In 1912, nearly 370km east of Perth, lay the Bullfinch Proprietary Mine. It was located over 30km north of the town of Southern Cross. Gold had been discovered there in 1910, setting off a wave of pegged leases, companies floated and people investing their life savings. On the particular day of January 4 three men - Leonard Cullen, Harry Trott and Ernest Haynes - were working the main mine shaft for Bullfinch.
The men had just set up 11 drilled holes with charges in them to be set off. After the fuses were lit, the men clambered into the bucket, that was used to transport them up and down the shaft, and gave the signal to be lifted out.
At about five or six feet one of the charges exploded causing such an impact that it knocked both Harry and Ernest out of the bucket. They fell back down the shaft where other charges were about to explode. Despite knowing there were eight charges about to go off, Leonard gave the signal to be lowered back down so he could rescue his co-workers.
When he arrived back at the bottom of the shaft Leonard had to look for his friends in the dark. Believing that both Ernest and Harry were in the bucket, Leonard climbed back in and sent up the message to hoist them. On the way back up Leonard realised that Ernest was in the bucket but not Harry.
Leaving Ernest on an upper level, for the second time Leonard sent the message to lower him back down to the bottom of the shaft. All around him charges were exploding, as he descended. He was choking on the fumes. He knew he could most certainly die. In the darkness he managed to find Harry, covered in debris, and placed him in the bucket.
For his bravery and saving the lives of his two co-workers Leonard was presented with the Clarke gold medal of the Royal Humane Society of Australia, by the Governor, Sir Gerald Strickland. A few months later Ernest wrote his own account of the event which was published in the newspaper, disputing some of the account. He then disappeared from public accounts.
In 1925 a small article appeared in a local Western Australian newspaper to advise that 'The hero of one of the most thrilling rescues in the history of mining' had died and been buried in a cemetery in South Africa. It was Leonard Cullen.
Harry Trott's grave in Fremantle. Photo: Billion Graves
Harry Trott lived until 1953 and was buried next to his wife Ada in Fremantle Cemetery.
* 'Forgotten Hero', The Wyalkatchem Wheatsheaf and Bencubbin Banner, Tuesday 27 January, 1925, Page 3
* 'The Bullfinch Accident - A New Version', The Southern Cross Times, Wednesday, 23 October 1912, Page 2