New twist in CY O’Connor mystery

A Fremantle author reckons he’s solved a 100-year-old mystery by outing the real culprit that drove engineer CY O’Connor to suicide in 1902.

Historians have previously suspected Sunday Times founder FCB Vosper was the author of the vicious article Corruption by Contract, which was published about O’Connor in the month before his death, and was believed to have pushed him over the edge.

However Dr Peter Burke, who wrote Wettening Auralia in 2016, says that’s impossible.

“Vosper had a social conscience. Vosper had a sense of humour. And Vosper had died of appendicitis in January 1901,” says Dr Burke.

According to his research, the article was actually written by Tommy Walker, a journalist who later became a politician, the attorney general and speaker of the lower house.

The article labelled O’Connor a “toadie”, “trickster”, and “crocodile imposter” who’d “robbed the taxpayer of this state out of millions of money,” however all reports show this was not the case.

Dr Burke describes O’Connor’s suicide as a “Shakespearean tragedy”.

“A completely competent, good man, who did his job exactly as he was asked to by the government, yet he was kicked by the media, particularly the Sunday Times, the parliament and by jilted contractors.

“Given it was over 100 years ago, it’s amazing how there’s still a pervasive sense of guilt among Western Australians,” says Dr Burke.

On March 10, Radio Fremantle will broadcast from CY O’Connor beach to celebrate the Irish engineer who arrived in the settlement of Perth in 1891 and designed the Fremantle Port. On the morning of the anniversary, O’Connor’s descendants will gather at the beach and swim out to the sculpture created in his honour. The Healy brothers, who were recently commissioned to write a song about O’Connor to honour the Irish president’s first visit to Australia in 15 years, will perform live.


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