© Michael Shelford 2019
Mary Ann Smith, alias ‘The Woman In Black’, was born at sea in 1826. NSW prison authorities were not sure which year she arrived in their colony, nor which ship brought her to them.
She was, for long periods, a lone wolf pickpocket - but she also ran an all-female assault and robbery gang in Sydney in the early 1870’s.
Her prison record is the only one that I’ve noticed, where ‘Thief’ is listed as the prisoner’s trade or occupation.
In October 1870, Mary Ann Smith, along with accomplices - Mary Smith, (yes another one), and Wentworth Dixon, found herself undergoing trial for assault and robbery. A man named Thomas Beard testified that, on the previous Saturday night, he had met a woman on the street in downtown Sydney, and accompanied her to a house in nearby Cohen’s Court. His new friend had quickly absented herself, leaving him in the company of the aforementioned women: Mary Ann Smith, Mary Smith and Wentworth Dixon. Shortly afterwards, Mary Smith decided to break the uncomfortable silence by snatching Beard's hat and running upstairs with it. When Beard went upstairs, in pursuit of said hat, Mary attempted to steal some money from his side-pouch - but the money fell to the floor and he was able to secure it. It was then explained that if he wished to be reacquainted with his hat, he must shout them all drinks at the pub.
He went with Mary Ann Smith, Mary Smith and Wentworth Dixon to the Ship Inn, on Clarence St, where he shouted two rounds. He was rewarded, as promised, with the return of his hat – but then Mary snatched it again and ran off. He chased her all the way back to the house where they were soon joined by the others. The four of them were sitting together on the couch, engaged in amiable conversation, when suddenly one of them grabbed hold of his beard. The two others secured his arms and he was forced to the floor. After a violent struggle, he managed to free himself from their grasp. He raced to the front door but found it to be securely locked. He looked around in a panic for other avenues of escape and saw a closed window. Without hesitation he ran and dived through it, shattering the glass and cutting his arm.
He was in possession of his freedom, he still had his money - but I’m not sure what became of his hat.
After a lengthy court process, Mary Ann Smith, Mary Smith and Wentworth Dixon were found not guilty.
In the early 1870's, Mary Ann Smith's gang were also known to rob people on the street: often attacking them physically, before dragging them into a side alley and going through their clothing for valuables. This occurred mainly around the Clarence Street area of the Sydney CBD. They also went through the pockets of drunken men who were unwise enough to fall asleep in public places. The Ship Inn, on Clarence St in downtown Sydney, was Mary Anne’s local boozer, and she was known to ‘knuckle on’ at this establishment on a regular basis. In 1872, Police Inspector Rawlinson described her as “one of the cleverest thieves in the colony”.
Mary Ann Smith was referred to as “The Woman In Black” in newspaper articles, police records, and on her prison entries.
Photo courtesy of NSW State Archives
by Michael Shelford © 2018
About 2.30am on the morning of the 28th September 1915, Constable Preece was working his beat in the back streets of Fitzroy when he saw a lone man carrying a galah in a cage. Being an unusual hour of the morning for someone to be out walking their pet, he decided to stop the man and ask him his business.
The man, it turns out, was a career criminal by the name of John ‘Scotty’ King. Scotty’s explanation, that he’d won the galah in a hotel raffle, was viewed as unlikely by Constable Preece, so he decided to arrest the wayward bird fancier. Scotty, who was obviously not partial to the handcuffs produced, threw a punch which broke Constable Preece’s jaw and dislodged 3 of his teeth. During the ensuing struggle a 2nd bird escaped Scotty’s pocket and flew to freedom. Constable Preece, dazed and vulnerable, pulled his police revolver and commenced firing shots in the air to attract attention. He then tempered Scotty’s recalcitrance by bringing down the aforementioned handcuffs on his head. A weakened Scotty and the squawking bird were subsequently escorted to the Fitzroy lockup and detained. Both Scotty and Constable Preece required medical attention, and on the way from the lockup to hospital, Scotty said to Preece “I hope you are not cross with me for hitting you. It is all in the game – mine to get away if I can, and yours to get me if you can.”
The galah was released from custody the following day when collected by its rightful owner.
John ‘Scotty’ King was found guilty of stealing in a dwelling and assaulting a police officer and sentenced to 2 years in Pentridge Prison.
To learn more about the era when Fitzroy was considered by Police to be “the home of Melbourne’s criminals”, come along on the Fitzroy True Crime walking tour. Sundays at 1pm and Fridays 2pm. Gift Vouchers are also available and are the perfect present for Birthdays, Christmas or any excuse really. Gift Vouchers can be purchased and tour bookings made by clicking on the 'Book Now' button or tab.
In 1918, several Melbourne Police Officers found themselves under investigation after they were discovered in a brothel by their supervisor during an internal investigation.
By Michael Shelford © 2018
In the years spent trawling through the historic police files at Public Record Office of Victoria, I’ve come across a lot of cases of alleged impropriety by police officers. Such occurrences are to be expected within any large organisation, but within an organisation such as the Police, where the accused are the enforcers of law, it should be of no surprise that matters were generally investigated internally - and the outcomes, guilty or otherwise, kept away from the newspapers where possible.
One of the more interesting files of this nature was an investigation into anonymous letters, received by the Chief Commissioner of Police in 1918. The letters alleged that two plain clothes police officers were in the habit of spending part of their shift each night, in the brothel-beds of ‘Fat Mona’ and ‘Barber Lil’.
In November 1918, when Melbourne’s old inner-city brothel district, ‘Little Lon’, was still in full swing, number 56 Lonsdale St, a building long since demolished, was a brothel disguised as a lolly shop. It was Mona's place of business at the time, and the focus of the subsequent investigation. The first of the aforementioned letters received by Chief Commissioner Sainsbury outlined the allegations as follows:
Sir I must bring under your notice the way Constables Skipper & Randle are carrying on when they are on night patrol. They meet the Officer at midnight and then they go to bed with 2 prostitutes until early morning. Randle sleeps with a woman known as ‘Fat Mona’, 56 Lonsdale St. And Skipper with ‘Barber Lils’, 22 Lonsdale St. This is only when they are on night patrol, midnight until morning. Hoping you will have them watched,
I remain yours,
One who has seen them.”
A second letter arrived, also in November 1918, and read:
Sir I must inform you of the conduct of your night patrol, Skipper and Randle. They meet their Officer at midnight and then they go to 56 Lonsdale St and sleep with 2 well known harlots till early morning and come out in time to go off duty … Are we paying them to sleep with women of the town? Hoping you have them watched and dealt with before we take it to the Truth (newspaper).
I am yours,
As a result of the correspondence, Senior Constable Campbell decided to keep Mona's place under surveillance. His subsequent report stated:
“I have to report that no. 56 Lonsdale St is a brothel kept by a woman known as ‘Mona’, although outward appearances indicate the house to be a confectionery shop. I received attached anonymous letters for attention on Friday evening last and on that same night I, at intervals, kept the house under surveillance but saw nothing unusual … On this morning (Sunday) at about 2 a.m. I took up a position in Leichardt St where I had a full view of the back entrance to 56 Lonsdale St … I could hear men and women conversing in the back room of the house which was close to where I was standing. After a little while I could easily distinguish the voices of Constables Skipper & Randle, although I could not phrase any of the conversation. At 3.30 a.m. the back door was opened and I heard Constable Randle say “We must be going.” Constables Randle and Skipper then opened the back gate and, as they did so, I entered. I walked into the back room and said to the woman ‘Mona’ “Are you the occupier of this house?” She replied “Yes”. I said “What are these men (meaning the Constables) doing here?” She said “We were having a Birthday and they came in to growl at us.” I saw no signs of liquor about but there were 3 women there besides ‘Mona’, 2 of whom I know as prostitutes. I came out and said to the Constables “This is nice conduct being in a house of that class and neglecting your work.” Constable Skipper said “I’m sure we work hard enough and if you do not go into these places you can get no information - and you are looked on as a bit of a ‘Nark’ if you don’t speak to them.” Constable Randle said “We were not there long and I am sure you don’t think we were there for any bad purpose.” I said “The Chief Commissioner has received anonymous complaints about you frequenting this house and sleeping with 2 women there.” The Constables strictly denied this assertion … I do not believe that there was any sexual impropriety in the Constables’ visits to this house but I do believe that they were foolish and indiscreet enough to visit this brothel unnecessarily and gossip with the inmates for periods of perhaps, at the outside, an hour during the night and some person in the neighbourhood, hostile to them, has greatly magnified matters with a view to having them found in the brothel.”
Though the internal investigation deemed that the constables' behaviour was suspicious, Mona, when further questioned, backed up their story by saying that they’d entered her place on the night in question to tell her to turn down her gramophone. Her gramophone was a very loud one, she’d said, and they’d knocked on the door to rebuke her for making too much noise. They’d then remained chatting for 20 minutes before leaving via the back, just as Senior Constable Campbell entered. She also said that police regularly entered and left her premises in the same manner as Constables Skipper and Randle had done and that no impropriety occurred.
Investigators were unable to trace the authors of the anonymous letters, so the claims in relation to the regularity of their visits were seen as unsubstantiated. Senior Constable Campbell also said in his report that it was impossible for the constables to spend from midnight until the end of their shift in bed with prostitutes. He pointed out that he visited the slum portion of the city at least 3 times per night and that it was rare that he was unable to find them. “I do not for a moment believe that there was any sexual impropriety in the constables’ visits to this house but I do believe they were foolish and indiscreet enough to visit this brothel unnecessarily and gossip with the inmates for periods of perhaps, at the outside, an hour during the night and some person in the neighbourhood, hostile to them, has greatly magnified matters with a view to having them found in the brothel, M Campbell, Senior Constable 4400, 24th November 1918.”
The end result of the investigation is best explained in the words of the persons in charge of making the final decision and enforcing it:
“Inspector Superintendent Davidson
Forwarded to the Chief Commissioner.
Whilst giving these constables credit for not being guilty of immoral conduct, I think it is clearly shown they spent too much time in this brothel. There can be no doubt, I think, but they were there for at least an hour on the morning Senior Constable Campbell found them there. On account of their previous good record, I am of the opinion the case can be met with a transfer to another block in the City, and not contiguous to the one now under notice. I recommend accordingly.”
“Russell Street Headquarters 13/12/1918
Noted and returned
Const Randle and Skipper were taken off the Plain Clothes patrol and placed on No. 1 Section, which is not in the locality of the premises subject to this complaint.
Sergeant N K Grange.”
In July 1917, a girl was featured in a Melbourne newspaper as the lucky winner of a cash prize. The only problem was that she was next to her mother in the photo, and her mother was wanted by the law.
by Michael Shelford © 2018
In July 1917, the daughter of Gertrude Burns won a competition. She had been snapped in a crowd photo at the Moonee Valley Races by ‘The Winner’, sports newspaper, and the photo published with a circle around it. Beneath the photo were what would normally have been the welcome words: “Any person whose face is ringed in the picture is entitled to a reward of 5/.”
It just so happened that next to her in the same photo was her mother - and her mother had a warrant out for her arrest. This did not go unnoticed by the police, who recognised her as the person wanted for twice robbing the licensee of the Bridge Hotel, in Richmond, by use of fraudulent cheques. They cut out the clipping, placed a cross on Gertrude’s face and included it in the case file as a clue.
It’s not known whether Gertrude’s daughter ever collected her prize but the police finally collected theirs 9 months later when Gertrude was arrested in Melbourne.
Melbourne’s Theatre Royal was a place of prestige for theatre goers - and a reliable source of income for the notorious ‘Bourke Street Rats' gang.
By Michael Shelford © 2018
The new Theatre Royal, 234 Bourke St, was built by actor, entrepreneur and politician George Coppin, after the last one had burnt down in 1872. It was a place of prestige, the venue for many of Melbourne’s most popular theatre productions - and also contained a number of ornately furnished and ‘well attended’ drinking bars.
These bars were frequented by wealthy visitors to Melbourne, persons with money to splurge and plenty of spare time to do so. The toilet closets were out on the eastern side, in an area which was open to Latrobe Place, a right of way which still connects Bourke and Little Bourke Streets today. Latrobe Place was not a place you wanted to be 120 years ago. It was the favourite haunt of a gang of pickpockets and garrotters known as the 'Bourke Street Rats' or ‘Rats Push’. Their sobriquet included the words ‘Bourke Street’ because of their predilection for robbing people around the theatre district of Bourke Street and ‘Rats’ because they disappeared like rats into the nearby alleys and laneways after the deed was done. The toilets of the Theatre Royal were, to the Bourke Street Rats, a gift that kept on giving.
In 1899, a man by the name of Ullett, who had taken on the task of a lengthy bender with great application and resolve, got arrested for drunkenness, and then complained that the police must have robbed him of his wallet containing £30 at the lockup. The police retraced his booze-affected steps with the assistance of bar tenders, drinking companions and other witnesses - and then reported that there was no doubt his wallet had gone missing "due to the fact of his leaving the Bar so frequently to go to the back premises where it is well known to us that several of the Rats Push are in the habit of frequenting, also spielers and doubtful characters who are always on the watch for drunken persons and no doubt he must have fallen into the hands of this trap."
The famous criminal, Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, would later join the same ‘Rats Push’ gang of thieves. Squizzy was charged with robbing a man in the back toilets of the Oxford Hotel on Lonsdale Street in 1907. He had been seen by the hotel publican in the toilets at the time that a drunken man was garrotted and robbed. Squizzy was found not guilty but police were of no doubt that he’d been one of those who had choked the victim into a state of insensibility before relieving him of his funds.
The Theatre Royal was demolished in 1933 and replaced by Manton’s Department Store, then Coles and then Target. The Target Centre still occupies the same space.
Latrobe Place will be a feature on the upcoming Chinatown night tours. Dates to be announced shortly.
by Michael Shelford © 2018.
When 28 year old convicted burglar, safe cracker, cop shooter and gaol breaker James Henry Townley was doing time in Pentridge Prison in 1917, police were investigating the possibility that he may have posted stolen jewellery to friends or relatives in Adelaide prior to his arrest. South Australia Police were quick to downplay the likelihood of relatives being involved, stating that the Townleys were respectable, upstanding citizens and that James was very much the black sheep of the family.
Authorities at Pentridge Prison were intercepting all of his mail and amongst what they passed on to police was this heart wrenching letter from his mother:
“My dear son Jim,
I have been daily expecting a few lines from you and as it has not come I feel that I must write to you. Perhaps you do not like to write to me on account of the latest trouble you are in, but you must when you get the opportunity because it will help me to bear it better. I am your mother and I love you with undying love and shall always be the same to you while life lasts. I do not pretend to understand this new calamity or why it has befallen you, but it has to be borne somehow. Your brother Herbert is to be married in less than a fortnight. I hope you will be very happy. He has been engaged a long time, but I did not expect it quite so soon. Ted and family send their love to you. I think Ted would like you to write to him – he is very unhappy about you. Lily sends her love. I send to you my heartfelt love for you are very dear to me.
With love from all,
I remain ever the same, Your loving mother
A beautiful depiction of a mother’s unwavering love for her child. Happy Mother’s Day from Melbourne Historical Crime Tours.
© Michael Shelford 2018
The Melbourne Cup was once a high priority target for those the police used to refer to as ‘the travelling class of magsmen’. They were the swindlers who would journey by ship or train between the major racing events to take advantage of the race day crowds.
The crowds at the bigger race events contained a larger percentage of occasional race goers, those more naive to the crafty methods of the seasoned swindler.
There were an assortment of ways in which to fool people out of their money. The ‘pea and thimble men’ enticed the crowd into betting on which thimble (or shell) the pea was under. The '3 card trick men' would tempt people to guess which card out of 3 was the red one - sleight of hand would mean that it was never the most obvious choice. There were others with portable roulette wheels and a table cloth printed with coloured, numbered squares. They would spread the cloth out like a picnic blanket so that punters could put their money on whichever number or colour they thought would win. There were countless types of magsmen at the races. If there was a way to ease someone of their money these guys had already thought of it, perfected it and taught it to others. All of their equipment was designed for a hasty pack-up because they always operated under the nose of the police who patrolled the racecourse flats.
In the week leading up to the 1884 Melbourne Cup, Melbourne police did a last-minute sweep of the city and arrested over 20 of the best-known magsmen in town. The charge was 'vagrancy', or in other words, 'having insufficient lawful means of support'. This meant that they would now need to present evidence, in court, that they received their income from lawful means. If they could not present pay slips or other proof that they were living off legal money, it was assumed they were living off the proceeds of crime and they would be sentenced to time in prison.
Leaving the arrests until the last minute was quite clever on the part of the police. It meant that the magsmen would be in prison awaiting trial whilst the Melbourne Cup was held. It didn't matter whether they were found guilty in court or not, they'd been prevented from preying on the crowds, and would soon be leaving town for the next major event anyway.
On this occasion, all were convicted and sentenced except a slippery customer called Thomas Carmody. He provided evidence that he owned property in Gippsland, thus convincing the judge that he had lawful means of support. Sergeant Thomas Nixon, who’d been in charge of the operation, said of Carmody in his later report: “This man is one of the oldest magsmen in the City and has been before the Court frequently on various charges of obtaining money by means of the Matchbox Trick and other similar games. (Sergeant Thomas Nixon, Police Report entitled ‘Magsmen’, 10th December 1884).
Carmody, who was born in Ireland in 1827, had given many demonstrations of the ‘matchbox trick’ over the years, one of which was detailed in the Argus newspaper in 1873. Nathaniel Ellis, a young farmer from Diamond Creek, was in Melbourne for business and had bumped into Thomas Carmody whilst walking along Bourke Street. Carmody introduced himself and explained that he was just recently arrived from country Victoria as well. Ellis was happy to meet another fellow from the bush and they walked about in amiable conversation until lunch time. Carmody then suggested that they go into the Australian Felix Hotel, (the building is still there on the corner of Bourke and Russell St), for a parting drink. Ellis explained that he was a member of the Order of Rechabites, and thus a non-drinker. Carmody responded by saying that he never touched anything stronger than sarsaparilla himself and on this note the two abstainers entered the venue to drink each other’s tee-totalling health. Not long afterwards, a stranger entered the pub and threw a matchbox on the counter. Carmody asked him for a match and the stranger threw him the box so that he could take his own. Try as he could though, Carmody couldn’t work out how to get the matchbox open. The stranger opened it, withdrew a match, tossed it to Carmody and then strolled outside for some air. While he was away, Carmody fiddled with the intricate box and managed to get it open. He then said to his new chum, Ellis, that now that they’d worked out how to open it, they should bet the man that they could do the same when he returned. When the man came back he didn’t believe that they knew the secret to opening his matchbox and kindly accepted a £10 bet from Carmody and £5 from Ellis. Unfortunately for Ellis, Carmody had forgotten his method and they both lost their money. Carmody had, of course, been working in concert with the stranger to achieve £5 profit. He was arrested later that day when Ellis saw him on the street and pointed him out to police. Carmody claimed in court that Ellis had lost his money at a game of skill and the charges were dismissed. This was one of the smaller profits for Carmody and his gang that year, having succeeded in fleecing other men of £50 and £100 at a time.
by Michael Shelford © 2017
In 1915, the Victorian police, under direction of Chief Commissioner Sainsbury, launched an undercover operation against Melbourne’s fortune telling industry. There'd been a number of recent complaints in regard to clairvoyants, palm readers, spiritualists and others who profited financially by claiming to predict the future. It was seen by the law at the time that such industries were fraudulent and made money by imposing on vulnerable people.
The operation revolved around the employment of 2 female agents who were assigned to collect evidence by posing as customers. The regular detectives from the Criminal Investigation Branch had experienced difficulty infiltrating the fortune telling networks as the mystics were always on their guard. Most of their customers were female and all police were male which meant that any strange male customers were immediately treated with suspicion.
Police Agents Georgina Daniell and Eva Asplin, were each paid £2.10 per week and were employed for a term of 16 weeks. Over this period they obtained substantial evidence against fortune tellers in Melbourne, Port Melbourne, South Yarra, Prahran, St Kilda, Caulfield, Fitzroy, Brunswick, Carlton and Yarraville.
The evidence culminated in 23 convictions and a return of £105 in fines.
Included on the list of convicted persons were such intriguing names as Madam Zingalle, Madam Zephey, Madam Orion, Madam Le Green and - the one and only Madam Reprah.
Alice Harper had adopted the pseudonym Madam Reprah back in the 1890's, 'Reprah' simply being the letters of Harper placed in reverse.
She specialised in 'character assessments': the reading of a person’s character “by a series of mind-pictures which are formed on the brain of each subject by the various influences that have affected the life of the individual.” Much of her career had been spent on the road, travelling from town to town, advertising her arrival in the newspapers and giving lectures at local halls. Her lectures on psychology, physiognomy (face reading), and phrenology (character reading by shape of the head), were free apart from a collection to cover travel and accommodation expenses. She would then remain in town for 7 days to give locals an opportunity to visit her for private, paid consultations. She had many happy customers, including those in influential circles, and held a loyal following throughout Australia. She had lately been showing signs of wanting to settle down and had just done a stint in a bricks and mortar store in Western Australia. Work must have been slowing down in the West so it was next stop Melbourne.
Whilst In the process of setting up her shop at 352 Chapel St, South Yarra, Madam Reprah thought it pertinent to visit Chief Commissioner Sainsbury to enquire as to whether her business would be permitted under law by the Melbourne police. She was known to be an engaging conversationalist and to have a charming educated, air. Sainsbury, a former head of detectives, obviously enjoyed the meeting but hesitated when it came to granting specific police permission to conduct a business which pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in Australia at the time. Madam Reprah, a character reader by trade, sensed his hesitation and countered it by inviting him to send an undercover detective for a surprise consultation. This way a truthful representation of her services could be ascertained.
Three weeks later Detective Bell was sent on a visit to her shop. He pretended to be a customer from the street and felt confident that his cover had not been blown, even though Madam Reprah remarked that the shape of his feet would have made him good for chasing criminals. He returned to the detective office with his written character reading and handed it to the head of the Criminal Investigation Branch, Sub Inspector O'Donnell. O'Donnell studied the reading before passing it on to the Chief Commissioner together with a report that gave his opinion of its contents. The Chief Commissioner then penned Madam Reprah a letter on Victoria Police letterhead:
Chief Commissioner’s Office
In reply to your verbal query I have to inform you that the manner in which you conduct your business is within the law.
You may be pleased to hear the result of the test I subjected you to per medium of Detective Bell.
The officer who has charge of the detectives in submitting his report to me says:
“This lady seems to be a genius. Her deliberation of the character, disposition and peculiarities of Bell is fairly correct”,
and in this I concur,
I am, yours faithfully,
A G Sainsbury CCP.
When the Chief Commissioner sent this letter he did not expect that Madame Reprah would put it up for display in her shop front window. After news that she had done so filtered back, Chief Commissioner Sainsbury hurriedly wrote the following memo:
“It has been reported to me that Madam Harper of 352 Chapel Street has exhibited in a window a copy or extract of a communication sent her from this office some months ago. As this is not the purpose for which Madame Harper was communicated with, cause her to be notified that the document will have to be withdrawn from the view of the public at once.”
On the reverse of the memo, Constable R Halpin replied:
“I have to report that I interviewed Madam Harper (otherwise Madam Reprah) on the 3rd inst., and when requested she at once removed the communication from the window, and said that she will not exhibit it again.”
Although Madame Reprah removed the letter from display, she didn't throw it away. She felt that it would come in handy one day and this it did. The following year she was caught up in the aforementioned raids of 1915 and used the letter in court as evidence that she had been trading in goodwill. This was a very embarrassing time for the Chief Commissioner. He was subpoenaed to appear at her trial and faced questions as to why he had given her permission to conduct a business that she was now being prosecuted for. When called to the witness stand he refused to turn to face the Bench of Justices even when directed by them to do so. This earned him a rebuke from the Chair. Another of the magistrates reprimanded him for handing out written testimonials to business-keepers of her type. His boss in parliament, the Chief Secretary, was not impressed either, saying that he thought the Chief Commissioner had “made a great mistake.”
Police blunder or not, Madame Reprah was convicted of 'Imposition by subtle craft' and fined £7 10/ with £5 5/ costs . She would continue to conduct her career in other locations, including New Zealand where she was also fined for fortune telling in 1921. By 1926, still trading under the name Madam Reprah, she was teaching piano and music theory in Sydney.
Chief Commissioner Sainsbury would remain at the helm of the Victoria Police until his retirement in 1919.
by Michael Shelford © 2017
*Alice Harper alias Madame Reprah was a woman of many exceptional talents and lived an amazing life. She was a public speaker, elocutionist, artist’s model, actress, musician, piano teacher, school teacher, hypnotist and an encyclopedia on psychology, phrenology and physiognomy. She also put herself in trances and gave demonstrations during which she claimed to be communicating with the dead. She was mother to the famous poet Anna Wickham.
Further reading: Anna Wickham: A Poet's Daring Life
By Jennifer Vaughan Jones
A New Matrix for Modernism: A Study of the Lives and Poetry of Charlotte Mew ...
By Nelljean Rice
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.
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.