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National Trust of South Australia


Disappearance of Michael Cavanagh

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Fast Facts
Type of event Accident

Town or locality Willunga
Date occurred or began September 15, 1913
Date ended January 29, 1915
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Mr Michael Cavanagh, an octagenarian widower who lived on the outskirts of Willunga, was noticed sitting on a fence by men returning from their work at 5pm on Tuesday September 15, 1913. He had an axe and was about a mile from his home. Then he disappeared.

Mounted Constable John Clarke was notified that he was missing on Sunday September 20 and organised search parties that were unsuccessful in locating him. Mr Cavanagh was a private man who occasionally went off by himself and thus neighbours had little idea of his movements.

He had previously talked of going over to the range to cut up some wood. No axe was found at his home and it was surmised that he had lost his way and perished in the scrub.

On January 29, 1915, Edgar Samuel Biddle found human remains lying in a hollow tree near Range Road, seven miles from Willunga. According to the Advertiser:

Accompanied by Mr. R. F. Atkinson, Constable Clarke visited the spot and found the skeleton of an old man, fully dressed with the exception of a hat, lying in a hollow tree. A hat was found 20 yards away. The clothing was searched and £10 in sovereigns, 18s 7 1/2d in silver and copper, two door keys and a pocket-knife were found. Mr. Atkinson identified the remains as those of Michael Cavanagh, a very old man probably 90 years of age, who had become mentally and physically weak some time before his disappearance. The Coroner, Mr Matthew Goode, decided that an inquest was unnecessary.

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