Down Under

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following story may contain images and names of deceased persons.

I have something which Australia has been wanting for a long time, a contract with the W. and F. service, the largest film distributors in England, for six Australian pictures for screening in England.
[11 February 1926]

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 11 February 1926; Page 8; Australian Films
Harry Southwell

Harry Southwell’s announcement while aboard the Commonwealth Mail Steamer ‘Esperance Bay‘ came as a surprise to Australians but was nevertheless excitedly received. An Australian film industry set to rival the Americans. He had further decided to base himself in Western Australia. Was Perth destined to become the new Hollywood?

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A Tombstone for a Hearth

In September 1930, plumber John Cumming was employed to carry out drainage works along Post Office Lane in Geraldton. He had excavated eighteen inches below the surface when he came across part of a tombstone – the rounded upper portion and half of the right side.

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Seven of Diamonds

On 11 August 1921, the Minister for Agriculture, Henry Maley, collected his morning mail. Among the envelopes was an ordinary grey one, postmarked Mornington Mills. He opened it. Inside was a single playing card, the seven of diamonds.

There was nothing written or drawn on the card. Assuming it was a prank, he tore it up and threw it in the bin. Later that day, he attended a meeting of the Executive Council. During the meeting, Chief Justice, Sir Robert McMillan, showed that he too had received an identical envelope, also containing the seven of diamonds. He further revealed that Justices Robert Burnside and John Northmore had received the same.

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A View to Matrimony

Matrimonial advertising was used by many people who wanted to marry. As Europeans immigrated to Western Australia, they found themselves living in a remote location with a limited social circle. Placing an ad in the newspaper was the answer to a difficult situation. It offered hope that they would find a partner to share their life. While it was frowned upon by some classes of society, ultimately, the possible benefit far outweighed the risks.

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Pushball in the West

Invented by Moses Crane in 1894 in Newton, Massachusetts, pushball first came to the attention of Western Australians with a small article printed in The Inquirer and Commercial News in 1896. Despite briefly referencing the sport, it was not reported on in any great depth until 1902 when it was described as a game “untrammelled by vexatious rules.

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Night in a Graveyard

540 applicants responded to the advertisements placed in ‘The West Australian’ and ‘Call’ newspapers asking for someone “to sleep all night in a graveyard“. While some people sent joke responses, others were genuinely interested in meeting the requirements in order to receive the “high pay” of five pounds.

Man or woman (excluding spiritualists) could apply. The main condition was that they had to be chained to a “warm, comfortable” bed from 10:30 pm on 28 April 1920 until daylight on the following morning. They also had to spend the night alone (without even a dog for company) but were allowed to take a gun “to drive away any human disturbers.

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Caught by His Prints

At 7:30 pm on 12 August 1906, the Bradbury family left their home on Thomas Street in West Perth and attended the Congregational Church service. Frank Bradbury (aged 12) was last to leave and shut the door behind him without locking it. At 9 pm the family returned to find the door wide open and the rooms and furniture ransacked. Missing from the premises was a silver chain and locket, a silver watch, a silver matchbox and one shilling and five pence.

Henry Plant in 1901. Courtesy of Prisoners of the Past and the State Records Office of Western Australia.

On the following afternoon Siegfried Bremer, a pawnbroker on Barrack Street in Perth, was working in his shop when he was approached by Henry Plant. Henry (giving a false name) had a silver chain and locket he wanted to sell. Siegfried asked the relevant questions and, finding the answers suspicious, decided to call the police.

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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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