Breach of Promise

Thomas Mellersh arrived in the Swan River Colony on 19 August 1834 aboard the ‘James Pattison‘. He was the son of a banker and land-steward of Godalming in Surrey and quickly set himself up as a settler. Leaving the colony in 1838, he returned two years later and upon his return he made the acquaintance of 17 year old Jane Heal.

The couple were considered to be of the same social standing. Jane was the daughter of a Lieutenant in Her Majesty’s Navy however her father had died a few years after the family’s arrival in 1830. At only seven years of age she found herself fatherless and “in poor circumstances“. Her widowed mother and siblings fell further down the societal ladder however throughout the years Jane had “nevertheless retained an unsullied reputation.

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A Puzzling Case

Having worked hard as a teamster in the Government boring party near Mingenew, William Ernest Ellison was due for a holiday. Intending to return after the New Year, he left his portmanteau containing his work clothes and other possessions with Coorow storekeeper, Mr Todd, and on 15 September 1912, he travelled on the Midland railway line to Perth.

Grand Central Coffee Palace circa 1906

He arrived on the same day and took a room at the Grand Central Coffee Palace on Wellington Street. He was designated room 19 and a workmate named Charles Henry Spargo occupied the room across the hallway. Throughout his time in Perth, William was seen on the streets, at the Coffee Palace and around the racecourse, often in company with Spargo. He withdrew various amounts from his bank account on the 21st and 28th September and on the 1st, 5th, 19th and 22nd October. There was nothing unusual about these withdrawals and it was thought a large amount of the money was spent betting at the races.

William was originally from South Australia and kept in regular contact with his parents who remained there. He also had three brothers in Western Australia. On 24 October, a man named Cameron Arthur delivered him a message from his brother, Frank. In the message Frank asked him to go to Gunyidi and then to Nugadong for work. At the time William was seeking employment and was pleased to hear from him. He planned to leave on Saturday, 26 October 1912.

Despite agreeing to meet his brother, William never arrived. On 28 October his accommodation (paid a week in advance) ceased and the proprietor of the Coffee Palace simply assumed that he had left. Correspondence to his family stopped and 18 months passed by. During that time Spargo was tried, convicted and hanged for the murder of Gilbert Jones in Broome. The mangrove murder was the talk of the town and speculation was rife as to whether Spargo had killed other men. On 14 January 1914, George O’Hern of Watheroo contacted the Criminal Investigation Branch (C.I.B.) on the brothers’ behalf. William had vanished and they suspected foul play.

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A Cabin Boy’s Adventure

Arriving in Bunbury on 28 February 1932, the King Lud began loading wheat and was one of many ships anchored at the jetty during (what was noted to be) an “unexpected busy period“.

SS King Lud circa 1931. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

It departed for Fremantle on 8 March and arrived on the following day. Upon their arrival, a report was made to the police stating that the cabin boy, Sidney James Chapman, had jumped ship and was missing.

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Perth Platypuses

Under an agreement between the State Gardens Board of Western Australia and the Victorian Fisheries and Game Department, Mr David Fleay captured two platypuses in the Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria and quickly sent them to Perth in an Australian National Airways plane.

The platypuses. Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia (AU WA S4151- cons1068 1942/0742 V1).
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The Royal “Snub”

Prince Alfred
Duke of Edinburgh circa 1865.

In July 1867 the people of Western Australia were in a state of excitement. The Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) was sailing his ship ‘Galatea’ around the world and was planning to visit the Australian Colonies (the very first member of the Royal Family to do so).

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The Elvira Mystery

Two years before the murder at Mount Magnet, the Elvira mine, located north east of Coolgardie and near the Red Bluff, had been sitting abandoned for over a year. On 9 June 1896, Joseph Sorensen lodged an application and was granted a lease over the site.

Red Bluff at Coolgardie circa 1901. Courtesy of State Library of Western Australia.

Work began immediately. Joseph started clearing the mine out and on 11 August he was working on the north shaft. Having sent up dozens of buckets during the course of the work, he moved a slab of wood and came across earth mixed with stones. He began picking it away and as he did so, a skull rolled out.

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Twelve Mile Dance

Dominating the top right advertising column of The Daily News, Billy Heaton and Clive Kerger boldly announced that they would be “Dancing to Fremantle for £100“. Both men represented rival theatres. Billy was backed by Union Theatres and was dancing at the Princess Theatre in Fremantle while Clive was representing Charles Sheridan’s Piccadilly Palais de Danse.

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Frank Fogarty Escapes

Frank Fogarty’s rap sheet read like an ode to burglary. He was first convicted of breaking and entering and stealing and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in 1897. In subsequent years he was found in possession of skeleton keys and housebreaking implements; was unlawfully on premises; and gave a false name. By 1903 he was the known leader of a group of “crib-crackers, safe dynamiters and bold bad burglars” known to the police as the Fogarty gang.

He was considered to be one of the “cleverest safe openers in Australia” and had no qualms about regularly putting that skill to use.

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£1 Hudson

Eager to prove that the Great Depression was not affecting the financial world as badly as newspapers were reporting, Sydney Atkinson of Sydney Atkinson Motors decided to offer a used car for sale for £1 to the first person through the doors at 9 am on Friday, 28 March 1930.

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Moore’s Escalator

As early as 1898 Western Australians were aware of the invention of the moving stairway (escalator) when The Daily News published a story about Bloomingdale’s (New York) installing it in their store. It allowed shoppers to go from floor to floor, from department to department without having to move and was “like the magic carpet of the Arabian Nights“.

Illustration of an escalator circa 1902.

London railway stations followed department stores and had escalators installed. Reports highlighted the advantages of such technology which included transporting a large number of people from one place to the other without having to wait (such as in the case of lifts). Despite reading about them in the newspapers, many Western Australians would not have the opportunity to see one until 1929.

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