Joyride on the Esplanade

Margaret Lillian ‘Peggy’ Alford (1907-24) of 6 Phoenix Street, South Yarra was like any other normal seventeen year old. On the cusp of adulthood, Alford had yet to pass the initiation into the adult world, a path fraught with danger but for the lethal mix of freedom of independence and youthful innocence.

On the night of 6 November 1924, Alford decided to go for a joyride in a car driven by Leslie George Mahon (d 1982) aged 20 of Claremont Avenue, Malvern. Two of Alford’s friends, 20-year old Roy Charles Murphy (Springvale Botanical Cemetery), motor-driver of High Street, St. Kilda and Gordon Thomas ‘Tom’ Craven aged 18, a pastrycook of 14 Park Street, South Melbourne were also in the vehicle; it was the first meeting between Alford and Mahon. Cruising along Chapel Street at the corner of Grey Street a little after 8:00pm, the group met Alford’s friend Margaret ‘Bobby’ Davenport, a 17-year old machinist of Weigall Street, South Yarra. “How about coming for a car ride?” asked Alford. Hesitant, not knowing the three males, and seeing that beer was being consumed, Davenport could sense trouble. Alford urged Davenport to come along “Come on, anything for a ride!”, and Davenport reluctantly accepted. Sometime later outside the picture theatre, the group were met by Alford’s elder brother George Edward (b 1904) who later said he did not see his sister in the vehicle; Davenport saw the encounter differently stating that “he wanted a drink”. The group then spent some time looking for another girl before meeting 16-year-old Ivy Elizabeth Ross of Wynnstay Street, Armadale around 10:00pm. “Hullo, old sport, will you come for a car ride?” asked Alford and so Ross accepted on the condition she would be back before 11:00pm thus becoming the last passenger of three males and three females. Before picking up Ross, the group were believed to have drank two bottles of beer; Alford and Davenport “about a mouthful each”.

Heading towards St. Kilda, they decided to stop outside the entrance of Luna Park where more alcohol was consumed; Craven and Murphy went to buy another six bottles. Low on petrol, they then continued towards Brighton along Marine Parade and then St. Kilda Street where the St. Kilda-Brighton tram ran. In the front of the large Hudson vehicle were Mahon driving and Davenport, while Ross, Craven and Murphy were in the back seat with Alford sitting on Murphy’s knee on the offside.

(above) The Esplanade, Brighton showing slight bend at Park Street (2004)

Passing the Brighton Yacht Club at an estimated 60 miles an hour, Ross said “We had better not travel so quickly. Cut it down!”. Turning the slight bend at Park Street, they were quickly confronted with a tram heading in the same direction; Davenport said “We cannot squeeze through there. Stop!”. Left with no time to avoid a collision, Mahon swerved to the right on the wrong side of the road only to find the road blocked by an oncoming tram and a motor-car parallel heading towards them. He swerved still further to the right, mounting the footpath before striking an electric light pole; the car swung around travelling an estimated 25 feet before it pulled up. Alford received the full force of the impact; her earring was found embedded in the wood of the pole and she died a short time later before a doctor arrived. What followed was a remarkable scene of confusion. Mahon staggered about asking repeatedly “Is poor old Maggie dead?”; Craven was entangled in some of the electric wires calling out “The wires have got me!”; after asking for a drink of water, Ross and Davenport became hysterical and fled the scene; and soon after the excitement of the crash people were seen stripping the car of parts, the engine being practically undamaged.

While recovering from his injuries at the Alfred Hospital, Mahon was arrested and taken to the City Watchouse where matters took a sensational turn; Mahon, Murphy and Craven were all part of a gang of thieving hooligans. Further charges followed against Mahon, one for having stolen from Mr Ross Grey-Smith, law student of Marysville Street, St. Kilda a (balloon) tyre valued at £30 outside St. Kilda Town Hall; a second having broken into the shop of Mr Joseph Barber a tailor of Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick and stealing six suits and four hats valued at £20 in the early hours on the day of the fatal accident; and a third charge “with having on October 10, broken into the shop of Mr Arthur Rawlinson, tailor of High Street, Thornbury and stolen seven yards of twill valued at £6”.

Appearing before Mr Justice (William) Schutt (1868-1933) on 11 December, Mahon pleaded guilty but denied he was driving under the influence of alcohol and was travelling no more than 25 miles per hour. The Crown Prosecutor, Hugh Macindoe (q.v.) argued Alford met her death through the criminal negligence of Mahon; motor vehicles “were engines of destruction if not properly controlled” and Mahon “had a duty to the general public to drive carefully”. Justice Schutt told the jury that even if Mahon was not under influence nor driving recklessly “he deliberately took a risk by going on the wrong side of [the] road”. He was found guilty with a strong recommendation for mercy. Remarked Justice Schutt: “If you have any feeling at all it must be a sad reflection for you that you were the cause of death of the girl”. At the coronial inquiry held before Mr D Berriman PM on 27 and 28 November, Craven stated after leaving Luna Park, they consumed no more alcohol, to which Berriman asked “If you had no more to drink, why were only one broken bottle and two empty bottles found in the car?” to which Craven replied “I do not know. When we are in a motor car we meet a lot of people”. Berriman – “Yes; you will meet a lot of people, but they will not be on earth”.

And so ended a tragic joyride on the Esplanade. Along with the shop breaking charges, Mahon was sentenced to nine months with both Craven (twelve months) and Murphy (three months) joining him at the Governor’s pleasure. For Murphy, born in 1904 at North Fitzroy, Melbourne the second of six children to Frederick and Amelia née Rees, redemption came in his later years when he enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force in June 1942 (No 57066; discharged Nov 1945) attaining the rank of Ldg-Aircraftman. He died in September 1965. And for Ivy Ross, one of five children to Alexander Ross and his wife Elizabeth née Sheldon her first ride in a car was to be one to remember.

Peggy Alford was laid to rest in RC*W*30 on 8 November 1924.

The Argus 7, 8, 10, 11, 18, 21, 25, 28 & 29 November 1924, 10, 11, 12, 13 & 17 December 1924.
The Herald 7 November 1924.