Elizabeth Scott was the first women to be hanged in Victoria. Like Jean Lee, the last woman to be hanged in Victoria, Scott believed that her gender would save her from the gallows. Like Lee, she was sadly mistaken.
Scott had come to Australia with her parents in 1854, and within a year, aged just 14, she had married 28 year old Robert Scott. Scott was an unprepossessing man, coarse and vulgar and a drunkard. He had however, made some money from the Gold Rush that had enveloped Victoria in the early 1850’s, and Scott’s parents thought he was something of a catch. The couple ran a shanty pub for miners at Devil’s River, north-east of Melbourne, and by the time she was 20, Elizabeth had given birth to five children, of which only two survived.
Robert Scott’s drinking had gotten worse, and after 9 years, Elizabeth began to look for a way out of the marriage and escaping Devil’s River. She found it in a customer at the pub, 19 year old David Gedge, and the two started a passionate affair. Gedge wasn’t the only young man devoted to Elizabeth. Julian Cross, a labourer who worked at the pub, was besotted with Elizabeth as well. On the 13th of April, 1863, Elizabeth put the young men’s devotion to the ultimate test – to be involved in the murder of her husband, Robert Scott.
Gedge and Cross each had conflicting accounts about how Robert Scott died. Gedge claimed that he was sitting by the kitchen fire in the Scott residence when Cross walked past, carrying a pistol, into Robert Scott’s room. There was a shot, Cross reappeared, pointed the pistol at Gedge and threatened to kill him if he left the residence to report the death.
Cross’s account was different – he said that Gedge had tried to shoot Robert Scott in his bed, but the gun had misfired. Gedge gave Cross the gun, and said it was his turn to shoot Robert Scott. Cross declined, but Elizabeth ordered him to shoot her husband. She poured Cross a large brandy to calm his nerves, and according to Cross, “I took up the gun and went into the bedroom and shot Scott.”
Elizabeth tried to pass the murder off as a suicide, but police quickly realised that it was a murder. Early next morning, they had a confession from Julian Cross implicating both David Genge and Elizabeth Scott. All three were sentenced to death by hanging.
On the 11th of November 1863 at the Melbourne Goal, 17 years before bushranger Ned Kelly would stand on the same spot, all three were hanged simultaneously.
To the end, Elizabeth Scott believed that she would be reprieved. After all, she had not pulled the trigger, and she was a woman – a beautiful woman.
When she appeared from her cell to be taken to the gallows, the spectators below gasped at her beauty. She was dressed in a long black coat, with her dark hair carefully braided. As she was placed between the two young men who were to die for her love, she carefully adjusted the noose so that it didn’t spoil the folds of her cloak. Then just before the hangman pulled the lever, she asked her lover, “David, will you not clear me?” She never heard his answer.
Paul Taylor’s book “Australian Ripping Yarns – Cannibal Convicts, Macabre Murders, Wanton Women and Living Legends (Five Mile Press, Rowville, 2004, pp. 166-168) was used as the basis for this post.
The men’s marathon at the 1904 St Louis Olympic Games ranks high on the list for the most bizarre, unusual and controversial events ever held in Olympic Games history.
To begin with, the organisers of the marathon knew almost nothing about staging such an event. The course, which measured 39.99 kilometres (24.8 miles) in length included seven hills and was run on dusty roads, made dustier by the many cars which the judges, doctors and journalists used to follow the runners. The only water available to the runners was from a well located 19 kilometres (12 miles) from the main stadium where the race began and ended.
The event attracted nearly all of the top American marathon runners, including:
Sam Mellor – winner of the 1902 Boston Marathon
John Lordon – winner of the 1903 Boston Marathon
Michael Spring – winner of the 1904 Boston Marathon
Thomas Hicks – 2nd in the 1904 Boston Marathon
Arthur Newton – 5th in the 1900 Paris Olympics marathon.
There were also some lesser-known and unusual entrants. One was 1.5 metre (5 foot) tall Felix Carvajal, a Cuban mail carrier, who had lost all of his money when playing craps in New Orleans after arriving from Havana. After hitchhiking to St Louis, he arrived on the starting line wearing heavy street shoes, long trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and a beret.
Also entered were the first two black Africans to participate in the Olympics – Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani, who were Zulu tribesmen. They were not athletes – they had been brought to the United States as part of the Boer War Exhibition in the St Louis World’s Fair, which was held concurrently with the Olympic Games.
The race was scheduled for the middle of the afternoon on the 30th of August, when temperatures would hit 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit). It was not surprising when the hot conditions and tough course had an immediate impact on the competitors.
John Lordon started vomiting after only 16 kilometres (10 miles) and had to withdraw. American runner William Garcia was discovered lying in the middle of the road, after collapsing due to inhaling dust kicked up by the cars following the runners. Sam Mellor, the leader at the halfway mark, retired after 25 kilometres (16 miles). Taunyane lost time when he was chased off the course and through a cornfield by two large dogs. The only runner who didn’t appear to be bothered was the Cuban Carvajal, who stopped a number of times to chat with spectators, discuss the progress of the race and practice his English. He also quenched his thirst by snatching a couple of peaches from an official in one of the cars, and by raiding a farmer’s orchard of some green apples, which gave him stomach cramps.
Back in the main stadium, the spectators were unaware of these incidents, although the more knowledgeable fans might have wondered why three hours had passed without any athletes entering the stadium. Finally, after 3 hours and 13 minutes, New York resident Fred Lorz entered the stadium, did the 5 laps required and crossed the finished line. He was declared the winner, and was about to be presented with the gold medal, when it was discovered that he had stopped running after 14 kilometres (9 miles), hitched a ride in a car for 17 kilometres (11 miles) and then started running again.
American Athletic Union officials were not amused, disqualified Lorz and gave him a lifetime ban from competing. The ban was lifted, and Lorz went on to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.
With Lorz’s disqualification, the real winner was Thomas Hicks. If modern-day rules had been in place, Hicks would have also been disqualified. Second at the halfway mark, Hicks found himself in first place when Sam Mellor retired. 16 kilometres (10 miles) from the finish the heat started to get to Hicks, who begged to be allowed down and rest, but his handlers wouldn’t allow it, even though he had a lead of nearly 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles). To keep Hicks going, his handlers gave him a drink of a concoction made up of styrchnine sulfate mixed with raw egg whites. A few kilometres later he was given more strychnine, as well as some brandy, as well as being bathed in warm water.
Hick was forced to slow down to a walk when faced with a final, steep hill just 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) from the stadium, but a couple more doses of strychnine and brandy revived him enough to win by six minutes ahead of French competitor Albert Corey, with Albert Newton finishing third. Carvajal recovered from his stomach cramps to finish fourth. Only 14 of the 32 starters managed to complete the course, including Taunyane, who finished ninth, and Mashiani, who finished twelfth. Needless to say, Hicks was in a stupor after the race had finished. He had lost 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) during the event, and announced his retirement straight after the race had finished.
After the race had finished, the athletes who had suffered in competing my have received some satisfaction when they learned that two of the race officials in charge of patrolling the course were badly injured as well, when their car swerved to avoid one of the runners and careened down an embankment.
David Wallechinsky’s book “The Complete Book of the Olympics”, Penguin Books, 1984 p. 44-45 was used as the basis for this blog post.
No, this post isn’t about a major change in Swedish politics after an election.
Until 1967, Sweden drove on the left—opposite from its neighbouring countries (Denmark, Finland, and Norway). Swedish drivers who travelled abroad got into car accidents because of their unfamiliarity with the traffic patterns, as did tourists who came to Sweden.
Additionally, Swedish car companies such as SAAB and Volvo made cars that were meant to be driven on the right so they could be more easily exported to the rest of the right-driving world, but many of these cars found their way onto Swedish roads. Swedish drivers were thus seated closest to the outside edge of the road, making visibility difficult.
To fix these problems, the Swedish government made the case for switching driving to the right side of the road, and put the decision up for a public vote.
The response was overwhelmingly negative, with most Swedes wanting to stick with what they were used to. The government just decided to move forward with their plan anyway.
The government went on a major publicity drive to help with the transition. They designed signs and stickers featuring a new “H” logo (short for höger, or “right”). They distributed pamphlets and made public service announcements on TV and radio.
One TV station even ran a competition for a song to help make people aware of the upcoming switch. The winner was Håll dig till höger, Svensson (“Stick to the Right, Svensson”) by The Telstars.
There were multiple issues that need to be addressed. Buses had their doors open to the curb, so bus stops had to be moved to the other side of the road. Road signs face one way, on one side of the road, and they also have to be changed. Intersections need to be reconfigured, and new road lines need to be drawn. Car headlights illuminated the wrong area of the road, and thus had to be replaced.
September 3, 1967 was declared Dagen-H (or “H-Day”), short for Högertrafikomläggningen (“the right-hand traffic diversion”). All nonessential traffic was banned from the roads from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. If you were on the roads at that time, you had to come to a stop at precisely 4:50 a.m. and sit there for 10 minutes until precisely 5:00 a.m., at which point you had to move to the other side of the road.
H-Day went very smoothly, probably due to the majority drivers displaying excessive caution in the face of what was presumably a terrifying shift – what if someone forgot to changeover, and a head-on collision occurred? However, once everyone had gotten used to the change, accident levels rose to normal.
Several countries (Iceland, Nigeria and Ghana, to name a few) followed Sweden’s lead and changed from the left to the right, but in 2009 Samoa did the opposite, going from the right to the left.
One of the most, if not the most spectacular part of Australian rules football is the high mark, where players jump into the air to catch the ball, often jumping over or on opposition players to grab the ball.
Over the long history of the game, many of these great marks have been captured by photographers, who were in the right place and the right time to take a brilliant picture.
Here are some examples of the best hangers, speccies and screamers taken in Australian rules football history.
Aaron Edwards (North Melbourne) versus Hawthorn (AFL – 2007)
Unidentified Carlton player versus Melbourne (VFL – 1960’s)
Bill Ryan (Geelong) versus St Kilda (VFL – 1968)
John Gerovich (South Fremantle) versus East Fremantle (WAFL – 1956)
Andrew Walker (Carlton) versus Essendon (AFL 2011)
John Coleman (Essendon) versus North Melbourne (VFL 1950’s)
Ashley Sampi (West Coast Eagles) versus Melbourne (AFL 2004)
David Holst (Glenelg) versus Norwood (SANFL 1979)
Peter Knights (Hawthorn) versus Collingwood (VFL 1973)
Michael Roach (Richmond) versus Hawthorn (VFL 1980)
John Dugdale (North Melbourne) versus St Kilda (VFL 1961)
Plots A-D of the Oise Aisne American Cemetary hold the remains of American soldiers who died fighting in a small portion of Northern France during World War I. However set across the street unmarked and completely surrounded by impassible shrubbery is Plot E, a semi-secret fifth plot that contains the nearly forgotten bodies of a number of American soldiers who were executed for crimes committed during and after World War II.
Over 6,000 soldiers are buried in the first four plots of the Oise Aisne Cemetery, but just 94 bodies are currently buried in the shunned fifth plot. While the small patch of land is technically on the grounds of the greater cemetery, it is not easily distinguished as it sits across the street, hidden behind the tall hedges that surround it. The only way into the secret cemetery is through the superintendent’s office.
The soldiers eventually interred in Plot E were tried for rape, murder, and in one case, desertion (although the remains of the deserter, Eddie Slovik, the only American executed for desertion in WWII, were returned to the states in 1987). After being convicted in U.S. courts martial held in Europe, the men were dishonorably discharged and executed via hanging or firing squad. In many cases, the men who were buried in Plot E were initially buried close to the site of their execution. Those bodies were later exhumed and moved to Oise Aisne in 1949 when the plot of shame was established.
Plot E has been referred to as an anti-memorial. No US flag is permitted to fly over the plot and the graves themselves, small in-ground stones the size of index cards, have no names; they are only differentiated by numbers. Even underground they are set apart with each body buried in Plot E positioned with its back to the main cemetery. The site does not exist on maps of the cemetery, and is not mentioned on the cemetery website.
Plot E has been described by one cemetery employee as a “house of shame” and “the perfect anti-memorial,” especially as the original intent was that none of the individual remains were ever to be identifiable by name.
“The Fifth Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II” by French L.Maclean (Schiffer Publishing, 2013) was the basis for this blog post.
Back in November 2015 I made a blog entry about Frederick Whirlpool, the Victoria Cross winner who ended up leading a hermit-like existence in the Hawkesbury. Here is the story of another Victoria Cross recipient, and the unusual way that he was awarded the highest honour in the British armed forces.
Maurice Buckley was born in Melbourne on the 13th of April 1891, and joined the 13th Light Horse Regiment the week before Christmas 1914, and was sent to Egypt.
Like so many of his comrades, Buckley contracted gonorrhea and syphilis. Venereal disease was a huge problem for Australian troops based in Egypt. With the troops not actually fighting, they spent each day training in camps outside of Cairo, and when off duty they frequented the many brothels in the city as well. By February 1916, almost 6,000 men had been infected, and more than 1,000 of them were shipped back home to Australia.
Buckley ended up at the Langwarrin Venereal Diseases camp, located 40 kilometres outside of Melbourne in November 1915. The facility at Langwarrin had originally been a training camp for Boer War soldiers, and at the start of the Great War was recommissioned as an internment camp for German and Turkish civilians. But with the dramatic emergence of venereal disease amongst enlisted men, the facility became a ‘pox camp’.
The camp was located well away from the township of Langwarrin, and conditions for the patients who went there were terrible – the men were herded behind barbed-wire enclosures, and slept in tents with rubber sheets and blankets for bedding. There was a shortage of water, which impacted on treatment and hygiene. In October 1915 there was a mass break-out involving 50 patients who had been refused leave to visit the township. The patients overpowered the camp guards, and caught the train to Melbourne, where they were subsequently arrested by police.
After five months in Langwarrin, Buckley had had enough, and in March 1916, he escaped from the camp, never to return. His Army papers were stamped ‘deserter’ and he was struck off the army roll. Buckley returned to his family’s house in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Malvern, to explain to his family why he was no longer serving in the Army.
With Military Police looking for her son, Agnes Buckley suggested that Maurice re-enlist, but under another name. So Maurice travelled to Sydney and re-enlisted as Private Gerald Sexton. Sexton was his mother’s maiden name, and Gerald was the name of his brother who had died in an army camp almost a year earlier of meningitis.
Sexton was assigned to the 13th Battalion of the 4th Division, embarking shortly after for Plymouth in England and then France. Sexton was promoted to Sergeant, and on the 8th of August 1918, earned a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery in the action around Morcourt Valley.
Sexton received his Victoria Cross for bravery during action near Le Verguier on the 8th of August 1918. Here is the official citation, as reprinted in the “London Gazette” of the 13th of December 1918:
“No. 6594 Sjt. Gerald Sexton, 13th Bn., A.I.F.
For most conspicuous bravery during the attack near Le Verguier, north-west of St. Quentin, on the 18th September, 1918. During the whole period of the advance, which was very seriously opposed, Sjt. Sexton was to the fore dealing with enemy machine guns; rushing enemy posts, and performing great feats of bravery and endurance without faltering or for a moment taking cover. When the advance had passed the ridge at La Verguier, Sjt. Sexton’s attention was ‘ directed to a party of the enemy manning a bank, and to a field gun causing casualties and holding up a company. Without hesitation, calling to his section to follow, he rushed down the bank and killed the gunners of the field gun. Regardless of machine-gun fire, he returned to the bank, and after firing down some dugouts induced about thirty of the enemy to surrender. When the advance was continued from the first to the second objective the company was again held up by machine guns on the flanks. Supported by another platoon, he disposed of the enemy guns, displaying boldness which inspired all. Later, he again showed the most conspicuous initiative in the capture of hostile posts and machine guns, and rendered invaluable support to his company digging in.”
At the end of 1918 the commanding officer at the Langwarrin camp notified the authorities of Sexton’s real identity. When Sexton received his Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace in May 1919, he did so under his real name of Maurice Buckley. Buckley returned to Australia and was discharged from the Army. Buckley, a strong Catholic, was openly aligned to the controversial Archbishop Daniel Mannix, and marched with Mannix in St Partick’s Day parades. Buckley established a strong friendship with infamous Melbourne identity John Wren, who business empire was built on SP bookmaking, sly grog and prostitution. Wren gave Buckley financial support to help set up a road-contracting business.
Buckley died after a horse-riding accident in January 1921, aged just 29. At his funeral, his casket was carried by ten other Victoria Cross winners. He was buried in the Brighton Cemetery, and fittingly was laid to rest alongside his brother – whose name he had borrowed to restore his reputation.
As far as I know, Buckley is the only soldier to have earned a Victoria Cross while serving under an assumed name/alias.
Russell Robinson’s book “Khaki Crims & Desperadoes” (Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney, 2014) was the main source for this entry, along with various Australian and international military history sites.
The Fort Stikine was one of 26 identical ships, all 441 feet long and 57 feet across the beam, and all bearing names beginning with the prefix Fort. The Fort Stikine was a solid workmanlike merchant ship of 7,142 gross tons, capable of travelling at ten to eleven knots and carrying more than 7,000 tons of cargo in its holds. The Fort Stikine’s first and only captain was Alexander Naismith, who took over the ship in May 1942. It was a utilitarian product of the Lend-Lease system in World War 2, under which the United States essentially allowed Great Britain to borrow war supplies on credit until after the war. Huge numbers of ships were supplied on this basis, the object being to maintain trade and keep war materials moving around the world at a time when German U-boats were destroying unprecedented tonnages of Allied shipping.
The Fort Stikine steamed out of Birkenhead in England in February 1944, bound for Bombay in India, via the Suez Canal. The Fort Stikine was part of a large convoy, and sailed slightly apart from the other ships. The reason for this was the ship’s cargo. Apart from crates containing twelve Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft, the cargo also included 1,395 tons of explosives, of which 238 tons was the highly sensitive category A type, stowed in the wings of the ‘tween-decks. The explosives were essential to the war effort in the Far East, and the Fort Stikine was the only ship that was going to Bombay – all of the other ships would turn away to their destinations before the Fort Stikine reached the Indian Ocean.
As well as the explosives, there was also another curious part of the ship’s cargo. In the upper half of No. 2 hold there was a specially constructed steel tank measuring five foot by four foot by four foot. Inside the tank had been placed thirty-one wooden boxes, each containing four bars of gold. In 1944, this quantity was worth in excess of £1,000,000. The use of such a vulnerable ship as the Fort Stikine for transit of such a valuable cargo is evidence both of the dire shortage of more appropriate shipping and the urgency with which the gold was required. The lid of the tank had been padlocked and then welded on.
After a stop for coal at Suez, the Fort Stikine reached Karachi on the 30th of March. The twelve crated Spitfires were unloaded, and in the vacated space the Fort Stikine took on 8,700 bales of raw cotton, several thousand gallons of lubricating oil, sulphur, rice, resin, scrap iron and fish meal. It was highly combustible and sat uneasily with the thousands of tons of explosives already in the ship. Captain Naismith and his senior officers were unhappy about the new cargo but they had no real choice to accept it.
The Fort Stikine left Karachi on the 9th of April and reached Bombay on the 12th of April, and was put into No 1 berth at the Victoria Dock. According to regulations the ship should have flown a red flag to signify to other ships that it was carrying explosives. Captains were reluctant to fly the red flag, feeling that it made their ships a better target for air attack and possible sabotage. Naismith chose not to fly the flag – possibly a fatal error that sealed the fate of the ship.
As the Fort Stikine had explosives on board, it was given priority for unloading over all other ships berthed in Victoria Dock. The category A explosives could not be directly unloaded onto the dock – they had to be transferred onto lighters and then onto the dock. No lighters were available, which delayed the unloading of the explosives for twenty four hours. In the meantime, dock workers started unloading the oil drums and then to the satisfaction of everyone, the fish meal, which had gone rotten and was putting off a terrible smell.
By midday on the 14th of April very few explosives had been landed. About this time the Chief Officer of the Fort Crevier, berthed opposite the Fort Stikine, first notices smoke issuing from one of the Fort Stikine’s ventilators. Approximately half a dozen other seamen saw the smoke, but also did nothing – it was lunch hour, the docks were at a standstill and an atmosphere of tropical languor hung heavily in the air. Eventually three hoses of water were deployed into the No 2 hold, and it was thought that the fire would be put out in a couple of minutes. The smoke however, continued to build, and the Bombay City fire brigade arrived to also lend their assistance. The officer in charge of explosives at the docks, Captain Oberst arrived at the docks at 2.30 pm and asked to see the Fort Stikine’s manifest. When he read about the explosives, and the burning cotton, he requested that the Fort Stikine should be immediately scuttled, in order to eliminate any chance of a major explosion. Unfortunately for Oberst, the water was not deep enough in the dock for the ship to be scuttled.
Someone noticed that the bulkhead between No 1 and No 2 hold was getting very hot, and two exceptionally brave firefighters descended into No 1 hold and moved all of the detonators that were resting against the bulkhead. It was suggested that the Fort Stikine should immediately head back out to sea, where an explosion would not damage the docks. Once again circumstances conspired against this plan – the ships’ engine was being repaired while in dock, making it impossible for the Fort Stikine to head out into the open seas.
By 3.00 pm it was obvious that the situation was getting worse – millions of gallons of water had been pumped into the hull, but the paint on the outside of the ship began to bubble. The seat of the fire had been identified – the aft port-side corner, and the Bombay fire brigade chief gave the order for a gas cutter to be fetched, so that an opening could be cut in the side of the ship and the fire attacked directly. Incredibly, more problems occurred – the fire brigade’s own cutter did not work, and an order had been placed for a cutter to be sent from the nearby Magazon Docks, but this order had been cancelled by a senior docks official. The order was resent, but to no avail.
The running of water inside the hold was fanning the fire, and not suppressing it, as the water raised the level of the burning cotton which floated on the surface of the water until it was just below the ‘tween-decks where the explosives were stored. By 3.45 pm huge flames began to leap out of the hatchway, and within minutes had reached the height of the Fort Stikine’s mast. Captain Naismith gave the order to abandon ship, and the crown which had gathered to watch the attempts to put the fire out now surged towards the dock gates. At 4.06 pm, Naismith had just completed a final check of the ship to see that all crew members had disembarked, when with cataclysmic force, the Fort Stikine exploded, killing Naismith immediately and many people who were still dockside.
Pieces of flying metal hurtled through the air and landed up to a mile away. The Jalapadma, a 4,000 ton ship berthed next to the Fort Stikine, was lifted right out of the water and deposited on the quay wall. One of the Fort Stikine’s anchors was caught in the rigging of a ship in a neighbouring dock. Eleven ships were now on fire and four were sunk or sinking. This was not the end of it – at 4.40 pm the explosives in what was left of the aft end of the Fort Stikine blew up, throwing debris 3,000 feet into the air. With such devastation, the casualty list was high, although due to wartime censorship and the chaos and confusion after the explosion, figures vary. Approximately 230 dock employees were killed, along with over 500 civilians, although some sources claim that the total death total was closer to 1,500. The Bombay Fire Service took the brunt of the explosion – of the 156 firemen who were present, 65 were killed and 80 wounded. Approximately 2,500 people were injured. It took three days to bring all of the fires under control, and a further seven months before all of the debris were removed and the docks became operational once more. Here is a a contemporary newsreel report, which features the second explosion and the aftermath of the explosions.
Once the fires had been put out, the authorities thoughts turned to what became of the gold that was stored in the steel tank in No 2 hold. It became obvious that all of the gold bars had been scattered far and wide by the explosion. Many civilians returned bars that they had found after the explosion, with other bars found lying on the ground unclaimed. Whenever the dock was dredged, the odd bar was found, with one of the last finds being in February 2011.
Nigel Pickord, “Lost Treasure Ships of the Twentieth Century”, Pavilion Books Limited, London, 1999, pp. 139-146 was used as the major source for this blog post.