A brave sailor fought to the
nd trying to save his mates
on the HMAS Armidale

Many partygoers,  mostly men, have broken into song or poem  during a session on  the  singing syrup.

There’s a rhyme that will be known to many of those party-goers; it begins: “The boy stood on the burning deck”. Perhaps needless to say, some rude version of the rest of the verse have been added.

The rhyme was initiated for use at singalongs, but not necessarily to those alluded to above. It  comes from  the poem, Casabianca, written by Felicia Hermans in 1829.

The original verse reads:

“The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled.
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.”

The poem is significant just as much in the 2sth century as it was almost a couple of centuries ago.

As related by Dr Kevin Smith OAM to members of the Naval Historical Society of Australia in Sydney in April 2017,  the original verse relates to the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

The French flagship L’Orient had seriously  disabled HMS  Bellerophon. In response, a pack of other British vessels moved in to attack L’Orient.

Dr Smith noted: “Amid the wreck and carnage of battle the French admiral’s thirteen-year-old son stood bravely to his post awaiting his father’s permission to leave.  The boy, Louis de Casabianca, died at his post when L’Orient’s magazine exploded.”

Dr Smith recalled that piece of history in his paper about the sinking of an Australian warship, the HMAS Armidale, on 1 December 1942.

He said: “Every Australian schoolboy growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, a century later still, heard about or occasionally even read that poem. Young Edward Sheean growing up amid the green farmlands and forests of Barrington, south of Ulverstone in Tasmania, was one of those who almost certainly would have known the first line of this poem.

Edward (Teddy) Sheean (above), was still in the minds of many Australians for many years after the war into into the 21st Century.

Teddy, just a teenager,  was serving on the HMAS Armidale as it undertook escort duties along the eastern Australian coast and around New Guinea. Both he and the Armidale were lost at the hands of the Japanese.

According to The Australian Defence Force Journal in 2002, the loss of the Armidale was one of the most painful and bitter episodes in the history of Australia’s navy, the RAN.

HMAS Armidale was attempting to evacuate Australian and Dutch soldiers and deliver a relief contingent to Portuguese Timor (now East Timor).

Spotted by Japanese reconnaissance aircraft as they left Darwin, Armidale and  sister ship Castlemaine survived repeated air attacks but reached Betano too late to rendezvous with HMAS Kuru, which had already picked up Portuguese refugees and moved off.

The two corvettes found Kuru 110 km off Timor and the refugees were transferred to HMAS Castlemaine, which then returned to Darwin. Kuru and Armidale were ordered to continue the operation.

Two Japanese torpedoes hit their target, the Armidale, sending her to the bottom. The crew was ordered to abandon ship where they came under further attack.

The survivors, having been strafed by the attacking aircraft, made a makeshift raft.The wounded were put on a small motor boat that had survived the sinking. The rescue they hoped for didn’t happen and the captain and 21 other men (two of whom died) headed for Australian waters in the motor boat, rowing much of the way because the engine was damaged. Two days later, another 29 survivors began the same precarious journey in a salvaged  but damaged whaler that had to be baled regularly.

Some of the crew of HMAS Armidale

The remaining survivors clung to the raft and awaited rescue. The men in the motor boat and whaler were picked up, but the men left on the raft disappeared without trace.

The last sighting of the raft.


The story of Teddy Sheean is one of heroism and a long battle to secure for him a greatly deserved honour for his actions against the odds in the aftermath of the sinking of HMAS Armidale.

Teddy Sheean was given a Mention in Despatches — a badge — for refusing to abandon his gun while Japanese aircraft attacked the ship in December 1942. But supporters believed his bravery warranted a higher award, even the highest.

Classified as an Ordinary Seaman, he was far from that.

Right on 78 years after his death, Teddy Sheean finally got the award, posthumously, that so many had fought hard for him to be given .

On Tuesday 1 December 2020 he became the first Navy sailor to receive a Victoria Cross.

The short story is that Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean helped launch multiple life rafts, before returning to fire at enemy aircraft despite orders to abandon ship. He kept firing until the Armidale sank, giving others time to escape.

He was killed during the assault.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison  said at the VC presentation that Sheean’s story challenged Australians to live a life of meaning and selflessness.

“To say Teddy Sheean gave his life for his country really doesn’t quite capture the fearless grip he had on it until the very end,” he said.

“Everything he did was deliberate; he was determined to save his ship mates from being stranded in the sea.”

It had appeared the authorities would not buckle to demands for Teddy Sheean to be honoured, even up to just a year before his award was approved. But his supporters fought on and in August 2020, the Queen gave her assent for him to be made Australia’s 101st recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Teddy  Sheean was 18 years old, the youngest member of the crew of HMAS Armidale on patrol off the coast of East Timor when the ship came under heavy attack from 13 Japanese planes.

The Armidale was struck by two torpedoes. The order to abandon ship was given; rafts were cut loose and a motor boat freed.

Up stepped Teddy Sheean. He helped launch a life raft, then disobeyed orders and returned to his gun, strapped himself in and began firing at the Japanese fighter planes – The boy stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled.

As survivors leapt into the sea, they were machine-gunned by the enemy aircraft.

A survivor, Leading Seaman Leigh Bool recalled: Ratings were trying to get out lifesaving appliances as Jap planes roared just above us, blazing away with cannon and machine guns. Seven or eight of us were on the quarterdeck when we saw another bomber coming from the starboard quarter. It hit us with another torpedo and we were thrown in a heap among the depth charges and racks. We could feel Armidale going beneath us, so we dived over the side and swam about 50 yards astern as fast as we could. Then we stopped swimming and looked back at our old ship. She was sliding under, the stern high in the air, the propellers still turning.

Navy records show that, despite being wounded  in the chest and back, Teddy Sheean managed to shoot down one bomber and keep other planes away from his mates in the water.

The last sighting of Teddy was of him still firing his gun as HMAS Armidale slipped below the waves.

A  painting by Dale March depicting Teddy Sheean’s historic last stand hangs in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The loss of Armidale resulted in a change to RAN policy, preventing minimally armed vessels like the Bathurst-class corvettes travelling into areas of heavy enemy presence while attempting tasks similar to Armidale’s.


Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean was born on 28 December 1923 at Barrington, Tasmania.  He was the 14th child of  James and Mary Jane (nee  Broomhall).

Teddy was educated at the local Catholic school. He took casual work on farms between Latrobe and Merseylea. In Hobart on 21 April 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve as an ordinary seaman, following in the steps of five of his brothers who had joined the armed forces (four of them were in the army and one in the navy). After initial training, he was sent to Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria, in February 1942.

In May Teddy Sheean was posted to Sydney where he was billeted at Garden Island in the requisitioned ferry Kuttabul, before joining his first ship as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun-loader.

Commissioning of HMAS Armidale

On home leave, he was not on board Kuttabul when Japanese midget submarines raided the harbour and sank her on 31 May. Eleven days later he returned to Sydney for assignment and  the commissioning of  his ship, the new corvette HMAS. Armidale, which was assigned  to escort duties along the eastern Australian coast and in New Guinea waters. Ordered to sail for Darwin in October, Armidale arrived there early in November. The Armidale and Teddy with her were lost sixth months later.

Teddy Sheean was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery. In 2020 he became Australia’s 101st recipient of the Victoria Cross, the first to be awarded to a member of the RAN. A Collins-class submarine, launched in 1999, was named after him—the only ship in the RAN. to bear the name of an ordinary seaman.

The town of Latrobe, where Teddy Sheean grew up after moving there as a youngster,  installed a memorial plaque in his honour. There is also a plaque in Launceston.


HMAS Armidale (J240), named for the city of Armidale, northern NSW, was one of 60 Bathurst-class corvettes built during World War II, and one of 36 manned and commissioned  by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

Launched in early 1942, and initially assigned to convoy escort duties, Armidale was transferred to Darwin in October 1942 under the captain, Lieutenant Commander David Richards.

The corvette was attacked and sunk off Betano Bay  on the south coast of Portuguese Timor just two months later.

Of the complement of 149, 49 were saved.

In 1938, the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board (ACNB) had called for a general purpose ‘local defence vessel’ capable of both anti-submarine and mine-warfare duties. The Board first preferred a displacement of about 500 tons, a speed of at least 10 knots (19 km/h) and a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km).

Operational needs changed and the Board opted for a 680-ton vessel, with a 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h) top speed, and a range of 2,850 nautical miles (5,280 km), armed with a 4-inch gun, and able to be fitted with either depth charges or minesweeping equipment depending on the planned operations.

Construction of a prototype, HMAS Kangaroo, did not go ahead, but the need for locally built utility vessels for World War II saw the “Australian Minesweepers” (so designated to hide anti-submarine capability, but generally referred to as “corvettes”) approved in September 1939, with 60 constructed during the war: 36 (including Armidale) ordered by the RAN, 20 ordered by the British Admiralty but manned and commissioned as RAN vessels, and 4 for the Royal Indian Navy.

Armidale was laid down by Morts Dock & Engineering Co in Sydney on 1 September 1941. She  was floated on 24 January 1942 and commissioned on 11 June 1942.

The Armidale eventually became a class of its own, with a new HMAS Armidale as the flagship.

The RAN said at he time “HMAS Armidale and her 12 sister Armidale Class Patrol Boats and two Cape Class Patrol Boats are Navy’s principal contribution to the nation’s fisheries protection, immigration, customs and drug law enforcement operations. The vessels work hand-in-hand with other Government agencies as part of the Australian Border Force. In the event of war they would be tasked to control the waters close to the Australian mainland.

Armidale Class Patrol Boats are highly capable and versatile warships which are able to conduct a wide variety of missions and tasks.”

The latest HMAS Armidale, with an aluminium hull, was built by Austal Ships in Fremantle and commissioned in 2005.

With the first of a new class of offshore patrol boats – the Arafura class OPVs – due to join the RAN from late 2021, the Armidale class were being retired progressively.

Though it appears there were no sailors from the city of Armidale aboard the original HMAS Armidale, some of its crew felt an affinity with the town.

One of the survivors wrote to the  Armidale council in January 1943, as recorded in a local newspaper:

“The Armidale Town Clerk, Mr F. W. Milner, has received a letter from Mr S.D. Davies, a survivor of HMAS Armidale addressed from Gloucester. He writes: ‘I was in the second batch of 26 picked up on the ninth day after the sinking of the ship and at present am enjoying several days leave at home. It was a pleasure to serve in the Armidale. We had a good captain, officers and crew and we were sorry to leave the little ship – but not before we gave the Japs a taste of what we were made of. I want to thank you for the comforts we received on the ship and wish you and the people of Armidale a merry Christmas and a bright and happy New Year’.”

HMAS Armidale  bore the crest of the Armidale City Council (above). Ald. E. M. K. Wilson told a council meeting: “The town should be very gratified at the compliment to Armidale. The best thanks of the council should be given to the commander. Local patriotic bodies would be pleased to help with comforts needed by the men of the ship. If he writes to the local branch of the Patriotic Fund we would be pleased to co-operate.”


Sources and references: Australian War Memorial; TROVE archive of newspapers and publicly available reports; N. Watson, “Sheean, Edward (Teddy) (1923–1942)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University; and as acknowledged through the text, including Dr Kevin Smith’s paper.











Operation Postmaster was a British operation on the Spanish island of Bioko,  known then as Fernando Po. The objective was to board Axis Italian and German ships in the harbor and sail them to Lagos, destabilising the Axis Forces. British authorities refused to support the raid, considering it a breach of Spanish neutrality. It was left up to the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to carry out the mission.

Baker Street Irregulars and
a daring plot in Spain

Operation Postmaster was dicey. The plan was to board Italian and German ships in the harbour at  the Spanish port of Fernando Po in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa, in 1941 and sail them to Lagos.

The British military suspected that the fuel  being pumped into German submarines was being transported to Spanish ports by disguised civilian cargo ships.

The British encountered three suspicious vessels, believed to be using radios to secretly navigate for  German submarines. All three ships were in Spanish territory.

The problem with the British plan: such a raid by Britain could breach Spain’s neutrality in World War II and even drive the Spanish to join the Axis Powers (The “Axis of Evil”), a coalition of Germany, Italy, and Japan fighting the Allied Powers in World War II.

The go-ahead was given by the British Foreign Office against the advice of British officials in the region who believed the operation constituted an act of piracy.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain put his name to the paper to establish the SOE: “A new organisation shall be formed forthwith to co-ordinate all action, by way of subversion and sabotage, against the enemy overseas.”

After Cabinet approval SOE officially came into being on 22 July 1940 to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, in Southeast Asia) against the Axis powers and to assist local resistance movements.

  Baker Street

SOE was sometimes referred to as “the Baker Street Irregulars”, after its London HQ. It was also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army” or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”.

Its various divisions were concealed for security purposes behind names such as the “Joint Technical Board” or the “Inter-Service Research Bureau”, or fictitious branches of the Air Ministry, Admiralty or War Office.

SOE employed or controlled around 13,000 people, including about 3,200 women.

The Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) was set up in the early 1940s to carry out raids on the coast of Northern France and the Channel Islands. It was to gather information and take prisoners to be interrogated.

Winston Churchill initiated the “pinprick” raids, believing they would demoralise the German troops stationed along the Channel coast of occupied France.


The SSRF was founded by Major Gus March-Phillipps (above), Major Geoffrey Appleyard and Captain Graham Hayes.

They chose small boats for inshore operations. Members of the force were drawn from The Special Boat Service (SBS), the SOE and nationals from countries including France, Poland, The Netherlands and Czechoslovakia.

  An SSRF force

The SSRF raid was carried out by 11 of its men under the command of Major March-Phillipps, with four men from SOE and 17 local volunteers.

The SSRF left home for the Spanish colony in August 1941 aboard the trawler Maid Honour, from Brixham, for the daring raid on the ships at Fernando Po. In Nigeria, Governo, Sir Bernard Bourdillon  provided the raiders with two tugs.

The aim was to take over an Italian merchant vessel Duchessa d’Aosta (above), a German tug and a barge that had been impounded by the Spanish Government. Britain feared the ships could be used to supply U-boats operating off West Africa.

Reaching the port late at night on 14 January 1942 the commandos used plastic explosives to break the anchor chains.

They overpowered the crews on the three ships and sailed off with them and 29 prisoners to Lagos.

The mission took just 30 minutes from the time the tugs entered the harbour to leaving with the three ships under tow. There was no loss to the raiding party.

The tugs experienced motor problems on the way and a ship was sent from Lagos to complete the mission.

It was reported that to lure the officers away from the ships, SOE agent Richard Lippett who had taken a job with a British shipping company with an office on the island, and Spanish “friends” threw a party and invited officers from the impounded ships. It was also reported that the officers were offered free use of the island’s brothel.

The operation was a triumph for SOE.  The Spanish were furious. Foreign Minister Serrano Suner said of the operation: “It was an intolerable attack on our sovereignty; no Spaniard can fail to be roused by this at of piracy committed in defiance of every right and within water under our jurisdiction. Do not be surprised if we return the answer which the case demands – that of arms.” There was no action.

March-Phillips, Hayes, Appleyard, Lippett and other participants all received honours for their parts in the raid.

British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden denied all knowledge of Operation Postmaster, attributing it to the Free French.

But the truth came to light almost 70 years later. Solicitor Brian Lett, whose father served with the SOE, gained access to documents relating to the top secret raid.

He discovered that the Naval Liaison Officer for Operation Postmaster was Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond 007.

Lett believes the SSRF team was the basis for the creation of the James Bond character: “Before his death, Fleming said 90 per cent of the plots came from his personal experience,” Lett said in an interview.

In 2012 Brian Letts published the book, Ian Fleming and SOE’s Operation Postmaster – the untold top secret story (Pen and Sword Books). Letts argues (probably reasonably  that the people involved in the operation were the inspiration for Fleming’s series of nine James Bond books.

March-Phillipps was killed during Operation Aquaint in September 1942, Hayes was captured on the same operation and a German firing squad eventually executed him in 1943. Appleyard joined the SAS and on the same day Hayes was executed, he was reported missing in his plane while on an aerial mission.


The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was approved by Cabinet and officially formed by Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on 22 July 1940, to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, also in occupied Southeast Asia) against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.

It was formed from a merger of Department – MI R, the Ministry of War Section D (sabotage), the secret service SIS/MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service) and the team of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Propaganda.

SOE’s first headquarters were three floors of the Victorian St Ermin’s hotel in central London, close to St James Park Tube Station and also close to Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.

Later, the headquarters were established at 64 Baker Street, under the contracted name Union Trading Company. It had facilities in the main cities of Europe and Africa, including Stockholm, Lisbon, Madrid, Bari, Algiers. SOE agents were trained in England and on the west coast of Scotland.

Those who were part of SOEor who had contact with it  were sometimes referred to as the “Baker Street Irregulars”, after London HQ location. It was also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army” or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”.

Many of its activities  were disguised by names such as the “Joint Technical Board” or the “Inter-Service Research Bureau”, or fictitious branches of the Air Ministry, Admiralty or War Office. As well as Ian Fleming, another notable member included actor Sir Christopher Lee.

The organisation was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. The memorial to all those who served in the SOE during the Second World War was unveiled on 13 February 1996 on the wall of the west cloister of Westminster Abbey. Another memorial to SOE’s agents was unveiled in October 2009 on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace in London. A Valençay SOE Memorial honours 104 SOE agents who lost their lives while working in France.

There were more than 40  female secret agents operating for the SOE overseas during its lifetime.


The Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) was created in 1942 by the Chief of Combined Operations, Lord Louis Mountbatten,  a maternal uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

He believed in the use of specialist soldiers trained in sabotage. The SSRF was to be an amphibious force of no more than 50 men. It was placed under Mountbatten’s command.

The force in essence already existed as the Special Operation Executive’s Maid Honour Force named after the converted trawler it used. Though Mountbatten had control over the SSRF, it remained on the SOE’s role as Station 62. The SSRF was commanded by Major Gus March-Phillipps (sometimes spelled Phillips).

The unit undertook raids on German targets.  Members worked only in small groups, in the belief that such groups would be far more  detect. However, on the night of September 12 1942, the SSRF attacked St Honorine in Normandy but most in the raiding force were killed, including March-Phillipps. The command of the force passed to Major Geoffrey Appleyard, previously its second in command.

The SSRF raids buoyed Allied spirits and helped undermined the morale of the Germans troops.

The SSRF was disbanded in April 1943; other commando units were getting larger and there were divisions arising between the roles of SSRF and SOE.


Ian Lancaster Fleming was born on 28 May 1908 in Mayfair, London.

His parents were well off and he spent his school years at top British schools Eton and Sandhurst military academy. He took up writing while schooling in Kitzbuhel, Austria. He failed entrance requirements for the Foreign Service and joined the news agency Reuters as a journalist.

He worked in the financial sector for the family bank, but just before World War II and was recruited into British Naval Intelligence where he excelled. He rose to the rank of  Commander, which later became his nickname.

After the war Fleming retired to Jamaica where he built a house called “Goldeneye,” took up writing full-time and created the character that made him famous – British Secret Service agent James Bond, in a novel called “Casino Royale,” the first of nine in his 007 series.

Fleming spent the rest of his life writing and traveling as his Bond character reached new heights of popularity on movie screens.

He also wrote the novel “Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car” which was released in three volumes from October 1964, after his death. The main character was Commander Caractacus Pott.

It became a successful musical-fantasy film in 1968, starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Adrian Hall, Heather Ripley, Lionel Jeffries, Benny Hill, James Robertson Justice, Robert Helpmann, Barbara Windsor and Gert Fröbe.

Roald Dahl was a co-writer of the screenplay.

Fleming’s  health began to fail and he died of a heart attack (his second) in England in August 1964 at the age of 56.

This article is an extension of a chapter in Elite Special Forces, 75 Years of Covert Action, Chris McLeod, Wilkinson Publishing.


“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
“The Innocents Abroad” By Mark Twain

Travels and travails

Mention Mark Twain and you probably think of the adventures of  Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Adventure was something of a theme in Twain’s life. He brought those adventures to life through his writing and his lecturer tours.

Best known for two books,  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  and  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain himself was an avid world traveller, some of his trips brought about by necessity after he went broke.

Often his transport of choice was a train. In the US, a train was named for him. More on that later.

Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens  on 30 November 1835, in Florida, Missouri, the  sixth of seven children of Jane and John Marshall Clemens. Only three children survived childhood.

Twain’s family moved to the port town of Hannibal, Missouri, when he was four. Slavery was legal in Missouri at the time and became a theme in his most famous books.

His father was an attorney and judge, who died of pneumonia in 1847, when Twain was 11. The following year, Twain left school after the fifth grade to become a printer’s apprentice. In 1851, he began work as a typesetter, producing articles and humorous drawings for the Hannibal Journal newspaper .When he was 18, he left Hannibal and worked as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.

He educated himself in public libraries in the evenings, noting that he learned more there than at a formal school.

But like some of his young friends, the lure of good money for marine work was a long-held ambition.

He had his eyes on the job of a boatman. He noted:  “Pilot was the grandest position of all. The pilot, even in those days of trivial wages, had a princely salary – from a hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars a month, and no board to pay.”

It took him more than two years to get his pilot’s license. Piloting also gave him his pen name from “mark twain”, from the leadsman’s cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms (12 feet), which was safe water for a steamboat.

Twain eventually gave away life on the water to head to Nevada with  his brother Orion, where he set himself up as a miner. He failed at mining, so he went back to something with which he was familiar and a job at the Virginia City newspaper Territorial Enterprise,

It was his experiences in the “west” that led to him into writing and his humorous musings  brought him some notice. In 1864 Twain moved to San Francisco, still as a journalist.

His first real success as a writer came with the humorous tale, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was published on 18 November, 1865, in the New York weekly The Saturday Press, gaining him national attention.

In 1867, a local newspaper funded his trip to the Mediterranean aboard the Quaker City, including a tour of Europe and the Middle East. He wrote a collection of travel letters which were later compiled as The Innocents Abroad (1869).

Twain married Olivia Langdon (the sister of a man he met on the Quaker City) in  Elmira, New York in February 1870,

They lived in Buffalo, New York, until 1872.  Twain took a stake in the Buffalo Express newspaper and worked as an editor and writer. While they were living in Buffalo, their son Langdon died of diphtheria at the age of 19 months. They had three daughters: Susy (1872–1896), Clara (1874–1962),and Jean (1880–1909).

In November 1872, Twain was a passenger on the Cunard Line steamship Batavia which rescued the nine surviving crew of the British barque Charles Ward. Twain wrote to the Royal Humane Society recommending and honour for Batavia‘s captain and the crew.

Twain moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut, from 1873.

Twain wrote many of his classic novels during his 17 years in Hartford (1874–1891) and over 20 summers at Quarry Farm, Elmira, where they spent many summers and where Twain did much writing.

His works included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Life on the Mississippi (1883), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). Twain has been referred to as “The Father of American Literature.”

The couple were married for 34 years;  Olivia died in 1904. All the Clemens family are buried in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

Twain is said to have been fascinated with science and scientific inquiry. He developed a close friendship with inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla. Twain spent considerable time in Tesla’s laboratory.

He patented three inventions, including an “Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments” (to replace suspenders) and a history trivia game. Most commercially successful was a self-pasting scrapbook; a dried adhesive on the pages needed only to be moistened before use (more than 25,000 were sold).

Twain was an early proponent of fingerprinting as a forensic technique, featuring it in Life on the Mississippi (1883) and as a central plot element in the novel Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894).

Twain made considerable money from his  writing, but he lost much of it  through investments. He invested mostly in inventions and technology, particularly the Paige typesetting machine. Though it was an exceptional machine when it worked, it was prone to breakdowns and eventually lost out to the invention of the Linotype.

That cost him most  of his book profits, as well as much of his wife’s inheritance.

Twain also lost money by way of his publishing house, Charles L. Webster and Company, which failed to produce a top-seller..

By 1895, Mark Twain, was broke.

In July 1895, Twain – recovering from financial ruin – undertook a year-long, around-the-world lecture tour (150 lectures were scheduled) to pay off his creditors in full, although he was not under any legal obligation to do so.

The 13-month lecture tour would take him (accompanied by wife Olivia and daughter Clara)  from America to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India and finally England.

In September 1895, he arrived in Watsons Bay in Sydney aboard the RMS Warrimoo, to give “at home” talks in a number of cities.

Described by Melbourne advertising posters as “the funniest man in the world”,  Twain packed the house wherever he spoke. He made good money.


Mark Twain visited  Australia and New Zealand  from September of 1895 to January of 1896.

In Australia, he travelled mostly by train, from Sydney to Melbourne and even ventured out to  Geelong, Castlemaine, Hobart, Maryborough, the Blue Mountains, the Hawkesbury River, Stawell, Newcastle and Scone.

It is hard to know if he was an avid train and railway enthusiast. He wrote a lot about trains though.

His reaction to having to change trains overnight at the break-of-gauge on the NSW-Victoria border is well-documented.

He noted: “Now comes a singular thing: the oddest thing, the strangest thing, the most baffling and unaccountable marvel that Australia can show. At the frontier between New South Wales and Victoria our multitude of passengers were routed out of their snug beds by lantern light in the morning in the biting cold of a high altitude to change cars on a road that has no break in it from Sydney to Melbourne! Think of the paralysis of intellect that gave that idea birth; imagine the boulder it emerged from on some petrified legislator’s shoulders. It is a narrow-gauge road (he meant to say ‘standard’) to the frontier, and a broader gauge thence to Melbourne. The two governments are the builders of the road and are the owners of it. One or two reasons are given for this curious state of things. One is that it represents the jealousy between the colonies, the two most important colonies of Australasia.”

He recorded some of his travels in More Tramps Abroad (1897).

Twain  made it out to Maryborough in central Victoria where he found an impressive bit of infrastructure that prompted him to write: “Don’t you overlook that Maryborough station, if you take an interest in governmental curiosities. Why, you can put the whole population of Maryborough into it, and give them a sofa apiece, and have room for more.”

Twain had also travelled by train in India, in 1925.

He wrote:

“Inside the great station, tides upon tides of rainbow-costumed natives swept along, this way and that, in massed and bewildering confusion, eager, anxious, belated, distressed; and washed up to the long trains and flowed into them with their packs and bundles, and disappeared, followed at once by the next wash, the next wave. And here and there, in the midst of this hurly-burly, and seemingly undisturbed by it, sat great groups of natives on the bare stone floor, young, slender brown women, old, gray wrinkled women, little soft brown babies, old men, young men, boys; all poor people, but all the females among them, both big and little, bejewelled with cheap and showy nose-rings, toe-rings, leglets, and armlets, these things constituting all their wealth, no doubt. These silent crowds sat there with their humble bundles and baskets and small household gear about them, and patiently waited–for what? A train that was to start at some time or other during the day or night! They hadn’t timed themselves well, but that was no matter–the thing had been so ordered from on high, therefore why worry? There was plenty of time, hours and hours of it, and the thing that was to happen would happen – there was no hurrying it.”


A railroad is like a lie — you have to keep building to it to make it stand. A railroad is a ravenous destroyer of towns, unless those towns are put at the end of it and a sea beyond, so that you can’t go further and find another terminus. And it is shaky trusting them, even then, for there is no telling what may be done with trestle-work.
– Letter to the San Francisco Alta California, printed May 26, 1867



Back home in the US, the traveller, author and raconteur was honoured with his name on a train – the Mark Twain Zephyr. Unfortunately it suffered an inglorious demise.

The train was one of nine  self-propelled sets built for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and was designed for regular service between St. Louis and Burlington, Iowa.

The train’s name came courtesy of one of the stops — Hannibal, Mo., home of Mark Twain. In fact, the year the route began was the 100th anniversary of Twain’s birth.

Built in 1935 — a year after the Pioneer Zephyr, the first of the class — the Mark Twain  was the fourth Zephyr built.

The Mark Twain Zephyr was sent out on to the tracks in 1935, christened by Nina Clemens Gabilowitsch who was the granddaughter and ultimately last descendant of Mark Twain. It comprised some of the earliest streamlined passenger cars.

It set a top speed of 188 km/h in trials, which puts many of today’s modern American passenger services to shame. Its normal operating speed was from 64-95 km/h.

The train was built to operate the 711 km St Louis and Burlington round trip, carrying 92 passengers. One of its stops was Hannibal, home of Mark Twain.

Most of its service history was carrying passengers and mail on a route that followed the Mississippi River along Iowa and Missouri until 1958.

Each of the four cars was named after a character from one of Twain’s books. Injun Joe carried the power unit and mail compartment; Beck Thatcher was the baggage car; Huckleberry Finn was the kitchen and dining car and Tom Sawyer was a passenger car with a rear observation lounge.

The train also was air-conditioned, believed to be among the first American passenger trains to be so equipped.

The service began on what would have been Twain’s 100th birthday; he died of a heart attack on 21 April 1910, aged 74.

The train was built from stainless steel by the Budd company and was powered by a 660 hp, 8-cylinder, 2-cycle diesel engine designed by General Motors, and built by the Electro Motive Corporation.

High speeds were achieved by way of an unusual design. By articulating the 85 m long train, three trucks and 34 wheels were eliminated from what a conventional train with a steam locomotive and three cars would have, resulting in significant weight reduction. The front part of one car and the rear of the preceding one rested upon the same truck, held together by a sleeve joint, allowing it to round curves efficiently. Roller bearings were applied to all axles reducing friction, and maintenance.

When the railroad retired the Mark Twain train in May 1963 after first switching it back and forth to various Zephyr routes, it passed through several hands where with good intentions restoration was planned. But the train ended up sitting pretty much abandoned as a shell of its former glorious self, awaiting an investor willing to fund its restoration, apparently an unlikely outcome due to the extensive cost.

But when it seemed there was little hope of the Mark Twain Zephyr plying the rails again, up stepped the  Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad in 2020 with a dozen full-time employees and some willing volunteers in Trego, Wisconsin, setting about refurbishing the engine, three passenger cars and a baggage car. Restoration was expected to be completed in 2021.

Wit and Wisdom

“′Classic′ – a book which people praise and don’t read.”

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).”

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.”


“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

Sources: TROVE (newspaper archives), biography.com, history.com, goodreads.com, wikipedia.



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.




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