Mundaring Weir “Spy”

At infrequent intervals reports are made that Japanese – presumably spies – have been caught taking observations and making themselves unduly familiar with our fortifications.

The Morning Herald; 10 October 1907; Page 5.

Writing to the honorary minister, James Price, on 7 October 1907, Thomas McNulty advised that a Perth resident had heard from a clergyman that he had seen two Japanese men “taking observations with a theodolite at Mundaring Weir.” Initially, McNulty ignored the account. Hundreds of people visited the Weir and often brought cameras to take photos. It was possible the clergyman was mistaken after seeing the camera at a distance.

He later learned that a Japanese man lived in the area and worked as a cook at the Goldfields Hotel. The man was often seen taking photos around the Weir, and was occasionally accompanied by another Japanese man who lived in Perth. One of the Water Supply Department officers spoke to a resident who told them that the man “was no cook” and in his opinion, he was there to “get information about the Weir.

McNulty admitted that most of the information about the Weir was already publicly available. Nevertheless, it seemed the Japanese man was acting in a “clandestine way” so he deemed it necessary to report it to the government. James Price forwarded the letter to the Premier, Newton Moore, who then sent it to the Commissioner of Police, Frederick Hare, for investigation.

If this man is using a theodolite, he is more likely to be an Intelligence Officer than a cook.

State Records Office of Western Australia; AU WA A61 – Western Australia Police Department; Hon Premier – Suspected Japanese Spy at Mundaring – Inquiry re; AU WA S76- cons430 1908/2381

The investigation was handed to Detective Henry Mann. He travelled to Mundaring Weir by train and began asking questions. He soon uncovered who the Japanese man was and how he came to be at the Weir.

Miss Symons’ Registry Office visible in the centre. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (009963PD).

Having worked for several years at a refreshment room on the overland train line between Sydney and Brisbane, Fred Suka decided to move to Western Australia. He obtained a reference from his employer and arrived in early September 1907 with his friend Wada Suka. Needing help to find employment, on the morning of 23 September, he visited Miss Symons’ Registry Office on Hay Street in Perth. After speaking with them, he paid the registration fee and left his details.

That afternoon, Mrs Agnes Jacoby visited the registry office complaining about the female servants previously sent to her. She needed a new servant for the Goldfields Hotel and specifically requested a Japanese person. Miss Symons mentioned that Suka had registered that morning. Sometime later, Suka met Mrs Jacoby, and she explained the work to him. He would be required to help in the pantry and the laundry, and she would pay him £1 per week. Accepting the offer, he signed the written agreement and left for Mundaring on the following day.

Suka started his work as a general servant the day he arrived. An avid photographer, he brought his camera with him, and several days later, he promised one of the Jacoby children that he would take their photo. On 28 September, he photographed a group of children at the back of the Goldfields Hotel.

Children at the back of the Goldfields Hotel photographed by Fred Suka. Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia (AU WA S76- cons430 1908-2381).

On 2 October, one of Suka’s friends visited him, arriving at Mundaring on the morning train. He borrowed Suka’s camera, went to Mundaring Weir, and took some photographs. He was away until lunchtime. After lunch, Mrs Jacoby mentioned that she wanted to paint the overflowing Weir. She suggested that Suka have the afternoon off to go with his friend to photograph it for her. He was surprised at the offer but agreed to go.

Suka and his friend were away for about two hours. He photographed various Mundaring Weir scenes, including some of the overflow. He gave copies of those photos to Mrs Jacoby. Due to the lateness of the day, his friend missed the train back to Perth and stayed the night. He left early in the morning.

That was the first and only time Suka had his Camera out of the Hotel yard though he has taken several views and groups about the Hotel.

State Records Office of Western Australia; AU WA A61 – Western Australia Police Department; Hon Premier – Suspected Japanese Spy at Mundaring – Inquiry re; AU WA S76- cons430 1908/2381
Mundaring Weir photographed by Fred Suka. Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia (AU WA S76- cons430 1908-2381).

On 4 October, another friend visited Suka. He stayed for about two hours, neither of them leaving the hotel. After that date, until the date Detective Mann wrote his report on 11 October 1907, no one else went to see him, and he did not leave the Goldfields Hotel.

Detective Mann’s investigation was thorough. He spoke to Frederick Jacoby (who was both the owner of the Goldfields Hotel and the postmaster at Mundaring) and enquired about Suka’s mail. Suka had received no letters since starting work at the hotel and had not sent any. He also searched Suka’s room without his knowledge. All he found was his clothing as well as the camera and supplies. Upon questioning his roommate, he ascertained that Suka spent his nights with his photos.

Away from the confines of the hotel, Detective Mann questioned the employees working at the No. 1 Pumping Station. They saw Suka and his friend taking photos and confirmed that they were doing it openly. Chief Engineer Robert Ramsey, and his assistants, James Carey and Archibald Robertson, also saw them. As the Weir was overflowing at the time, the Chief Engineer had seen hundreds of people likewise taking photos and did not pay close attention. He was particularly scornful with regards to the supposed use of a theodolite.

…any person with ordinary intelligence could see it was a camera and not a theodolite they were using.

State Records Office of Western Australia; AU WA A61 – Western Australia Police Department; Hon Premier – Suspected Japanese Spy at Mundaring – Inquiry re; AU WA S76- cons430 1908/2381

Chief Engineer Ramsey was adamant that if he saw someone (who was not an official) using a theodolite, he would immediately question them and put a stop to it. He and his assistants considered it a joke and theorised that Water Supply Department staff spread the story to “hit at Jacoby” as they were not on good terms with him.

With his investigation complete, Detective Mann concluded that “there is absolutely nothing to cause any suspicion that Suka is a spy…” He summarised the evidence that helped sway his opinion.

  1. It was a coincidence that Suka ended up working near the Weir.
  2. He did not take any photos until Mrs Jacoby asked him to do so.
  3. When he did take photos, he took them openly and did not hide them or post them to anyone.

He also analysed the sources mentioned in McNulty’s letter. In his opinion, regarding the theodolite, McNulty had received information from someone who “allowed his imagination to carry him away…” The Mundaring resident’s statement about Suka not being a cook implied that he was there for some underhanded purpose. The implication was untrue, but the statement was factually correct. Mrs Jacoby did not hire him as a cook; he was hired to be a general servant and “filled his position well.

I beg to submit following facts which leave little doubt but that it came from Water Supply Dept.

State Records Office of Western Australia; AU WA A61 – Western Australia Police Department; Hon Premier – Suspected Japanese Spy at Mundaring – Inquiry re; AU WA S76- cons430 1908/2381

The knowledge that the Water Supply Department staff were not on good terms with Frederick Jacoby warranted further scrutiny. After Pay Officer Dalton visited the Weir on 3 October (the day after Suka photographed it), another official, in the presence of Mrs Jacoby and a lady named Miss Wilson, said to Frederick Jacoby: “If you think this will serve you as an advertisement you will get a much better one in a day or two. A fellow cannot keep his ears closed even if he wants to and I have heard something good that will be out in a day or two.”

Their unhappiness was about (what seemed like) a sudden decision appointing Jacoby as the postmaster at Mundaring without public consultation. Several residents, including Mrs Sarah Harbeck, wrote letters to The West Australian expressing their disapproval. They also submitted a unanimous petition to the government protesting the change without success. Around the time McNulty wrote his letter, The Morning Herald received a ‘tip off’ about a Japanese spy. They said they held on to the information for several days, trying to confirm the story before publishing it on 10 October 1907.

It was likely Water Supply Department workers who told Pay Master Dalton about the ‘cook who wasn’t a cook.’ It seems he then went to McNulty. Before the police could officially take action, someone else went to the press. They chose to weaponise the employment of a Japanese man in order to attack Jacoby. Detective Mann noted, “The whole thing is the outcome of bad feeling existing between Jacoby and several officials in Water Supply Dept.

When Detective Mann spoke to the reporter who wrote the article, they were also of the opinion that a Japanese spy using a theodolite at the Weir was likely “something emanating from some imaginary brain.” The truth was not as interesting as fiction, but they published the story anyway because they “thought it good copy.

Detective Mann submitted the report to Inspector Robert Connell, who concurred with his findings. Inspector Connell then sent it to the Commissioner of Police, who forwarded it to the Premier. Once he finished reading it, Premier Moore noted, “Apparently no cause for suspicion against ‘Suka’ exists & no further action need be taken.

Fred Suka

The news of the supposed espionage in Western Australia became national news. While many newspapers simply recounted the story, the Evening News (Sydney) pointed out the obvious: “Had the gentlemen using the theodolite been Germans, Russians, or belonging to any other nation than Japan, it is probable that no notice whatever would have accorded their movements. But, evidently, the combination of cook and “color” and a scientific instrument was too much for the official mind.

The Daily News opted to show their disdain in a dramatic way by creatively turning the whole saga into an operetta. The opening lyrics for the journalist’s song were “I am a journalist intense, A man of reputation; I have not much regard for sense, But much for mild sensation.

A reporter working for the newspaper ‘Truth’ seems to have been the only one to interview Suka. Suka had read The Morning Herald’s story and was said to laugh heartily at people accusing him of being a spy.

They also expanded upon the ‘clergyman witness,’ which added legitimacy to the story. Jacoby told them that the only clergyman who had been in the district was Dean Henry Latham, who stayed at the Goldfields Hotel. The Dean saw Suka with his camera and presumably would not have confused it for a theodolite.

Furthermore, Arthur Lovekin, proprietor of The Daily News, disclosed that a “certain person” approached them with the same story and wanted a ‘fiver’ for it. Mr Lovekin refused to print it and then saw it in The Morning Herald on the following day. It was clear that the story, and perhaps even the clergyman witness, was false.

The newspaper ‘Mirror’ was the only paper to print copies of Suka’s photographs. Though unfortunately not clear enough to see detail, shots of the excursion train and the pilot train at Mundaring Weir appeared in the newspaper on 1 November 1907.

It is not known what became of Suka. In December 1907, Wada Suka placed a notice in The West Australian advertising Christmas and New Year photographic postcards “taken on the shortest notice.” Knowing their friendship, perhaps he placed it on Fred Suka’s behalf. Apart from that tiny possible glimpse in the advertising columns, Suka no longer appears in the newspapers after that date. With his name and photo printed publicly, and the unfounded accusation of “spy” hanging over him, perhaps he felt it was best to move on from Mundaring Weir and Western Australia.

Sources:

  • State Records Office of Western Australia; AU WA A61 – Western Australia Police Department; Hon Premier – Suspected Japanese Spy at Mundaring – Inquiry re; AU WA S76- cons430 1908/2381
  • State Library of Western Australia; Hay Street east from William Street with a policeman directing traffic in the intersection [picture]; E. G. Rome; 1906; Call Number: 009963PD.
  • The Morning Herald; 10 October 1907 (Page 5), 12 October 1907 (Page 8) & 14 October 1907 (Page 8). Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: 994.11/PER).
  • 1907 ‘A MUNDARING WEIR GRIEVANCE’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 5 October, p. 4. , viewed 02 Apr 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25714557
  • 1907 ‘MUNDARING WEIR POST OFFICE.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 7 October, p. 9. , viewed 02 Apr 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25714706
  • 1907 ‘No Title’, Truth (Perth, WA : 1903 – 1931), 19 October, p. 6. (CITY EDITION), viewed 04 Apr 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206697274
  • 1907 ‘NOTES.’, Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 16 October, p. 4. , viewed 04 Apr 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113898069
  • 1907 ‘THE JAPANESE SPY.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1955), 15 October, p. 3. (SECOND EDITION), viewed 15 Apr 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77882516
  • 1907 ‘A Supposed Spy.’, Truth (Perth, WA : 1903 – 1931), 19 October, p. 6. (CITY EDITION), viewed 15 Apr 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206697272
  • 1907 ‘Geraldton Items.’, The Mirror (Perth, WA : 1907 – 1910), 1 November, p. 21. , viewed 15 Apr 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257287672
  • 1907 ‘political Salad.’, The Mirror (Perth, WA : 1907 – 1910), 1 November, p. 10. , viewed 15 Apr 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257287588

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