A cunning way to make a quid had the old ‘racecourse whisperer’. Get into a conversation with a stranger, inform him that you’re in the know, that you’ve been chatting to a horse owner, a jockey … a stable hand. You tell him there’s a sure thing running in race 5, maybe it’s a rigged race … one of the donkeys has been juiced … or one of the champs has been doped. He gets all excited and plonks 50 quid on the nose. If he wins you go have a chat with him just after he’s collected. He’ll be so happy he’ll give you a tenner for sure, maybe another tenner if you give him a tip for race 6. If he loses, you avoid him at all costs and go catch up with that other fella instead - the one you advised to back a different horse.
By Michael Shelford ©,
Caulfield Cup Eve, 2017
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, con-men, card sharpers and common thieves used to meet the country trains at Flinders Street Station in the hope of befriending a mug. They’d be looking for a shearer, a miner, a farmer - anyone with wide eyes and a fat purse would do.
The con-man might choose the ‘inheritance from a rich uncle in Fiji’ story or the ‘buy shares in a sheep station’ yarn.
The card-sharper often used the ‘silly man trick’ to entice mugs into playing cards for money.
The common thief would try to entice the mug into a pub crawl. There’d be lots of friendly banter, they’d take turns shouting drinks and it would be a very pleasant afternoon until the mug from out of town started to show signs of intoxication. The thief would then explain that he knows a shortcut to another pub and next thing the mug knew he'd be waking up in a back-lane with a bump on his head and empty pockets.
“If I didn’t take it he’d be returning to his wife with an empty purse and a bad case of syphilis”, the thief would muse, “now, at least, he’s only going to be returning with an empty purse.”
If you were met by a friendly stranger on the country platform, in this era, it was best to politely decline any offers to be shown about the town.
By Michael Shelford, 2017.
For today, Friday the 13th October, I thought I’d share with you something I came across whilst going through the old police files at Public Record Office of Victoria.
In 1904, West Melbourne Grocer, Richard Jefferson Edwards, received a death threat from an anonymous letter writer using the pseudonym ‘Guy Fawkes’. It was written in a cursive style not unlike some dark-metal fonts of today. Edwards disregarded the threat as a hoax until he was tipped off that it may well have been written with serious intent. Attached above are the photos I took of the threatening letter and Edwards’ note to police.
"Beware! Thy days are numbered!
Prepare for Hell!
PS One man, one business
signed Guy Fawkes.
Tremble thou cutter!
for ye shall likewise be cut down,
like unto a tree,
by Guy Fawkes’ terrible hand
Thou shalt either live and let live
or thieve and be blown up.
Was it from a disgruntled former employee? The mention of cheap labour in the drawing of the coffin could be a clue to this. Could it have been a business associate? Could the Guy Fawkes theme have been symbolic of religious differences?
The outcome of the investigation is not known but Edwards lived right through until 1957 and the ripe old age of 92.
His days may have been numbered but the sum was substantial.
by Michael Shelford, Friday 13th October 2017
Michael Shelford is a writer who specialises in Australian true crime. He is currently completing a book on Melbourne's crime scene c1890's to 1920's. He is also the creator and guide for the walking tour company Melbourne Historical Crime Tours.