How the magpie killed the man

I somehow stumbled across a one-in-a-million story about an overseer and his deadly pet magpie while photographing near the Cooke Plains.

Uncovering the broken headstone of Robert Anderson, lying partly buried under soil, the image was added to my weekend blog - not knowing that it would be seen by Anderson’s long-lost great-granddaughter, Rosemary Baxter, holidaying in Murray Bridge.

Sitting opposite Kathleen and Harry Kromwyk on Murray Bridge's Captain Proud chatting about Tailem Bend’s rail history - Kathleen shared my post with her new friend, Rosemary. Baxter couldn't contain her excitement - she had finally found the resting place of her great-grandfather.

She then told a fascinating story of an overseer and his friendly pet magpie that unintentionally took his life.

Rosemary explained that Anderson had been working for the McFarlane family as an overseer when he came across an abandoned baby magpie. He reared his new mate for many years until the iconic bird was fully grown.

Spending most of his time with the magpie on his shoulder, it began mimicking nearly everything that was muttered - especially commands given to the station horses. "Whoo Bessie, back up Bessie, wait Bessie" ... the little guy could say it all.

One freezing morning, Anderson, Bessie and the magpie took off to the local store. It was a long trip and, upon returning, he was regularly forced to unload in the dark.

Backing the horse and cart up to the homestead’s cellar, he commanded "Whoo Bessie, back up Bessie" and without any warning, his feathered mate repeated the instructions.

The little guy couldn’t have picked a worse time. A confused Bessie abruptly stopped and quickly began to continue backwards, tipping the whole load into the cellar.

Hitting his head hard, Anderson woke with the load about him, so without any time to waste he quickly unhooked Bessie and left the mess for the morning.

That night, Anderson woke suddenly, complaining to his wife of a thumping headache and he was soon dead from bleeding on the brain. Robert Anderson’s resting place can be found at the old Bedford Cemetery.

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