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William Heath b.1872 d.1912
- as described by his great nephew Martin Marks -
William Heath b.1872 d.1912
Since I was a child, I have heard stories of my great uncle known in the family as "Klondyke Bill" - his real name was William Heath, born abt. 1872 in Stoke-on-Trent
More unusually, searching through old family papers I came across a 16-page booklet titled "The Placer Miner, a Klondyke Reminiscence".
It was written by "F.S.L." who I have yet to identify except that he was a self-confessed tenderfoot who met up with Bill in the latter days of the gold-rush.
He describes Bill as "Tall, spare, muscular, on the youthful side of middle-aged, with clear blue eyes .... more like a Norseman than a native of the "Five Towns"......tinged with the accent of the Potteries". He had two partners: there was the stocky Canadian Bert and a swarthy Australian giant called Mac. William was then known locally as "Uncle Bill".
Mac and Bill met in Skagway and then came across Bert at the foot of the White Pass pondering on how he was going to relay his huge load of stores on his own. The authorities had placed a minimum requirement on those going over the pass to ensure some chance of survival and to avoid the otherwise inevitable theft of food by starving men. The three of them pooled their efforts and formed a relay.
He sent a postcard home to his sister postmarked : "Last Chance, Yukon" 27 Dec 1905:
Yukon and Klondyke Rivers
They worked a "lay" at the mouth of a gulch - one of the lesser tributaries of Hunker Creek which ran into the Klondyke River.
The booklet goes on to describe the living and working conditions, the equipment they were using, the "perpetually frozen earth" and the thrill of panning thirty five cents worth of gold for the first time! Later it describes a visit to Dawson, the weighing of the gold from Bill's poke, banking the cash paid and then calling on the land owner's agent who took twenty percent for the lease of the gold site. They didn't make a fortune but a "solid and ample fund for the partner's future exploits".
Reading a London newspaper one day Bill remarked: "I see they are describing the Klondyke Gold Rush as the most romantic episode in mining history. Actually, to my way of thinking, as one of the damfools who was in it, there was plenty of stark tragedy and blamed little romance".
There is a family story that he later did some gold surveying for the Duke of Sutherland in the Trentham area, results not known.
Bill found enough gold to make a wedding ring for his sister, my grandmother. The ring, with the unusual dark colouring of pure gold, has been passed down to my wife We both visited Skagway some years ago and tried to imagine "Uncle Bill" carrying his heavy loads over White Pass.
He married Catherine Farr, date unknown and there is an unconfirmed indication that he served in the Seaforth Highlanders at some time. He died in 1912, aged only 40.
1881 - 24 George Street, Stoke
1891 - 1 Regent Street, Penkhull
1901 - 66 Keary Street, Stoke
1891 Designer draftsman for tiles
information supplied by: Martin Marks OBE, (great nephew of William Heath)
Noel Marks b.1849 - d.1912