Site Homepage                                                                                                 Carr Full Database                                                                                                                    Useful Links      

A Call from the Grave


This story of Maurice Cotter 1859 - 1889 is about a chance happening (billions to one!) that solved a genealogy puzzle


The sea is in my family's blood, I was at sea for a few years and most of my uncles and grand uncles were seamen. 

My youngest uncle, Brian, also a seaman who is retired now, had retrieved some heirlooms from his family home and amongst them were two letters dated 1889 & 1898 from Australia. The letters were about the death and burial of my great grand uncle. 

My uncle Brian had showed me these letters a number of years ago and I used genealogical sites in Australia to try and trace the grave records without success.

The first letter was from the Captain of a merchant ship the SS Otway to my great great grand parents, the Cotters, informing them of their son (Maurice Cotter) death on the 1st July 1889 in Roebuck Australia due to an accident on the ship. He was buried by his shipmates and a headstone erected.

The second letter  was from a neighbour of the Cotters who was also at sea and had visited the grave in Broome  9  years later (1898) and wrote to a friend asking that he tell the Cotters that the grave showed, how much his shipmates had appreciated their son.

Nothing amazing about this story so far!!!


The great coincidence: 2004

One hundred and  sixteen years ago my great grand uncle Maurice Cotter from Cobh (Queenstown) Co. Cork, Ireland joined a ship in England under the name John Snow. Apparently this was common practice at the time as you could not work for some shipping lines if you had already worked for a competitor, so people used different names.

During the trip, the ship (SS Otway) docked in Roebuck, Western Australia where Maurice died after falling into the cargo hold of a coal hulk "Fleetwing", that was alongside his ship while bunkering . Luckily one of his shipmate's knew his real name and informed the captain after his death, who searched his effects and found his parents address. If this had not happened the story would have ended here and nobody would have known what happened to Maurice Cotter. His shipmates clubbed together to pay for a headstone and Maurice was buried.  

A letter was written home by the ships Captain

His grand nephew (Brian) discovered and kept the letter. Interest was renewed a couple of years ago due to my genealogy investigations.

Then one hundred and fifteen years later (1889 - 2004): a neigbour of my uncle Brian gives him a copy of the November National Geographic in Ireland, he reads an article about Australia, with photos by an American, one of those photos shows the grave headstone of Maurice Cotter almost accidentally in the foreground, to the only man in the world who could recognise it for what it was.

It was like a call from the grave, a coincidence through time itself


Photo appeared with an article "Monsoon Madness" in Australia - November 2004 issue

Photo; by kind permission of the Photographer - Randy Olson

Link to Pioneer Cemetery Broome (Map shows: Cemetery on the Bottom Right)

   PDF: Document:  If you cannot open the link to the Cemetery, download this small PDF document reader from:  Foxit Reader Free!

More photos of the grave down below

1889: This is what the Captain's letter said:   

SS Otway

Freemantle Aug 9th '89

To Mr Cotter


I have the painful duty of sending you bad tidings of your son Maurice Cotter who died onboard the SS Otway on July 1st 1889

On June the 30th he fell down the coal hulk Fleetwing at Roebuck bay western Australia and was taken up insensible in which state he laid in until 5.10am July 1st '89 when he expired. Everything possible was done for him to save his life, his skull was fractured and his neck was injured.

Onboard the Otway he was under the name of John Snow, so when you apply for his effects and balance of wages due to the shipping master you must apply for the effects of John Snow. His effects are but little would not pay for freight home. I will enclose a list. He was buried at Roebuck Bay and I am taking a head stone to place on his grave, which has been paid for by his shipmates. It is a token of the respect we can show towards him.

Sincerely Yours

John Pincombe

Master SS Otway


The address I found by a letter that was in his pocket book

Trusting it will find you



 Link to the original Captain's letter  Just click on them to enlarge

Information:    The coal hulk "Fleetwing"


1898: This is what the Neighbour's letter said:   



March 30th '98


Dear Jim,

               I am sending a letter to Jack Gally by you. I hope you will offer it.

If you get home to Queenstown again, tell Maurice Cotter's relations that I prayed over his grave and that his friends out here did not forget Maurice when he was dead, as his grave shows, how they appreciated Maurice. You will get home before me I know. Remember me to everyone that knows me. Keep this letter Jim.


W. O' Farrell

Skipper of Annie Taylor


  Link to the original Neighbour's letter  Just click on it to enlarge


If anyone gets the opportunity of taking some photos of the grave I would appreciate a copy:  Joe Carr

Arising from my request the following photos were generously taken and sent to me by

Liz Janney

 Administrator  Broome Historical Society Museum

                                                                                                                            Liz Janney

                                                                                                                                                                                            Liz Janney

I would also like to thank Paddy Wilkinson for making this happen


Apparently all the earlier people buried in Pioneer cemetery had a street named in their honour

Christina Sprunt, the daughter of Yvonne Coate’s of "Lonely Grave" fame, who lives in Broome, kindly sent me some photos including the street sign honouring Maurice

                                                                                    Christina Sprunt

                                                                                   Christina Sprunt

                                                                                        Christina Sprunt



Australia Maps

Western Australia: Shows Roebuck Bay and Broome



The Cotter Family Grave in Cobh (Queenstown) Co. Cork, Ireland


Maurice is mentioned on the headstone along with his brother Thomas who also died while at sea

Just click on the thumbprint to enlarge, both sides of the headstone were used







How am I related to this story - He was my Great Uncle

Margaret Cotter was Maurice's sister and my Great Grandmother. She married Joseph Carr (My great Grandfather) in 1880 and had four sons, William Carr (died at 2½ Years and is buried in the Cotter grave), Joseph Carr (My grandfather), Maurice Carr and Thomas Carr. Margaret is also buried in the Cotter grave.

Queenstown: Henry & Coghlans Directory 1867Cotter, Wm.  - Grocer, 7 Mall    This was My great great Grandfather and Maurice Cotter's Father.        My uncle runs the same grocery store today Jan. 2014

They lived in Cobh (Queenstown) at 7 The Mall a grocery shop. Margaret, Joseph and family lived in the three story house above the shop. One of their son's, my grandfather Joseph married Kathleen Rohan and lived with their family over the shop, and one of their children my uncle William Carr (Aged 101 years) operated the shop.

Will Carr died 0n Friday 14th October 2016 at the great age of 104 years 2 months and 3 days   May he rest in Peace

Contact Me


   Homepage  Carr / O'Keeffe Genealogy                   Useful Links                                          Full Database