Tragedy on Lake Tyers

“Bill’s Landing” at Mill Point on the west side of Lake Tyers at Toorloo Arm, some fifteen kilometres north-east of the seaside tourist township of Lakes Entrance, Victoria was a popular destination for day trippers wanting to visit the Aboriginal Mission Station at the entrance of the Nowa Nowa Arm. On the afternoon of 29 December 1921, a party of holiday makers staying at the 22 room Club Hotel built in 1885 by William Hunter at a cost of £1,250 (“the hotel could boast the finest hospitality even in its first days”) decided to make the most of the fine weather with an excursion to the mission. In fact Mrs (Mollie) Eileen Finlay née Moroney (c1880-1950) (Springvale Botanical Cemetery), wife of 48-year-old Alexander Kennedy Finlay (c1873-1921) would say “it was a glorious day and there was not a ruffle on the surface of the lake. We were the happiest party imaginable”. Joining the Finlay’s in the party of fifteen travelling from Lakes Entrance were their best friends Mr Darrell Dysart Mackintosh Ray (c1885-1921) and family visiting the Gippsland Lakes for the first time, John James McDowall Barke (Lakes Entrance Cemetery), a retired storekeeper from Lakes Entrance, and Mr Leslie Marchant (c1889-1979), auctioneer and returned serviceman (Captain, 24th Battalion AIF 1915-18). Also making the trip of nineteen guests on board the launch Tamar owned by Mr John Bills were two girls and two young men staying at Toorloo House, the guest house of Mrs Marion Mills.

(above) Mills Point, Toorloo Arm looking towards the Mission Station (2004)

Soon after departing, passengers noticed something was wrong; the engine was making unusual noises and misfiring. One lady later claimed that benzine was leaking from the engine “and on looking down found that the volatile fluid was swilling about on the floor” leading Finlay to remonstrate with a passenger for smoking a cigar before demanding they return to shore; Harry Bills, son of the owner piloting the launch was alleged to have said “I can’t help it. I am only a visitor, and I am running the boat to give the owner a day off”. After reaching the middle of the lake, the situation took a turn for the worse and the engine suddenly stopped; Mrs Tassorette (Tass) Louie Ray née Setford and Eileen had a little fun with Bills saying “You don’t seem to know much about the engine, sonny”, who replied “As a matter of fact, I am only a visitor staying at the boarding house. I did work the boat last May, but I haven’t touched her since”. By now, oil was said to have been leaking but with the aid of Mr Bert Rhodes and Mr Elesmere McCausland, another returned soldier, managed to get the engine started. Ten minutes later, tragedy struck. It was 4:00pm and the launch was some 300 yards from the shore of the mission station. The engine suddenly stopped, backfired and a great pillar of flame shot up as high as the awning. Passengers quickly moved to the other side in safety during which Rhodes in an act of disregard to his personal safety gamely pulled down a number of lifebelts from beneath the awning and in the process getting badly burned.  

(above) near Mills Point, Toorloo Arm showing the scene of the tragedy (2004)

It was a matter of time before the flames would ignite the oil and so the women and children started climbing out onto the side of the boat clinging to the awning while the men began a futile effort to control the flames. Nor did it help that there was no box of sand on the boat. Gently the boat tipped over and flung them into the lake. It was now a life and death struggle for survival. Eileen could not swim and found herself floundering in the water; her son (Alexander) John (1908-70, VX28486 Lieut Aust Army Ordnance Corps, 1940-45) was saved by a Miss Collins, nurse who noticed a floating life belt in the water. As for the other passengers, Tass Ray, wife of Darrell had a miraculous escape and didn’t even wet her hat. When the boat sank, she found herself standing head and shoulders above the water with the top of the awning beneath her feet. Bert Rhodes found one of the lifebelts and saved his wife and little daughter before helping others struggling. As for McCausland and Marchant, they “worked like heroes, not sparing themselves and taking terrible risks.” McCausland, described by Eileen as “game as a lion” swam towards a row boat some 100 yards away “saving at least 12 lives” while Merchant himself dived to the bottom and brought up Miss Marjorie Dashwood when she had sunk “never to rise again”. Not so lucky was Eileen’s husband Alex. He heroically rescued her as they both sunk to the bottom; on the third occasion, just after the rescue boat arrived she grasped onto an oar held out and his heart suddenly stopped. At that moment, Eileen noticed Darrell Ray, who had found his son Anthony ‘Chook’ Ray (b 24 Apr 1918, V90680 Sapper 64 Anti Aircraft Co, enlisted 21 Aug 1940) and swam him to the safety of his wife before returning to help the other non-swimmers. What happened next was a harrowing situation;

“While I was hanging to the oar, I saw Darrell sinking quite close. He looked towards me with a pitiful aspect on his face, and I stretched out my hand to him, straining every muscle to reach his fingers. I got within inches of him, but just failed to grasp him. He sank, never to rise again. It was a dreadful moment, for we had known Darrell since he was a bit of a boy, and Alex and I loved him”. 

John Barke, like Finlay died not from drowning, but after suffering a heart attack; both bodies were recovered, but it took some time before that of Darrell Ray was found.

At the Aboriginal Mission Station, the Superintendent, Bruce Ferguson organised warm blankets for the survivors. The bodies of Ray and Finlay were both returned to Melbourne and accorded a funeral at the Brighton General Cemetery where they lie side by side (CofE*Y*1080-1082). Finlay was an architect of some merit (“Gibbs & Finlay”) who designed their home Kumalong – Kooyong Road, Caulfield while Ray, educated at Scotch College (1898) and a well-known Freemason cut short a promising career on the rise in the public service with the Taxation Department (1912-21); rising from officer in charge of correspondence to federal deputy commissioner of taxation. He was buried on the same day as Alma Tirtschke (q.v.).

The Argus 30 & 31 December 1921, 4 January 1922.
The Herald 30 & 31 December 1921.
The Age 31 December 1921.
Scotch Collegian May 1922.
Adams, J., “The Tambo Shire Centenary History” (1981).

The Highett Railway Disaster

On the night of Monday 23 March 1925, an eagerly anticipated social occasion was arranged at the house of Mr John Mathiesson of Point Nepean Road, Moorabbin to raise funds for the Mentone Catholic Church. But anticipation soon turned to apprehension when a number of guests from Sandringham failed to show, amongst the missing was 32-year-old electrician, Clarence Michael Joseph McDonnell (1893-1925) who was to play the piano for the forty guests.

Shortly after 8:10pm on that fateful evening, McDonnell of Park Street, South Melbourne, travelling in his Ford vehicle with wife (Ethel Lora) Pearl née Keegan (c1895-1925) and infant son Raymond had collected the last of five passengers from Grange Road, Sandringham. The group of eight then continued east before heading north along Bluff Road to Wickham Road. By the time they were 150 yards from the Wickham Road railway crossing it was just after 8:23pm. The crossing which intersected with Worthing Road, was manually operated by William George Resuggan (1865-1932) who resided at the gatekeeper’s cottage on the north-west side with his wife Florence Emily née Doggett (d 1957) whom he married in 1889 at Buninyong, Victoria; of their nine children, George (Jack) (1895-1917) served with the 7th Battalion AIF and was killed in action at Passchendaele Ridge on 26 October 1917. Resuggan had been in the employ of the Railways department since 1888 and gatekeeper at Highett for the last sixteen years; residents would describe him as “very careful” and “attentive” who had often “made himself disliked for checking people who wanted to get through”. Comprising of four gates with a bell warning and signal system on the ‘down’ line the crossing handled some 160 cars a day. It was, however, potentially dangerous for trains travelling towards Frankston; the signal south of Dane Road was just 200 yards away allowing for less than ten seconds until the train reached the crossing. There was little margin of error.  

(above) Wickham Road railway crossing looking north towards Moorabbin

At the Moorabbin signal box, signalman Alfred Read had commenced his evening shift at 3:35pm that day and was waiting patiently for the 7:31 ‘down’ parcel goods train. Running fifteen minutes behind schedule due to delays, it finally arrived at 8:23pm. Shortly after, Read then sent separate warning signals to both the crossing and Highett station. As the train passed the signal protecting the crossing, the driver of the train, John McNee, a 35-year veteran with an “exceptionally good record as a careful driver” noticed the home signal at “proceed”; at this stage the train was travelling an estimated 39 miles an hour.

The scene was now set. Just after 8:20pm, James Cuddigan, a student of Highett was driving north along Worthing Road with his brother Simon as passenger. The car approached the crossing and Cuddigan sounded his horn for Resuggan to open the gates; railway regulations stipulated that after dark, crossing gates must be closed to road traffic until the last train at midnight. On hearing the horn, Resuggan came from his cabin and opened the north-eastern and south-western gates without putting the signal at “danger”. Cuddigan then continued on his journey and Resuggan closed the south-western gate. Not far behind within sight approaching the crossing along Wickham Road was Clarence McDonnell and his eight passengers. Burdened by the heavy load and the slight uphill incline, the going was slow in the darkness. As it passed the house of Herbert Chamberlain, the car “did not appear to be going very well”. Resuggan waited until the vehicle approached the crossing before opening the north-western gate. “Pull the stick, mum!” he shouted and Mrs Resuggan put the signal at “danger”. He turned and suddenly noticed the lights of the approaching ‘down’ parcel train hurtling towards the crossing; McNee had not seen the signal. “For God’s sake shake it up!”, he pleaded at McDonnell, but the car was moving slowly at walking pace and he was unable to increase the speed. Crucial seconds passed, but it was too late and the train smashed through the crossing killing all the occupants instantly. The scene was one of utter devastation; bodies were so “shockingly mutilated” that all “resemblance to a human being had disappeared” and “women in the crowd uttered hysterical cries and men turned away in horror” when the coverings were removed to identify the victims. It was to be another two hours before they were taken to the morgue.

(above) Wickham Road railway crossing looking north towards Moorabbin (2004)

On 7 April, the coronial inquest before Mr D Berriman PM opened at the city morgue; over five days conflicting evidence was heard from some thirty witnesses. James Montgomery, engineer from the Railways department gave evidence that warning lights were fitted on the south-east and south-west gates but as neither gates were open to road traffic, McNee received no warning. Alfred Murphitt, block and signal inspector who arrived at the scene shortly after 10:00pm that night, testified that the signal was “working properly and was in good order” as was the bell in the gatekeeper’s cabin. Murphitt further stated that he examined the record at the Moorabbin signal-box and saw that “the warning had been given” by Read. Albert Stamp, superintendent of locomotive stated he undertook some tests and found that he “could not get a reasonable view of [the red warning lights] until…I was 200ft from the gates” as they were not “focussed on the line” correctly. When asked by the coroner “should the gatekeeper not be prohibited from opening the gates after he has received the warning signal” from Moorabbin, he replied “it would make safety more complete”. Herbert Chamberlain when asked “was the [Moorabbin] municipal electric light outside the gate burning that night” replied “it was out that night and the night before”. Mrs Blanche Comber of Mentone who was 50 yards from the accident gave damning evidence against Resuggan that “he had opened the gates to let them through into danger”. Resuggan’s son Harold gave evidence that he had known the “bell to miss on several occasions” and once “reported to the stationmaster [Edward Fallon] at Highett that the bell was not working”. John Ashworth, assistant chief engineer for the Railways department could not “make any suggestion whatever to increase the safety” of the crossing believing that if “regulations are observed, such things would not occur”. When an incredulous Coroner said “you say all this, despite the department’s policy of ‘safety first’” Ashworth replied “that is only a slogan”. Summing up his verdict, the Coroner found that “there had been a certain amount of conflict in the evidence” and was “quite prepared to believe that Resuggan did not hear the warning bell” from Read as not one witness testified to hearing it ring, but nonetheless found the eight victims died through his criminal negligence. Bail was given on a surety of £50 and a personal bond of a like amount. 

At the Court of General Sessions on 10 June before Judge Woinarski and a jury of twelve, Resuggan pleaded “not guilty” to the charge of manslaughter. After a three day trial, the jury agreed, finding the tragedy was due to the fault of the system and not through human negligence. After being taken to the scene of the collision “where they inspected the crossing, the gates, the signal and the warning bell”, the jury took the opportunity of making a number of recommendations to improve safety. The first was “that the gates and signal should be operated conjointly by the one lever”. The second that “a bright light be placed in a position to which it will illuminate the whole of the crossing”, and finally that “the red light on the gate should be fixed so that it will show at all angles instead of one angle as at present”.

And so it was left for the families of the victims to face the appalling reality in what The Age described as “the most terrible level-crossing smash in the history of the State”. Six children were left orphans, while another nine were left without the family breadwinner, the youngest just three-years-old. For Clarence McDonnell, his wife and infant son, they left behind two young boys Vernon aged seven and six year old Keith. Also travelling in the car was McDonnell’s father, Michael Joseph McDonnell (c1865-1925), market gardener of Highett Road, Sandringham. The McDonnell’s were interred at the Melbourne General Cemetery.

(above) Wickham Road railway crossing.  The gatekeeper’s lodge was in the middle to the left of the railway line (2004)

Bendigo-born Martin Foley (1888-1925) residing at Mena – Highett Road, Sandringham lived next door to McDonnell. He was reluctant to leave his wife Evangelina Hilary née Ruddick (c1889-1972) and six children owing to her dislike of leaving them behind late at night. A house painter by profession, Foley served in the Great War with the 10th Army Service Corps (enlisted 11 Sept 1914) before being invalided home in January 1916 due to rheumatism; a son Robert (b 1919) served with the 14/32 Battalion AIF in WWII (VX120115).

Edward Christopher Shacklock (c1887-1925) and his wife Josephine Saphronia née Ronkey (c1885-1925) resided at Anabert – Holzer Street, Sandringham with their four children, Arthur James (b 1908, 144766 Care & Maintenance Unit RAAF 1943-46), (Edward) Harry (b 1910, VX69574 2/25 Field Park Co AIF, died 14 Apr 1944), May Bernice (b 1912) and Edward (Teddy) John (b 1914). Married in 1907 they had intended to go to the local picture show that night but changed their minds. Shacklock’s father Charles (d 1946) sued the Victorian Railways Commissioners and was awarded £1,456 under provisions of the Wrongs Act 1915.   

The last of the victims was Geelong-born Ena Corbett Grace (1906-25) of Grange Road, Sandringham. Employed as a saleswomen with the local “Semco factory” of Black Rock, she was the sole support of her family of four; mother Annie Elizabeth Grace née Grossman (d 1962), and siblings Rannock Pierce (1913-75, Springvale Botanical Cemetery), Valda Margaret (b 1911) and James Albert (1905-61).

They were all interred side by side at the Brighton General Cemetery on 25 March 1925 (RC*W*220-222) after a solemn service before Rev Father Mangan of the Church of the Sacred Heart, Sandringham. An appeal by the Mayor of Sandringham, Cr F Gipps for funds for the relief of dependants of the victims raised over £1,386; John Wren (Boroondara Cemetery) was believed to have donated £100.

The Argus 24, 25 & 26 March 1925, 8, 9, 11, 17 & 18 April 1925, 11, 12 & 13 June 1925, 24 August 1925, 17 November 1925.
The Herald 24, 25 & 26 March 1925.
The Age 24 & 25 March 1925.
Brighton Southern Cross 28 March 1925.
AWM “Biographical Cards for the Official History 1914-18”, AWM140.

(Image courtesy Moorabbin Historical Society)

The Gun Alley Murder

For the sheer drama as one of the truly great sensational murders in Australian criminal history, few could match the rape and murder of 12-year-old (Nell) Alma Tirtschke (1909-21) on the afternoon of 30 December 1921. Described as slightly built, 4 feet 10 inches in height, freckled faced and with long dark auburn hair, quiet disposition and studious habits, Alma lived with her paternal grandmother Elizabeth Tirtschke née Le Maitre (d 1939) at 10 Jolimont Road, Jolimont. Alma was a well-behaved, popular and above average student who attended Hawthorn West High School where she was dux of her class; her mother Ellen (Nellie) née Alger (1878-1914) died when she was a young girl and her father was a builder and contractor working at Maffra in country Victoria where Alma was about to live permanently.

(above) Alma Tirtschke pictured middle, second row with fellow classmates of Hawthorn West State School

It was on this fateful hot summer afternoon that Alma, dressed in navy blue box-pleated overalls with a white cambric blouse, black shoes, stockings and a white leghorn hat was asked to collect a parcel of meat from “TK Bennet and Woolcock’s” of 154 Swanston Street in the city where her uncle worked for delivery to her aunt, at Masonic Chambers of 31 Collins Street. After leaving the shop at 1:30pm, Alma was in no rush to deliver the parcel and took her time to marvel at the shops along the way. Witnesses reported seeing her at various locations along Little Collins Street, Bourke Street and the seedy Eastern Arcade then a popular haunt for the prostitutes, pimps and petty criminals who frequented the area. She was last seen just before 3:00pm near Alfred Place at the southern entrance of the Arcade.

The following morning, an unemployed veteran of the Great War, Henry Errington accompanied by his daughter were looking for empty bottles in Little Collins Street, when around 6:00am they spotted the body of a naked girl in a cobbled laneway off Gun Alley just south of Exhibition Street. It was an ideal place to dispose of a body. Narrow, unlighted and seldom used, it ran parallel to Little Collins Street providing access to the rear of the shops. A post mortem revealed marks of violence on her face though no evidence that she had been strangled. Her body was washed before being disposed in the alley. No sign of her clothes were ever found.  

From the outset, Senior-Detectives John Brophy and Frederick Piggott, who were the two most experienced homicide detectives of the era were baffled with few promising leads. With the city outraged and the press in a state of emotive hysteria (“The thought that so base a wretch may remain free to enjoy life is utterly repugnant to all decent citizens”), they were under enormous pressure for a speedy arrest and all the resources of the CIB were assigned to the case. By 10 January, the police were feeling the strain and the first signs of public criticism were aired. The newspapers began to raise questions, suggesting that the detectives had few tangible leads even though every house bordering Little Collins between Russell and Spring Street had been searched in vain. In the hope of a breakthrough, the Government increased the initial £250 pound reward to £1,000.

Two days later, Colin Campbell Ross, the licensee of the Australian Wine Saloon located at the entrance of the Arcade was arrested at his mother’s residence Glenross – Ballarat Road, West Footscray and taken to the Russell Street police station where he was later charged with murder. News of his arrest spread through the suburbs like wildfire. At the coroner’s inquest (25 January) and subsequent trial (20 February) before Mr Justice (William) Schutt (1868-1933) with Hugh Macindoe (q.v.) prosecuting, Ross never once wavered from his evidence while maintaining an “air of bravado”. He stated he left home at lunch time after feeling unwell on the day of Alma’s disappearance and between 2:00pm and 3:00pm remembered seeing a schoolgirl matching Tirtshcke’s description outside his salon. At 4:00pm a friend, Gladys Wain arrived and they were together on and off for the rest of the evening before Ross arrived home shortly before midnight.  

(above) Colin Ross who was hanged for the murder or Alma Tirtschke

But evidence was heard against Ross from an assorted mix of shady characters with questionable motives: David Alberts verified seeing Ross outside the salon at about 7:30pm; Ivy Matthews a street walker formerly employed by Ross who received the largest share of the £1,000 government reward, testified seeing Tirtschke in a private room in the salon, that Ross was known to harbour young girls and tellingly, that he had confessed to the assault the following day; Sydney Harding, a habitual thief and proven liar who admitted making false statements against two warders also testified that Ross confessed his guilt while on remand at the Old Melbourne Goal; but the most telling piece of evidence was strands of hair similar to Alma’s being found on blankets at Ross’ home that were previously kept at the wine saloon. This, with the evidence of the State Government analyst, Charles Price sealed Ross’ fate and he was found guilty “to be hanged by the neck until you are dead”. Right until the end when he met his fate on the gallows on 24 April 1922, Ross vehemently protested his innocence; but this mattered little when a conviction at all costs was demanded. Against the formidable forces of a police force under political and public pressure from an outraged city, a press with a ‘lynch mob’ mentality, questionable evidence from shady characters, and use of hair analysis to secure a conviction for the first time in Australian criminal history it remains improbable that Ross was guilty. Most tellingly, tests on the strands of hair 75 years after the crime showed the two were not from the same scalp. 

Nor did the Tirtschke family find peace – nearly a month to the day after Alma’s disappearance, her father Charles Henry (“Harry”) Tirtschke (1876-1922) was accidentally shot by his nephew in a bush paddock eleven miles from Maffra and was buried on 31 January 1922.

Alma and her father Charles Tirtschke are buried in CofE*ZA*2178 near the grave of Elizabeth (d 1939) and Henry Tirtschke (d 1921) (CofE*ZA*2135). After Charles’ death in 1922, Alma’s body was removed from CofE*ZA*2135 for re-interment.

Footnote: It was said that Colin Ross alluded to ‘justice’ taking place towards those he felt had sentenced the wrong man. Senior-Detective Frederick Piggott would see the death of his son Frederick Piggott (car accident) and his wife Matilda within 13 days of each other in December 1922. They are both interred in CofE*Y*307A.

Morgan, K., “Gun Alley. Murder, lies and failure of justice” (2005).
Sharpe, A., “Crime and punishment. 50 crimes that shocked Australia” (1997).
The Argus 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 20, 25, 26, 27 & 31 January 1922, 1 & 11 February 1922.
The Age 24 April 1922.
The Herald 24 April 1922.
The Sunday Age 5 March 2000.

The Artist, The Fiancé & Murder at Elwood

The night of 20 November 1930 was to be a gay and convivial evening at the Bijou theatre in Bourke Street, Melbourne with the screening of Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” (“My Fair Lady”) the highlight for the group of bohemian friends that included Colin Cuthbert Orr Colahan (1897-1987), the well-known Australian artist and his fiancé.

After discussing the play for about half an hour, the group decided to bid adieu and the fiancé heaved a heavy sigh before walking to Flinders Street station with Colahan on her way home to 86 Milton Street, Elwood. But something was troubling the young girl who remarked to Colahan, “I wish to God I did not have to go home!”.

(above) 5 Addison Street, Elwood where Dean was assaulted

Mary Winifred ‘Mollie’ Dean (1905-31) was a petite girl aged twenty-five, with brown eyes, dark bobbed hair and the world at her feet. Engaged to be married to Colahan, she taught art at the State Opportunity School in Queensberry Street North Melbourne, a school that specialised in educating backward children and had her sights set on a career as a writer. Soon after arriving at the St. Kilda railway station, she made a telephone call at 12:04am to Colahan’s apartment in Yarra Grove, Hawthorn to discuss leaving her teaching job to take up journalistic work. Colahan told her that any hurried decision was impetuous and foolish, and advised her not to do it. After the eight minute call, the worried girl probably missed the last Brighton-electric tram at 12:11am, and instead walked the two kilometres home.

(above) The laneway opposite 5 Addison Street where Dean was dragged

But fate reared its ugly head just before 1:00am when Beatrice Owen of 5 Addison Street, Elwood was awoken to the sounds of a moaning voice. On the footpath outside her front gate was found a pool of blood, a women’s hat, coat, handbag, and a book. No screams were heard indicating the victim knew her attacker. Dean’s body was found in the laneway opposite – traces of blood showed that she had been dragged across the street – and was rushed to the Alfred Hospital, but died at 4:25am that morning due to shock, haemorrhage and collapse of the lungs. 

Senior-Detectives Jeremiah O’Keeffe and Percy Lambell believed the motive was jealousy and the outrage had been committed to look like a sex attack. Various witnesses verified seeing a young girl 5 feet 6 inches in height, dark complexion and slim to medium build wearing a green floral frock, red beret, black shoes, black topcoat and with a silk bandanna handkerchief tied around her neck. Significantly, a Mr Harry Coles of Jackson Street, St. Kilda saw Dean sitting outside the St. Kilda station and noticed a man watching her who had a peculiar walking gait wearing a “blue-grey” suit. Other witnesses saw Dean being followed by the same man.

(above) The laneway where Dean’s body was found looking towards the house

At the two day coronial inquest held on 29 and 30 January 1931, sensation after sensation was played out. Evidence was heard against a close family friend Adam Graham a 30-year-old engineer having a peculiar walking gait; that blood was found on his “blue-grey” suit which could not be accounted for; that Dean’s mother, Ethel Mary née Wright (d 1962), who strongly objected to Mollie’s bohemian friends clashed repeatedly with her daughter, and had Graham follow her on a number of occasions; and finally, that both Mrs Dean and Graham had an improper intimate relationship. The coroner Mr D Grant concurred and found that Graham had wilfully and maliciously inflicted the injuries and ordered he stand trial in the Supreme Court on February 18. He was given bail on the surety of £1,000.

However, the Crown Prosecutor (Mr Book) thought otherwise and on 16 March 1931 a no-presentment was filed against Graham leaving yet another shocking tragedy unsolved coming just a fortnight after the brutal murder of Mena Griffiths (Springvale Botanical Cemetery) in November 1930. The girl described by Colahan as “self-reliant, independent and courageous” was buried in a private service (Meth*A*113) attended by fifty people officiated by Rev G Phillip Bray of St. John’s Congregational Church in St. Kilda.

Footnote: In George Johnston’s autobiographical-novel “My Brother Jack” (1964), both Dean and Colahan were portrayed as Jessica Wray and Sam Burlington.

The Argus 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 November 1930; 24, 26, 27, 29 December 1930 & 6, 17 March 1931.
The Age 22, 24, 25, 26 November 1930.
The Herald 21, 22 November 1930.
Kinnane, G., “Colin Colahan.  A Portrait” (1996).
Johnston, G., “My Brother Jack” (1964).

Southwick of South Yarra

William Southwick

On Monday 3 August 1925, a dishevelled man, dirty and unkempt was brought before Richard Knight PM (q.v.) in the City Court on a charge of wilful murder. Sullen and moody, he stared vacantly around the court during the proceedings taking little interest in what was going on. Earlier, when greeted by his father while held in custody said “Hello, dod, I’ll get a rest now”; little did he realise the gravity of the situation.

William Southwick (1856-1925) was born in Geelong, the third of eight children to Thomas Southwick (d 1897, St. Kilda Cemetery) and Elizabeth née Swift (d 1906, St. Kilda Cemetery). At the age of 19 he moved to South Yarra and gained work for “TK Bennet” as an accountant, the same firm that was to play a bit part in the disappearance of Alma Tirtschke (q.v.) in 1921. In 1887, he married Mary Jane née Hindmarsh (d 1928) at Clunes; they had a daughter Beryl Smyth née Southwick (1895-1977, Springvale Botanical Cemetery). He later went into partnership as a produce merchant and on the death of his partner established a wood, coal and produce business on the corner of Punt and Toorak Roads opposite Christ Church; when he sold the business to “Floyd Bros” in February 1925 Southwick was a man of considerable wealth who owned numerous properties in South Yarra as well all the buildings on Toorak Road between Caroline and Ralston Streets with the exception of a butcher shop at number 34.

Layout of the buildings. Southwick owned all the buildings with the exception of the Butcher shop.  His body was found in the larger of the two lumber rooms at the rear of the garage.
(above) George Fleming’s shop at 42 Toorak Rd and residential flats on the second level (2004)

The buildings on Toorak Road consisted of a garage at 36-40 used by Charles Browne (motor painter), George Victor McAloon (d 1968) (panel beater) on the ground floor, while partners Frank Vale and Leslie Pretty (motor body builders) and George Isaacs (motor trimer) occupied the second. The building was formerly used for Southwick’s wood, coal and produce business. In front of the garage was an office where Southwick conducted an estate and commission agency business. Adjoining the garage at 34 Toorak Road was a butcher shop owned by S Bowman while on the eastern side on the corner of Caroline Street was a motor accessories shop run by George Fleming. Above Fleming’s shop were several flats, one of which was let to Mrs Mary Ann Hart a widower. At the rear of these residential flats overlooks a two-storey building with frontage on Caroline Street used by Southwick as a storehouse for building materials required to carry out alterations in progress to one of his properties. Two additional rooms at the rear of the garage were lumber-rooms, one of which was used as accommodation by Cyrus Luff Braby (1894-1970) the second youngest of seven children to Martin Braby (d 1931) and Mary née Brockhurst.

(above) Former garage and office used by Southwick at 36-40 Toorak Rd (2004)

At 12:00pm on Saturday 1 August, Mrs Hart went to one of the lumber rooms to get some wood and was met by Southwick who said he would get Braby to scrub her floor; a keen racegoer, he rarely missed an important meeting and was just about to leave to attend Caulfield racecourse. When instructed, Braby became excited and a heated quarrel ensured. “I’ve never scrubbed a flat in my life, and I won’t do it now!” and used foul language. Southwick, who had generously provided the rooms rent-free as well as money from time to time, remonstrated and ordered he leave on Monday.

The following day, McAloon of 119 Bendigo Street, Prahran went to his garage (“due to business pressures”) at 10:30am and was met by Louis France Dupont (d 1933) who conducted a motor importing business at 26-32 Toorak Road. “Have you seen anything of Mr Southwick?” and McAloon replied “No”. “He left home on Saturday morning and nobody knows where he was got to. His wife and friends are beginning to become very anxious on his account. It is not like him to absent himself in this strange manner. I think something must have happened to him”. McAloon had last seen Southwick at 10:00am on the Saturday morning passing in the direction of the lumber room. Immediately, McAloon headed for the shed with Dupont and William Dubbeldan of 100 Napier Street, South Melbourne. He called out to Braby “Have you seen anything of Mr Southwick?” and he got no answer. Peering through the window, much to his horror, he saw the legs of a man lying on the floor. At 10:50am, the three men then forced the door open only to find Southwick was dead. His body was sprawled out on its back, with the feet facing the window with the head to the south-east corner resting on a quantity of wood. His hat and spectacles were lying nearby while inside his coat pocket was found to be between £30 and £40 left untouched indicating robbery was not the motive. There were several abrasions on his face while blood and vomit covered the floor. A tomahawk was found under his legs while under his body were two pieces of timber. Police believed that Southwick had been struck on the temple with a blunt instrument and that death occurred between 12:00pm and 2:00pm on the Saturday.

Two storey storeroom at rear of 36-42 Toorak Rd (2004)

In the room opening into the shed was Braby lying in bed. When asked if he knew the deceased man, he said “No, but my boss wears clothes like that”. He denied quarrelling and asked for some steak. “I am 16 hours in arrears with my sleep. I need more sleep and some steak, and will be all right”. Under his right eye was a small scar and a bruise. He was taken to the City Watchhouse and charged by Detective West with having insufficient means of support; later that night the charge was withdrawn at 8:00pm and he was charged with murder. When asked at the Watchhouse whether he had caught up with his sleep, Braby replied he was “still 100 hours behind”.

(above) Southwick Lane showing the lumber rooms on the left (2004)

The coronial inquiry held before Mr D Berriman PM on 25 August 1925 was a fait accompli and he found that “Southwick had died from injuries to the head caused by Cyrus Luff Braby” and he was committed for trial on a charge of murder at the Supreme Court on 5 September 1925. In the aftermath of Braby’s arrest, his father would reveal a tragic life affected by war. The youngest of four sons, he was born in Queensland on 18 December 1894; before the war Braby worked on various farms at Eskdale, Victoria “and was known as a very hard and intelligent worker”. He was said to have been “the most youthful member” of the Heavy Siege Artillery requiring “special permission from the Minister of Defence” at the age of nineteen in order to join the unit that his brother H (Harold) Ernest (d 25 June 1914) had served with only to be killed in a tram accident just prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Enlisting as No 402, with the 36th Heavy Artillery Brigade, Braby suffered from the effects of shell-shock and gassing before returning to Australia on 19 April 1919. When he returned to Eskdale his father noticed “his former extreme cheerfulness having left him” and became worried about his “eccentric habit” of getting out of bed in the early morning in cold weather and wandering half-naked about the country side. He was treated at the Caulfield Military Hospital, No 5 Dock Military Hospital and Picton Soldiers’ Farm (NSW) and finally at Mont Park but left after a month and was receiving a part-pension of £1 per week which was supplemented by part-time work as a gardener.

And so Southwick who resided at 42 Rockley Road, South Yarra was buried in the Brighton General Cemetery (CofE*ZG*9) by the local undertaker “B Matthews” the following Tuesday at 2:30pm. Remarkably, Braby lies interred in the Presbyterian portion (Pres*B*59) with his father and beloved brother.

The Argus 3, 26 & 27 August 1925.
The Herald 8 May 1926.
The Age 3, 4, 5 & 26 August 1925.

Outrage at Lauriston Hall

Lieut-Colonel Eric William Tulloch MC & Bar was no nondescript member of the public, but a distinguished citizen, an honoured war-hero and a loving husband. Which is why his death in mysterious circumstances was all the more tragic. Born at Ballarat in Victoria the son of a brewer, he received an upper-class education at Melbourne Church of England Boys’ Grammar (1897-99) where he excelled as a sportsman and went on to represent Victoria in the eight-oared rowing crew that won consecutive interstate championships between 1902-04. He worked in Victoria and Western Australia as a brewer before enlisting in January 1915 with the rank of captain with the 11th Battalion; at Gallipoli he was in charge of one of two bodies of men who in an extraordinary feat managed to reach their immediate objective during the disastrous landing; while on the Western Front he was awarded the Military Cross in two separate acts of bravery. He returned to Australia in August 1919 and took up a senior position with “Victoria Brewery” – Victoria Parade, East Melbourne; in 1921 he was appointed head coach of Melbourne Boys’ Grammar school rowing crew.  

(above) Eric Tulloch

Lauriston Hall at 92 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne was a fashionable guest house in a fashionable part of the city catering to a well-to-do clientele; a home-away-from-home where guests could mingle freely while maintaining a degree of privacy. It was in every way the last place to expect a cold-blooded murder but all this was shattered on the night of Friday 7 May 1926. Tulloch had been living at Lauriston Hall for the last six months while his wife, Lilian had been recovering her health in Sydney since 9 April; she had been in poor health for some time.

At about 8:30pm on the fateful night, an impromptu dance party was held amongst the guests to celebrate the success of the rowing team in the heats of the Head of the River; the final of the fiercely fought public school’s boat race was to be held the following day. It had been raining heavily that night. Tulloch was believed to have been suffering from a heavy cold and retired to his room at 10:15pm; at about 1:45am in the morning the last light was extinguished by the proprietress Mary Beveridge. A few moments later guests were awoken from their slumber by the commotion of struggling noises, cries for help and the firing of two shots. Eileen McIntye, a clerk who occupied a room near Tulloch was awoken by scuffling noise outside her door followed by Tulloch saying “Now I’ve got you”. A shot was then fired and Tulloch shouted “Help!” before a second shot was discharged. She jumped out of bed, looked out of the door and saw Tulloch in the act of falling while grasping a rung of the banisters.

William Archibald Lawrie, an officer of the “English, Scottish & Australian Bank” occupied a room on the ground floor next to the sitting room and was one of the first to rush to the scene. Before running upstairs he heard the front door slam and momentarily caught sight of a “very small” hatless man of 5 feet 5 inches in height, medium to stout build wearing a dark suit and “running as fast as he could”; bloodstains were found on the front doorstep. Lawrie indicated the man turned left at Wellington Parade and ran away in the direction of Richmond. A doctor was called for but it was to be in vain; Tulloch was dead. A post mortem by Dr Crawford Mollison (1863-1949) revealed two bullet wounds to the left side, one on the chest and the other to the lower part of the abdomen; both had been fired at point-blank range.

Not since the tragic death of Alma Tirtschke (q.v.) in December 1921 had a murder caused a greater sensation nor a more baffling case for the police. Nothing was stolen, his room had not been ransacked nor did he have any enemies leading Truth to speculate that Tulloch had been the victim of an act of jealousy or revenge; the paper said that “Tulloch was a popular man with the ladies” and was “in the habit of taking women into his brewery at late hours”. The paper said one lady whom Tulloch was “particularly friendly with” had “married a small shopkeeper a few days before giving birth to a son” and that the husband permitted “dinners at Menzies and other hotels, to shows and entertainments” right up until a short time before Tulloch’s death. At his funeral held at the Brighton General Cemetery (CofE*ZH*88) on 10 May 1926 before some 2,500 graveside mourners, the women “gave way to uncontrollable grief” and was allegedly have said “My God, my God, what will I do? ‘X’ said he would shot Eric if he came between us”.

All the evidence suggests a murder cleverly planned to look like a house break-in gone awry. Mrs Beveridge testified having secured all doors and windows just prior to the murder; the kitchen window was found open and the back door unlocked, yet no tracks were left by wet boots. Tulloch’s bedroom was situated on the first floor in the remotest part of the house and to reach it, one had to pass a dozen other rooms along a maze of passages before reaching a blind passageway where his room and a women’s bathroom were located; it required prior knowledge. A fawn or grey coloured hat bought at “Mountford’s” of Bourke Street some weeks before was left behind in the struggle (near Tulloch’s body) as was an electric torch case (inside the front door) and battery (in the bathroom), two .25 calibre automatic pistol cartridge cases (bathroom) and a number of waistcoat buttons. The torch had been stolen from the room of a boarder some weeks before; all were likely to have been deliberately laid to deceive police. 

The coronial inquiry held on 29 June before Mr D Berriman PM took just two and a half hours to find that “Eric William Tulloch died from bullet wounds of the heart and lungs, the bullets having been fired from a pistol by a man whose name is unknown, and who, I find, is guilty of the murder of Mr Tulloch”. And so yet another crime went unsolved.

As for the Melbourne Boys’ Grammar eight-oared crew, they were to finish third place behind Scotch and Geelong in the final of the Head of the River.

ADB Volume 12 1891-1939 (Smy-Z).
The Argus 10 & 11 May 1926, 30 June 1926.
The Truth 22 May 1926.
“Liber Melburniensis”, Centenary Edition (1965).
Blatchford, C., “Legacy: The Story of the Melbourne Legacy Club” (1932).
Kiddle, J. (ed), “War Services of Old Melburnians 1914-18” (1923).
Bean, C., “The Official History of Australia in the War 1914-18”.
AWM “Biographical Cards for the Official History 1914-18”, AWM140.

(Image reproduced with kind permission of Melbourne Grammar School)

Orgy of Drunkenness

For a policeman, being ‘on the beat’ entailed police work at its most feared – that one must expect the unexpected. On the morning of 15 November 1912, the unexpected certainly happened to Senior Constable D Garland patrolling the streets of Prahran when just before 2:00am that morning while walking down High Street he heard in the distance a gunshot, followed by another four shots in quick succession.

Not knowing where the shots were fired, there was little Garland could do until some time later he was confronted by two men near the Prahran Town Hall asking for a doctor to be sent to nearby 53 Newry Street. Rushing to the address with the two men, Garland was confronted with the scene of a shooting affray. The victim, Robert Barclay McCrindle (1888-1912), the youngest of four sons to Scottish-born Thomas Barclay McCrindle (1850-1913) and his wife Augustine Johanna née Bargman had been shot twice whilst answering the front door of his house, one bullet entered below the right breast and the other having pierced his right hip. He was rushed to the Alfred Hospital at 3:20am where later that morning Detectives A Lonsdale and T Coonan were able to interview him. McCrindle stated the murderer was a “short, thickset, stout man, with slightly curly hair”. He died at 8:40am the following morning due to peritonitis and shock. 

(above) The McCrindle family grave

The coroner’s inquest held before Dr. Robert Cole on 5 December, makes sensational reading with a touch of comedy. It was heard that an “orgy of drunkenness” was held that night between eleven men and seven women; that McCrindle, even though married to Eva Ruth née Bennett since 1908 with two children – Ruby Edna (b 1908) and Doris May (b 1910) – had changed his surname to ‘McGregor’ while temporarily separated to escape this wife’s excessive spending habits and had been living with 20-year-old Alice Morgan for the past seven weeks; that during the past few months, McCrindle described as a teetotaller by his father had been led into questionable habits by bad influence; and that evidence pointed towards John Thomas ‘Little Jack’ Olson, a wool sorter, who was a guest that night, as being the murderer. One of the men at the party, Reginald Johnstone, labourer of 14 Lonsdale Street to the laughter of the court said he heard no shooting; he was asleep and was a little hard of hearing – “I’m not telling lies!” to which Cole replied “That’s about as true as the rest of your statements”. 

The coroner believed not a word presented during the inquest by those at the party some with police records believing evidence from four of the witnesses was tainted with perjury. He went on to say that “I think it is….plain enough that both the statements of [the] deceased to the police and those which I have heard today are not correct, and are made for the purpose of misleading and defeating the ends of justice”. He concluded by saying, “Of all the bad cases I have had in my ten years’ experience this is the worst”. He could only find that McCindle “died from a bullet wound in the body, inflicted by some person not yet determined, on the 15th November”. 

And so Robert McCrindle, a driver employed by “RG Wilson”, carrier of Motherwell Street South Yarra, was buried in the Presbyterian portion of the Brighton General Cemetery on 18 November 1912 (Pres*I*111). Even though the police strongly suspected the assailant was one of the 17 guests at the party, no one was ever charged.

The Argus 16, 18, 19, 21 November 1912 & 6 December 1912.
The Herald 15 November 1912.
The Age 16, 18, 19 November 1912 & 6 December 1912.

Murder by Medicine

Dr George Elliott Cranstoun (1877-1922) was a much liked and well respected local doctor with a thriving practice in the middle class Melbourne bayside suburb of Hampton. But he lived with a dark secret that very few knew about nor could have imagined the tragedy that was to unfold – he was addicted to morphia. A native of Castlemaine in country Victoria, Cranstoun was the sixth of eight children to Ebenezer Cranstoun and Margaret née Campbell and was educated at the local grammar school before studying in Bendigo. In 1899 he passed the final examination at the Pharmacy College and worked in Castlemaine until graduating at Melbourne University as a doctor of medicine (MBCh.B, 1914). He then practiced for three years at Bruthen (1916-19) in Gippsland followed by Yackandandah before moving to 5 Station Crescent, Hampton. His wife Jessie née Haig, whom he married at Castlemaine in 1905, took a leading part in social life in the area and was well connected with charitable organisations; they had five adorable children – John (Jack) Haig aged fifteen; Margaret Annie (Meg) aged thirteen (d 1972, Springvale Botanical Cemetery), Robert (Bob) Stirling aged ten, Colin Campbell aged eight and the youngest, Belle aged six-years old; a sixth died at childbirth in 1910.

(above) Monumental headstone to Gladys Baylis

At 8:30pm on the night of Sunday 13 August 1922, Cranstoun called his wife into his office. He had mixed a new antidote for influenza and wanted to experiment with her; she consented and the injection was administered. “While I’m about it, I might as well do the lot” said the Doctor, and he called in their servant, 28 year old Gladys Victoria Baylis (1893-1922) followed by Meg and Jack. He then went upstairs to treat young Belle, Colin and Bob in their beds but not before telling Belle – “I am giving this for your cold”. The following morning at 11:00am the full picture of the previous night’s events were stumbled upon by a patient Mrs M Breaden and the local butcher Alexander Dick who were passing by; the Doctor was found in his pyjamas on the floor in the hall with a hypodermic needle; his wife lay fully dressed in a distressed state in the bedroom groaning “Oh George, oh George!”; in the attic Bob and Colin were found dead in bed facing each other while Belle and Meg were found half conscious in a back room; the servant Gladys was found in her room fully dressed having died just a few moments before the house was entered; but the biggest shock that caused outrage in the city was evidence of a fierce and violent struggle between the doctor and Jack in the front room – books were strewn about the room, chairs disarranged and a vase broken.

In what The Argus described as “the worst domestic tragedy in the history of Victoria”, Cranstoun was rushed to the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital where he died at 4:30pm having briefly regained consciousness; luckily his wife and two daughters survived the devilish outrage. Described as a big man with thick dark hair, bright and cheery with a comforting word for everyone, Cranstoun was a keen racegoer having attended a meeting at Caulfield racetrack on Saturday. Police found a number of race books and an addressed unstamped envelope in his desk indicating a financial debt: “It may make it easier for you if I formally acknowledge that I owe you 110 pounds for money lent to me and interest. I have felt for some time that I should have given you a P.N. [promissory note] for the amount, and if you think the same we can fix it up next time we meet”. On 12 September, the Coroner, Dr Robert Cole, found that Cranstoun, his three sons and Gladys Baylis all died from narcotic poisoning administered by ‘Dr Death’ who suffered from “brain disease while mentally unsound”; a post mortem on the victims revealed multiple injections. Bright, well liked and musically inclined, Baylis was born at Omeo, Victoria the daughter of William Baylis and Mary née Angus and had been in the employ of the family since 1917 and was much loved; it was reported that her fiancé was killed in the Great War as were her two brothers, Vere Neville (Bmdr, 7th Bde Aust. Field Artillery, d 22 Oct 1918) and William Osmond (Pte, 38th Battalion, d 11 Aug 1916). She was buried nearby (CofE*ZA*2656) in a private service officiated by Rev Perry Martin. For young Bob, he was buried on his eleventh birthday. 

Postscript: On 12 April 1955, Dr Cranstoun’s wife Jessie was cremated at Springvale Botanical Cemetery and her ashes were later interred with her husband and three boys on 27 May (Pres*Q*201).

Main, J., “Murder in the First Degree. True Australian Cases” (1992).
The Argus 15, 16, 17, 19 August 1922 & 8, 13 September 1922.
The Herald 14, 15 August 1922 & 12 September 1922.
The Age 15 & 16 August 1922.
Adams, J., “The Tambo Shire Centenary History” (1981).

Mishap or Murder?

On 23 November 1932, Walter William Henry James Henderson was facing the verdict of the Criminal Court jury before Mr Justice (Sir James) Macfarlan (1872-1955) on the charge of murdering his mother, Sarah Jane Henderson née Bradbury aged 64 of fashionable St. Vincent’s Place, Albert Park. But Walter had every reason to be confident; he had been acquitted previously on the same charge.

From the onset, the case against the 47-year old former farmer from Lake Boga near Swan Hill, Victoria lacked a vital inconclusive piece of irrefutable evidence that would enable the Crown to sustain the charge of murder. On the afternoon of 27 July 1932, Mrs Henderson was found by her son at the foot of one-flight stairs leading from the passageway into the kitchen. Between 2:15pm and 2:30pm, Walter rushed to his neighbours – Mrs Elizabeth Meurillian (c1869-1952) and Mr J Fogarty – for assistance and she was admitted to the Homeopathic Hospital only to die around 6:00pm having suffered horrific head injuries; five lacerations were found on the left side of her head. She was laid to rest the following day in the Church of England portion of the Brighton General Cemetery (CofE*Z*630) at 4:15pm; friends described her as “a pleasant, amiable women”.

(above) Gravesite of Sarah Jane Henderson

Blood was found everywhere in the house leading police to suspect murder; some thirty items were found to be bloodstained including the overalls Henderson was wearing on the afternoon. Blood was found on the carpet in the hall at the foot of the stairs; in the passage leading to the kitchen; in the scullery at the rear of the house; as well as blood finger prints on a table used for sewing. Significantly, police found a broken, bloodstained hammer and handle containing hairs at the house.

What should have been a straight-forward homicide soon became a puzzle of contradictory pieces. Dr Crawford Mollison (1863-1949) the respected government pathologist stated before the coroner Mr D Grant on 15 August that “the injuries could not possibly have been caused by a fall down a flight of stairs, but they could have been caused by a hammer” only to change his evidence at the first criminal trial before Mr Justice (Sir Frederick) Mann (1869-1958) on 19 September stating that “he did not believe that the hammer produced in court could have killed Mrs Henderson” as her skull was not fractured and would not have been able to “resist a blow from such a heavy instrument”. At the same trial, Dr John Kennedy of Collins Street told Justice Mann that the “injuries could have been caused by her falling over the banister of the stairs”. As for the hairs found on the bloodstained hammer and broken handle, Henderson could not explain the appearance of blood. The defence speculated that the hairs found on both the hammer and handle may have come from a Persian cat which evidence showed had came into contact with both items; the government analyst Mr Harold Wignell admitted he had not examined this possibility. Nor could the prosecution suggest a motive necessary to sustain the charge; while Mrs Henderson had two life insurance policies, they were of small amounts. Was it murder or mishap? After deliberating for three hours, the verdict of “Not guilty” was returned and Henderson walked a free man having been acquitted for a third time.

But his freedom was short-lived. On the day of his third acquittal he was charged at Brunswick Court with bigamy having married Ethel Emma née Daldry on 12 April 1913 and Daisy Nell née Nichol on 31 July 1930; he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Justice Love said “the crime to which you have pleaded guilty affronts public morality and the evidence shows that you have done a great wrong to two women”. It was revealed that Henderson had twelve convictions, three of which were for larceny and nine for false pretences.

Main, J., “Murder in the First Degree. True Australian Cases” (1992).
The Herald 28 July 1932.
The Argus 28 & 30 July 1932, 16 August 1932, 20, 21, 22 & 24 November 1932, 1, 13 & 14 December 1932.

Massacre at the Botanical Gardens

If ever there was a decade that marked Melbourne’s coming of age into the world of uncivilised cities, it was the 1920s for never before had the citizens experienced the scale of wanton violence that included the first child sex-murder, the worst domestic tragedy and the most terrible level-crossing smash. But added to this would be a more devastating outrage that would change the city forever on the evening of 23 January 1924 – a massacre at the Botanical Gardens, South Yarra.

(above) Botanical Gardens – Eastern Lawn area near where McIlwaine was shot (2003)

The terrible events that unfolded can be traced back to 21 January when Archibald Forsyth, farmer of Laverton posted a cheque to 21 Charles Street, Richmond for harvesting work done by a former employee (“a good workman”) between 28 November and 14 January. At 1:10pm on the afternoon of the tragedy a “calm and sane” man aged about 30 or 35 years of 5 feet 4 inches in height and carrying books, entered “Alcock & Pierce”, gunsmiths of Little Collins Street asking for a .44 rifle “to go shooting”. Before seeing the rifle the man asked the shop attendant, Vernon Evans of Mitchell Street, Fairfield if he could cash a cheque for £10 saying he “had been working for a farmer at Laverton”; the accountant refused as the cheque was crossed and so the man left. A little later between 3:30pm and 4:00pm, Keith Hayter of Leopold Street, East Melbourne working for the firm of “Donald MacIntosh”, gunsmith of Bourke Street, Melbourne served a young man wanting a rifle who had a “large mouth with gold fillings in his teeth” wearing a “dark grey suit of fine material and a dark felt hat”. After an examination, the man paid £7-10-0 for the 1894 model US-made Martin .44 repeating rifle number 3022 19. It was wrapped in brown paper with a bottle of Burr’s gun oil; he did not purchase any cartridges stating they were too expensive. He gave his name and address to Hayter and said he was “going into the backblocks and would use the rifle shooting kangaroos and wallabies”. The purchase took no more than twenty minutes. At another shop a short time later the same man purchased a box of 25 .44-cailbre soft-nosed Winchester cartridges for 16s. By approximately 4:30pm the man was armed and ready to carry out his deed.

(above) Botanical Gardens – Eastern Lawn near where Moxham was wounded (2003)

At the Botanical Gardens, the afternoon was like any other. Hundreds had visited that day before heading home for tea while those living in the vicinity enjoyed a quite read in the pleasant surroundings; amongst them was Frederick William McIlwaine (c1849-1924) a widower of St Ives – Toorak Road, South Yarra who was reclining on his arm while sitting under a cypress tree on the eastern lawn. McIlwaine, described as “5 feet 7 inches high, with thin features, grey hair and a small grey moustache” was a native of Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Throughout the gardens were family groups scattered about the lawns having a picnic party taking advantage of the summer closing time at sunset (7:40pm); people such as Mrs Eugene Strohhaker (c1885-1924), of 29 Hardy Street, South Yarra with her three children enjoying a meal with Mrs Marie Parry aged 42 of Coventry Street, South Melbourne and her 11-month adopted daughter.

At the corner of Park Street and the Domain Road entrance, the man alighted the cable tram carrying the parcel and other items before entering the gardens through gate “D”. He walked a short distance to a group of thick trees near the first plot of grass on the eastern lawn, unwrapped the brown paper parcel and proceeded to load the gun. It was about 6:30pm. Advancing behind the trees, he sighted Mrs Strohhaker in the distance crocheting on the lawn and fired a shot killing her instantly while her children were washing under the tap some distance nearby. He next fired at Mrs Parry wounding her in the jaw while she sat on a seat reading a book. Moving east towards gate “C”, the man approached a clump of trees. Sitting nearby under a tree was 35-year old Miss Miriam Podbury, legs crossed reading a book with an attaché case containing some food enjoying a day off from work as a parlourmaid. She was killed with a bullet to the neck. Knelling down and levelling his gun north-east towards Tennyson lawn, the man fired across open lawn hitting McIlwaine in the chest who was about 50 yards away sitting on a seat. With little delay the gunman crawled behind a bed of flowers, crossed the footpath leading to gate “C” and took aim at Mrs Maud Moxham who was with her husband John (Melbourne General Cemetery) and children in a shady nook on the lawn near the Anderson Street rockery. She screamed on seeing the man and managed to dodge the line of fire each time it was pointed at her until the gunman aimed at her husband who had not had time to seek shelter wounding him in the back and hand; he was to die from his wounds on 27 January. By this time, people were approaching and the gunman became frightened. He ran into a shrubbery nearby and discarded the gun and bullets before climbing the iron fence enclosing the reservoir out of sight of the public. Soon after he escaped along Anderson Street. The deadly deed was all over within just four minutes.

(above) Botanical Gardens – looking north along Anderson Street where List escaped (2003)

Knelling down and levelling his gun north-east towards Tennyson lawn, the man fired across open lawn hitting McIlwaine in the chest who was about 50 yards away sitting on a seat. With little delay the gunman crawled behind a bed of flowers, crossed the footpath leading to gate “C” and took aim at Mrs Maud Moxham who was with her husband John (Melbourne General Cemetery) and children in a shady nook on the lawn near the Anderson Street rockery. She screamed on seeing the man and managed to dodge the line of fire each time it was pointed at her until the gunman aimed at her husband who had not had time to seek shelter wounding him in the back and hand; he was to die from his wounds on 27 January. By this time, people were approaching and the gunman became frightened. He ran into a shrubbery nearby and discarded the gun and bullets before climbing the iron fence enclosing the reservoir out of sight of the public. Soon after he escaped along Anderson Street. The deadly deed was all over within just four minutes.

Special-constables Ward and Munroe were amongst the first to reach the scene (“It was pitiful to see the children running about crying, terrified at the scene around them”) and by 9:00pm some 150 constables were in the vicinity; one of the largest man-hunts ever conducted had begun. Less than 48 hours the police had issued a detailed description of the suspect;

“Age 31 years, looks about 26 or 27 years; 5 feet 2 inches in height of medium build, good shoulders, small at the waist, high cheekbones, upper portion of teeth and mouth prominent, a large mouth, well-kept teeth, a large number of teeth in upper and lower jaws crowned and filled with gold: dark complexion, brown eyes, thin nose, with a lump just below the bridge, black hair; not of very smart appearance wearing a dark grey suit (clerical grey) of rough material, dark grey hat, and stripped cotton shirt. Generally wears soft collars and board-end ties, and brown boots. Never wears watch, chain or rings”.

His name was Norman Alfred List (Burwood Cemetery) the son of Charles List (d 1949) and Adelaide Emma née Stone (d 1919, Burwood Cemetery); it was reported that List was a veteran of the Great War with the British Army. On 1 February, List’s body was found by Charles Johnstone in deep bush at Deep Creek four miles from Pakenham; his left wrist had been slit and he had been dead for some days.

Both McIlwaine (Pres*I*64) and Strohhaker (RC*T*200) were interred in private ceremonies at the Brighton General Cemetery on 25 January at 11:45am attended by a few close family members. McIlwaine who had been in Australia for nine days visiting relatives and was due to return home on 14 February was buried beside his twin brother. Mrs Strohhaker was born in Germany and arrived some 10 years ago with her husband; she spoke imperfect English and suffered from deafness.

The Argus 24, 25, 26 & 28 January 1924, 2, 4, 7 & 27 February 1924, 5 March 1924.
The Herald 24, 25 January 1924, 4 February 1924.
The Australasian 26 January 1924.
The Truth 26 January 1924.
The Age 24 January 1924.