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Eleanor Coppin (1853–1937)

In 1873, before payable gold had been discovered in the North-West, before even pearling had started to boom, a young bride of 20 years landed one day at Roebourne from a tiny cargo vessel that had taken 21 days to make the voyage from Fremantle. She was Mrs. Eleanor Coppin, wife of Christopher Coppin, the mounted constable of Roebourne, and she had come to a straggling port which then had not even dreamt of the boom and decline which lay ahead of it.

This young woman was destined to spend 21 years in the North-West before seeing the Swan again—21 years of station pioneering, of drought and flood and willy-willies and hardships. She was destined, too, to bear and rear eight children, although for many years the nearest medical aid was 230 miles away. The closing years of Mrs. Coppin's life were spent in Perth, and she died early last month at the age of 83.

Christopher Coppin had been married before and when he went to the North West with the young bride of his second marriage he took with him his two sons and two daughters of the first marriage, William, George, Charlotte and Edith. The family lived in the unpretentious little mud-walled police quarters, and there Mrs. Coppin's first three children were born. In the great willy-willy which struck Roebourne in 1878 the house was blown down and the family had to wade knee-deep in water through driving rain to the shelter of the more stable stone police station. It was a tribute to Mrs. Coppin's powers of endurance that her health did not suffer, as she waded to safety carrying her youngest baby which had been born only five days before. With their clothes and belongings in the ruined house, they were forced to remain in wet clothes all that night, and it was thought that the chills which Charlotte and Edith contracted as a result was a contributory cause of their deaths many years later.

After five years in Roebourne, Christopher Coppin was appointed manager by Messrs. Grant, Anderson and Edgar to pioneer Muccan Station on the De Grey 230 miles from Roebourne. There was no homestead at Muccan and the new manager went on ahead of his family to prepare for them a home in the wilderness. Although a wilderness, the country in those days was a paradise of nature in the good seasons. The grass was like a wheat field, the whole countryside was green and flowering and wild ducks and game abounded. Christopher Coppin had not half finished the house—it was then little more than an open shed—when his family followed him from Roebourne. They travelled by coastal vessel to Condon (Port Hedland was not being used then) and then 80 miles inland by bullock waggon to the new station.

The nearest white woman to Muccan was at Roebourne and that was the nearest medical aid, yet while she was there Mrs. Coppin bore five children. The first three were born in Roebourne, where she went by bullock waggon and coastal lugger. There was no cabin on board the little ships that took her south and after the days of jolting in the bullock waggon she had to sleep on deck in any space that could be found for her. On one occasion her eldest daughter, who accompanied her, spent the nights on board the lugger curled up on a coil of rope on deck. More prosperous days followed and roads were opened up. The two youngest children were born on the station and a nurse was brought out by buggy the 230 miles from Roebourne.

In spite of the solitude the family was happy at Muccan. They loved the life, made their own entertainment and shared in each other's joys and sorrows—for sorrow came to the station like the periodical visitation of the willy-willies. A measles epidemic spread along the river and struck down all but the mother and father. Charlotte, the step-daughter, who was then just 20 years old, succumbed and was buried near the house in a grave dug by the natives. Timber was scarce on the station and the father had the sad task of making a coffin from the only door which the house possessed. Some years later Edith died and was buried beside her sister.

There was another grave not far from the Muccan homestead, that of two white pearlers, Shea and Miller, who had been killed by the blacks years before. In the intervening years one of the blacks concerned in the killing had become the most faithful and trusted native stockmen on the station, working for the policeman who once sought to capture him.

During the eighties, when pearling was booming, Christopher Coppin left his sons, William and George, in charge of the station and went pearling. He would be away for six months at a time and each day the children marked off a day on the calendar to check the time until he returned. Mercifully he evaded the dread willy-willies and always did return. Later William Coppin took up pearling and was with the Roebourne fleet when it was caught in the disastrous willy-willy of April 22, 1887. He was aboard the schooner Jessie, which, with about 200 other boats, was fishing for shell off the Ninety-Mile Beach. The fishing was good and the boats were loth to leave. Anxiously they watched their barometers and noticed them falling ominously, but it was late in the season and they did not expect a blow. It came with dramatic suddenness and in the terrible confusion luggers were wrecked or sank at their moorings and 140 lives were lost. In the first blow, which was off the shore, the Jessie's anchor chains parted and she was driven to sea. It was this which saved her, as she was well away from the shore when the wind shifted and battered the fleet on to the beach.

After seven years at Muccan, Christopher Coppin took up country adjoining and founded Yarrie Station, which is still owned by members of his family. The first homestead was a house of round poles and pug, but later he built a substantial stone house, the timber for which was cut in a saw pit on the station. The old mud house was destroyed in a willy-willy which brought 14 inches of rain in one night. The river came down carrying away 11 horses, eight working bullocks and 2,000 sheep. In that flood occurred one of the most remarkable incidents in the history of the North-West. Among the cattle that were carried away from Yarrie were a cow and a three-months-old calf which had just been branded. Next day the cow was found still alive 20 miles downstream and the calf was found grazing in one of the homestead paddocks of Ettrick station, 40 miles from Yarrie. It was presumed that the calf had floated down supported by driftwood, and had floated ashore at Ettrick, where the river takes a sharp bend. The calf remained in the Ettrick paddocks until he was full grown and was sold to a bullock driver for £10.

Christopher Coppin retired from station life in 1914 and came with his wife to live at Guildford. He died in 1915 and Mrs. Coppin lived with her daughter, Mrs. Charles Ball, at Subiaco until her death last month. Her trying experiences in the early days of the North-West had not robbed her of either health or faculties which she retained right up to her death. She leaves two sons and five daughters, Messrs. Henry and Ross Coppin and Mesdames Milton Murray, Charles Ball, J. F. G. Robinson, B. de Marchi and E. Jeffries. Mr. William Coppin, who lives at Guildford, is the only surviving member of the first family.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • funeral, West Australian, 5 March 1937, p 25

Citation details

'Coppin, Eleanor (1853–1937)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Rose, Eleanor

Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


2 March, 1937 (aged ~ 84)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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