Tragic story behind young farmer’s death

By Geoff Adams

An impressive granite tombstone marks the final resting place of a young farmer in the Shepparton General Cemetery.

The inscription reads ‘accidentally killed’ but it doesn’t tell the story behind the accident that claimed the life of the 27-year-old.

Shortly after Australian federation, horses, rather than tractors, provided the muscle behind hauling, ploughing and harvesting.

Since horses were first hitched up to implements and as machinery got stronger and bigger, there has always been a danger for farmers.

And fate is no respecter of reputations or social standing.

On one autumn day in 1904, the 27-year-old son of prominent Tallygaroopna farmer Hamilton Coldwell was working on a grape harvest at Dookie.

Hamilton Coldwell was the son of Irish immigrants, who selected large tracts of land north of Shepparton and who built the historic Fairley Downs homestead at Bunbartha.

He was a former Shepparton Shire president and also a member of the Shepparton Water Trust.

One of his goals was to improve the rough, flood-prone dirt road between Mooroopna and Shepparton, which eventually became the Peter Ross-Edwards Causeway.

Young Alfred Coldwell was managing his father’s estate called Stoneleigh in the Dookie district on March 4, 1904, when a horse pulling a dray bolted.

Alfred attempted to halt the runaway horse but was tripped by a vine and fell in front of the dray. He sustained head injuries and despite Dr Kelly being summoned from Dookie, he had died within two hours.

“The funeral took place from his parents’ residence on Thursday, the cortege being the largest seen in Tallygaroopna,’’ the Numurkah Leader recorded.

“Many were present from the Dookie district, testifying to the high esteem in which the deceased was held.

“On arrival at the Shepparton cemetery a large number of friends were in waiting to pay their last tribute of respect.”

One other newspaper report from the time, remarked that more than 100 buggies attending the funeral.

Today a large memorial marks the grave of young Alfred in the Methodist section of the Shepparton General Cemetery.