In 1851, a prospector and homesteader in New South Wales in Australia noticed something interesting in a waterhole near where he was working. Amidst the muddy water were tiny flecks of metal, shining golden in the sun.
Within a year, hundreds of thousands of hopefuls had flocked to the area to seek their fortune, and the great Australian Gold Rush was on. Many struck it rich in the gold fields of Australia, and many more lost everything in the harsh and dangerous world of the “diggers”.
The gold rush barely lasted a decade, and while gold would still be found in the area for the next 50 years it required more sophisticated techniques to find and extract. Official oversight was provided by the New South Wales Mines Department, and their teams of surveyors.
One such surveyor was a young man named Lamont Young, who was tasked by the Mines Department to investigate potential new gold fields in Bermagui, almost 100 km (62 miles) south of Sydney on Australia’s Sapphire Coast.
Young led a party to survey the new fields in October 1880. What happened to the men has been a mystery ever since.
The Empty Boat
Although only 29 at the time of the incident (born in 1851, the same year the Australian Gold Rush started) Lamont Young was considered a reliable and professional surveyor. Having surveyed the general sites as instructed, Young was also keen to investigate other potential gold fields to the north.
The quickest and most straightforward way to reach these new sites was by boat, and so Young and his assistant approached Thomas Towers, who had such a boat locally. The three set out to travel northward accompanied by two of Towers’s friends.
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On the evening of the 10th October, a farm laborer was riding on horseback along the coast when he noticed the boat. Her sail was tied down and she had apparently drifted onto the rocks of a bay.
Inside were five bags of clothing, as well as survey notes and books belonging to Young. In the stern of the boat was a great deal of vomit: someone on board had been taken seriously ill. But of the five men who had set sail on the boat, there was no sign.
What had happened to the five men? The sea had not been unduly rough and they should have had no problem managing the boat in the weather conditions. And on closer inspection, the mystery of their disappearance only deepened.
The Plot Thickens
The possibility of an accident having befallen the five men seemed the most obvious explanation. But a closer look at the boat revealed certain oddities which made this explanation unlikely.
Damage to the planks of the boat did not seem to be consistent with an impact on rocks. Shattered planks which formed part of the hull were pushed outwards rather than inwards: whatever had caused the considerable damage came from inside the boat.
The anchor was missing, as was the stern line, and several large rocks were in explicably found in the bottom of the hull. And, most ominously, on the starboard side of the boat a bullet was found, lodged in the wood.
A search party was formed to find the missing men, and an investigation was started into what had befallen them. It was later discovered that the boat had been seen on the morning of the 10th, but the witness had only seen a single person on board. Who that person was, and whether they were one of the original five men on the boat, could not be determined.
The search party had no better luck. A search of the coastline for several miles up and down from the bay and the boat could not find the five men.
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The disappearance quickly received national attention, and the government reward was offered for information about what had happened. The only traces ever found by the search parties were the remains of a fire, some food and three shirt studs which were believed to belong to the party.
The Mystery of Mystery Bay
The bay where the boat was found was nicknamed Mystery Bay due to the disappearance, a name that stuck and became the official title for the bay to this day. Various spurious claims were made regarding what happened to the men, from spiritualists, unscrupulous journalists and frauds, but the truth was never uncovered.
It is even difficult to piece together any of the events surrounding the disappearance from the evidence which remains. Who fired the shot that left a bullet in the boat? Who was unwell to the extent that caused them to vomit so much in the stern?
Why did the damage to the boat come from the inside, and why were there large rocks inside the boat? Where had these rocks come from, and where had the anchor gone?
And, perhaps most importantly, who was the single man seen alone in the boat on the morning of the 10th October? He had obviously escaped whatever had caused the disappearance of the other men on the boat, only to disappear himself the same day.
It seems most likely that this mysterious figure was not one of the original five, but it is not impossible that he came from the original party but could not manage the boat himself. Was he lost overboard before the boat came to rest in Mystery Bay?
He would surely have been saved if he had remained in the boat, which made it to the shore without foundering. Where did he go, taking the answers to the mystery of the Bermagui Five with him?
A monument was erected at the site in the year 1980 to pay respect to the five men lost in this disappearance. It stands overlooking the bay, bearing mute witness to the unanswered questions of what happened to Lamont Young and his companions.
Top Image: The boat was recovered in Mystery Bay, but where were the five men? Source: Stefano Garau / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri
Wikipedia, 2021. Lamont Young. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamont_Young
Graham64, 2016. The mysterious disappearance of the Bermagui Five. Available at: https://graham64.wordpress.com/2016/07/02/the-mysterious-disappearance-of-the-bermagui-five/
People Pill, 2020. Lamont Young. Available at: https://peoplepill.com/people/lamont-young
Cryer, AB, 2021. Lamont Young Explained. Available at: https://everything.explained.today/Lamont_Young/
Howold, 2022. Lamont Young. Available at: https://www.howold.co/person/lamont-young