RETIRED Narooma High School history and English teacher Bill Drury was inspired to write the following article after a recent visit to the Bermagui Museum where he and a museum volunteer had a long session revisiting the Mystery Bay mystery.
Mr Drury together with fellow teacher Bob Yapp made the mystery part of his curriculum back when he was teaching, with students encouraged to develop their own theories what happened.
Coincidentally, the Montreal Goldfields group also recently called in the Bermagui Marine Rescue unit to assist with a recreation and filming of the surveyor Lamont Young’s fateful journey.
FIVE men vanished without trace on October 10, 1880, at what is now known as Mystery Bay.
Apart from clothing and other effects found in a small green boat, which was either washed or dragged onto a small reef of coastal rocks at Mutton Fish Point, as it was then known, approximately 9 miles from their point of departure in Bermagui Harbour, little evidence was produced to explain what had happened.
Despite an immediate and extensive search no physical or written evidence has subsequently been found and the incident remains unresolved.
However much the disappearance of five men might be expected to excite police local interest and investigation, it could not be expected to be their only concern.
At best, serious official investigation could be expected for a short period of time before other and less puzzling incidents would have warranted official interest. And yet this investigation continued for three years.
In 1882 on February 11, a letter was sent from the Colonial Office, Downing Street London to the Foreign Office addressed to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria.
The letter was signed by a Mrs Emma Gosset Young, the mother of Lamont Henry Graeme Young one of the missing men from Bermagui.
In her letter Emma personally addresses the Queen asking for her intervention in Emma’s call for an official enquiry into the disappearance of her son.
Such a petition would normally carry very little weight as it moved along the slow arms of government. To actually reach regal levels reveals that whoever Mrs Young was she had some good cause for others to promote her case.
In 1883, so successful was her appeal that the results of an official NSW Parliamentary inquiry were published after a year of investigation by a variety of people and groups.
How did the death of five men warrant so much official interest? Who was Emma Young and why did she merit such attention? How was she able to access such dignitaries and draw them to her cause?
Emma was actually born Emily Catherine Gossett, the daughter of Isaac Gossett III and Dorothea Sophia Banks Lind, in 1821.
Her grandmother was Lady Dorothea Banks, the wife of the famous, Sir Joseph Banks who accompanied Cook on his voyage of discovery in 1770 and who was instrumental in championing the progress of the new colonies they discovered.
Another relative, her grandfather, Dr James Lind, accompanied Banks on a voyage to Iceland in 1772. Lind socialised with the likes of David Hume, James Watt and Benjamin Franklin as he moved through London’s social and academic life.
Lind was to prove to be a most remarkably well connected figure especially as he could claim kinship with royalty through marriage as a second cousin to George III.
Lind also was influential in the early life of the poet P.B Shelley and latterly his wife, Mary to such an extent that she described Lind as a “name well known among the professors of medical science.” Percy immortalised him in one of his poems as Zonoras. He was therefore part of the London crowd of socialites and celebrities for many years.
Lind was also interested in the revitalisation of life, a practice he explored through his experiments with electricity and dead frogs. He was successful in getting dead muscles to react to electric shocks. He was, he believed, creating life.
His renown was so great in this field that he was confident enough to declare that King George, who to all intents and purposes was mad, might let Lind use his electrical skills to “… be of service in that disorder and appears to me to merit a fair trial.”
The practice of “Resurrectionism”, the stealing of bodies for dissections as it was to be more commonly called, was rampant in London at the time as medical colleges struggled to acquire bodies for student practical learning.
Lind was inevitably drawn into this practice whether fairly or not and Mary, when she began writing her famous novel “Frankenstein”, based her main character, the mad doctor, on Lind and subsequently he has achieved a type of fame if at times undeserved. Lind has subsequently also appeared as a body snatcher in The Phantom comic “The Grave Robbers” and so his influence still echoes today.
So it is easy to understand why there was so much attention and official concern into what was for the times a quite common seafaring mishap.
Lamont Young was not just a government geologist who two days after arriving at his latest assignment disappeared. He was royally connected and his case warranted serious attention. His mother ensured that this was the case.
A grieving mother, the Queen of England, mad scientists, Frankenstein monsters, parliamentary inquiries and an assortment of colourful local characters who were all drawn into the Bermagui mystery are part of what continues today to be an intriguing local history.