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Coo-ee: Funerals, train crashes and gunfights

By Benalla Ensign

When 33-year-old Robert Campbell died in a train collision at Baddaginnie in 1894, his body was taken to his Byrne St home.

Now, Jane, his widow, had to find money for his funeral but she also had to find a means of feeding and clothing herself and two small children.

One child was 18 months old; the other was four years old.

These were the days before widow’s pensions, social welfare and funeral benefits.

Campbell’s workmates in the Victorian Railways Department immediately established the Campbell Fund to provide for his widow and children.

W. S. Fraser was honorary secretary. 

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Among those who contributed were General Frey and officers of the French Navy. They had been travelling in Victoria on the Benalla line at the time of the accident.

Before Federation, the colony explored means by which it could provide for its defence. Many defence experts visited Victoria at that time.

Money for the Campbell Fund poured in from railwaymen, from Benalla residents and from people all over the colony.

By the beginning of 1895, the fund had raised $360 for Jane Campbell and her mother-in-law. By January, they could write a grateful and appreciative letter published in the Argus newspaper thanking all those who had donated to the fund.

Almost exactly one year after the Campbell Fund raised money for Jane Campbell and her children, the McEvoy Memorial Committee was raising money for the wives and children of those who had died when a sludge river had poured into the McEvoy gold mine in Eldorado, trapping four men out of reach of rescuers.

More than one hundred years later, each tragedy is marked by memorials to the men killed in the Benalla and Eldorado cemeteries respectively. Both of these can safely presumed to have been erected using money raised by these donations. 

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In Greta cemetery, there is a monument erected by public subscription. It honours Private William Petty. He died of enteric fever, now known as typhoid, at Pretoria on December 27, 1900 during the Boer War.

Typhoid is passed by the contamination of water or food by the faeces of an infected person.

Without antibiotic treatment, 16 per cent of those infected die. In the Boer War, more Australians died from enteric fever than were lost in battle.

Petty was 23 years old and a member of the 3rd Bushmen's Contingent. A total of $29.40 was raised.

Subscriptions also allowed the erection of a monument to John Barnes in Cootamundra cemetery. 

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Barnes, a prosperous storeowner, was shot dead by the bushranger John O’Meally in 1863.

He had refused to give up his horse and saddle to O’Meally.

O’Meally rode with the bushranging gang of Frank Gardiner and then with Ben Hall.

Three months later, Ben Hall’s gang tried to rob Goimbla station near Eugowra in NSW.

The Campbell family, who owned the station, fought off Ben Hall’s gang during a two-hour gun battle. O’Meally was shot dead during this showdown.

- John Barry, Coo-ee