Minister for Mines referring to the country in the vicinity of the Cosmo-Newberry Hills. This reads in part.

I have just returned from a three-months trip to the Cosmo-Newberry Hills, where I feel certain a good payable goldfield will shortly be opened up. We struck permanent water at fifteen feet, and it gave a supply of 300 gallons per 24 hours. I opened up a nice track, which cuts off about 25 miles from the old one. We have discovered some splendidly watered pastoral country ..."


This letter could have had some effect as in August there was the following item in the Western Argus:

"The Cosmo-Newberry district, where Mr Carr-Boyd has been prospecting for a long time, and whose claims to be ranked as a profitable producer he has always strenuously advocated, is at length to receive a fair trial. The Government has placed 25 camels at Mr Boyd's disposal to cart the stone to the State Battery in Laverton and has also guaranteed him a free crushing. Mr Carr-Boyd states he will bring in at least 30 tons of stone. Carr-Boyd would have been disappointed with the results of his crushing. He took about 25 tons of stone to the battery, which yielded less than half an ounce of gold to the ton. He had expected much more. However, this did not dampen his optimism and he still claimed that there was plenty of gold around Cosmo Newberry"


In 1910, Carr-Boyd was still trying to promote the Cosmo-Newberry field and gave a public lecture on the subject in Boulder:

The lecture ended in a fiasco and so few were present that they had their money returned. Boyd asserts that with the inevitable collapse of Kalgoorlie sooner or later and if no fresh goldfield was found to take its place, the apathetic people of Boulder will have to hump Matilda and Boyd feels very sore that his efforts to show the people where to hump Matilda to has been treated with apathy, if not with scorn.

"However, Boyd has induced the two Diamals to visit Cosmo-Newberry, and as they are not given to skiting, their opinion will do more for Carr-Boyd's pet field than blowing a trumpet consisting of a gum leaf."


On December 25 1917, the Kalgoorlie Miner stated he had just returned from Canada and the USA, where he had been interesting people in investing money in his gold leases in Western Australia. An article published in the Sunday Times of Perth in 1937 provides some details of what occurred on this tour. While there, he was interviewed by a journalist called E Brewer. "The interview was staged in the lounge of one of the fashionable broadway hotels. Being a natural entertainer, he delighted them with scandalous tales of his adventures in the outback. He advised the ladies that he had to eat the camps cats and dogs. 'But, oh! do tell me,' piped a pretty little maiden. 'Did they suffer much,Mr. Carr-Boyd?' The explorer pondered. 'No, they did not.' he assured her. 'They died each in turn a sudden and dramatic death.' He paused for effect, and then protested: 'If you, my dear young lady, had lived as I had lived three weeks on a pair of stewed green-hide hobbles an explanation would have been unnecessary. Those heroic animals died without a murmur to supply provender for our famishing camp.' 'But surely you never ate your camp dogs, Mr Carr-Boyd?' interposed another lady. "'I assure you,' he replied. 'And let me tell you that the bull terrier, apart from a slight doggy flavour, made a dish for a Duke - as delicious as that of any nigger I ever tasted.' This was too much for the ladies, who shrank away from the reciter, but he pulled his fierce white moustache and went on: 'As luck would have it, just as the last of the bull terrier disappeared a stray nigger from spinifex veldt stumbled into our camp. He was seized before he could say scat. Our cook felt the fellow's ribs and remarked that he was too hot and would be better kept till the morning.' He paused, and resumed in a painful tone, sorrow saturated: 'But in the morning that nigger had struck out for fresh fields and pastures new.' And so did his audience, in horrified and scandalised silence. Carr-Boyd smiled and winked solemnly at the ceiling - and the reporter. Then he sank into an easy chair and lit a fragrant cigarette. But the interview went on, and the reporter reflects that the face of the old spinifex corsair brought up visions of buccaneers, preferably Sir Henry Morgan, though a closer look at the lines about his mouth revealed that there was a suggestion of Chicot the Jester. He finished the interview stating: "I have been accused of being everything from a cannibal to a Tasmanian tiger"- extinct now. "I am neither - my parents were poor, but Irish - good Irish - and I have tried to do them credit." But Carr-Boyd was more than a joker. He was born at sea in 1852 while his parents were bound for Tasmania. In his youth the family crossed to the mainland and he started his wanderings at the age of 11, and claimed to have made 18 expeditions into the centre and North-West of Australia, and was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He was all through the Kimberley country and went there with the big gold rush in 1884. When that petered out he came down south and did some exploring until 1890, when gold was found on the Murchison. He was in Coolgardie soon after Arthur Bayley had won gold from the alluvial leads of Fly Flat. When all the well-known diggings were worked out he went to the Cosmo-Newbury hills on the edge of the spinifex. He sank a shaft on stone that assayed moderately, but as the locality was 100 miles northeast of Laverton it was not attractive to investors. But it showed his grit and determination, which were the traits of the real Carr-Boyd. He loved Australia and as the New York journalist remarked - "he had but one failing - a whimsical sense of humour, and because of this humour, which often gets out of control, he as been-called the modern Munchausen."

The name of Carr-Boyd lives on. His exploration was recognised by giving his name to the Carr-Boyd Ranges in the Kimberly, Carr-Boyd Rocks in the Eastern Goldfields and, in the 1970s, a mine, the Carr-Boyd Nickel Mine was named after him.


Photo from the Sunday Times (Perth) 20 June 1938 p13 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/58782501


https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/57985254

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/57600702

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