Spaldo & the Eastern Road Beer Thief

Henry Arthur Spalding (known as Spaldo) was born in Birmingham in England in 1850. In 1877, at the age of 26, he boarded the ship ‘Robert Morrison‘ and immigrated to Western Australia. After a few years living in Perth, he moved to Northampton and was appointed the first stationmaster for the new railway.

For the next six years, he was the town’s stationmaster, he ran the Post Office and Telegraph Office, and he was also the Clerk of Courts for the small local court that heard cases relating to small debts. In 1884, he added another title to his duties when he became the traffic manager for the Northern Railway. Said to be a “courteous and efficient officer,” it was thought that the appointment would give “much satisfaction” to everyone in the town.

A correspondent shared an example of his courtesy and thoughtfulness with the Victorian Express in 1886. The writer travelled on the northern line and, upon entering a carriage, found a book left in a rack. They assumed that someone had forgotten it and opened the copy of ‘Wilson’s Border Tales’ intending to read it to while away the time. Written on the first page was a note from Spaldo. No one had forgotten their book; he had placed it there for passengers so they could “beguile the tedium of the journey.

In the late 1880s, after years of living at Northampton, Spaldo moved to Geraldton. He accepted a position as treasury clerk and stationmaster at Geraldton Station in addition to his duties as traffic manager of the Northern Railway. Much like his time at Northampton, he continued to be an active member of the community. He opened a gymnasium. He amassed a collection of geological specimens and opened them up for public viewing at his office. He also ran for the local council. While his initial foray into local politics in 1889 was unsuccessful, his reaction to criticism from the Victorian Express (he plastered posters around Geraldton calling the editor a prophetic windbag) gives us insight into a man who will not be made a fool.

He was finally elected into the Geraldton council in 1890 and was the Mayor for the years 1891 and 1892. One of his first acts was to request that the Government grant 500 acres on the Chapman River for the public’s use. It was later named Spalding Park. Throughout the years, he engaged in various business pursuits, and in 1896 and 1897 was once again elected and served as Mayor. In February 1897, he received a telegram from Sir John Forrest, advising that he was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the Victoria District.

During his time as Mayor, Spaldo was an advocate for sanitary reform and embraced ideas involving the improvement of the town. Once he became a Justice of the Peace, his name was regularly seen in the newspapers presiding over matters in court. He was an interesting character who was well-known throughout Geraldton. While much of the story of his life is known, the story of his encounter with the Eastern Road beer thief shines a light on a man who was sarcastic, humorous, and willing to make a point by any means.

On a hot Sunday in early October 1898, Spaldo went to a park and found a shady tree. He brought with him an umbrella, a book, some food, and a nice cold Bass beer in a wet straw envelope. He left everything there, and when he returned, the beer was gone. Someone had stolen it! Most people, though annoyed, would simply move on from the loss. Not Spaldo. He placed an advertisement in the Geraldton Advertiser titled ‘Hints and Queries to the Eastern Road Beer Thief!’

In the ad, Spaldo listed eight queries and hints for the thief. He recommended they be more aware of their surroundings (horse hunters in the hills had seen them), he advised that they should try not to leave such obvious tracks behind them, and he asked if stealing a bottle of beer (valued at one shilling and sixpence) was worth the risk of six months hard labour.

He thanked them for their consideration in leaving his other possessions behind, and he apologised for losing his temper and uttering “naughty swear words” once he discovered his loss. He suggested that next time the thief should substitute the beer for water so that he would not be left without some kind of drink on a hot day. And, he helpfully pointed out that in the future, the thief should abstain from robbing risky individuals like police or magistrates (such as himself).

A week later, the Geraldton Advertiser drew attention to the advertisement and described it as the “most amusing thing.” They applauded Spaldo’s wit in creating something unique where the “pathos and sarcasm” was “admirably blended.” In response, they created a poem: an ode to Spaldo’s lost beer.

The sun was fierce, the weather scalding
When at the tree arrived poor Spalding;
He wiped his flush, perspiring face,
Preparing to imbibe his Bass.
Alas! for his sustaining hope,
The water-cooled straw envelope,
No longer held the nectar dear,
Some wretched thief had filched his beer.
Now horror-stricken he stood there,
While naughty swear-words scorched the air.
He cursed that thief, and all his kin.
He swore, and deemed it venial sin.
"Inhuman wretch" he said - and meant it,
"To swill my beer you're not contented,
"You knew the days get hot and hotter
"You might have left a drop of water."
"If only I could get to know
"The caitiff who has served me so,
"In Lavery's dark retreat I'd jam him,
"To leave me gasping thus - Oh, damn him!
"And were I sitting on the Bench.
"With him before me, I'd not blench
"From giving him his due reward,
"And that would be just six months hard."

Sources:

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