1940 Swift training rifle

In June 1940, Great Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. Her European Allies, France, Poland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Holland had all been crushed by the Blitzkrieg in 1940. The BEF that was sent to reinforce France and Belgium was almost overrun and was only saved by the evacuation from Dunkirk.

At Dunkirk, they had been forced to leave behind a huge store of equipment and munitions. This created an acute shortage of arms for defence not to mention training of new forces. With invasion pending, the government turned to the Swift Training Rifle to help educate the nearly two million British Home Guard troops and the RAF ground defence forces who would repel German paratroopers expected to land at RAF airfields.

Going back before to the 19th century, rifle-sized practice devices were used for target practice. Earlier examples were the American Hollifield “Dotter” and Cummings “Dot Rifle”. The reasons for this were multiple.

When using an active line rifle to train raw recruits, many of whom were city-dwellers who had never held a firearm before, safety issues were tantamount. By using a training rifle, which was incapable of taking and firing any sort of live ammunition, it was nearly impossible for a recruit to have a negligent discharge. Because a training rifle could not and would not fire live ammunition, you could practice basic marksmanship in any room and were not chained to a shooting range. This also allowed training in inclement weather when outdoor ranges would be closed.

Firearms instructors, both civilian and military, attest to the fact that basic marksmanship is decided by the proper use of trigger control, grip, stance and sight alignment to effect rounds impacting down range of the target. A training rifle taught all these fundamentals. The use of one such device with proper reinforcement could teach the basics of these fundamentals to a platoon of recruits in a single afternoon.

With these skills, the recruits could progress to being issued live weapons and proceed to the shooting range to fine-tune their skills. This training formula also would reduce the amount of rounds having to be fired in training as poor shooters could be sent back to the training rifle for more simulated firing before coming back to the range to try again.

Built in Oxfordshire, the Swift Training Rifle had the same dimensions as either the Short Magazine Lee Enfield or the US-made P14/17 Enfield rifles. Some 16,000 of these devices were built in 1941-43 in five variants. The trigger group, magazine, bolt and sight were identical as was the length of pull, weight and overall “feel” of the device to its model.

Where the Swift Training Rifle differed from a real rifle was that instead of a barrel that fired cartridges, the end of the Swift had a series of metal probes. The soldier behind the sights would aim these probes at a scale drawing of enemy troops and when the trigger was pulled, the prong would ‘dot’ the paper target. The whole affair was set up in a folding frame that held the rifle and target, thus making the Swift a simple and self-contained unit to use. Another feature was a spring-loaded butt plate, designed to help the trainee pulled the rifle firmly into his shoulder. If he didn’t do this, an internal safety mechanism prevented the Swift from being “fired”.

The source for this blog post was the www.firearmstalk.com website. The Forgotten Weapons youtube channel has a video on the Smith rifle, which shows the operation of the rifle, and also shows the targets that were placed in front of the rifle.

 

Pearson 4-2-4 “Single” class locomotive

These remarkable tank locomotives were designed for the broad-gauge Bristol & Exeter Railway by Locomotive Superintendent James Pearson and eight (running numbers 39 to 46) were built by Rothwell & Co of Bolton in 1853 and 1854. They were intended specially for working the B & ER’s section of the London to Exeter express route, including the “Flying Dutchman”, at that time the fastest train in the world. They had the largest driving wheels ever successfully used on a locomotive and no one has come up with an authentic recording of any higher speed previous to one of 130kmh (81mph) made behind a Pearson single while descending the Wellington incline south of Taunton.

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The size of the driving wheels of the Pearson 4-2-4 can be seen in comparison with the crew member standing in front of the locomotive.

 

The engines were guided by a four-wheel bogie at each end, and they were propelled along by the huge flangeless set of driving wheels located more or less centrally between the two bogies. As with all locomotives that ran on Isador Brunel’s broad-gauge lines, the cylinders and motion were located inside the frames. Water was carried in the tank at the rear as well as in a well-tank between the frames. Pearson’s singles were untypical , thought, in that they carried no names, only numbers.

After 14 years of service four of the engines (39-42) were rebuilt, with the 9-foot driving wheels replaced by wheels measuring 8 feet 10 inches. On the 29th of July 1876, 39 derailed with loss of life near Long Ashton near Bristol, and had to be scrapped. As a consequence, the remaining three locomotives were completely rebuilt on more conventional lines as 4-2-2 singles, which were regarded by many as the most handsome locomotive ever to run on the broad-gauge track, with the last engine being withdrawn from service in 1890.

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One of the four Pearson singles after being rebuilt as a 4-2-2 engine.

 

 
“The Great Book of Trains” by Brian Hollingsworth and Arthur Cook – Salamander Books, NY, 1987. pp 44-45 was used as the basis of this blog post.

The strange chess career of Nicolas Preo

One of the major issues in regard to cheating in correspondence chess is players using strong chess engines and databases to help them work out their next move. While various organising bodies have created rules banning the use of such software, it is virtually impossible to police and prove that someone is using software to help them with their games.

Another form of cheating is for a player to assume a false identity to compete in a tournament. This occurred back in the late 1980’s in England, when a Leigh Strange entered and won the 1986 English Women’s correspondence chess championship. It was later discovered that “Leigh Strange” was in fact a promising young male junior named Nick Down, who received a two-year ban for his dishonesty.

And then there is the case of Nicolas Preo. Born in Russia on the 26th of March 1902, Preo spent some time studying in Harbin, Manchuria, emigrating to the United States in 1923. He took up correspondence chess in 1949 and won the Golden Knights tournament organised by the United States Chess Federation in 1952. Preo started to play internationally under the auspices of the International Correspondence Chess Federation in 1958. He was awarded the International Master title in 1967. He played with distinction on various American teams in international tournaments, and was the only player to feature in all four of the first North American invitational championships. Preo was still an active player in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, according to the ICCF rating database.

In 2002, ICCF tournament director Carlos Flores Gutierrez received news that Preo, a competitor in one of his tournaments, had died. Although it was unusual for a player to continue playing at Master strength into his nineties, this was not unprecedented; fellow American Walter Muir had an even longer career.

When Gutierrez announced Preo’s death, some awkward questions started to arise. Why did the local newspaper, the “Santa Cruz Sentinel”, report that Preo had died of a heart attack at age 72, when the CC world believed he was in his late-nineties? Why was he described as an accountant when all previous articles about Preo had talked about his long working career with the Owens Illinois Glass Company? Why was the second initial in the obituary “N”, and not “A”? Were there two different Nicolas Preos?

After some digging by CC officials, fellow players and family members, it was discovered that the obituary in the “Sentinel” was for Nicolas Preo, Jnr, – Preo’s son.

Preo Jnr was born on the 26th of April 1929, and had learned chess from his father, but he had always used the full surname “Preobrajensky”, which his father had shortened to “Preo”. His second name was “Nikolaevich (son of Nicolas), thus explaining the middle initial of “N” rather than “A”. Preo Jnr was an accountant with a degree in Business Administration of from the University of California in Berkeley. His other chief interest was singing, which he did with various local choirs and operatic societies.

Father and son shared a house in Santa Cruz along with daughter Vera, who was blind. Poor eyesight was feature of the Preo family, and it appears that from the early 1980’s onwards Preo Jnr started helping his father with the games that he was playing, due to his father’s eye issues. This was back in the era of ‘snail mail’ transmission of moves, when Preo Snr needed to write out his moves as well as the postal address of his opponent. Also the rules of CC allow players to consult opening books, so maybe Preo Snr was unable to read properly any of those books, and thus asked his son to help play though opening variations that he might play in his games. So at this point Preo Jnr was just helping with the clerical side of CC.

When Preo Snr died on the 9th of January 1988, aged 86, his son didn’t inform his opponents or the ICCF of his father’s death, but instead just continued playing the games. His opponents had no idea that they were now playing a game with a totally different person making the moves for the other side.

At the time of his death, Preo Snr was playing in one of the semi-finals of the 16th ICCF World Correspondence Chess Championship tournament . After two years of play, Preo Snr had scored 5.5/6 – a very good result for an 85 year old man. He then passed away. What should have happened is that opponents would have stopped receiving moves from Preo Snr, who would have repeated their move, and getting no reply, would have informed the tournament director or the ICCF directly. They would have determined that Preo Snr had died, and all of his uncompleted games would have been adjudicated, or all of his games could be annulled or all of his opponents would be awarded a win.

Preo Jnr now faced a dilemma – should he report his father’s death and begin competition under his own name, or should he just carry on? As mentioned earlier, he decided to carry on, By the time of his father’s death, the outstanding games had taken shape, and he thought that he was as good an analyst/player as his father. The semi-final dragged slowly on, and Preo Jnr dropped out of contention, losing five more games and winning three, to finish with a score of 8.5/14.

His next tournament was the Anglo-Pacific Tournament Championship, which began in August 1994. Preo Jnr only scored 6.5/14, maybe due to the fact that he had to start all his games from scratch without Preo Snr’s analysis. He entered several further tournaments, and had scored 1/5 in one of them when he died on the 9th of February 2002. His opponents thought that some of his behaviour a bit odd; he did not seem to understand the time limits for moves, which is something that his father would have been very familiar with. He also rarely resigned in hopeless positions, instead forcing his opponent to checkmate him, as well as writing “By Air Mail” on the cards that he used to transmit his moves, when this is usually printed on such cards. They obviously had no idea that they were playing Preo Jnr instead of Preo Snr.

Preo Jnr’s involvement with his father’s games was confirmed in two ways:

  1. The printed existing scores of Preo Snr’s games are written in the handwriting of Preo Jnr.
  2. The game scores are written in the now-abandoned descriptive notation, which was still widely used in the United States when Preo Jnr was learning how to play chess. In Russia, Preo Snr would have learned algebraic notation, and would have found descriptive notation confusing.

Analysis by CC player and author Tim Harding suggests that Preo Jnr started playing some of his father’s games in the early 1980’s. It appears that he lacked strategic knowledge, and was also prone to launching premature attacks. Yet if he could survive the opening and reach an unclear middle game, he became a wily tactician and could score victories against quite strong opponents – just like his father.

This blog post was based on Tim Harding’s article “The strange CC career of Nicholas Preo”,  in his book “The Write Move”, Chess Mail Ltd, Dublin, Ireland, 2005, pp. 142-149.

The “Timeless” Test match

In the southern summer of 1938/39, the England cricket team toured South Africa, to play five Test matches as well as games against various provincial teams.

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The England party that toured South Africa during the summer of 1938/39.

The 1st Test in Johannesburg in late December was drawn, as was the 2nd Test in Cape Town in late December-early January. England won the 3rd Test at Durban in late January by an innings and 13 runs, while the 4th Test in Johannesburg in late February was drawn, leaving England 1-0 up in the series with one Test left to play. As there was a chance of South Africa winning the 5th Test and drawing the series 1-1, it was decided that the match would not be restricted to five days play, and instead would be played to a result, thus becoming a ‘Timeless” match.

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The South African team for the “Timeless” Test at Durban in March 1939.

The match started at the Kingsmead Ground at Durban on Friday, the 3rd of March. South Africa won the coin toss, and decided to bat first. At the end of the first day, they were 229 runs for the loss of two wickets. Peter van der Bijl was 105 not out, taking nearly all day to score his century, which included a 45 minute session where he didn’t score a run at all.

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Peter van der Bijl plays a rare attacking shot during his century in the first South African innings.

William Pollock, a writer for the “Daily Express”, wasn’t impressed by South Africa’s slow play:

“The South Africans have got this timeless Test all wrong. Evidently they think that the big idea is to stay in as long as you can and score as slowly as you like. They have not though enough about it. The thing is to get as many runs as possible, preferably as soon as possible. Runs count, not how long the team batted…..There is no reason why England should not make 1,000 runs….Anyhow the boat still sails on March 17.” We will hear more about the boat later in this post.

Only 17 runs were added in the first hour on day 2, and then van der Bijl was dismissed for 125 , which took over 7 hours. The scoring increased when Dalton and Nourse were at the wicket, and South Africa finished the day at 432 runs for the loss of six wickets.

Sunday was a rest day, and there was rain, which freshened the pitch and made it still perfect for batting. South Africa were dismissed late on day 3 for 530, and England had scored 35 runs for the loss of one wicket when play ended early due to rain and poor light. Daily Mail correspondent and former South African player Bob Crisp though that England at this early stage had no chance of winning, writing:

“England are still holding out, but their fall is imminent. Even allowing for all the traditional uncertainties of cricket it seems impossible that they can extricate themselves from their difficult position.”

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Ground staff prepare the Kingsmead pitch prior to the start of play.

On day 4, scoring was especially slow, with England ending at 268 runs scored for the loss of seven wickets. The England innings finished early on Day 5 for 316, giving South Africa a lead of 214. As they were over 200 hundred runs in front, they could have asked England to follow-on and bat again, but due to there being no time restrictions, instead they decided to build their lead and tire the England players out by having them field. South Africa finished the day scoring 193 runs for the loss of three wickets. Amazingly, in a match where batting conditions were perfect, all three South African wickets fell when the score was 191.

 

On the sixth day, South Africa took their score to 481 all out. By this stage, fatigue had started to take its toll on the England team. Wicketkeeper Les Ames was replaced behind the stumps by Paul Gibb for the final session, so that he could have a break from having to concentrate on every ball bowled. England finished the day having scored no runs and lost no wickets after facing only one ball of their 2nd innings, and the 4th of the match. England needed to score the huge figure of 696 runs to win the game. In normal circumstances this would have been impossible, but the pitch had played perfectly for the whole of the match, and there was no time limit on how long England could take to score those runs.

England went about their task with determination. Paul Gibb played the “anchor” at one end, scoring 78, while Len Hutton (55) and Bill Edrich (107 not out) also scored well. Edrich had never scored more than 29 runs before in an innings for England, and his previous scores in the series had been 4, 10, 0 & 6 batting down the order. England captain Wally Hammond promoted him up the order, and the move paid off, with England scoring 253 runs for the loss of just one wicket.

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Bill Edrich cuts a delivery through the slips cordon during his innings of 219.

On the eighth day, the 11th of March, rain washed out the entire day’s play. There were now signs that the England party could be pressed for time. William Pollock’s article mentioned that the boat would be leaving on the 17th of March. This was the SS Athlone Castle, which would return the England team back home. It was a two-day train trip from Durban to Cape Town, so England would need to catch a train on the evening of the 14th of March in order to make it back to catch the boat. The three England players who had not been chosen for the match had already left for Cape Town. If the England party missed the boat, then they would have to wait a fortnight for the next boat to arrive.

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The Athlone Castle, which played an unexpected part in the conclusion of the match.

The next day was a scheduled rest day, with the match recommencing on Monday, the 13th of March. Edrich and Gibb took their partnership to 280 runs before Gibb was dismissed for 120, scored in 9 hours and over 5 separate days. Edrich continued on until he was dismissed for 219, and now there was a distinct possibility that England could pull off a remarkable victory. At the end of the ninth day, England had scored 496 runs for the loss of only three wickets, needing a further 200 runs to win.

Wally Hammond, 58 not out overnight, played atttractively in the morning session of the tenth day. South Africa’s attempts to slow the scoring were not working – Jack Gage in the “Daily Tribune” said that “it was like a small boy trying frantically to stop the water from gushing out of a tap after he had mischievously unscrewed by the washer.”

Eddie Paynter scored (75) before being dismissed with the score at 611. A couple of brief rain delays interrupted Hammond’s concentration, and he was dismissed for 140, with the score at 650 –only 47 more runs required to win. At the tea break, England were only 42 runs short of their target, when it rained again- except this time the rain was prolonged and didn’t stop.

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The Kingsmead scoreboard, showing how close England were to an improbable victory before the match was abandoned.

The South African Board of Control meet with the two captains (Hammond and Alan Melville) and issued the following statement:

“The South African Cricket Association Control Board, in consultation with the captains, agreed that the match should be abandoned, the Board recognising that the England party would otherwise not have the requisite number of hours in Cape Town before sailing home.”

So the match that was designed to produce a result ended up producing no result, being abandoned as a draw. England were incredibly disappointed to have been so close to an improbable victory, but were unable to win due to circumstances that were not considered a possibility prior to the match starting. This was the last “Timeless” Test match played – since World War 2 all Test matches have a time limit of five days play.

Here is the full scorecard of this extraordinary match:

timelesstest

The following books were used for this blog post:

Andrew Ward, “Cricket’s Strangest Matches – Extraordinary but true stories from 150 years of cricket”, Robson Books, London, 2000, pp. 126-129

Peter Hayter, “Great Tests Recalled”, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 1990, pp. 56-75.

The goalpost Grand Final of 1967

Grand Finals of any code of football code in Australia usually provide suspense and excitement, but few of them could match the drama and chaos that occurred at the end of the 1967 Tasmanian State Championship game.

Despite being the smallest state in Australia with the smallest population, Tasmania has never had a truly statewide Australian rules football competition. This is due to the way that the population is spread – based on the State capital, Hobart in the south and on Launceston and other towns in the north. Thus there were three major football competitions – the Tasmanian Football League (TFL), based around Hobart, and two competitions based in the north of the state – the Northern Tasmanian Football Association (NTFA), based around Launceston,  and the North West Football Union (NTFU), based on the towns on Tasmania’s north coast.

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Map of Tasmania – the TFL based in the south, the NTFA in the north and the NTFU on the north-west coast.

To determine which team was the best in the state, a play-off between the premiers of each league was held at the end of the year. In 1967, it was the turn of the NWFU to host the final, so the NWFU premiers, the Wynyard Cats qualified directly for the championship game. In the Preliminary Final, TFL premiers North Hobart defeated NTFA premiers East Launceston to qualify as Wynyard’s opponents. The State Championship match was scheduled to be played at West Park Oval, home ground of the Burnie Dockers, on the 30th of September 1967.

With the aid of a strong breeze, North Hobart established a 19 point lead at quarter time – 3.8 (26) to 1.1 (7). Now kicking with the breeze in the second quarter, Wynyard dominated, and turned the 19 point deficit into a 20 point lead – 9.7 (61) to 5.11 (41).

Once again kicking with the breeze, it was North Hobart’s turn to dominate, and they had established a 14 point lead at three-quarter time – 11.17 (83) to 10.9 (69). 122 of the match total of 152 points had been kicked to the eastern end of the ground, but just prior to the start of the final quarter, the breeze died down, giving neither team an advantage. Wynyard scored two early goals to close the gap to a couple of points, and with only behinds being kicked from then on, Wynyard lead 13.14 (92) to 12.19 (91) with the final siren about to sound. The stage was now set for one of the most incredible and bizarre finishes to a major Grand Final in Australian football history.

After being awarded a free kick, North Hobart player-coach John Devine kicked into the goal square, where a mark was taken by North Hobart full-forward David Collins. Just after Collins took the mark, the final siren sounded, but as Collins had taken the mark prior to the siren, he was allowed to take his kick. Being only 10-20 yards from goal, and on a slight angle, it looked certain that Collins would kick the goal and win the match and the State Championship title for North Hobart.

But before Collins could take his kick, thousands of Wynyard supporters invaded the field, and to make sure that Collins couldn’t take his kick, proceeded to remove the goalposts. With the police unable to get the spectators off the ground, and with the goalposts no longer being in place, umpire Jack Pilgrim abandoned the game, and left the field. Collins stayed on the field, with the ball tucked under his jumper, for another ten minutes, in the vain hope that he would somehow be allowed to take his kick.

On Monday, the 2nd of October, the Standing Committee of the TFL met to decide on a course of action. A full replay was suggested – Wynyard agreed, but North Hobart said that a full replay would vindicate the actions of the Wynyard supporters who invaded the pitch. Another option discarded was for the match to be restarted at the point where it was abandoned, with Collins ready to kick for goal. Instead the TFL recommended that no replay should be held, and that the 1967 State Premiership title should not be awarded.

To this day, this is still the only major Grand Final of any football code in Australia that was abandoned and never replayed. Collins took the ball home with him. I believe a few years later he was invited back to West Park Oval to have his kick. He scored a goal, but unfortunately it had no bearing on the result (or non-result) of the game.

Here is a video showing the pitch invasion after Collin’s mark, as well as recollections from several players and umpires:

 

The source for this blog post was “The 3AW Book of Footy Records” by Graeme Atkinson and Michael Halon, Magistra Publishing, Melbourne, 1989, p. 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

Mystery-Bay-Sapphire-Coast-Commemorative-Plaque
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.