The Yalgoo Bomber

Meleng
William Meleng

As he was acting as the Clerk of Courts and Mining Registrar in addition to his normal workload as Postmaster for the town of Yalgoo, William Meleng decided that he had better start the day early. At 5:30 am on Friday, 13 February 1903, he arrived at the post office and began the task of sorting through the mail.

A package wrapped untidily in a piece of Sunday newspaper caught his attention. He removed the newspaper and found within it a cylindrical parcel which was neatly wrapped and sealed thickly with gum at both ends. The elegant handwriting (thought to be a woman’s) indicated that the intended recipient was ‘Mr S. W. Lowndes, storekeeper, Yalgoo‘.

Mr Meleng first noticed that the correct rate of postage had not been paid. He inspected the parcel and shook it near his ear, listening carefully in an attempt to identify the contents. Knowing that Mr Lowns was an agent for several prospectors in the area, he came to the conclusion that it most likely contained gold dust. If that was the case, an additional surcharge would need to be paid. He placed the parcel on Arthur Dewar’s (the post office assistant’s) desk and at 9 am gave him instructions to register and surcharge it.

Dewar
Arthur Dewar

A notice was then sent to Solomon Lowns (a prominent Yalgoo businessman) advising him that there was a parcel awaiting collection at the post office. At about 3:45 pm he went to pick it up. Having explained the surcharges, Mr Meleng left him in the lobby and moved behind a partition to talk to another person.

Using a knife, Lowns removed the parcel’s wrapping and found that he had been sent a tin cylinder. He tried to open it but struggled to do so. He handed it to Mr Dewar who also could not open it. Snatching it back, Lowns used all his strength and finally felt something move and turn. Three flames erupted from within and the object exploded in his hands.

Lownes
Solomon Lowns

Immediately returning from behind the partition, Mr Meleng smelt gunpowder and saw Mr Dewar (with his clothes burning and smoking) standing in shock, moaning and wringing his hands. Lowns was lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood declaring:

That is the work of my enemy. I knew it would come. He threatened to do for me.

The lobby walls were splattered with blood and bits of flesh. The explosion had ripped apart Lowns’ left hand and part of his forearm. Mr Dewar was also injured. His hands and arms were burnt and he had temporarily lost his hearing.

Lowns’ injuries were of such a serious nature that it was necessary to have him taken to hospital. A special train was organised and he was urgently transported to Mount Magnet Hospital for treatment, which included the amputation of part of his arm.

Magnet Hospital
Mount Magnet Hospital circa 1905

There was no doubt that revenge and murder formed part of the culprit’s plan. While the bomb was clearly intended for Lowns, hindsight resulted in the realisation that the newspaper covering the parcel was utilised to soften the fall into the post box and prevent a premature explosion. No one at the post office was meant to be injured. The sender most likely thought that the parcel would be delivered straight to Lowns’ office.  This in turn may have resulted in a bigger blast (and certainly his death) as he kept explosives on the premises. It would seem that such fatal consequences were thankfully avoided all because the correct rate of postage had not been paid.

Outrage

Intriguing details soon came to light and illustrated a dastardly kind of intelligence on the part of the culprit. The piece of Sunday newspaper which was wrapped around the parcel contained a story of a “bloodcurdling” nature and was headed with the words “Guilty, or Not Guilty“. The page torn off included a rather tell-tale quote.

Desperate diseases require desperate remedies; and you are the man I have pitched upon either to make or unmake yourself. It has employed my invention for some time to find a method to destroy another without exposing my own life. That I have accomplished, and I defy the law.

Investigations revealed that the bomb consisted of two tin cylinders, one inside the other. Both ends were lined inside with gauze and one end was fitted with a cap. Inside was a piece of steel wire running the length of the cylinder. It was assumed that nitroglycerin formed the cap in the cylinder while another explosive material was within it. The trigger appeared to have been the twisting of the cap as it was noted that the explosion occurred after it was ignited by Lowns forcibly turning it.

Before long Lowns pointed the finger at two people, one of whom was an educated man who had supposedly expressed that he was going to ‘get even’ with him. Local police however held off on conducting investigations and awaited the arrival of a detective from Perth.

While speculation formed the main part of the conversation, many people were also shocked that the crime had been perpetrated using the postal service. The Sunday Times in particular noted that it was the first bomb sent through the post in Australia.

To try and blow a man to pieces by means of an infernal machine sent through the post is a species of devilry probably attempted for the first time in Australia, although it is by no means unknown in Europe and America.

Three days later Detective Samuel Pimblett arrived from Perth and began investigating. Accompanied by Constable George Pollard, he travelled from Yalgoo to Yuin and questioned a man suspected of having committed the crime.

Yuin Map
Yuin (marked on the map) in comparison to Yalgoo. Courtesy of Google Maps.

A month later, on 15 March, Richard Carlyon (the owner of the Yuin Reef mines) was arrested and charged with sending Lowns an explosive device through the post with the intention of causing him grievous bodily harm. At the time of his arrest he was cautioned by the Detective and was said to respond, “You are barking up the wrong wattle.”

Excitement then gave way to astonishment as Carlyon is, perhaps, the most widely-known man in the Yalgoo district and on the Murchison field generally.

Detective Pimblett requested a remand of eight days and while bail was opposed by the prosecution, it was allowed by Warden Arthur Hicks; £400 for Carlyon and £200 each for two sureties. The amounts were paid and Carlyon was released.

Many people were shocked that Carlyon was charged with the crime. His old mates and those who camped with him over the years declared that they knew him as “one of the mildest-natured men they ever met.” While it was admitted that Carlyon was clever with various mechanics and inventions, no one could believe he would be involved in “such a diabolical affair.

On 24 March 1903, Carlyon appeared before Warden Hicks and Justices of the Peace, Frank Wallace, Robert Wallace and Owen McKenna at the Yalgoo Court House. Mr Arthur Du Boulay acted for the Crown while Mr Abelard Palfreyman represented the accused.

Before court got underway, concerns of bias were addressed when it became known that Frank Wallace had said he would “…assist Carlyon as far as money was concerned.” Admitting that he had made the remark, Frank retired from the bench. No statement was made regarding the fact that also sitting was Frank’s brother, Robert, and Robert’s father-in-law, Owen. One would hope that Frank’s bias did not also influence his brother or the relative of his brother’s wife.

Yalgoo Court House
Yalgoo Court House

Solomon Lowns was the first witness called and he began by stating that he had known Carlyon since 1895. There was no love lost between the pair and his evidence showed that disagreements had existed between them for some time.

Lowns confirmed that he had served a summons on Carlyon in late December 1902 on behalf of Mrs King. The summons related to money owed by Carlyon to Mrs King for boarding a man named Mr McMurtrie. Mr McMurtrie was said to have worked for Carlyon as his agent. On 12 February 1903 (the day before the explosion) Carlyon attended the Local Court in Yalgoo and denied everything, stating that “the whole case was a conspiracy got up by Lowns, McMurtrie and Mrs King…

With no written agreement between Mrs King and Carlyon, the case against him was discharged by the Court. That afternoon Lowns approached Carlyon and called him a “completed liar“. He replied, “So are others.” Lowns questioned him about what he meant by stating there was a conspiracy but Carlyon brushed him away and said that he would have explained it more in court if the Warden had asked him.

A land dispute dating back to 1897 was then brought up by Carlyon. He asked Lowns if he wrote a letter to a man named Saggers telling him to take up whatever land he could get from Carlyon (Lowns had a mining lease adjoining Carlyon’s at Yuin). Lowns admitted to ‘claim jumping’ which greatly upset Carlyon.

What did you do it for? I am only a poor man.

As far as Lowns was concerned, he was justified in trying to get the land as Saggers was his partner. The details with regards to the claims and whether Lowns was in fact justified were not divulged. Perhaps it was a case of ‘business is business’.

During cross examination by Mr Palfreyman, Lowns stated that he and Carlyon had never been “bad friends” to warrant him acting in such a way. He then clarified an earlier statement.

I called him a “completed liar” but I consider him a “perfect” man at lying.

Indicating that Lowns may have been an outspoken, contentious individual he confirmed that he had also fallen out with John Banks (who was once in charge of his store) as well as Frank Wallace (the removed JP), John Warr and others. In particular, his falling out with Warr nearly resulted in a physical altercation. Such evidence broached upon by Mr Palfreyman went to prove that Lowns likely had more than one ‘enemy’ in Yalgoo.

Mr Meleng was next called and stated that he had checked the post box between 8 pm and 8:30 pm and did not see the parcel. From 8:30 pm to 11 pm he sat on the post office verandah and afterwards went inside and sat in the dining room until 12 am. He then went to bed and confirmed that during the time he was awake he did not see or hear anyone posting anything. This meant the parcel was posted some time between 12 am and 5:30 am.

Detective Pimblett took to the stand and confirmed that he executed a search warrant on Carlyon’s house. He found a gum brush (thought to be used to seal the parcel), a “peculiar” type of coarse gunpowder and pieces of battery screens. In the blacksmith shop he found iron, tin, gauze, solder and wire. Several items had disc shapes cut out of them and he questioned Carlyon as to their purpose.

Discs

While the Crown’s case showed that Carlyon had been found with all the materials necessary for making the bomb, Mr Palfreyman, on cross examination, forced the Detective to admit that it was “usual to have tin and battery screens in mining properties.” Perhaps the same items would have been found at other miners’ camps.

The Detective’s ‘tunnel vision’ with regards to the case also became apparent.

I searched other places in the town, but no blacksmith’s or tinsmith’s premises. I believe there is a tinsmith residing in the town, also a blacksmith, but I had no evidence warranting me searching their premises.

Herbert Richards, an ex-employee of Carlyon’s swore before the Court that he knew Carlyon had knowledge of machinery and often worked in the blacksmith shop, tinsmithing and mending pipes and locks. A letter sent by Carlyon to Richards was produced and Richards confirmed that the handwriting was Carlyon’s. Such evidence put forward by the Crown was an attempt to link the handwriting on the parcel to Carlyon.

The owner of the Yalgoo Hotel, Charles Rodan, confirmed that Carlyon had stayed at his hotel on the nights of the 11th and 12th February. Although it was located directly across the road from the post office, there was no way he could see if anyone left during the night. He did however speak to Carlyon at around 11 pm on the 12th but could not confirm his whereabouts after he went to bed.

Mr Edward Mann, the Government Analyst and Inspector of Explosives at Fremantle, gave his evidence and started with the strange gunpowder found in Carlyon’s home. He was unfamiliar with it and went as far as saying that he did not believe it was available for sale in Perth or Fremantle.

He moved on to the “infernal machine” and went into great detail with respect to its construction. In order to help understand how it worked, he even built a model of it. The model was put forward as an exhibit in court and Mr Mann stated, “I submit, as an illustration of my idea, that every part of the model is represented in the exhibits [tin, gauze, wire, etc]. With the exception of one piece, it is identical with the bomb, the missing piece being the closed end of one of the cylinders.

Warden Hicks remarked that it was an “ingenious contrivance” and then asked how exactly the explosion would have occurred.

Ignition

Having carefully analysed the fragments, Mr Mann believed there was no other way in which the bomb could have been constructed and admitted:

It would require a person of intelligence to construct such a bomb.

On the following day Carlyon took to the stand and gave evidence for his defence. He described his movements on the 11th and 12th February and confirmed that he did declare in court that the King case was a conspiracy against him. Similarly to Lowns’ statement, Carlyon recounted their altercation on the street in Yalgoo but added that he referred to Lowns as the pot calling the kettle black with regards to lying. Likewise, he too had fallen out with various people in town.

Carlyon stated that he stayed at the Yalgoo Hotel with his son on the 11th and 12th. On the night of the 12th he went to bed at 11 pm and did not leave his room until the breakfast bell rang in the morning. He left Yalgoo at lunch time on the 13th, hours before the explosion occurred. He vehemently denied posting the parcel during the hours in question.

In order to show that the pieces of tin found cut in the blacksmith shop were used regularly for all kinds of inventions, Carlyon launched into an explanation as to how one particular invention worked. While it proved that the tin could have been used for anything, I suppose it also showed that Carlyon may have had the working knowledge to construct a device such as the one sent to Lowns.

The discs I cut out were not connected in any way with the making of an infernal machine, neither did I have any hand in making or posting it to Mr Lowns.

Having heard all the witnesses, the Crown and Defence gave their final arguments and the Bench retired to consider their verdict. Despite Detective Pimblett’s best effort, the evidence provided was too circumstantial. Upon their return, Warden Hicks confirmed that there was not “sufficient evidence” to warrant Carlyon’s indictment for trial. He was free to leave.

Detective Pimblett remained in Yalgoo and continued working on the case, “…determined that he will not let the matter drop at this stage.

Curtain Closed

As the Detective worked, the people of Yalgoo continued to talk. Many thought the decision was correct considering the circumstantial evidence. One person in particular wrote to the Sunday Times and said that Carlyon was not the type of person who was “capable of such a fiendish and cowardly act.” Carlyon’s motive, in this person’s opinion, was completely absent. Because of the writing, they placed the blame firmly on the shoulders of a woman who, they said, was most likely acting out of “spite and jealousy.

The perpetrator of the Yalgoo outrage will probably be one more added to the long list of undiscovered Westralian miscreants.

Armed with fresh evidence, Detective Pimblett was successful in having Carlyon charged and summonsed to appear at the Yalgoo Court House for a second time. On 23 April 1903 the case was heard before Warden Hicks and Mr McKenna. Carlyon retained the services of Mr Palfreyman for his defence while the Crown was represented by the Crown Solicitor, William Purkiss. Along with the same witnesses who repeated their evidence, there were also several new witnesses.

Edmund Pechell worked for the Aborigines Board and confirmed that Carlyon distributed food to the Aboriginal people at Yuin. He handed to the Court a voucher and letter written by Carlyon so that they could be used to prove that the handwriting on the parcel was identical to Carlyon’s handwriting.

Perhaps the strongest witness during the second trial was Frederick Bull, a handwriting expert from Perth. He produced enlarged photographs of various words from Carlyon’s letters and compared them to an enlarged photograph of the address written on the bomb. He formed the opinion that “…the whole of the writing was the work of one and the same person.

Cross-examined by Mr Palfreyman, Mr Bull would not yield on his opinion. While he admitted the writing was fairly common, he stated that the manner in which the letters ‘n’ and ‘d’ were written together “struck him forcibly.” He compared six of Carlyon’s letters and had found the same unusual way of writing ‘nd’ in three of them. While Carlyon’s writing showed that it often varied, Mr Bull considered that overall it was “…exceptionally good for a working miner.

Writing

To counter any assumption that all he had done was look through Carlyon’s letters, he advised that he had first looked at 20 or 30 letters written by various people in Yalgoo. In all those letters, not a single one matched the handwriting on the bomb.

The case was heard well into the night and at 10 pm was adjourned. On resuming the following day, Mr Palfreyman addressed the Bench and requested that a Committal Hearing for Carlyon be held at Cue. After some disagreement as to the place (usually Yalgoo committals were heard at Geraldton however there was a prejudice there against Carlyon) a decision was made that the trial should be held at the Supreme Court in Perth.

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court in Perth

On 11 June 1903 the trial was heard before Commissioner Augustus Roe and twelve jurors within a crowded court room of Perth’s new Supreme Court. The Assistant Crown Prosecutor, Mr Alexander Barker, prosecuted while Mr Edward Harney and Mr Palfreyman defended. Richard Carlyon pleaded not guilty.

Mr Barker gave the opening address to the jury and stated that the crime was one of “the most serious offences that had been committed in this State for some years.” Carlyon was looking at a maximum of life in prison if he was found guilty. He went on to say that it was his job to prove to them that Carlyon was the man responsible for the crime. To do that, he would show that Carlyon was in Yalgoo at the right time; that he was sleeping only a short distance away from the post office; that he harboured resentment towards Lowns; that he had the materials and knowledge to make the bomb; and that the handwriting (though partly disguised) was written by Carlyon.

Dozens of witnesses (some of whom travelled from Yalgoo) gave evidence. For some people, it was their third time doing so. In addition to the witnesses who had previously taken to the stand, several new witnesses were called for the prosecution.

Arthur Spencer worked as a bookbinder and stationer and, having made careful examination, believed that the paper found in Carlyon’s house and the paper used to wrap the parcel were one and the same.

Harry Weston was an accountant for the Commercial Bank and regularly checked signatures written on cheques. Having looked through the evidence, he had formed the opinion that “the person who wrote the letters signed by the accused, had also written the fragment of address found in the post-office in a disguised hand.

Having heard the Crown, Mr Harney then opened for the defence. He essentially stated that there was no case against Carlyon, that Lowns had jumped to conclusions and that the police had investigated with ‘tunnel vision’.

There was not a particle of evidence to bring the charge home to the accused.

On top of that he placed emphasis on the timing. While the Crown argued that there was prior animosity between the pair, they also often pointed to the fact that the main disagreement had taken place on the 12 February. If that was the point in time when Carlyon decided to seek revenge, it would mean that he constructed the bomb in the afternoon. An unlikely scenario.

The more they examined the case, the more the Crown’s pack of conjectural cards fell to the ground.

Playing up to the jury’s conscience, Mr Harney declared that to spend too great a time in finding Carlyon ‘not guilty’ would be a “monstrous thing“. He touched upon the possibility of something similar happening to another person and begged the question, “Were any of them safe if a jury’s judgment was sought to be entrapped by circumstances such as these?

Again the comparison of the writing samples was discussed and Mr Harney stated that while one was “the clear round-hand of a man” the other was “palpably the everyday writing of a woman.

He too called new witnesses for the defence, including William Quick who was a gas engineer. William testified that such objects as those presented as evidence could easily have been found in any mechanist’s shop in Western Australia and even more so if they were located on the goldfields.

It took two full days to hear all the witnesses and at 10 am on Saturday, 13 June 1903, the Crown and Defence addressed the jury. Beginning with the defence, Mr Harney advised them to look carefully upon Carlyon and to make their decision based upon whether he was the type of person to commit such an act. He also refused to budge from his theory that the culprit was a woman.

Female

Indicating that Mr Harney did not place much weight on the handwriting analysis, he stated, “Putting aside the handwriting, what was the real evidence against the man?” All that was left were the materials found within his home; materials that could be found within many people’s homes on the goldfields.

While the Defence reasoned that the main disagreement between Lowns and Carlyon occurred on the 12 February and therefore meant Carlyon had no time to construct the bomb, Mr Barker (the Crown Solicitor) reminded them that their disagreements actually dated back many years before.

He continued his address and touched upon Carlyon’s conspiracy accusations in court and the fact that he was the only stranger in town at the time. He reiterated that every part used to construct the bomb was found on Carlyon’s premises and that Carlyon himself had the necessary knowledge to make such a device.

Mr Barker next turned to the matter of the handwriting and advised that it was “well worthy of consideration.” While there were some differences, he concluded that the differences stemmed from the fact that Carlyon had the ability to write in different styles, including one that was not unlike a woman’s. He confirmed that nineteen similarities between the writing styles had been noted.

Finally, Commissioner Roe summed up the case for the jury. He found that two points had been established: 1) that Carlyon had the ability to make the bomb and 2) that Carlyon did not deny that he was in possession of the materials but that he used them for other implements. It was also obvious that the bomb could not have been made out of revenge for the argument which occurred in Yalgoo on 12 February. With this being the main motive often argued in court, Commissioner Roe refused to speculate whether another motive existed and left it to the jury to decide.

He reminded them that despite all the materials being present, such materials could have been found in other places. With regards to the handwriting, he considered that “the weight to be placed on it rested with the jury.” He ended with a warning “to treat the evidence with caution” and stated:

It would have been easy for the accused to have destroyed all the articles necessary for the manufacture of the bomb if he so desired.

At 1 pm the jury retired to deliberate and returned after lunch. Richard Carlyon was found not guilty. While many people agreed that the jury’s decision was the correct one, they did however sympathise with Lowns at having received such a serious injury.

Maimed

Both men left Perth and returned home to the Murchison. Lowns remained in Yalgoo for the rest of his life. In later years he was appointed a Justice of the Peace and was a regular newspaper correspondent on political matters. With his one hand, and using stone from his mine, he began building a house on the corner of Gibbons Street and Milligan Street in Yalgoo. It was never finished and in his last years he was said to have lived like a hermit in the old engine room of the Ivanhoe mine. Solomon Lowns died on 22 April 1921 and was buried in Yalgoo Cemetery. It seems he eventually embraced his unfortunate role in history as a line on his memorial plaque reads “1903 Recipient of Australia’s First Postal Bomb“.

Lowns House 2
Solomon Lowns’ unfinished house in Yalgoo. Courtesy of Chris Lewis.
Lowns House 1
Solomon Lowns’ unfinished house in Yalgoo. Courtesy of Chris Lewis.

Carlyon resumed work on his mine at Yuin. He lived there until about 1910 after which he moved to Mt Egerton and then on to Cuddingwarra, all the time working on various mining pursuits. He worked hard throughout his life and, apart from a personal bankruptcy case, remained absent from the courts. By all appearances, he was never charged with any other criminal offence.

The loss of limbs however followed Carlyon after the events in 1903. In a strange twist of fate, his son lost his right arm when the upper part was shattered after an accident with a loaded rifle in 1906. It was amputated and he survived and went on to live a long life.

Richard Carlyon died at Perth Hospital on 1 October 1937 and was buried with his wife at Karrakatta Cemetery.

Unfortunately for Lowns, no other person was investigated, charged or convicted of the crime. The truth of who mailed the “infernal machine” remains a mystery. In the end, the culprit (whoever they were) managed to achieve their original purpose in attacking Lowns without having to face any of the consequences.

That I have accomplished, and I defy the law.

Sources:

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4 thoughts on “The Yalgoo Bomber

  1. I really enjoyed reading this, your writing brought this old story to life beautifully.
    The ingenious hatred that Carlyon concentrated on Lowns, just beggars belief.

    Like

  2. Claim jumping was (and still is) considered a very serious crime in the goldfields. Many people who disappeared were thought to have been caught claim jumping, and as a result, ended up in one of the thousands of abandoned mine shafts still there today.

    Like

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