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.