Art or Obscenity?
The Bag Man
Barlow the Embezzler
Bringing Home the Bacon
Catnapping in Carlton
Coining in Carlton
A Costly Bunch of Flowers
A Fiend in Petticoats
A Foolhardy Act?
The Girl in Silk Pyjamas
Graffiti with a Conscience
A Handful of Pepper
The Hangman's Tale
A Heartless Mother
High Kicking in Carlton
Last Drinks for Squizzy
Legless in Carlton
Marry in Haste, Repent at Leisure
Murder at Mallow House
The Nagging Wife
A Passion for Silk
The Penny Dreadful
The Price of a Newspaper
A Rogue and Vagabond
A Rude Awakening
The Russians are Coming
Shooting in Shakespeare Street
A Shot in the Dark
Snowdropping in Carlton
Strangers on a Tram
A Sweet-Toothed Robbery in North Carlton
What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?
The Shooting Scene
24 Shakespeare Street North Carlton
Scene of Alleged Knife Attack
18 Murchison Street Carlton
Notes and References:
1 Biographical information sourced from birth, death and marriage records, and electoral rolls.
2 The Age, 9 January 1909, p. 20
3 War Service Record of George Quigley, No. 3911 (NAA: B2455)
4 War Pension Investigation, 18 March 1932 (NAA:B741, V/9617)
5The Age, 7 June 1933, p. 13
6 Coincidentally, George's wife Elsie Quigley was involved in a domestic shooting incident in Fitzroy in 1920. The charges were later dropped.
7 Criminal Presentations (VPRS 17020/P1/49)
8 There was a charge against George Quigley of "illegally using a horse and gig" in Ballarat in March 1922, but his identity was in question because this "George Quigley" was also known as "George O'Keefe."
9 The Argus, 28 April 1922, p. 9
10 The Age, 18 May 1922, p. 6
11 Prisoner No. 36181, Victoria Prison Register, vol. 71, p. 292
12 The Age, 16 July, 1924, p. 11
13 The Argus, 16 July 1924, p. 17
14 Criminal Presentations (VPRS 17020/P1/60)
15 The Age, 17 April 1926, p. 13
16 Record (Emerald Hill), 23 June 1928, p. 3
17 High Street Carlton, which no longer exists, ran for one block between Lygon and Drummond Streets. Properties in High Street were compulsorily acquired by the Housing Commission of Victoria in 1958 and redeveloped as high rise public housing in the 1960s.
18 The Argus, 29 June 1946, p. 3
19 The Age, 9 June 1947, p. 10. The death notice appeared in the "On Active Service" column of the newspaper, but no record of George Quigley's service beyond his discharge from the AIF in 1919 has been located.
Shooting in Shakespeare Street
15 April 1922
On the evening of 15 April 1922, a shot rang out in Shakespeare Street, North Carlton. Mary Skelton felt a sharp pain in her arm and saw the blood. She had been shot and the man who shot her was her lover George Quigley.
Mary Amelia Skelton née Grant was a married woman, living with her husband William Skelton at 24 Shakespeare Street, North Carlton. Mary and William were married in 1909 and they lived in Clifton Hill and High Street, Carlton, before moving to the two storey rental property in Shakespeare Street. William was a labourer and his work sometimes required him to live away from home.1
George Quigley, also married, was a wharf labourer and returned World War 1 serviceman. He married Elsie May Davey in 1908, but within 3 months he was charged with unlawfully deserting his teenage wife, as he had neither a job nor the means of supporting her. At the time of his enlistment on 31 July 1915, George was 25 years old, working as a wharf labourer and living in Market Street, Fitzroy. He saw active service in France and was discharged from the AIF on 14 July 1919.2,3
It is not clear whether George returned to his wife Elsie after his discharge. When Elsie was investigated for pension fraud in 1932, she was reported as stating that her husband had gone to war and "no one knows where he is or what has become of him." Elsie was subsequently found guilty of claiming a war pension under false pretences. A year later in June 1933, when she was living in Little Palmerston Street, Carlton, she pleaded guilty to a charge of shoplifting a coat from Holders Pty. Ltd. in the city. Elsie was sentenced to 14 days' imprisonment and her co-accused, niece May Davey, was given a suspended sentence of 14 days' on her entering into a good behaviour bond for two years.4,5,6
As a wharf labourer, George worked in an environment where there was ample opportunity for pilfering and other crimes. He was charged with assault in May 1920, for which he received a fine of £5 or 14 days' imprisonment. In October 1921, he was charged with stealing two dozen table forks, the property of J. and A. Boyes ironmongery store in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. He pleaded not guilty in the General Sessions Court of Melbourne in November 1921 and was given a suspended sentence of six months' "on his own bond of £50 to be of good behaviour for two years."7,8
So far, George had avoided a custodial sentence, but this changed with the more serious charge of attempted murder in 1922. The evidence presented in court also sheds some light on George's personal life in the immediate post-war years. Mary Skelton stated that she had known George Quigley for 4 years and had lived with him for 18 months. She had left him about 5 months previously to live with her sister in Drummond Street, Carlton, then she returned to her husband William Skelton. On that April evening, George Quigley visited the Skelton house in Shakespeare Street, in the hope of persuading Mary to return to him. She would not allow him to enter the house and, in the ensuing struggle, a shot was fired and Mary was wounded in the arm, though not seriously. She was taken by her sister to Melbourne Hospital, where she was treated as an outpatient.9
Quigley pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder and was committed for trial at the Supreme Court of Melbourne on 15 May 1922. In his defence, he claimed that he had not intended to shoot Mrs Skelton and that the revolver had gone off accidently. John Kennedy, a witness who lived nearby in Lygon Street, reported hearing a shot and the voice of a man saying, "There's no harm done. It's a pity it didn't settle you." Considering the evidence, the jury was on George's side, possibly swayed by the romantic nature of the crime, and returned a guilty verdict of unlawfully wounding without intent to do grevious bodily harm. George Quigley was sentenced to 12 months' gaol and he served an additional 6 months' sentence for breaking his previous good behaviour bond.10,11
George was released from gaol on 25 August 1923 and, less than a year later, he was facing another assault charge involving Mary Skelton. They were living together at 18 Murchison Street, Carlton and, on the evening of 4 July 1924, Mary alleged that George had thrown a knife at her. There was no doubt that Mary was injured - she was bleeding from a head wound that required hospital treatment - but the circumstances of the alleged assault were questionable. George refuted her allegation, claiming that Mary had attacked him and he had pushed her away and her injury had resulted from a fall. When the case was heard in Carlton Court on 15 July, Mary admitted to having had been drinking on day of the assault. George was sentenced to one month's gaol and he was released on 14 August 1924.12,13
The last stint in gaol was not quite the end of George's criminal history, nor was it the end of his domestic strife with Mary. In April 1926 he was charged with receiving stolen goods, a case and a number of magnetos, being the property of the Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners. Quigley and his co-accused Frank Currie pleaded not guilty in the General Sessions Court of Melbourne and both were discharged. George was living in Cobden Street, South Melbourne, at the time and Mary was at the same address. In June 1928, Mary Skelton laid a charge of assault against George Quigley, but she failed to appear in South Melbourne Court. The chairman made a comment that "It's only history repeating itself," while the sergeant said that the man and woman had a brawl, and the woman "made a convenience of the police." Perhaps this was the story of George and Mary's life together.14,15,16
George and Mary moved back to Carlton, living at 14 High Street, from 1930 onwards. Mary suffered head injuries in a fall from a tram in St Kilda Road in June 1946 and she was treated in Prince Henry's Hospital. The following year, on 6 June 1947, George Quigley died at Heidelberg Military Hospital, aged 58 years. He was buried in the Warringal Cemetery, Heidelberg. His death notice, published in The Age on 9 June 1947, refers to George as "dearly beloved friend of Mary Skelton". Mary remained in High Street, Carlton until the 1950s. She died in 1963, aged 78 years.17,18,19
More information on George Quigley
50 Dorrit Street Carlton
Notes and References:
1 Jean Lee : The last woman hanged in Australia, Random House, 1997
2 The murder, subsequent trial and judicial hangings were widely reported in newspapers from November 1949 to February 1951
3 Death Certificate of Jean Lee, No. 1831, 1951
4 Death Certificate of William George Kent, No. 9339, 1949
5 Probate File of William George Kent, No. 417/766, 1950 (VPRS 28)
6 The Argus, 28 August 1858, p. 8
7 Building information sourced from Melbourne City Council Rate Books and Valuation Field Books for Smith Ward
8 Property ownership information sourced from land title files
9 The Courier-Mail, 9 November, 1949, p. 5
10 Melbourne Times, 24 November 1976, p. 1
November 7 marks the anniversary of the death of William George "Pop" Kent, whose brutal murder in 1949 shocked the nation and divided public opinion on the death penalty. Pop Kent, a 73 year old retired hotelkeeper originally from the Western District of Victoria, operated an apartment house known as "Mallow House" at 50 Dorrit Street Carlton. A sometime SP bookie, Kent was rumoured to have a substantial amount of money, and this may have made him an obvious target for robbery. On that fateful day in November 1949, Kent met up with Robert Clayton, his partner Jean Lee and Norman Andrews at the University Hotel nearby in Lygon Street. The three convicted criminals, recently arrived from Sydney for the Spring Racing Carnival, had already come to the notice of police for robbing or extorting money from unsuspecting men.
Enjoying the company of his new friends and no doubt flattered by the attentions of the good-looking Jean Lee, Pop Kent invited them back to his room at Mallow House for drinks after hotel closing time. What began as a sociable round of drinks ended a few hours later with the bashing, torture and strangulation of Pop Kent. Local residents became concerned for Kent's welfare and called the police who, on entering the room, found Kent dead and the room ransacked. Jean Lee's good looks, which she used to her advantage when picking up men, proved to be her downfall. Jean and her partners-in-crime had been seen in company with Kent at the University Hotel and Mallow House, and witness descriptions led police to a city hotel, where the three were arrested and charged with murder the following day.1
At the trial in March 1950, amidst dramatic courtroom scenes, all three were found collectively guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. The verdict was overturned by appeal in May 1950, on the grounds that statements of the accused were improperly obtained by police, and a retrial was ordered. But this ruling was subsequently overturned by the High Court and the original guilty verdict was reinstated. Nine months later on Monday 19 February 1951, Jean Lee, Robert Clayton and Norman Andrews were executed by hanging at Pentridge Prison in Coburg. In keeping with prison practice, their bodies were buried in the prison grounds.2
Jean Lee made her mark in history as the last woman hanged in Australia, and the only woman hanged in Victoria in the 20th century. She was survived by her daughter Jillian, living in New South Wales with her grandmother. William George Kent was buried in Melbourne General Cemetery Carlton on 9 November 1949, two days after his murder. His estate was valued for probate purposes at £274, 6 shillings and 5 pence, £100 of which was goodwill of his apartment house business, and he had nil real estate holdings at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife Florence and eight of his nine children.3,4,5
The murder of Pop Kent marked a low point in the history of Dorrit Street, but it was not always that way. Dorrit Street, sometimes known as Little Dorrit Street, began with grand aspirations in 1858 when The Argus advertised for sale "the finest sites for residences around Melbourne". In 1860 Melbourne City Council recorded 10 rateable properties in Dorrit Street, mostly one- and two-room wood structures, and within the next few years brick construction took over. Mallow House began its life as a 3 room brick cottage owned by William Lynch in the mid 1860s and was later rebuilt, or substantially altered, as a two-storey, six room house in 1889/90. In 1914, when the house was still relatively new, it was bought by Italian immigrant Rocco Gagliardi and was the Gagliardi family home for many years. As an apartment house in the 1940s, it had become run down and newspaper reports painted a bleak picture of Mallow House as "an old two-storey house", "indescribably filthy" and "infested with fleas".6,7,8,9
In the 1950s, Dorrit Street was under threat from redevelopment of the Royal Women's Hospital, expanding to meet the growing demands of the post-World War 2 "Baby Boom". The hospital began acquiring properties in the late 1950s and by the early 1970s owned the entire west side of the street, earmarked for demolition, and several houses on the east side. But Mallow House was spared and today stands proud and tall, a lasting memory of the events of 7 November 1949.10
The Beaufort (Former Clare Castle Hotel)
421 Rathdowne Street Carlton
Image Source: Chronicle (Adelaide), 5 November 1927
50 Barkly Street Carlton
"A sombre bluestone house"
Stone Lintel from Barkly Terrace
A silent witness to the events of 27 October 1927
Right of Way, 33 Macarthur Place Carlton
A Belgian revolver was found near the side fence
12 Murchison Street Carlton
Home of hire-car driver John Hall in 1927
27 October 1927
Last Drinks for Squizzy Taylor
The Clare Castle Hotel, renamed The Beaufort in 2012, has special significance as a hotel visited by notorious gangster Squizzy Taylor on his last fateful journey of 27 October 1927. The hotel, on the corner of Rathdowne and Palmerston streets, dates back to 1866 and was first licensed to John Ryan. The building later underwent extensive renovations, which were completed in September 1927, a few weeks before Squizzy's final visit. 1,2,3
Squizzy's last journey began at the Bookmakers Club in Lonsdale Street, where he and his two associates hired a car driven by John William Hall. Following Squizzy's directions, Hall proceeded along Exhibition and Rathdowne Streets to Carlton. Contemporary newspaper accounts differ in the location of hotels visited by Squizzy and his associates - Rathdowne, Drummond, Elgin or Lygon Street - and many other aspects of the case. According to Hall's statement at the inquest, the three men went into a hotel on the corner of Rathdowne and Palmerston Streets, and two other unnamed hotels in Drummond Street. 4,5,6
After leaving the hotels, they went to Barkly Street and Squizzy directed Hall to park on the right hand side of the street, near the intersection with Nicholson Street. And it was at Barkly Terrace, on the northern side of the street, where Squizzy was fatally wounded in a shootout with his rival John Daniel 'Snowy' Cutmore. No. 50 Barkly Street, one of five cottages comprising Barkly Terrace, was a boarding house operated by Snowy's mother Bridget Delia Cutmore. Snowy Cutmore was pronounced dead at the scene by local doctor Alan McCutcheon, from 88 Rathdowne Street, while Mrs Cutmore was wounded in the shoulder, but she survived. Squizzy, driven by John Hall, made it to St Vincent's Hospital in Fitzroy, where he died within half an hour of admission.
On that day in October 1927, three people were shot and three firearms were involved. After Squizzy's death at St Vincent's, a pistol was found in his pocket, though his widow Ida stated that he was not carrying a weapon when he left his home in Richmond that morning. A Belgian revolver, believed to be fired by Snowy Cutmore, was found the next day by Mrs Hudson in the backyard of her home at 33 Macarthur Place South, just inside the fence adjoining a right of way. The third firearm, a Webley Automatic Colt revolver, was discovered by police in a lavatory cistern at the rear of 50 Barkly Street, but this was not made public at the time. Despite detailed ballistics evidence presented at the inquest, the coroner Mr Berriman was unable to determine who shot who, and an open verdict was returned. 7
Squizzy was buried in Brighton cemetery on 29 October 1927, accompanied by "a disgraceful exhibition of morbid curiosity, coupled with a callous disregard for the feelings of the bereaved". The funeral was arranged by Josiah Holdsworth of Lygon Street and local legend has it that the undertaker was never paid for his services. 8,9,10
Hire-car driver and Carlton resident John Hall, who was abandoned by Squizzy's associates and left with the responsibility of taking him to hospital, was probably also out of pocket. John Hall was living at 12 Murchison Street, a short distance from Barkly Street, at the time of the shooting. According to rate book and directory records, he lived there from 1927 to 1928. The house, which still stands today, was built in 1916 by Carlton builder W.D. Wilson for Sarah Wood.11
Snowy Cutmore was buried in Coburg cemetery and his widow Gladys stayed on at Barkly Terrace for a few years. Snowy's mother Bridget Cutmore lived there until her death in 1938, aged 70 years. Barkly Terrace, originally built in 1862 and described in The Sun as "a sombre bluestone house", was owned by Alfred Abraham Solomon and his executors from 1919 to 1940, and then by members of the Labattaglia family. In an ironic twist, Francesco Antonio (Frank Anthony) Labattaglia was the third husband of Squizzy's widow Ida Pender. They married in 1933, after Ida divorced her second husband George Lewin (aka Mickey Powell) in 1932, on the grounds of desertion. 12,13,14,15,16,17,18
Barkly Terrace survived its first hundred years, then it was placed under a Housing Commission order in 1963 and demolished in 1965. The "sombre bluestone house", as described in The Sun in 1927, was replaced by a block of flats. A stone lintel salvaged from the demolition site remains a silent witness to the events of 27 October 1927.19,20
Notes and References:
1Squizzy Taylor was born Joseph Leslie Theodore Taylor in Brighton in 1888.
2 R.K. Cole Collection of Hotel Records, Melbourne Suburbs, Vol. II, p. 203
3 Building Application File no. 9385, 1927 (VPRS 11201)
4 The shooting incident and subsequent inquest were widely reported in newspapers in October and November 1927.
5 Inquest Deposition File 1927/1331 (VPRS 24)
6 In The rise and fall of Squizzy Taylor: A larrikin crook, author Hugh Anderson names the Clare Castle Hotel in Rathdowne Street and the Morning Star Hotel, "then south down Drummond Street, with two hotel calls on the way." However, the route map reproduced in the same publication does not extend into North Fitzroy, the location of the Morning Star, and John Hall's inquest statement does not support the Morning Star claim.
7 Inquest Deposition File 1927/1331 (VPRS 24)
8 The Argus, 31 October 1927, p. 21
9 A memorial plaque in Brighton cemetery records the final resting place of Squizzy Taylor and his baby daughter June, who died in January 1921 aged 7 months.
10 The Melbourne Times, 2 September 1981, p. 10
11 Building Application File no. 35, 1916 (VPRS 11201)
12 Victorian Electoral Roll, Melbourne Division, Carlton and Carlton South Subdivisions 1927-1938
13 Death Index Victoria, Reg no. 3030, 1938
14 The Sun, 28 October 1927, p. 3
15 Certificate of Title, Vol. 4214, Fol. 615, 1919
16 Certificate of Title, Vol. 6402, Fol. 391, 1940
17 Marriage Index Victoria, Reg. no. 2000, 1933
18 The Argus, 30 July 1932, p. 24
19 Register of Demolitions, no. 2416, 1965 (VPRS 17292)
20 Building Application Index, no. 37919, 1965 (VPRS 11202)
Scene of Robbery in 1917 (now Carlton Cellars)
Corner of Canning and Richardson Streets
A Sweet-Toothed Robbery in North Carlton
In February 1917, just before Valentine's Day, two thieves managed to dodge police bullets and make off with 2,800 pounds of sugar, 112 pounds of rice and 15 shillings in cash. The well-planned robbery took place around 3.30 am at William Drum's licensed grocery store, on the corner of Richardson and Canning Streets, North Carlton. The two men had loaded up their horse-drawn cart and were about to make their exit when they were challenged by Constable Simon McKenzie, on patrol from the North Carlton Police Station and armed with a revolver. The horse and cart took off and Constable Simon McKenzie fired 3 shots at the horse, which would have been the 1917 equivalent of shooting out the car tyres. But the bullets missed their mark, as did the remaining 5 shots aimed at the cart driver. The thieves got away with their haul, valued at about £40 and most likely destined for the re-sale market. A search of Mr Drum's premises revealed that two locks on the front door had been forced open and the arc light in front of the store had been disabled. Surprisingly, two demijohns of whiskey, valued at £10 each, were left behind in the shop.
Spare a thought for Constable McKenzie - instead of being hailed the hero of a thwarted robbery attempt, he probably copped a ribbing from his fellow police officers because he couldn't even shoot a horse and cart.
The Age, 13 February 1917, p. 6
The Argus, 13 February 1917, p. 9
A Rogue and Vagabond
Image Source: Weekly Times, 17 December 1870, p. 9
John Sullivan (right) shooting at Mounted Police Constable Mays
What is the legal definition of frequenting a public place? This question was posed in Carlton Court in April 1887, when John Sullivan faced a charge of being a rogue and vagabond, and a suspected person frequenting a public place. Sullivan (also known as John Lewis, John Lewis Elliott and William Jackson) was born in South America in 1850 (or earlier) and worked as a sailor before embarking on a life of crime. He was imprisoned at Richmond stockade for nine months in 1864 on a charge of larceny. The following year, in June 1865, he served three concurrent sentences in Pentridge prison for burglary and receiving stolen property. During his time in Pentridge, he committed numerous offences, ranging from the seemingly trivial (talking and laughing ; having tea, sugar etc) to the more serious (fighting ; disorderly conduct). These offences added time to his sentence and he was finally released in December 1869.1,2
Sullivan may have learned a few tricks while in Pentridge, for he resumed his criminal activities and became notorious as the Yarra Flats bushranger. He evaded police for some time, then Sullivan and fellow bushranger, Charles Smith, were bailed up by Mounted Police Constable Mays in December 1870. Mays narrowly dodged a bullet fired by Sullivan - a charge that Sullivan was later to deny as accidental - but he succeeded in arresting Smith. Sullivan was eventually arrested further up the Yarra track and brought back to Melbourne to face charges of attempting to abscond, horse stealing and shooting with intent. In February 1871, he was sentenced to six months hard labour (in irons) on the first charge, eight years on the second and seven years on the third. His prison record describes him unflatteringly as having a swarthy complexion and a "face blotched with pimples". True to his form, Sullivan added to his sentence by committing various offences while in gaol, including a serious assault on fellow prisoners Roland Leigh and James Doolan, and a knife fight with former bushranger Captain Moonlite (alias Andrew Scott). In October 1884, having spent the greater part of the last twenty years in prison, Sullivan was once again a free man - though not for long.3,4,5,6,7
Less than two months after his release from Pentridge, Sullivan was back in court facing a charge of assaulting a man named George McLeish in Bourke Street, Melbourne. McLeish had just come out of a theatre when he was approached by two woman, one of whom was Sullivan's wife. Sullivan took exception to McLeish talking to his wife, even though she had initiated the conversation, and punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. A passing police constable intervened and prevented the violence from escalating. When Sullivan appeared in the City Court a few days later on 17 December 1884, he admitted his prior convictions and begged for leniency, stating that since leaving gaol he had endeavoured to earn an honest living by keeping a small shop. He was sentenced to two months' imprisonment and would have spent Christmas 1884 in gaol. Sullivan and his wife were involved in another incident in April 1886, when he was found fighting with her in a city street and disturbing the peace in the early hours of the morning. Both husband and wife were taken into custody, but the court favoured Sullivan, who stated he was trying to take his wife back home, and fined her 10 shillings. At the time, it was reported that he had a shop in Collingwood and his wife assisted him in the business.8,9
The following year, 1887, was an eventful one for John Sullivan. In February, he was involved in an early morning fracas at the home of Mr Cousens at Ten Foot Hill, Castlemaine. An altercation took place between Sullivan and a man named Thomas Ray, who struck Sullivan on the forehead with a hammer, inflicting a severe wound. Sullivan retaliated and threatened to "knock Ray's brains out", when the potentially serious situation was averted by the arrival of police. The two men and Thomas Ray's wife Esther were charged with creating a disturbance. In Castlemaine Police Court on 9 February, Thomas Ray was fined £1, in default seven days' imprisonment, while Esther was fined the greater amount of £6, in default two months' imprisonment, for using obscene language. Sullivan was discharged and then immediately re-arrested as he left the court. Sergeant Nowlan recognised Sullivan's description from the Police Gazette and arrested him on a charge of larceny as a servant. He allegedly stole 15 plugs of tobacco, 4 shillings in silver and a pair of scissors from his employer, John Kelly, at North Fitzroy on 27 January 1887. Sullivan was remanded, at his own request, to appear at Fitzroy Police Court, where he would be in a better position to raise bail, set at £50, and two sureties of £125 each. On Monday 14 February, the court was told that Sullivan was an employee of John Kelly, a barber and tobacconist of St George's Road, North Fitzroy. Kelly had left John Lewis (as he was then known) in charge of the shop for an afternoon and, when he returned, he found that Lewis had decamped and the stated items were missing. But this must have been Sullivan's lucky month, for he was once again discharged, on the grounds that there was no evidence that he had taken the stated items.10,11,12,13,14
Two months later, in April 1887, Sullivan's luck had run out when he was arrested outside the Dan O'Connell Hotel, on the corner of Canning and Princes Streets, Carlton. He was allegedly the "lookout" for Robert McFadden, who had broken into the hotel with intent to commit a burglary. Nothing was stolen and Sullivan's initial charge was being an accessory before the fact. But his criminal past had caught up with him and the charge was subsequently altered to being a rogue and vagabond, and a suspected person frequenting a public place. His defence was dependent on the curious interpretation of a public place as being a street that led to "any river, canal, quay, etc.", as defined by the Colonial Act. Sullivan's defence counsel, Mr Leonard, argued that Canning and Princes Streets were not public places according to the Colonial Act definition. He cited the 1883 case of Benjamin Adams, who was arrested in Victoria Parade, Collingwood, on a similar charge and the conviction was quashed on appeal. On the charge of "frequenting", Leonard cited a case recently decided by the English Court of Exchequer in which being seen once in a street did not constitute frequenting. Leonard had done his research and prepared his case well, but the Bench was against him. They favoured the broader interpretation of a public place as being any street and frequenting as being seen one or more times in such a street. Sullivan was sentenced to one month's imprisonment and Mr Leonard, in fit of pique, reportedly said: "Hand me down my law hooks. I'll never take the trouble to hunt up law cases for this Bench again".15,16
What became of Sullivan after his release from prison? It is unlikely that he would have returned to work at John Kelly's barber shop and the publicity surrounding his criminal record, and his propensity for violence, would have discouraged most employers from taking him on. His Victorian prison record shows no further custodial sentences, however Sullivan was known by several different aliases and may have re-invented himself. He could have travelled, interstate or overseas, and established himself in a new town or country. Remember that he was once a sailor - what better way to escape your past?
Notes and References:
1 The Age, 28 April 1887, p. 6
2 Central Register of Male Prisoners, no. 7265, Register 10, p. 672 (VPRS 515). This record states that Sullivan was 19 years old in 1865.
3 Weekly Times, 17 December 1870, p. 9
4 Central Register of Male Prisoners no. 7265, Register 13, p. 298 (VPRS 515). This record states that Sullivan was born in 1850.
5 The Argus, 2 September 1875, p. 4
6 The Argus, 19 January 1876, p. 4
7 The Australasian, 1 December 1877, p. 1
8 The Age, 18 December 1884, p. 1
9 The Age, 19 April 1886, p. 6
10 Bendigo Advertiser, 10 February 1887, p. 3
11 Bendigo Advertiser, 11 February 1887, p. 3
12 Mount Alexander Mail, 11 February 1887, p. 2
13 Victoria Police Gazette, 2 February 1887, p. 40
14 Mercury and Weekly Courier, 18 February 1887, p. 3
15 Avoca Mail, 29 April 1887, p. 3
16 Mercury and Weekly Courier, 23 June 1883, p. 2
Graffiti with a Conscience
Tagging in Richardson Street North Carlton
In recent years, many historic Carlton buildings – both private residences and business premises – have been defaced with unattractive graffiti and tagging. Back in the 1980s, graffiti was not just a medium of self (or selfish) expression. It was also used to communicate social, political and public health messages. B.U.G.A.U.P. (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) was formed in Sydney in late 1979 and soon became active in Carlton and other inner city suburbs of Melbourne. The movement raised the ire of the tobacco, alcohol and advertising industries, resulting in prosecutions.
Two such cases were heard in Carlton Court in 1980. In February Dr Josephine Kavanagh, a radiologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital and anti-smoking campaigner, was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond and ordered to pay $125 compensation to the Pacific Outdoor Advertising Company for painting slogans on a cigarette advertising billboard. Six months later, in August 1980 two young women – a medical student and speech therapist – appeared in Carlton Court to face charges for wilful damage in defacing a cigarette advertising poster. The hearing attracted a group of about 30 anti-cigarette advertising protesters, who demonstrated outside the court in support of the women. The case was rescheduled to the Melbourne Magistrates Court and the women were placed on 12-month good behaviour bonds and ordered to pay $106.90 each in costs.
2 The Canberra Times, 14 February 1980, p. 10
3 The Age, 20 August 1980, p. 6
Art or Obscenity?
Australia was a conservative country in the 1960s and in October 1966 a drawing exhibited at Strines Gallery in Rathdowne Street, Carlton, challenged acceptable standards of public decency. The gallery's director, Sweeney Reed, had an impressive art pedigree. He was the son of artist Joy Hester and the adopted son of art patrons John and Sunday Reed. The Reeds financed Strines Gallery, which Sweeney managed from 1966 to 1970. Sweeney appeared in Carlton Court in February 1967 to answer charges of having exhibited an obscene article, a black and white drawing entitled "Oops" by artist Ronald Upton. Upton was charged with having aided in the exhibition of an obscene article. The Canberra Times reported that witnesses, including an Anglican bishop, a fine arts professor, the acting director of the National Gallery and a psychiatrist, attested that Upton's drawing was of artistic merit and would not injure or corrupt children or teenagers.1
Stipendiary Magistrate R.W. Smith adjourned the case for a few weeks. In March 1967, after viewing the drawing at the gallery and within the court room, Mr Smith ruled that, while the drawing emphasised matters of sex and therefore fell into the category of obscenity, it was of artistic merit and unlikely to deprave or corrupt the class of people who viewed the exhibition. He dismissed the charges and ordered for the drawing to be returned to the buyer, Scott Stanley Carter. Sweeney Reed, a brilliant but troubled young man, committed suicide 12 years later in March 1979.2,3
Sweeney Reed and Strines Gallery was the subject of an exhibition held at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, from August 2018 to February 2019. The Bridget McDonnell Gallery, establised in Armadale in 1983 and in Carlton since 1986, now occupies the former Strines Gallery site on the corner of Rathdowne and Faraday streets, Carlton.
1 Canberra Times, 10 February 1967, p. 4
2 Canberra Times, 3 March 1967, p. 7
3 Image of an artist as a doomed man, The Age, 18 March 2002
A Handful of Pepper
The young man had business to do at the Carlton branch of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank in Swanston Street. He dressed carefully and checked his pockets to make sure he had what he needed before heading off. On his arrival, he noticed that there were no other customers inside. That was good, the way he wanted it. As he entered the bank, little did he know that Saturday 22 April, 1933, would be the last day of his life.
The clock on the wall had passed the hour and was heading towards the midday closing time. The two bank staff – ledgerkeeper John Hayes and teller Andrew Frewin – were looking forward to knocking off and enjoying the rest of the weekend. Hayes briefly looked up when he heard someone enter the bank, then returned to his book work. Frewin was counting money inside the "teller's box", an enclosed work space with a metal grille that separated the occupant from the public area of the bank. He saw the man approaching, but what happened next was so sudden and unexpected that Frewin had no time to react, let alone defend himself. The man heaved himself onto the counter, reached over the top of the grille and grabbed a handful of bank notes. Frewin felt a searing pain in his eyes and was temporarily blinded. The metal grille, intended to protect bank employees and assets in the event of a robbery, afforded no protection against a handful of pepper used as an offensive weapon.1
Hearing Frewin's cries of pain, Hayes instinctively reached for the revolver he kept under the counter. He did not know the nature of Frewin's injuries, but he knew they had been inflicted by the man now running towards the door. Hayes released the safety catch and fired a single shot. Meanwhile, Mrs Ethel Halloran was shopping at Salvio's next door when she heard the commotion. On entering the bank, she saw a young man lying on the floor, obviously in pain, and initially she thought he was a bank employee. But he resisted her offer of help and pushed her roughly out of the way. She then realised that he was the perpetrator, not the victim, of a bank robbery. She did her best to restrain him, but he managed to get to his feet and stagger out of the bank. Mrs Salvio, who had followed Mrs Halloran into the bank, attended to Frewin and bathed his eyes in oil. He had no recollection of what had happened after the pepper was thrown in his eyes, apart from hearing the shot from Hayes's revolver. Hayes, still reeling from the shock that he had just shot a man, found a few bank notes dropped in the doorway, but saw no sign of the retreating robber.
Despite being shot in the chest, the bank robber managed to stagger two blocks before collapsing on the corner of Lygon and Queensberry streets. He was found by Plainclothes Constable L. M. Coysh, who took him to the Melbourne Hospital. On the way, the young man admitted that he had robbed the bank and asked Coysh: "Have you got the other fellow?" He refused to give his name, saying: "Call me Smith", or the name of his alleged accomplice. Was this an attempt on his part to divert police attention from himself as the sole perpetrator? Within a short time, the answers to these questions were of no consequence because the young man died soon after admission to hospital. The body of the mysterious "Mr Smith" lay in the morgue over the weekend until he could be positively identified. His fingerprints, taken post mortem, showed that he had no record of any prior conviction in Victoria. On Monday 24 April, The Age published a detailed description of the bank robber, issued by police:
About 24 years of age, five feet nine inches tall, medium build, clean appearance generally, clean shaven, freckled face and hands, good head of auburn hair cut short back and sides; rather thin face, prominent chin, flat nose with long bridge and showing signs of an operation to left nostril, soft hands, giving appearance of not having done hard work for some time; long finger nails well manicured. Dressed in blue suit with red pencil stripe, cream silk shirt, cream woollen fancy jacket, tan shoes with rubber soles. On the shirt collar were faded letters S.K.Y.C. The trousers bore a cleaner's number. There was a scar above the right eye, a scar on the right hip, and three prominent vaccination marks on the left forearm.2
The letters on the collar of the silk shirt provided a vital clue to the identity of the well-dressed and well-groomed bank robber. "S.K.Y.C." were the initials of the St Kilda Yacht Club. Mr John Stooke, commodore of the club, and Mr J.G. O'Neill, a member of the committee, identified the young man as a former employee of the club. John Dickson (Dixson) had worked there as a cleaner and caretaker for about a year, and he was considered an industrious worker, but he was dismissed in February 1932 for two incidents of insubordination. He had previously worked at Carlyon's Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda. Once the identity was made public, other people came forward claiming to know Dickson. Mrs S. Heal, a widow who lived in Queensberry Street near the bank, knew Dickson as a well-presented and well-behaved young Englishman. He had visited her and her daughter regularly until about 12 months ago, when she thought he had gone to the country to try his hand at gold prospecting. His reckless behaviour in robbing the bank seemed completely out of character with the young man she once knew. He had worked hard to send money back to England to help his widowed mother and support his blind brother.3
Dickson's housemate, a farm worker named John McKenzie, had boarded with him in Dudley Street, West Melbourne, for about seven weeks. The two men had known each other since 1927, when they had met at a training farm in Norfolk, England. They had been trying find employment in Victoria and, in the week leading up to the robbery, McKenzie claimed that Dickson had said several times that he would have to get money from somewhere. Somehow the image of Dickson as a farm worker or cleaner did not tally with that of the soft-handed and well-manicured man who lay on the mortuary slab. Whatever he had been doing since he left his employment at the St Kilda Yacht Club in February 1932, Dickson had the means of maintaining his clothing and appearance. This raises the issue that he may have owed money and was forced by circumstances – or his creditors – to rob the bank.
Once Dickson had been positively identified, police were keen to follow the line of enquiry that he had an accomplice. Not all the stolen money (estimated at £40 in total) had been recovered from what was dropped when Dickson made his escape from the bank. Several witnesses reported that they had seen him passing money to another man waiting outside the bank or nearby, but there was insufficient information to identify the alleged accomplice. There was another possible, more prosaic, explanation. Dickson was in a weakened state from the chest wound and he may have inadvertently dropped the money as he made his painful way from the bank in Swanston Street to Lygon Street, where he collapsed. It was conceivable that a few stray notes were picked up and pocketed by passers-by. Police were also trying to locate a friend of Dickson's, who was believed to work at a hotel in South Melbourne, but nothing came of their investigations.
The inquest was held on Friday 28 April, six days after the bank robbery and shooting. The Deputy Coroner, Mr T. O'Callaghan, P.M., heard evidence from bank teller Andrew Frewin, who was still suffering from the effects of the pepper attack ; ledgerkeeper John Hayes, who fired the fatal shot ; Mrs Ethel Halloran, who tried to restrain Dickson ; farm labourer John McKenzie, who lived with Dickson in West Melbourne, and Plainclothes Constable L.M. Coysh, who accompanied Dickson to hospital and heard his dying words. Mr O'Callaghan concluded that John Hayes was justified in shooting Dickson, even though his own life was not directly threatened. Hayes, as the more senior bank officer, had a duty of care to protect his colleague and the property of his employer, the English, Scottish and Australian Bank. He had acted appropriately and was fully exonerated.4
Notes and References:
1 The sensational bank robbery was reported in local and interstate newspapers from Monday 24 April through to early May of 1933. The reports vary in content and detail, including the timing of the robbery – anywhere between 11.00 am and near midday.
2 The Age, 24 April 1933, p. 9
3 Initial reports identified the robber by the surname "Dickson", but the spelling "Dixson" was used at the inquest (VPRS 24/P0/unit 1241/item 1933/435) and on his official death record (reg. no. 3048/1933). His parents' names were recorded as "unknown".
4 The Herald, 28 April 1933, p. 5.
A Heartless Mother
The woman stood in the witness box at the City Court and faced His Worship, Mr Call. It was Valentine's Day, 14 February 1884, but Mr Call's scathing comments carried no terms of endearment: "You're not fit to be spoken of as a creature, let alone a woman." Who was this woman and what had she done to earn this epithet? 1
On a summer evening in December 1883, two young men named Edward Meaker (Maker) and Albert Fox were walking home. As they approached the Carlton Refuge in Keppel Street, they were astonished to see an infant, wrapped in newspaper, lying on the footpath the near the doorstep. The Carlton Refuge was a home for "fallen women", not a foundling home, but possibly a mother in desperate circumstances had left the infant there in the belief that it would be cared for. The little waif could have died overnight from exposure or lack of nourishment, so Mr Meaker carried him to the nearest police station. Sergeant Dalton took charge and sent the infant to the "industrial schools", an institution for the care of neglected children. He was subsequently placed in foster care with Eliza Smith of Sandridge (Port Melbourne). Enquiries were made and within a few days the infant was identified as Arthur George Wright, the five month old son of Martha Letitia Wright. 2,3
Martha Wright (née Gillon) was an American-born widow from country Victoria, and she had moved to Melbourne following the death of her husband, Philip Wright. They were married at Christ Church, Castlemaine, in February 1870 and had six children, of whom two (Philip and John) died in infancy. The youngest child, Phillippa, was born in Prahran in January 1880, seven months after the death of her father. Philip Wright was an engineer and he worked in the mining districts of Victoria. He died at Castlemaine on 5 July 1879 at the age of 42 years and, as he left no will, letters of administration were granted to his widow Martha as sole beneficiary. The estate was valued at £318, 15 shillings and 10 pence, the balance of which was a life insurance policy of £200 with the Mutual Provident Assurance Society. 4,5,6,7
Within weeks of Philip's death, the sale of the household furniture and effects – tables, chairs, couch, carpets, double and single iron bedsteads, chest drawers, washstands, dressing tables, copper boiler, kitchen utensils, etc. – was advertised in the Mount Alexander Mail. Martha, with three young children (Francis, Mary and Ralph) and another on the way, had made the decision to sell up and leave Castlemaine for Melbourne. In January 1882, Martha became licensee of the Newmarket Hotel in Elizabeth Street, Carlton. She held the licence for just over a year, when it was transferred to Henry Long in April 1883. Martha would have been about six months pregnant at the time and she gave birth to another son, Arthur George Wright, in Richmond in July of the same year. 8,9,10,11
On Tuesday 7 December 1883, Martha was arrested at Royal Arcade in the city and charged with having unlawfully abandoned her male child five months old. At the City Court on the following day, she initially denied that the abandoned child was hers, claiming she had looked after him for his mother, a woman named Emma (Emily) Harper. However, she refused to disclose Emma's address and several witnesses testified that Martha had a child about the same age as the one found near the Carlton Refuge. Besides, the birth of Arthur George Wright had been registered under his mother's married name, with an unknown father. Martha was remanded to appear in Carlton Court on Wednesday 19 December, where she was committed for trial in the new year. In the meantime, Martha did not take her son Arthur home and he remained in the care of Eliza Smith.12,13,14,15
Martha was back in court on 4 February 1884, to face charges of abandoning a child under the age of two years, whereby its life was endangered, and with exposing the child, whereby its health was liable to be permanently injured. Judge McFarland conceded there was no doubt that Martha had abandoned her child in Carlton, but he left it to the jury to decide whether her intention was that the child should be discovered and cared for by others. The fact that the child was found in a public street near the Carlton Refuge supported her case. The jury was sympathetic to the plight of a poor widowed mother and found her not guilty. Martha was cleared of the charges, but the future of her son was yet to be decided, and this is how she incurred the wrath of Mr Call. 16
If Martha expected a sympathetic hearing from Mr Call a few days later, she was sorely mistaken. When questioned, Martha stated that she would lose her employment situation if she had to nurse her child, and she had not taken out a maintenance order against the father of her child, which would have helped relieve the financial burden. Mr Call was unimpressed with Martha's demeanour and her lack of interest in her child. He adjourned the case for another month, in the hope that Martha might develop some maternal feeling for her child. But when Martha returned to court in March, she was unrepentant and did not want to take her child back. Mr Call did not hold back on his condemnation of Martha as a heartless mother:17,18Mr Call would have preferred to sentence Martha to 12 months' imprisonment, but this was beyond his jurisdiction. Instead, he committed her innocent son Arthur George Wright to the industrial schools for a period of seven years. Arthur's record in the Children's Register shows that he spent the rest of his childhood in various foster care placements and there is no indication that Martha had any contact with him once he was committed. Martha's elder daughter Mary died in the same year as Arthur's commitment in 1884, at the age of 10 years.20,21,22"You're as unmotherly a creature in petticoats as has ever been seen in this world. I was going to say that you had no more feeling than a dog towards its puppies, but a dog has some affection for its young. You evidently have none, not caring to kiss your child, or even look at it." 19
Was Martha really the heartless mother she was made out to be? Life had dealt her some heavy blows. She had lost two children in infancy, then her husband in 1879, leaving her a widow with the care of four young children. A few years later, she found herself pregnant with another man's child. Could Martha's emotional detachment from this baby be explained as a symptom of postnatal depression, the effects of which are now known to persist for months, even years, after birth? Martha lived at a time when motherhood was venerated, but women who did not conform to society's ideal were condemned as "bad mothers". Perhaps history will not judge Martha so harshly.
Notes and References:
1 The Herald, 14 February 1884, p. 2
2 The Age, 8 December 1883, p. 5
3 The Children's Register for Arthur George Wright gives his date of birth as 4 July 1883. (No. 14630, VPRS 4527)
4 Biographical information has been sourced from birth, death and marriage records.
5 Leader, 5 March 1870, p. 27
6 The Age, 11 July 1879, p. 1
7 Letters of Administration, 19-328, 1879 (VPRS 28)
8 Mount Alexander Mail, 22 July 1879, p. 3
9 The Argus, 18 January 1882, p. 4
10 The Argus, 4 April 1883, p. 10
11 The Newmarket Hotel was located on the narrow triangular piece of land at the intersection of Elizabeth, Leicester and Victoria streets, Carlton. During Henry Long's term as licensee, the Newmarket Hotel was renamed the Three Points Hotel. The hotel was acquired by the Colonial Bank of Australasia in 1885 and demolished to make way for a new bank building.
12 The Herald, 8 December 1883, p. 2
13 Birth registration No. 19032/1883
14 Weekly Times, 22 December 1883, p. 11
15 Children's Register No. 14630 (VPRS 4527)
16 Mount Alexander Mail, 5 February 1884, p. 3
17 The Herald, 14 February 1884, p. 2
18 The child's father was not named in court, but he appears in the Children's Register as a plumber named "Frederick George Wright". It is something of a co-incidence that he had the same surname as Martha's married name.
19 The Herald, 13 March 1884, p. 2
20 The Argus, 14 March, 1884, p. 10
21 Children's Register No. 14630 (VPRS 4527)
22 Death registration No. 2522/1884
Marry in Haste, Repent at Leisure
A hasty marriage, an unexpected birth and a tragic discovery at the cemetery - all this happened within a few weeks in April and May of 1884. On the afternoon of 12 May 1884 Joseph Walkerden, a bricklayer, was near the Melbourne General Cemetery when he saw a woman drop something over the fence. His suspicions aroused, he alerted police and went to the cemetery with Constable Walters to investigate. They found a cigar box lying on the ground and, on opening the box, discovered the dead body of an infant. Constable Walters took charge of the body and delivered it to the Melbourne Hospital for a post mortem examination. Mr Walkerden gave a description of the woman, initially believed to be the infant's mother, to the police. She was tracked down and arrested, then the truth – or at least part of the truth – came out. Catherine Howard, aged 43 years, was not the mother of the infant, but a nurse who had attended the birth. She claimed the infant was stillborn and she admitted having disposed of the body in the cigar box "to oblige another woman". Nurse Howard was remanded in Carlton Court for seven days while police continued their investigations. They had to establish whether there were any suspicious circumstances surrounding the infant's death.1
The inquest was held at the Melbourne Hospital on Thursday 14 May. Susan Copeland, the woman identified as the mother, stated that she had given birth to a stillborn female infant on 11 May and was attended by the nurse Catherine Howard. A doctor was not called in to certify the stillbirth. Susan Copeland had given Catherine Howard the sum of £1 to arrange burial of the child, with the proviso that she could return for more money if required. As the nurse did not return, Mrs Copeland assumed that the burial had been completed as per her wishes, and she only found out about the body in the cigar box when she read it in the newspaper. The doctor who conducted the post mortem examination found that the infant was born prematurely at about six or seven months' gestation. There were no marks of violence or any evidence of injury on the body. He could not say definitely whether or not the infant had breathed, but he believed that she would not have lived. The coroner, Dr Youl, found that the infant was stillborn and the jury returned the same verdict. According to this finding, neither Susan Copeland nor Catherine Howard was in any way implicated in the death of the infant, and there was no charge of infanticide or murder to answer.2
However, Catherine Howard's actions in accepting the payment, then failing to give the child a proper burial, were both dishonest and dishonourable. A week later, on 21 May, she appeared in Carlton Court to face a charge of concealment of birth, an offence under the Crimes Act. This was a lesser charge than the capital crimes of infanticide or murder, but it still carried a prison sentence. Fortunately for Catherine, the case was dismissed in a matter of minutes. The Bench, comprising Messrs Conroy and Showers, took a merciful view, and considered that she had erred through ignorance and not through criminal intent. Co-incidentally, the hearing was scheduled on the same day that Susan Copeland sought a maintenance order against her husband, Nathaniel Copeland. Newspapers at the time did not report whether there was any interaction between the two women at the court but, given their recent history, it was unlikely to be cordial. 3
The maintenance case revealed the extraordinary circumstances of the marriage of Susan Reed, as she called herself, to Nathaniel Copeland. They had married in Carlton on 28 April 1884, after a whirlwind courtship of only a few weeks. Nathaniel Copeland, a dealer, had met Susan by chance at the Swan Hotel in Fitzroy. Irish-born Susan was an attractive woman in her twenties and Nathaniel admitted he was "struck" by her. Susan told Nathaniel that she was a widow, her husband having died three years previously in Adelaide. She was in receipt of an income of £1 per week and was entitled to a legacy. The marriage was registered by John Glennon of Drummond Street, Deputy-Registrar for Carlton, and William Fogg, a cabdriver, was present as a witness. Within two weeks of the marriage, Susan Copeland gave birth to the stillborn infant that Catherine Howard threw over the fence into the cemetery. Did Nathaniel Copeland even know that his new wife was pregnant at the time of their marriage? Had she tried to trick him into accepting another man's child as his own? Whatever his reasons, Nathaniel had allegedly kicked Susan out of the house and left her destitute.4
Nathaniel claimed that he had given Susan money amounting to £45, two thirds of which she had spent buying stock for a shop. He was unemployed at the time of the maintenance case and surviving on an income of about ten shillings and sixpence a week. He considered that his wife's independent income of £1 per week – almost twice his current income – should be adequate to cover her living expenses. The Bench made a maintenance order for five shillings a week, with 26 shillings costs. The honeymoon was well and truly over and Nathaniel Copeland must have rued the day he first caught sight of Susan Reed in the Swan Hotel. Nathaniel and Susan Copeland continued to live apart and in December 1885, at Nathaniel's instigation, a formal deed of separation was drawn up by solicitor James McKean and signed by both parties. This document set off a chain of events that ultimately saw Susan Copeland imprisoned on a charge of bigamy.5
In April 1886, two years after her marriage to Nathaniel Copeland, Susan made the acquaintance of Daniel Moroney (Maroney). In a repeat performance of her courtship with Nathaniel Susan, now using the name "Alice Rehde", told Daniel that she was a widow and her husband had died four years previously. Daniel, an older man, had taken over the licence of the King's Arms Hotel in Lygon Street in April 1885 and he probably thought that an attractive young wife at his side would be a boon to business. They were married on 10 May 1886, and this time they had a church wedding at St Georges chapel in Drummond Street, Carlton. The ceremony was conducted by the Rev James O'Connell, in the presence of Daniel Carrol and Kate Murray as witnesses. The newly married couple had six weeks of wedded bliss before Susan's duplicity was exposed. She was arrested at the King's Arms Hotel on 23 June 1886 and appeared in Carlton Court a week later to answer a charge of bigamy. Susan was committed for trial at the Supreme Court and granted bail of £100.6,7,8
The bigamy case was widely reported in local and interstate newspapers. As often happens when the defendant is a woman, the reporting commented on Susan's physical appearance. She was variously described as "a very pleasant-featured woman, well dressed, and of very respectable appearance" and either "25 years old" or "35 years old" or "middle-aged". None of these age descriptions tallied with Susan's birth year of 1858, as stated in her prison record. Did Susan lie about her age as well as her name and marital status? The sometimes tearful woman was not represented in court and her primary defence was the wording of the separation agreement, and her belief that the document constituted a legal divorce and rendered both parties free of any future obligation to each other.9,10,11,12
"The said Susan Copeland shall henceforth, during the life of the said Nathaniel Copeland, live separate and apart from him as if she were sole and unmarried, and shall be free and discharged from the power, control, restraint, authority, and government of the said Nathaniel Copeland, and he will not and shall not in any way personally or by procurement annoy or molest her, or in any way interfere with her as to the place or places where she may live or reside, or her manner of living, or with any person or persons with whom she may reside, nor require, or by any proceedings of nature, attempt or compel her to return to cohabitation with him, but that she shall have full liberty to go where, and reside with such person or persons as she may from time to time think proper."13
Mr Justice Higinbotham of the Supreme Court accepted that the agreement may have misled Susan into thinking she was free to marry, but she had failed to disclose to Daniel Moroney that she had married Nathaniel Copeland in 1884. She had also deceived Moroney by using the name "Alice Rehde", instead of her legally married name of "Susan Copeland". Justice Higinbotham considered that Susan's plea of ignorance was no valid defence and, after a short deliberation, the jury found her guilty of bigamy. James McKean, the solicitor who had drawn up the separation agreement, appeared at the sentencing hearing two days later on 30 July. He explained his absence from the court on a previous occasion by stating that he had been engaged in another case at Collingwood Court on the same day. Mr McKean gave the rather lame excuse that he thought his client had fully understood the terms of the agreement but, in hindsight, he should have explained that the agreement did not constitute a legal divorce, nor was he in a position to grant a divorce. Justice Higinbotham thanked Mr McKean for his explanation and sentenced Susan Copeland to three months' imprisonment. According to the Victoria Police Gazette, she was released from prison in the week ending 18 October 1886.14,15
After her sensational bigamy trial and subsequent imprisonment, Susan Copeland seemed to disappear from public view. She may have changed her name or possibly found another gullible man to marry. Nathaniel Copeland died in July 1907. Daniel Moroney held the licence of the King's Arms Hotel until September 1886, when it was transferred to William Edwards, and Moroney was declared insolvent. The hotel was later renamed the Horseshoe Hotel and it was delicensed in December 1925. Joseph Walkerden, the man who alerted police to the grim discovery in Melbourne General Cemetery in May 1884, committed suicide at his home in Reeves Street, Carlton, in November 1898.17,18,19
Notes and References:
1 Fitzroy City Press, 17 May 1884, p. 3
2 Inquest Deposition File No. 448-1884 (VPRS 24)
3 Fitzroy City Press, 24 May 1884, p. 3
4 Marriage Reg. No. 3496 / 1884
5 The Herald, 21 May 1884, p. 3
6 Susan's marriage to Daniel Moroney was registered under the name "Alice Rehde" (Marriage Reg. No. 2690/1886)
7 The Age, 25 June 1886, p. 7
8 The Age, 1 July 1886, p. 7
9 The Herald, 27 July, p. 2
10 Evening News, 25 June 1884, p. 6
11 Fitzroy City Press, 3 July 1886, p. 3
12 The Argus, 1 July 1886, p. 7
13 The Argus, 31 July 1886, p. 12
14 The Argus, 31 July 1886, p. 9
15 Victoria Police Gazette, 20 October 1886. Prisoners reported as discharged from penal establishments in the week ending 18 October 1886.
Susan is described as 5 feet 4 inches tall, with a fresh complexion, fair hair and blue eyes.
17 Probate File No. 103/487, 1907 (VPRS 28)
18 Index to Defunct Hotel Licences (VPRS 8159)
19 Inquest Deposition File No. 2400-1898 (VPRS 24)
A Shot in the Dark
In 1915, John Moran was one of many young Australian soldiers who died, but his name was not honoured amongst the fallen. He did not die a heroic death on the battlefield, or in a military hospital from injury or disease. Instead, he died trying to escape from a thwarted burglary attempt at the North Carlton Drill Hall in McIlwraith Street. John Moran did not give his life for his country, he gave it for a few pounds in cash and cheques.
On the morning of 17 February 1915, Richard Rockett was making preparations for the day's work. He was a carrier living in Wilson Street, Princes Hill, and he kept his horses in a vacant paddock next to the North Carlton railway station. Having collected the horses, he walked back along Wilson Street and, shortly after 6.00 am, he noticed a man in a soldier's uniform lying face downwards on the ground opposite the drill hall. He thought the man was asleep – possibly sleeping off the effects of a night's drinking – and went to wake him. The man was unresponsive but, because his body was still warm, Rockett hastened to fetch Dr Howard, who lived nearby. It was too late, all Dr Howard could do was certify the death. The police were called in and they were soon able to connect the deceased man with events of two hours before at the drill hall. The man had been shot by Sergeant Major Charles Kerry at about 4.30 am and he had slowly bled to death from a bullet wound in the back.1,2
The shooting of a soldier by an army officer on Australian soil was sensational news, with headlines proclaiming: "Soldier-burglar shot dead" and "Sergeant Major's deadly aim". The soldier was identified as nineteen year old John Patrick Moran, a member of the Expeditionary Force. His father, Nicholas Moran, faced the grim task of formally identifying the body at the city morgue. Mr Moran, having lost his wife Mary Ann in 1895, had been dealt another blow. When John was born in Port Melbourne in 1895, the birth was not the happy event that his family may have wished for. His mother Mary Ann Moran (née Stafford), developed septicaemia after giving birth and died on 29 September, when John was just 15 days old. He was baptised on the same day that his mother died, and she was buried two days later in Melbourne General Cemetery. John and his brother James, who was 2 years older, may have spent some time in care, as they had a foster mother, Mrs Kathleen Kelly, living in Trinity Street, Brunswick. When World War 1 was declared, John was one of the earliest enlistments (no. 134) on 17 August 1914. He gave his trade or calling as "engineer" and nominated his brother James as next of kin. John was single at the time of his enlistment, but a few weeks later he married Rose Ellen Strattan at the Church of England, Glenlyon Road, Brunswick on 9 September 1914. As his wife, Rose was allocated ⅖ ths of John's army pay.3,4,5,6,7
John Moran was assigned to the 7th Battalion, which was raised by Lieutenant Colonel H.E. "Pompey" Elliott within a fortnight of the declaration of war. On Wednesday 19 August 1914, John joined thousands of volunteers marching the twelve miles from Victoria barracks in St Kilda Road to Broadmeadows, then a farming area northwest of Melbourne. The streets were lined with cheering crowds and newspaper reports commented on the camaraderie amongst the volunteers and the egalitarian nature of the march, where "bank clerk and bricklayer, public school man and navvy, will be swallowed up in the universal khaki." After leaving the city proper, the volunteers headed north towards Sydney Road, where they stopped near Carlton Oval in Princes Park for lunch, finally arriving at the Broadmeadows Camp in the late afternoon. Accommodation in the hastily erected camp was basic, with no permanent huts, and soldiers had to sleep in crowded tents, often in cold, wet and muddy conditions. John Moran had five years' experience as a school cadet, and many of his fellow recruits would have had some form of compulsory military training between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years. They settled into an intensive training routine of physical drill, squad drill, rifle exercises and lectures.8,9,10,11
After two months of preparation for war, the 7th Battalion embarked for Egypt, via Albany in Western Australia. The soldiers boarded a train at Broadmeadows station early on Sunday 18 October and headed for Port Melbourne, where they marched down the pier to HMAT Hororata. They were joined by the 6th Battalion and the ship left Port Phillip Bay the following morning. But where was John Moran? His name does not appear on the embarkation roll and his father later thought that a motor car accident could account for his not being on active service. However, there is nothing in his service record to indicate any such accident or his being medically unfit for duty. Nor is there any indication of misconduct or absence without leave. John Moran's service record is notable for its lack of information – he seems to have disappeared without anyone in authority noticing. Had the rush of excitement he felt on enlistment given way to the harsh reality of training for war? An annotation, added after his death, simply states: "Deserted for a considerable period prior to being killed" and the circumstances of his death are recorded by a newspaper clipping. The last family member to see John alive was his father, Nicholas Moran. According to Mr Moran's inquest statement, John had visited him at Port Melbourne on 6 February. He mentioned a motor car accident and, as he was short of money, Mr Moran lent him £1.12,13,14
The North Carlton drill hall, located in McIlwraith Street north of Pigdon Street, was opened in January 1915. Within the first month two burglaries had taken place, on 31st January and on or about 7 February. The timing of the second burglary a day or two after John Moran's visit to his father was no coincidence. He was, by his own admission, short of money and may have seen the drill hall as an easy target. When Moran's clothing was searched, he was found in possession of multiple sets of keys, some of which fitted locks at the drill hall and the North Carlton bowling club, and two cheques stolen previously from the drill hall. After the second burglary the Commanding Officer gave orders for the drill hall to be watched overnight. As well as items of monetary value – cash, cheques and railway travel vouchers – important military documents were stored there. Australia was at war and if these documents fell into the wrong hands the consequences could be disastrous.15,16
On the evening of 16 February, the two officers allocated for night watch did not turn up for duty, so Warrant Officer John Francis Brady arranged for Sergeant Major Charles Kerry to stay overnight. He was issued with a rifle and ammunition and his instructions were to apprehend any intruder and notify Detective Mercer of Victoria Police. Charles Kerry was asleep on a camp bed when he was woken by a noise at about 4.30 am. He saw a light switched on in the Commanding Officer's room and went to investigate, then the light was suddenly switched off. An intruder was on the premises and he or she had to be stopped. Kerry called out "Hands up", and in the darkness he saw a figure running towards the main entrance. He fired a shot, but the intruder kept running and exited the building, slamming the main door behind them. Charles Kerry had to make a split second decision. Should he go after the intruder or return to his post and secure the premises? He chose the latter and John Moran's fate was sealed. Kerry telephoned the North Carlton police, who arrived at 4.45 am and made a search of the premises and surrounding area. They found nothing amiss, so Sergeant Major Kerry finished his shift at 5.00 am and went home, not knowing that he had shot a man who lay dead or dying less than 100 yards from the drill hall.17
What were John Moran's final thoughts as he lapsed into unconsciousness from loss of blood? Did he think of his family – his wife Ellen, his father Nicholas, his foster mother Kathleen and his brother James – or of the folly of committing a petty crime that would end his life? Had circumstances been different, his life may have been saved with prompt medical assistance. If the two allocated officers had turned up for duty on the night, one could have gone after the intruder while the other secured the premises. If the police had been more thorough in their search, John Moran's body may have been found earlier. But there was a practical limit to the search area the police could cover in the dark hour before dawn. Had John Moran's life had been saved, he would have faced a court martial and, most likely, a custodial sentence in a civilian prison. Instead, he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at Fawkner Cemetery the next day on 18 February 1915.18
The inquest was held a week later on 25 February and reporting of the verdict was as sensational as that of the shooting incident. The Coroner, Dr R.H. Cole, heard evidence from Dr Mollison, who performed the post mortem examination, Sergeant Major Charles Kerry, Warrant Officer John Francis Brady, Nicholas Moran, Ellen Moran, Richard Rockett, Detective Mercer and the police officers who attended the scene. No other representative from the armed forces was called to give evidence. Dr Mollison described, in clinical detail, the "small rounded penetrating wound … to the right of the midline" and gave the cause of death as haemorrhage from a gunshot wound in the lower back. Warrant Officer Brady recounted the events of the night before the shooting, his instructions to apprehend the offender and that he had issued Sergeant Major Kerry with a rifle and ammunition because the offender could be armed. It was then Charles Kerry's turn to give evidence. He stated that, upon hearing the disturbance, he had taken the loaded rifle "with the object of capturing the intruder" and he had fired at the retreating figure "in order to bring him to a stand." The Coroner found "… that John Moran died from a gunshot wound in the body … and the said wound was inflicted by Sergeant Major Kerry in the execution of his duty and advancement of law." The shooting of John Moran was justified and Sergeant Major Charles Kerry was fully exonerated. 19
Two months after the inquest, on 25 April 1915, John Moran's fellow soldiers of the 7th Battalion landed at Gallipoli and an Australian legend was born. John's brother James Joseph Moran enlisted soon afterwards on 21 June 1915. He was assigned to the 21st Battalion and, like his brother, he trained at Broadmeadows Camp. James saw active service in Europe and he was awarded the military medal for bravery in the field in 1918. He returned to civilian life and lived in Brunswick, while his father Nicholas Moran remained in Port Melbourne. Nicholas died in June 1935 and James in August 1970. Both father and son are buried with Mary Ann in Melbourne General Cemetery, near the north gate and only a few blocks away from the drill hall where John breathed his last breath. James Michael Stafford, possibly a relative from Mary Ann's family, was buried with John Moran at Fawkner in 1973.20,21,22,23
The North Carlton drill hall served its purpose during the war years and was relocated elsewhere on the site after World War 1. Part of the former council land bounded by Pigdon, McIlwraith, Wilson and Holtom Streets was released for educational purposes in December 1920. The school that later became known as Princes Hill Primary School was built there and opened on 16 April 1924. The land north of the school was retained for use by the army during World War 2, and the army reserve through to the 1990s, when the drill hall was permanently removed. The vacant land was enclosed in a cyclone wire fence while the Commonwealth Defence Department considered its disposal. It was prime real estate land, close to parks and schools, and could fetch a high commercial price. However, local residents and school groups favoured the land being made available for community and school use. Another proposal to build a sports stadium on the site was rejected. Both proposals would have required a considerable financial contribution from the Victorian Government. In the end, money won out. The land was released for residential development in 1998 and townhouses were built on the site.24,25,26,27,28,29
Related Item: Carlton in the War
Notes and References:
1 Statement by Richard Rockett, dated 25 February 1915, in Inquest Deposition File, no. 1915/266 (VPRS 24)
2 Statement by Senior Constable Olney, dated 17 February 1915, in Inquest Deposition File, no. 1915/266 (VPRS 24)
3 Statement by Nicholas Moran, dated 25 February 1915, in Inquest Deposition File, no. 1915/266 (VPRS 24)
4 Biographical information has been sourced from birth, death, marriage and baptism records.
5 The Age, 18 February 1915, p. 7
6 Attestation paper of John Moran (NAA: B2455, MORAN JOHN)
7 Statement by Rose Ellen Moran, dated 25 February 1915, in Inquest Deposition File, no. 1915/266 (VPRS 24)
8 H.E. "Pompey" Elliott was nicknamed after Fred "Pompey" Elliott, captain of the Carlton Football Club from 1908-1911. (Blueseum.org)
9 The Argus, 20 August 1914, p. 6
10 Our dear old battalion : the story of the 7th Battalion AIF, 1914-1919. Ron Austin, Slouch Hat Publications, 2004.
11 The Defence Act of 1909 prescribed junior cadet military training for males from twelve to fourteen years of age and senior cadet training from fourteen to eighteen years of age. Cadets could be fined or detained for failing to attend training. School premises were often used for training purposes and after hours training was available for senior cadets in the workforce.
12 The Seventh Battalion A.I.F. : Resume of activities of the Seventh Battalion in the Great War 1914-1918. Arthur Dean and Eric W. Gutteridge, 1933
13 Attestation paper of John Moran (NAA: B2455, MORAN JOHN)
14 Statement by Nicholas Moran, dated 25 February 1915, in Inquest Deposition File, no. 1915/266 (VPRS 24)
15 Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 8 January 1915, p. 1
16 Statement by Warrant Officer John Francis Brady, dated 25 February 1915, in Inquest Deposition File, no. 1915/266 (VPRS 24)
17 Statement by Sergeant Major Charles Kerry, dated 25 February 1915, in Inquest Deposition File, no. 1915/266 (VPRS 24)
18 Fawkner Memorial Park records
19 Inquest Deposition File, no. 1915/266 (VPRS 24)
20 The Seventh Battalion A.I.F. : Resume of activities of the Seventh Battalion in the Great War 1914-1918. Arthur Dean and Eric W. Gutteridge, 1933
21 Attestation paper of James Joseph Moran (NAA: B2455, MORAN JAMES JOSEPH)
22 Melbourne General Cemetery records
23 Fawkner Memorial Park records
24 North Carlton Lands Act, no. 3114, 24 December 1920
25 Prinny Hill : The State Schools of Princes Hill 1889-1989. Nicholas Vlahogiannis, 1989
26 Yarra Leader, 31 October 1994
27 Yarra Leader, 14 November 1994
28 City Alternative News, May 1995
29 The Age Property, 26 August 1998, p. 5
The Girl in Silk Pyjamas
September 2019 marks the 85th anniversary of one of the most sensational cases in 20th century Australian criminal history. The story of the so-called "Pyjama Girl" has been told many times over - in newspapers, books, television, film and on stage - and the romantic notion of a young woman in silk pyjamas has, to some extent, overtaken the harsh reality of her brutal death. Her public story began on the morning of 1 September 1934, when a woman's partly burnt body was found stuffed into a culvert on the Howlong Road, near Albury in New South Wales. Her body was dressed in the tattered remains of oriental-style pyjamas, hence the name "Pyjama Girl". She had suffered extensive head injuries, from multiple blows, and a post-mortem examination revealed a bullet wound in her neck. New South Wales police faced the daunting task of identifying the woman, who could be any one of a number of missing women on record at the time. The Pyjama Girl body's was embalmed and transferred to Sydney University, where she lay, preserved in formalin, in a zinc-lined coffin for nearly ten years. Her face was made up to appear more lifelike and she was viewed by hundreds of people – family, friends and workmates of missing women and even the man later charged with her murder – but no conclusive identification was made.
A major breakthrough came in March 1944, when the New South Wales Commissioner of Police, William John MacKay, elicited a confession from an Italian man named Antonio Agostini. At the time of his confession, Antonio was a recently-released World War 2 internee and he was working at the well-known Romano's restaurant in Sydney. Ten years earlier, in 1934, he was living with his wife Linda above a shop in Swanston Street, Carlton. He stated that Linda had pointed a gun at him and she had been accidentally shot when he tried to disarm her. Antonio had waited until nightfall then he loaded Linda's body, wrapped in a towel and sacking, into his car and drove through the night to New South Wales. He dumped the body in the culvert, doused it with petrol and set fire to it in order to prevent identification. (His mistake was not knowing that the human body has a high water content and is not easily burnt.) Antonio Agostini was charged with murder and, as the crime had been committed in Victoria, he was extradited to Melbourne to face trial. This placed the death scene in an upstairs bedroom of 589 Swanston Street, Carlton, the business address of the Italian newspaper Il Giornale Italiano, where Antonio worked as a journalist and agent for the newspaper.
Image: The Herald, 27 March 1944, p. 3
The death scene at 589 Swanston Street, Carlton (marked with arrow).
The Queensberry Hotel (cnr. Swanston & Queensberry Streets) is on the right.
The Pyjama Girl's body was transferred to the Melbourne City Morgue, where she was kept under guard as crucial evidence in the murder investigation. She was subjected to another post-mortem examination and inquest, held over multiple sittings from 23 March to 2 May 1944. The purpose of the second inquest was threefold: To establish the identity of the Pyjama Girl, to determine the cause of her death and who (if anyone) was responsible for her death. Whoever she may have been in life, the Pyjama Girl's body was laid bare in death. The physical evidence of her dental fillings, the colour of her eyes (blue, brown or hazel?), the shape of her hands and ears, and even the size and shape of her breasts was presented in clinical detail. One witness, Mrs Jeanette Routledge from Bomaderry, New South Wales, was convinced that the Pyjama Girl was her daughter, Anna Philomena Morgan, who she last saw in 1930. Her claim was supported by Dr Palmer Benbow, who presented evidence based on a detailed photographic comparison of facial features of both women. Mrs Routledge proved to be an unreliable witness and, under questioning, she admitted that she had given false information to police in order to avoid implicating herself in her daughter's disappearance. At the conclusion of the inquest the coroner, Mr Tingate, identified beyond reasonable doubt that the Pyjama Girl was Linda Agostini and that she had been killed by her husband Antonio Agostini. He committed Antonio Agostini for trial on a charge of murder.
The murder trial took place before Justice Lowe in the Supreme Court of Victoria, commencing 19 June 1944, and Antonio pleaded not guilty to the murder of his wife. The private lives of Antonio Agostini and Linda Platt were made open to public scrutiny. Italian-born Antonio and English-born Linda were married in Sydney in 1930. They were an attractive couple and Linda, who had worked as a hairdresser, was always well groomed. But, according to Antonio, Linda had a dark side, particularly when she drank to excess, and she had left him for months at a time. Early one morning, on or about 27 August 1934, Antonio woke to find Linda pointing a gun at his head and she was accidentally shot during the ensuing struggle. Antonio later threw the weapon in the Yarra River and the only remaining physical evidence of the shooting was the bullet extracted from Linda's neck. However, according to the post-mortem report, the bullet wound was not the cause of death. Instead, the multiple injuries on the left side of her head saw Linda's demise. Antonio explained the head injuries by stating that he had accidentally dropped Linda's body while he was carrying her down the stairs and that she had hit her head on a heavy object at the bottom of the staircase. If Antonio's statement was true and correct, it is a chilling thought that Linda may have still been alive when he dropped her body on the stairs.
Could the accidental shooting and the accidental dropping of the body on the stairs be too much of a coincidence? This was crucial in deciding Antonio's fate. If the bullet wound had caused Linda's death, Antonio could plead self defence, which could, in turn, lead to an acquittal. However, the inquest had established that the head injuries, so severe that part of Linda's skull had caved in and exposed her brain, were the cause of death. The injuries were consistent with multiple blows, rather than a single impact with a hard object, suggesting an intentional act of violence resulting in death. The text of Antonio's confession is reproduced verbatim in Richard Evans' book The Pyjama Girl Mystery, and nowhere in this carefully worded and detailed account of Antonio's actions does he mention dropping the body on the stairs. This omission, and other inconsistencies in Antonio's stated evidence, pointed to a murder conviction and possible death sentence. But there were also alleged procedural irregularities by New South Wales police in obtaining Antonio's confession and suggestions of a deal being done in order to close the long-running case. If these allegations were proven, the case could have been thrown out of court. The jury had much to consider when they retired on 28 June 1944. Was Linda Agostini the victim of an accidental death or of extreme domestic violence? After nearly 2 hours' deliberation the jury found Antonio Agostini not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.
Two days later, on 30 June 1944, Justice Lowe sentenced Antonio Agostini to six years imprisonment, with hard labour, to be served at Pentridge Prison in Coburg. This was not the first time Antonio had been in detention since his arrival in Australia in 1927, though the circumstances were very different. Just before the outbreak of World War 2 in August 1939, he came to the attention of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch for his former membership of the Fascist Party and his self-description as "a Fascist at heart". His dossier included the statement "Married: Wife deserted five years ago. Her whereabouts are not known." Antonio was living the lie of his wife's disappearance. His name appeared on a security list of Italians recommended for internment in the event of hostilities with Italy. He was "captured" at Darlinghurst, Sydney, in June 1940 and interned as an enemy alien. During his internment, Antonio made an unsuccessful application to be repatriated to Italy, in a reciprocal exchange with British journalists stranded by war in that country. Antonio Agostini was finally released from internment in February 1944, when he was deemed medically unfit for the Civil Aliens Corps, and transferred from the Wayville internment camp to Sydney. A month later, in March 1944, the nightmare of the Pyjama Girl case had begun.
Antonio served four years of his six year manslaughter sentence, with remissions for good behaviour and as part of a general post-war amnesty for former internees. While technically a free man, he faced a deportation order on his release from prison. He was detained in Pentridge until the next available ship bound for Italy was due to depart from Port Melbourne. Antonio's departure was not without drama. His transfer from Pentridge to the ship Strathnaver took place in the early hours of the morning on 22 August 1948. Immigration officials were anxious to avoid a "media scrum", but some news reporters managed to photograph and communicate with Antonio on board. Antonio was closely guarded until the ship left Port Melbourne on the next day, 23 August 1948 and, once at sea, he was free to move about the ship and mingle with other passengers. He returned to his homeland of Italy but, with memories of his wife Linda and his incarceration in Australia, would he ever be free? Antonio married Giuseppina Gasoni, a widow, at Cagliari, Sardinia, in December 1952. On 7 September 1959, the Truth newspaper reported that Antonio was making enquiries about returning to Australia, but nothing came of these claims. Antonio Agostini died ten years later, in 1969, and was buried in San Michele cemetery.
Linda Agostini was laid to rest at Preston Cemetery on 13 July 1944. She had no family in Australia and, to save her the final indignity of a pauper's grave, the Victorian government paid for her funeral and burial. Her grave is marked by a simple wooden cross, bearing the name "Linda Agostini" and her years of birth and death in faded letters. But, to this day, a lingering doubt about the true identity of the Pyjama Girl still remains. If the Pyjama Girl had died today, instead of in 1934, her identity could be established by DNA evidence, and modern forensic techniques would confirm whether her head injuries were caused pre- or post-mortem. Life may have been very different for Antonio Agostini.
At the time of the Pyjama Girl's death in 1934, 589 Swanston Street was owned by the estate of Patrick Fagan. The land on the corner of Swanston (formerly Madeline) and Queensberry streets had been in the Fagan family since 1866, and included the re-built Queensberry Hotel and five adjoining shopfronts numbered 583 to 591 Swanston Street. Patrick Fagan died in 1889 and left his considerable real estate to his widow Johanna and children Bridget Ellen and Maurice, as joint proprietors. After their deaths, the estate went to Mary Ann Fagan. She died in 1958 and the entire site was acquired by Carlton & United Breweries in 1966. In 1944, the year of Antonio Agostini's murder trial, 589 Swanston Street was a boot repairer's shop, which was continuously occupied by Andrew Black until 1970. The shops were demolished in 1971 to make way for expansion by the brewery and the site is currently being redeveloped. The Queensberry Hotel, bearing the name "Fagan's Hotel 1890" on the parapet, continues trading on the corner of Swanston and Queensberry streets.
The Pyjama Girl case was reported widely in newspapers in 1934 when the body was discovered, in 1938 when an inquest failed to establish her identity, and in 1944 when Antonio Agostini was tried and convicted of manslaughter.
The National Archives of Australia files (NAA: B741, V/23163S ; NAA: A367, C69448 ; NAA: A367, C69448 ; NAA: MP1103/1, PWN9001 ; NAA: MP1103/2, PWN9001) include newspaper cuttings on the Pyjama Girl case and correspondence relating to Antonio Agostini's interment during World War 2 and his deportation in 1948.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography gives biographical information on Antonio and Linda Agostini and a summary of the case.
Richard Evans' book The Pyjama Girl Mystery : a true story of murder, obsession and lies (Scribe Publications, 2004) gives a detailed account and interpretation of the case. The author's research draws on police records, as well newspaper accounts and other published sources.
Edward Washington explores the defence of provocation in Crime and punishment : The murder trial of Antonio Agostini (Journal of the History Teachers' Association of NSW, June 2017, p. 23-26).
A Fiend in Petticoats
The death of an infant is tragic in any circumstances, but even more so when the death results from want of care and nourishment. Catherine Kennedy, the illegitimate daughter of eighteen year old Mary Ann Kennedy, lived a very short life. She was born in Carlton on 19 January 1899 and died seven weeks later on 11 March. Her death and the subsequent trial of her carer, an unregistered nurse with a criminal record, brought to the fore the notorious practice of "baby farming", condemned by Mr. Justice Hood as "an organised, deliberate and systematic plan of murder".1
The Infant Life Protection Act (1890) came into effect in Victoria in January 1891 and introduced a system of registration of nurses and premises for the care of boarded-out infants. The Act was administered by the police, who had the authority to inspect premises (usually private residences), and the records of nurses and infants in their care. The Commissioner of Police was to be notified when an illegitimate infant was born on the premises, taken into the care of a registered nurse, transferred from one nurse to another, adopted out or died while in care. Penalties, in the form of a fine or prison sentence, applied for failure to comply with notification procedures or recordkeeping. An inquest was mandatory if an infant died in care and criminal charges could be laid if the death was deemed suspicious. Despite the protection afforded by the law, there were unregistered nurses who sought to profit from women in straitened circumstances, who were unable to feed and care for their children. Even when in the care of a registered nurse, the survival of an artificially-fed newborn infant was precarious. In 1899, the year of Catherine's birth, the infant mortality rate in the City of Melbourne was 157 deaths per 1,000 live births, with a greater number of deaths occurring during the summer months. Many of these infants died from what would now be considered preventable diseases and, in the days before refrigeration, poor milk quality and unsuitable feeding were identified as major causal factors. According to medical opinion of the day, illegitimate children were seen as less viable than those born to married parents. A well known Carlton doctor, James De Burgh Griffith of Elgin Street, declared that "nervousness on the part of the mothers of illegitimate children was very much against the children when born".2,3,4
Now to the events that saw Catherine's demise. The main players were Nurse Ellen Mary Fuller, Theresa Thornton and teenage mother Mary Ann Kennedy. Ellen Mary Fuller, a widow, was born in England in 1850. She was a midwife and registered nurse, who advertised maternity and private hospital services at addresses in Rathdowne Street, Carlton and Drummond and Rathdowne Streets, North Carlton. She also occasionally advertised babies available for adoption, or parents seeking babies for adoption. This practice was not illegal at the time, even if money changed hands, provided that the appropriate notifications were made. Nurse Fuller was no stranger to the legal system. In July 1897, she was sentenced to 12 months' gaol with hard labour for her part in arranging the adoption of an infant, who was later found abandoned in Richmond. When questioned by police, she was evasive about the identity of the woman, "Mrs Turner", who had adopted the infant, and it was some months before this woman, Alice Ann Terrill (Tirrell or Tirrell) and her mother, Eleanor Edwards, were tracked down and charged with abandoning and exposing an infant. Nurse Fuller was released early in November 1897 by special authority and, according to evidence presented by Constable William Booth in the Supreme Court in March 1899, she had been exonerated and compensated for her time in gaol. After her release, she was able to resume her nurse's registration and licence to operate a private hospital. Nurse Fuller was living in Elgin Street, Carlton, at the time of Catherine's birth.5,6,7,8
In January 1899, a few days before Catherine was born, Nurse Fuller appeared in Carlton Court as a witness in case involving a woman from Western Australia. Sarah Jane Solley had been staying at Nurse Fuller's residence, with the intention of adopting a baby and presenting it as her own child. (She had been living with a man in Kalgoorlie and possibly thought that the arrival of a baby would cement their relationship.) Sarah procured a baby from Mrs Mary Melville, an unregistered nurse who operated under the name "Nurse Meade" at a house in Cardigan Street, Carlton. Nurse Fuller, when asked to write a letter to Sarah's "husband" declaring that she had given birth, refused to collaborate in the deception. Sarah had lied to police about the infant being hers, but the court took a lenient approach. She was fined £1 for failing to notify the adoption to the Commissioner of Police, an offence could have attracted a maximum fine of £15 or three months' imprisonment. Mary Melville, a peripheral character in this story, is worth noting for the extraordinarily high infant death rate at her premises in Carlton. When she appeared as a witness in an inquest into the death of an infant in December 1898, she admitted that 13 out of 17 infants born at her premises had died.9,10,11,12,13
Marie Theresa Thornton (also known as Theresa Davis and Theresa Flanagan) was born in Germany in 1856 (or 1857) and she arrived in Australia on the Chimberazo in 1883. She worked as a servant and claimed to have been a widow who was once married to a doctor. Under the surname Davis, she married Charles Thornton, a farmer and Englishman from Kent, in 1891 and they lived for several years at Rosedale in Gippsland. Theresa was well known to police. She was imprisoned for six months at Melbourne Gaol in December 1891 for being "idle and disorderly", followed by a conviction for vagrancy and multiple convictions for larceny. The Geelong Advertiser of 23 March 1899 dubbed her as "an accomplished larcenist". When she moved house from Carlton to North Melbourne, possibly to avoid police attention, she entered into a hire purchase contract for a sewing machine, proffered by a door-to-door salesman. She had neither the deposit of 10 shillings, nor the means of making the weekly payments, so she pawned the sewing machine the next day, then tried to onsell the pawn ticket.14,15,16
Nurse Fuller and Theresa had known each other from two years previously, when Theresa had travelled to Melbourne from her home at Rosedale to adopt a child. According to her husband Charles, Theresa had had several children of her own, but they were all dead. Theresa, as her criminal record shows, was a disreputable person and not someone who should be entrusted with the care of a newborn infant, yet she was able to adopt, on two occasions, by arrangement with Nurse Fuller. Little is know of Catherine's mother, Mary Ann Kennedy, apart from her young age and her predicament as an unmarried mother. She came from Tatura, in country Victoria, and was staying with Nurse Fuller during her confinement. Having appeared as a witness in court and been named in newspaper reports, Mary Ann was exposed to public scrutiny. She would have carried the shame of giving birth to an illegitimate child and also, by surrendering this child for adoption, she was indirectly implicated in its death. Was the father of the child there to support her? He was named as James Casey, the brother of Mary Ann's cousin Hannah Casey, in Catherine's adoption agreement, but he was not called as a witness in court proceedings.17,18
The inquest into Catherine Kennedy's death took place over several days in March 1899, before Mr. Candler, the City Coroner, and a jury of five men. Evidence was presented that Catherine was born on 19 January 1899 at Nurse Fuller's residence in Elgin Street and was attended by Dr James De Burgh, also of Elgin Street. Shortly after her birth, Catherine was placed in the care of Mrs Eliza Manders, a registered nurse described as a "respectable woman", who lived in North Carlton. Two weeks later, on 3 February, Catherine was then transferred to the care of Theresa Thornton, who was living in Canning Street, Carlton, at the time. The transfer was arranged by Nurse Fuller and Catherine's mother, Mary Ann Kennedy, paid a lump sum of £7 to Theresa for what she believed was an outright adoption. Having received the infant, Theresa wrote a letter, dated 11 February, to Mary Ann's cousin Hannah Casey, a hotelkeeper of Lancefield, demanding a payment of 10 shillings per week for the care of Catherine, plus expenses, otherwise the child would be handed over to the police. (In making this demand for payment, Theresa was acting as a paid carer, not an adoptive parent and, given her criminal record, it is unlikely she would have involved the police.)19,20
Hannah replied to Theresa's letter and travelled to Melbourne on 17 February to personally discuss Catherine's care arrangements. She had also written to Nurse Fuller, but received no reply, and she had refused to admit her cousin Mary Ann when the latter visited her at Lancefield. Unaware that Mary Ann had already paid a lump sum adoption fee, Hannah paid Theresa the outstanding amount of 24 shillings for 2 weeks' care, plus an additional 30 shillings for clothing, maintenance and the christening of Catherine. Hannah expressed her willingness to adopt Catherine for the sake of her younger brother James, who was not in a position to support the child. Theresa contacted a solicitor, Arthur D. Daley, and made arrangements for a legal agreement to be prepared. According to the terms of this agreement, signed and dated 17 February 1899, Mary Ann agreed to transfer the custody and care of Catherine to Hannah and that "she will make no attempt in the future to resume possession thereof or in any way interfere in the management thereof". Hannah, in turn, agreed to "clothe, maintain, rear and educate the said child as her own" and make no further claim on Mary Ann for Catherine's care or expenses.21,22
The following day, 18 February, Catherine was removed to the care of Mrs Annie Duke, another registered nurse and "respectable woman". She lived in Pitt Street, Carlton, and her services were recommended by Constable William Booth, the officer in charge of registered houses in Carlton under the Infant Life Protection Act. Mrs Duke stated that Catherine was received in an emaciated state and had an offensive smell about her, though she appeared to be washed and clean. Catherine was fed breast milk by a wet nurse for a fortnight, but she failed to thrive. Her feeding regime was changed to cow's milk, barley water, white of egg and brandy on medical advice. (Brandy was commonly prescribed by doctors as a tonic for ailing babies but, as Catherine was already dehydrated from a bowel inflammation, it may well have hastened her death.) Despite Mrs Duke's best efforts in care, and several medical consultations at the Children's Hospital, Catherine died three weeks later on 11 March. Medical evidence presented by Dr. Stawell confirmed that Catherine weighed only 5½ pounds (2.49 kilos) and her death had been caused by inflammation of the bowel, set up by unsuitable feeding. Her post mortem examination showed no sign of external injury and her internal organs, apart from the bowel, were normal in appearance.23
As Catherine was claimed to be healthy at birth and while in the care of Mrs Manders, apart from having a slight touch of thrush, the focus was on the two weeks she spent with Theresa Thornton. Theresa's husband Charles, who claimed to have no knowledge of the £7 adoption payment, stated that he sometimes prepared the food and fed the baby, while at other times his wife did. Catherine was fed every two to three hours on boiled milk, with lime water and a pinch of salt added, and rice and barley water. (The pinch of salt, if added to each feed, would have resulted in an excessive sodium intake for a newborn infant and may have caused the bowel inflammation that eventually killed Catherine). Theresa admitted, shamefully, that she been drinking during the two weeks that Catherine was in her care. Another occupant of the house, Mrs Sarah Hayes, confirmed that Theresa drank beer by the glass daily, though she did not appear to be drunk. In her defence, Theresa stated that the child had died three weeks after leaving her care and could not have survived a pre-existing bowel inflammation for that length of time. She also maintained that she had fully intended to adopt Catherine, until she was taken away by her mother, and admitted ignorance of the law which stipulated that she must register the adoption.24,25
In summing up, Mr Candler found no fault in the care and feeding of Catherine by Mrs Manders and Mrs Duke. He considered that Catherine's mother, Mary Ann Kennedy, had "acted indiscreetly", but there were extenuating circumstances in her "desire to conceal the birth". Mr Candler then turned his attention to Theresa Thornton. He regarded her actions in trading the infant as a case of pure baby farming, motivated by petty greed and devoid of the love she professed to have for the child. He further stated that, regardless of the jury's verdict, Theresa would face charges for breaches of the Infant Life Protection Act. Having heard the evidence and the Coroner's summary, the gentlemen of the jury had already made up their minds. After a short deliberation, they found Theresa Thornton guilty of manslaughter, the child's death having been caused by gross neglect whilst in her care. They added the following statement: "We also very severely censure Mrs Fuller's conduct in this case, and consider the said Mrs Fuller is not a fit and proper person to hold either a certificate as a midwife or a licence for a private hospital. We consider also that it would to advisable if the act were altered in regard to a lump sum being paid in adoption cases."26
Theresa was committed for trial in the Supreme Court on a charge of manslaughter and was remanded in custody. Bail was not allowed and, in any case, she would not have had the means of paying. While awaiting trial for manslaughter, she faced two other charges. Theresa appeared in Carlton Court and was found guilty of adopting an infant (ie: Catherine Kennedy) for payment without being registered. Her plea of ignorance of the law fell on deaf ears and, unlike Sarah Solley from Kalgoorlie, she received the maximum sentence of three months' gaol. Theresa then appeared in North Melbourne Court, charged with "larceny as a bailee" of a sewing machine, valued at £12 10/, the property of Singer & Co. She pleaded guilty and appealed for leniency. The charged was subsequently altered to "larceny" and Theresa was sentenced to six months' gaol, to be served cumulatively with the three months' sentence from Carlton Court. Whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court trial, Theresa was destined to spend at least nine months in gaol.27,28,29
The Supreme Court trial took place on 17 April 1899, before Mr. Justice Hood. Mr. Finlayson prosecuted for the Crown and Theresa, who was not represented by counsel, conducted her own defence. Her cross examination of Nurse Fuller escalated into a war of words between the two women, who were once allies but were now adversaries in a court of law. Theresa alleged that Nurse Fuller had suggested the adoption as a means of financial gain and that she was a consenting party to the transaction. She further alleged that Nurse Fuller had given her an address where she could obtain a baby, and had attended her as if she had given birth, in order to conceal the true circumstances of Catherine's birth. Nurse Fuller soundly denied the allegations and Theresa accused her of lies and falsehood. In summing up the case, Justice Hood expressed his opinion that the practice of adopting children for a lump sum was "an organised, deliberate and systematic plan of murder". He had no doubt that Mrs. Thornton, Mrs. Fuller and even the mother, Mary Ann Kennedy, had no intention that the child should live. However, he directed the jury to leave aside their feelings on the practice of baby farming and simply decide, on the basis of the evidence presented, whether Mrs. Thornton was guilty or not guilty of manslaughter. The jury returned a guilty verdict and, as did the coroner's jury, expressed the opinion that some action should be taken against Nurse Fuller.30
Theresa Thornton returned to the Supreme Court on 28 April for sentencing by Mr Justice Hood. She was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment with light labour, to be served concurrently with her existing three and six month sentences, a minor concession granted by Justice Hood. On hearing the sentence, Theresa began crying hysterically from the dock and had to be assisted down the steps by two constables. What of her partner-in-crime, Nurse Fuller? The jury had recommended that action should be taken against her but, according to an earlier ruling in the Supreme Court, a jury had no legal power to censure a witness. Nurse Fuller ceased advertising nursing and midwifery services following her 1897 imprisonment, and her business may have suffered from the additional negative publicity in 1899. Who would want to engage a nurse implicated in the death of an infant unless, perhaps, they wanted an infant to "disappear"? Nurse registration records were incomplete prior to 1901 and Nurse Fuller's name was not listed in that year, so her registration may have been cancelled or relinquished in 1899 or 1900.31,32
In the days following Theresa's trial and imprisonment, her case and the practice of baby farming received much media attention. The Bendigo Independent used particularly strong language in condemning Theresa. She was variously described as a "fiend in petticoats", "wretched murderess", "brutal executioner" and "diabolical character". But was Theresa the only guilty party? The newspaper disputed the verdict of manslaughter and considered that all the parties involved were collectively guilty of murder and should have stood alongside Theresa in the dock. It went on to recommend changes to the Infant Life Protection Act, including making lump sum payments for adoption a criminal offence, for both the payer and the recipient, and establishing the child's paternity before birth so that the putative father would be legally obliged to support the mother during her confinement and pay her medical expenses. This latter recommendation, if implemented, would make it very difficult for an unmarried woman to conceal an illegitimate birth.33
Marie Theresa Thornton did not serve her full sentence - death claimed her after a year in prison. She spent the last two months of her life in the prison hospital, suffering from rheumatism and chronic heart disease, and died of heart failure on 31 May 1900. Her post mortem examination by Dr Douglas Edward Stewart noted that she was "well nourished" - rather ironic, considering the circumstances of Catherine's death - and also that she had "one eye missing." The eye loss was not recent, as indicated by a photo dated October 1893 in her prison record. It is curious that Theresa's missing eye was not mentioned in newspaper reports of court proceedings, as the physical appearance of a defendant was often noted, and sometimes in an unflattering way. Theresa Thornton, dubbed "a fiend in petticoats", was simply described as "an elderly stout woman."34,35
Notes and References:
1 The Age, 19 April, p. 6
2 Victoria. Infant Life Protection Act (1890)
3 City of Melbourne. Report in regard to the health, cleanliness, and general sanitary state of the city for the year 1899, p. 2.
4 Dr Griffith was giving evidence at the inquest into the death of Norman Carolan (Corolon), an illegitimate child who died while in the care of "Nurse Meade" in December 1898.
5 Central Register of Female Prisoners, no. 6521 (VPRS 516)
6 Nurse Fuller's hospitals were in private residences at 427 Rathdowne Street, Carlton, (now the site of Carlton Primary School), 694 Drummond Street and 709 Rathdowne Street, North Carlton.
7 The Age, 25 October 1897, p. 6
8 Constable Booth's statement is from Criminal Trial Brief, 1899/197 (VPRS 30)
9 The Age, 17 January 1899, p. 5
10 Nurse Meade's hospital was at 256 Cardigan Street, between Faraday and Grattan Streets, Carlton.
11 Victoria. Infant Life Protection Act (1890), Section 22
12 The Age, 30 December 1898, p. 6
13 Bendigo Advertiser, 30 December 1898, p. 4
14 Central Register of Female Prisoners, no. 6033 (VPRS 516)
15 Geelong Advertiser, 23 March 1899, p. 1
16 The Age, 24 March 1899, p. 7
17 Criminal Trial Brief 1899/197, op cit
18 A copy of the adoption agreement is included in Criminal Trial Brief 1899/197, op cit
19 The Age, 18 March 1899, p. 11
20 Dr James De Burgh's surgery was at 66 Elgin Street, next door to Nurse Fuller at 64 Elgin Street, Carlton.
21 A copy of Hannah Casey's letter to Theresa Thornton is included in Criminal Trial Brief 1899/197, op cit
22 Adoption agreement, op cit
23 Criminal Trial Brief 1899/197, op cit
25 The National Health Service (UK) recommends a salt intake of less than 1 gram per 24 hour period for babies up to 12 months old.
26 The Age, 18 March 1899, p. 11
27 Bendigo Advertiser, 23 March 1899, p. 2
28 The Age, 20 March 1899, p. 6
29 The Age, 24 March 1899, p. 7
30 The Age, 19 April, p. 6
31 The Age, 29 April 1899, p. 9
32 Harris, Helen D. Infant Life Protection Act. Harriland Press, 2001
33 The Bendigo Independent, 1 May 1899, p. 2
34 Inquest Deposition File 1900/659 (VPRS 24)
35 The Argus, 29 April 1899, p. 10
The Penny Dreadful
Jeffrey and Johnny walked through the streets of North Carlton on the afternoon of Thursday 5 October 1944. It was lunchtime and they were taking a break from Princes Hill Primary School in Pigdon Street, where they were classmates. They turned into Shakespeare Street, a short and narrow street between Drummond and Lygon Streets. Jeffrey's house was at no. 9, one of eight single-storey brick houses on the south side of the street. His parents and older brother were not at home, so he let himself in and the boys went to his bedroom. Minutes later, his friend Johnny lay motionless with a gunshot wound to his chest. Jeffrey panicked. It was not meant to happen this way, it was just a game. He saw the comic book and the image on the page seemed to look back at him accusingly. Jeffrey knew he had to remove Johnny's body from his room, otherwise he would be blamed for his death. There was a vacant block at the rear of his house, a dumping ground for rubbish, and he could hide the body there. He dragged Johnny through the house and out the back door. Why was he such a "dead" weight? Johnny's feet became stuck half way through the back gate, with his head lying face down in the gutter. And it was too late, Jeffrey had been seen. The enormity of what had happened hit Jeffrey and he began to cry.1,2,3
The death of John William Graham set off a train of events that saw Jeffrey Charles Clay charged with murder, and a court case that would challenge the legal interpretation of the age of criminal responsibility. Was a nine year old boy capable of committing wilful murder and understanding the consequences of his actions? The first person on the scene that day was Ronald Traplin, a 14 year old boy who lived two doors down at no. 13 Shakespeare Street. He had not heard the shot or noticed anything unusual when he set off on a message but, on his return soon afterwards, he saw Jeffrey dragging John's body outside. Ronald asked Jeffrey what he was doing and he replied, tearfully, that he had found the unknown boy in his bedroom. Seeing the blood and realising the seriousness of the situation, Ronald called the police. They arrived soon afterwards and a search of the house and surrounding area yielded a single-barrelled shotgun under Jeffrey's bed, a comic book depicting a shooting scene and a spent cartridge on the vacant land. The house in Shakespeare Street was now a crime scene.4
Jeffrey apparently returned to school that afternoon, possibly reasoning, as a child, that all would be back to normal when he went home again. Detective Adam interviewed Jeffrey at the school, in the presence of the headmaster as a responsible adult. Jeffrey initially maintained his story that he had found Johnny dead in the bedroom and he had removed the body because he did not want him to be there. The detective persisted in his questioning and Jeffrey then said that Johnny had tied a piece string of around the shotgun trigger and shot himself. Finally, Jeffrey admitted that they had been looking at the comic book, which showed a bandit pointing a tommy gun at the chest of another man, and were acting out the scene when the gun went off. Detective Adam considered Jeffrey's admission and the evidence found at the shooting scene sufficient grounds for a murder charge. At the city watchhouse later that day Jeffrey Charles Clay, aged 9 years, was charged with the murder of John William Graham, aged 8 years and 10 months.5
The inquest into the death of John William Graham was delayed for four weeks and in the meantime Jeffrey was to remain in custody. At nine years of age, he was too young for an adult prison and he was placed in the care of the Children's Welfare Depot at Royal Park, an experience he would have found frightening and confusing. His one-time friend, John William Graham, was laid to rest at Fawkner Cemetery on 7 October, two days after the shooting. John was the only son of William and Hazel Graham and the family lived at 947 Drummond Street, North Carlton, a few blocks away from the school. The inscription on his red granite headstone reads:
In Sweet and Loving Memory of our Darling JOHN
Beloved only son of William & Hazel Graham
Killed at Nth Carlton 5th Oct 1944 in his 9th year.
"In God's Care"
The inquest took place at the City Morgue on Thursday 2 November 1944. The City Coroner, Mr. Tingate, P.M., heard the witness statements and considered the evidence. Jeffrey's conflicting statements to police cast doubt on his innocence and, as many a parent would know, children will sometimes lie to avoid getting into trouble. The matter of how the shotgun (or two guns, as later reported by The Telegraph) came to be in the possession of the boys was not made public at the time, but Mr Tingate drew attention to the incriminating "penny dreadful" comic that was found in Jeffrey's bedroom. This form of sensationalist "literature", cheap in both price and content, often depicted scenes of violence and murder. Mr Tingate considered such literature entirely unsuitable for children and potentially dangerous in the hands of impressionable young boys. The Coroner found that John William Graham died of a gunshot wound, wilfully inflicted by Jeffrey Charles Clay. Jeffrey was committed for trial in the Criminal Court and bail was set at £200, an extraordinary amount for a child who was unlikely to abscond.6,7
On 23 November 1944, Jeffrey set a legal precedent by being the youngest person to stand trial for murder in the Criminal Court, before Justice Macfarlan. Jeffrey was so small sitting in the dock that he could not be seen from the body of the court. He pleaded "not guilty" to the charge and replied "Yes" when asked whether he understood the nature of the charge. In his opening address to the jury Mr Sproule, Crown Prosecutor, explained the law as it stood in relation to the age of criminal responsibility. Under seven, a child was presumed by law to be incapable of committing any crime. Between seven and fourteen, he was presumed not to have sufficient understanding to be capable of wilfully committing a crime. When a boy of nine was charged with a crime, the Crown must satisfy the jury that he knew that he was committing a crime. The evidence presented was that Jeffrey and John were friends and a boy named Chubb, who accompanied them for part of the walk home on the day, said that there was no quarrel between them. In the absence of any evidence of malice or intent to commit a crime, Justice Macfarlan directed the jury to find the defendant not guilty. The jury followed Justice Macfarlan's direction and Jeffrey was acquitted and free to join his family.8
Jeffrey returned home to Shakespeare Street, but his life would never be the same. He resumed his education and his school record shows that he went on to Brunswick Boys School. Surprisingly, the Clay family continued to live in the house at Shakespeare Street and, as it was a small house, Jeffrey probably went to sleep each night in the same room where his friend had died. The house, a rental property owned by Clara Ross, was condemned by the Housing Commission of Victoria as unfit for human habitation in December 1956. Jeffrey and his father Charles were still living there more than a decade later when the Housing Commission issued an ultimatum in a memo dated 22 April 1968:
"It is the view that ample time has now been allowed [for] these two adult males to make suitable rehousing arrangements, and as appropriate warnings have been issued of impending Commission action, approval to the service of a notice to vacate on the occupiers of no. 9, is now requested, whereby, if then necessary, ejection action can be instituted, and the demolition carried out by Commission contract with costs charged." 9,10
Jeffrey and his father moved to a flat in Drummond Street and their house was one of five (nos. 7 to 15 Shakespeare Street) demolished by order of the Housing Commission. The vacant land became an illegal dumping ground until local residents took action and transformed the space into a mini park. Grass now grows in the place where John Graham breathed his final breath in October 1944. John's family, his parents and sisters, also chose to stay at their house in Drummond Street. John's father William Joseph Graham died in June 1979, aged 80 years, and his cremated remains were buried with his son at Fawkner. His mother Hazel Emily Graham (neé O'Brien) remained in North Carlton until the early 1990s. She died in Hawthorn in October 1997, aged 93 years.11,12
The lessons of John Graham's tragic death are still relevant today. There are calls for the age of criminal responsibility, now set at a minimum of 10 years, to be increased to 12 years or older. Had John Graham been killed today, Jeffrey Clay would not be charged with his murder. The "penny dreadful" comic has given way to electronic media and the depiction of violence in film, television and online is ever more pervasive. Despite stringent gun control measures in place in Australia, there continue to be fatal shooting incidents involving children. Will we, as a society, ever learn?13
Notes and References:
1 Jeffrey Clay was also known as "Geoffrey" Clay. The former spelling has been used, as confirmed by his school record and electoral rolls.
2 The criminal trial brief and inquest deposition file for this case have not yet been released and the events have been reconstructed from newspaper reports and other sources.
3 Biographical information has been sourced from birth, death and marriage records, and electoral rolls.
4 The Argus, 6 October 1944, p. 3
5 The Age, 6 October 1944, p. 3
6 The Telegraph, 23 November 1944, p. 2
7 The Age, 3 November 1944, p. 3
8 The Age, 24 November 1944, p. 5
9 Princes Hill Primary School Archives
10 Properties condemned under section 56 of the Housing Act 1958 (VPRS 1824)
11 Fawkner Cemetery records
12 Probate file of Hazel Emily Graham (VPRS 28/P27/422/1138156)
13 Gregor Urbas. The age of criminal responsibility, Australian Institute of Criminology, 2000.
Shooting in Shakespeare Street
Barlow the Embezzler
George Booker Barlow was a respectable married man, the eldest son of the Rev. Robert Barlow, formerly of St. Mark's Church, Fitzroy. He was born in Ireland in 1854 and migrated to Australia as an infant in 1855. Barlow was employed at the Carlton branch of the London Chartered Bank in Elgin Street, where he had worked as a cashier and accountant for 15 years. He was a valued employee and anyone could trust him with their money. Or could they? On Monday 29 August 1887, Mr Reed (Read), inspector of branches for the bank, turned up unexpectedly to examine the books. Barlow made a hurried exit, taking with him the loaded revolver that he kept under the counter. He did not return to work that day and, in the meantime, an examination of the books revealed a deficit of several hundred pounds. Furthermore, Barlow had apparently made no attempt to conceal his embezzlement. The police were notified and a warrant was issued for his arrest.1,2,3
When the police arrived at Barlow's house in Heidelberg, his wife Annie was frantic with worry. Her husband had not come home at the usual time and he had left his horse and buggy, which he used to travel to and from work, stabled at Foley's Hotel. Further investigations revealed that, shortly after leaving the bank, Barlow had gone to the Flower Hotel in Drummond Street and settled a wager he had lost over a football match between Carlton and South Melbourne. He was last seen in Brunswick by an acquaintance named Davis, who was surprised that Barlow did not acknowledge his greeting and instead headed off in the direction of the Merri Creek. An extensive search of the creek and surrounding district failed to find any trace of Barlow, and concerns were raised that he may have taken the revolver in order to commit suicide.4,5
George Barlow was on the run for a week when, once again, he was seen by an acquaintance. He turned up at Stockwell's hotel in Molong, a small town in the central west region of New South Wales, on Monday 5 September. A man in the bar thought he recognised Barlow as an acquaintance from Melbourne, though he could not quite place him. But his hard stare was enough to spook Barlow, who took off and spent the next two miserable nights sleeping rough in the bush. He returned to Molong on the Wednesday morning, where his bedraggled appearance and distracted manner attracted the attention of Police Sergeant Harley. Barlow, fearing that he was about to be arrested, identified himself and surrendered to police. He also admitted that, had he stayed another night in the bush, he would have committed suicide. Barlow was arrested and taken to Sydney, then Constable Quilty escorted him back to Melbourne to face charges.6
The initial hearing was held before the Carlton Bench on Saturday 17 September, with Mr Leonard representing Barlow. Barlow was charged with embezzling £500, the property of the London Chartered Bank. He denied the charge, stating that he only taken his month's wages. Bail was granted at £300, with a surety of the same amount, and Barlow left the court and went home with his wife. Three days later, he was re-arrested and back in court, facing additional embezzling charges dating back to February 1887. This time he was committed for trial and bail was set at £1,500, with a £500 surety. George Barlow had his day in court on Monday 3 October and, probably realising that the game was up, he changed his plea to guilty of embezzling three sums of money, amounting in total to £645. He was remanded for sentencing and faced the court again on the following Monday 10 October.7,8,9
Before Judge Worthington, Mr Reed, whose vigilance had brought about the downfall of George Barlow, deposed that the prisoner had been in the service of the bank for 15 years, and had always done his work satisfactorily until recent events. He said he was inclined to think that the prisoner had brought himself to his present position through drink and bad company. Judge Worthington was not moved by any suggestion of mitigating circumstances and said that drinking and bad company were not excuses for crime. He further discounted a medical certificate, stating that Barlow was suffering from a "dangerous complaint", on the grounds that the prisoner would have access to medical treatment while in gaol. Judge Worthington, believing that those who breach a position of trust should be severely punished, sentenced George Barlow to three years' gaol, with hard labour.10,11
George Barlow spent two years and two months in Pentridge gaol. His prison record shows that he was released early, by special authority, on 21 December 1889. Unlike some of his fellow prisoners, he recorded no offences while in custody, and did not commit any additional offence after his release. His time at Pentridge, doing hard labour, must have taken its toll on the former bank employee who was accustomed to a desk job. He died in Brunswick on 13 September 1892, aged 38 years, and he was remembered by his widow Annie in a memorial notice published in The Argus in September 1893.12,13,14
Notes and References:
1 George Booker Barlow married Harriet Annie Merritt in 1883.
2 The former London Chartered Bank building is on the north west corner of Elgin and Drummond Streets.
3 Barlow's embezzlement and subsequent trial were reported extensively in newspapers from September to October 1887.
4 Foley's Hotel was in Bourke Street, Melbourne, but it was more likely that Barlow stabled his horse with Thomas Foley in Drummond Street, Carlton. The stables were a short walk from the London Chartered Bank and within a closer commuting distance from Heidelberg.
5 The Flower Hotel, where Barlow paid his football wager, was at 463 Drummond Street. The hotel ceased trading in February 1908 and the land was compulsorily acquired by the Housing Commission of Victoria as part of its slum reclamation program.
6 The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 September 1887, p. 575
7 The Age, 19 September 1887, p. 6
8 The Age, 23 September 1887, p. 5
9 The Argus, 4 October 1887, p. 5
10 The Argus, 11 October 1887, p. 6
11 Barlow's description in the Victoria Police Gazette of 7 September 1887, p. 262, noted "subject to heart disease".
12 Central Register of Male Prisoners, no. 22123 (VPRS 515)
13 It was not uncommon for prisoners to be charged with seemingly trivial offences and have their sentences increased.
14 According to Barlow's prison record, his wife Annie was living in Church Street, Carlton, while he was serving his sentence in Pentridge.
Legless in Carlton
As a sanitation worker, William Hodges was accustomed to finding all sorts of foreign objects in the drains of the city. He was employed as a ganger by the Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works and, on the morning of Thursday 3 May 1900, his job was to flush the drains in Rodney Place, Carlton. This was a short right-of-way between Drummond and Lygon Streets, with an opening off the south side of Pelham Street. When Hodges approached the drain cover, he was shocked to see what appeared to be the bones of a human leg and foot lying across the grating. The bones were devoid of flesh and dark in colour, as if exposed to the air for some time. A week or two earlier, a neatly-severed human hand had been found in Francis Street in the city. Were these the body parts of a murder victim?1
Hodges wasted no time in calling the police, who took possession of the bones and removed them to the Detective Office, and thence to the City Morgue. An initial examination confirmed that the bones were human and the shin bone had been cut off at the knee joint. It was not known if the bones were from a man or a woman, or from the same body as the severed hand. Hospital records were checked, but there were no recent amputations corresponding to the found body parts. Dr C.H. Mollison performed a detailed forensic examination and concluded that the bones were medical specimens from an adult male of small stature, and were most likely the subject of a morbid student prank. A possible scenario was that a medical student had taken the body parts, without authorisation, to practise their dissection skills, then discarded them to avoid potential disciplinary action by Melbourne University. There were no further reports of discarded body parts and the citizens of Melbourne could rest assured in the knowledge that there was no axe murderer in their midst.2
Five and a half decades later, in November 1956, a Carlton resident was left minus a leg when a brazen burglar stole his wooden prosthesis. Laure Festini, who lived in Drummond Street, had left his trousers and wooden leg on a chair near the window when he went to bed. He woke during the night to the screeching sound of the window opening. Alarmed, he called out when he saw a man reach through the open window and grab his trousers and wooden leg. Festini hopped, on his remaining leg, across to the window. He saw two men running away in opposite directions, one waving his trousers and the other brandishing his wooden leg, but he was unable to give chase — for obvious reasons. Mr Festini was understandably upset by the loss of his wooden leg. He had had it for 21 years and regarded it as a "friend".3
William Wylie was minus his left leg, but he was able to use his disability to advantage. He was a petty criminal, born in 1864, with a string of convictions dating back to the 1880s. In September 1885 Wylie was arrested in Madeline street, Carlton, for assaulting Constable Moor:
William Wylie is a notorious character. He has only one leg, but he uses his crutch to assault constables and rescue his pals from the police. On Sunday week last he assaulted Constable Moor, who was arresting a man in Madeline street. Several witnesses proved the assault. Prisoner did not know anything about it. He was looking for his father's house, the parent having shifted while he was away. The time Wylie was "away" was spent in gaol, as he got three months at Hotham in May for beating a constable. He had served several other sentences for insulting behaviour, and the bench fined him L10 [£10] or three months.4,5
1 The Age, 4 May 1900, p. 5
2 The Herald, 4 May 1900, p.4
3 The Argus, 14 April 1956, p. 3
4 Prisoner No. 20260 (VPRS 515)
5 The Herald, 30 September 1885, p. 2
What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?
Dealing with drunk patrons is part and parcel of the hotel trade, but staff of the University Hotel were in for a surprise when an inebriated sailor fell asleep on the sofa in August 1912. Constable Davies was called in and he recognised the "sailor" as a local young woman named Vivian Campbell:"She was dressed in a complete suit of the clothes worn by the men of the Australian squadron, including the black silk handkerchief worn around the neck, with the ends tied in the usual sailor's knot, and the blucher boots. She had tucked her hair into the cap. Constable Davies arrested her on a charge of drunkenness, and locked her up. About half an hour later a man who stated that he belonged to H.M.S. Endeavour came to the watchhouse. He stated that whilst he was asleep someone had taken all his clothes, and he had to remain in bed until some clothes were borrowed from the neighbours for him. Plain-clothes Constable Sharpe sent a woman for Campbell's clothes, but Campbell declared that she would not take off the man's garments, and it was some time before she was persuaded to do so. Campbell is about 5ft. 10in high, and is built in proportion. She gave her age as 22 years."
The Argus, 17 August 1912, p. 21
The question remains: If Miss Campbell was so drunk, how did she manage to tie the silk handkerchief in a sailor's knot and keep her hair neatly tucked into the sailor's cap? Perhaps she was in collusion with the sailor whose clothes she allegedly took, or she may have had another accomplice.
The University Hotel, on the corner of Lygon and Grattan streets, was first licensed to James Plomer in 1858. The hotel ceased trading in December 2016 and, as of 2018, the building is occupied by the Carlton branch of the Commonwealth Bank.
Catnapping in Carlton
Illegal detention is hot topic in Australia, debated by politicians, lawyers and human rights advocates. In 1903, a dispute over the ownership of a cat led to a curious case of illegal detention, heard in Carlton Magistrates Court before JPs Edwards and Clyne. Felix Mortimer, an icecream vendor and resident of Reeves Street Carlton, sued his neighbour Michael Cregan, publican of the Ancient Briton Hotel in Rathdowne Street, for illegal detention of his cat. The cat in question, which did not appear in court, was described by the claimant as a black and white "Mauritius" cat with a burn mark on its tail. Mr Mortimer claimed that he had brought the much-travelled cat with him from his native Mauritius and, to the amusement of the court, that he loved the cat as if it was his own child. The defendant, Michael Cregan, claimed that he had owned the cat for more than 12 months, while Felix Mortimer stated that his cat had been missing for a few weeks and Cregan would not return it. The court decided in Mortimer's favour and ordered that Cregan return the cat or pay the amount of 5 shillings, fixed by the court as the value of the cat, and 19 shillings costs.
Michael Cregan was publican of the Ancient Briton Hotel, on the north corner of Rathdowne and Reeves Streets, from July 1899 to July 1905. The hotel itself dates back to 1867 and was originally licensed to John Reeves, who once owned the street that bore his name. Reeves suffered financial losses and was declared insolvent in 1868, forcing sale of the hotel building and all the houses in Reeves Street. The Ancient Briton Hotel continued to trade for five decades, with a succession of publicans and the occasional breach of licensing regulations. The hotel was delicensed in 1919 and the nine room brick building became a residential property.
The Age, 1 October 1903, p. 6
The Argus, 1 October 1903, p.5
Index to Defunct Hotel Licences (VPRS 8159)
Reeves Street Carlton
Coining in Carlton
A Carlton woman, searching for her husband's secret stash of whiskey in May 1918, made a startling discovery. Instead of the demon drink, she found a parcel of 250 shiny, new two shilling pieces stuffed behind the fire grate. She gave one of the coins to a friend, a soldier who was staying with her while he was on leave from the army. He went to the local hotel and tried the "pub test". The savvy publican recognised the "silver" coin as being made from base metal and, taking a hammer, he hammered it to the bar counter. Back at the house, the woman was in a panic as she feared she could be charged with being in possession of counterfeit coins. She placed them in a stocking and later threw them into the Yarra River at Princes Bridge.
The matter, like the coins, might have rested there in the murky depths of the Yarra River, except that the soldier had taken a few coins as souvenirs and they later turned up in circulation at Camp Maribyrnong. The police were called in, but the soldier was not charged because he had given the coins away and had not intended to profit from the transaction. After investigating, the police concluded that the coins, all dated 1908, were most likely the hoard of two "coiners" who were operating in Carlton in that same year. In April 1908, Arthur James and Emily Quilky were arrested and charged with larceny, and with having coining implements in their possession. The police had gone to a house in Barkly Street to recover stolen goods and, in the process of searching, they found plaster moulds of half crowns and coins in various stages of manufacture. Did the two spurious coin discoveries take place in the same house, 10 years apart? The 1918 newspaper accounts do not identify the street address or the names of the people involved - suffice it to say that the evidence was circumstantial.
This was not the only coining case in Carlton. In March 1914, Frederick Thorpe and his wife May (Mary) were arrested and charged with manufacturing, and having in their possession, counterfeit sovereigns. They lived in Lygon Street and, in the early hours of the morning, several police detectives visited the house and found the coins hidden under the mattress on which Mr and Mrs Thorpe were sleeping. Both denied having any knowledge of the "coining plant" that was found in the house, claiming it must have already been there when they moved in. The case was heard in the Criminal Court in April 1914 and, after an hour's deliberation, Frederick Thorpe was found guilty and sentenced to three years' hard labour. He had a series of prior convictions, dating back to 1907, and he spent the following years to 1925 in and out of gaol. May Thorpe, who had a young baby at the time, was found not guilty and went home to contemplate a life without her husband.
Geelong Advertiser, 6 May 1918, p. 5
The Age, 1 May 1908, p. 6
The Age, 17 April 1914, p. 14
The Argus, 17 April 1914, p. 12
Prisoner No. 31480, Victoria Prison Register (VPRS 515)
Bringing Home the Bacon
In 1890, a "respectable looking man" named John Skelton escaped a charge of stealing a side of bacon, valued at 37 shillings and sixpence. He was discovered in a shed at the rear of the premises of Mr Kenny, at North Carlton, in which a quantity of bacon was stored. He was seen handling the meat, but in Carlton Court on 16 April 1890, he denied that he had any felonious intention, and had simply gone to the place to have a sleep. As it was noted that he was showing signs of heavy drinking, this could be seen as a plausible explanation. Skelton's defence counsel argued that there was no evidence of a theft having been committed, as the bacon had not been removed from the shed. The bench found in favour of the defendant, who probably went home to nurse his hangover.
The Age, 17 April 1890, p. 5
The Bag Man
John Smith, an elderly man down on his luck, helped himself to six manilla bags that were hanging from the doorway of Mr. W. T. Thompson, ironmonger, of Elgin Street Carlton. Smith was arrested soon afterwards and appeared in Carlton Court the following day, 2 February 1894. He pleaded guilty to the charge of stealing the manilla bags, valued at six shillings, stating that he was poor and had taken the bags in order to procure food. The Bench took a lenient view of the case and sentenced him to 14 days' imprisonment. One wonders what sentence would have been imposed had he not been treated leniently.
The Argus, 3 February 1894, p. 5
The Price of a Newspaper
Robert Campbell, a newsagent of Rathdowne Street, was fed up with pilfering. He faithfully delivered newspapers to doorsteps in Carlton - come rain, hail or shine - but he was losing an average of 20 newspapers a week through theft. So it was with bittersweet satisfaction that he saw Herbert Beard, someone he had known as a very respectable man, in Carlton Court facing a charge of stealing The Age newspaper, valued at one penny. Charles Coltman, a resident of 427 Rathdowne Street, stated that he had seen Beard open his front gate, pick up the newspaper and walk away with it. Constable Gillespie, who was on watch nearby, had also seen Beard take the newspaper and he made an arrest. In his defence, Beard claimed that he had taken the newspaper to read the job advertisements and he did not intend to steal it. Campbell, while he regretted seeing Beard in his present predicament, considered that action had to be taken to stop newspaper pilfering. Beard was fined ten shillings - 120 times the price of the newspaper he took.
The Age, 25 June 1913, p. 11
The Argus, 25 June 1913, p. 10
A Rude Awakening
William Thompson fell asleep on the verandah of his house in Little Barkly Street, Carlton, on a Saturday evening in January 1899. He awoke an hour later to discover that his trousers had been slashed while he slumbered. Not only that - his watch and chain, and over 30 shillings in cash, were gone. It was the watch that led police to make an arrest in Lygon Street several days later. William Baker, a convicted criminal, offered the watch as security for a loan from Solomon's pawnbroker in Lygon Street. Mrs Solomon recognised the watch as stolen and alerted the police, who arrested Baker. Baker went on to assault police at the Carlton Police Station, adding resisting arrest to his list of charges. At the Carlton Court on Friday 20 January 1899, Baker pleaded guilty and, having recently been released from four years in prison, was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment for larceny and 3 months' for resisting arrest. The watch was no doubt returned to Mr Thompson, but it is unlikely that the stolen cash was recovered or that Thompson was compensated for the damage to his trousers. Hopefully Mrs Thompson was handy with a needle and thread.
The Age, 21 January 1899, p. 9
A Costly Bunch of Flowers
Picking flowers seems like a harmless activity, but for William Angus, a coach builder, it cost him dearly. Two police officers patrolling the grounds of Melbourne University on a Sunday in July 1901 noticed that flowers had been stripped from shrubs in the quadrangle. They came across Mr Angus, holding the incriminating evidence of a large bunch of flowers, and made an arrest. Angus pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing about 100 camellia blooms, the property of the Melbourne University Trustees. He was fined 40 shillings, or in default one month's imprisonment. The sentence took into account the damage caused to the shrubs by breaking off the stalks, and perhaps the presiding magistrate was a camellia fancier or keen gardener.
The Age, 23 July 1901, p. 9
The Cemeteries Act of 1890 was still in force in 1939 and, according to section 8, the trustees of a cemetery had "the power and authority to make such rules and regulations … for protecting the buildings monuments shrubberies plantations and enclosures therein and thereof from destruction or damage." Gertrude Butler, a resident of St Anne's Hall in Rathdowne Street, Carlton, ran foul of the law when she stopped to pick some flowers from a grave at the Melbourne General Cemetery. She was seen running away by First Constable Weir, who caught up with her and took her to the Cemetery Office. William Ernest Pratt, Secretary to the Trustees of Melbourne General Cemetery, said that Miss Butler saw no harm in taking a few flowers, but she was, in his opinion, in breach of the rules and regulations. At Carlton Court on 24 November 1939, she was fined £1, with £2, 4 shillings and 6 pence costs.
Victoria. Cemeteries Act (no. 1072, 1890)
The Herald, 24 November 1939, p. 7
High Kicking in Carlton
Some hotel patrons are known to kick up their heels after a drink or two, but few would reach the impressive height of 7 feet (over 2 metres) achieved by a young man named O'Connor at the Horseshoe Hotel in 1901. Mr O'Connor was a regular drinker at the Horseshoe Hotel in Lygon Street, Carlton, and on the evening of 5 August, he entertained his fellow drinkers with a display of fancy high kicking. The jovial mood changed when his mother arrived, with three police officers in tow. Mrs O'Connor was fed up with her son's drinking and she called the police to fetch him home. On seeing his mother, he burst into tears and threw his arms around her neck. From his emotional outburst, the police deduced that he was a "crying drunk" and made an arrest. But O'Connor was not the person charged over this incident. The hotel licensee, Mary Fitzpatrick, was charged with breaching the Liquor Licensing Act and her "crime" was permitting a drunken person to be on her licensed premises. When the case was heard in the District Court her defence counsel argued that Mr O'Connor was not drunk, as he would have fallen over after executing his high kicks. The court considered that O'Connor had been drunk within the meaning of section 131 of the act, and fined Mary Fitzpatrick £4.
Notes and References:
The Age, 23 August 1901, p. 6
The Argus, 23 August 1901, p. 5
The Horseshoe Hotel (formerly King's Arms Hotel) was on the west side of Lygon Street, between Magenta Place and Argyle Place South. It was delicensed in December 1925.
A Foolhardy Act?
Who would be foolhardy enough to rob the local police station? This question must have crossed the mind of Constable Atherton when he confronted James Cahill at the Carlton Police Station in October 1925. He noticed that Cahill was behaving suspiciously and carrying several items, including a brush that was identified by initials. Cahill claimed that the items were his and that he had "never stolen, even a match" in his whole life. But these items were identified as the property of Constable Sumpter, who lived at the police barracks at Carlton Station. Cahill, a 42 year old labourer who had recently arrived in Melbourne from Albury, claimed to have no knowledge of how or why he had got into the police barracks, or removed the items from Constable Sumpter's locker. He was hungry and simply looking for something to eat. On 27 October 1925, he was charged at Carlton Court with stealing a hair brush, clothes brush, comb and tobacco pouch, and fined £2, in default fourteen days' imprisonment. At least he would have had something to eat in prison.
The Age, 28 October 1925, p. 14
The Nagging Wife
Ernest Butler, who was found guilty of stealing bedding from a lodging house, blamed his nagging wife for his predicament. Butler, a labourer, and his wife occupied a room in a lodging house in Drummond Street, Carlton. Eleanor Blake, the lodging house keeper, noticed several items of bedding missing from their room and called in the police. Butler admitted that he had stolen and pawned two sheets, two blankets and a honeycomb quilt, valued at £2, at the insistence of his nagging wife. The case was heard at Carlton Court a few days before Christmas on 22 December 1925. A sentence of one month's imprisonment was recorded but, possibly in the spirit of the season, it was suspended on a good behaviour bond for twelve months.
The Age, 23 December 1925, p. 12
A Passion for Silk
Silk has always been considered a luxury fibre, the preserve of those who can afford it, and this makes it an attractive theft item. In February 1936, some inventive thieves managed to steal £200 worth of women's silk underwear from Beatall Manufacturing Co. in Barry Street, Carlton, without even entering the premises. They forced open a window and used an iron rod with a hook at one end to pull the boxes of underwear towards the window.
The Argus, 6 February 1936, p. 10
A few years later in April 1939, nearly 180 dozen pairs of silk stockings, valued at £500 were stolen from a distributing centre of Prestige Ltd. in Nicholson Street, North Carlton. The crime was solved within hours, due to the vigilance of First Constable Maher. In the light of his torch, he noticed three men carrying large sacks at the corner of Station and Curtain Streets, North Carlton, about 3.30 am. He challenged the men, who dropped the sacks and ran away in different directions. Constable Maher managed to arrest of one of the fugitives, and the sacks were found to contain the stolen stockings. The other thieves were arrested in subsequent raids on premises in Drummond Street and Lygon Street. All in a good night's work for First Constable Maher.
The Argus, 13 April 1939, p. 3
Snowdropping in Carlton
At the lower end of the clothing scale, Carlton police had to deal with a spate of clothesline thefts in July 1934. Following a visit by senior Plain-Clothes Constables Madin and O'Brien to a house in David Street, a large quantity of clothing, some of which was still wet, was seized. Two men were charged and taken into custody, while police were left with the daunting task of trying to identify the owners of the stash of stolen clothing.
The Age, 28 July 1934, p. 16
The Russians are Coming
Source: Weekly Times, 1 April 1882, p. 7
"Count de Beaumont" (Alias Henry Bryant)
Author of the Russian Designs Hoax
The term "fake news" is a recent invention, courtesy of Donald Trump, but there's nothing new about the print media publishing information that proves to be false or misleading. In 1882, the respected daily newspaper The Age was the victim of a hoax that Australia was under threat of invasion by Russia. On Friday 17 March, The Age was approached by a foreign gentleman who made startling allegations about the Russian squadron's recent visit to Melbourne. The Age investigated these allegations and was confident of their veracity and the bona fide of their informant, named as Henry Bryant. On Thursday 23 March, The Age published a series of articles under the headline "Russian designs on Melbourne". The Russian squadron, under the command of Admiral Aslanbegoff, visited Melbourne in February 1882. According the The Age's revelations, Admiral Aslanbegoff was under instructions from the Russian Minister of Marine to assess Australia's defence capability and "ascertain by view the vulnerable points of attack on the coastal harbors [sic] of the Australian colonies." Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Queensland were seen as sources of rich pickings in the likely event of England and Russia declaring war. How did The Age come by this information? Their informant, Henry Bryant, claimed to be "in confidential relations" with Admiral Aslanbegoff, and that he had helped the Admiral to compose despatches to the Russian Minister of Marine. The telegraphic despatches were coded for security reasons and Bryant claimed to be in possession of the cipher key. He helpfully provided a translation of the despatches, including the statement:
Australian colonies without any serious means of defence to oppose our squadrons, or to troops of debarcation [sic]. Victoria, i.e. Melbourne, at our mercy by surprise. Unlimited resources in money and produce stores incalculable … in consequence send orders to commander squadron Vladivostock join division at Shanghai next April.1
If these despatches were to be believed, Melbourne had only a matter of days to prepare itself for a Russian attack. Instead, within a couple of days, the despatches were exposed as an audacious hoax perpetrated by Henry Bryant. Without much investigative effort, he was recognised as a recent inmate of Melbourne Gaol, where he had spent the past 10 months doing hard labour for attempting to obtain goods by false pretences. Bryant, also known as "Count de Beaumont" and by several other aliases, claimed to be of French origin, born in 1831, and a chemist by trade. After his release from gaol in January 1882, he took up lodgings with Mr Cuthbert, a cigar manufacturer, in Dorrit Street, Carlton. It was in this humble three-room cottage that the story of "Russian Designs on Melbourne" originated. According to Mr Cuthbert's statement published in the Weekly Times of 1 April 1882:
"Mr. Bryant came to lodge with me about two months ago, on the recommendation of another person. There was nothing about him to arouse any suspicions, and he said he had come from New South Wales. He was absent from the house half his time, and when the Russian squadron was in port, visited the Admiral, whom he said he had known in the Crimea. Mr. Windsor, the editor of The Age, used to call upon Bryant at my cottage frequently, and they had long private interviews. Bryant showed me a draft of the article, "Russian Designs," before it was published, and said that something would appear in a few days that would startle everybody. After the article was published he appeared to know that its truthfulness was doubted, and said he would be able to clear everything up in a few days, but he left one day abruptly, without saying where he was going. After he had gone several gentlemen from The Age called to see him, and appeared very anxious to find him, about the article, about which some settlement was to take place. One, a Mr. Bennett, told me if I could find him, to tell him to call at The Age office immediately. One of the gentlemen waited till 12 o'clock one night, to try to see him.
While he was lodging with me, he told me that one of the officers of the Russian fleet, Lieutenant Fredericks, was going to stay in Melbourne altogether, and that he (Lieutenant Fredericks) had asked him to look out for suitable lodgings, which he had found in Ryrie street, Collingwood. Thinking he would be there, I went, but he was out, and I called a second time, when the landlady, Miss Mahon told me his apartments were locked, and she was afraid something had happened to him. The door was then burst in, and we found that he had levanted, taking the key and owing £1. I used to hear Bryant say he understood torpedoes. After he told me about the lodgings for Lieutenant Fredericks, he said that he had found that Lieutenant Fredericks had gone to live at Toorak, and appeared much disappointed. The so-called Mr. Bryant is evidently ashamed of the part he has taken in initiating the great Russian bugbear, for he has suddenly disappeared from his Carlton lodgings, and neither acquaintances nor the detectives know anything of his present whereabouts." 2,3
The Age initially defended its action in publishing Bryant's allegations in good faith and as a matter of public interest. However, in the end the newspaper had to accept that it had been hoodwinked by a convicted criminal. Henry Bryant had disappeared from Carlton and he was later believed to be living in Heidelberg and country Victoria. He was arrested in June 1882 and appeared in Kilmore court to face multiple charges of forgery and false pretences. None of the charges related to the "Russian designs" affair, but Bryant's notoriety had followed him and the court was full of spectators wanting to catch a glimpse of the so-called Russian agent. In July 1882, Bryant was sentenced to a cumulative total of five years hard labour for forgery and false pretences. In an interview conducted in Pentridge prison in 1885, he claimed that Mr Syme, the proprietor of The Age newspaper, still owed him £75 for the Russian designs story. Bryant was granted early release in May 1886 but, within a few months, he was back in gaol serving a 12 month sentence for new convictions of forgery and uttering. This pattern of criminal behaviour was to continue, with Bryant using different names and identities. His last recorded criminal conviction in Victoria was in May 1893 and he was released from Melbourne Gaol on 2 January 1895. Henry Bryant – alias Count de Beaumont, Edward Henry Bryant, James Henery and Edward Tracey – was a fraudster and master of invention. Perhaps his most notable achievement was that, for a day or two, he was able to fool some citizens of Melbourne that they were in imminent danger of invasion by Russia.4,5,6
Notes and References:
1 The Age, 23 March 1882, p. 3
2 Mr Cuthbert's address was published as "Little Dorrit Street", an alternative name for Dorrit Street. Melbourne City Council rate books confirm that Mr Cuthbert lived in a three room cottage at 30 Dorrit Street, Carlton, in 1882. The street numbers have changed over the years and the cottage is now believed to be number 42.
3 Weekly Times, 1 April 1882, p. 7
4 Bendigo Advertiser, 8 June 1882, p. 3
5 Prisoner record no. 18696 (VPRS 515)
6 The Maffra Spectator, 23 March 1885, p. 3
Strangers on a Tram
Madge Connor was on her way home late one night in June 1918, taking the North Carlton tram, when she accidently dropped a bag of cakes she was carrying. A young man sitting nearby came to her assistance and picked up the bag. He seemed friendly, but the mood changed when he allegedly interfered with her clothing, pulling her skirt up to her knees. Madge slapped his face, then called for Constable Tucker, who happened to be on the same tram. If Henry Le Versha, 18 years old, was intent on an act of indecent assault, he had chosen the wrong target. Madge Connor was not only a policewoman, but also one of the first women to be appointed to the police force in Victoria.1
Madge was not the first policewoman in Australia – that honour went to Lillian Armfield in New South Wales and Kate Cocks in South Australia, both of whom were appointed in 1915. Following successful trials in Sydney and Adelaide, there were calls for policewomen to be introduced in Victoria, but it was not until late 1916 that applications were publicly sought and July 1917 that the first appointments were made. Prior to this time, women were sometimes employed as agents to gather evidence for prosecution, in cases where the presence of a male police officer might not be appropriate. Madge was involved in one such case in Carlton Court in May 1917. The "subtle craft" of fortune telling was a lucrative business for some unscrupulous operators, who preyed on people's fears and insecurities. Australia was at war, and families who had lost loved ones or were facing uncertain futures sought their advice. Madge and her daughter Kathleen visited Elizabeth Livingston (aka Madame Zephy), a fortune teller of Drummond Street, North Carlton in April 1917. Livingston told them a fabricated story about Madge's husband living in England and Kathleen's non-existent brother meeting up with him in France. This was sufficient evidence for a successful conviction in Carlton Court and a fine of £2/10/-, with costs of £2/12/6, on each charge.2,3
Image Source: Punch, 12 July 1917, p. 7
Notes and References:
1 The Argus, 6 June 1918, p. 3
2 Colleen A. Wooley, Arresting women : a history of women in the Victoria Police. Victoria Press, 1997, p. 5
3 The Age, 16 May 1917, p. 9
4 The Herald, 10 July 1917, p. 12
5 Email communication from Police Museum
6 Electoral rolls confirm that Amelia Holmes, dressmaker, lived at 81 Barry Street, Carlton.
7 Punch, 12 July 1917, p. 7
8 Uniforms and cap badges for policewomen were introduced in 1947. (Wooley, Arresting women, p. 97)
9 The Age, 30 July 1917, p. 8
10 The Herald, 24 May 1918, p. 4
11 Wooley, Arresting women, p. 13
12 The Argus, 21 June 1921, p. 3
13 Weekly Times, 31 March 1923, p. 7
14 The Age, 17 April 1923, p. 12
15 Truth, 8 June 1918, p. 5
16 The Age, 7 January 1924, p. 9
17 Wooley, Arresting women, p. 28, 31
18 The Argus, 13 November 1924, p. 17
19 The Police Pensions Act (no. 3316 of 1923), section 6 (1) states: "Retirement shall be compulsory in the force for senior constables and constables, on attaining the age of fifty-five ; for superintendents, inspectors, sub-inspectors and other officers of different grades and sergeants, on attaining the age of sixty ; and for the Chief Commissioner, on attaining the age of sixty five." The Act came into force on 1 January 1924.
20 The Herald, 11 February 1930, p. 21
21 The Age, 16 November 1929, p. 14
22 Wooley, Arresting women p. 10-13
23 Rate book records and electoral rolls confirm Madge Connor's address at 14 Station Street, Carlton.
24 The Herald, 20 September 1949, p. 3
25 The "ghost house" case was not the first libel action brought by Julia Gibson and she had a history of successful litigation. In 1925, she sued the Truth newspaper for £1,000 and in 1938, she sued The Bulletin for £2,000 for an article published in the Woman's Mirror. She also sued Mrs Isabel Marguerite Paton in 1932 for £1,000 for making slanderous comments at a café in the city. In each case, she was awarded £100 damages.
26 Colin Campbell Eadie Ross, a wine saloon licensee, was found guilty of the rape and murder of 12 year old Alma Tirtschke, whose body was found in a laneway off Gun Alley, Melbourne, on New Year's day in 1922. Julia Gibson had a phrenology business in nearby Eastern Arcade, the same location as the wine saloon, and she knew Ross by reputation. Ross was sentenced to death and hanged in April 1922, though he maintained his innocence to the end. Decades later, a review of the court proceedings and forensic examination of physical evidence uncovered flaws in the prosecution's case. Colin Ross was posthumously pardoned in 2008.
27 The Age, 9 May 1951, p. 7
28 The Age, 14 October 1952, p. 13
With the barriers to employment of policewomen finally lifted, The Herald of 10 July 1917 announced the names and addresses of the three new recruits:
Mrs. Madge Connor, 76 Woodgate Street, South Melbourne
Miss J. Beers, 33 Goulburn Street, Yarraville
Miss A. B. Holmes, 81 Barry Street, Carlton
Mrs Connor and Miss Beers took up their appointments, but nothing more was heard of Miss Holmes, and the Police Museum has no record of her service. The new policewomen did not wear a uniform or carry a truncheon, as depicted in the Punch cartoon, and they had no powers of arrest. (It goes without saying that Victorian policewomen, like the majority of women in employment at the time, were paid less than their male counterparts.) Their duties, as reported in The Age included "… the patrolling of wharfs and railway stations when long distance steamers and trains arrive, in order to advise women and children when necessary. They will also patrol slum areas, where dissolute women will be looked after and neglected children assisted." Elizabeth Jane Beers resigned in May 1918, after less than a year's service, to work for the Salvation Army. She was replaced by Ellen (Nell) Davidson in June 1918.4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11
Madge Connor continued her undercover work and she was sometimes accompanied by a plainclothes male police officer as her "husband". This was the creative side of policing, where Madge could dress up and assume the role of a particular character in order to expose illegal activities. Madge took her job seriously and did whatever was required for a successful conviction. She even endured a tooth extraction at the hands of an unregistered dentist, who was subsequently fined £20 and £3/8/ costs. Policewomen also saw the dark side of life in the inner-city suburbs: young women and girls forced into prostitution, drunkenness, domestic violence, abandoned babies and abused or neglected children. In March 1923, Madge was tasked with finding the mother of a newborn baby who had been abandoned in Carlton. The mother had asked another woman to hold the baby for a few minutes, then she failed to return. Madge took the baby to the Women's Hospital in Grattan Street, where a nurse recognised it as recently discharged. She was able to track down the mother, Annie Nolan, at an address in Albert Park and Miss Nolan, an unmarried woman, was arrested and charged with abandoning a female child under the age of two years. In the meantime the baby was cared for at St Joseph's Receiving Home in Grattan Street, Carlton. Miss Nolan was committed for trial by the Carlton Court, but she was found not guilty in the Criminal Court a few weeks later.12,13,14
Madge's experience as a policewoman was raised, in a negative way, when the indecent assault charge against Henry Le Versha was heard in Carlton Court on 5 June 1918. Mr Le Versha's defence counsel, Mr J. Barnett, implied that Madge, as a policewoman, had a suspicious mind that a crime was about to be committed. She may have misinterpreted the young man's actions when he placed the bag of cakes on her lap, and he may have inadvertently touched her clothing. This statement was contradicted by the arresting officer, Constable Tucker, who stated that Le Versha had admitted assaulting Madge, said he was sorry and he had started to cry. Mr Le Versha, in turn, said he had offered an apology if he had done anything wrong. (These days, it would be referred to as a "qualified apology".) Mr Albert Winter, store manager at the London Stores, appeared as a character witness for Mr Le Versha and testified that accused was a very respectable and well-conducted lad. In the end, the evidence of two police officers outweighed Henry Le Versha's plea of not guilty, and he was fined 40 shillings (£2). Madge was involved in another incident on a tram in January 1924, when she was knocked unconscious in a collision between two cable trams in St Kilda Road. She was on official police duty at the time of the accident and took a month off work to recuperate.15,16
By 1924, there were four policewomen in Victoria - Madge Connor (appointed in 1917), Nell Davidson (appointed in 1918 vice Elizabeth Beers), Mary Cox (appointed in 1922) and Ellen Cook (appointed in 1923). Madge had campaigned for better pay and conditions for policewomen and she and her colleagues were rewarded in November 1924, when they were sworn in as full members of Victoria Police. As reported in The Argus of 13 November 1924:
"Under the regulations policewomen will have the power to make arrests, and will have similar hours, wages, pension rights, and working conditions as male police. They will wear uniform. If thought necessary by senior officers of the Police department, policewomen will be authorised on special occasions to carry batons or revolvers, and will be trained in their use. Arms will be used by police women only in extreme circumstances."17,18
However, this victory came at the cost, as there was no provision for recognition of service prior to November 1924. Five years later, Madge was compulsorily retired at the age of 55, as required by the Police Pensions Act of 1923. Madge did not want to retire – she was good at her job and she was a widow with no other means of support. As she had not served the requisite 15 years as a sworn officer, she was not entitled to a police pension. She had to earn a living and found her niche as a private investigator. Within 2 weeks of her retirement, she began advertising her services as "Investigations, divorce and all matters confidential nature" from an address in Westbourne Grove, Northcote. She later opened a city office in Collins Street. Divorce cases were good for business because, in the decades before the Family Court, evidence of adultery, desertion, cruelty or improper behaviour had to be obtained for a successful divorce petition.19,20,21
Madge was something of a chameleon, an asset in her line of work as an undercover policewoman and private investigator. She was known by several different names - Madge, Margaret, McCarthy, Macarthur, O'Connor, Conner, Connors and Connor - and had different years of birth, ranging from 1874 through to 1885. (Her biographer, Colleen Woolley, has suggested that she may have presented a false marriage certificate in the name of Margaret O'Connor to confirm her identity when she became a sworn officer in 1924.) Madge Irene Connor (née McCarthy or Macarthur) was most likely born in Waterford, Ireland, in November 1874. According to family records and Madge's own written recollections, her parents died when she was young and she lived in England, the United States of America and New Zealand, before eloping and migrating to Australia with her husband Edward Connor (O'Connor). They had two (or more) children. Edward died suddenly from a heart condition in 1916 and Madge began working as a police agent either that year or the next. (Whether she was recruited or offered her services is not known, however Colleen Woolley suggests that she may have been recommended by the police officer who attended her husband's death.)22
Madge Connor spent her final years living at 14 Station Street, Carlton. Her last court appearance was in May 1951, when she gave evidence in a libel suit in the Supreme Court. Former Carlton resident Julia Gibson, a phrenologist also known as Madam Ghurka, sued the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd for unspecified damages relating to statements published in The Herald in September 1949. The newspaper article referred to the "ghost house" at 25 Rathdowne Street, operated by "the notorious fortune-teller Madam Ghurka" as an apartment and boarding house "in the crime-ridden 1920s". It hinted that Madam Ghurka ran a disreputable establishment because "people nearby say the house could tell many tales of strange happenings there years ago". Madge's connection with Julia Gibson dated back to infamous Gun Alley murder trial of Colin Ross in 1922, when she was involved in the protection of crown witnesses staying at Mrs Gibson's "safe house" during the trial. In the 1951 libel trial, Madge maintained that "she had never heard any sort of disturbance at the house and had always found it orderly". Madge's evidence helped to support Julia Gibson's claim of libel and damages of £1,000 were awarded against the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd.23,24,25,26,27
While Madge's real name and date of birth is in question, there can be no doubt about her date of death. She died at St Vincent's Hospital, Fitzroy, on 12 October 1952 and was farewelled with a requiem mass at Sacred Heart Church in Rathdowne Street, Carlton – just two blocks away from the so-called "ghost house" of Julia Gibson.28
The Hangman's Tale
Thomas Walker was good at his job. Though despised by many, he performed an essential service and was the final link in the chain of criminal law enforcement. As the public, or common, hangman and flagellator, he had performed 18 executions and countless floggings during the nine years from 1884 to 1893. In his role as Hangman Jones, Thomas Walker had despatched prisoners who protested their innocence right until the end, those who admitted their guilt and accepted their fate, men who sought solace in their religious beliefs and those who stoically mounted the scaffold, or quaked at the sight of "the drop". He treated them all with the same attention and efficiency that his office demanded. But for all his skill and experience as a hangman, Walker had never executed a woman. Only one woman, Elizabeth Scott, had been judicially hanged in Victoria, for instigating the shooting death of her husband as he lay in a drunken stupor. That was in 1863 and, during the last three decades, women had killed their husbands or lovers, or even their own children, but judges were reluctant to pronounce the death sentence on a woman. Now, in January 1894, Walker was tasked with the execution of Frances Knorr (also known as Frances Thwaites), a woman who had killed innocent babes. There were many people in the community strongly opposed to a woman being executed, regardless of her crime. Walker reported for duty as usual at the Melbourne Gaol on Saturday 6 January and went to his quarters, where he was to spend the days leading up to the execution. He was troubled in his mind and his private life was in turmoil. There was that business with the Conacher girl a few months ago, when his complaint of assault had been dismissed in the Carlton Court. His wife had left him for a time, amidst accusations of domestic violence, but she had come back to him again. Would she still be there when he went home after the execution? Would the voices inside his head fall silent? Walker locked the door, took off his coat and drank a swig of whiskey. Once he had made up his mind, he felt some sense of peace.1,2,3,4
Perrins or Porter, Jones or Walker
Thomas Walker was known by several names, William Perrins and Thomas Porter, in addition to his occupational alias of "Hangman" Thomas Jones. According to his prison record, he was born William Perrins in England in 1837, though this date does not tally with his stated age of 45 years in 1894. Perrins arrived in Australia on the Golden Era in 1858 and he married Mary Duffy in 1864. He recorded several convictions for indecent language, assault and receiving stolen property in the 1870s, and completed a three year sentence for the latter in November 1876. During his time in gaol at Maryborough, Castlemaine, Pentridge and the hulks at Sandridge (Port Melbourne), he most likely learnt his craft by observing and assisting in floggings of fellow prisoners. (Flagellators were normally sourced from within the prison population and they earned additional pay or privileges for their work.) Perrins stayed out of gaol until 1883 when, under the name of Thomas Jones, he was convicted of indecently assaulting a nine year old girl named Amy Simkiss (also reported as "Simpkins") in the Treasury Gardens, Melbourne. Reporting of the case highlighted the different attitude towards identifying underage victims of crime in the 1880s. The names of Amy and her father Oliver Simkiss were published, as was their residential address in Cromwell Street, Collingwood. Everyone who lived in Cromwell Street, and anyone who read the Melbourne newspapers, would know about Amy. The Herald referred to her as "a precocious little thing", an ambiguous term open to some interpretation.5,6,7,8
Witness statements were taken on 30 October, six days after the alleged assault on 24 October 1883. According to Amy's statement, she had been sent to town by her father to buy some paper, but the shop was closed by the time she arrived. Jones, who was standing nearby, had engaged her in conversation by asking her for directions, with the promise of paying her money. He then took her by the hand and he led her to the gardens, where the alleged assault took place behind a tree. Amy claimed that Jones had pulled up her dress, unbuttoned his trousers and laid on top of her. She was medically examined by Dr Harbison at Royal Melbourne Hospital and the evidence, though inconclusive for a charge of rape, suggested some interference. (Had Jones been charged with rape of a child, he could have faced the death penalty.) Her underclothes and Jones' shirt (but not his underclothes or trousers) were examined for traces of semen, with nil result. Jones allegedly told the arresting constable that he had been walking the girl home and her claims of assault were untrue. However, his behaviour in the gardens had been observed by Francis Kelleher, a mercantile clerk, who was walking nearby at the time and he alerted Constable Loughman at the East Melbourne police station. On 16 November 1883, Thomas Jones appeared before Mr Justice Holroyd in the Criminal Court to face a charge of indecent assault of a girl under ten years of age. With no representation in court and the witness evidence stacked against him, the jury of twelve men found Jones guilty, and commended Francis Kelleher's actions in bringing him to justice. A few days later, on 20 November, Jones was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment with hard labour and a flogging of 15 lashes, to be delivered by Elijah Upjohn, the man who had famously hanged bushranger Ned Kelly in 1880.9,10,11
Ned Kelly's Hangman Exposed
As fate would have it, Elijah Upjohn turned out to be Thomas Jones' immediate predecessor. Upjohn, a former convict who was transported to Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) in 1839, had attracted attention for behaving badly in public, and there were complaints that he was not a fit person to be employed and housed at government expense. In September 1882, Upjohn was charged with indecently exposing himself outside the Carlton Imperial Hotel in Elgin Street, opposite Melbourne University, and there were other incidents of drunken and indecent behaviour in the presence of women and children. Upjohn was fined £10, in default 3 months' imprisonment. After his release in December 1882, he was no longer a salaried employee of the Penal Department. He was paid per job and required to find his own living quarters. In August 1884, Upjohn botched the execution of James Hawthorn, who was hanged for the murder of his brother William at Brighton. Upjohn, possibly drunk at the time, had slipped the noose knot under Hawthorn's jaw instead of behind his left ear. Hawthorn remained alive for two minutes after the drop, with his limbs contracting spasmodically, until he finally succumbed to strangulation. The following month, in September 1884, Thomas Jones was released from gaol and the time was right for him to step into Upjohn's large shoes. Upjohn himself had an ignominious end. He was attacked by street hooligans in April 1884 and, no longer in paid employment, he was arrested and charged with vagrancy in February 1885. He left Victoria and, with the assistance of the Salvation Army, he appeared to have embraced temperance. In September 1885, he was found in a dying state camping out near Bourke in New South Wales. Upjohn died a few days later and there were rumours that he may have been poisoned, though no inquest was held.12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20
The New Hangman
Thomas Jones (later known as Walker) was released from Pentridge Prison on 30 September 1884 and within one month he had performed his first execution. His appointment was made public on 24 October, the same day he was to hang William O'Brien for the murder of Peter McAinch at Lancefield on 23 July 1884. The execution took place under the superintendence of Henry Williams, governor of the Beechworth Gaol, who was acting governor of Melbourne Gaol while Governor Magee was absent on sick leave. Governor Williams watched while Jones carefully placed the noose knot behind O'Brien's left ear and pulled the lever. O'Brien died instantly and Williams must have breathed a sigh of relief that fears of the new hangman's inexperience were unfounded. Jones had proved his worth and was a good choice as the public hangman. Seven months later, on 15 May 1885, Jones executed William Barnes at Melbourne Gaol. The case was unusual because the murder victim, an eccentric character named Joseph Bragge Slack, was originally thought to have committed suicide by cutting his throat. In an extraordinary turn of events a few months later William Barnes, a notorious criminal serving time in Pentridge, admitted that he had killed Slack during a robbery at his home in South Melbourne and had placed the razor in his hand to simulate suicide. Slack's body was exhumed and a second inquest and more detailed medical examination revealed that his neck had been broken. Barnes was sentenced to death on 17 April 1885, and he appealed for mercy on the grounds that the murder was not pre-meditated and he had voluntarily confessed. The appeal was unsuccessful and Barnes was duly executed on 15 May 1885. In an interview several years later, Hangman Jones recalled: "He gave me a good deal of trouble and was so ridiculously frightened that he went down on his haunches on the drop and I had to prop him up before my assistant could pull the lever."21,22,23
The Heart of Charles Bushby
In September 1885, Thomas Jones travelled to Ballarat for the execution of Charles Bushby, who shot Detective Richard Hyland during an arrest for robbery in December 1884. Hyland survived the shooting, but the attempted murder of a police officer in the course of official duty was considered a capital offence. Bushby was sentenced to death on 27 July 1885 and executed on 3 September 1885. The execution was particularly newsworthy because Bushby's heart continued to beat for 20 minutes after the hanging, and there were claims that Jones had botched the execution. However, Jones maintained that he had placed the knot according to the latest medical opinion and the inquest confirmed that Bushby's neck was broken. (Medical evidence has since established that the heart can continue beating for some time after brain death.) Shortly before his death, Bushby wrote a detailed letter to the Chief Secretary, Mr. Berry, stating that he was innocent of the charge of wilful murder, but he felt no ill will to those who had sent him to his death. Two months later, in November 1885, Jones was heading to Bendigo for the first ever execution at Sandhurst Gaol. Edward Hunter was sentenced to death on 22 October 1885 for the stabbing murder of James Power during an argument at Charlton on 16 September 1885. Hunter, a 71 year old former transported convict with a history of violent behaviour, claimed to have no memory of the stabbing, as he was "mad with drink". Still, he accepted his fate and expressed his preference for being shot instead of hanged, as he considered the latter a contemptible way of ending a man's existence. His final wish was not granted and he was hanged on 27 November 1885. Jones' next execution subject, American seaman Freeland Morell, also claimed to have no memory of his crime. Morell stabbed fellow sailor John Anderson, second mate of the barque Don Nicholas, in an unprovoked attack at Port Melbourne wharf on 15 November 1885. Anderson died almost immediately and Morell allegedly admitted his guilt to the ship's captain and the arresting police officer. Morell was sentenced to death a month later on 15 December 1885 and executed on 7 January 1886. His last words were reported as "You will see how an American can die. Good-bye everyone". While Morell had accepted his fate, his muscular sailor's body refused to give up without a fight and his limbs convulsed for several minutes after his neck was broken.24,25,26,27
The Lilydale Murder
After a break of more than two years, during which time there were no judicial hangings, the services of Thomas Jones were once again called upon. On 2 October 1888, a family dispute at Lilydale escalated into the fatal shooting of Elizabeth Clifford by her son in law George Syme (Symes). Syme, a blacksmith by trade, was found guilty of murder, with a recommendation for mercy as two of the jurors were opposed to capital punishment. He was sentenced to death on 19 October and executed on 8 November 1888 and, by all accounts, went to his death bravely. Syme was separated from his wife at the time and he wrote a long letter to her on the night before his execution. Would she ever forgive him for taking the life of her mother? In March 1889, Jones travelled back to Bendigo for the execution of William Harrison. Harrison was convicted of murdering John Duggan at Elmore, on or about 30 May 1888, by hitting him on the head with an axe. The two men had been seen drinking together in a hotel in the days leading up to the murder and Harrison was initially called as a witness at the inquest into Duggan's death. Harrison's verbal evidence, and the physical evidence that he was found in possession of money and property believed to belong to Duggan, aroused suspicion that he could be the murderer. Harrison was found guilty after a second trial and sentenced to death on 23 February 1889. Like many condemned men, Harrison maintained his innocence, but there were rumours that he may have committed another murder (or murders) with a similar modus operandi. He was known to be in the area at the time of the murder and he was suddenly flush with cash. Harrison made the startling revelation that a man named Cordini, who was hanged for the murder of a hawker in Deniliquin, New South Wales, was innocent of the crime. If he knew Cordini was innocent, then who was the guilty party and would he (Harrison) go to his death with the death of an innocent man on his conscience? William Harrison was executed by Hangman Jones at Sandhurst Gaol on 18 March 1889.28,29
The Little Filipino
The next execution saw Jones back in Melbourne and closer to home. Fillipi Castillo, a young man from Manila in the Philippines, was sentenced to death for the murder of Annie Thornton at her cottage in Somerset Place, Carlton. Annie Thornton (also known as Annie Wilson or Gorrie) was a married woman, separated by mutual consent from her husband, and she was known to keep company with other men. She was also known to police and had been locked up for insulting behaviour in April 1889, a few months before her death. Annie was last seen with Fillipi Castillo on the night of 8 July 1889, but her bloodied body was not found until 17 July, when the rent collector came calling. The police could not gain entry via the locked front door, so they sent a small boy in through a window and the unfortunate lad made the gruesome discovery. Castillo was located at his workplace at Antonio's Hotel, in Flinders Street, Melbourne, and a search of his quarters yielded jewellery and other property identified as belonging to Annie Thornton. Items of his own bloodstained clothing were also found. Castillo initially denied any association with Annie and explained the bloodstained clothing by saying he cut up meat for his work as a cook. He finally admitted that Annie had struck him first and he had retaliated by stabbing her and cutting her throat. Castillo pleaded not guilty to wilful murder, but the jury took no time in finding him guilty. He was sentenced to death on 20 August 1889 and executed at Melbourne Gaol on 16 September 1889. At 20 years of age, he was the youngest prisoner executed by Hangman Jones. The little Filipino was under five foot tall and weighed only seven stone, so the length of rope and the drop distance had to be calculated and adjusted accordingly. Castillo was almost paralysed with fear as he was led to the gallows and some observers declared that he must have died of fright and nervous exhaustion before Jones performed his "textbook" execution. According to the Weekly Times: "The hangman, who was disguised by a false beard, did his work most expeditiously. It was one of the quickest and best managed executions on record."30,31
A Slip of the Noose
Three weeks later, on 16 October 1889, Robert Landells was executed for the murder of his lodger Peter James Sherlock at Ringwood on 22 July. The crime bore similarities with Castillo's murder of Annie Thornton, but delivery of the execution was very different. Like Annie, Sherlock's body was not found until a month later on 21 August and, in the intervening weeks, Landells had forged cheques and other documents in Sherlock's name and disposed of some of his property. Landells voluntarily went to police to identify the body and suggested that Sherlock was unemployed and in a state of depression. Then, like Castillo before him, Landells admitted that he had killed Sherlock accidentally while he was reloading his gun after shooting at a hare. However, there were inconsistencies in Landells' story and, together with the medical evidence of Sherlock's death from a fractured skull, Landells was caught up in his own web of lies. Landells was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death on 25 September 1889. Preparations for the execution went ahead as usual. Thomas Jones had the experience of eight hangings behind him and there was nothing to indicate that this one would be any different. The death of Robert Landells at Melbourne Gaol on 16 October 1889 was a shocking and bloody sight. The noose had cut into his neck and he was almost decapitated. The customary inquest was held soon after the body was cut down and Dr Shields, medical officer of the Melbourne Gaol, confirmed the death was instantaneous and caused by the severing of the blood vessels of the neck, unlike the usual cause of broken vertebrae. In Landell's case, all the veins, tissues, ligaments, the windpipe, and even the spine had been cut clean through. Dr Shields attributed the unusual death to the fleshiness of the neck and softness of the muscles. Jones had chosen a slightly thicker rope, 1½ inches instead of 1¼ inches, and if the thinner rope had been deployed, Dr Shields speculated that Landells would have been completely decapitated as soon as he fell from the drop.32,33
1891 saw a record number of executions, with seven men sent to their deaths between March and August of that year. Thomas Jones had the dubious honour of executing two men of the same name, John Wilson, in March and May 1891. A significant event that year was the appointment of an assistant executioner by the name of Roberts, who was to feature a few years later in a codicil to the hangman's tale. Roberts, unlike his predecessors, had no known criminal record, and he had actively sought the position of assistant executioner. His appointment was reportedly brought on by the ill health of Thomas Jones. Was Jones ill in a medical sense, or simply overworked or overwhelmed by the number of executions he was required to perform? The magazine Punch took a humorous approach and published a poem, referring to the gap in years between executions as "Jones' Luck":
For years his luck was bad. The worthy hangman, Jones.
No jobs of work he had. For years his luck was bad.
But now his heart is glad. This hanging boom atones.
For years his luck was bad. The worthy hangman, Jones.34,35
Crimes of Passion
Crimes of passion can stir the emotions and divide public opinion. Should a man lose his life for killing the woman he loved? Thomas Jones had two such cases within a week in March 1891. John Thomas Phelan was found guilty of the murder of his lover, Ada Charlotte Reynolds Hatton, at South Yarra on 16 January 1891. They had lived together for a time, then separated after some disagreement. Ada found employment as a housekeeper for Mr Monmeith of South Yarra and it was at his house that the murder took place. Phelan cut Ada's throat, then made an unsuccessful attempt to end his own life. He survived, only to face death two months later at the hands of Hangman Jones. Phelan faced his execution bravely on 16 March 1891, perhaps in the belief that he would be reunited with Ada in death. The execution was the first time a screen was used to conceal the body as it fell from the drop, possibly to avoid a repetition of the bloody scene that accompanied Landell's death. Concealment of the hanged body also raised an issue with the inquest jurors, who were required to view the body before the post mortem was conducted. There was a difference of opinion as to who had custody of the body and who had the authority to order the post mortem. Dr Shields, who had conducted the post mortem, was in the belief that the sheriff had this authority, but the law stated that the coroner took charge of the body after the hanging. A week later, on 23 March 1891, John Wilson was hanged for the murder of his sweetheart, Stella (Estella) Leah Marks, in the Darling Gardens, Clifton Hill, on 25 January 1889. On the day before the murder, he had seen Stella walking arm-in-arm with another man, later identified as Thomas McEwan, in Bourke Street, Melbourne. He visited Stella at her workplace in St Kilda the next day and persuaded (or pressured) her to marry him. They then went to a friend's house in Collingwood, where Stella was to stay in the days leading up to her marriage. Despite the late hour, they walked to the Darling Gardens, where the couple quarrelled, and Wilson, in a fit of anger or jealousy, cut Stella's throat with a razor. Like Thomas Phelan before him, he had attempted to take his own life but had lacked the courage to do the deed. There was community support for Wilson's death sentence to be appealed on the ground of insanity, but he was considered mentally fit to pay the ultimate penalty. At the gallows, he admitted his guilt but maintained that the killing was unintentional. He went to his death having made peace with his maker.36,37,38
Murder at Hamilton Gaol
Cornelius Bourke was hanged for a murder which, had the usual practice been followed at Hamilton Gaol, might never have taken place. Bourke had an extensive criminal record and was facing a sentence of six months' gaol with hard labour for vagrancy. He and another prisoner, Charles Stewart who was facing a similar sentence, were being transferred from Warrnambool to Portland Gaol and spent the night of 23 February 1891 at Hamilton Gaol. Prisoners were normally placed in separate cells, but in this case they were locked up together. Stewart was unwell with bronchitis and the rationale was that Bourke could look after him. This delegation of duty of care proved to be fatal. The prisoners seemed to be getting on well, but in the early hours of the morning a quarrel over a pair of boots escalated into physical violence. Bourke was restrained, with some difficulty for an old man of surprising strength, and Stewart was found in the cell bloodied and unconscious. Stewart had been kicked to within an inch of his life and, despite medical assistance, he died an hour or two later. Bourke, who did not seem to understand the seriousness of his situation, said he was sorry and that he forgave Stewart for accusing him of stealing his boots. Was Bourke insane, or had his long life of crime and incarceration turned him into a violent killer? He was transferred to Ballarat, where he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death on 12 March 1891. Questions of Bourke's sanity were raised, but the Executive Council, the body that had the final say on death sentences, decreed that Bourke was mentally fit to be executed. Cornelius Bourke was executed at Ballarat Gaol on 20 April 1891 and he did not go to his death willingly. He grabbed hold of the railing surrounding the gallows, and the noose itself, so Hangman Jones had to forcibly remove his hands before pulling the lever. The concealing screen was not used at Ballarat Gaol and those present had a full view of the execution.39,40
The Hindoo Hawker
The execution of Fatta Chand in April 1891 posed a conundrum: Should a condemned man be kept alive so that he could be judicially killed by hanging? In November 1890, a man's naked body with the limbs hacked off was found, partly covered, at Mount Riddell near Healesville. The murder victim was identified as Juggo Mull, an Indian hawker who had recently been seen in the district. Suspicion fell on Fatta Chand, a fellow countryman, who was last seen in Mull's company on 22 November 1890. Chand was arrested near Geelong and taken, under police escort, to Healesville where he was recognised by several witnesses. There was no doubt that the appearance of two Indian nationals in a small town would have attracted the attention of local residents, yet Chand denied that he had previously been to Healesville. The witness identification, together with the telltale evidence that Chand was found in possession of Mull's property, was enough for a charge of murder. Chand was initially tried at Melbourne Criminal Court on 26 February, but the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict. He was found guilty at the second trial on 24 March 1891 and sentenced to death, though he maintained his innocence throughout both trials. Fatta Chand was the first person of the Hindoo (Hindu) religion to be sentenced to death in the colony of Victoria. Condemned prisoners were entitled to a spiritual advisor, provided by the authorities more in the hope that they would confess to their crimes than out of concern for their mortal souls. No Hindoo advisor was available in Victoria and one had to be brought in from New South Wales. Chand objected, on religious grounds, to being executed by a Christian hangman, in the belief that to die ignominiously would deny him a peaceful afterlife. He went on a hunger strike and there were concerns that he might cheat death on the gallows by starving himself. Chand was force-fed, but the gaol authorities later claimed he had taken food voluntarily when it was prepared according to his religious customs. While he continued to protest his innocence, Chand appeared to accept his fate at the hands of Hangman Jones on 27 April 1891. He left a message, to be delivered to his father in India, that he had died of cholera and his body had been burned, though news of his hanging may have made its way back to India.41,42,43
Outrage at Ballarat
While John Wilson was contemplating his fate at Melbourne Gaol, another man named John Wilson was arrested for a crime that shocked the good citizens of Ballarat. On 22 February 1891, a six year old girl named Adeline Sheppard was playing at Eastern Oval when a man gave her lollies and tried to entice her to a more secluded area of the reserve. When she refused, he took her by force and allegedly raped her. Adeline's screams were heard by two men, Samuel Whitely and John Brimble, who were walking nearby. They gave chase and captured the man and handed him over to police. As with the Thomas Jones' indecent assault charge of 1883, the names of the victim and her father, a well-known local painter and decorator, were published in newspapers, though the crime was not reported until two weeks later on 8 March 1891. In the course of the police investigation, it was discovered that Wilson had two prior convictions for assault of a child, in 1875 and 1889, under the name of Frank Spearin. He was found guilty on the current rape charge and sentenced to death on 13 April 1891. Wilson, whose ravaged face showed the effects of his trial and sentencing, was executed at Ballarat Gaol on 11 May 1891. Did Thomas Jones feel any empathy for the man for whose fate, but for fortune, he may have shared, or did he simply despatch him with the same ruthless efficiency as the other executions? The next execution, a week later at Ballarat Gaol on 18 May, was the only one for which Jones admitted feeling any compunction as he believed the prisoner was insane. James Johnston was charged with murdering his wife and four children at Ballarat on 8 December 1890. He attempted suicide by taking poison and spent some time in hospital until he was deemed physically and mentally fit to stand trial. Johnston was found guilty and sentenced to death on 10 April 1891, and the execution became the scene of a work demarcation dispute and a miraculous recovery. The warders refused to carry Johnston, whose legs were paralysed, to the gallows, contending that it was the hangman's job. Jones conveyed Johnston, seated on a chair, to the gallows with some difficulty, whereupon Johnston surprised onlookers by standing up firmly at the drop. Medical opinion was that Johnston had been malingering all along, possibly to escape the death penalty.44,45,46,47,48
The Narbethong Murders
In February 1891, fifteen months after the murder of Juggo Mull, the peace of the Healesville district was once again shattered. A settler named William Davis and his wife Mary Elizabeth Davis were brutally murdered at Narbethong, a small town midway between Healesville and Marysville. The bodies were found on the morning of 21 February, Mary Davis in the bedroom of their house and her husband William outside some distance away. The house had been ransacked, suggesting robbery as a motive for murder. William Davis was last seen alive at the Narbethong Hotel the night before, when he made arrangements with a carpenter named William Colston for transporting his tools to Healesville. Colston did not return to the hotel that night and he told a fellow lodger that he had slept out because he was the worse for drink. He had left Narbethong on the day the bodies were discovered and this made him a suspect in the murder investigation. Five weeks later, on 30 March 1891, he was spotted outside Farrell's Hotel in Yarra Glen and arrested by Mounted-Constable Arnold on suspicion of the Davis murders. Colston admitted that he was the person being sought by the police and, on the following day, he made a full and frank confession from the Yarra Glen lock-up on 31 March 1891. He confessed that he had gone to the Davis house early in the morning and had found Mrs Davis wearing only a nightgown. She had allegedly propositioned him, with the intention of blackmailing him. Mr Davis arrived and the two men went to collect Colston's luggage. An argument broke out and Colston admitted killing Davis by hitting with an axe and cutting his throat. Realising that Mrs Davis would link him with the killing, he returned to the house and cut her throat as she lay on the bed. He then headed towards Marysville and spent the next five weeks hiding out. Colston concluded his statement by declaring: "I don't believe I ever started a quarrel or a row in the whole of my life, or hurt man or beast willingly." The suspect had made a full confession, but the due process of the law had to be followed. Questions were raised about Colston's sanity at the time of the murders and his trial was postponed twice to allow time for expert medical assessment. The expert witnesses did not agree on Colston's mental state and it was left to the jury to decide whether Colston was suffering from "general paralysis of a lunatic" when he committed the murders. He was found guilty of wilful murder and sentenced to death on 18 July 1891. Colston was hanged at Melbourne Gaol on 24 August 1891.49,50,51,52,53,54
When Frederick Bailey Deeming was executed at Melbourne Gaol on 23 May 1892, very few people would have mourned his passing. Deeming, a serial killer, bigamist and fraudster, was hanged for the murder of his wife Emily Mather at Windsor on Christmas eve in 1891. Her battered body was discovered months later in March 1892, cemented under the bedroom hearthstone of a cottage rented by Deeming. He was arrested in Western Australia, where he was known as "Barron Swanston", and returned to Melbourne to face trial for Emily's murder. In the meantime, investigations at Deeming's former residence at Rainhill in England revealed the bodies of his first wife, Marie James, and their four children cemented under the kitchen floor. Details of his other crimes emerged and painted a picture of Deeming as a diabolical character. Some newspaper reports made comparisons with the notorious serial killer "Jack the Ripper" and speculated that he and Deeming were the same person. Public opinion was very much against him and Deeming had already been tried by the media before he took the stand. Deeming, who was known by several different names, was tried under the surname "Williams". His defence counsel Alfred Deakin, who later became Prime Minister of Australia, pressed for a plea of not guilty on the ground of insanity. This was refuted by medical evidence, though Deeming claimed that he, and other family members, had been inmates of a lunatic asylum. He was found guilty and sentenced to death on 2 May 1892. Frederick Bailey Deeming was executed on 23 May 1892 and, in a rare interview soon afterwards, Thomas Jones declared that Deeming had fainted or suffered a fit and was unconscious before he dropped to his death. Deeming's last victim, Emily Mather, was laid to rest in Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton. She was originally buried in a common grave, then a Carlton resident named Edward Thunderbolt launched a public appeal to give Emily a decent burial and a memorial stone. Thunderbolt, who was living in Faraday Street at the time, was an inspector with the Melbourne City Council. His connection with Emily was that he knew the Mather family from his time living at Rainhill in 1877 and he remembered Emily as a child. Emily's remains were exhumed and reinterred in the Church of England section of the cemetery on 17 June 1892. The memorial stone, designed by Jageurs & Son of Parkville, was dedicated on 1 October 1892.55,56,57,58,59,60,61
Murder at W Tree
Thomas Jones' final execution involved the death of another Indian Hawker, Kaiza Singh, at W Tree near Buchan in Gippsland. Singh was last seen at Gelantipy on 22 January 1893, on his way back from New South Wales. He failed to keep an appointment with another hawker, J.J. Mahommet, at Bairnsdale a month later. In April 1893, a trail of circumstantial evidence led to John Conder (Condor), a selector who lived in a hut on his land at Gelantipy. Conder, who was known to be in debt, was seen wearing a new suit and in possession of money (including Indian rupees), a pack horse and other property consistent with a hawker's wares. He said that Kaiza Singh had visited him and offered his wares, including his own watch, for sale cheaply. He produced a receipt, written in handwriting similar to his own, as proof of purchase of the horse. The incriminating evidence of calcined (burnt) bone fragments, metal buttons, a buckle, boot eyelets and scraps of clothing was found in the ashes of a fire, which a witness believed had been lit around the time of Singh's disappearance. An axe with a bloodstained handle was also found on Conder's land. The bone fragments were medically examined and identified as human, suggesting that Conder had robbed and murdered Singh, then disposed of his body in the fire. The full skeleton was never found, but the area was riddled with limestone caves and sinkholes, where human remains could easily be hidden. John Conder was initially arrested for stealing goods and a horse, the property of Kaiza Singh, on 14 April, then charged with the murder of Singh on 18 April. He had a criminal record and admitted to serving a lengthy gaol sentence for robbing a bank at Seymour in 1876, but he denied the murder charge. Conder stood trial at the Sale Criminal Court and was found guilty and sentenced to death on 27 July. He was transferred to Melbourne Gaol to await his fate. The Rev. Mr Hamilton, a Presbyterian clergyman, appealed to the Executive Council to spare Conder's life. In the mid-1860s, John Conder had saved Hamilton's son from drowning in floodwaters of the Loddon River at Janeville. Hamilton's appeal was to no avail, as the Council considered that Conder's criminal history far outweighed a single act of selfless bravery. John Conder was executed at Melbourne Gaol on 23 August 1893. His last words were reported as: "Lord have mercy on my soul" or "God have mercy on my soul". Hangman Jones did his job well and death was instantaneous.62,63,64,65
The Private Life of the Public Hangman
During his working life as Hangman Jones, Thomas Walker was careful to keep his personal identity private. He was known by the alias of "Thomas Jones" or "Hangman Jones" and he wore a false beard to disguise his facial features. In line with regulations, and for his own safety and protection, he was quartered at the gaol for several days leading up to an execution. What do we know of Thomas Walker the man? In an interview published in the The Bendigo Independent he was described thus:
"Imagine a stout, pleasant-looking old gentleman; with kindly yet penetrating grey eyes, a spare grey moustache, and vivacious expression, and the picture will somewhat resemble the hangman Jones. There is nothing coarse or revolting about the man … Jones is a diligent reader of the newspaper, and is acquainted with the writers of numerous works of fiction. In his home he keeps a few well-chosen books, and Thackeray and Macaulay may be seen on the shelves. The appointments of his modest home have been selected with an appreciation of refinement, and there is little to offend even the most aesthetic." 66
The wording suggests that the interview took place at Jones' home, which seems unlikely, given his penchant for privacy. He reflects, somewhat bitterly, that the downside of his job is that he has to move from suburb to suburb once his identity is discovered. The neighbours, it seems, do not take kindly to a hangman living in their midst. In the months leading up to his death, Thomas Walker was living in Richardson Street, Princes Hill, a block away from the Melbourne General Cemetery. He was married to woman named Frances, his first wife Mary having disappeared from the scene, and they had two sons. Walker's private life became very public in October 1893, when he took a former lodger, Bertha Conacher, to court on an assault charge. The case was heard at Carlton Court on 11 October and proved to be quite a spectacle. Walker's wife Frances, a witness to the alleged assault, was sporting a black eye and other facial abrasions, and her husband was looking the worse for wear. Another witness, Bertha's sister Queenie, fainted as she stood in the dock, and proceedings were adjourned for about 20 minutes until she regained her composure. Thomas Walker alleged that Bertha and her sister had visited his house late one evening and that Bertha had thrown a flower pot at him in an unprovoked attack. He remonstrated with Bertha's defence counsel, Mr Leonard, and his behaviour became increasingly bizarre, such that he was threatened with a charge of contempt of court. Bertha gave her version of events, backed up by her sister, that the two women had gone to the house to visit Mrs Walker and had found her lying helpless on the floor while her husband beat her. Bertha had slapped Thomas Walker in an attempt to save her friend. Frances Walker stated that her husband had come home drunk and began beating her and that she, in fact, was the person who had thrown the flower pot at him. The bench considered that there was no evidence against Bertha Conacher and the case was dismissed, with charges of £1 1 shilling awarded against Thomas Walker. As a final insult, he was jeered by spectators as he left the court with his young son. The court case revealed two important facts that were to have a bearing on Thomas Walker's actions a few months later. Firstly, Mr Leonard had asked Walker if he was the "common hangman", so the identity that he had carefully concealed behind an alias and a false beard was revealed to the public. Secondly, Walker was already showing signs of mental disturbance at least two months before Frances Knorr was sentenced to death on 15 December 1893.67,68
After being named and shamed as a drunken wife beater, Thomas Walker's life took a downward trajectory. According to his wife Frances, his drinking increased in the month leading up to Frances Knorr's scheduled execution in January 1894. He could not sleep, he wandered about the house at night and he had thoughts of persecution, claiming that the neighbours were taunting him. Walker allegedly said he would rather commit suicide than hang Frances Knorr. On the afternoon of Friday 5 January 1894, Hangman Jones had an hysterical outburst in the presence of Robert Burrows, Governor of the Melbourne Gaol. He spoke of his domestic troubles and his desire to leave the colony after the execution as he felt he could no longer live in Carlton, where he was recognised as the hangman. Governor Burrows agreed to assist with relocation expenses and advised Jones to take up residence in the gaol a few days earlier than the customary one week prior to an execution. By the time he left the Governor's office, Jones had regained his composure and Burrows had no immediate concerns for his mental state. When Jones reported for duty the following morning, he seemed his usual self and there was no indication of the terrible event to follow. James Mossmore, chief clerk and the last person to see Jones alive, sent a messenger to his quarters shortly after his arrival at the gaol. He was surprised to find the door to Jones' quarters locked from inside and, upon gaining entry, discovered a gruesome sight. Jones was lying on the floor in the bathroom, with his throat cut from side to side, and the bath and drain were stained with blood. A bloodstained razor was found in the bath and a bottle of whiskey was nearby. The police were called in to investigate - though there was little doubt that Jones had taken his own life - and news of his death spread. Frances Walker was not immediately notified of her husband's death and she first heard of the tragedy when a reporter from The Herald came knocking on her door a few hours later. She was distraught and the neighbours of Richardson Street rallied to comfort her. Were these that same neighbours who Jones claimed had taunted him and made his life a misery? 69
The inquest was held two days later on Monday 8 January. Dr Andrew Shields, who conducted the post mortem examination, deposed that the jugular veins were severed and the external carotid arteries were partly severed on each side of the neck. The cause of death was haemorrhage from the wounds. The scenario was that Jones had leant over the bath to cut his throat, then collapsed on the floor from loss of blood. The City Coroner, Dr Youl, questioned Frances Walker about her husband's behaviour and drinking habits in the days leading to his death. Frances confirmed that he had been drinking more than usual during the past month. They quarrelled and she had brought him to court on a charge of assault, but he had continued to beat her. He was troubled over the impending execution of Frances Knorr and Frances Walker had suggested that he should get someone else to do the job and leave the country. The Coroner found that Thomas Walker (alias Jones) had died from self-inflicted wounds whilst temporarily insane. His brain was "congested" from excessive drinking and his thoughts of persecution for the hanging of Frances Knorr were "phantasies of his diseased brain". The death of Thomas Walker left some unanswered questions. Why did he choose to die by cutting his throat and bleeding to death when he was skilled in the art of a quick and clean death by hanging? How could a man feel compassion for woman like Frances Knorr, while at the same time beating his own wife? Would Walker still be alive if his assistant, Thomas Roberts, had been willing and available to execute Frances Knorr? In the end, it was Thomas Roberts who was recalled from Sydney to perform the execution on 15 January 1894. He had been well taught by Jones and did his preparations with the same meticulous care as his predecessor. As Frances Knorr stood calmly on the scaffold, Roberts tied her dress at her ankles, out of a sense of modesty, though her body would be hidden by a screen. The execution was performed efficiently and Frances Knorr went to her death "as brave as Ned Kelly", according to one observer. As well as being Roberts' first solo execution, it was also the first execution under the watch of Governor Burrows. Later that year, in October 1894, Roberts executed another woman, the infamous poisoner Martha Needle.70,71,72,73
The New Hangman and the Hangman's Widow
The final twist in the hangman's tale came a few months after Thomas Walker's suicide. In the days following Walker's death, his belongings were returned to his widow Frances and amongst them was a brass watch. This watch, as was later revealed, did not belong to Walker and was lent to him by the Carlton watchmaker Mr Salter, while his own silver watch was being repaired. Frances attempted to collect her husband's watch, but she was required to pay the outstanding amount of seven shillings and sixpence for repairs, and return the brass loan watch. She failed to pay the money and the brass watch appeared months later as evidence in a case heard at Fitzroy Court in April 1894. Frances, a widow with two young sons and limited financial means, had left Princes Hill and was living in Fitzroy. She had taken up with the new hangman, Thomas Roberts, also known as Thomas Pauling and reportedly a former police constable. The couple and Frances' sister Maud Wadlow were charged with stealing a gold watch, valued at £10, from Edward Arthur Brown, a licensed carrier residing at Carlton. The prosecution alleged that on the night of 17 April Mr Brown had been accosted by Miss Wadlow in Nicholson Street and had gone with her to a house in Kerr Street, Fitzroy, where he met Pauling and Mrs Walker. They drank freely and Brown enjoyed the company of the women. He slept at the house overnight and, on leaving early the next morning, he discovered that his gold watch had been replaced with an inferior quality brass watch. Brown summoned the police, who arrested Pauling, Walker and Wadlow on charges of theft, though a search of the house failed to recover the gold watch. The case was heard initially at Fitzroy Court on 20 April 1894 and Frances was prosecuted under the name Elizabeth F. Walker. Pauling was bailed, while the two women were remanded in custody for seven days. A two year old child named Alfred, son of Frances and Thomas Walker, was also charged with being a neglected child. A week later in the same court, the theft charge against Thomas Pauling was dismissed, on the ground of insufficient evidence, so the hangman was "off the hook". The women were committed for trial at the May sittings of the Court of General Sessions. Both were found not guilty and Frances was free to resume her domestic life - with or without Hangman Roberts.74,75,76
The Hangman's End
After Frances Knorr's execution in January 1894, three other women were judicially hanged in Victoria: Poisoner Martha Needle (22 October 1894) for the murder of Louis Juncken at Richmond, Emma Williams (4 November 1895) for drowning her two-year-old son John at Port Melbourne and Jean Lee (19 February 1951) for her part in the murder of William 'Pop' Kent in Dorrit Street, Carlton. Jean Lee was the last woman hanged in Australia and, like Elizabeth Scott in 1863, she was executed along with her two male partners-in-crime, Robert Clayton and Norman Andrews. Fewer prisoners were hanged in Victoria in the 20th century - 22 compared to 151 in the 19th century - and death sentences were more likely to be commuted to life imprisonment. One notable exception was Colin Ross, who was executed at Melbourne Gaol in 1922 for the rape and murder of a twelve year old girl named Alma Tirtschke. During the murder trial, protected witnesses were accommodated at the residence of Julia Gibson, also known as the phrenologist Madame Ghurka, in Rathdowne Street, Carlton. Colin Ross was posthumously pardoned in 2008, after a re-examination of forensic evidence proved that he had been wrongfully convicted. Following the closure of Melbourne Gaol, David (Robert) Bennett was the first prisoner to be hanged at Pentridge Prison, Coburg, in 1932. He was a builder by trade and was sentenced to death for the rape of a four year old girl at a vacant house in Drummond Street, North Carlton. The case bore similarities with that of John Wilson in 1891. Bennett had a prior conviction for indecent assault and had served time in gaol in Western Australia. In an extraordinary departure from execution protocol, Bennett delivered a lengthy and eloquent speech from the gallows, proclaiming his innocence. Ronald Ryan was the last man hanged in Australia, on 3 February 1967, for the shooting death of prison warder George Hodson during an escape from Pentridge Prison in December 1965. Like many condemned men before him, Ryan denied the charge of wilful murder and maintained that his gun was jammed and Hodson was killed by a stray bullet. Capital punishment was abolished in Victoria in 1975, and in all states and territories of Australia by 1984.77,78,79,80,81,82,83,84,85
Notes and References:
1 Hangman Jones executed the following prisoners: William O'Brien (24 October 1884) ; William Barnes (15 May 1885) ; Charles Bushby (3 September 1885) ; Edward Hunter (27 November 1885) ; Freeland Morrell (7 January 1886) ; George Syme (8 November 1888) ; William Harrison (18 March 1889) ; Fillipi Castillo (16 September 1889) ; Robert Landells (16 October 1889); John Thomas Phelan (16 March 1891) ; John Wilson (23 March, 1891); Cornelius Bourke (20 April 1891) ; Fatta Chand (27 April 1891) ; John Wilson (11 May 1891) ; James Johnston (18 May 1891); William Colston (24 August 1891) ; Frederick Bailey Deeming (23 May 1892) ; John Conder (23 August 1893)
2 The Age, 12 November 1863, p. 4
3 The Argus, 6 January 1894, p. 10
4 Inquest Deposition File 1894/162 (VPRS 24)
5 Perrins, William. Prisoner record no. 10112 (VPRS 515)
6 Death registration no. 2714R, 1894
7 Marriage registration no. 3662, 1864
8 The Herald, 30 October 1883, p. 2
9 Criminal trial brief, Queen v. Thomas Jones, Assault with intent (VPRS 30)
10 The Argus, 21 November 1883, p. 5
11 The Herald, 21 February 1884, p. 3
12 Upjohn, Elijah. Prisoner record no. 18188 (VPRS 515)
13 The Herald, 5 July 1882, p. 2
14 The Age, 29 September 1882, p. 1
15 Fitzroy City Press, 30 September 1882, p. 2
16 Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 17 March 1883, p. 4
17 The Argus, 22 August 1884, p. 7
18 The Age, 5 April 1884, p. 9
19 The Age, 3 February 1885, p. 6
20 The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 September 1885, p. 10
21 The Age, 25 October 1884, p. 9
22 The Argus, 16 May 1885, p. 10
23 Evening News Supplement, 28 May 1892, p. 1
24 Weekly Times, 5 September 1885, p. 11
25 The Argus, 5 September 1885, p. 10
26 The Argus, 28 November, 1885, p. 12
27 The Argus, 8 January 1886, p. 7
28 The Age, 9 November 1888, p. 6
29 Gippsland Times, 20 March, 1889, p. 4
30 The Argus, 20 August 1889, p. 9
31 The Weekly Times, 21 September 1889, p. 7
32 The Argus, 3 September 1889, p. 6
33 The Herald, 16 October 1889, p. 2
34 The Herald, 11 May 1891, p. 1
35 Melbourne Punch, 14 May 1891, p. 2
36 The Age, 17 March 1891, p. 6
37 The Age, 27 January 1891, p. 5
38 The Broadford Courier and Reedy Creek Times, 28 March 1891, p. 4
39 The Argus, 25 February 1891, p. 7
40 The Brisbane Courier, 24 April 1891, p. 7
41 The Argus, 28 November 1890, p. 5
42 The Argus, 5 December 1890, p. 6
43 Barrier Miner, 27 April, 1891, p. 3
44 The Age, 9 March 1891, p. 5
45 The Age, 13 April 1891, p. 5
46 The Argus, 12 May 1891, p. 6
47 The Ballarat Star, 10 December 1890, p. 4
48 Launceston Examiner, 19 May 1891, p. 2
49 The Argus, 23 February 1891, p. 5
50 The Argus, 24 February 1891, p. 5
51 The Argus, 1 April 1891, p. 5
52 The Argus, 18 May 1891, p. 6
53 Weekly Times, 25 July 1891, p. 17
54 The Argus, 25 August 1891, p. 6
55 The Argus, 15 March 1892, p. 5
56 The Argus, 17 March 1892, p. 5
57 The Argus, 18 March 1892, p. 5-6
58 The Argus, 22 March 1892, p. 6
59 The Argus, 24 May 1892, p. 5
60 Evening News Supplement, 28 May 1892, p. 1
61 The Australasian, 15 October 1892, p. 30
62 The Argus, 19 April 1893, p. 5
63 The Argus, 26 April 1893, p. 6
64 The Argus, 27 April 1893, p. 6
65 The Argus, 29 August 1893, p. 5
66 Bendigo Independent, 23 May 1892, p. 3
67 The Age, 12 October 1893, p. 6
68 The Age, 16 December 1893, p. 10
69 The Herald, 6 January 1894, p. 5
70 Inquest Deposition File 1894/162 (VPRS 24)
71 The Age, 8 January 1894, p. 5
72 The Age, 16 January 1894, p. 5
73 The Herald, 22 October 1894, p. 1
74 The Argus, 21 April 1894, p. 9
75 The Fitzroy Press, 27 April 1894, p.3
76 The Argus, 4 May, P. 3
77 Encyclopedia of Melbourne online
78 Jean Lee : The last woman hanged in Australia. Random House, 1997
79 Capital punishment : Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 3. Australian Institute of Criminology, 1987
80 The Age, 25 April 1922, p. 2
81 The Argus, 4 July, 1922, p. 10
82 The Age, 27 May 2008
83 The Age, 27 September 1932, p. 8
84 Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February 2017
85 Queensland was the first Australian state to abolish capital punishment in 1922 and Western Australia was the last in 1984.
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