This one - the town hall without a clock - we discovered in the town of Menzies, 130km north of Kalgoorlie in the Western Australian goldfields, when we travelled through Menzies last September on a circuit tour to Cue, once the centre of the Murchison goldfields. I blogged about it here - Cue, Queen of the Murchison
There are many of these little towns scattered throughout the goldfields regions, which were once booming towns in their heyday of gold discovery. Some of them are now abandoned with only a few scattered bricks remaining.
In 1898 a town hall was built in the booming gold town of Menzies, in the Western Australian goldfields, however for many years the clock tower didn’t have a clock. This caused confusion between the residents as there was telegraph time, set many kilometres away, and mine whistle time, which was always twenty minutes earlier than telegraph time.
|This photo was taken of signage in the Menzies main street.|
Finally in 1904 the Town Clerk was instructed to purchase a clock which was shipped from London on the steamer SS Orizaba. However in February 1905 the Orizaba ran aground off the port of Fremantle due to poor visibility caused by heavy smoke haze over the ocean from a month of bush fires along the coast.
Within hours there was twenty feet of water in the engine room and the captain sent word to Fremantle via an Italian fisherman. By 7pm three tugs and three barges were alongside and started salvaging the cargo. The passengers, their belongings, and the mail were transferred to Fremantle.
Six days later the captain and crew left the ship when it started breaking up. About 900 tonnes of cargo was recovered from the ship and several months later winter storms sent the rest of her to the bottom of the ocean.
The fate of the Menzies town hall clock is not known – whether it sunk with the ship, or was salvaged and sold – but the clock never reached Menzies. Nearly one hundred years later Menzies was still without a clock.
In 1999 the Shire of Menzies allocated $16,000 for the purchase of four clocks, designed and built by Perth clockmaker, Derek Morrison, to fit the four faces of the town hall tower. The clocks were unveiled on New Year’s Eve 1999.
In a final twist to history, recent research indicates that the original clock may not have been ordered as there is no record of the order or that it was on the Orizaba. One theory is that the Attorney General used the ship sinking as an excuse not to pay for a clock for a town whose population was declining. Or was there a Menzies clerk feeling relieved that his oversight was never discovered?
Menzies is a lovely little town to visit and explore some of the local historical gold-rush history if you are in the goldfields. They have a very neat caravan park in the centre of town.
Gold was discovered in Menzies in 1894. The population of 10,000 peaked in 1905 and the town boasted 13 hotels, 3 breweries and 3 banks. By 1910 the population had fallen to less than 1,000, due to the decline in gold production and further hastened by World War 1. Population today is less than 200.
My article, which you have just read, was published in the November-December 2018 issue of On The Road Magazine.
Recently I discovered that the Orizaba was indeed ill-fated. In 1889 there was a smallpox outbreak on board and the ship was quarantined in Melbourne. Late in 1889 it collided with the Clan Mackay en route from India. In early April 1903 a crew member was found to have the the plague and he was off-loaded in Egypt, but the ship was treated as an "infected ship" by health authorities when it reached Plymonth. In 1904 an explosion in the engine room killed six crew members.
From "The Way We Were", Western Australian newspaper, 1 December 2018.
Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you have enjoyed this little story about the Menzies clock. Travel can be so fascinating! To find out more about Menzies click here - Menzies
Old ship photos borrowed from the Internet.
Photo of the town hall without a clock taken from heritage signage in the Menzies main street.
For more information on the Town Hall: WA Government Heritage council.
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