The last King’s champion

 

The Kings and queens of Britain have, over the years, exercised a right to nominate a champion to act on their behalf in cases of a challenge to combat. Obviously the sovereign could not engage in combat personally, so the champion was appointed to carry out this task on his or her behalf, although there is no record of a champion having to perform anything other than a ceremonial duty.

The King’s champion seems to be unique to England and the idea originated in the feudal laws of the 14th century. The champion’s main duty came during the banquet held directly after the coronation – he rode on horseback into the assembled company to defend the new sovereign ‘by his body, if necessary’ against anyone who dared challenge. The last occasion when this was performed was after the outrageously and lavish coronation of King George IV on 19 July 1821, when Henry Dymoke was the champion.

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The lavish banquet at Westminster Hall for the coronation of King George IV.

The feast was held in Westminster Hall, a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey where the coronation had taken place. A series of wooden galleries had been constructed in the hall for spectators to watch the celebrations. After the first course had been served the champion was called in to do his duty. A flourish of trumpets heralded his arrival on a piebald charger, flanked by the Duke of Wellington as Lord High Constable and Lord Howard as Deputy Earl Marshal. Dymoke read out his challenge at the gates to the hall:

If any person of what degree soever, high or low, shall deny or gainsay our sovereign lord King George IV, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, defender of the faith, son and next heir of our sovereign lord King George III, the last king deceased, to be right heir to the imperial crown of this United Kingdom, or that he ought not to enjoy the same, here is his champion, who saith that he lieth, and he is a false traitor; being ready in person to combat with him, and in this quarrel will adventure his life against him, on what day soever shall be appointed.

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Henry Dymoke, the last King’s champion to perform the role of being the protector of the monarch.

 

He flung his gauntlet onto the stone floor. There was no-one to accept his challenge and it was returned to him by his esquire. The party rode to the middle of the hall and the challenge was repeated. It was finally issued for the third and last time, amidst great applause from the assembled throng, at the steps leading to the royal banqueting table. His Majesty, now presumably relieved that there were no takers for the challenges, drank the health of his champion. He then passed the golden goblet to his champion who drank to His Majesty’s health in turn with the cry, “Long live his Majesty, King George IV!”. The cup was passed to his page who bore it away for Dymoke family posterity.

The King soon left the hall to return to the palace. The feast rapidly descended from sublime pomp into embarrassing farce. The guests and serving attendants now approached the deserted royal tables. Cautiously at first but then with increasing boldness, souvenirs of gold cutlery, plates, vases and many other portable items disappeared into the pockets of the surrounding crowd. The Lord High Chamberlain managed to push his way through the crowd and save the more important items.

Even at the time the expense of the coronation was extremely criticised. The King’s robes for the occasion cost £25,000 and were worn for only a few hours. The total cost was a quarter of a million pounds. The King’s popularity, never high, was soon as low as ever in the country. Nine years later his brother William IV spent only £50,000 on his entire coronation.

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King George IV wearing his extravagent coronation robe.

Never again was the King’s champion required to perform these official duties. The position of champion, however still exists. It is hereditary, tied to the lordship of the manor of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire since 1377 and the present incumbent is the direct descendant of the last active champion, Henry Dymoke.

 The source for this post was “The Guinness Book of Lasts” by Christopher Slee, Guinness Publishing, London, 1994, pp. 165-166

John Friedrich and the National Safety Council

Gordon Gecko said in the movie Wall Street that “Greed was good”, and the 1980’s was a decade that showed that gaining great wealth and showing it off was considered almost a virtue, rather than as a trait of poor character. Australia was not immune to this – examples included Christopher Skase and Qintex, Alan Bond and Swan Breweries and John Elliott and CUB. One of the more interesting and notorious examples of the “Greed is Good” motto was the rise and fall of the National Safety Council of Victoria, and its charismatic leader John Friedrich.

The story began back in January 1975, when John Friedrich arrived in Australia from his native West Germany. John Friedrich wasn’t his real name, which was Friedrich Johann Hohenberger. Hohenberger was born in Munich in 1950, and started work for a road construction company there in the early 1970’s. In December 1974 it was discovered that Hohenberger had defrauded the company of 300,000 Deutschmarks. Before he could be arrested for embezzlement, Hohenberger disappeared, making it look like he had either committed suicide or had died in a skiing accident in Italy. Instead he caught a plane to the other side of the world to make sure that the West German police couldn’t follow him, and rearranged his name to make the name that would make him infamous a few years later.

After spending several years working in remote Aboriginal communities in South Australia, Friedrich landed a job with the National Safety Council, Victorian Division (NSCV) in 1977. The NSCV was founded back in 1927 to promote road and industrial safety, and was barely known to the general public. This anonymity would quickly change with Friedrich’s arrival.

Friedrich quickly rose through the organisation until becoming executive director in 1982, earning a yearly salary of $130,000. It was when Friedrich reached the top position in the NSCV that things started to get out of hand.

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A very confident John Friedrich during his time as Executive Director of the NSCV in the 1980’s.

Partly organised on paramilitary lines, the assets of the NSCV included multiple helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, flagship, midget submarine, search and rescue boats, vehicles, decompression chambers, computer equipment, infra-red scanners and much else that was shiny, flashy and expensive. Pigeons were being prepared for search and rescue missions, while dogs were going to be parachuted with their handlers into remote areas to look for missing people.

Friedrich surrounded himself with fit young men – some of whom he rewarded with expensive cars, and was especially proud of the elite rescue group, which was known as the parachute jumpers, or PJ’s. Staff of the NSCV had grown from 100 in 1984 to approximately 450 by the end of the decade. The NSCV often worked in tandem with the Australian Defence Forces, and there were rumours that the NSCV may have also had links with Australian intelligence services, or that the whole organisation was a front for the US Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Friedrich, who had been described as an affable, motivated workaholic, was able to transform what had been an obscure and sleepy organisation into a sophisticated search-and-rescue organisation by fraudulently borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars and eliciting the assistance of a few friendly business that helped him ‘cook’ the books. The purpose of the fraud was not for his own personal financial benefit – Friedrich lived a modest lifestyle on a farm with his wife and children on a property near the NSCV’s base at Sale in Gippsland. Friedrich was a classical narcissist, and the building up of the NSCV would put it (and thus Friedrich) in the public eye, where he could bask in the glory of the changes he had made.

Unfortunately for Friedrich, the house of cards collapsed in 1989, due to the use of millions of dollars that he borrowed as cash flow to keep the organisation running. When the NSCV chairman asked Friedrich to explain some anomalies in the financial accounts of the organisation, Friedrich disappeared, leading to the collapse of the NSCV with debts of over $250,000,000. Friedrich became the target of a police manhunt that attracted the attention of the media. Friedrich was reportedly sighted in all parts of Australia , but after a couple of weeks he was arrested near Perth and extradited to Victoria, where he was released on bail.

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A not so confident John Friedrich after his arrest in 1989.

 

Multiple court appearances followed, and when Friedrich realised that he may be deported from Australia as an illegal immigrant, he committed suicide with a shotgun on the 26th of July 1991, shortly before his trial for fraud was to begin. After the collapse of the NSCV, the National Safety Council was restructured – the search and rescue function was disbanded, and the NSC concentrated on promoting safety awareness, occupational health and safety training, consulting and auditing – functions which it continues to this day.

So how did an illegal immigrant with a dodgy past rise to the top of such an organisation and build an empire based on lies and deception? Friedrich himself was one of the key elements – a driven and charismatic man, who was notably successful in persuading others to trust in his ability and integrity, and who had built up powerful connections with bankers, politicians, police, public servants, military officers. These connections protected him from serious scrutiny until there was substantial evidence of suspicious behaviour.

The other element was the attitude of the banks, and the way that they almost pushed money onto entrepreneurs like Friedrich. Between his arrest and suicide, Friedrich wrote his memoir Codename Iago: The Story of John Friedrich”, which was released after his death. While the book contained many lies and falsehoods (Friedrich claimed that he was born in South Australia in 1945, and was recruited by the CIA, given the codename “Iago”, and worked against left-wing extremists before returning to Australia in 1975), his description of the behaviour of the banks when lending money seemed to have a ring of authenticity about it:

“[We] never once had to approach anyone to ask for money. They came to us every time and asked us if we wanted money….They made much more effort to sell their product to us than we did to buy it.”

This video clip gives some information on Friedrich’s life and running of NCSV.

 

The main source for this blog post was the book “The Eighties – The Decade That Transformed Australia” by Frank Bongiorno, Black Inc Publishing, Melbourne, VIC, 2015, pp. 140-142

 

The man who sold the Eiffel Tower – twice!

Circus promoter PT Barnum is alleged to have said “There’s a sucker born every minute”, and as long as there are gullible people, there are cons and crooks who will exploit that stupidity for their own financial gain. One of the most famous of these cons was Victor Lusing.

“Count” Victor Lustig was born in Bohemia, on January 4, 1890, in what is now known as the Czech Republic. He was originally known as Robert V. Miller, one of several children born into the upper-middle class Miller family. His father was the mayor of the small town of Hostinne, Czechoslovakia, and under his care Lustig proved to be a bright child with a penchant for trouble.

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“Count” Victor Lusig

By the time he was 19, Lustig was taking time away from his studies at the University of Paris to gamble in poker, bridge and billiards. Around this age he also earned a scar across the left side of his face from a jealous man, who though Lustig was paying too much attention to the man’s girlfriend. Using his quick wit and his fluency in the Czech, German, English, French and Italian languages, Lustig left school and began committing dozens of petty crimes under countless aliases across Europe. His favorite, however, was that of “Count” Victor Lustig. Under this name he traveled Trans-Atlantic cruise ships, gambling and bilking wealthy passengers out of their money. When World War I put an end to pleasure cruises, Lustig’s con career also dried up. He decided to head to the United States, during the height of Prohibition.

By 1922, Lustig had conned his way to Missouri, where he learned of a repossessed ranch. Posing under the alias Robert Duval, Lustig offered the American Savings Bank $22,000 in Liberty bonds, and convinced them to exchange an additional $10,000 of the bonds for cash, so that he would have some extra capital to run the ranch. The deal was struck, and the money was placed in two identical envelopes. Through a sleight of hand, however, Lustig had switched envelopes and made off with both the bonds and the cash. He was tracked to Kansas City, where he was arrested, but Lustig managed to talk his way out of an indictment and walked free.

In May of 1925, Lustig traveled to Paris to plan another con, the one which would make him famous. While reading the newspaper, Lustig noticed an article about the run-down condition of the Eiffel Tower. At the time, the Eiffel Tower had become an expensive nuisance left over from the 1889 Paris Exposition. The original plan was to move the monument, but time and money prevented the transfer. The tower had instead fallen into disrepair, and Parisians lobbied for its removal. Lustig saw an opportunity, and forged government credentials naming him Deputy Director General of the Ministère de Postes et Télégraphes. He met with a small group of scrap metal dealers, and explained that the city wanted to sell the Eiffel tower for scrap but that officials wanted to keep the plans a secret to avoid backlash from citizens.

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The Eiffel Tower, the site of Lusig’s most brazen confidence trick.

 

One of the dealers bought the story and put down a cash bid to tear down the tower. Yet when he went to city officials to cash in on the deal, they had no idea what he was talking about. The dealer realised he was duped, and was so embarrassed that he refused to go to police. A month later, Lustig returned to Paris and ran the whole scam yet again. Lustig barely managed to elude authorities the second time around, and was forced to flee to America to prevent his own capture.

But Lustig seemed incapable of keeping a low profile, and in 1926 he became even more infamous for a con known as the Rumanian Box. Lustig had a cabinetmaker in New York City make a handcrafted mahogany box with a narrow slot cut in either end. One side of the box, Lustig had installed a series of complicated handles and levers. Lustig told his marks that the mahogany box was the world’s only “money-duplicating machine.” He would place an authentic $1,000 bill in one end, along with a piece of paper, and then turn a series of cranks and knobs. The only problem was that the process, he told his victims, took six hours to complete per bill.

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The Rumanian Money Box.

Together, he and his victim would wait six hours then Lustig would turn the crank to produce another, authentic $1,000 bill. Lustig would then have the victim take both bills to a local bank to confirm their authenticity. They were real bills in actuality, because Lustig had concealed a second real $1,000 bill in the box. Once his mark, sensing high profits, paid a remarkable sum for the box, Lustig would disappear-and no real money would ever come out of the box again.

By 1934, Lustig had gained too much attention as a counterfeiter in the U.S., and the Secret Service put together a special squad to find out who was flooding the United States market with counterfeit bills. Lustig was arrested, and a search revealed a set of money-printing plates and $51,000 in fake currency. Lustig was sent to the Federal House of Detention in New York City.

On December 5, 1935, he stood trial, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Lustig received and additional five years for his escape attempt a few months earlier. According to The Evening Independent in Massillon, Ohio, Lustig died in prison on March 11, 1947, after suffering a brain tumor. Other sources claim Lustig died from complications of pneumonia. Lustig was 57 years old at the time of his death. Secret Service agents said that the occasional counterfeit bill, known as “Count Lustig Money,” still managed to turn up in the years after his death.

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The Medical Centre for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, where Lustig died in 1947.

 

The biography of Lustig at http://www.biography.com was used as the basis for this blog post.

Fontaine locomotive – wheels on wheels

As the need for more powerful steam locomotives became obvious, engineers looked at various ways to improve the design and layout of locomotives to gain that extra power.

As with all forms of design and experimentation, there were several designers who looked “outside the square” for more power. One of these was Eugene Fontaine of Detroit, who came up with a very novel way of trying to increase the power of a steam locomotive.

 

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The 1881 Fontaine locomotive, with driving wheels placed on top of each other.

As can be seen from the above illustration, Fontaine’s answer was the arrangement of the driving wheels. Instead of having driving wheels driving in unison via coupling rods, Fontaine’s design featured driving wheels on top, resting on a smaller set of treads below, driving these by friction. These treads were an outward extension of a wheel, larger in diameter, which actually made contact with the track.

Track conditions were part of the reason for this unusual design. European designs, with large driving wheels and a high centre of gravity, were unstable on American tracks. Safe operation required a lower centre of gravity and smaller driving wheels. While compensation for the smaller driving wheels could be gained by increasing the revolutions of the engine, this put extra stress on the cylinders, pistons, wheels and valve gear.

Two prototype Fontaine locomotives were built in 1881 by the Grant Locomotive Works of Paterson, New Jersey for the Canada Southern Railway. A top speed of 90 mph was claimed, but it seems that this figure was never achieved. The Fontaine locomotive was tried on a wide range of passenger and freight trains, but the expected power advantages over conventional locomotives never materialised. After many modifications, the Fontaine locomotive was rebuilt as a standard 4-4-0 locomotive.

The main source for this entry was “World Railways of the Nineteenth Century – A Pictorial History in Victorian Engravings” by Jim Harter, JHU Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005, pp. 78-79

 

 

The mysterious disappearance of the Bermagui Five

Late on the afternoon of Sunday, the 10th of October 1880, farm worker William Johnston was riding his horse at Mutton Fish Point, near the coastal New South Wales town of Bermagui, 100 kilometres south of Sydney, when he noticed something ‘shining’ on the rocks. He dismounted, tied his horse to a tree and walked closer, discovering that the ‘shining’ object was a fishing boat, painted green with its mast and sail lashed.

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Mystery Bay, near Bermagui, where the abandoned boat was found in October 1880.

In his subsequent statutory declaration Johnston wrote:

I went over to the boat and judged from her position that she had been wrecked. I did not touch or in any way interfere with anything…..I returned to my horse and only noticed my own tracks going out to the boat. I mounted my horse and rode away. After going about 100 yards [90 metres] it struck me to look at my watch, saying to myself, ‘as this is likely to have been a drowning match they will want to know the time I found the boat’. I saw that it was about 4.20 pm.

Johnston galloped to a nearby property owned by dairy farmer Albert Read. Both men returned to the boat and inspected it more closely. It was obvious to them that the vessel had been deliberately damaged. Someone had dumped a pile of boulders, along with pillows, blankets and piles of clothing into the stern. Read reached down and retrieved a book. It was a geology text, and written in copperplate on the flyleaf was the name ‘Lamont Young’.

 

Tall, bearded Lamont Henry Young was a 29 year old geological surveyor with the NSW Department of Mines. He was highly thought of by his colleagues, both for his considerable expertise and his modest demeanour. In October 1880 Lamont’s superiors instructed him to survey the newly-discovered goldfields north of Bermagui with a field assistant named Maximilan Schneider, who had recently arrived from Germany. Young and Schneider reached the goldfields on the 8th of October, and after pitching their tent, introduced themselves to Senior Constable John Berry, officer in charge of the police camp at the diggings. The three men lunched together, and then Schneider excused himself, saying that he was returning to the tent. He was never seen again.

Young spent the rest of the day examining the goldfields, and accepted an invitation from Berry to go fishing the next day. Young started the long walk back to his camp. Peter Egstrom, owner of a sly grog store, noticed Young near the local lagoon, walking towards Bermagui Heads. He a miner named Henderson spotted him again, shortly afterwards – the last time anyone was known to have seen Young, alive or dead.

On the morning of the 11th of October, Berry and Read, accompanied by goldfields warden Henry Keightley, examined the abandoned fishing boat. A second book signed by Young was found among the garbage. Why had Young been aboard the vessel? Who were his companions? And more to the point, where were all of them now?

Keightley noticed that someone had vomited copiously in the stern. Feeling sick, he ordered Berry to continue the examination of the boat. Berry produced a minutely detailed inventory of the boat’s contents, which included a pocket compass, several sacks of potatoes and pipe and coat belonging to Schneider, the other missing man.

Police determined that the boat belonged to a Thomas Towers, who two days earlier had set sail from his home at Bateman’s Bay, approximately 100 kilometres up the coast. He and his companions William Lloyd and Daniel Casey had intended to fish off Bermagui, and sell their catch, along with the sacks of potatoes to the goldminers.

In a report to his superiors, Keightley stated that there was nothing to suggest that anything of a unusual nature had taken place on board. There were no blood marks nor any sign of a struggle. A bullet had been found in the boat, but it had been used as a sinker for a fishing line. Senior Constable Berry was unable to continue the investigation, as he fell ill with a fever and vomiting. When he returned to duty nine days later he was told that the remains of a campfire and meal had been found close to the wrecked boat.

Keightley offered a reward of 10 pounds for the recovery of Young’s body, while the Metropolitan Police in London offered a 300 pound reward for information relating Young, Schneider and the boatmen Casey, Towers and Lloyd. Police, Mines Department staff and volunteers conducted an extensive land and see search for the five missing men – but found nothing.

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The 300 pound reward notice issued by the Metropolitan Police of London.

A journalist writing in the Sydney Morning Herald described the whole affair as ‘a puzzle enshrouded in an enigma’ – adding,

‘I cannot conceive of any motive to account for the horrible suspicion that they were murdered …. But how could the murders (assuming they existed) have known where the men were to land – unless they were murdered by the first party they met? …. The idea is so dreadful and the motive so unintelligible that I cannot yet entertain it.”

Young’s father Major General CB Young wrote to the NSW Under-Secretary of Mines on the 31st of December:

‘The universal conclusion of all parties in this country is that the five men could not have drowned or been murdered without leaving some trace behind. I earnestly beg of you, my dear sir …. to take up this line, to see what the Governments, Imperial and local, have done in this direction, to look for the bodies.”

 

Young also raised suspicions about Schneider, his son’s assistant:

What sort of person and of what character was Mr Schneider? Where does he come from in Germany and to whom was he known in England?”

With the official searches and investigations appearing to have run into a brick wall, members of the public weighed in with their own investigations, searches and theories as to how the five men had disappeared. One man, William Tait, visited police headquarters and claimed that Lamont Young had spoken to him on the 13th of November, more than a month after the disappearance. Tait, a self-styled spiritualist, claimed that Young had appeared to him as a ghost, and revealed that he and his companions were murdered by three men who asked them for matches to light their pipes. After beating the five victims to death with oars, the killers buried the bodies in a deep hole near a black stump, about 50 metres above the high water mark, covering the makeshift grave with boulders. Police mounted a search, but found no black stump nor a cairn of boulders.

More promising to detectives was a small blue bottle, filled with a mysterious liquid, recovered from a saddlebag in the boat. There was speculation that the liquid may have been an exotic poison, but tests shows that it was the balm, oil of copaiva.

On the 11th of March 1885 the Melbourne Argus reported that Young’s bloodstained coat, ridden with bullet holes, had been found near Bermagui. Unfortunately for the Argus, the ‘report’ was a practical joke, and the paper was forced to make an embarrassing retraction.

On the 22nd of August 1888 the Bega Gazette announced that it had uncovered vital new evidence:

Though the police authorities have kept the matter a secret, it has transpired that during the past two months the police have had under surveillance a person suspected of complicity in the Bermagui murder, but that he has escaped their clutches. It appears that some time ago a man who is said to have lived with a woman near the scene of the alleged murder, came to Sydney and married a barmaid employed in one of the leading hotels. Shortly after their marriage, he gave way to drink and on several occasions uttered remarks which led his wife to believe he was concerned in the murder of Lamont Young and his companions. The detective police got wind of the affair and kept the suspect person under surveillance for several days. All at once, however he disappeared …. The barmaid has since returned to her situation in the hotel from which she was married and expresses herself as willing to aid the authorities in bringing the supposed murderer to the police.

Bega police checked with their colleagues in Sydney. There was no barmaid, nor a drunken husband who had confessed to the murder – just the writings of an imaginative journalist.

To this day, there is still no definitive proof of what happened to the five men, not has there been a credible explanation found for the abandoned boat and its contents. The inlet where the boat was found was renamed Mystery Bay. A park and road is named after Lamont Young, while a monument was erected in 1980 to commemorate what is still one of the most mysterious and unexplained disappearances in Australian history.

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The memorial plaque erected in 1980, the 100th anniversary of the disappearance.

The source for this blog post is “The Five Missing Men of Bermagui”, by John Pinkney, from his book “Unsolved – Unexplained – Unknown: Great Australian Mysteries”, Five Mile Press, Rowville Vic, 2004, pp. 269-281.

 

The man they couldn’t hang

Old stories of last minute reprieves for condemned prisoners on the scaffold are legend. Gallows protocol had it that if the hangman was unable to execute his victim after three attempts, the prisoner was allowed to live. This is what happened at the Exeter jail in England in February 1885. John Lee escaped the hangman’s noose and lived to tell his tale to many a fellow prisoner and astonished journalists for years after.

Not many criminals who have been condemned to die survive to describe the awful experience of mounting the scaffold – but there were a few. An inefficient executioner, chopping a head off with an axe, had very little option but to carry on if the first blow did not achieve its intended swift purpose. With a hanging, if the rope broke, the scaffold collapsed or the trap door failed to open, a second or even third attempt could be carried out or abandoned altogether. In the rough and ready days of hangings, when some hangmen were not as professional as others, hangings were often botched. It became a tradition that if the victim survived three attempts as being hanged, he would be reprieved. On some occasions he was granted his freedom but more often he had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

In November 1884 John Lee was a servant in Babbacombe, Devon, when his employer, a Miss Keyse, was savagely beaten to death. Lee, protesting his innocence all the while, was convicted of her murder and condemned to death in February 1885. On the day appointed for his execution he was bound and blindfolded by the hangman, James Berry, and led out from his cell. The hanging was to take place in the coach house. Instead of a scaffold there was a pit in the floor, some 11 feet deep, covered by trap doors and operated by a lever.

Lee was positioned over the doors, the noose about his neck. He was calm and dignified. Asked if he had anything to say, he replied “No – drop away!”. He held his breath, clenched his teeth and prepared to die. Berry pulled the lever and, to gasps of astonishment from the prison officials, nothing happened. Berry kept pulling – but still nothing. Lee had the noose removed from his neck and was led away into the next room while the trap doors were tested. They seemed to work well, with no-one on them. Lee was brought back and again prepared to meet his maker. Again the executioner tugged at the lever and once again the trap doors refused to drop away. The officials decided to postpone the execution again, but Lee – perhaps with a traditional reprieve in mind – insisted on a third attempt. The lever was pulled but again to no avail.

The prison chaplain could bear it no longer and decided to leave. An execution had to be witnessed by the chaplain and without him the proceedings had to be stopped anyway. Lee was led away to his cell to wait the whole day in dreadful uncertainty. Late that evening the governor visited him. The message as that he was to live. He was officially reprieved and had his sentence commuted to a life term. There were no more such reprieves; the prison authorities learned their lesson from the incident at Exeter and built their scaffolds with more care. John Lee spent 23 years in jail, before walking out a free man in 1907. He then disappeared into obscurity, and is believed to have died under the name “James Lee” in the United States in 1945.

This website is an excellent overview of the murder at Babbacombe, and the botched execution.

The source for this blog post was “The Guinness Book of Lasts”, by Christopher Slee, Guinness Publishing, Enfield, England, 1994, p. 48-49

 

 

 

Ariès

Baron Charles Petiet founded the Sociètè Anonyme Ariès at the age of 24 in 1903, having worked briefly for Panhard et Levassor. Ariès had a capital of 500,000 francs, increased to 1 million by 1905, and a small factory at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, not far from the Aster factory at St Denis which supplied many of its engines.

It employed about 100 men and was best known for commercial vehicles, although cars of good quality were made in small numbers, some sold in England by Sydney Begbie as Asters while others were sold by a firm in Beccles from 1904 to 1906 as Anglians. Initially most had chain drive, although Cardan drive and separate drive shafts above a dead axle were soon adopted. Chain drive persisted on the largest commercials into the 1930’s. Six-cylinder and V4 engined cars were available by 1908 and were joined by the world’s smallest six in 1910.

The firm opened an additional factory at Courbevoie and up to World War 1 made consistent, albeit modest, profits averaging about 100,000 francs a year. Production in 1913 totalled 350 vehicles. Shortly before the war Aster-engined lorries were approved for government subsidy and the company produced 3,000 of these plus searchlight vehicles for the armed services. Hispano-Suiza aeroplane engines were also built.

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An example of the trucks that Ariès built for the French Army during World War 1.

Cars were promoted with the slogan “Made with the precision of an aero engine and the strength of a lorry”. They continued to play only a small part in the affairs of Ariès. Models produced in the 1920’s included the 5/8, 8/10, 12/15 and 15/20 CV, and in 1931 a new range was designed by H Toutèe, who had been responsible for mid-1920’s Chenard-Walckers.

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1929 Ariès CB-4 2-door cabriolet.

The company was in severe financial difficulties by 1932 and gave up heavy commercials soon afterwards, although a 10hp chassis, for car or van use and with the unusual feature of a two-speed back axle, remained in production until 1938. The Ariès founder, Baron Petiet, died in 1958.

The source for this blog post is “The World Guide to Automobiles – The Makers and Their Marques”, by Nick Baldwin, Macdonald Orbis Publishing, London, 1987, p. 36.