Silver City working man
Monday, 7th May, 2018
By Emily Ferguson
More than 100 years after a horse-pulled lorry driver lost his life on the Line of Lode, some of his grandchildren have met for the first time thanks to the city’s Miners’ Memorial, writes Michael Murphy.
John Casey’s great granddaughter Lyn Smith has a passion for heritage, and visits the Silver City often to trace the long forgotten path of her forebears.
Lyn, who resides in Adelaide, has worn her own beaten path to the rooms below Broken Hill’s train station where the volunteers of the Broken Hill Family History Group reside.
While she was there late last year, she found an email from somebody wanting information about the family of John Casey.
That somebody was Lyn Burrett, also from Adelaide, also a great-grand-daughter of John Casey. She found his name at the Miners’ Memorial.
“It was exciting,” Lyn Smith said.
“I went home and sent her an email and said I can give you information about John Casey. What would you like to know?”
Lyn Smith has been researching her family tree for more than 25 years. She has hundreds of historical documents, newspaper cuttings and photographs.
Both Lyns contacted their other relatives in Adelaide, and they all united in January, along with two of John Casey grandsons, both in their 70s, who met for the first time.
“It’s funny how we all look the same,” Lyn Smith said.
“We have similarities in our mannerisms, our hobbies, it’s amazing ...
“They are also passionate about family history.”
John Casey was more than a lorry driver in Broken Hill, he was an influential figure for the working man in the Silver City’s formative years.
John Casey was born in December, 1864, in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland.
A cousin living in Jamestown, South Australia, sponsored his journey to Australia, a passage fee of four pounds, and at the age of 19, John Casey arrived at Glenelg, South Australia, on the ship Hesperus in 1884.
When he entered the country, he was listed as an “agricultural labourer” and he couldn’t read or write.
The young Irishman worked on a farm near Jamestown as a labourer for a few years, before he heard of the new mining boom towns of Silverton and Broken Hill.
He caught a river steamer along the River Murray to Mildura, and then travelled to Broken Hill by horse and dray. He had a keen interest in horses. One of his brothers, Maurice Casey, raced them in Peterborough, and also had a farm in Jamestown.
Using his knowledge of horses, Casey secured a job on the “Big Mine” as a lorry driver.
He also found the love of his life in Broken Hill, Mary Jane McPeak, and married her at the Broken Hill Roman Catholic Cathedral in 1895.
They built a house at the corner of Blende and Iodide streets, had nine children, four of whom had died by the time of John Casey’s death in August, 1913, such was the tough living conditions of the time.
One of his lasting legacies in the city is a popular club in Argent Street.
“While he was here he had this dream,” Lyn Smith said. “He thought that the working men should have a club.
“I think it was initially in his own house, because that’s where he had his home before he moved across the road.
“They had a library there, and I think they had a liquor licence but very few of them actually drank, being Irish you would think that they’d drink, but they didn’t.”
From an old iron and wood dwelling, the Workingmen’s Club grew into the proud two-storey building that stands today in the city’s main street.
Casey was remembered in 1948 when the Barrier Miner recalled the club’s story.
“Because a man asked his mates during crib time why they should not have a club the same as the mine managers, Silver City Workingmen’s Club was born,” the newspaper wrote.
“As a result of John Casey’s insistences that a club be started, 12 men met at the Barrier Club Hotel in November, 1900, and decided to form the club.
“The popularity of the club grew and so did membership, and in 1903 the trustees took possession of the property now occupied in Argent Street.”
The building was rebuilt in stone in 1912 - a year before Casey’s death, a second storey added in 1936.
“He was well-respected by the members of the Silver City Workingmen’s Club, popular with his workmates and well spoken of by all who knew him,” Lyn said.
It was August 25, 1913, the day that John Casey’s life was cut short. He was 46.
A rake of rail trucks struck his horse-pulled lorry and it overturned, pinning Casey underneath it, according to Stan Goodman’s book The Fatal Lodes.
“He was taken to the mine ambulance room, where first aid was administered, but he died approximately half an hour after the accident,” Goodman wrote.
The doctor examined Casey’s body in the ambulance room and found a large scalp wound and three or four broken ribs. The doctor concluded that Casey had died from internal injuries.
“Just prior to the accident, Casey drove up to the slime plant with a lorry and a pair of horses in order to drop off some iron,” Goodman wrote.
“The lorry went over the railway line to the slime plant and as the lorry crossed the line, it was struck by the leading rail truck.
“Casey’s assistant, Francis Tamlyn, signalled to the men on the rail trucks to stop and it appeared to him that the men were trying to apply the brakes.
“It appears that Casey could have jumped from the lorry and saved himself, but he tried to save the horses.”
Following the presentation of evidence at the inquest, the Coroner said Casey “undoubtedly lost his life owing to the want of proper brakes on the trucks”, but it was not the fault of the company.
His funeral cortege had upwards of 50 vehicles. About 100 members of the Silver City Workingmen’s Club preceded the hearse, members of the Barrier Trades and Laborer’s Union, boilermakers and his fellow lorrymen.
“The way in which he stuck to his horses and left himself in the fatal peril in effort to extricate them will stamp his name upon the memory of every lover of horses,” mourners were told.
He was buried in the Catholic section of the Broken Hill cemetery alongside four of his children, one of whom had died just months before he did.
John Casey’s great grand-daughter Lyn Smith was born in Adelaide, both her mother and father have lineage in Broken Hill.
She said finding new pieces of information about her family’s past was very rewarding.
“It is like winning the lottery when you put another piece into your family tree ... it’s like putting a jigsaw together,” she said.
“I volunteer down at the Tea Tree Gully library as a family researcher.
“We have one-on-one sessions ... we come in and sit at computers and go to the ancestry site and other sites, and we show people how to research their family.”
Lyn said the Silver City had a rich past, and encouraged Hillites to delve into it.
“It was a tiny town that started off with a few tents, and what the families and the women had to endure, as well as the men ...
“For me, it is an amazing thing to see what my forebears did to create a town to work in a mine, to put their lives in danger to make a few bob to keep their families together.
“That’s what draws me back, to find their history and to appreciate what they did to make my life how it is today.”