On 18 November 1899 Thomas (Tom) Flanagan was buried in the White Hills Cemetery and his grave remained unmarked for 94 years. It was on 11 April 1993 the City of Bendigo and the Bendigo Cemeteries Trust hosted representatives of the City of Kalgoorlie – Boulder, and the Western Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy, who had erected a memorial headstone to commemorate Tom Flanagan’s role in Australian History.
Who was Tom Flanagan and why the reason for the Ceremony? A clue is in the name of the city – Kalgoorlie. The answer is gold. Flanagan and his mates Paddy Hannan and Dan Shea are acknowledged as the founders of the Kalgoorlie goldfields in 1893, which rivals the wealth of Bendigo’s discovery of gold in 1851.
Kalgoorlie became a thriving city out of a waterless waste land. For Paddy Hannan, statues were erected, a street named after him and his name lingers on. Dad had a tombstone to marke his grave in the Karrakatta Cemetery noting “A discovery of Hannans (Kalgoorlie) 1893. Died on 9 September, Perth W.A. Erected by the Government of Western Australia.
But what of Tom Flanagan?
Thomas Flanagan was born in County Clare, Ireland to Michael and Mary (nee Lyons). Tom and his older brother John emigrated to Australia in the early 1850’s with early immigrants to the goldfields. As did Paddy Hannan, who was also born in County Clare. John Flanagan married Margaret O’Halloran in 1861. Before John’s early death in 1864, aged 35 years, 2 infant children were also buried in the White Hills Cemetery leaving a son Michael to carry on the Flanagan name. The widow Margaret married William Higgs and they continued to live at Howard Street, Quarry Hill.
Meanwhile, Tom and Paddy travelled Australia in various mining pursuits. At the time of Tom’s death it was recorded he had spent 16 years in New South Wales, 29 years in Victoria and 4 years in Western Australia, where he met with Paddy at Coolgardie in 1889.
On June 7th 1893 rumours of a gold find abounded and many men headed North-East towards Mount Youle. Flanagan and Hannan left a few days later together. After a week or so they found some “colour” and meeting up with Dan Shea, gave him a share of the claim.
Speaking in 1897 of their famous discovery Paddy Hannah related, “As we were getting excellent gold we decided to report for a reward claim and on June 17 I left to return to Coolgardie… The news of our find soon got abroad, there was much excitement and men set out for the scene.”
At the same time Tom said “I picked up two small pieces of gold. Next morning I walked along the base of the hills and saw gold lying on the sand in a small watercourse…. I was afraid to pick it up as some of the (other) men might see me from the top of the hill above so I threw an old bush on it and told Hannan and Dan Shea of my discovery.” Tom and Dan collected more gold while Paddy went to Coolgardie.
In the Coolgardie Police daily occurrence book it is recorded that “on 17 June Paddy Hannan told that he and Thomas Flanagan discovered payable alluvial gold about 30 miles East-North-East of Coolgardie.”
A similar situation had arisen in Bendigo in 1891 when a Government Select Committee offered a reward to the discoverer of gold on the Bendigo diggings in 1851. There were many claimants but the reward was never paid. It was determined that gold was known of in the 1840’s by shepherds. Margaret Kennedy and Julia Farrell were credited with finding gold in a creek and henry Frenchman reported the discovery.
A Bendigo journalist and historian wrote in an article for the Bendigo Advertiser on 30 March 1993, “The fact is, it was Flanagan who first came across the gold there and Hannan was the first to make it public (or discover it) by reporting to the Warden.”
Tom Flanagan never married but did keep close family ties with his brother’s widow Margaret, and his nephew Michael Flanagan. In November 1899 he suffered a long bout of influenza complicated by chronic chest congestion. He died on 16 November without any mention in any daily newspaper.
In 1980 his grave was discovered in a clump of Flax Lilies and flowering Sour Grass, with a metal peg marked with the (interment) number 13913.
The belatedly erected headstone now records forgotten history, “In memory of Thomas Flanagan, a discoverer of the Kalgoorlie W.A. Mining Field. 1893. Died 16 November 1899.”
Sources: “Paddy Hannan – A Claim to Fame” by Tess Thomson 1993.
“Kalgoorlie Lives”, Readers Digest, September 1974.
Bendigo Advertiser, March 30 & April 12, 1993.
R.P.C.V. Cemetery Records.