Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

When I noticed that there was a new South West newspaper (the Southern Times) on the brink of being digitised on Trove, I immediately went about searching for the first surname that popped into my head and the one that is generally on my mind the most: Crampton.

1894 was selected and I scrolled through the results eagerly. There it was. It wasn’t available yet but that didn’t matter. The words ‘Crampton’, ‘sister’, ‘wandered down’ and ‘standing alone’ were enough to tell me that I’d found a new article about the disappearance of Thomas Lisle Crampton and from the scant words provided in the preview, there were new details.


I clicked the email icon and requested that I be notified as soon as it was ready. I tried to hold on. I really did. I reminded myself of delayed gratification. I could wait. I could be patient. Truth be told, I couldn’t. The story of little Thomas continues to sit with me and I continue to ponder over it. I was not going to wait for Trove to finish the digitisation process. I needed to know if there was new information. Desperate for answers, the State Library of Western Australia provided them.

A little boy aged 3, the son of Mr. T. Crampton of the Collie, accompanied by his sister aged 5 wandered down a gully near his parents’ home on Sunday. After going some distance the girl wished to return home and endeavoured to induce her little brother to accompany her but failing in this she returned and left him standing alone. Mr. Crampton was out kangarooing at the time and on his return he tried to find his son but was unsuccessful. After spending all the evening in the search without success he went down to Mr Port’s mill for assistance. Word was brought in to Bunbury and Sub-Inspector Clifton and Constable Buck from Bunbury also Sergeant Houlahan from the Vasse have left to aid the search. We understand that about 20 are at present engaged in searching the bush in the vicinity in the hope of finding some trace of the poor little fellow but his recovery alive is now considered extremely doubtful.

One article has provided a completely new outlook on the mystery. Little Thomas wasn’t alone, he was with his sister, Daisy. He was also left alone in the bush when Daisy decided to go back home. Unfortunately, what happened to him after Daisy left will probably never be known.

A more accurate picture of where the family home was situated was also provided. The Crampton family lived West of Collie and by all appearances, also west of Allanson. The house was near a gully  and somewhat close by to J.C. Port’s Number 1 Mill (known back then as the Collie Timber Mill). It’s also very likely they lived close by a river.

No mention is made of Matilda Maria Hurst and her illness but the children walking off to explore a gully indicates to me that perhaps she wasn’t quite “aware” of what was going on around her. It’s all speculation but it’s possible Thomas Crampton blamed her for the children wandering off and for little Thomas’s subsequent disappearance. The situation however seems so commonplace and innocent (children do wander off) that I find myself questioning just how insane Tilly actually was. If her mental illness was a mild one, she certainly would never (and didn’t) have the opportunity to recover in the asylum.

It amazes me. I dig and dig and dig for records and after all the digging, I generally find most of what’s available. I accept that what I’ve found is probably all there is to find and what I know is probably all I can ever know. But then, something pops up (seemingly out of nowhere) and turns everything on its head. Much of the story is still exactly the same but the finer details add so much more and paint a much vibrant picture of the situation. They also help me to take one more small step towards uncovering a family mystery.

State Library of Western Australia; Southern Times; Thursday, 20 September 1894; page 3; ‘News and Notes’ [Call No. 994.12/SOU].

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