In Memory of Bridget

A Legacy of Cruelty and Love at Mulla Creek

In 1873, when shepherding in a lonely valley at Mulla Creek on Kamilaroi Country near Tamworth, 17-year-old Bridget Coleman (1856-1873) was assaulted and strangled. The lock of hair shown here is Bridget’s.

Bridget’s brother Thomas, who was minding the sheep with her, discovered Bridget’s bloodied body lying face-down. Alarmed at the sight of her lifeless frame Thomas rushed to tell his brother Mickey, who watched another flock nearby, what he saw.

Later, both boys testified that when they turned Bridget’s body face up they saw ‘string’, a narrow strip of fabric torn from the hem of her dress, tied tight around her neck. Seeing that his sister was still alive, Mickey took a knife from his pocket and cut the cloth from around Bridget’s neck.

Despite the brothers’ efforts, Bridget passed away three days after the attack. The local and city newspapers reported her ‘barbarous’ death. A Coroner’s investigation, the precision bush knowledge of Kamilaroi men, and a large monetary reward offered by the owner of Moonbi Run, John Gill, and for whom the Coleman family worked, did not uncover Bridget’s aggressor.

Just forty years after this tragedy Bridget’s mother, Mary, died. Her eulogy celebrated her long-life of 95 years. It noted that she too worked as a shepherdess on the Moonbi Run. And it was said that Mary was often seen with an infant child strapped to her back when she tended sheep.

Mary kept this small lock of Bridget’s sandy hair so as not to forget the love and devotion she had for Bridget. But was it Mary who cut the lock, and as she whispered her final goodbye to her only darling daughter?