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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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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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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Police Court Habitué

…there are some who have the leisure and the inclination to make the police court their drama, their comedy, their pulpit.

Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956); 31 May 1924; Page 3; Just “Ginger”
Ginger

Long retired and seeking something of interest to do, Ginger started attending the Perth Police Court. In contrast to other people who regularly sat in the public gallery and were regarded as “dead-beats, hoboes and beer sparers” he was considered “different from the usual type.” He was short, stocky, middle aged and sported a walrus moustache that “covers his mouth and sends out lobster-like tentacles…” He was going bald but what remained of his hair was red. No one knew his real name and thus the nickname, ‘Ginger’ stuck.

Whether indulging a morbid taste in amusement, or an interest in human nature, warped by circumstance or crime, “Ginger’s” unchanging expression does not reveal, but he has seen innumerable unfortunate citizens, and the dregs of humanity caught in the toils of the law, and has watched many faces turned from freedom towards the temporary oblivion of the prison.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 15 December 1924; Page 8; News and Notes
The Perth Police Court circa 1911
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Murder of Ah Yet

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

A well-known face in Donnybrook, 25 year old Ah Yet regularly loaded up his cart with vegetables from his garden and on Fridays and Saturdays he travelled from house to house offering them for sale. On 21 and 22 March 1902, he did not show up.

Knowing that his absence was out of the ordinary, John Vennell went to look for him at 3 pm on the 22nd. He first peered through the open door of Ah Yet’s hut but found it deserted. He then walked through the garden, passing cabbages, radishes and other vegetables growing profusely. As he came to the well on the property, he found him. Ah Yet was dead.

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Battle of the Bellmen

Courtesy of Libraries Tasmania

On 21 May 1886 Tommy Hopkins was walking down Hay Street, preparing to ring his bell and announce to the public that Messrs. E. Solomon and Co. had a sale.

Eyeing him as he traversed the streets, Billy Boy the Bellman was far from pleased. As town crier, Perth was his domain while Tommy had the run of Fremantle. Two bellmen in the city would never do.

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The South Cornwall Ghost

Sinking operations continued at the South Cornwall tin mine however the men struggled a little due to the hardness of the diorite. In early December 1907 the results at the Greenbushes tin field was “watched with the keenest of interest” and was considered “the one hope of the future.” Also being keenly watched at around the same time was what The Blackwood Times dubbed ‘The South Cornwall Ghost‘.

A tin mine at Spring Gully, Greenbushes circa 1903. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (1176B/1).
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The Women’s Rush

Shenton Street in Menzies circa 1906

Following the discovery of the Golden Eagle nugget at Larkinville on 15 January 1931, gold was at the forefront in the minds of Western Australians. Reminiscent of earlier gold rush years, some men left their jobs to travel to the field in the hope they would strike it rich. Gold was the hot topic of the day and everyone kept their eyes peeled, including the women of Menzies.

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Mahomet’s Treasure

Abdallah Mahomet arrived in Western Australia in the 1840s and by the late 1860s had relocated to Geraldton. An early settler in the area, he lived on a piece of land two miles south of the town, surrounded by sand dunes and possessing its own underground water source.

The Government allotted to him for the period of his natural life about ten acres of ground, a small portion of which he regularly cultivated…

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954); 4 August 1880; Page 1; Country Letters

Making use of the plentiful water on his property, he took to growing vegetables, fruit and flowers. Carrying two baskets at the end of a long pole, he regularly walked into town and offered his produce for sale.

As he grew older he became known to everyone as Old Mahomet and the area where he lived was called Mahomets Flats. Alcohol, however, grew to be a problem in his life.

On 24 July 1880, 70 year old Mahomet left his home at 7 am with the aim to reach Geraldton between the hours of 8 am and 9 am. He went there on a specific errand but refused to state what it was until he got back.

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