Those who don’t jump
will never fly

Doris Jessie Carter was a high achiever, in athletics and military service. She jumped and she flew.

Doris Carter, WAAAF.

Doris  was an Olympic high jumper –  the first Australian woman to compete in field events at an Olympic Games when she represented Australia in the women’s high jump at Berlin in 1936. There, she became the first female Australian track and field athlete to reach an Olympic final.

Though she finished  equal sixth, later reports note she was credited fifth after the competitor who finished fourth was disqualified. It was also revealed she competed in the final with an ankle injury.

After a sporting career that included representing Australia in hockey,  Doris Carter went on to a distinguished career in the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force, becoming a director.

She was the first woman to fly in a Canberra bomber and a Vampire jet. Her proudest moment was in 1996 when she co-led the Melbourne ANZAC Day parade.

Doris Carter was born in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg on 5 January 1912, the eldest child of Edmund and Jessie Carter.

She attended Ivanhoe primary and high schools before opting for a career as a teacher and going to Melbourne Teachers College.

After graduating, she taught at Melville Forest in the Western District of Victoria and then at South Preston and Moreland Girls Central schools in Melbourne.

At school she became involved in athletics, showing talent in several events but particularly the high jump.

She held the Australian women’s high jump record for 20 years and was not beaten in that time. The pinnacle of her achievements was selection for Australia at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and then  Empire Games in Sydney two years later.

She was at one time  the Victorian 90 yards hurdles champion and finished third in that event  at the Australian championships In January 1936. She won five national championships at high jump (1933, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1940) and two at discus throw (1936, 1940).

At the women’s athletic championships in Brisbane in 1935, Doris Carter set the national high jump record, clearing 5ft 3in. She retained the title in 1936 with a leap of 5ft 3.8 ins.

The world record for the women’s high jump at the time was 5ft 5in, set by American  Jean Shirley at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

In April 1936 after Doris Carter became Australian female high jump champion the was much speculation she would be selected in the Australian Olympic team to got to Berlin in August. The speculation was right.

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 16 April 1936 described  the “unassuming” Doris Carter as  “one of the most popular women athletes In Victoria.”

The report referred to  the many difficulties she faced to become an Australian champion: “For six years she taught at the Melville Forest school, on the South Australian border, and whenever possible came to Melbourne In her small car for track meetings as a member of the Melbourne Women’s Amateur Athletic Club”

She  was one of four women named in the Australian Olympic team that set sail for Berlin on the SS Mongolia   from Sydney on May 13. The team comprised 33 athletes and officials. And support crew.

Australia’s 1936 Olympic team

Australia contested the same five sports as in the two previous Olympics: swimming/diving, athletics, cycling, rowing and wrestling. It would be the last time Australia sent a team of fewer than 50 athletes to an Olympics.

1932 cycling gold medallist Edgar ‘Dunc’ Gray carried the flag in the Opening Ceremony.

There would only be one medal for Australia in Berlin:  John ‘Jack’ Metcalfe won a bronze medal in the triple jump.

Doris Carter carried an ankle injury into the high-jump final. The gold medal-winning height of Hungary’s Ibolya Csák was lower than Doris Carter’s Australian record.

Other strong Australian performances came from 800m runner Gerald Backhouse (8th), rowers William Dixon and Herbert Turner (6th in the double sculls), and swimmer Percy Oliver (7th in the 100m backstroke).

Adolf Hitler at the Berlin Olympics, 1936

Doris Carter recalled later her sense of unease during the Games: “’There were so many people in uniform and there was the Hitler Youth and they were all very enthusiastic. It was pretty obvious that they were preparing for war, but they led us to believe that it was their fear of the Russians,”’ she said.

“Beautiful facilities, but I remember vaguely how we went from the dressing room to the ground, it was through a long tunnel. I was fortunate enough to go back to Berlin in 1946 when I went over to the victory parade, and it was very obvious then that all these tunnels and these underground entrances to get into the ground were really all air raid shelters ready for the war that was to come.”

After the Berlin Games, Doris Carter competed in the 1938 Empire Games (later to become the Commonwealth Games) in Sydney. She was fifth with a jump of 5ft 1 in.

The star of the Empire Games was  Australian athlete Decima Norman, who won five gold medals in track and field. Margaret Dovey, the future wife of Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam, finished sixth in the 220 yards breaststroke.

Doris Carter still  held athletic aspirations after her track and field career. She represented Australia in hockey and  later played golf and took on sports administration roles.

The Melbourne Herald reported: “Miss Carter is a keen student of athletics, and her knowledge of the technical side of the sport and her winter training classes for girl athletes at Royal Park arc proof of her sincere efforts to further the development of women’s athletics in Victoria.”

She was involved in the administration of women’s athletics both at State and National levels; she was President of the Victorian Women’s Amateur Athletic Association from 1945 to 1948 and twice served as President of the Australian Women’s Amateur Athletic Union, firstly in 1948 and again between 1952 and 1962.

She was one of the two female members of the Organising Committee for the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 where she also took on the role of Assistant Manager to the Australian Olympic Team.

After  her success as an athletic competitor,  Doris Carter  joined  the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force(WAAAF), serving  from January 1942 to October 1945. She led the WAAAF contingent in the Victory March in London.

Members of the Australian Victory Contingent in
Berlin, 1946. Squadron Leader Doris Carter is at left.

The Old Colonists Association  of Victoria website takes up the Doris Carter story: “Doris was with the Department of Post-War Reconstruction from 1946-48 and at the time of her appointment was in charge of the Child and Youth Migration Section of the Department of Immigration. Before returning to Australia, Doris spent a month studying WRAF organisation and establishments in Britain.

“On 11 April 1951 Doris was appointed Director of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) with the rank of Wing Officer. In 1957 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The Citation was as follows: ‘Wing Officer Carter served with the WAAAF during the 1939-45 War and was later recalled to represent the WAAAF in the Victory Contingent which visited the United Kingdom in 1946. During the war years this officer showed outstanding ability as an organiser and leader and when it was decided to reconstitute the Women’s Branch of the RAAF, she was again recalled and appointed Director of WRAAF in April 1951. In the appointment Wing Officer Carter, by outstanding leadership and tireless effort, has moulded the WRAAF into a most effective force.  

Flight Officer Doris Carter shows WAAAF officer trainees
how to make rissoles from military food supplies over an
open fire during a bivouac at Launching Place,
near Melbourne in 1943.

Her ability to establish and maintain a perfect balance between womanly aspects and service requirements, and her genuine interest in the welfare of all airwomen have won for her the confidence and respect of all members of the Service. Her organising abilities and outstanding personal qualities were recognised by her appointment as Manager of the Australian Women’s Olympic Team in the recent Olympic Games and the manner in which she performed this task brought international recognition and added prestige to the WRAAF, and the RAAF as a whole.”

American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt  spoke to WAAAF
women on a visit to Melbourne in 1943.  Second from right
is Flight Officer Doris Carter, officer in charge
of the guard of honour.

Doris Carter moved to Rushall Park (retirement village, Fitzroy, Victoria) in 1986 and lived there until her death on  28 July 1999.

SUMMARY OF DORIS CARTER’S CAREER (from Australian Women’s Register)

  • Teacher with the Victorian Education Department
  • Participated at the Berlin Olympic Games – Track and Field Athletics – placed sixth in the high jump
  • Played interstate hockey
  • Represented Australia at the Empire Games, Sydney
  • Member of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF)
  • Officer-in-charge of the WAAAF Victory Contingent to London
  • Department of Post-War Reconstruction
  • Officer-in-charge of the Child and Youth Migration with the Department of Immigration, London
  • Director of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force
  • President of the Australian Women’s Amateur Athletic Union
  • Manager of the Australian Women’s Team at the Olympic Games, Melbourne
  • Appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire
  • General secretary of the YWCA, Melbourne
  • Member of the Board of Trustees at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra
  • Member of the National Fitness Council, Victoria

FOOTNOTE: The Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) was formed in March 1941. There was considerable pressure form women keen to serve and the Chief of the Air Staff wanted to free male personnel serving in Australia for service overseas. The WAAAF was the first and largest of the wartime Australian women’s services. It was disbanded in December 1947.


QUOTE: “Those who don’t jump never fly” – Leena Ahmad Almashat, Harmony Letters, 2011.

PICTURES: Australian War Memorial; TROVE newspaper articles.




What DID happen to Amy Johnson?


Amy Johnson is probably best known as the first women to fly solo from England to Australia, in 1930.

She broke new aerial solo records with other flights: England to Tokyo via Siberia and England to New York.

Her breakthrough achievements brought her  worldwide fame.

Yet her disappearance at age 37 remains one of the great unsolved mysteries.

Or is it?

Amy Johnson died in 1941 when her plane crashed in the Thames Estuary. Her body was never recovered. But she did not perish in the crash itself.

Amy flew in World War II as a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary, but details of her fatal ferry flight on 5 January 1941 remain a government secret.

Reports at the time said she flew off course in bad weather, her plane ran out of fuel and she had to bail out. The plane crashed into the Thames Estuary, and witnesses saw Amy fall into the water but her body was never found.

Shockingly, more than 60 years later it was claimed she was shot down by gunners from her own country because she did not respond with the correct codes when challenged.  And a further shock; it was claimed she died in a botched rescue attempt.

What then is the Amy Johnson story?

Amy Johnson was born in Hull, East Yorkshire in 1903, the eldest of four girls. Her father was a Danish fish merchant who met her mother Amy Hodge from Yorkshire when sailing to Hull.

When Amy was 14 she lost her two front teeth after being hit with a cricket ball. She recalled that she became “introspective and withdrew farther and farther into a protective shell of my own making.”  Amy went to school in Hull before studying  at Sheffield University where she majored in economics and graduated in 1923 with Bachelor of Arts degree.

She took office jobs in Hull before moving to London where she worked in a law firm  from 1925 to 1929.

Bored with an office job, she decided to learn to fly, still a new hobby for most people – and rare for women.

Amy joined the London Aeroplane Club at the de Havilland Aerodrome, Stag Lane. One of her instructors was Captain Valentine Henry Baker, a World War I fighter pilot. She trained in a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth, and on 9 June 1929, after 15 hours, 45 minutes of dual instruction, made her first solo flight.

She gained an aviation certificate and then a Pilot’s Certificate and License from the Air Ministry of Great Britain on 6 July 1929; it was an “A” Flying Certificate, for private pilots. She was also awarded a Certificate for Navigators, and  in December 1929  she became the first woman to be certified as an Engineer (aircraft mechanic). She was also a member of the Yorkshire Gliding Club in Yorkshire.

Pilot liocence application

Amy recalled the difficulty of learning to fly, admitting it was a scary experience as her first instructor was not very sympathetic: “When I was up in the air I could only hear a confused sound in my neck instead of what should have been lucid instructions . . . I was scared stiff of my instructor who never seemed to lose his first idea that I was a born idiot,” she said.

Her first major achievement, after flying solo, was to qualify as the first British-trained female ground engineer, and first woman in the world to do so.

With the financial backing of her father and Baron Charles Cheers Wakefield, founder of the Wakefield Oil Company (Castrol was the familiar brand name), she bought a year-old de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth biplane, c/n 804, registered G-AAAH. It had  been owned by Air Taxis Ltd, first registered 30 August 1928. Johnson named her airplane Jason, which was the name of her father’s business.

amyjohnsonand-jason-1 (2)

Early in 1930 Amy set herself the objective of flying solo to Australia and beating Queenslander Bert Hinkler’s record of 16 days. She set off from Croydon aerodrome on 5 May 1930 and landed in Darwin on 24 May, a flight distance of  17,7000 km (11,000 miles). She didn’t get the time record but became the first woman to do the trip solo.

Darwin arrival

Four days into her a tour of Australia that followed a rest in Darwin for a few days, disaster struck as she attempted to land at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm aerodrome with 20,000 people looking on as they waited to greet her.

Stops on the way to Brisbane included  Cloncurry, Longreach, Quilpie and Charleville, where she landed after dark with the aid of headlights from 20 cars.

Landings were said not to have been her strong suit and Amy misjudged the descent into Eagle Farm and overshot the runway. The plane was flipped when it hit a fence, coming to rest in a neighbouring farm paddock, upside down, with Amy still strapped in.

She freed herself and though shaken was pretty much unscathed. Jason, however was badly damaged.

Trove report

Amy recovered her composure and addressed the crowd as scheduled, albeit with her jumper torn and “a gash in one boot”.

The Brisbane Courier newspaper reported: “The aviatrix scrambled out, unscathed. The wings of the plane were badly damaged but nothing could wipe the smile from the sunburnt young woman, her bobbed brown hair tousled by the wind.’’

After several days in Brisbane, including a visit to the racetrack for the annual Stradbroke Handicap, she flew on a commercial flight to Sydney to continue her tour.

Her plane was retrieved and returned to England. A replica was constructed and put on display in Hull.

Jason on display
Replica on display in Hull

Amy Johnson had received worldwide acclaim for her feat and returned home to the UK to a hero’s welcome. She was awarded a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) honour.

She also collected a £10,000 prize offered by London newspaper, the Daily Mail. The Australian Air Ministry issued her its Pilot Certificate and License Number 1. The International League of Aviators awarded her The Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy for 1930.

Amy set several long-distance flight records,  solo and with other pilots, one of whom was Scottish pilot James Allan Mollison.

They married in July 1932. Soon after, she set a record for a solo flight from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, flying a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth (named Desert Cloud) there in 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes, 14–18 November 1932. She broke the previous record which had been set by Jim Mollison. For this flight, she was awarded the Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club, for “the most outstanding demonstration of transport on land, sea or air.”

Her next flights were as a duo, flying with Mollison. In 1933, she and Mollison flew a de Havilland DH.84 Dragon, named Seafarer, in a record-setting bid nonstop from Pendine Sands, South Wales, to Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the US. But near Connecticut they began to run low on fuel and, in the dark, had to make an emergency landing at Bridgeport Municipal Airport. They missed the runway and crash-landed in a ditch. They escaped  with cuts and bruises and were honoured with a ticker-tape parade and reception in Wall Street, New York.

The couple competed in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia in a de Havilland DH.88 Comet. Although they achieved a record time to India they were forced to retire with engine trouble beforte they could complete the flight.

In 1936 Amy made her last record-breaking flight, regaining her Britain to South Africa record in a Percival Gull Six. She divorced in 1938 and reverted to her maiden name.

In May 1937, Johnson, who was already a rated navigator, travelled to Annapolis, Maryland, in the US, where she studied advanced navigation .

She then turned to business ventures, journalism and fashion. She modelled clothes for Elsa Schiaparelli and created her own travelling bag, until the outbreak of the war in 1939.

At the outbreak of World War II, Amy joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, a pool of experienced pilots who were ineligible for RAF service.  She held the civilian rank of Flight Officer, equivalent to an RAF Flight Lieutenant. Her duties involved ferrying aircraft from factory airfields to RAF bases.

On 4 January 1941, Flight Officer Johnson was assigned to take an Airspeed AS.10 Oxford Mk.II, registration V3540, from Prestwick, Scotland, to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire. She landed at RAF Squires Gate, Lancashire, and remained there overnight, visiting her sister.

The next morning,  although weather was  poor and visibility limited, she left  Squires Gate at 10:30 a.m. Reportedly advised not to go, she insisted, saying that she would “smell her way” to Kidlington.

About 3:30 p.m., Amy Johnson parachuted into the Thames Estuary. The plane crashed into the river a short distance away and sank.

A convoy of wartime vessels spotted Amy’s parachute and crew members saw her alive in the water. Conditions were too poor to attempt a rescue; there was a strong tide, and falling snow hindered visibility.

Lt Cmdr Walter Fletcher, who was the captain of the HMS Haslemere, dived into the water to rescue Johnson but he died in the attempt.  Some documents related to her flight and personal belongings were found  but Johnson’s body was never recovered.

HMS Haslemere

Then in 1999, it was reported that Tom Mitchell from Crowborough, Surrey, claimed to have shot down Amy’s plane.

He claimed that Johnson failed to give the right identification code, which was changed every day for all British forces so troops on the ground would know they were British. Apparently, she failed to give the code twice and was shot down, under orders, as an enemy aircraft. Mitchell said: “Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened.” There has been no official verification of the claim.

A further claim has been made that Amy Johnson’s death was the subject of a cover-up; that she survived the crash but was killed as a rescue was attempted.

Dr Alec Gill, a historian from Hull, claims Amy’s death was deliberately covered up after she died in an unsuccessful rescue mission.

A report in the Independent newspaper in 2016 said a witness on board HMS Haslemere, a converted ferry attempting to rescue her, remembered the ship’s engines being reversed, perhaps resulting in Amy being pulled into the propellers.

“This ship should have gone down in history as the vessel that saved her life,” said Dr Gill. “Instead, historians are now beginning to conclude that the propellers of the Haslemere killed her.”

Dr Gill told the Independent he believed the details of her death were deliberately covered up: “The Royal Navy did not want to admit to the Royal Air Force – or indeed a nation at war – that they had killed Britain’s favourite female pilot.”

As her body was never found, there was no inquest.


1930 First woman to fly solo from England to Australia.
1931 In July, she and co-pilot Jack Humphreys became the first people to fly from London to Moscow in one day, completing the 1,760 miles (2,830 km) journey in approximately 21 hours.
1932 Married Scottish pilot Jim Mollison, who had proposed to her during a flight together some eight hours after they had first met.
1933 In July  she and Mollison flew the G-ACCV, named “Seafarer,” a de Havilland DH.84 Dragon I nonstop from Pendine Sands, South Wales, heading to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York.
1934 In September (under her married name of Mollison) became the youngest President of the Women’s Engineering Society, having been vice-president since 1934.


Sources: thisdayinaviation.com,  the famousepople.com, TROVE newspaper articles, britishheritage.com, biographyonline.net,  “Amy Johnson, Queen of the Air” by Midge Gillies, and aeorflight.co.uk, wikipedia.org.

In 2019 the Amy Johnson Arts Trust website issued a series of podcasts to recall Amy Johnson’s  daily experiences, based on her diary notes, on the record-making flight to Australia.

A version of this article first appeared in VANISHED,  Chris McLeod (Wilkinson Publishing) 2014.

And what became of Amelia Earhart
and Fred Noonan?

earhart and noonan
Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan

For 80 years the world has been speculating on whatever became of pioneer flyer Amelia Earhart.

She was last heard of with her navigator Fred Noonan on the second last leg of an around-the-world flight in their twin-engine Lockheed Electra plane, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean approaching a scheduled refuelling stop at tiny Howland Island.

There have been countless theories, many of them involving conspiracies. They just keep coming.

Two of the latest run along these lines:

  1. A family tale from William Sablan, a man who lives on the Mariana Islands, says that Earhart was captured by the Japanese, taken to Saipan and spent several days in prison before being executed.
  2. Just a little more odd is a claim that the two aviators crashed and were killed, their bones eventually eaten by giant coconut crabs.

Early in 2017 there was the discovery of an old blurry photograph that “experts” said showed showed Amelia and Fred on an atoll in the Marshall Islands, being held by the Japanese.

That did little to validate the coconut crab theory but it could fit with the capture and execution story. The photograph became a focal point for a television documentary and was seized on many news outlets and experts that gave it credibility – because the picture was sourced from the US National Archives, lending support to the theory that the US knew she had been executed but kept it secret.

As with many conspiracy theories, there was a hitch.  A Japanese military history buff and blogger unearthed evidence that the photo was first published in a 1935 Japanese travelogue — two years before Earhart and Noonan set off on their doomed effort to circumnavigate the globe. The two westerners in the photo could not have been Amelia and Fred.

The United States officially is running with the theory that the plane just ran out of fuel and crash-landed close to Howland Island.  The pair would have died when their food and water ran out. The plane is thought to be many metres down at the bottom of the ocean.

One organisation that isn’t buying the popular – and probably most credible explanation – is The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). Its executive director, Ric Gillespie, believes Amelia and Fred missed Howland Island and continued on for another 350 nautical miles (km) and landed on a coral reef around Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro Island).


For the next several nights, distress radio calls were heard from near the island, but US  search planes were unable to find anything.

Gillespie thinks Amelia and Fred were alive on the island for several weeks before they died. Maybe this is where the giant coconut crabs theory might gain some traction.

Items recovered by TIGHAR have strengthened its view that it is looking in the right place.

Among the items was a small cosmetics jar, identified as probably a jar of Dr Berry’s Freckle Ointment, used to fade freckles. TIGHAR placed significance on this find as it was documented that Amelia Earhart disliked having freckles.

Other more substantial items recovered included a woman’s shoe and a sextant box with serial numbers believed to be consistent with a type carried by Noonan.

Also recovered more than 20 years ago was a small piece of an aluminium panel which TIGHA says has been identified in forensic tests as most likely coming from a repaired window on the Electra’s fuselage. The repair had not been noticed in pictures of the plane until 2014 when a photo taken before she took off for Puerto Rico on 1 June 1937 was examined more closely.

TIGHAR also says sonar readings of the ocean in the area are consistent with a large object on the ocean floor.

A human skeleton was found on the island in 1940, but British officials said the skull belonged to a short, European male. That hasn’t swayed Gillespie. He is still on the trail.

He says anthropologist Richard Jantz of the University of Tennessee reexamined the measurement and believes they are of a female of European origins.

A team comprising TIGHAR and the National Geographic Society launched an expedition to Nikumaroro in 2017, complete with sniffer dogs trained to find human remains in the hope (said to be remote) of finding something that would enable DNA linking to the aviators. Digging didn’t turn up any remains. But searching will continue..

In the vacuum of immediate knowledge of what happened to Earhart and Noonan rumours and conspiracy theories abounded.

So in summary, these are some of the theories that emerged over 80 years:

  • Landed on Saipan only to be executed by the Japanese. The US eventually exhumed her body but kept their action secret.
  • Flight was an elaborate scheme to spy on the Japanese, who captured her after she crashed.
  • Survived a Pacific Ocean plane crash, was secretly repatriated to New Jersey and lived out her life under an assumed name.
  • Survived and somehow made her way to Guadalcanal.
  • Crashed on New Britain Island.
  • Captured by the Japanese and became “Tokyo Rose.”
  • Captured by the Japanese and taken to Emirau Island in the Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea.

In a highly publicised July 1949 interview, Amelia’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart, who died in 1962 at age 93, told the Los Angeles Times, “I am sure there was a Government mission involved in the flight, because Amelia explained there were some things she could not tell me. I am equally sure she did not make a forced landing in the sea. She landed on a tiny atoll—one of many in that general area of the Pacific—and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat that took her to the Marshall Islands, under Japanese control.”

How did it come to this?

It was a sunny morning on Friday 2 July 1937 when the Electra took off from Lae in what is now Papua New Guinea.

They were on their way to the tiny Pacific Island of Howland, the last scheduled stop (for fuel) before completing the last leg that would take them to their starting point in California, completing a record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe.

Amelia Earhart had chosen the longest route, 29,000 miles around the Equator. For the attempt, Lockheed Aircraft Company had built an Electra 10E to Earhart’s specifications. It was the first all-metal plane and was modified for long distance with the 10 passenger seats replaced by 12 fuel tanks. The refitted plane had a theoretical range of 4,000 miles. It was an advanced aircraft for the time, with variable pitch propellers and retractable landing gear.

The Electra left Miami on 1 June 1937 with stops scheduled in South America, Africa, India and South-East Asia. It arrived in Lae on 29 June 1937.

By then the Electra had travelled 22,000 miles, leaving about 7,000 miles to go over the Pacific Ocean.

The flight from Lae to a refuelling stopover on Howland Island was to take 18 hours. The risks were high: Howland Island was only a mile wide, 2 miles long and 20 feet above sea level, a speck of land in the vast Pacific.

Bad weather, even cloud cover, would make the tiny island particularly hard to find.

So, it was arranged that the American Coast Guard cutter Itasca would be on station at Howland to maintain radio contact and set off flares.

The US Navy auxiliary tug Ontario was stationed about halfway between Lae and Howland to keep lookout for the Electra.

Flying at 134.5 mph ground speed, the Electra reported in from Nukumanu Islands, formerly Tasman Islands, a medium sized atoll in the south-western Pacific Ocean, south of the equator and about one-third of the way to Howland and about 6.5 hours into the flight. Everything was in order.

The fuel load on take-off at Lae had overloaded the Electra as Earhart ensured a sufficient supply to make it to Howland. Strong headwinds may have increased consumption greater than expected, but by the half-way mark no alarm had been raised.

During the night Amelia reported seeing the lights of a ship below. It turned out to be the SS Myrtlebank on its way from Auckland, New Zealand, to Nauru. At that point, she still had around 1,140 miles to go.

She was still sending positional messages as she passed by the Gilbert Islands. At one point, Itasca heard her report that conditions were partly cloudy as she came to within 4 hours of Howland.

The Electra descended below the clouds and headed for where the aviators believed Howland Island would be.

A radio message to Itasca said “we must be on you but cannot see you but gas is running low, been unable reach you by radio we are flying at altitude 100 feet.”

But the ship didn’t respond.

earhart newspaper record

A clue to the communications problem came later: photos and home movies at Lae appeared to show a radio antenna on the bottom of the plane breaking away as it taxied along the runway.

While the Electra should have been close to Howland Island neither Amelia or Fred saw the Itasca and the ship never saw the plane.

It follows that those on the plane also never saw smoke put up to help them find the island.

Amelia’s last transmission was “we are running north and south.”

The Electra had missed Howland Island and with no other significant land within 1,000 miles (160 km), logically it would have fallen in to the sea after running out of fuel.

According to records, the official air and sea search by the US Navy and Coast Guard lasted until 19 July 1937.

Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead on 5 January 1939.

 Amelia Earhart’s record:

Woman’s world altitude record: 14,000 ft (1922)

First woman to fly the Atlantic (1928)

Speed records for 100 km – and with cargo (1931)

First woman to fly an autogyro (1931)

Altitude record for autogyros: 15,000 ft (1931)

First person to cross the US in an autogyro (1932)

First woman to fly the Atlantic solo (1932)

First person to fly the Atlantic twice (1932)

First woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (1932)

First woman to fly nonstop, coast-to-coast across the U.S. (1933)

Woman’s speed transcontinental record (1933)

First person to fly solo between Honolulu, Hawaii and Oakland, California (1935)

First person to fly solo from Los Angeles, California to Mexico City, Mexico (1935)

First person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City, Mexico to Newark, New Jersey (1935)

For more information, photographs and video go to https://www.ameliaearhart.com

This article was originally published in  VANISHED,  Planes that disappear, Chris McLeod, Wilkinson Publishing 2015.

Vanished cover




From innovation to expedition


An internal combustion tractor built in 1912 by the first Australian tractor makers, A.H McDonald, sold in the US at auction in June  2020 for $US 283,500 ($A 400,000) and may be returning home.

The McDonald EB 140 Imperial, then and now

The tractor, An EB Imperial, probably should not have been in the US at all, thought by some to have been shipped there in breach of the Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

The tractor was sold at auction on 13 June by Aumann Auctions of Illinois. The buyer was not identified but confirmed by the auctioneers to be Australian which would be good news for those who campaigned for its return, including pleas for intervention by the Australian Government.

This is how Aumann Auctions listed the tractor:

“A. H. McDonald & Co. built this tractor and was Australia’s first tractor manufacturer. The company was founded in 1903 after Alfred Henry McDonald went into partnership with his brother, Ernest, to make electrical appliances in a small workshop in Melbourne. In 1905 they introduced a line of “Imperial” gasoline/kerosene stationary engines. In 1908 the company fitted its D-Type twin-cylinder engine into a four-wheel chassis, and the first McDonald “Imperial Oil Tractor” was born. Two years later, McDonald relocated to a new factory at Burnley, near Melbourne, which gave the company the space to increase production and continue experimenting with tractors. McDonald’s early tractors were inspired by British and American designs, particularly those produced by Saunderson, Hart-Parr and Big Four. Its second design of tractor, the Model EB of 1910, was influenced by the British Saunderson and was again powered by the “Imperial” D-Type twin-cylinder engine mounted transversely in the center of the frame. This tractor is an “Imperial” Model EB, one of just four known survivors. It was supplied new in 1912 to a farmer from Phillip Island (sic – actually Flinders Island), off Australia’s southern coast. This 1912 tractor has a two-cylinder vertical gasoline/kerosene engine with a 6.25 inch bore rated at 20 horsepower. It has 3 forward speeds and one reverse speed, weighing in at 10,080 pounds.”

There were more than 130 tractors and engines in the sale that was billed as a “Pre ’30 Auction of Tractors and Implements”.

The price paid for the Australian tractor was the second highest of the sale; the top price of $US 309,750 was for  an International Harvester  12 hp Type A tractor (pictured below), believed to be the only one surviving.

The auction was held on-line under coronovirus guidelines.

There were 61 bids for the Australian tractor. Including 16 from the eventual successful buyer whose opening bid was $US 76,000.

It remains unclear exactly how the EB Imperial found its way to the US.

Fewer than 20 EB tractors were made in Australia and the one sold in the US in June 2020, was built for the Chilcot family on French Island in Bass Strait off Victoria.

It was the first tractor made in Australia with an internal combustion engine, said to be “very crude, very basic” and was sold new in 1912. It left Australia for England in 2008, and it isn’t clear how it got to the US.

The Federal Department of Communications and Arts which administers heritage issues, is said to have acknowledged to a collector in Australia that it should not have been sent to the US. An error was made when the tractor was included by accident in an inventory compiled for other agricultural machinery for export.

Replying to assertions by an Australian person interested in bidding for the tractor at the US auction, Kurt Aumann of the auctioneers said: “It comes with a valid export certificate from 2008 when it went to your friends in England. We have recently been shown a letter from your government’s Department for Heritage that contradicts your statements. That letter stated the export was legal and that there is no intent to repatriate the tractor now or in the future. We have made all information available at all times. Our contact information, as you know, was given to the Department for Heritage so they could contact us personally. The only parties that have been critical of the sale of this tractor are a few collectors like yourself that interpret the law and/or actions taken differently …  Your argument should be with the person that sold it in Australia or your government agency that approved the export.”

A.H. McDonald was Australia’s first tractor manufacturer, starting production in 1908. The first tractor was powered by a McDonald D type twin cylinder petrol engine producing 20 HP. It had three forward gears and one reverse.

The original tractor was supplied in 1909 to J.H. Dardel, Batesford near Geelong. It was overhauled for him in McDonald’s workshop in 1912.

Another dozen models were produced to 1910.

Alfred Henry McDonald was born in 1883. His father was a baker and the family lived behind the shop in Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn.

  A. H. McDonald

He left school aged 14,  his father wanting him to work in the bakery. But Alf  wanted to be an engineer.

In 1898 he got an apprenticeship with Henri Galopin, “Scientific instrument maker to the Observatory,” in Chancery Lane, Melbourne, for a four year term.

He left Galopin to work for J.A. Newton, Electrical Engineers, for about a year where his spare time saw him at work in a shed behind his father’s bakery.

At first he made motors for dental drills, to replace the treadle.

A.H. McDonald & Co. was registered in 1903 and, he and younger brother Earnest set up a workshop in a rented room in Flinders St. Melbourne where they built their first petrol engine and generator set.

E. McDonald

Alf McDonald planned to go into production with a range of engines as soon as possible.

Just a year later, in July 1904,  the company  moved into a corrugated iron workshop at 221 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, and named it the Imperial Engine Works. A year later the first McDonald engine was built and was followed by about another 30  4 HP per engines by year’s end, including two, three and four cylinder versions.

In 1907, the D type 10 HP engine went into production. It  also was built in two, three and four cylinder versions.

A twin cylinder engine was chosen for the company’s first tractor in 1908. Tractors of various kinds were rolled out up to 1923.

In 1930 the larger models featured a new range of two-stroke engines from 10 HP to 75 HP.

In 1910 the company bought a large block of land in Stawell St, Richmond, and built a new, larger factory with a foundry capable of pouring castings weighing up to three tons.

Tractor production continued along with a line of road rollers for which the Company became famous.

An early McDonald road roller

The first “Super Diesel” horizontal engine appeared in 1918, and soon the range extended from 2 HP to 25 HP. They were successful for stationary use and road rollers, but too heavy to be suitable for tractors.

During the 1920’s, McDonalds imported tractors, firstly the Emmerson – Brantingham (E-B) from U.S.A,  later the Avance from Sweden. They starting building McDonald Imperial tractors again in 1930 with the TWB model, and from 1946 to 1955 the T6 series.

The company merged with Jaques Bros Ltd. (now Jaques Ltd, makers of quarry equipment) in 1969. Remaining McDonald products, mainly road rollers, continued to be made in their factory and sold by the McDonald Division.

The familiar McDonald three-point roller

The Division was later renamed Jaques McDonald and specialised in the distribution and hire of Road Construction Equipment, including McDonald road rollers.

FOOTNOTE: The first internal combustion tractors in Australia were English Ivels imported in 1903.

Big Lizzie

The McDonalds also were involving in creating the biggest Australian-made  tractor, contributing the massive gearing and bearing components.

Big Lizzie was going to be the first roadtrain when she was rolled out in 1916, destined to haul trailers laden with wool  from outlaying stations to Broken Hill in the far west of NSW, Australia. Instead, she became famous as the biggest tractor built in Australia, and probably the biggest in the world at that time.

Big Lizzie clearing land (above) and on display (below).

Lizzie was the brain-child of blacksmith Frank Bottrill. While working in the Broken Hill area he thought that something other than camels might be more adept at hauling the wool packs across sandhills, bogs and creek beds. Steam tractors couldn’t do the job; it needed a fresh approach. Big Lizzie was Bottrill’s answer, built over a year in the yards of A.H. McDonald & Co’s works in Melbourne.

She was a 34 ft (10.3 m) long, 11 ft (3.3 m) wide, weighed  45 tonnes and was powered by a 60 hp (44 kW) single cylinder crude oil engine. Lizzie would never set any speed records; 2 mph (3.2 km/h) was her best.

Bottrill set out for Broken Hill on a 550 km journey but never got there. Mechanical problems so delayed him that he reached Mildura in late 1917 only to find he couldn’t get across the Murray River and on to Broken Hill. So he set about carting wheat and other goods in the Mildura area.

Bottrill’s big break came in 1920 when he was awarded a contract to clear a large area of scrub near Redcliffs for a soldier settlement scheme.

According to Red Cliffs Historical Society notes, Lizzie arrived in July 1920 and went to work for World War 1 soldier settlers clearing new blocks.

Big Lizzie had a number of failings, including a maximum speed of one mile per hour, a huge turning circle and inadequate steering gear. Despite these problems, she was found to be very effective for the land clearing in the Mallee in the 1910s and 1920s. In 1920 the Victorian Government, through the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, contracted Bottrill to carry out a large scale clearing operation at Red Cliffs to create irrigation blocks for soldier settlement. Clearing in the area was previously largely carried out with small grubbing machines. Big Lizzie was equipped with a number of steel cables for pulling out trees and stumps, and a gang of up to sixteen men worked in a supporting role on the ground.

Lizzie’s operation was unique, laying her own track as she went about tearing out the bush to make way for the new farmers.

  Lizzie laid her own track

Lizzie was abandoned sometime after 1826. In 1969, former Mildura shire president and historian Ern Wolfe went looking for. He was tipped off that Lizzie was rusting away  on Glendenning Station in western Victoria.

Wolfe and some friends retrieved  Big Lizzie and took her back to Red Cliffs where she was restored in time for Red Cliffs Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1971.

Wolfe said: “I had to borrow $1250 from the Red Cliffs Club, that was the cost of the machine, which was a bargain.”

The Big Lizzie Preservation Committee settled her on display in Barclay Square, Red Cliffs, near Mildura.

She is the only preserved example of the innovative Dreadnaught wheel developed by Frank Bottrill and applied to tractors for land clearing and hauling. The caterpillar track eventually proved the most successful design, but the dreadnaught wheel was reliable and effective for its purpose and was used in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.


Sources: ABC Rural,  Farmonline, Aumann Auctions, oldenegine.org, Trove digitised newspapers, Australian Manufacturing Forum, Heritage Victoria.


New Holland Agriculture introduced its first  hydrogen-powered tractor in 2011. The co-injection of hydrogen with diesel is in use in some agricultural machines, though this method is not considered as efficient as hydrogen fuel cells.

The National Institute of Agro-machinery Innovation and Creation (CHIAIC) in Luoyang in the central province of Henan launched  China’s first hydrogen fuel cell electric tractor in 2020.

Now, Australia is ready to join the hydrogen-power revolution in agriculture.

Limited availability of hydrogen fuel in Australia meant it had not been commercially viable, but developments in 2020 mean dreams can become reality.

Infinite Blue Energy’s Arrowsmith Hydrogen Project, planned for near Dongara in Western Australia, is expected to produce 25 tonnes of green hydrogen a day.

The first phase of construction at a cost of $300 million was likely to begin operations by 2023.

An Australian-made hydrogen-powered tractor was on the drawing board.

  The H2X vision

Australian company H2X said it planned to manufacture hydrogen-powered vehicles, including tractors, at Port Kembla New South Wales by 2025.

The company’s main line of production will be passenger vehicles and it already has produced prototypes of cars as well as a tractor.

H2X is also working on other hydrogen related projects in railways, the marine industry, and stationary energy storage systems. It is also developing a range of heavy electric vehicles for mining sectors.

H2X  aims to produce 20,000 hybrid vehicles from a plant at Port Kembla south of Sydney by 2025. The first car on the drawing board is a small SUV named the Snowy.

Company CEO Brendan Norman said the company planned to go into “aggressive production” from 2022 The venture was expected to create around 5,000 direct jobs.

Mr Norman has held executive positions with VW in Saudi Arabia, Shanghai and Singapore, Audi in Japan and South Korea, and has worked with Grove Hydrogen and Wales-based hydrogen car maker Riversimple.


Early tractors were known as traction engines,  steam powered machines adapted from trail on rails to use roads.

They were huge and heavy, impractical for working soft farmland. Initially they were stationary engines, towed to where they were needed to provide power. Belts linked them to  threshers and other stationary machines.

When used as moving machines, the traction engines were slow and inefficient. The name was derived from the Latin tractus, meaning ‘drawn’.

At the time of the steam engine, the traction engine took over the heavy work from draught horses.

From around 1850, self-propelled portable steam engines were developed for  agricultural use and production continued into the early 20th century.

An early hint to their life span came in 1892 when John Froelich invented and built the first petrol-powered tractor in Clayton County, Iowa, US.

  Froelich’s tractor

He mounted a single-cylinder petrol engine on a chassis, controlled and propelled by Froelich’s gear box.

He patented  his invention, but by 1895 he had lost all his capital and went out of business.

The first commercially successful light-weight petrol-powered general purpose tractor was built by British inventor Dan Albone, in 1901. He filed for a patent on 15 February 1902 for his tractor design and  formed Ivel Agricultural Motors Limited.

About 500 were built, and many were exported.

Development of petrol power continued in the US  and in 1904 Holt Manufacturing Co. produced its first petrol-powered tractor.

The first successful American tractor was built by Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr who developed a two-cylinder gasoline engine. They built 15 farm tractors in Iowa in 1903.The two-cylinder engine had a unique “hit-and-miss” firing cycle that produced 30 HP at the belt and 18 HP at the drawbar.

Innovation picked up pace in the US when in 1910 Holt registered Caterpillar as the trademark for its tractors and two years later, Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. made from 30 to 60 tractors for J. I. Case Threshing Machine Co. In 1914 Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co. made its first tractor.

By 1920 Henry Ford and John Deere also were making petrol-powered tractors.

In 1926, Briton  Harry Ferguson set the template for farm tractors that’s still used worldwide today when he  applied for a patent for his three-point hitch. This led to a boon in tractor use, particularly when a rear power shaft was added, allowing the power take-off from the tractor to drive other machinery.

The Ferguson-Brown Company produced the Model A Ferguson-Brown tractor with a Ferguson-designed hydraulic hitch. In 1938 Ferguson joined h Henry Ford to produce the Ford-Ferguson 9N tractor.

In the US International Harvester and Massey Harris entered the tractor market.

More than a century later these names remain at the forefront of tractor manufacturing, particularly in the US, though with some variations to brands.


Big Bud

Still credited as the biggest farm tractor ever built, the custom-made Big Bud 747 was a one-off order filled in Havre, Montana, US, in 1977 by Ron Harmon’s Northern Manufacturing Company  for the Rossi Brothers , cotton farmers, of Old River, California, at a cost of $US300,000 and boasting 760 HP later boosted to 1100 HP.

It was used for 11 years for ripping fields and changed hands a few times before going on display at the Heartland Acres Agribition Center in Independence, Iowa.

Big Bud was a powered by a  massive Detroit Diesel engine  and in its working life made a meal of hauling a  350,000 lbs (158,757kg) 80 ft (24m) wide cultivator at 8 mph (12.8 kph).

It could be set up as an 8-wheel or 12-wheel unit.

With its 16-cylinder Detroit Diesel (16V92T) engine, Big Bud could keep up a fast pace, working more than one acre (half a hectare) per minute.

It was 27 ft (8.2 m) long, 20 ft (6.1 m) wide, 14 ft (4.3 m) tall and carried 1,000 litres (220 gallons) of fuel.

After ripping cotton fields in California for the Rossi brothers, followed by more ripping work in Florida, Big Bud returned to Montana after it was bought by the Williams brothers, and was put on display at the Heartland Museum.

In July 2020 Big Bud was on the move again, heading back to Montana in September for the Williams brothers.

But first, it was time for some new rubber;  Big Bud had not had new tyres since it was built in 1977 so 13,000 hours of work later it was time for new “boots.”

The original tyres, supplied by a Canada company were now out of stock. So the woners went for the Titan/Goodyear and the LSW 1400/30R46 model, the world’s largest ag tyres.

They were in stock but modifications would be needed: new wheels rims and spacers.

Each tyre weighed just over 680 kg and each wheel weighed just over 360 kgs.

The changeover operation took around four hours and Big Bud came up sparkling (below).

Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers which special in heavy equipment, rate Big Bud as the biggest of all time, with Versatile’s Big Roy 8-WD Model 1080 second, ahead of the AGCO Challenger MT975B, Case IH Steiger Quadtrac 62 and Upton HT14/350 2WD.

A web site has been dedicated to Big Bud, featuring videos of the massive machine in action.

Big Roy

At about the same time Big Bud went to work, Versatile Manufacturing Ltd was working on a massive tractor of its own; an 8WD Model 1080 tractor named “Big Roy” after Versatile company president Roy Robinson.

Big Roy was built in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, apparently with broadcare farming in Australia in mind. Unfortunately Big Roy never made it Down Under.

The unit was  30 ft (9.1 m) long, 22 ft (6.7 m) wide, 11 ft (3.3 m) high and powered by a 600 hp (447.6 kW) V-12 Cummins engine.

A design fault meant rear-vision was obscured by the engine sitting behind the cabin, so a closed circuit television was installed with a 120-degree camera relaying images of the drawbar to the TV monitor on the cab’s dashboard.

Big Roy was put on display at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum.

Versatile was the first company to mass-produce articulated 4WD tractors from 1966 and in 1977 launched the world’s first bi-directional tractor, the Versatile 150. It made a range of 4WD tractors in the 1980s, some of which found their way to Australia.

Hard times belted the company in the 1980s and it stopped making tractors in 1986. Two years later it was taken over by Ford-New Holland. Buhler Industries acquired the Winnipeg factory and the rights to the Versatile name when Case IH and New Holland merged and from 2000 badged the tractors as Buhler Versatile. In 2008, Buhler decided to again badge the tractors as Versatile.

Big Blue

As with the motor car, American engineer and businessman Henry Ford saw market potential for a mass-produced tractor.

From 1917 to 1920 Henry Ford and Son (Edsel) made a range of mass-produced general purpose tractors at their Dearborn, Michigan, factory under the Fordson brand. The Fordson was merged into the Ford Motor Company but the brand name remained until 1963.

The Fordson F and Fordson N

The Model F tractor, which succeeded the Model B, did for the country what the Model T car had done – made a machine affordable to ordinary people; in this case, farmers.

Fordson tractors were exported to Britain and Canada and progressively turned up in other countries. By 1925 Ford had built 500,000 Fordsons.

Fordson production in America ended 1928, replaced on the market by imported Irish and English models. The Fordson name was dropped altogether after 1964 and all the company’s tractors were simply branded Fords, still in predominantly blue livery. The Major and the Dexta were among the biggest selling Fordson models. In 1991 Ford sold its tractor business to Fiat and the Ford name disappeared, the blue tractors re-badged as New Holland.

Big Red

Farmall was the brand name used by International Harvester (formed by Cyrus McCormick in 1902) for its tractor range.

The first MorCormick Farmall tractor appeared in 1919. By 1936 Farmall tractors were painted red for safety reasons, replacing grey and marking the beginning of the “Big Red” era. Farmall was initially a specialist row-crop tractor, its wheels arranged in a triangular pattern allowing the front wheels to pass between the rows of crops.

1927 Farmall and the McCormack Farmall

The Farmall name was later dropped in favour of McCormick International.

The demise of the Big Red Internationals began in the 1960s when the drive lines on their new powerful 60 series tractors failed because they weren’t strong enough for the new engines. The competition heated up around this time with John Deere’s Power Farming line gaining great traction in the market.

Through the 70s and into the 80s IH increased the power through a variety of new lines, including the 50 Series that included the 136 hp (101 kW) 5088, the 162 hp (121 kW) 5288 and the 187 hp (139 kW) 5488. IH was among the first manufacturers to add a computer to a tractor.

The last IH tractor was produced in 1985. IH also sold other farm equipment, including balers, cultivators, combines, corn shellers, cotton pickers, manure spreaders, hay rakes, crop dusters, disk harrows, disc and ploughs.

By 1991 the IH farming business had passed into the hands of J.I. Case, and branded Case International .

The Case IH range today includes Steiger, Magnum, Puma, Maxxum, JXU, Quantum, Farmall and JX Straddle.

Going Green

John Deere remains a name synonymous with tractors and harvesters in their distinctive green livery.

John Deere, blacksmith and inventor, began his foray into farming in 1837 with a polished-steel plough produced at his Grand Detour, Illinois, workshop.

By 1848 the plough business was booming and John Deere moved operations to Moline, Illinois.

The company branched into tractors in 1948 with the takeover of Waterloo Boy tractors which were being outsold almost 70 to 1 by Fordsons.

The early John Deere look

Production of the R model, Deer’s first diesel tractor, began in 1947 starting a boom in tractor production to the point in 1963 when John Deere surpassed International Harvester as the world’s largest producer and seller of farm and industrial tractors and equipment.

By 2011 Deere was listed among the 50 most-admired companies by Fortune magazine and ranked as one of the 100 best global brands.

The company established factories for tractor and equipment production in India, Brazil, Argentina, Russia and China. Products also included excavation, road building and harvesting equipment.

In 2012 John Deere  released the  9R and 9RT Series tractors, its most powerful 4WD tractor and including 410 hp (261.5 kW) to 560 hp (411.7 kW) models.

The Deere name is also seen on other farming and earthmoving equipment.

Twin power

Before the development of the modern 4WD tractor, some manufacturers created massive tractors with two engines and two driving axles by joining two regular tractors together.

In the 1950s most farm tractors were in the 20-40 hp (14.7-29.4 kW) range, not strong enough for some applications, particularly on the larger farms of the United Kingdom.

Enter Essex farmer George Pryor with a solution. He bought two Fordson tractors, removing the front wheels and axles and linking the two by a turntable that provided the hydraulic steering action. The result: a double-engine 4WD tractor that could outperform the conventional tractors on the market.

  Double Fordsons

Essex Fordson dealers Ernest Doe & Sons built an improved version in 1958, calling it the Doe Dual Power, later changed to Doe Dual Drive. The unit produced 100 hp (73.5 kW) and a later project using two Ford 5000 tractors produced a unit of 130 hp (95.6 kW).

By the late 1960s mainstream tractor manufacturers had developed single-engine tractors capable of 100 hp (70 kW) and upwards, ending Doe production after more than 300 had been built.

Doubling up was also tried in Australia, using locally made Chamberlain tractors.

One innovator joined two Chamberlain Super 70 diesels similarly to the Fordson arrangement as a 4WD unit. Another was a heavily modified unit of 12 wheels (three axles with double wheels) powered by twin 671 Detroit engines that punched out 669 hp (492 kW).

Stating a case

Today, there are almost 200 production tractor brands world-wide. According to Ranker.com the top 10 makers are Deere, New Holland, Massey Ferguson, Case IH, Claas, Deutz-Fahr, Caterpillar, Ford, Kubota and Mahindra.

And the most powerful farm tractors are likely to have tracks rather than wheels.

The Case IH Steiger Quadtrac when turbocharged can output 680 hp (500 kW). The Case IH 620 eight-wheel tractor also comes with 680 hp (500kW). Five Quadtrack models rate above 500 hp (367.8 kW).

  Case Quadtrac

Up there with the best of them over the 600 hp (441.3 kW) mark is the New Holland T9.670 with 608 hp (447.2 kW).

Big wheels monster

Laying claim to being the biggest production 4WD articulated tractor is AGCO’s Challenger MT975B from the Challenger 900 series. It weighs in at more than 26 tonnes and comes with a fuel tank that can hold 330 gallons (1,500 litres).

   Challenger MT975B

It was supplied with a choice of tyres, from single to duals, even triples (12 wheels in total). It is not as big as Big Bud or Big Roy and was in production until 2010. Challenger still produces 900 series tractors, including special application versions up to 600HP.

The articulated Challenger MT975B  by AGCO, boasted 585 hp (430 kW) power output that increases to 632 hp (474 kW)  from its Caterpillar engine.

AGCO was established in 1990 when executives at Deutz-Allis bought out Deutz-Allis North American operations from the parent corporation KHD which had purchased parts of the Allis-Chalmers agricultural equipment business five years earlier.

The company was first called Gleaner-Allis Corporation, then re-arranged to be Allis-Gleaner Corporation, or AGCO

AGCO today produces four core brands: Challenger, Fendt, Massey Ferguson and Valtra.

   Fendt trisix

These massive tractors can be operated 24 hours a day and just one of them could replace a fleet of smaller tractors (and operators) that would be needed to cover the same ground in the same time.

Poles Apart

Seven Ferguson TE 20s (four petrol, three diesel) were used on the 1955–58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Some were converted to half-tracks with front skis and others were converted to full tracks and taken to the South Pole by Sir Edmund Hillary, the first vehicles to be driven to the Pole.

Sir Edmund bound for the Pole

The  legendary Kiwi mountaineer, explorer and philanthropist, caught a lift back home by trading one of the tractors for a ride aboard an American airplane leaving a U.S. research station at the Pole.

Sixty years later, a new modern Ferguson followed suit, driven from Europe in a nine-year odyssey by Dutch actress and adventurer Manon Ossevoort (referred to in the media as Tractor Girl).

A far cry from the little grey Fergie, the intrepid tractor this time was a modified big red Massey Ferguson MF 5610 Dyna-4, MFs most powerful three-cylinder diesel tractor at the time.

Hillary’s expedition  travelled with Ferguson TE20s, outfitted with tractor treads, on a course south from New Zealand. The Oosevoort expedition (Antarctica2) set out from a point south of Africa, at the Russian Novo Airbase.

Ms Oosevoport, then a mother of a 10-month-old baby, said the 6-day, 2,500 km trip across the largest mass of ice on earth from Russia’s Novo base to the Pole had been tough.

Ms Ossevoort (above) began her trip in 2005, taking four years to drive from her home village in Holland to Cape Town at the southern tip of Africa.

She told Australia’s ABC Radio that she missed the boat that was due to take her to Antarctica. She spent the next four years back in Holland where she began writing a book, worked as a motivational speaker and desperately tried to get back on a tractor to resume her Antarctic mission.

Massey-Ferguson and other companies came to the party and she eventually made the trip. Special trucks were included in the expedition.

Ms Ossevoort travelled alone through Africa. French mechanic Nicolas Bachelet shared the driving in Antarctica as the tractor needed to creep forward day and night without stopping. The final leg across Antarctica was in temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees C.

In one eight-hour shift the tractor faced soft, sinking conditions every few hundred metres but the MF 5610 and its drivers proved they were up to the challenge. By engaging the lowest gear and the diff lock, the tractor would climb out slowly and resume its progress, reaching the Pole on 9 December  2014.

Unlike Hilary, the Antarctic2 crew returned the way they came and once home  Ms Ossevoort started writing a children’s book and planning a movie documenting her journey.

“I think this is the best adventure on a tractor that one can come up with,” she said.

A video summary of the expedition can be found on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9rhsG8V8zg

Massey Ferguson today is a worldwide brand of AGCO.





Railways were soft targets
for ruthless thieves

Robbing trains was once a lucrative enterprise for criminals.

Trains were the vehicle of choice for transporting valuables when rail took over from the stagecoach; trains carrying money became “soft” target for robbers.

There was nowhere for a train to hide if under attack and attacked they were, frequently, in the 20th century.


Ledburn 1963                                                                          Ronald Biggs

The height of audacity was the Great Train Robbery in England when a gang of 15 robbers snatched 2.6 million pounds from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London on the West Coast Main Line on 8 August 1963, at Ledburn in Buckinghamshire.

That robbery put the name Ronald Biggs in the spotlight for decades.

Robbing trains was not a new thing at that time.
Notorious outlaw Jesse James is best remembered as a bank robber, but he was also one of the first bandits to hold up a moving train. His James-Young gang first struck on the evening of July 21, 1873, near Adair, Iowa, getting away with $US 3,000.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid seemed proficient at robbing trains; their Wild Bunch gang gained notoriety in 1899 when they robbed a mail train on the Union Pacific Railroad, taking $US 50,000.

Australia didn’t escape the train robbery phenomenon.

Robbers struck in Central NSW, fanning out from Sydney

There were at least three significant train robberies in NSW in the early 1900s; two involving mail trains and the other a railways pay car. One robbery turned particularly nasty when it claimed the lives of three railway men.

Amid an intricate series of arrests, charges and court cases, it was revealed that the three NSW cases were linked, the common denominator being George Arthur Morris, who, having admitted involvement, turned Crown witness in exchange for indemnity, only to be murdered by unknown assailants.

The first was the holdup of the Mudgee Mail train in the Blue Mountains in 1930. The next year the Canberra Mail was robbed. Ten years later, a railways pay car was blown up between Bargo and Moss Vale leaving three men dead. Morris was the common link.

He gave evidence against the three accused men in the two mail train cases.


In the trial of Joseph Harold Ryan over the Mudgee Mail robbery, this exchange occurred in the Sydney Quarter Sessions Court in October 1935:

Counsel for Ryan to Morris: You were a postal official at the time of the Canberra mail robbery?
Morris: Yes.
Counsel: Of your own free will you took part in the plans preceding the Mudgee Mail robbery and the carrying out of the robbery itself?
Morris: Yes.

Detectives told a newspaper they thought Morris, of Alexandria, Sydney, knew about most of the crimes in NSW committed since the Mudgee Mail robbery, including the fatal attack on a pay van.

Morris and other participants “lagged” on each other, money was never found, charges were dropped, people acquitted. Morris was shot dead and another suspect facing charges skipped bail. Rewards went unclaimed.

Police investigations led to very few convictions. Even in the case of Morris’s murder in 1944, no one went to jail, even though any number of suspects would have had a motive after he had implicated them in crimes when he turned Crown witness.

Three killed in pay car heist

A NSW Government Railways pay car (above) was blown up near Yanderra between Bargo and Moss Vale in 1941 on the main southern line, about 100 km from Sydney.

The car left Sydney carrying a payroll of 9,000 pounds (almost $700,000 in today’s dollar terms) for workers, mostly gangers along the line, starting at Campbelltown and heading for Goulburn.

Most of the money was in the safe which remained intact but to this day around a quarter of the money has not been accounted for, believed to have been taken by the bandits. It is also thought people nearby may have picked up some of the money that was blown about in the explosion. Bank notes and coins were scattered over a wide area.

No one has faced court. There were suspicions and accusations.

A newspaper noted: “Many aliens and discharged prisoners were questioned by police, soldiers on leave or absent without leave were interviewed and the movements of railways employees on leave and away from work were checked. The search for the bandits was extended all over Australia.”

The pay car was blown up just after midday on Monday, 8 December, on its regular fortnightly run along the line.

Two men were killed instantly in the explosion: George Sydney Randall (driver, of Marrickville aged 50) and Alfred Thomas Philpott (guard, of Ashbury, 52). A third, Frederick Walker (paymaster, of Elizabeth Bay, 53) died early the next day from his injuries.

The explosion was massive; the wrecked petrol-powered car was blown 12 metres down an embankment, two large holes were torn in the permanent way and the heavy rails lay twisted.

A driver of a goods train travelling from Goulburn to Sydney was the first to see the wreckage. As he stopped his train, he saw two men in shorts running from the wrecked pay car.

He left the fireman and guard to render first-aid and rushed to Bargo to get help.
Police were joined by other railway workers in the search for the bandits or clues, but to no avail.

The robbers (the number was not confirmed but there were at least two) placed explosives under the track, covered by metal discs. The explosives were detonated from a distance, according to reports to an inquest in October 1942.

It was thought dynamite was buried in the tracks and attached by an insulated wire to a battery that was discovered about 100m from where the explosion occurred.

The inquest was told a loaded troop train passed over the tracks not long before the pay car but was not the target of the attack.

The goods train driver who was first on the scene told the inquest one of the two men he saw running away appeared to be a foreigner: “He was very sun-tanned and looked like a foreigner. He wore khaki shorts, a dark singlet and was about 5ft 9in tall and of medium build. Both men were approximately the same age. They both had a good deal of hair.”

Berrima District Coroner, Mr. W. Terry, returned an open verdict after hearing the evidence. He said the outrage was the most wicked thing he had ever heard of. There was no doubt that whoever blew up the car had no value for human life. He paid a tribute to the detectives and police connected with the case.

The world by this time was in the grip of World War2, a number of reports noting that the train was blown up the same day as bombs rained down in Asia.

A reward of 1,500 pounds was offered over the pay car attack, to no avail.

A breakthrough in the Yanderra case appeared possible seven years after the explosion when bloodstained clothing, detonators and mailbags were found in a cave near Picton on the Melbourne-Sydney railway line.

A Sydney bushwalker discovered the items while walking with his dog in November 1948. However, two weeks later police discounted the discovery as being related to the robbery. They believed the articles were placed there recently by a practical joker.

The items had been subject to scientific examination and had not been in the cave for more than “a week or so.”

In the following years, police homed in a man they thought was a prime suspect, Lionel Charles Thomas.

It isn’t clear exactly how Thomas, described as a “gunman, swindler and convicted murderer,” came to be linked to the pay car robbery; he had form though.

Anything he did know about the case went to the grave with him. He took his own life in Long Bay Jail in September 1951 while serving a life sentence for the murder at Eden in February 1950 of Mrs Mary Phyllis Page. The body of Mrs Page, from Blacktown, west of Sydney, was never found.

After the robbery of the Mudgee Mail and Canberra Mail police also believed known criminal George Morris knew something about the Yanderra case. They expected him to eventually “spill the beans”, but he, like Thomas, didn’t live long enough to do so.

Lionel Charles Thomas – questions remain

Lionel Charles Thomas was arrested in Perth on 22 July 1950 and charged with the murder of Mrs Mary Phyllis Page, 50, a Blacktown (Sydney) widow.

He was apparently due to marry another woman, 19-year-old Dorothy May Truslove, in Perth the day after he was arrested. They had planned to have their honeymoon in New Guinea.

Mrs Page’s body was never found but a jury took only an hour to find Thomas guilty, based almost entirely on circumstantial evidence. He was sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment.

The Crown alleged Thomas had promised to marry Mrs Page and had persuaded her to transfer to him all her possessions. About the same time he had been “courting” Sydney woman Pearl Jackson, according to some reports. At the time he met Mrs Page he was using the name Fred Stephens.

Thomas was alleged to have murdered Mrs Page while on a trip to Eden on the NSW South Coast, after she had transferred the proceeds of the sale of her house to him.

Police evidence was that Lionel Thomas told them he shot and killed Mrs Page and disposed of her body. In his unsworn statement in court, Thomas denied it.
His appeal in 1951 was rejected.

Before he could be interviewed about where he disposed of Mrs Page’s body, he took his own life in Long Bay jail in Sydney on 11 September 1951. He was 45.

In a suicide note he said he was taking his life because he could not work at his trade as baker while in jail. He had at various times described himself as a baker, mechanic, bread cart driver and labourer. He was a convicted criminal with an extensive record.

Although police were yet to question him about several other offences, the one that stood out was the death of three railway employees when a pay van was blown up near Yanderra in 1941.

A Mirror newspaper report in August 1954 was in no doubt about the involvement of Thomas in that case.

Selby Burt wrote that while in prison serving a four-year sentence for the robbery of an elderly Kings Cross identity, Thomas hatched a plan to rob the pay van.
Burt wrote: “In prison he made plans, recruited assistants for the robbery which was to become an Australian classic. From a fellow convict, Thomas learned that a pay-car loaded with bullion passed along the main Sydney- Goulburn railway line early each Sunday morning. He learned also that the pay car was armoured and guarded by 3 armed men who had been Instructed to shoot to kill if ever attacked. The criminal did not like the idea of anyone shooting back at him, so he determined to destroy the guards before they could draw their guns. A tradesman hoodlum made a gelignite bomb for him; instructed him how to use an electric detonator. On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941 (morning on which there was another Infamous bombing— by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor) Thomas and an accomplice planted the bomb on a deserted section of the line near Yanderra. Hiding in the bush beside the line, they waited for the pay-car. When the car was over the bomb, Thomas pushed the plunger on the electric detonator. Bomb exploded, completely wrecking the pay-car and Killing the 3 guards riding with it. Two criminals then ran from the bush to gather the 12,000 pounds which they knew was in a safe In the car. Force of the bomb had scattered the money, however, and Thomas was able to find only 2,500 pounds before railway men from Yanderra, attracted by the noise of the explosion, arrived at the scene. With his companion, he made his escape and hurried back to Sydney, to vanish “in smoke” while the police of 3 States hunted him, 24 hours a day. Detectives were completely certain that Thomas had “master-minded” the triple murder and robbery, but they could find no evidence which would enable them to make an arrest.”

While the accuracy of that scenario has never been tested, there is no doubt Thomas was not a nice type.

His career of crime began in Melbourne in 1931 when he and a sister were arrested in raids that recovered stolen goods. Thomas and his sister’s husband were convicted of several house and shop break-ins.

From there his record included: Tried for murder four times; served six years’ jail for housebreaking; served four years for blinding a man in Kings Cross and robbing him; and dishonourably discharged from the Army for robbing a canteen (he joined the Army, ironically as a military police officer, using the alias Fred Stevens).

Police had wanted to question him about other matters as well as the Yanderra pay van attack.

Did he murder Pearl Jackson? Did he intentionally kill the stationmaster (Tom Norwood) at Carnegie railway station (Victoria) during an attempted hold-up in October 1934 when he was known as Thomas Croft?

In 1945, eleven years after the Carnegie shooting, Croft (Thomas) was arrested at Red Cliffs, Victoria, where he was working as a mechanic. He was charged with the murder of Tom Norwood.

Thomas said he took the gun to the railway station to bluff anyone who might come along. It got caught in the wire grill of the ticket office and went off several times. He said did not know that he had shot Norwood until he read it in the papers the next day.

After three trials where juries could not agree on a decision, Croft returned to NSW where he reverted to his original name, Lionel Charles Thomas, and continued his criminal career that led eventually to his arrest in Perth after he was known to have been in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney again.

Whether Thomas was involved in the Yanderra blast remains uncertain.

The Mudgee Mail – an inside job

The robbery of the Mudgee mail train on 8 April 1930 probably set in motion the chain of events that culminated in the killing of George Morris 14 years later.

The robbery was said to be an inside job, the plan allegedly hatched in Sydney by Roy Wilkinson, a 22-year-old railway worker who had been a porter on the Mudgee Mail.

The haul by the thieves when they robbed the train as it passed through the Blue Mountains west of Sydney on the way to Mudgee was put at 17,000 pounds in cash and cheques.

The money included pay for workers on the Mudgee and Coonabarabran railway line.

On April 17 the State Government Gazette advised: “Whereas shortly after 11pm on April 8, 1930, two armed men entered the guard’s van on the Mudgee Mail train which had just left the Emu Plains Railway Station, they bailed up the escorting porter and the guard, deprived the former of his revolver and forced open a steel chest. From the steel chest they stole two boxes and an attaché case containing the sum of 4,702 pounds in cash, and cheques to the value of 13,500 pounds, together with pay sheets and envelopes.”

Wilkinson knew about the fortnightly rail employees pay that was carried on the train.

In later court proceedings where Morris turned “King’s witness”, it was alleged Wilkinson told Joseph Harold Ryan, “a known gangster”, that the train could easily be robbed. Ryan, it was claimed, brought two other criminal associates, Arthur Collins and George Morris, into the plot.

The robbery was planned for the night of Tuesday, 8 April 1930, but Wilkinson was not rostered for escort work on that night. In his place were two other railway guards, Kenneth Allen and Albert Squires.



The robbers boarded the train at Emu Plains and struck on the first upgrade between Emu Plains and Glenbrook.

Wearing disguises, they bashed and bound the train’s guard, Squires, and took the weapon from the armed guard, Allen. The robbers slid the box across the floor and pushed it out of the door just before the train reached the Glenbrook tunnel. The two men followed it out.



It was later alleged the two robbers took the haul to a getaway-car driven by George Morris who was waiting a little further down the track. The money was hidden on Morris’s property at Mulgoa, near Penrith at the foot of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

The guard pulled the emergency alarm to stop the train. There was no sign of the robbers and the train continued to Glenbrook station.

Police searched the area for the robbers, only finding two “swaggies” who were camped by the Nepean River. The men were charged on minor offences but were considered not to have played any part in robbing the train.

Police found no trace of the robbers.

Collins found his way back to Sydney where he was later found to have taken part in a jewellery robbery. Ryan and Morris were linked to another train robbery; the Canberra Mail train was the target.

Collins was arrested over the jewellery theft and probably to save his bacon did a deal to inform on the other Mudgee Mail robbery participants, as well as the Canberra Mail robbery. He was given a suspended sentence and went into hiding as he’d already been bashed by three unknown assailants.

Based on the information from Collins, Wilkinson was charged, convicted and jailed for three years over his role in the Mudgee mail robbery, for which it was said he received just 50 pounds.

Morris also was given indemnity after “dobbing” on Ryan. He never faced trial, but Ryan was to figure prominently in subsequent events.

Another inside job?

Just a year after the Mudgee Mail robbery, bags containing 10,000 pounds in notes were taken from a Canberra-bound mail train at Queanbeyan on 1 May 1931.

Four men were charged and much of the money was recovered, some of it turning up as far afield as Bendigo in Victoria.

Officials in Canberra said at the time whoever was responsible for the robbery must have had intimate knowledge of the way in which the notes were periodically sent from Sydney to Canberra.

One of the men charged was Lancelot Verne Lynch, 31, a postal assistant.
Two of the other men charged were Arthur Collins, 30, a motor mechanic, and Joseph Harold Ryan, 31, motor driver.

The charges most probably resulted from evidence of a robber-turned-informer.
Collins and Ryan were charged with having stolen 10,000 pounds, property of the Postmaster General. The charges followed an extensive police surveillance operation based on the belief that someone with “inside knowledge” would have been involved.

The fourth man was James Caffrey, 30, labourer, who was charged with having received 200 pounds in bank notes knowing them to have been stolen. No evidence was given against Caffrey and at the request of the police he was discharged.

Ryan and Collins, along with George Morris already had been linked to the Mudgee Mail robbery.

Outlining the case at the start of the hearing at Central Police Court on 11 June 1931, police said that on 30 April, 10,000 pounds was sent from Sydney by registered mail to Canberra, but on arrival the mail bag that had been substituted for the original contained only telephone directories and paper.

Later, 7,000 pounds of the missing money was recovered from a farm near Penrith, and 200 pounds in five-pound notes was discovered in a deposit box under the name of Collins at the Commonwealth Bank.

A further 100 pounds was retrieved from Ryan’s flat, but Ryan would later deny claims it was part of the haul.

Morris turned up in the Canberra Mail case as a “King’s witness.” He and Percy Edward Jacobs gave evidence implicating Lynch and Ryan.

Jacobs, another postal employee, told the court he had met Lynch about three weeks before the robbery and in turn Lynch had introduced him to Ryan. He said Lynch had talked about “fixing the Canberra bag.”

Jacobs said he had seen mail bags that were to be used in the robbery.

Police alleged Ryan and Lynch went to Queanbeyan to see how the mail was handled at the station. They noted it was left unattended for a short time.
Police said the plan was hatched for Ryan to drive to Queanbeyan with a duplicate bag and swap it for the real bag while the mail was unattended. On April 30, the plan was executed.

By that time Jacobs had gone to Melbourne and police said he was no longer involved in the plot. It was noted Jacobs had been sentenced in Melbourne to 11 months jail on an unrelated matter.

The court heard that Lynch contacted George Morris, part-time postmaster and farmer at Mulgoa Road, near Penrith, to tell him of the plan. Ryan had driven to Morris’s house and given him the bag, allegedly telling him “I have got the money, I want you to smoke it.”

Evidence was that most of the money was buried in a tin about 100 m from the Morris house. Sometime later Morris allegedly took 200 pounds from the tin at Ryan’s request and given it to Collins. Still later, the court was told, Ryan asked Morris to take 2,000 pounds from the tin and give it to a man who would take it Melbourne where it could be exchanged.

Morris told the court he showed police where the tin had been buried.
Morris said he was compelled by Ryan to take part in the robbery; he feared that Ryan would tell people that he (Morris) was a convicted criminal. He was trying to live down his past.

There were some extraordinary twists to come.

Police went to Mascot airport to inspect a two-seater Sopwith plane said to be owned by the accused men. There was no money in the plane but, police said, it was ready to fly and one of the men held a pilot’s licence.

Ryan and Lynch were to face court again in July charged with having stolen the money and an alternative charge of having received stolen money.

Ryan, who had by then been charged over the Mudgee Mail robbery, failed to appear. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Police said they were searching extensively for Ryan but they did not hold out any definite hope of apprehending him immediately. There was no clue to his whereabouts; all his known “haunts” had been combed and all trains and shipping were being carefully watched.

Lynch pleaded not guilty when he appeared for trial in December.

The police case was that Lynch marked the bags with the notes in them at the GPO so they could be readily identified.

In a statement from the dock Lynch said he was innocent and denied he had been associated with Ryan, Morris or any other persons.

He said the Crown witnesses Jacobs and Morris had tried to “shelf” him to save their own skins.

Lynch denied he arranged to substitute a mail bag. He said he had no conversation with anyone regarding the taking of a mail bag. He said a statement by Jacobs that he had brought along a new mail bag wrapped in brown paper was a fabrication; he had never at any time given anyone a new mail bag, seals, or mail labels.

Lynch said he had never been to Queanbeyan; Picton was the farthest place on the southern line he had visited.

Morris was the chief witness in the case against Lynch, admitting that some of the stolen money had been recovered from his land but said he had not been charged in relation to it or the Mudgee Mail case, despite admitting in cross-examination in another hearing that he had taken part.

Lynch’s trial ran for five days. The jury deliberated for about two hours and their “not guilty” verdict was greeted with applause from the gallery.

With Ryan still missing, the charges against Arthur Collins were heard.

In July, Collins pleaded guilty to having concealed knowledge of the theft of 10,000 pounds, the property of the Commonwealth Bank. It was the first charge of its kind (concealing knowledge of a crime) laid in Australia.

Collins was “bound over” to be of good behaviour for two years. The court heard police were satisfied Collins had nothing to do with the actual robbery; he was apparently sorry for what he had done and intended to make another start in another country. He was advised to do so as soon as possible.

Reports abounded about the whereabouts of Ryan. It was said he was possibly in England, other parts of Europe or even in the United States.

One newspaper report said he had been located in America “where he is said to be doing well.” He had not been seen since 21 July 1931, at the Sydney Quarter Sessions Court.

As it turned out, after four years absence Ryan turned himself in to police on 19 June 1935. He said he had been in England.

The Crown Prosecutor told Judge Curlewis the next day: “This man’s trial was listed for July 1931. He disappeared and visited England and now he has turned and given himself up to the police. I formally ask that he be committed for trial without bail.”
Ryan sought bail but Judge Curlewis said: “I will refuse bail and as far as I am concerned it’s for all time”.

With that, Ryan prepared for trial. But there were to be more sensational turns of events.

First, on Thursday 1 August after a four-day hearing, two charges – of stealing and having received the stolen 10,000 pounds in banknotes from the Canberra Mail – Ryan was acquitted.

Counsel for Ryan described Jacobs and Morris as “unmitigated liars,” his concluding words being: “The rotten house the Crown has built you would not hang a dog on.”

Summing up, Judge Curlewis told the jury that Jacobs and Morris, two of the main Crown witnesses, had been accomplices and it would be dangerous for the jury to convict on such uncorroborated evidence of accomplices, particularly when the pair were “so lost to decency and honour as they were.” He regretted that he had to express himself so strongly.

Though acquitted on those charges, Ryan was remanded in custody; there was still another matter to be dealt with.

The final rounds for Ryan

  Joseph Ryan

Ryan’s trial for his alleged role in the Mudgee Mail train robbery began in the Quarter Sessions Court on 8 October 1935.

The indictment read: “That on April 8, 1930, at Emu Plains, Ryan, being armed with a revolver, assaulted Albert Ernest Squires and Kenneth Aubrey Allen, and robbed them of four securities, an automatic pistol, a revolver, and money amounting to 4,703 pounds, 11 shillings and 10 pence.”

Ryan pleaded not guilty.

The Crown prosecutor said that on the night of 8 April two men entered the guard’s van of the Mudgee Mail, held up the guard and his escort, broke open the safe while the train was ascending a steep grade, threw the valuables on to the track, and jumped off.

The Crown alleged that the two men who actually committed the robbery were Ryan and Collins, in association with a third man, Morris (a Crown witness), who met them with his car at the rendezvous where they left the train.

Mr. Curtis, for Ryan, said his case was Morris, not Ryan, was in the guard’s van with Collins on the night of the hold-up.

He said the Crown case rested on evidence of two accomplices, Morris and Collins, whom he described as “crooks.” Out of a desire to save themselves they were more likely to drag in Ryan because of their expectation of favour from the Crown.

In a statement from the dock, Ryan said he was absolutely innocent, that Collins and Morris were lying and trying to put their crime on himself to save themselves. He said he was in Sydney at the time he was supposed to be with them. Around that time he had won “a lot of money” at the races.

Witnesses gave evidence that they had attended a funeral on the afternoon of 8 April with Ryan.

After six days of evidence, the jury determined on 15 October following 12 hours of deliberation that they could not agree on a verdict.

Ryan was remanded in custody for a new trial that began on 28 November 1935.
The new jury inspected the scene of the robbery near Emu Plains. Evidence given by railway and bank officials at Ryan’s first trial was read to the jury.

But one of the key Crown witnesses, Arthur Collins, had disappeared and could not be found.

At the previous trial, Collins sought to be excused from giving evidence on the ground that his answers might incriminate him but eventually had given evidence against Ryan.

The Crown Prosecutor said it was significant that after the Incident Ryan made large deposits in the bank under different names. It was clear, the prosecutor said, that Ryan at that time had come into possession of a considerable sum of money, and his disposition of it was of such a nature as to be consistent with it being stolen money. Ryan, however, said the money was from betting wins and several bookmakers gave evidence of Ryan’s betting activity.

Albert Ernest Squires, a guard from the train, said Ryan was not like the man who had held him up.

This time the jury reached agreement. Ryan was not guilty.

Cleared of the two mail train robberies, that left Ryan to face the charge of murdering George Morris.

In 1944 George Morris, “well known to police”, was murdered while sitting in a car in High Street, Miller’s Point, Sydney.

Reports were that Morris, 44, was lured to Millers Point on the evening of Tuesday 28 March 1944 by a phone call from an unknown person.

High Street Millers Point

A dozen shots were fired at him from close range as he sat in his car. His body was found by a milkman the next morning.

In November 1944, the City Coroner committed Ryan, wharf labourer of Jacques Avenue, Bondi, to stand trial on the murder charge.

The Crown case seemed to depend upon motive; Morris had given evidence against Ryan, and Ryan’s trial was pending at the time.

Ryan said he met Morris in 1929 and had remained friendly with him until 1931 when Morris gave evidence against him.

Most significantly, Ryan had an alibi. He was, he said, at work on Howard Smith’s wharf at the docks at the time Morris was killed.

This was backed up by two dock workers who said Ryan had worked through the night of 28 March from 9 pm. Morris was shot around 9.20 pm, according to residents who heard shots.

The Solicitor-General directed that “no bill” be filed in the case.

A 2,000 pounds reward over the murder of Morris was never claimed. And police never got to find out what Morris knew about the Yanderra case.
That was that Ryan; he wasn’t guilty of anything in a series of crimes to which he had been linked spanning a decade.

No stolen money was recovered. It is believed Ryan died in 1952.

FOOTNOTE 1: Judge Herbert Raine Curlewis, who heard the charges against Ryan over the Canberra Mail robbery died on 13 October, aged 73. He retired in 1939. A tribute said of him: “He was the greatest judge that sat in any jurisdiction. Any person with the semblance of a case could rely on every consideration”. He was married to novelist Ethel Turner. Their son Adrian Curlewis also became a legal practitioner and District Court judge in NSW.
Adrian Curlewis’s Army service saw him rise to the rank of Captain. Captured in Malaya, as a prisoner of war he was put to work by the Japanese on the Thai-Burma Railway.
Among many community service leadership roles after the war, he was the long-time president of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia. He was knighted in 1967. Sir Adrian Curlewis died in 1985.

FOOTNOTE 2: The biggest train robbery in American history was the work of the “Newton Boys,” four Texas brothers who robbed at least 60 banks and six trains during their criminal careers. The biggest heist was on the night of June 12, 1924. Working on a tip from a crooked postal inspector, two of the Newton brothers boarded a mail train on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. They pointed guns at the engineer, and forced the train to stop near Rondout, Illinois. The rest of the gang was waiting in cars.
The robbers threw bottles of noxious formaldehyde into the windows of the passenger cars, leaving the train’s 17 armed mail clerks incapacitated. When the guards surrendered, the robbers fled with mail sacks containing a $US 3 million in cash and bonds. In the confusion of the getaway, one of the robbers shot one of the Newton brothers several times. The robbers were later arrested after they tried to get medical assistance in Chicago


Room mate charged, exonerated


Newspapers around Australian reported the horrific death of Johanna (Hannah) Kelly in Armidale just before Christmas in 1908.
Reports of the investigation and later court hearings were carried almost daily.
The murder shocked the local community and the national audience. Most reports referred to it in headlines as the Armidale Tragedy or Armidale Murder.
Hannah Kelly’s throat was cut as she lay in her bed at an Armidale Hotel where she worked. She died there.
Her room mate sleeping in a bed in the same room was the first suspect. Agnes O’Leary, who was woken by the attack on her roommate, was charged but the charge was later dismissed. The pair were said to be best of friends, having worked together at De La Salle College in Armidale before going to work at the Central Hotel.
Hannah Kelly it was said had suffered various health problems. Agnes O’Leary helped Hannah Kelly get a job at the hotel.

The Central Hotel

Hannah Kelly and Agnes O’Leary shared room 16 at the Central Hotel on the corner of Jessie and Rusden Streets Armidale on the morning of Sunday 13 December 1908.

The window of their room overlooked Jessie Street. They had said their prayers on Saturday evening and gone to bed.

Hannah had gone to Armidale from her hometown, Murrurundi, in the Upper Hunter Valley of NSW, about 200 km away.

Reports she had just become engaged to be married and the ring was under her pillow on the Saturday night.

Her roommate, Agnes O’Leary had been in Armidale for a year. She had come from Goondiwindi in southern Queensland, about 300 km from Armidale and was about 19 years old.

A newspaper report recorded the following under the heading “A terrible  tragedy”: A cold blooded murder was perpetrated at the Central Hotel, Armidale, early this morning, a girl named Hannah Kelly, employed as a waitress at the hotel, having her throat cut from ear to ear while lying asleep in bed. The deed was witnessed by another servant girl, who was awakened by a gurgling noise. Her screams caused the man who had committed the murder to hastily decamp by way of the window. The police have made an arrest on suspicion. The Central Hotel, which is situated in Rusden Street, is one the leading hotels and a large number of persons slept on the premises. About 4 o’clock this morning the boarders and others were awakened by the awful screams which were issuing from the room occupied by the two waitresses. An investigation disclosed that a horrible murder had been committed. No time was lost in acquainting the police.
The room mate of the murdered girl having recovered from the shock told her story in a few words. She stated that at about 4 o’clock she was awakened be hearing a gurgling noise, and when her eyes became accustomed to the gloomy light, she saw a man standing over Miss Kelly’s bed. Realising that a terrible tragedy was being enacted, she gave vent to agonising screams. The man instantly made a rush for the window through which he sprang, and disappeared from view.

The person arrested “on suspicion” was not a man but was revealed to be Hannah Kelly’s room mate, Agnes Sophie O’Leary.

Recollecting events some 20 years later, a former detective who was sent from Sydney by the Inspector-General of Police for the investigation, said the first question the local police chief put when he arrived on the scene was to Agnes O’Leary: “Why did you do it?”

As was the practice at the time in such cases, a Coroner’s inquest before a jury of six (businessmen in this case) was convened later on the day of the murder.

Agnes O’Leary was in police custody but not charged when she attended the inquest.

She found herself attending sittings of the Coroner’s inquiry and Police Court often held on the same day in the Armidale courthouse, before a packed courtroom,

The inquest was adjourned to Monday 14 December and after the court closed on Sunday, Agnes O’Leary appeared before the Police Court, was charged and remanded to Friday 18 December.

The inquest resumed on the Monday and was adjourned also to Friday 18 December from where it continued into Saturday.

On the Saturday, police officers related what Agnes O’Leary had told them, including that when she was awoken by gurgling noises as if someone was snoring, she saw a man standing over Hannah, holding her by the arm. Agnes said that when she screamed the man brushed passed her and went out through a window.

Police also related evidence given by other people, including a Mrs Mary McKenzie, (described as a “very old married lady”) who said at about daylight on Sunday morning she saw someone running very fast past her house in nearby Barney Street, possibly in the direction of the hospital.


After the first full day of evidence at the inquest, one newspaper reported: “The inquest … so far reveals no telling evidence against Miss O’Leary, occupant of the same bedroom. Analysis shows no blood on Miss O’Leary’s pocket knife or clothing. The mystery deepens every turn.”

Police asked Police Magistrate Corbett Lawson, also sitting as Coroner if he would like Miss O’Leary to give evidence to the inquest. Argument followed about whether she should give evidence while police inquiries were continuing.

Police sought an adjournment of the inquest, which was granted to Monday 21 December.

On the Monday, the Coroner heard further evidence, including that of another guest at the hotel and the hotel owner.
Both reported that Miss Kelly was alive when they arrived in the room after hearing screams. One said that Miss Kelly was waving her arms around and the other said she held Miss Kelly’s hand until the police arrived.

The Coroner noted there was “no hint of a weapon” found.
He told jury members if that they did not know who committed the murder they must return an open verdict.
That’s what the jury did.

A journalist reported: “The jury retired at 2.30 and in five minutes returned with the verdict that the deceased, Johanna Kelly, was wilfully murdered on Sunday, December 13, at the Central Hotel Armidale by person or persons unknow. But there is no evidence before the jury to show by whom.”

The Coroner asked: “That exculpates all the persons who have been at this inquest?”

The foreman replied: “I wanted to make it emphatically clear, but the jury prefer to leave it as it is.”

In the Police Court, hearing of the charge against Agnes O’Leary began on Monday 21 December when magistrate Mr Corbett Lawson directed that she be held in the lock-up rather than the jail and be well looked after, adding she should not have been in the jail in the first place.

The prosecution sought a further remand of eight days.

The magistrate was told of the inquest jury’s verdict and asked on what basis a remand was being sought.

The prosecutor replies that he was instructed to do so by his superintendent.

The magistrate responded: “Where is the superintendent? Why doesn’t he stand his ground now like a man? Six sane men have just given their unbiased opinion and on that account he evidently ran away.”

He added: “I must say now that Agnes O’Leary was improperly before the Coroner’s Court. If an arrest had to be made she should have first been brought before the Police Court and remanded to the Coroner’s Court.”

The police officer replied: “That verdict has nothing whatever to do with the present police case, which charges the girl with suspicion of having committed the murder.”

The magistrate: “Why not withdraw your case. You can then easily recharge the girl. She should not be left in prison.”

The police officer said it was feared the girl might not be around when she was required – “(she) may be in Queensland or the Gulf of Carpentaria.”

A remand was needed “to make further inquiries; this is a serious case, and I cannot withdraw it,” the officer said.

Magistrate Lawson responded: Although six good men and true told you there was no evidence against the girl, still you persist there is. The whole things is an absurdity. I suppose the police would like an adjournment for two to two three months while they are hunting about for supposed evidence. I consider their action a most unjust one.”

The superintendent then arrived in court and asked for an adjournment of eight days.

The magistrate: A remand for eight days is out of the question.

He granted a remand until the Thursday albeit reluctantly – “and not a moment longer”. He added: If you are not in a position to go on with the case I will strike it out.

On the Thursday morning police again sought a remand of eight days but conceded no further evidence had been elicited.

Magistrate Lawson was emphatic: I must again refer to the fact that six good men and true of integrity and character returned a verdict before me as Coroner a few days ago that Hannah Kelly had met her death at the hands of a person or persons unknown, there not being sufficient evidence against Agnes O’Leary to warrant her being detained in custody. I therefore discharge Agnes O’Leary from custody.

Loud and prolonged applause from the packed courtroom greeted the decision. Agnes’s mother and sister had travelled to Armidale for the hearings.

The detective sent from Sydney later recalled that after two days of his own investigation he was “fully convinced that the local police had bungled the whole matter and could not justify the charging of Miss O’Leary.”

That was that for Agnes O’Leary, but there was still no answer to the question: Who murdered Hannah Kelly?

The Armidale Tragedy 

pART 2

Henry Casey confesses

Hannah Kelly’s shocking murder in a room at the Central Hotel in Armidale on the early morning of Sunday 13 December 1908 went unsolved for more than a year before there was a stunning breakthrough.
A 26-year-old man arrested in Grenfell NSW on vagrancy charges confessed to police there that he had murdered the girl in Armidale in December 1908.
Henry Casey made a comprehensive statement. He was taken back to Armidale where he was formally charged with murder and faced court.
Henry Casey was found in the railway yards at Grenfell, about 600 km from Armidale.

Grenfell railway yards in 1910

The arresting Constable said he had told Casey: “You appear to have had trouble’ to which Casey replied “Yes, I murdered Hannah Kelly at the Central Hotel”.

A newspaper report said there was scepticism about his confession to the murder, which he told police had been troubling him mentally: “At first it was thought that Casey was the victim of hallucination, and not much faith was attached to his extraordinary admissions.”

Nevertheless, a statement was taken. He was held on a vagrancy charge and the matter reported to Armidale police.

There, further investigations game some credence to Casey’s story. He was as he claimed in the area at the time and apparently could have been in Armidale on the night of the murder. Some discrepancies needed to be investigated though.

After receiving a report from investigators in Armidale and detectives from Sydney, the Inspector-General of Police in NSW directed that Casey be charged with murder.

He was remanded in custody at Grenfell to appear in the Armidale court. He was taken to Sydney and then to Armidale by train where the formal charge was laid: that he feloniously and maliciously murdered Johanna Kelly at Armidale on 13 December 1908.

The text of the confession was not made available immediately but the Inspector-General noted that Casey had said he intended to murder someone else.

A report of the charged noted: “Casey apparently is a quadroon (a term used at the time to describe a person having one-fourth aboriginal ancestry, with one aboriginal grandparent). He has been travelling over the country since the murder and has been worrying.”

The committal hearing of the murder charge began on Friday 7 January before Police Magistrate Mr. G. Atkin, and a packed courthouse. A reporter noted that Casey’s demeanour throughout the hearing was “strange.”

He was not asked to plead, and depositions taken at Grenfell were read. He described himself as a labourer, moving around the country looking for work.

Casey’s deposition told of his movements and actions at the time of the murder, recorded by a newspaper reporter: “Casey said he had been at Armidale three weeks before Christmas in 1908. He had been cutting wood for a man whose name he thought was George Clark. He worked there for three days before the murder and for five days after.”

He said he’d gone into Armidale on the Saturday evening and walked about before buying a bottle of whiskey at a hotel.

He couldn’t recall the name of the hotel but it was the first one on the Guyra road entering Armidale (from the north). He laid down in a reserve for about four hours then went back into town and walked around looking for somewhere to get a drink but found all the hotels closed. It was about 4 o’clock in the morning.

The main street of Armidale, early 1900s

He said he went to a hotel on a corner where he found a door open and went upstairs.

He had seen a woman standing on a balcony, saying it was the woman he had seen taking money from his pocket at a hotel in Queensland, so he decided to kill her.

He went out on to the balcony after she went inside and lay down for about 20 minutes.

He then went into the room and saw a woman lying on her side. He drew a razor across her throat and blood spurted about.

He said he went out of the window and into the back yard of the hotel. He didn’t think there was anyone in the other bed in the room.

He went back to work at the Clarks for five days and said he had heard Mrs Clark reading out details of the murder from a newspaper.

After finishing work there, he travelled extensively around country NSW over several days before going into Queensland. He returned to NSW and went to Grenfell where he said he gave himself up because the murder was troubling him.

Investigating officers gave evidence to the Police Court that included Casey being taken around Armidale tracing his movements leading up to the murder. He had told one of the officers he had lost the razor he used sometime after he left the area. He said he didn’t have much blood on him but had buried this shirt on the way back to the Clark property and once there washed his hands.

One officer reported that Casey seemed to be unclear on features of the Central Hotel telling him at one stage “This is not the hotel, it looks too large.” When inside he had remarked that some work must have been done on it (it had not).

Ernest (not George as Casey had thought) Clark also gave evidence saying that he recognised Casey as a man who had worked for him at his property on the Glen Innes road to the north of Armidale and had given the name of Tom.

The magistrate formally charged Casey with murder and committed him to stand trial, noting that the main evidence against him was his confession and that if not guilty Casey certainly was not fit to be at large.
Casey said he had nothing to say.

When he appeared for his trial to begin on Thursday 28 April 1910 , his was one of six murder cases from around New England to be heard by Judge Cohen at the sittings.

Casey pleaded guilty.

The proceedings were reported as follows:

Mr. Chubb, instructed by Mr. H. Weaver, appeared on accused’s behalf.
His Honour (to accused) : Are you aware of the full import of the plea of guilty?
Accused: Yes.
His Honour: Do you understand that your life may be forfeited?
Accused: Yes.
His Honour : You thoroughly understand it?
Accused: Yes.

Mr. Chubb told the judge the plea was given in entire contradiction to advice.

It placed him (Mr. Chubb) in a difficult position, he said, as he would have had a jury decide whether Casey was in a fit state to plead or not. He said three local doctors were prepared to swear that the accused was delusional as to personality and that he fully believed he committed the crime.

He said the doctors were strongly of that opinion regarding Casey being delusional but would not say that Casey was absolutely insane.

Mr Chubb submitted to the judge that the provisions of section 304 of the Crimes Act “might be availed of” and that the trial be postponed to a future Court, pending the obtaining of professional experts on insanity.

Asked if he would withdraw his guilty pleas, Casey answered “no”.

His Honour: I strongly advise you to do so, for the present at any rate. I would then remand you for further observation by experts on the question of insanity. I don’t wish to pass sentence of death on you when there may be a doubt as to whether you are the man who actually committed the murder. Will you withdraw your plea?

The accused: (laughing) No.

Counsel and Casey went into a further discussion and after some minutes Mr Chubb announced that Casey would withdraw his plea.

His Honour: I am pleased to hear that. I postpone the trial to such other court as the Attorney-General appoints in order that the accused may be examined by experts on sanity. The position is a most extraordinary one.
The court adjourned sine die (without fixing a day for future action).
Details of Casey’s case were sent to Sydney for evaluation and he was sent to Darlinghurst Reception Centre (below) to undergo examination and assessment.

A newspaper report noted: “ no one seems more satisfied with his surroundings than he does.”

The next that was heard of Henry Casey was a small notice in the New South Wales Police Gazette and Weekly Record of Crime on Wednesday 8 February 1911: “Sydney – Henry Casey, charged with the murder of Johanna Kelly at Armidale on or about the 13th December 1908 was found to be insane and dealt with under the Lunacy Act. He was not brought to trial.”

Casey never faced trial. The evidence against him was his own confession – the confession of a man found to be insane.

The question remains – did he do it? On the balance of probability in the absence of any other suspects or evidence, yes.

NSW death records show that Henry Casey died in a mental hospital in the Parramatta district in 1932, aged 50.

Johannah Kelly’s brother travelled to Armidale to collect his sister’s body. A large crowd followed the cortege to Armidale railway station where she was taken back to Murrurundi for burial in the Catholic cemetery.

Murrurundi cemetery

Agnes O’Leary continued working in domestic service in the Armidale area.

FOOTNOTE: If Casey had gone to trial and been found guilty, he almost certainly would have been hanged, probably in Armidale.

Armidale courthouse Late 1800s

The Armidale courthouse was one of 10 in NSW where hangings were carried out between 1870 and the 1930s.

According to the capitalpunshimentuk.org web site, six people were hanged at the Armidale in that time, the first in 1874 and the last in 1912.



RESEARCHER’S NOTE: This material is based on the many newspaper reports carried at the time, Government archive material and cemetery records. It should be noted that some newspapers carried reports of proceedings daily while others reported less frequently, which made cross-checking some dates of court proceedings inexact.



The Bob Everett story – or part of it

The name Everett is familiar to the people of the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia.
There is an Everett Street in the town of Guyra and one of the Guyra School’s “houses” was named Everett.
The Everetts – George, William and Edwin – were among the earlier settlers and graziers in the area., their properties including Ollera and Tenterden.
But one member of the Everett family made a name for himself in two quite different pursuits. Unfortunately, his story is not a complete picture. There are enough highlights though for a ripping yarn, and just a touch of mystery.
Robert William Hanmer (Bob) Everett was a decorated pilot from WW2, awarded the DSO for bravery and the first pilot to register and enemy kill from a new British ship-based aircraft launch tactic. He was also the winning jockey of the 1929 English Grand National Steeplechase aboard 100-1 chance Gregalach in a record field of 66 starters in that year’s race at Liverpool.
From living on a farm near Guyra as a child, to joining the war effort in England and his death on 26 January 1942 when his Hurricane crashed on a beach in Wales, details are sketchy. Not even his war record gives the complete picture.
Just how his birth in Tenterfield and early years near Guyra led to all this is something of a mystery in terms of historical records.
Even where apparent facts are given, close checking reveals they may not be entirely accurate.

This is part of the Bob Everett story. There are many gaps.

Robert William Hanmer Everett was born on 29 May 1901, in Tenterfield. His parents were Colonel William Frank and Charlotte (nee Hickson) Everett.

Bob Everett was the eldest son. His father was District Engineer in the Armidale and Glen Innes district for four years as roads were being built for the introduction of motorised traffic. He later was owner of the Tenterden Station, a large property near Guyra.

Some information can be gleaned from newspapers of the time and various organisations specialising in historic events, however, because Bob apparently left the district around the age of 10, there are some unknowns.

It was reported that as a boy he was taught to ride at Tenterden by a Mr Parker, one writer noting Mr Parker’s horse often came home without the rider.
Presumably he went to school in the Guyra-Tenterden district.

Another report said Bob had been “put in the navy” as a boy but had preferred riding horses. Yet another report said he joined the Army after he left the Guyra district but gave no indication of where he went other than to say that he “gave up the army and took up land in Africa.”

A later report said he went to South Africa where he was a farmer and amateur jockey. It doesn’t appear in dispute that he went to South Africa, a possible link being that his father had fought as an Australian officer in the Boer War there (1899-1902) at the rank of captain.

A report in England said Bob emigrated there in 1928, aged 27. Presumably, he took up riding racehorses – steeplechasers –  and had several wins as an amateur before becoming a professional jockey.

On 22 March 1929, aboard Gregalach, Bob Everett lined up in a record field with 65 other starters for the Grand National at Liverpool. Aboard the least fancied of Tom Leader’s five runners, at the lucrative odds of 100-1, Everett rode Gregalach home a six lengths winner over the solidly backed Easter Hero. He won high praise for his horsemanship in the heavy going. The horse was owned by a Scottish woman.


A report noted: “Gregalach became the second successive 100-1 shot to win the Grand National. The horse was given such lengthy odds having fallen at Sandown just eight days prior to the race at Aintree. Gregalach’s jockey Robert Everett rode a clever race in which he gradually gained ground on the leaders and overtook the legendary Easter Hero on the second to last fence, before winning the race by six lengths.”

The race was billed as the “greatest steeplechase in the world,” with prizemoney of almost 13,000 English pounds; probably about $US 2.3 million today.

Sixty-six horses started the gruelling (for horse and rider) 4.5 miles (7.2 km) race. They all charged to the first obstacle and a reporter noted that “miraculously all made it safely over. But by halfway the field had fallen away to 22 and only seven crossed the finish line, having successfully negotiated the 30 obstacles on the course.
Bob Everett posted another important career victory five years later when he won the 1934 Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Poolgowran.

What Bob Everett did in the intervening years isn’t clear, but it is likely he continued as a jockey as he is recorded as having ridden in six Grand Nationals. An interest in flying was also apparent as he had learnt to fly not long before he won the 1929 Grand National.

He was on Gregalach again the following year, this time a 15-1 chance. But he came unstuck when a “loose horse” interfered and brought down both Gregalach and Bob Everett. A year later, Gregalach was runner up, not ridden by Bob Everett this time.

It was reported that also in 1934 Bob Everett entered a plane in the MacRobertson Air Race from Mildenhall, England to Melbourne, as part of Melbourne’s centenary celebrations.

This gets a bit confusing. It was stated that Robert and his father (William) owned  a de Havilland Puss Moth light plane (similar to the one pictured) based at Redhill Flying Club and Bob was entering it in the race with celebrated South Australian flyer Jimmy Melrose.

Later, it was said the trip was completed in 120 hours that included a stopover in Darwin when the plane ran out of fuel.

However, other reports of the race that seem reliable said Melrose (flying a de Havilland Puss Moth) was the only solo pilot in the race and the list of entries published in Australian newspapers did not show Bob Everett among them.

It was noted in a 1940 report that Bob had obtained a commercial pilot’s licence to keep him busy during the off-season for steeple chasers.

If as a boy Bob had forsaken the navy for horse riding it was somewhat unusual as it is revealed in service records that in October 1940 he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and Fleet Air Arm, serving with 760 Air Squadron at HMS Heron, Yeovil Town. Of course, that may have had something to do with the outbreak of war and his possible previous naval experience.

Yet another report notes: Later he volunteered for 804 Naval Air Squadron, which for a time supplied pilots for fighter catapult ships and CAM ships. While he was on HMS Maplin, a Condor (German long-range Focke-Wulf Fw 200) over the Atlantic. was sighted on 1 August 1941 and Everett’s Hawker Hurricane was launched (catapulted into the air by rocket). After a hard fight, the Condor was shot down with Everett’s last shots (“By this time I had reached the starboard bow and three machine guns opened up as well as the forward cannon. I did a quick turn to port and opened up just abaft the beam I fired five second burst at this range and my guns were empty”).
He managed to ditch near to HMS Wanderer which was escorting the nearby convoy. Bob Everett (referred to sometimes as Lt or Lieut Col) was awarded the DSO for this action.

  St Dona’s

Robert (Bob) William Hanmer Everett died on active service on 26 January 1942 when his Hurricane crashed on the beach at Llanddona, Anglesey, Wales. He is buried at St Dona’s Church, Llanddona.
There are no readily verifiable records of a marriage or children.

The Catapult ships

Fighter catapult ships, also known as Catapult Armed Ships, were an attempt by the Royal Navy to provide air cover at sea for important supply convoys.

Five ships were acquired and commissioned as Naval vessels early in the Second World War and were used to accompany Atlantic convoys.

The concept was extended to merchant ships, some also equipped with rocket assisted launch systems and known as Catapult Aircraft Merchantmen (CAM ships).

The lone survivor of the five was the former Ocean Boarding Vessel, Maplin. She served in the Atlantic during 1940.

  Ready for launch

Maplin‘s duties were focused on Atlantic convoys and her “Hurricat” (a Hawker Hurricane converted for the specialised task) was the first to destroy an enemy aircraft, a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 “Condor” in August 1941. The pilot was Robert W H Everett of 804 Naval Air Squadron.

Planes were launched by a rocket firing system. Usually the Hurricane fighter would be lost as the pilot had to bail out or ditch in the ocean near the convoy after engaging the enemy.

The risks were high for the pilots; it was “‘Catapult Off – Parachute Back” to wait in the sea to be picked up by one of the escorts.

The catapult ships eventually were replaced by aircraft carriers which allowed planes to return after missions.

The Everetts in northern NSW

Ollera homestead circa 1860

Bob’s father, William, was the son of George Everett, who with brother John settled in the Northern Tablelands at Ollera in 1838 after arriving from England.

Carrying letters of introduction (their father, Joseph Hague Everett, was a former member of the House of Commons), George and John travelled up the Hunter River and from there ventured north across the Liverpool Plains, over the Moonbi Range, eventually arriving at the site at which the Ollera homestead was established. George was then only 27 and John 22.

The Ollera property was one of the largest holdings in the north of the state at that time, extending almost to the Guyra lagoon in the south (over about 20km), to Ben Lomond in the north, taking in Moredun Creek and Llangothlin.

After marking out the station, the brothers returned to Sydney, bought 450 sheep and registered the property.

Back at Ollera they were in for a shock. Within a couple of hours of returning they were held up at rifle point by bushrangers led by Richard Young, known as “Gentleman Dick”.

The bushrangers took the Everetts’ belongings and horses, and fled. Press reports said John was sent south to report the theft and get more horses, walking all the way to Currabubula (200 km). There, he learnt that the bushrangers had been captured. He also found police had his horses and belongings.

In 1842 George and John were joined by another brother, Edwin, and the property was registered in their joint names.

They started with 450 sheep and by 1854 Ollera, which by then extended to 74,800 acres (302 sq kms), carried 8,000 sheep and 1,200 cattle.

The Everetts brought migrant families to their property, settled them as shepherds and encouraged them to provide farm produce and services for the station. Some of the families remained on the station for several generations.

George Everett returned to England in 1856 and John followed in 1858. Edwin remained in Australia and in 1862 bought the adjoining  Tenterden station. Arthur Everett, the son of John Everett, took over management of Ollera in 1890.

William Everett

William Everett

William Frank Everett was born in February 1865 at Weyhill, Hampshire, England. He travelled to Australia aged 18 with his father.

William Everett married Charlotte Hickson in 1894 in the district of Waverley, Sydney, NSW. He joined the Australian military forces and rose quickly to the rank of Captain.

Captain William Everett, “B” Squadron, 5th Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse served in South Africa 1899 -1902 (Boer War). He joined the Commonwealth Contingent for Service in South Africa in Sydney, NSW on 24 April 1902.

Upon his return to Australia William rose through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel, and became commanding officer of 5th Australian (New England) Light Horse from 10 November 1910 to 30 June 1915.

By 1914, he had completed nine months at the British Flying School, Salisbury, England. Returning, he pointed out the necessity for Australia to take “definite steps regarding the establishment of aviation schools if the people intended to keep up with other countries in this modern branch of the service.”

Lt Col. William Everett was appointed to Remount & Veterinary Corps Headquarters, Intermediate Base Depot, Cairo, on 15 January 1915. Later that year he fell ill and was “invalided” to England and was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Hampshire, England on 15 August.

He died on 17 August from Pulmonary Tuberculosis (Tubercule of lung) and was buried in Netley Military Cemetery, Hampshire, England.

Because many of the details surrounding the life and times of Bob Everett are so sketchy, complete accuracy cannot be guaranteed. However, if correcting information comes to light updates will be made.

Many of the sources are newspaper articles on TROVE.com.au, websites specialising in history of WW2 and horseracing (including Betfair). Some of Robert Everett’s exploits as a Hurricane pilot are referred to in the book, They flew Hurricanes; Adrian Stewart (Casemate publishers, 2006) including extracts of Bob Everett’s combat report on the shooting down of the German plane.

N: Isaac Singer – a man who had things sewn up

The Singer sewing machine has played a not insignificant role in the life of Australia.

This was particularly so in rural Australia in the 1800s where access to off-the-rack clothing was limited. Most homemakers had a sewing machine so they could make their own clothes. Odds were that machine was a Singer.
The first Singers appeared in Australia around 1864.
According to the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney), Singer lock-stitch machines were first advertised in the Illustrated Sydney News, as the “’the Cheapest, most Durable, and BEST SEWING MACHINES IN THE WORLD”.
They survive to this day, still in use and still selling – $A 400 a good price for an early model in top condition.

What’s the Singer story?
Isaac Singer was born in New York in 1811. He had worked as an actor (not successfully), a ditch digger and a cabinet-maker before striking it rich in the sewing business.
At the age of 12 he left home after minimal education and started working as an unskilled laborer. He then took up an apprenticeship as a mechanic. Around the same time his interest in acting developed, and he joined the Rochester Players. He was on tour for 9 years but went penniless and the theatre group was disbanded.
At the age of 19 he became an apprentice machinist, and in 1839 he patented a rock-drilling machine for the government.
He also returned to acting and went on tour after forming a troupe known as the “Merritt Players”, appearing under the name “Isaac Merritt”, with Mary Ann Sponsler (one of his mistresses). That tour lasted about five years.
Around 1850 he invented a wood and metal carving machine and established his own factory to manufacture his products. That did not go well for him and his factory was destroyed in an explosion.
Success was to come in the sewing machine industry.
While working in a Boston machine shop in 1851, Singer was asked to repair a Lerow and Blodgett sewing machine; 11 days later he had designed and built an improved model.

Singer patented a prototype sewing machine that could sew 900 stitches in a minute, thanks to the use of a foot pedal. A shirt could be made in an hour.
His machine was the first with features allowing continuous and curved stitching, by using an overhanging arm holding the needle bar over a horizontal table, thus making it possible to sew on any part of the material. His basic design features have been followed in almost all subsequent machines.
Isaac Singer established his Singer Sewing Machine Company in 1851, becoming one of the first American multi-national businesses. In 1853 he moved his operations to New York City and sold machines for 100 American dollars each.
A Singer sewing machine won a first-place prize in the 1855 Paris World’s Fair though it should be said that to encourage participation, of the 23,954 exhibitors, 11,033 won prizes.
In 1858 the New York factories were established in an area surrounded by Mott, Spring, Delancy, and Broome Street. In 1872 the main plants were moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey.
In 1863, Singer was selling around 20,000 sewing machines a year. By 1866, the Singer company boasted branches or agencies “in nearly every city and town throughout the civilised world”.
Isaac Singer and Edward Clark formed the Singer Manufacturing Company. Singer didn’t stick around and retired to England. He died a multimillionaire on July 23, 1875, in Torquay, Devon, England.
The Singer multi-national empire marched on.
By 1870 sales had reached 170,000 and by 1880, worldwide sales had reached 500,000 machines.
The company produced its first electric sewing machine in 1889.
Singer and his smart business partner Clark were pioneers in another way: marketing.

A lot of Singer’s success was credited to instalment payment plans.
The company offered credit purchases and arrangements for rent to own where people could rent the sewing machines and eventually buy them – the upfront price was way out of reach for most people who would use the machines.
Another marketing ploy was to convince women they could operate such expensive machines at a time when such things were considered too complex to be masted by housewives. He rented a shop window on Broadway in New York and employed young women to demonstrate his machines. The display drew crowds.
In 1860, the New York Times reported: “ no other invention had brought “so great a relief for our mothers and daughters”. Seamstresses had found “better remuneration and lighter toil”.
Sarah Hale, from Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine in 1860: “The needlewoman is… able to rest at night and have time through the day for family occupations and enjoyments. Is this not a great gain for the world?”
If some reports are correct, he would virtually have had to establish his own a sewing factory just to make clothes for his extended family; it is thought he fathered more than 20 children with his wives and mistresses. One report described him as an “incorrigible womaniser”. There were also reports that for years he had three families, not all of whom were aware the others existed, and all while technically still married to someone else. At least one woman complained that he beat her, A BBC History report noted.
His biographer, Ruth Brandon, once said Singer was “the kind of man who adds a certain backbone of solidity to the feminist movement”.

Singer didn’t claim to have invented the sewing machine, but the one he patented was the most practical and the most commercially viable.
Isaac Singer may have cared less about the usefulness of his invention than about the riches it brought him “I don’t care a damn for the thing. The dimes are what I’m after,” he was quoted as having once said.
His great wealth enabled him to build Singer Tower, the company’s central headquarters in Manhattan’s financial district. It was one of the first corporate skyscrapers in the country and, for about a year, the tallest building in the world.
Though originating in the US, manufacture of the Singer machines became well known in the UK.
Singer’s general manager in the US, George Ross McKenzie, had the job of establishing Singer’s first overseas factory as the market opportunities for the new machines continued to expand. A Scot who migrated to America in 1846, McKenzie chose Glasgow flor the first plant abroad.
McKenzie later acknowledged its highly skilled but lowly paid work force, were the driving forces behind the decision to set up their first overseas factory in Glasgow.
The company quickly outgrew its Glasgow base and bought land in Clydebank where the Kilbowie factory and building was completed in 1885 and it soon became the largest one.

The Singer 200 ft (61 m) clock tower became a Clydebank landmark; the largest four-faced clock in the world. Each face weighed five tonnes, and it took four men 15 minutes twice a week to keep it wound up.

The company began mass-producing domestic electric sewing machines in 1910. In 1913, at the peak of production, the factory shipped more than 1,301,000 sewing machines around the world. It employed 14,000 people.
The factory was bombed during the Clydebank blitz in March 1941. No-one was killed at the plant, but 39 workers died elsewhere in the township.
in 1963, the corporation was renamed Singer Company. The Singer Corporation was bought out in 1987 and the company broken up. The name still lives in a several products, including electronic sewing machines, as part of the SVP Group which also owns the Pfaff and Husqvarna brands.

Sources: Singer.com, BBC, Encyclopedia Britannica, famousinventors.com.

Footnote: Singer Motors Limited is not related – it was a British motor vehicle manufacturing business, originally a bicycle manufacturer founded as Singer & Co by George Singer, in 1874 in Coventry, England. From 1901 George Singer’s Singer Motor Co made cars and commercial vehicles.


Flights of fear

Only two major plane hijacks have been noted in 2018 and 2019, so far.
This is a far cry from May 1961 to the end of 1972 when there were 159 hijackings in American airspace. Most were between 1968 and 1972, sometimes more than one on the same day.
Flights to communist Cuba were the most popular demands of the hijackers from 1961 to 1969, followed by millions of dollars in ransom at number two.
While there was reluctance to institute tighter security, such as metal detectors at airports for fear of what passengers might think, some innovative schemes were “put on the table”.
One idea was to build a pretend version of the Havana airport in South Florida so that hijacked planes could land there instead.
The 21st Century of course saw a massive security upgrade in the airline industry, right down to limits on liquids and banning of sharp objects (even nail scissors) in carry-on luggage. Jokes about bombs were likely to lead to arrest and heavy penalty. The catalyst of course was the 9/11 hijacking attacks in the US in 2001.
Thorough security scanning of every passenger became the norm. Armed sky marshals were put on random flights, domestically and internationally.
Though the hijack threat appears to have diminished somewhat in Australia and sky marshals are no longer thought to be operating on domestic flights (confirmation is unlikely), they are still used on international flights around the world.
The first mid-air hijacking is attributed to Australia in July 1960, when a Russian migrant who had been living near Sydney seized a plane on a domestic flight and demanded to be flown to Singapore.
In the US an era of destinations much further afield than Cuba began; a disgruntled marine of Italian origin seized a plane and demanded to be flown to Rome, and succeeded, setting the record for the longest hijack flight in the process.
Hijackers rarely get away with their acts, many ending their lives (or some ending them for them) as well as taking the lives of their hostages.

Singapore bound

The first recorded mid-air hijack of an airliner happened in Australia in July 1960, a month before the first one in the United States.
Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) Flight 408, a Lockheed Electra named the John Gilbert (VH-TLB) was operating the 7.30 pm departure from Sydney to Brisbane, the last for the day, on 19 July.
On board were 43 passengers and five crew members.
One of those passengers had unconventional carry-on luggage – a sawn-off .22 rifle, a spare loaded magazine and two sticks of gelignite. Airport security screening wasn’t what it is today.
Also, he wasn’t intending to go to Brisbane. He wanted to go to Singapore.
The passenger was Alex Hildebrandt, a 22-year old Russian migrant
The crew comprised Captain John Denton, First Officer Tom Bennett, Flight Engineer Fred McDonald and stewardesses Fay Strugnell and Janeene Christie. Another TAA officer, Captain Dennis Lawrence, and pilot Warren Penny were among the passengers.
Captain Denton was preparing the plane for descent into Brisbane, when the 22-year-old Hildebrandt, an unemployed labourer, came out of the lavatory where he had assembled a gelignite bomb.
Fay Strugnell placed a dispatch bag on the vacant seat beside Hildebrandt, intending to put flight documents into it.
She looked up to see Hildebrandt pointing a gun at her head at close range. He ordered to get the captain. As she went to the cockpit, Hildebrandt pressed the call button and Janeene Christie responded. A sawn-off .22 rifle was thrust at her throat, and the Hildebrandt again demanded: “Get the captain.’’
Miss Strugnell returned with the flight engineer, Fred McDonald. While she was talking to Hildebrandt, she saw two sticks of gelignite beside him and a battery in the seat arm ashtray.
Hildebrandt then threatened McDonald with the firearm and demanded that the airliner be diverted to Singapore.
According to the Trans-Australia Airlines Museum notes, Hildebrandt had a suspended wire over a torch battery attached to a detonator linked to two sticks of gelignite, and another wire linking the battery and the gelignite.
It was not the kind of sophisticated explosives devised used in more recent times but was said to be capable of causing a major explosion that probably would have killed everyone on board.
Hildebrandt began ranting that he was going to destroy the plane and demanded the plane be flown to Darwin or Singapore. Meanwhile, Dennis Lawrence had walked up behind him after grabbing an axe carried on the plane to be used in an emergency escape and sat in the seat behind Hildebrandt.
Captain Denton, made aware of the hijack attempt, turned the plane towards the sea and kept it circling over Moreton Bay so the hijacker could not see that they were near Brisbane.


Tom Bennett left the cockpit and tried to calm Hildebrandt. As Bennett and Lawrence spoke to Hildebrandt the gun was fired. The bullet passed through the ceiling of the plane, missing Bennett for inches.
Bennett punched Hildebrandt and pulled the wires from his crude bomb.
He recalled: “I don’t know how I decided that the time was right to jump him. I know we were not getting anywhere, and I had this thought that it was time to take control.
“Then I did make my move, I just grabbed for the gelignite and threw a punch at him at the same time.’’
Captain Lawrence, rose from the seat behind the hijacker and hit him with the heavy rubberised handle of the axe.
Warren Penny helped Bennett and Lawrence restrain the would-be hijacker. Handcuffs carried on the plane were sued to keep Hildebrandt controlled until the plane landed at Eagle Farm airport in Brisbane.

Penny recalled that Captain Lawrence had given him the axe and told him, “If he moves, smash him across the skull”.
It later emerged that in the morning of the hijack, Hildebrandt’s mother had given him 18 pounds at their Riverstone, Sydney, home. He was to have used 8 pounds to pay a fine for having evaded a rail fare, and the other 10 was to have been paid off the price of a suit.
Instead, the 22-year-old used the money to buy a coat and a plane ticket from Mascot to Brisbane.
When the plane landed at Eagle Farm at 9.25pm, police were waiting.
They boarded the aircraft and Det Sgt Merton Hopgood, arrested Hildebrandt. He was charged with having attempted to murder Tom Bennett and having had an explosive device on the plane with intent to destroy it.
Det Insp Les Bardwell, a police firearms expert, found that the bomb would certainly have detonated had the second wire touched the battery.
Tom Bennett recalled that Hildebrandt insisted the aircraft should not land in Brisbane, and that he tried to persuade him it did not have enough fuel to go anywhere else.
Hildebrandt faced court in Brisbane and found guilty on 7 October.
It was revealed Hildebrandt was born at Patoka, Russia, on May 30, 1938, and was taken to Germany when he was only a few months old because his father disagreed with the Communists.
His parents spent the war years in German labour camps, and he had little schooling.
The family came to Australia under the displaced persons migration scheme in 1950 and lived in migrant camps in Victoria and NSW before settling at Riverstone, near Sydney.
Hildebrandt had worked at various jobs and had a couple of convictions for minor offences.
A lawyer who appeared for him at his trial in Brisbane claimed Hildebrandt had a persecution complex caused by his father’s ill-treatment of him. The hijacker believed he was being victimised because employers only ever gave him labouring work and he despised the capitalism system.
Psychiatrists said he had a paranoid personality.
He was found guilty on all charges. For attempted murder, he was jailed for three years; for having attempted to destroy the airliner, he was given 10 years; and on the lesser explosives charge he received two years.
But Hildebrandt went to the Queensland Court of Criminal Appeal on the 10-year sentence and argued successfully that as the plane was still over NSW (somewhere near Casino) when he armed the explosives in its lavatory, the Queensland court had no jurisdiction on that offence.
He served the three-year sentence, and as he left jail in Brisbane in February 1963 was re-arrested by NSW police and taken to Sydney to again face a charge of having attempted to destroy the airliner. He was again convicted and sent to jail for seven years.
Tom Bennet was awarded the George Medal for his actions and Captain Lawrence was commended for his part in subduing the hijacker.

Sources: Trans-Australia Airlines Museum, Courier-Mail and Canberra Times news reports.

The long way home

“Why should I feel sorry?”
That was Raffaele Minichiello’s answer to the first question he was asked when released from prison on Monday 10 November 1969 after serving 18 months of a seven years and six months sentence.
He should have felt lucky he was sentenced in Rome for his crime, not in the United States.
The crime? Hijacking a TWA jet airliner from California to Rome – 11,100 km, the world’s longest recorded hijacking.
In the US he would have faced the death penalty. In Italy he became a cult hero, with supporters demonstrating against bids to have him extradited to the US.
Raffaele Minichiello was born in Melito Arpino, Italy, in 1949.
On 21 August 1962, the hills of southern Italy, a little north-east of Naples, began shaking in one of the most earthquake-prone parts of Europe. The 6.1-magnitude quake got everyone’s attention, but it was two powerful aftershocks that did most damage.
The Minichiello family lived just a few hundred metres north of the epicenter. When the shaking eventually subsided, their village of Melito Irpino lkay in ruins. The family had nothing, and no immediate help was forthcoming.
Almost the entire village was evacuated. It was levelled and rebuilt.
Many families returned but the Minichiellos decided to move to the US and they left Italy for what they thought would be a better life in 1963.
At school, Raffaele, who spoke little English, had a tough time. He was tormented in high school because of his accent and poor grasp of the language.
In 1967, he left high school and enlisted in the US Marine Corps at San Diego.
He was shipped to Vietnam in late 1967, where he was wounded in action, before returning to Camp Pendleton with a Purple Heart award.
While in Vietnam he learned that his father was terminally ill and was returning to Italy. Minichiello had been sending money to a Marines savings fund and had saved $800. But when he returned to Camp Pendleton, he found only $600 in his account, not enough to get to Italy to see his dying father.
And so it was at Camp Pendleton that Raffaele first ran afoul of authority and began on the path to jail in Italy.
Raffaele believed his unit’s paymaster had short-changed him $US 200. His complaints got short shrift.
So, he decided upon his own course of justice and after drinking eight cans of beer for courage one night in May 1969 he broke into the Post Exchange and took $200 worth of wristwatches and radios.
He fell asleep in the store, was arrested and charged with burglary and theft. He was due to face a court martial on 29 October 1969.
That wasn’t for him and he again decided to take matters into his own hands. He would go back to Italy. But not in a conventional way of buying an airline ticket.
The day before his court martial was to begin, the 19-year-old Raffaele deserted and went to Los Angeles where he bought an M1 rifle and 250 rounds of ammunition. He did buy an airline ticket, not to Italy but on TWA Flight 85, a Boeing 707 going to San Francisco.


Dressed in camouflage clothing, Minichiello bypassed the little security there was in those times by flirting with some hostesses, charming them into letting him board the plane early with them. His carry-on luggage included the disassembled rifle and ammunition. Just 15 minutes into the flight and after downing two shots of Canadian Club he assembled his gun in a lavatory, pointed it at a hostess and demanded to be flown to New York.
Trans World Airlines flight 85 began its schedule for the day in Baltimore before calling at St Louis and Kansas City.
Under the command of captain Donald Cook, 31, the flight landed in Los Angeles late at night and departed still in darkness. Next stop was to be San Francisco.
Flight attendant Charlene Delmonico began tidying the galley in the back of the plane with Tracey Coleman, who had been with TWA for only five months.
The passenger dressed in in camouflage clothing appeared in the galley.
He handed Delmonico a 7.62 mm bullet to prove the rifle was loaded and ordered her to take him to the cockpit to show it to the flight crew.
Among the passengers were members of Harpers Bizarre, an American pop band of the 1960s, perhaps best known for their cover version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).”
Band member Dick Scoppettone was stirred from his sleep by movement in the aisle and saw a man with a gun walking Delmonico towards the front of the plane.
Another band member, John Petersen, turned to Scoppettone from a few rows in front and said: “Is this really happening?”
Delmonico knocked on the cockpit door. She told the crew there was a man with a gun behind her. Minichiello stepped inside and pointed the rifle at each of the three men inside the cockpit: captain Cook, first officer Wenzel Williams and flight engineer Lloyd Hollrah.
Minichiello directed the crew to fly to New York. From there they would be going to Rome.
First, going to New York was a problem; the plane had only enough fuel to fly to San Francisco. And if Rome was to be the next destination, none of the flight crew was qualified to fly internationally.
Minichiello agreed to let the captain land in Denver to get enough fuel to reach the east coast. Cook alerted air traffic control for the first time that the plane had been hijacked.
Minichiello then said he would let 39 passengers get off in Denver if there wasn’t any trouble but insisted one of the flight attendants stay.
The members of Harper’s Bizarre called their manager and by the time they were cleared through the terminal a press crew was waiting for them. “It was the best publicity we ever had, by a mile,” Dick Scoppettone later told the BBC.
The plane left Denver with five people on board: Cook, Williams, Hollrah, Tracey Coleman and Minichiello.


The plane landed at John F Kennedy airport late in the morning where about 100 FBI agents were waiting.
Captain Cook warned the agents to stay away from the plane. Soon a shot rang out. It was later determined that Minichiello did not intend to shoot. Just outside the cockpit door, he is thought to have nudged the trigger of his rifle. The bullet pierced the ceiling but did not penetrate it or the plane’s fuselage.
Two TWA captains who were allowed to fly internationally, Billy Williams and Richard Hastings, boarded the plane past a ring of FB I agents.
“The FBI plan was damned near a prescription for getting the entire crew killed,” Cook later told the New York Times.
“We sat with that boy for six hours and had seen him go from practically a raving maniac to a fairly complacent and intelligent young man with a sense of humour, and then these idiots… irresponsibly made up their own minds about how to handle this boy on the basis of no information, and the good faith we had built up for almost six hours was completely destroyed.”
With the new pilots aboard and with the confusion surrounding the shot that was fired, the plane took off quickly, without enough fuel to get to Rome.
Within an hour TWA85 put down in Bangor, Maine, where it took on enough fuel to cross the Atlantic. Without further incident, the plane took off again and headed towards international airspace and Shannon, on Ireland’s west coast. There, in the middle of the night, TWA85 refuelled again.
Outwardly, there was relative calm on the flight. But the remaining crew on board held an underlying fear for their safety.
Minichiello chatted with various crew members along the way, teaching one how to play the card game solitaire.
On the way to Ireland, 31 October became 1 November, Minichiello’s 20th birthday. The was no celebration though.
TWA85 circled Rome’s Fiumicino airport early in the morning.
Minichiello demanded that the plane be parked well away from the terminal and that he be met by an unarmed police officer.
Pietro Guli, a deputy customs official who had volunteered to meet the hijacker, walked up the steps to the plane with his hands up. Minichiello met him.
The hijack was over, 18-and-a-half hours after it had started over California.
“So long, Don,” Minichiello told the captain. “I’m sorry I caused you all this trouble.” Minichiello asked for Cook’s address so he could later write to him and explain what had happened after the hijacking.
Minichiello directed his new hostage to drive towards Naples. They were followed by police but lost them – and themselves. Minichiello then abandoned the car and ran off.
Police launched an extensive search with officers, dogs and helicopters in the hills around Rome.
Eventually a priest found the hijacker. Minichiello had sought shelter in a church after getting rid of his camouflage clothes and hiding his gun in a barn. He was recognised by a church official at Mass.
The police caught up with Minichiello outside the church.
As he was led away after an interrogation in a Rome police station, a reporter asked: “Why did you do it?”
“Why did I do it?” he replied. “I don’t know.”
Minichiello’s father, by then living near Naples, knew what caused his son to hijack the plane. “The war must have provoked a state of shock in his mind,” Luigi Minichiello told reporters who tracked him down. “Before that, he was always sane.”


Minichiello became a folk hero in Italy, portrayed as an Italian boy who would do anything to return to his motherland, even though his mother was living in the US.
About -300 demonstrators bearing placards reading “no to extradition”, “the executioner will not have Minichiello”, began gathered at Avellino in southern Italy, fearing that Minichiello would be extradited to the US and face the death penalty.
The villagers of Acqua-fredda Di Melito Irpino, Minichiello’s birthplace, raised money for his defence.
As it turned out, he was prosecuted in Italy only for crimes committed in Italian airspace, mainly weapons possession and kidnapping.
Three judges deliberated for three hours and 48 minutes. Minichiello, who had retained Italian citizenship, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
At the trial, his lawyer Giuseppe Sotgiu, portrayed Minichiello as the poor victim of an unconscionable foreign war: “I am sure that Italian judges will understand and forgive an act born from a civilisation of aircraft and war violence.
His sentence was reduced on appeal and he was released from prison on 1 May 1971, saying to waiting media ‘Why should I feel sorry?”.

Minichiello settled in Rome where he worked as a bartender. He married the bar owner’s daughter, Cinzia, with whom he had a son. He once owned a pizza restaurant named Hijacking. A career as a nude model and actor fell by the wayside.
In 1980, a magnitude-6.9 earthquake struck southern Italy, its epicentre about 30 km from the one in 1962 and the most powerful earthquake to strike Italy in 70 years. The quake caused massive damage across the Irpinia region. Around 4,690 people were killed and 20,000 homes were destroyed.
It was reported that Raffaele Minichiello was among the hundreds of people who went to the region east of Naples to distribute aid.
Standing in the ruins, reporters noted that Minichiello appeared repentant: “I’m very different now to who I was,” he said. “I’m sorry for what I did to those people on the plane.”
In February 1985, his wife Cinzia was pregnant with their second child. After being admitted to hospital in labour, she and her newborn son died. Medical malpractice was alleged and Minichiello was enraged, let down by authority again. He planned to attack a prominent medical conference outside Rome to draw attention to the negligence that had cost his wife and son their lives.
While he plotted, Minichiello struck up a friendship with a young colleague, Tony, who introduced him to the Bible and read him passages out loud. Minichiello took heed and called off his plan.
In 1999, Minichiello decided to return to the US for the first time since the hijack after learning that there were no outstanding criminal charges against him there.
Because he had fled a court martial, he was given an “other than honourable discharge” by the Marines.
His former platoon comrades have been fighting to get this reduced to a general discharge, to reflect his service in Vietnam, but they remain unsuccessful to this day, even with letters to President Trump.
If his discharge is not amended, he will be ineligible for treatment for PTSD, and he will not receive any other veterans’ benefits.
In August 2009, Minichiello and his former platoon held a reunion in Branson, Missouri. He invited the crew from the hijacked plane to meet him. Williams and Delmonico accepted.
The atmosphere was tense for a while. But as more questions flowed, and Minichiello began to explain what had happened to him, the group grew closer.
Before they left, Minichiello handed them both a copy of the New Testament. Inside, he had written:
Thank you for your time, so much.
I appreciate your forgiveness for my actions that put you in harm’s way.
Please accept this book, that has changed my life.
God bless you so much, Raffaele Minichiello.
Underneath, he added the words Luke 23:34.
The passage reads: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
More recently, it has been reported that Raffaele Minichiello divides his time between Washington state and Italy, flies a home-made plane for fun and curates a YouTube feed dedicated to accordion music.
It is believed he has signed a film deal about his life story.

Sources: BBC News (Roland Hughes), Trove newspaper archives, People.com (Leonora Dodsworth, 1980).

Harpers Bizarre broke up in the mid-1970s. Dick Scoppettone went on to host a local radio show in Santa Cruz, California.



They jumped or fell from planes – and lived


Korean airline hijack – 11 people still missing after 4 decades



The daring deeds of two men
named Gilbert Cory

No, this is not a story about split personalities. It is a story about two Australian men who shared the same name and made their mark in Australia’s fighting services.

GILBERT ERNEST CORY was awarded the Military Cross after leading two platoons of soldiers on a daring raid on a Japanese camp on the north coast of New Guinea in 1945 that threw the Japanese into chaos and inflicted heavy casualties.

GILBERT RICHARD ISLER CORY was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in operations in New Guinea with 5 Squadron, also in World War 2.

They probably never met, but their deeds in New Guinea during World War 2 are part of Australian military history. Both men had links to the Armidale area of the Northern Tablelands of NSW.

Gilbert Ernest Cory, originally from Saumarez near Armidale,  was involved in controversy before and after his war service, finding himself entangled in legal issues that saw him first disbarred as a solicitor in 1929 and more than 20 years later after a distinguished career in the military, charged then acquitted in 1953 of three counts of having uttered forged endorsements on promissory notes.

It was during the 1953-54 case that his wartime heroics emerged.

Cory’s counsel, Mr A.G. Brindley, told the Central Court of Petty Sessions that his client had been mentioned in despatches 15 times, was wounded 9 times and was commissioned on the battlefield.

Cory was alleged to have failed to honour promissory notes to the value of 270 pounds he gave to Clement Emerson Rich. He pleaded not guilty and claimed he was owed money by Rich “for work done.”

The borrowed money was said to be related to Cory’s attempts to regain registration as solicitor.

Neville John Harris, a grazier, of Brewarrina, said he had known Cory for 25 years. He had seen Rich about a fortnight previously and offered to pay him the money that Cory owed him but, he said, Rich refused to take it.

The magistrate set the matter down for trial. On 19 May 1954, at the direction of Judge Stephen, a Quarter Sessions jury acquitted Gilbert Ernest Cory, 46, salesman, of Edward Street, Bondi, on three charges of having uttered forged endorsements on promissory notes.

Gilbert Cory’s story is related in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Gilbert Ernest Cory was born on 23 December 1906 at Saumarez, son of Frederick Ernest and Blanche Cory. Frederick was the son of Gilbert and Charlotte Cory.

He was educated at Maitland East Boys High School and worked on the land for a year before being articled (1926) to Moree solicitor William A. Cole. He later enlisted in the AIF (2nd/3rd Battalion). Citations for the DCM and MC listed him as being from Bendigo, Victoria.

According to the Australian War Memorial, the 2/3rd’s first campaign against the Japanese was the advance along the Kokoda Trail to the Japanese beachheads between September and December 1942. It fought major engagements at Eora Creek (22-28 October), Oivi (5-12 November), and on the Sanananda Track (21 November-19 December). The battalion spent 1943 and 1944 training in northern Queensland. It’s  last campaign of the war was the operation to clear the Japanese from the Aitape-Wewak region of New Guinea between December 1944 and August 1945.

Adjutant Captain (Acting) G.E. Cory 
with Major L.E. Powling at Mission Point,
New Guinea, in October 1945.

The 2/3rd Battalion disbanded on 8 February 1946.

Ian Grant, writing for the Australian Dictionary of Biography in 1993 records: “On 17 February 1931 in St Thomas’s Anglican Church, North Sydney, Gilbert Cory married Helen Louie Annie Vaughan. He was admitted as a solicitor on 13 March.

“In early 1939 a friend who had lent him money abruptly asked for repayment in full. Unable to comply, Cory was issued with a bankruptcy notice. Without disclosing his financial affairs, he obtained a loan from a client of his employers. Rather than defending his conduct in court, Cory fled to Canberra and adopted the alias ‘Graham’. He was struck off the roll of solicitors on 18 May. During this period his marriage broke down. After working as a motorcar salesman at Uralla, New South Wales, on 2 November he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was posted to the 2nd/3rd Battalion and on 9 January 1940 embarked for the Middle East. From February to July 1941 he saw action successively in North Africa, Greece and Syria, and was mentioned in despatches.

“Returning to Australia as a sergeant, in September 1942 he went with his unit to Papua. On 28 October at Eora Creek he led No.14 Platoon in an assault against a strongly-defended Japanese position. When the platoon lost most of its non-commissioned officers, Cory moved between sections and directed operations. Although shot in the face and temporarily blinded, he continued to take charge until he was evacuated. Awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, he was promoted lieutenant on 1 February 1943. His wound required extensive plastic surgery in Australia, and it was not until July that he re-joined the battalion at Wondecla, Queensland. By January 1945 he was involved in the fighting east of Aitape, on the north coast of New Guinea. At Long Ridge on 1 February Cory commanded two platoons in a daring raid on a Japanese camp; the attack disorganized the enemy and inflicted heavy casualties. For his deeds he was awarded the Military Cross.

“Promoted temporary captain in June 1945, he transferred to the 67th Battalion in October; he served on Morotai Island and from February 1946 with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force at Kure, Japan. He was repatriated in May due to ill health. Following postings in the Sydney area, he left the army in February 1949 with a disability pension.

“On 16 September 1950 Cory married Florence Alvin Joy Pugh with Methodist forms at Concord West. They lived at Bondi. He had found a job as a managing clerk in a solicitor’s office but was bitterly disappointed when his application for readmission as a solicitor was rejected in November 1960. With his wife, he retired to South West Rocks in 1972. Survived by her, he died of emphysema on 4 September 1977 at Kempsey.”

Gilbert had two brothers and two sisters.

The NSW Government Gazette records that Gilbert Ernest Cory was appointed to the NSW Housing Commission as a clerk on probation in 1960 and appointed to the Housing Commission division of the Public Service Board in 1961.

The tabloid press made a great play of Cory’s divorce proceedings with his first wife in 1940. A divorce was granted.

Gilbert Richard Isler Cory was born on 2 August 1910 at Copmanhurst, near Grafton, NSW.

His father, George Gilbert Cory, left the family home at Paterson in the Hunter Valley area of NSW to become a jackeroo at the Rockwood property near Armidale where he arrived in 1891. He eventually became manager of the property.

Gilbert was one of George and Estelle Jean Cory’s 10 children. George Cory fought in the Boer War and married Estelle (nee Wiseman) in Bundarra, west of Armidale.

Records of Gilbert Richard Isler Cory’s early days are scant, but the register of The Armidale School, (private school known as TAS) shows he was there from July 1924 to June 1928 and was a chapel warden. It appears he moved around with his father who managed various properties from the Armidale area, Grafton and the north coast and finally the granite belt of Queensland around Warwick and Stanthorpe. Warwick is given as his home address in official war records.

The National Archives record that Flight Lieutenant Gilbert (Gil) Richard Isler Cory was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and mentioned in despatches in 1942.

His place of enlistment is given as Brisbane and his next of kin as Elma Cory (nee Bale). Birth notices indicate at least one child, born in 1943.

No. 5 (Army co-operation) Squadron RAAF
and AIF personnel at Torokina, Bougainville,
in January 1945. Flt Lt Gil Cory is second from the right.

Much of the Gil Cory story that’s in the public domain is told in the book, Great Air Escapes, by Robert Piper, published by Pagemasters in 1991, in a chapter titled “Santa’s Sleigh was a Wirraway.”

This is how several newspapers of the day introduced the story on 23 January 1945: “Bougainville – This is a strange tale of a couple of Flying Santa Claus, who went out on Christmas Day with a plane load of presents for Australian troops and crash-landed into a fortnight of adventure, says an announcement by the Directorate of Public Relations of the Australian Military Forces. From the moment their Wirraway hit a mountain at dinner-time on Christmas Day scores of their RAAF and Army friends on Bougainville Island followed their progress through the Jap-infested jungle, across razor backs and down streams, until they reached home this week, with sore feet and their story.”

Four men attached to No 5 Squadron thought it would be a good idea and morale-booster for frontline troops to have a Christmas celebration. The instigators were said to be Cpl Jack Webb of Orbost, L/Cpl Ray Thompson of Marylands, Pte Noel Derbyshire of Preston and Pte Aubrey Hain of Glen Innes.

Christmas fare was gathered by pilots and ground crew – puddings, cakes, smokes, books, packs of cards and mail – ready to be flow to the soldiers on the ground around the Torokina Peninsula on the west coast of Bougainville.

Christmas morning saw two vehicles loaded with the goods that were stashed in “storepedos” under the wings of a Wirraway.

A “storepedo” is fitted to a Wirraway at Torokina

In control of the Wirraway was Flt Lieutenant Gil Cory with Flying Officer Bill Tucker. They were ready to go when a photographer thought it a good idea to snap a picture.

That, Gil Cory was to comment later, was the start of the trouble. He was quite superstitious about having his photo taken before a mission. Bill Tucker was similarly wary.

They put those thoughts aside to get on with the job and took off in weather that wasn’t good.

As they flew up a valley the Wirraway’s engines spluttered to a halt. There was no time to find a suitable landing spot and Cory put the plane on to a flat 30 ft by 60 ft (9 m by 18 m) ledge on the side of a ridge. Some were to refer to the crash as a “miracle landing.”

The plane was smashed but the two men were able to crawl out, though injured. It was later found that Cory had four broken ribs. His leg was badly gashed. Tucker’s legs were cut and bruised, and he had a broken hand.

The two men didn’t know where they were – they could have been near the enemy or they could have been in the midst of unfriendly natives.

As it turned out they were discovered by friendly locals who came to their aid and in return were invited to share the Christmas fare that had been on the plane.

Back at the squadron’s base, search parties were organised when contact had been lost and the Wirraway hadn’t returned. The weather worsened and the Wirraway and Anson search planes were grounded for days.

The locals took Cory and Tucker to their village further up the mountains and fed and sheltered them.

A bow-and-arrow troop was sent out to tackle Japanese soldiers known to be just a few miles away.

Some of the natives spoke a little pidgin so Cory and Tucker were able to communicate with their rescuers who were able to beat off a Japanese patrol that strayed too close. Contact was made with other Australians and searchers identified the likely position of the two airmen.

Wirraways eventually defied the bad weather to drop supplies to them and their rescuers.

An Australian search party reached the village to find Cory and Tucker in good care.

The rescuers and the rescued were still able to get to some of the Australian troops and deliver their much-appreciated Christmas mail.

It was then time to get back to base. This involved a trek through swampy jungle and crossing the Jaba River. On January 6 they reached a commando headquarters on the Takessi River. From there they travelled down river in a collapsible boat to Brigade HQ on the coast for a launch ride back to Torokina.

The Canberra announcement of the award of the DFC to Flt Lt Cory said: “Flt Lt. Cory has completed three arduous operational tours. As second in charge of No. 5 Squadron his example has been an inspiration to personnel. His aerial reconnaissance work has been of a high standard. His cool control and direction of 40 RNZAF Corsairs on a bombing and strafing mission in close support of Australian troops, was admirable, and the subject of congratulations from the New Zealand Army Brigade Commanders, Cory’s boundless enthusiasm and tireless energy have served as on inspiration to the squadron.”

After the war, Cory returned to his property, Glentanna, at Dalveen in Queensland. A report said he died in 2010 aged 99.

Bill Tucker, a school teacher from Bundaberg, died in 1973.

Exploring the North – Cory to the fore

Cory is a surname that occurs regularly in historical references to the Paterson area of the Hunter Valley, the New England region of NSW and the Darling Downs of Queensland from the early settlers to this day.

Many share the surname and it is often the middle name that determines just who is/was who.

For example, there were more than two men named Gilbert Cory.

For instance, there was Gilbert Gostwyck Cory, born in Vacy, NSW in 1839. His parents were Gilbert and Jeannette Georgianna (nee Rens) Cory, of Vacy, and his grandparents were John and Mary Cory.

After completing his education at The King’s School, Parramatta, NSW, aged 19, Gilbert Gostwyck Cory (pictured above)  travelled to Brisbane, then on to Toowoomba on horseback.

Vacy is a village in the Dungog Shire local government area of the Hunter Region, NSW, between Gresford and Paterson. It was founded in the 1820s as a private town by John Cory, the beneficiary of a large land grant. Vacy began to prosper in the 1850s and was a busy town by the 1870s. It remained a private town until it was sold in 1927 by the Cory family.

Gilbert Gostwyck Cory (1839–1924) became a station manager after arriving in Toowoomba in 1858.

He and his wife Ann Sophie (nee Taylor) lived at the place they named Vacy Hall for 50 years from 1873 to 1924. The stately home was a gift from her father, Hon James Taylor.

Gilbert Gostwyck Cory entered local politics and was the mayor of Toowoomba, Queensland in 1891. He served as an alderman on the Toowoomba City Council from 1889 to 1894 and was also active on the Shire of Jondaryan Council, serving as chairman in 1894 and 1895 and an alderman in 1883-1919. He died on 8 August 1924.

The names Gostwyck and Vacy appear often, too, usually for properties taken up by the Cory family as they relocated.

The Cory name is traced back to Devon, in England and it is possible that all those with the surname share a common ancestry.

The appearance of the Cory name in Australia generally is traced back to the Hunter Valley, the Paterson area in particular.

In terms of Northern Tablelands of NSW history, the more widely known Cory name is Edward Gostwyck Cory.

Silhouette portrait of E.G. Cory
by Richard Dighton.
From State Library of NSW

The Gostwyck (sometimes Gostwick) name is traced to Edward’s father John Cory, grandson of Sir William Gostwyck, of Willington, hear Bedford in the UK.

Edward Gostwyck Cory was the first of his family from Devon, UK, to become interested in the fledgling Colony of New South Wales.

Regulations at the time offered free land in proportion to the capital a settler was prepared to invest in the Colony, on condition he supported one convict for every 100 acres granted. In December 1822, Edward applied to the Colonial Secretary in London for the necessary letter to present to Governor Brisbane, stating that it was his “intention to employ a capital of about 1,500 pounds in agricultural pursuits” and to arrive with “three free servants to superintend such convicts as may be placed under my care”.

Before sailing, he married Frances Johnson, the daughter of Elizabeth Johnson, a widow. His father, John Cory, his wife, Fanny and his three servants, William Chapman, Thomas Lang and Mary Hosegood made up the party that set sail from England in April 1823 on the Allies. They arrived in Sydney five months later. Edward was joined later by two brothers, John and Gilbert. The father returned to England after four months.

Any links between the families that shared the Cory name and were associated with the Northern Tablelands are not immediately obvious, even though the names Gilbert, Gostwyck and to a lesser frequency Richard, Edward and Ernest appear in various family genealogy threads.

The chapel at Gostwyck,
near Uralla

The settlement not far from Armidale, that still bears the name Gostwyck has its origins in the property established by Edward Gostwyck Cory, acknowledged as the first white settler in the Uralla area and whose party of would-be settlers were the first to make the climb over the Moonbi ranges from the Peel Valley as they headed north looking for suitable grazing land.

Little was known of the region although John Oxley, explorer and surveyor, travelling eastwards from Dubbo reached the southern end of the tablelands and followed the Hastings River to its mouth, which he named Port Macquarie.

Botanist Allan Cunningham, sent by Governor Darling to explore the interior, travelled along the western edge of the tablelands to reach the Darling Downs Toowoomba area) in Queensland in 1827.

The acknowledged first arrival in the region was Hamilton Collins Sempill, who took his flock from the Hunter valley and settled in the upper Apsley Valley near Walcha, on the south-eastern edge of the tablelands in 1832. Cory was the first settler to make it into the tablelands-proper. After that there was a steady stream of squatters arriving from the Hunter region.

John Cory senior (The Elder) was granted 800 acres of land on the Paterson River in 1824 where they set up home.

Edward Gostwyck Cory and his brother Captain John Johnston Cory, a British naval officer who joined the family in NSW in 1833, received land grants at Paterson (near Dungog), and named them Gostwyck and Cory Vale.

According to Elizabeth Guildford, writing for the Australian Dictionary of Biography in 1966, moves by the Australian Agricultural Co. to expand its properties in 1832 through the Hunter into the Liverpool Plains and Peel River by appropriation of other holdings threatened to displace many of the early squatters, including Cory, Dangar and Warland. A drought in the Hunter Valley helped force their hand in seeking greener pastures.

A report held by The Royal Australian Historical Society noted: “After the return of Oxley from his journey across country to the coast at Port Macquarie, pastoralists lost no time in following his trail, and the Liverpool Plains became largely occupied prior to Allan Cunningham’s journey, by way of these plains, to the Darling Downs in 1827. Five years later, in the same region, twenty-three squatters were displaced by the Warrah and Peel River exchange grants of the Australian Agricultural Company. Among the affected holdings listed is Wollomal and Waldoo in the names of  William Dangar, E. Gostwyk Cory and W.H. Warland.”

The report noted: “The above persons were all well-known landholders in the settled districts, and were unauthorised occupiers of Crown lands beyond the ‘limits of location’” (more commonly referred to as squatters).

Settlers were not allowed to receive grants or to lease land beyond the set limits, however, it turned out the police and the military did not have the numbers to stop the push into new areas by lists (the so-called squatters in all directions outwards from established settlements. Even though settlement was not permitted beyond the ‘boundaries’ grazing rights were allowed.

Facing loss of his holding on the Paterson River, Cory and a small party set out to the north.

Mr. J. F. Campbell in a paper written for the Royal Australian Historical Society, noted: “Edward Gostwyck Cory, a settler, also from the Hunter district (Page’s River and the Patterson, and a squatter on the Page’s River, about where Tamworth is now situated), is said to have passed over the Moonboy (Moonbi) Range, along the route of the Great Northern Road from Tamworth, which route, it is also stated, was previously discovered by him, and, proceeding northerly, he camped for a time on one of the upper tributaries of Carlyle’s Gully. This tributary streamlet still bears the name of Cory’s Camp Creek, and where the camp stood may be seen in the Dog-trap paddock of Rimbanda. A memorial of his ascent to the tableland is also to be seen in the form of a rock at the foot of the second Moonboys, known to the present day as Cory’s Pillow.”

Cory’s track across the Moonbi Ranges became the route later followed for construction of the Great Northern Road. Cory found no suitable grazing country until he reached the tablelands of the Salisbury Waters, just east of Uralla. This area proved excellent for sheep, and Cory took up large tracts of it, establishing stations at “Gostwyck” (1832), “Terrible Vale”, and “Salisbury Plains”.

Cory’s “Gostwyck” grazing rights comprised about 80,000 acres, and was sold in 1834 to William Dangar, who subsequently sold them to his brother Henry Dangar.

Cory retained “Terrible Vale”, and eventually sold it to the Dangar brothers.

The western side, or homestead area, retained the name “Gostwyck”, whilst the eastern side which still has the historic octagonal woolshed, was re-named “Deeargee.”

The unsual woolshed at Deeargee (see endnote)

In 1851 Henry Dangar held all his land under licence, but under the 1847 Land Act and subsequent legislation he and his family were able to buy land, and they did so on a large scale. In 1885 parts of their holdings were resumed for closer settlement, and this process continued over the years until 1959, when the remaining family holding was 12,300 acres, in two properties, one retaining the name “Gostwyck” and the other named “Deeargee”, derived from the old “Gostwyck” wool brand, DRG, for “Dangar, Gostwyck.”

Cory’s other holding was sold to Robert Ramsay Mackenzie in 1837.

A newspaper reported that John Johnson Cory took up property in the Glen Innes district in 1839 and named it “Wellingore” after the Gostwyck family home in England. A subsequent owner renamed it “Wellingrove”.

Edward Cory returned to his “Gotswyck” property at Paterson. He became a Justice of the Peace and served as District Magistrate.

“Gostwyck” on the Paterson River.
Lithography by George Rowe
at the State Library of NSW.

It is noted in reports about the bushranger Thunderbolt who frequented the Hunter and Northern Tablelands regions that in his role as a magistrate at Paterson he dealt with a woman named Mary Ann Bugg, sometimes referred to as Mary Ann Ward, as she was said to be the “lady” of the bushranger Frederick Ward (aka Thunderbolt).

Mary Ann Bugg and Frederick (“Thunderbolt”) Ward

Mary Ann Bugg was charged with having in her possession goods suspected of being stolen (calico, derry and tweed cloth).

Unable to provide proof of purchase, she was sentenced by Mr Cory to three months imprisonment in Maitland jail. While there, a merchant came forward and identified Mary Ann as among a group of women who had purchased cloth from his store and eventually she was set free. She remained a key figure in the activities of bushranger Thunderbolt.

According to the Paterson Historical Society, Edward Gostwyck Cory was spoken of as the “King of the Paterson.”

Edward Cory died in Paterson on 7 or 8 March 1873, aged 76. His wife Frances died in 1870. The couple had no children of their own but raised Emma Chapman, the eldest child of their servants Mary and William Chapman, as their adopted daughter.

By 1970, only 13,000 acres remained of the original Northern Tablelands Gostwyck holding, divided between the two granddaughters of Henry Dangar who each held 6,500 acres.

Although his stay in the region was brief, Edward Gostwyck Cory’s discovery of a route across the Moonbi range and exploration north of Tamworth, contributed much to the early settlement of the Northern Tablelands of New England.

The derivation of the name “Terrible Vale” (sometimes referred to as “Terrible Valley”) station, about 20 km south-east of Uralla, remains the subject of speculation.

According to documents held in the University of New England archives, the most widely accepted story is that “Terrible Vale” took its name from Cory’s head stockman, “Terrible Billy”, a somewhat apocryphal figure who was said to possess “rough and ready habits … with his employees” and an unremitting “fierceness against the blacks”. There is another school of thought, probably less likely given timing, that attributes the name to the Turrubul tribe of Aborigines who frequented the area before European settlement.


Originally part of Gostwyck Station, Deeargee Station and its unique octagonal woolshed gained their name from the old Gostwyck wool brand, DRG, which stood for “Dangar, Gostwyck”. The woolshed was built in 1872 replacing an earlier shearing shed that had been destroyed by fire.

Designed and erected by Alexander Mitchell, who also built McCrossin’s Mill in Uralla, the woolshed is erected on brick pillars with successive roofs of galvanised iron. The side walls contain large amounts of glass. The woolshed has all facilities required for shearing, pressing, bailing, sorting and other operations. It even has a lightning conductor.

The Deeargee Woolshed is still in use today and can be seen from the roadside.

Today the Gostwyck and Deeargee properties are known for producing some of Australia’s finest wool. Both are 11 kilometres from Uralla on the Gostwyck Road. – Uralla Visitor Centre.

 SOURCES: Trove archive of newspapers, Royal Australian Historical Society, Australian Dictionary of Biography, the Australian War Memorial, State Library of NSW, various genealogical web sites including Ancestry and Wiki Family Tree, Uralla Visitor Centre, Paterson Historical Society, Vacy Hall boutique hotel Toowoomba.

Related articles:

FEMALE BUSHRANGERS: https://floggerblogger.com/the-female-bushrangers/

WIRRAWAY WAR BIRDS: https://floggerblogger.com/2018/02/11/the-wirraway-warbird/

FOOTNOTE: Every effort has been made to verify family links and details based on information in the public domain. Corrections are welcome via feedback.


M: The Ghosts of Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln never enjoyed the executive coach “United States” built in 1865 exclusively for his use; he refused the opulence.

But when eventually he did ride it, he was unable to enjoy the deluxe accommodations, as it was his funeral journey, a slow circuitous trip over 13 days from Washington DC to Springfield, Illinois, with the exhumed body of his son Willie also aboard the “Lincoln Special” funeral train.

Willie died in 1862 at the age of 11, apparently from typhoid. Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln stayed at the White House because she was too distraught to make the trip.

The train carrying Lincoln’s body travelled through 180 cities and seven states on its way to Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.

Scheduled stops for the special funeral train were published in newspapers. History.com records that “at each stop, Lincoln’s coffin was taken off the train, placed on an elaborately decorated horse-drawn hearse and led by solemn processions to a public building for viewing.

In cities as large as Columbus, Ohio, and as small as Herkimer, New York, thousands of mourners flocked to pay tribute to the slain president. In Philadelphia, Lincoln’s body lay in state on in the east wing of Independence Hall, the same site where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Newspapers reported that people had to wait more than five hours to pass by the president’s coffin in some cities.

The engine on the train as it set off was known as the Nashville.

The train consisted of nine cars. A guard of honour accompanied Lincoln’s body. Lincoln’s son Robert also was on the train. A portrait of Lincoln was fixed to the front of the locomotive.

Thousands lined the tracks during the 13-day 2,736 km trip that took the train through major US cities including Baltimore, Maryland, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Buffalo, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, Indianapolis and Indiana, reaching Springfield on 3 May1865.


Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the US, in 1861, his notable act being to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy in 1863.

He won re-election in 1864, as Union military triumphs heralded an end to the civil war.

Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, while attending the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre as the American Civil War was ending.

The assassination occurred five days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Lincoln was shot in the back of the head at close range and died on Saturday morning, April 15, 1865.

Instead of a state funeral that now might be the norm, it was decided to take Lincoln’s body “on tour”.

During the two weeks there was much speculation in the press on the status of the corpse.

The macabre episode apparently didn’t end at Springfield where Lincoln was laid to rest on May 4, 1865, after what has been described as the greatest funeral in the history of the US.

As reports have it, a phantom Lincoln funeral train rolls on each April in a ghostly anniversary of the President’s death. It was against his wife’s wishes that officials decided that Lincoln’s body would be displayed on a funeral train stopping at various towns through the northern part of the US on its way to Springfield.

Along the route from Washington to Illinois people lined the tracks to bid farewell to the President who fought and won the Civil War.

The funeral train comprised nine cars. The ninth car, built to take the living president and his family on rail trips, was the one in which the caskets of Lincoln and Willie were carried.

The train’s route passed through Albany, New York. For several years, around the anniversary of Lincoln’s final journey, Albany-area railway workers reported seeing a phantom version of the funeral train travelling along the rails.

On the evening of each 27 April, people began making their way to the line in hopes of seeing the ghost train passing.

A newspaper report from 1883: “I believe in spirits and ghosts,” says a night watchman on the New York Central Railroad at Albany. “I know such things exist. Come, the night of the 27th of April, and I’ll convince you.”


He then told of the phantom train that every year comes up the road with the body of Abraham Lincoln. Regularly, he says, on the night of the 27th of April, about midnight, the air on the track becomes very keen and cutting. On either side it is calm and still. Every watchman when he feels this air, steps off the track and sits down to watch. Soon after, the pilot engine, with long black streamers and a band of skeletons with instruments, all playing dirges, grinning fleshless spectres sitting all about on the locomotive and the catafalque and funeral train, pass along noiselessly. The track ahead seems covered with black carpet, and the wheels are draped and muffled. There is no clatter. All about the coffin of the murdered Lincoln, in the air, above the train and behind it, are numbers of blue-coated men in soldier uniform, some with arms, some with coffins on their back, some leaning on them. “It has always seemed to us” says the watchman, “that all the vast armies of men who died in the war were there escorting that train.”

More than 150 years after Lincoln’s death, some paranormal enthusiasts believe Lincoln’s ghost train still rolls through Albany, perhaps even making the entire journey from Washington to Illinois, replicating the procession of the actual funeral train. But it never turns up in Springfield.

While the President himself is not seen (there’s a coffin covered by an American flag), his ghostly remains are guarded by the spirits of soldiers dressed in Union uniforms.

The train is said to emerge from a cloud of thick, black fog, towing its dark cars. Its arrival makes the air noticeably heavier and colder.

Folklore has it that as the ghost train passes, nearby clocks and watches stop and lose six minutes of time.

According to “witnesses” a blinding light coming from the unmanned train helps to guide the haunted steam engine through the thick black fog.

There were several odd experiences in Lincoln’s life. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, is said to have dabbled in spiritualism, believed in omens, and held séances trying to establish contact with her dead son Willie.


Lincoln’s death also held mystery.

A friend who was present when Lincoln discussed with his wife a dream he had three days before his murder recounted the conversation:
“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”

There were also reports that Lincoln received regular visits from the ghost of his dead son Willie.

So did Mary Todd Lincoln.

According to the National First Ladies’ Library, Mary Todd Lincoln confided to her sister that she frequently saw Willie. “He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of my bed with the same, sweet adorable smile he has always had.”

Lincoln’s ghost appears also to be a frequent visitor to the White House. National Geographic reported: “The 16th President’s apparition reportedly has been seen at the White House by a long list of people, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to President Reagan’s daughter Maureen.”

People also claim to have seen Lincoln’s ghost at Ford’s Theatre, where Booth assassinated Lincoln. Others claim to have seen Lincoln at Fort Monroe in Virginia, or at his tomb in Springfield, Illinois.

End note: a prairie fire near Minneapolis in 1911, Minnesota, destroyed the train car that had so famously carried Lincoln’s body to its final resting place.