The rain was picking up pace as O’Reilly finally dossed down to sleep. The downpour was deafening, but O’Reilly couldn’t have slept, anyway.
After two years of hard slog, that very morning, he and Greenaway had finally found gold in their pans from their endless sieving at Savage Gully.
They whooped and hugged and shared more than a dram of whiskey. Their hoots went out to an indifferent forest; in the Tasmanian wilderness, there was no one else around for 100 miles.
It was mid winter, and although they largely lived off the land – hunting and fishing and growing their own food – their meagre finances were rapidly dwindling and times lately had been grim indeed.
The rain returned with a vengeance, and they retired to their respective tents, having an early night, warm under their sheepskins.
The forest closed in around Michael O’Reilly and he got the heebeejeebies.
He’s never got used to the weird animal calls and wind in the trees of the dense wilderness. He would be glad to be out of here, as soon as possible.
But something else was gnawing at him. He soon realised that the gold they’d panned today was a fair haul, but was only enough to buy one man a bit of land, or a house, or a flock of sheep. It wouldn’t sustain two men.
The rain put paid to further panning for two days, but the men felt they’d earned a rest. But a thought came in to O’Reilly’s head.
If Greenaway were to …. disappear, who would even know? Greenaway had intimated he wasn’t married, and his family were dead. An unholy plot formed. If O’Reilly bashed Greenaway with a large rock, and pushed the body down a chasm, then the gold would be O’Reilly’s.
In the second tent, 20 feet away, Thomas Greenaway was tossing and turning. He had a sore head from the whiskey he’d imbibed, and it was impossible to get comfortable with just sheepskin and a layer of canvas between his body and the rocky ground.
Greenaway’s mind was racing. He knew that the gold they’d found was only just enough to make a living for one man, and that man was him.
O’Reilly, although a hale fellow at his best, was an ex-convict, a fact Greenaway had stumbled on by meeting an old mate of O’Reilly’s in Burnie just before they set out for the wilderness.
O’Reilly was an old man, Greenaway reasoned. He’d lived a tough life, sure, but a full life. What if O’Reilly were to have… an accident with the fire? No one would miss him. Oh, sure, Greenaway would miss the old Irish imp’s bawdy company over the fire.
But the gold would be his, alone. Greenaway was a young man, still, and could start afresh with a good sum, and not have to share it.
GOLD FEVER LED TO KILLING, SAYS PRIEST
Tuesday June 25, 1882.
All Souls Parish, Waratah
The Reverend Stephen parsons related a curious incident to the congregation at his monthly service at Waratah Church on Sunday.
He told the story of two gold prospectors, Messrs O’Reilly and Greenaway.
Rev. Parsons heard the tale from a parishioner, an Owen Jones, who had happened upon a frightful melee while walking through forest up Savage River way.
Mr Jones, an itinerant miner, had heard of the pair’s gold claim and wished to enquire of their progress, hoping to find work with them.
As he approached their remote camp on Wednesday last, in heavy undergrowth, he heard shouts and screams.
Mr Jones witnessed an older, wiry, heavily whiskered man, now known to him as O’Reilly, wielding a heavy fry pan. Jones said that O’Reilly crept up behind a young, tall, black haired man from behind and whacked him with the pan in the head.
The younger man, who Jones later learned was named Greenaway, had been tending a cooking fire, and although weakened by a blow to the head, grabbed the dry end of a burning log from the fire, and turned and thrust it as O’Reilly, hitting him in the chest.
There ensued an alarming brawl between the two men – a hand to hand wrestle involving eye gouging, punching, kicking and screaming.
Jones was, at this time, too far away to intervene, and he feared for his life; the men were demented, he said.
O’Reilly grabbed a length of pipe and with an animalistic cry, charged at Greenaway, spearing him in the stomach.
With a flare of final energy, Greenaway removed a cooking knife from his belt, and stabbed O’Reilly to the head. Both men fell slowly to their knees, and keeled over, face forward.
Having rushed to the campsite and ascertained both men’s demise, Mr Jones rushed many miles to Waratah to alert Mr Bowen, the police sergeant.
The bodies were conveyed to Sully’s hotel for the inquest; the causes of death attributed to murder related to a hot blooded disagreement.
From Jones’s account of the men’s argument, it seems that the deceased had, of late, discovered a measure of gold at their long standing Savage River claim, and it was thought that each party wished to dispose of his rival in order to keep all the riches to himself.
In his sermon, Reverend Parsons said it was a grave example of gold fever: how the prizing of money over brotherly love can lead to the savage expression of men’s worst nature.
That is to say, said the good Reverend, that money is the root of all evil. “And let this be a lesson to this community.”
A loud “Amen” was the heartfelt response from the congregation.
Mr O’Reilly and Mr Greenaway will be laid to rest at a graveside service in the church yard to-morrow.