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MEMORY LANE: Disappearance of teacher ends in tragedy

MYSTERY DISAPPEARANCE: The area which was searched in the hope of finding school teacher Michael Wallace alive.
MYSTERY DISAPPEARANCE: The area which was searched in the hope of finding school teacher Michael Wallace alive. Google Maps

IT WAS 94 years ago today when the mysterious disappearance of a young public school teacher was reported in the papers.

Michael Wallace was in charge of the Whiporie Public School when he disappeared four days earlier, last seen at a wine depot at Banyabba.

According to the Northern Star he was seen carrying a suitcase at around 11am, heading in the direction of the bush.

For three days police constables from Lawrence, Brushgrove and Rappville along with about 20 civilians searched in the neighbourhood.

An Aboriginal tracker was also sent from Grafton to help find the missing man.

Body found

Then the sad news came in:

"Tonight information was received by the Grafton police that Constable Hinchey, of Brushgrove, discovered the body of the missing man about two miles from Banyabba towards Whiporie," the paper reported.

"It was stated that when he returned from the holidays he was unable to get boarding accommodation at Whiporie and had to go out five miles from the school to a wine depot to live."

When found, Mr Wallace had apparently been dead for about two days.

Coroner's inquest

Witnesses spoke of the young man on the days leading up to his disappearance and strange behaviour.

"Wallace's appearance was consistent with that of a man under the influence of liquor," Whiporie storekeeper William Gallagher reported to the inquest, although this was disputed by other witness reports who said Mr Wallace may have been in the early stages of pneumonia.

Banyabba wine licensee, Alfred Stone said he had known Mr Wallace since he took up the teaching position at the isolated little school.

He described how Mr Wallace had been sick the night before his disappearance and he had started hallucinating in the early hours of the morning.

"At about 1am witness was awakend by Wallace calling 'Stone, Stone, come in quick, they're robbing me," the Daily Examiner reported.

"He said there were eight men robbing him, and where he came from one man could rob eight."

After a constant night of interruptions where Mr Stone was up the best part of the night with him, he said the last he saw of Mr Wallace was in his back paddock at 11am.

Constable Thomas Hinchey said he found a coat and hat in the bush about a mile and a half from the wine shop.

About 80 yards further on they found the body of Mr Wallace, with bruising on his left hand and arm and a small scalp wound which had been bleeding slightly.

The suitcase was found about 150 yards from where the body was found, in the direction of Whiporie.

The Coroner returned a verdict of death as a result of heart failure and exhaustion due to exposure to the elements.

References

  • 'Found dead: Young Public School Teacher', Northern Star, Saturday February, 9, 1924. Page 4
  • 'The Whiporie Tragedy', Daily Examiner, Tuesday, February 12, 1924. Page 4
  • 'School teacher's death', Daily Examiner, Wednesday, February 20, 1924. Page 1.

Topics:  down memory lane michael wallace northern rivers history whiporie tragedy



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