A fatal shark attack evokes two centuries-old attacks in Sydney on Coogee Beach.

A fatal shark attack evokes two centuries-old attacks in Sydney on Coogee Beach.

The horrific shark attack that claimed the life of a Sydney swimmer on Wednesday was the first in 60 years, but far from unprecedented.

A century ago, the port city became the scene of a series of horrific clashes that continued for a decade and left the authorities unanswered.

On March 12, 1922, about 80,000 anxious Sydney residents lined Coogee Beach and its surrounding cliffs, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bloody battle.

On March 12, 1922, about 80,000 anxious Sydney residents lined Coogee Beach and its surrounding cliffs, hoping to catch a glimpse of shark killings after two deadly attacks.

On March 12, 1922, about 80,000 anxious Sydney residents lined Coogee Beach and its surrounding cliffs, hoping to catch a glimpse of shark killings after two deadly attacks.

Enthralled with anticipation, they watched as a small group of New Caledonian sailors, clutching sheathed knives and marlin spikes, swam past the breakers.

Residents of Loyalty Island, a member of the crew of a visiting steamboat, accepted a reward offer to capture and kill the shark or sharks responsible for two deadly attacks the previous month.

Both happened in Kuji in front of a crowd of frightened onlookers.

It is said that after the murders, Sydney was seized by panic.

The city’s papers were consumed by shark talk, its beaches were deserted from north to south, and its residents were hell-bent on ending the terror.

Crowds gathered to watch as the people of the Loyalty Islands accepted a bounty offer to catch and kill the shark or sharks responsible for two deadly attacks at Coogee in 1922.

Crowds gathered to watch as the people of the Loyalty Islands accepted a bounty offer to catch and kill the shark or sharks responsible for two deadly attacks at Coogee in 1922.

Rewards have been posted for all sharks caught off Kuja, and bonuses have been promised for those shown to have taken the lives of two young men.

The would-be assassins armed themselves and patrolled the beach in boats.

Tourists flocked repeatedly to witness the potential hunt, and several sharks were caught and their carcasses displayed. However, none of them were considered one of the human eaters in question.

One of the rather drastic proposals to destroy the predators was to bomb the bay with explosives, but the authorities quickly rejected it.

One hundred years later, news of sharks hit Sydney again: on Wednesday, a fatal attack killed a swimmer in Little Bay in the east of the city, and a hunt began for a shark that was reportedly a four and a half meter long great white shark.

One hundred years later, news of sharks hit Sydney again, with a fatal attack killing a swimmer in Little Bay on Wednesday.

One hundred years later, news of sharks hit Sydney again, with a fatal attack killing a swimmer in Little Bay on Wednesday.

Along the same stretch of coastline, past attacks are the subject of a two-part podcast called Shark of the Century, part of the Forgotten Australia series created by Sydney-based writer Michael Adams.

The life-saving club Coogee Surf, whose two members will attempt to save one of the victims, also commemorated the tragedy by funding the restoration of his long-destroyed tombstone at nearby Randwick Cemetery.

Current president Todd Meason told local magazine The Beast earlier this month that the extraordinary incident was undoubtedly “a big part of our club’s history.”

The teenager, Milton Coughlan, was a popular and reputedly prominent local athlete. He himself was a lifeguard at North Bondi and helped prevent a drowning at Maroubra a week before his death.

The fatal attack prompted calls to hunt the shark, which is reportedly a four and a half meter long great white shark.

The fatal attack prompted calls to hunt the shark, which is reportedly a four and a half meter long great white shark.

Around 6,000 spectators turned out to watch the annual club carnival in cloudy weather on February 4, and the 18-year-old decided to body surf before the day’s activities.

Diving into the raging ocean from the rocks next to the club, he swam out, caught a wave on the shore and repeated the feat twice. However, Coughlan’s fourth exit turned out to be fateful.

When confronted by a shark as he paddled back to the cliff, he reportedly had the presence of mind to yell at the other swimmers to get out of the water, but there was little he could do to protect himself.

The attack was as swift as it was brutal.

In the days that followed, newspapers ran graphic reports of the attack throughout the country and beyond.

“Then, for several minutes, the frightened crowd watched the shark and the swimmer thrash about in a mess of bloody water and scarlet-spotted foam,” Cairns Post reported.

Milton Coughlan was one of two people killed in a 1922 Coogee shark attack and died being rescued by Melbourne's future Lord Mayor Frank Beaureper.

Milton Coughlan was one of two people killed in a 1922 Coogee shark attack and died being rescued by Melbourne’s future Lord Mayor Frank Beaureper.

“With one snap of its jaws, the beast tore off Coughlan’s arm, but the brave boy … tried to fight off the attacker.”

Meanwhile, Coogee club member Jack Chalmers set off from the beach, 35 meters from the beach. He arrived and grabbed Coughlan as several sharks started circling but struggled to bring him back to shore.

Luckily, a second rescuer, Frank Beaurepair, soon reached the couple and helped bring them back to safety.

It was a valiant but ultimately fruitless attempt. Coughlan had lost one arm and the other was dangling from a thread. Despite being treated by a doctor at the scene, he bled to death within 25 minutes.

Both Chalmers and Beaurepar, an Olympian and multiple Australian swimming champion, were hailed as heroes and awarded the Albert Medal for Bravery, considered the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Beaurepaire was later elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne and is said to have used the reward to found the Beaurepaire tire company.

Wanting to downplay his role, Chalmers praised the young Coughlan.

“The way he fought the shark to the very end was playful to say the least, given the horrendous injuries he sustained,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“When I approached him, the shark was still tugging at his arm and the water was stained with his blood, but he managed to turn his back on me… and say, ‘Hold on to me tight.

Coogee also became the site of one of Australia's most infamous shark stories in April 1935, when a tiger shark in the Coogee Aquarium ripped out a man's arm.

Coogee also became the site of one of Australia’s most infamous shark stories in April 1935, when a tiger shark in the Coogee Aquarium ripped out a man’s arm.

“Then he collapsed and the shark let go of his grip.”

Thousands of mourners, including hundreds of rescuers, attended Coughlan’s funeral on February 6.

His death was the most famous of the so-called “shark era” in Australia in the 1920s and 30s, when 15 people were mauled to pieces on the beaches of Sydney alone, 10 of them died.

In just four decades after World War I, over 100 attacks took place in Australian waters.

In the same month that Coughlan was attacked, a man disappeared from Bilgol, on Sydney’s northern peninsula. It was assumed that he was caught by another or possibly even the same shark.

Then, on March 2, drama erupted again in Coogee.

Mervyn Gannon, a 21-year-old worker at a local repair shop, was surfing about 20 meters from the beach when he was attacked by what was thought to be a three-meter mako, or blue signpost.

Witnesses told how he hit the shark when it rushed at him, but when he pulled his right fist out of the water to the waist, all that was left of him was a bloodied stump.

Beach Inspector John Brown and passerby Ernie Carr rushed into the shallow water and began to drag Gannon towards the sand, but the shark never ended.

“He attacked me again,” Gannon recalled from his hospital bed.

“This time I tried the left one, but it didn’t work – it hit me again. Then Brownie and another guy got to me.

“We were getting along well when the shark tore my back. I thought my heart would stop beating, but we managed to get inside.”

At first, investigators thought the arm was lost in a shark attack, but found that it had been cut off with a knife before the shark could eat it.

At first, investigators thought the arm was lost in a shark attack, but found that it had been cut off with a knife before the shark could eat it.

Gannon told his upset aunt that while he would likely lose both of his arms, he considered himself lucky because at least he wouldn’t die.

However, despite his incredible courage, he will die from gangrene.

In the following days, neither New Caledonian divers nor local mercenaries were able to see the killer shark or sharks.

There will be six more fatal attacks in New South Wales over the next two years.

Fingerprints taken from the limb showed that it belonged to the missing petty criminal James Smith.

Fingerprints taken from the limb showed that it belonged to the missing petty criminal James Smith.

In 1924, a woman’s left and right legs were also bitten off at nearby Brontë Beach, and 16-year-old Coogee Surf club member Jack Dugworthy lost his leg in an attack in 1925.

Coogee also became the setting for one of Australia’s most infamous shark stories in April 1935, when a tiger shark caught in the suburbs regurgitated a human hand.

Fingerprints taken from the limb determined that it belonged to the missing petty criminal James Smith, and further examination showed that the hand had in fact been removed with a knife.

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