Nurses Cecelia Bauer (back centre) and Rose Adelaide Wiles (far right).
Nurses Cecelia Bauer (back centre) and Rose Adelaide Wiles (far right).

HEARTBREAKING: Six tragedies that shocked the region

MARYBOROUGH has a long and proud history.

But much of it has been marked by tragic events, disease and tales of loss and sacrifice.

From the pneumonic plague to a tale of a young soldier whose life was cut short, it's hard not to be moved by the difficult times the city has experienced since it was settled.

Here are six shocking tragedies Maryborough has faced.

6. The outbreak of the pneumonic plague

It was 1905.

Maryborough was a thriving port, importing wool, meat, timber and other products.

In May 1905, John O'Connell came down with a mysterious illness.

His family had no money and delayed sending for a doctor for as long as possible.

At the time dengue fever was in epidemic proportions in the city and as the symptoms are similar, John was wrongly diagnosed.

John's father Richard, known in the town as a drunk, was often absent from his family.

His mother had died 18 months before.

John was the eldest son and worked as a clerk in a warehouse near the river.

The other children in the O'Connell family were Kate, James, Ritchie, May, Ellen and Mary.

The family lived in appalling conditions and with no money for food, they relied on the generosity of neighbours and scavenging to make ends meet.

As John's health worsened, Kate went to a neighbour's house for help.

Letetia Edwards came to the small cottage and did what she could to nurse John, but she soon realised he was dying.

She did what she could to soothe him, but by morning he was dead.

Some of the other children started showing symptoms.

James and Ellen were very ill and although Kate and May weren't quite as sick, all four were taken to Maryborough Hospital.

Ritchie and Mary were sent to stay with another woman as Mrs Edwards had also become ill.

The following day they too were taken to the hospital as they were also showing symptoms.

Nurse Rose Wiles volunteered to care for the children and a fellow nurse, Cecelia Bauer, was summoned by letter to assist her.

Cecelia was only weeks away from getting married.

On May 31, Ellen and James died and Mrs Edwards also passed away.

An autopsy on Ritchie confirmed all the signs of pneumonic plague.

On June 2, Mary died and the O'Connell cottage was burned down.

Cecelia, who had been almost constantly with the children, started to show signs of illness.

On June 5, Nurse Rose also started showing symptoms.

Cecelia died on June 6, while Rose died on June 12.

A third nurse who came down with the plague, Nurse Sprague, eventually recovered.

The sacrifice of the nurses, who refused to let anyone come to their assistance for fear the disease would spread, has long been commemorated in Maryborough.

Next to Maryborough City Hall a fountain stands in honour of Cecelia and Rose, while a mural was painted in Kent St commemorating the outbreak of the plague and the sacrifice of the nurses.

5. Tragic loss of a young soldier

At the end of the First World War, Richard Warne couldn't wait to return home to his family.

The Maryborough soldier had fought bravely for his country, proving himself on the battlefield of France and working tirelessly as a stretcher-bearer bringing in the wounded.

At the end of the war, Richard was sent to England on leave to await his return to Australia.

Finally arriving back in Australia, he was passed fit in a final medical in Brisbane on August 22, 1919, and he sent a telegram to his family telling them he would catch the first available train from Brisbane, which would arrive in Owanyilla on August 25.

Richard was released early and thought he would surprise his family by catching an earlier train that would arrive early in the morning.

But having boarded, Richard discovered the train would not be stopping at Owanyilla.

He pleaded with the driver to make an unscheduled stop.

The driver refused, but said he would slow down to allow Richard to jump.

About 5am, as the train approached Owanyilla, it slowed.

Richard threw his kitbag, saw it land safely on the platform, then jumped.

But the train was going too fast and Richard completely missed the platform, bouncing along the ground and hitting a large rock with such force he was thrown under the wheels of the train.

The lower portion of his right leg was shattered and he suffered a compound fracture of the skull.

About 7am he was found by Eva Lay, the wife of the local linesman, who noticed his kitbag and found Richard barely breathing.

Eva raced to the nearest farm for help - which happened to be the property of Richard's family, his father Richard and mother Clara.

When they arrived at the scene, they saw the battered form of the young solider only to discover it was their own son.

Ambulance officers attended the scene and Clara cradled her son's battered head while they took him to hospital in Maryborough.

But before they could make it, Richard died in his mother's arms.

The citizens of Maryborough contributed funds to have a monument erected over the young man's grave.

He was just 21 when he died.

4. Dingoes steal a two-year-old child

The shocking disappearance of a two-year-old boy in 1880 made headlines in the Maryborough Chronicle.

The tragedy unfolded when a woman left her small son on the veranda while she attempted to drive some cattle out of a paddock at Munna Creek near Miva.

Her boy was missing when she returned just 10 minutes later.

Neighbours helped her search, but, finding no sign of the boy, the police were called.

After four days of looking for the toddler, the search was abandoned.

The bereaved parents believed the child had been stolen from the veranda and eaten by wild dingoes.

Two days before dingoes in the neighbourhood were seen stealing pigs and even a large goat.

A couple of days after the boy's disappearance, dingoes were seen prowling around the property.

The little boy was wearing light clothing, was shoeless and suffering from a sore foot that prevented him from walking on rough ground.

Locals said it was impossible that he could have strayed away from the house.

3. Murder-suicide in Maryborough

In June, 1894, Maryborough was rocked by a shocking murder-suicide.

A pregnant mother, Marian Spence, forced five of her children to drink carbolic acid, then consumed some herself.

Only the youngest child survived, but would likely be disfigured for life, the Chronicle reported.

The children's father was away at the time.

The eldest child also survived when he ran away from his mother, who was also trying to make him drink the poison.

A doctor operated on Mrs Spence in an effort to save her unborn child, but he was unsuccessful.

According to the Maryborough Chronicle, she had spoken that day about ending her life with poison, but no one had taken her seriously.

2. A bridge with a shocking history

When rehabilitation worked started on the 130 year old Miva bridge, it brought back memories of a tragic history.

There were at least three deaths during the building of the bridge, which officially opened on June 1, 1886.

The most well-known was the disappearance of a worker who was presumed to have died while wheeling a barrow of cement to tip into one of the four big steel cylinders.

It is believed the man wheeled his barrow over the edge and he and his barrow fell into the wet cement.

No one actually saw it happened, but neither the man nor his barrow were ever seen again and it is believed several other barrow loads were quickly tipped on top of him.

It is presumed his remains are still entombed in one of the cylinders on the bridge.

1. A mum loses six babies

The terrible story of a Maryborough mother who lost six babies is sure to touch even the hardest of hearts.

The headstone of Mary Ann Jones and her six babies is located at Maryborough Cemetery.

She married George Jones at 23 and in early 1971 she fell pregnant.

Her son, William Henry, was born on September 23, 1871.

For the first few weeks of his life the baby thrived.

But then in the exhausting heat of the Australian summer, he fell ill.

For eight days his mother nursed him, his body burning with fever and shaken by convulsions.

On December 7, 1871 he died at just 10 weeks old.

She fell pregnant again in 1874.

In October that year a second son was born, John William Jones.

Just 10 days into his short life, he fell ill with bronchitis and he died four days later.

Mary fell pregnant with her third child and a daughter was born in July, 1876.

She was named Emma Martha.

When the baby was six months old she suddenly became ill and developed convulsions.

Within 12 hours she was dead.

Each of George and Mary's babies died in the summer.

In 1977, Mary had twins, who she named after the sons she had lost.

When the babies were two months old John was taken ill.

William was already fighting for life, having been born small and weak.

The death of little William was followed nine days later by the death of his his brother.

In 1879, Mary had another son.

Named Osborne William, when he was two months old he developed a cold and was ill for seven weeks until he died in February 1880.

Mary was 33.

She died on September 19, 1899 at just 52 years of age.

George erected her headstone "In Loving Memory" of Mary and her six infant children.

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