SUCH SWEET SORROW

  DEPRAVITY

 

Depravity That Disturbed the District

 

While some stories involving sweet makers in the north east were sad, tragic, or mysterious, some were genuinely depraved. While our first scenario deals with a young thug taking advantage of a disadvantaged family, others look at the advantage taken by truly dark individuals in the appeal of lollies to children…

Tong I.png

Excerpt from James Tong criminal record

Public Record Office Victoria, VA 1464 Penal & Gaols Branch Chief Secretary's Department, VPRS 515 Central Register of Male Prisoners, P1 Unit 57, page 288 James Tong #30624

Jacobs I.png

Excerpt from John Jacobs criminal record

Public Record Office Victoria, VA 1464 Penal & Gaols Branch Chief Secretary's Department, VPRS 515 Central Register of Male Prisoners, P1 Unit 53, page 277

Police Court Swings and Roundabouts

 

A street accordion player, often accompanied by his daughters who sang, Robert Kidd was well known in Bendigo; it was also widely understood he was blind and so it was his wife Jessie who ran their confectionery shop in Bridge Street. By the turn of the century they had had eight children, but only four had survived beyond infancy – Margaret, Emma, Nellie and Robert.

 

On a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1900, Jessie was keeping shop when two young blokes, Dwyer and Jacobs, came into the shop  to purchase cigarettes. Dwyer left after getting his smokes but the other, John Jacobs, told Jessie to send her children out of the shop with some lollies as he wished to talk to her privately.

When she refused, he made ‘inappropriate overtures’ to her and tried to drag her into a back room. She broke free but was caught again and it was only when young Emma, 8, threatened to tell her father, that Jacobs left. Robert reported the matter first thing on Monday morning and Jacobs was arrested later that day.

Plainclothes constable Taylor had seen Jacobs, identifiable by an anchor tattoo between his thumb and first finger, near the Gasworks where he was approached and was read the warrant and caution. Jacobs told the constable he was not afraid of the charge. At the City Court, before Mayor McGowan and JPs John Hoskins, Anderson, Gibson and Harkness, the case was presented, with Jacobs defended by Roberts and pleading not guilty. Sub inspector Hehir put the case for the Crown and after making arguments, Jacobs was committed for trial at the sitting of the Supreme Court the following week, with bail set at £150.

Before Justice A’Beckett and a jury of twelve, the charge of indecent assault against John Jacobs was heard. Emma was brought in to corroborate her mother’s statement, being allowed to sit on the bench right next to the judge to give her evidence. Jacobs denied the assault as described, and the jury retired to deliberate. After some time, they asked if the judge would accept a verdict on the minor count of unlawful assault; he responded in the affirmative and the jury returned their guilty decision. As a result, A’Beckett stated that this meant Jacobs had also committed perjury and thought the practice of allowing prisoners to give evidence on their own behalf was being greatly abused. To make a case in point, he said he would bear the matter in mind when passing sentence.

 

On February 23, Justice A’Beckett sentenced Jacobs to twelve months’ imprisonment with hard labour, remarking that on top of the assault, he had committed gross perjury and that without the latter, the sentence would have been lighter. After being first admitted to Bendigo Gaol, Jacobs was transferred to Pentridge until his release in January 1901.

 

It was Robert though who was in facing court in 1903, summoned for non-compliance with the compulsory clause of the Education Act, with his daughter Margaret not having attended school recently. Jessie, 34, was struck with consumption in that same year and was nursed through the disease for six months before succumbing, leaving the blind Robert with their four children, the youngest just three years old. He had been unable to send his children to school consistently throughout this time and so was found guilty – and even though Jessie had died just the day before the summons was heard, the court imposed a fine of one shilling.

 

The community showed greater compassion, with the Bendigo Advertiser running a charitable appeal to cover the cost of Jessie’s burial.

 

 

 

Bees to Pollen

 

 

George Wilson, 76, fronted the Bendigo assizes in August of 1901 on a charge of assaulting – on several occasions the previous November – two young girls, one under 16 and the other under 10 years of age. Wilson kept a lolly shop in the township of Boort and the children, frequent visitors to the store, told their parents that they had been taken to Wilson’s bedroom where he assaulted both of them. Justice A’Beckett heard the evidence of the girls – described by the Bendigo Independent as ‘of a disgusting character’ – on a Wednesday and the sitting adjourned to the following day when a jury returned a guilty verdict, Wilson being then remanded for sentence [i]. On the charges of indecent assault, Wilson was given six months’ for each of the three counts to be taken cumulatively, his defence having argued that due to his age and failing health, he would need proper medical attendance. Shortly after, he was transferred by Constables Power and Young to Pentridge and within a matter of weeks, had been taken to the Geelong Gaol, and was discharged from there in early January 1902.

 

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On a Spring afternoon in 1904, Plainclothes constable Taylor was doing his rounds in the Upper Reserve precinct when he noted a teenage girl entering a Chinese lolly shop opposite the Park View Hotel. When the girl failed to emerge for some time, Taylor – having heard suspicious whispers about the shop – entered, finding the girl, Myrtle Shields, who immediately fled out the back door. Upon catching her, she made incoherent responses to his questions before eventually admitting that there had been ‘misconduct’ between her friend, Ellen Scott, and the proprietor, James Tong (also known as James Ah Tong) [ii].

 

The 42-year-old Tong was immediately arrested by Taylor on charges of ‘carnally knowing’ both girls and set to face Webb and Sommerville at the next City Court sitting. Tong was described by the Bendigo Independent as ‘a slim-built, sunken featured, youngish-looking Chinaman’ who spoke English with great fluency and whose business was very popular with locals. The case was heard behind closed doors but information was still published in the local media.

Elizabeth Scott lived in Ironbark with her seven children, a widow after her miner husband died six years previous. Her daughter, Ellen – known as Nellie – was friends with Myrtle and for several months the girls had been visiting the lolly shop. The popular water chute in Upper Reserve – a small version of Splash Mountain, built by the Bendigo Progress Association – had opened in April and was a significant attraction, and it was here that James Tong first crossed paths with the girls.

 

They later visited the lolly shop to buy sweets, where Tong remarked that Nellie was ‘a little peach’ [iii]. Sometime later, they visited the shop again, but on this occasion, both girls were taken to a bedroom behind the shop and Myrtle was assaulted; she claimed she tried to struggle free but was unable; afterward Tong told them not to say anything about what had happened, and gave each of them six shillings’ worth of lollies. They returned to visit the shop a week later when they bought lollies, and were again assaulted, and again, given lollies.

 

Under cross examination before the City Court though, Nellie admitted that they had told Tong they were both over sixteen, and Myrtle stated that they had not gone to the shop to buy lollies, rather that they suggested to him that if he gave them lollies, they would allow him to use them in the bedroom; at no time had Tong enticed them into the bedroom from the shop. Nellie also confirmed that other boys by the name of Ernie and Jack ‘interfered with her pretty often’, and that the girls were known for regularly being on the streets. A teenager named Lorna Umrich knew of the girls’ habits and warned Tong not to have anything to do with them or he might get into trouble.

 

Upon presentation of the evidence, Tong was committed to trial, and offered bail of £300 in private and other sureties which were met by Tong’s own money and that of ‘a fellow countryman’ [iv]. He was again represented by Adam Dunlop who argued that Tong had an excellent character and did not think that, ‘as a Chinaman’, he had the same ideas of morality as an Englishman [v]. He also pleaded that Tong had been tempted and that the girls had misrepresented their age.

 

His Honour Justice Hodges pointed out that Tong appeared to know it was a crime, and that if he had been the same age as the girls, it would have made ‘a great deal of difference’. As it was, Tong was older and should have protected the girls. Hodges noted that the case was one of the ‘most filthy that had come under his notice’, but also commented on the ‘depravity’ of the girls, and impressed upon the parents, present in court, the necessity of ‘endeavouring to reform them’ and take better care of them in future. Tong was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment on each charge, to be served cumulatively.

 

A socialist newspaper, The Toscin, ran several pieces criticising the decision, comparing the Tong case sentencing – seemingly ignoring the mitigations the judge had noted – with that of a Caucasian man who had assaulted his niece and recently received a sentence of death recorded:

“Of course, neither parliament nor the daily press has thought it necessary to question the wisdom of practically encouraging pollution by Chinamen. A sentence of three months for an offence is a public scandal and unless the authorities desire to force the public to resort to lynch law, some action should be taken. The Bendigo case demands consideration. If the public sense of decency is to be thus flouted, we shall yet see Chinese roasted at the stake as surely as negro offenders are tortured in America” [vi].

The Toscin had argued against federation, and folded two years after this incident, succeeded by Labour Call. They had suggested that several judges of recent cases of assault were of ‘lob-sided intelligence’ and were encouraging independency, and treating the Chinese ‘tenderly’ [vii]. Tong served his whole sentence in the Bendigo Gaol and was released in the March of 1905.

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“A man who could not be well trusted”, Inspector O’Flaherty told the City Police Court bench of confectioner, Lazarus (or Lazaro) Rima, “His conduct shows he is dangerous” [viii]. Rima appeared before the bench in July 1892 on two charges of indecent assault and one of common assault, with one child – three-year-old Pearl Truscott – being admitted to hospital, hurt so badly it was feared she would bleed to death. This resulted in the hearing being delayed by several days. Presented on remand, Inspector O’Flaherty described the charges and the case was then heard before closed doors, though the Bendigo Advertiser reported that from the Inspector’s evidence and that of the girls’ parents, the details were ‘of a most revolting nature’[ix]. The paper’s reported came under the notice of the vice-consul for Italy in Melbourne, James Wighton, who wrote to them correcting their incorrect identification of Rima as an Italian; he was in fact Swiss [x].

 

Dr James Eadie Jnr had examined Pearl and determined that, there being marks of violence, the toddler had been ‘tampered with’ and was still in such a state in court that she was unable to make any response to questions put to her. Four-year-old Nellie Smith, the second victim, was able to related what happened on her visit to Rima’s house with Pearl; seemingly his assault on the smaller girl was substantively worse. Plainclothes constable Davidson arrested Rima at his High Street home, when the man admitted that Pearl had been at the property to buy toffee but denied the charges through interpreter, Italian wine hall owner Fortunato Sciallero, saying they were trumped up to drive him from High Street.

Dr James Eadie Jnr had examined Pearl and determined that, there being marks of violence, the toddler had been ‘tampered with’ and was still in such a state in court that she was unable to make any response to questions put to her. Four-year-old Nellie Smith, the second victim, was able to related what happened on her visit to Rima’s house with Pearl; seemingly his assault on the smaller girl was substantively worse. Plainclothes constable Davidson arrested Rima at his High Street home, when the man admitted that Pearl had been at the property to buy toffee but denied the charges through interpreter, Italian wine hall owner Fortunato Sciallero, saying they were trumped up to drive him from High Street.

 

 

The girls were unable to be sworn but corroborated each other’s statements and while the Crown prosecuted believed this was sufficient, His Honour Justice Williams noted he would state a case for the prisoner for the Supreme Court on that point. The jury returned a guilty verdict on both charges of

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Excerpt from Lazarus Rima criminal record,

Public Record Office Victoria, VA 1464 Penal & Gaols Branch Chief Secretary's Department, VPRS 515 Central Register of Male Prisoners, P1 Unit 50, page 402 Lazarus Rima #27674

indecent assault, ‘a most abominable offence,’ stated the judge, ‘One which must be punished with much severity for the protection of the little things who are utterly unable to protect themselves and whom such as you may injure, not only physically, mentally and morally but for the remainder of their lives by polluting their minds’ [xi].

 

Only his age saved Rima from a flogging, with the judge stating it was ‘useless’ to waste words expressing his abhorrence of the crime and sentenced him to ‘a long term of imprisonment’ [xii]. This turned out to be two years at Bendigo Gaol with hard labour on each charge and that he was to pass the first two days of each month during the last twelve months of each term in solitary confinement, the sentences to be served cumulatively.

 

Justice Williams addressed the jury, indicating that he agreed with their verdict but there was some doubt over the legal standing of the primary evidence and that it would need to be referred to the Full Court, with the possibility that Rima would be released should the point of law be proved wrong. He was remanded to Bendigo Gaol until the case was heard at Full Court in October, which found that the children’s statements weren’t sufficient to bear out the charge, the girls not being old enough to understand the obligations of an oath and corroboration being insufficient. The conviction was quashed and on October 12, Rima was released. A spate of similar cases of child molestation were thrown out following this ruling, including one in Eaglehawk later that month.

 

Little Pearl had been left an only child after her little brother Eric died earlier that year; her father Thomas was working as a miner in Tasmania. By the turn of the century, her mother Elizabeth had petitioned for divorce on the grounds of desertion, adultery and cruelty which was so degraded that Counsel asked that the evidence should not be published. After receiving the evidence, which proved Elizabeth’s claim, the court agreed and granted her a decree nisi as well as custody of Pearl.

Rima soon moved to the Castlemaine district, where he took up business hawking ice cream, pies and saveloys under the pseudonym ‘Pom Pom’. It wasn’t long before he proved Inspector O’Flaherty’s initial assessment true. In 1896, Rima and an associate, John Penhall, were arrested by Constable John Luke with Rima brought up before the Castlemaine Police Court on a charge of carnally knowing a child, ten-year-old Elizabeth Allen.

 

The Constable had been suspicious of Rima for some time and was aware that the girl was vulnerable, having charged the family previously for neglect. As a result, he had watched the girl and Rima’s Mostyn Street address as much as possible. Upon their arrest, Rima was taken to the local watchhouse while Penhall was put up at the Chewton lock up.

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Excerpt from Lazarus Rima criminal record,

Public Record Office Victoria, VA 1464 Penal & Gaols Branch Chief Secretary's Department, VPRS 515 Central Register of Male Prisoners, P1 Unit 50, page 402 Lazarus Rima #27674

A lengthy statement was made by Elizabeth who indicated that Rima had had ‘improper relations’ with her since she was eight years of age, when she lived with her parents in Castlemaine [xiii]. This was confirmed by Dr George Woolley, who upon the Constable’s request, examined the girl and identified evidence of frequent tampering. Rima’s neighbour, Elizabeth Horrocks of the Exchange Hotel, also stated that she had seen the girl being taken into his home on several occasions. Evidence was given by the girl that Rima had given her ice cream and pennies, and threatened to cut her throat should she tell her parents what was happening at the house. Police magistrate William Anderson remanded Rima and committed him to trial at Maryborough Supreme Court in November.

Represented this time by Samuel Cornish, Rima submitted a not guilty plea, and his counsel outlined to the jury how Elizabeth had lived ‘a particularly vagrant sort of life’ for a few years, regularly staying away from her parent’s home in Chewton.

He denied every aspect of the girl’s statement, and stated he was willing to submit himself to medical examination to prove he was physically incapable of committing the offence. The Chief Justice John TT Smith thought ‘in the interests of justice’ Dr Wooley should undertake such an examination, and the doctor returned evidence that there was not the slightest indication to support Rima’s statement [xiv]

 

Chief Justice Smith summarised, noting that Elizabeth seemed to be particularly intelligent though she had been deplorably neglected. The jury deliberated for nearly ninety minutes before returning a guilty verdict. The judge concurred and passed a sentence of five years’ imprisonment with hard labour, to which Rima replied, ‘It’s not the girl who put me away, the Chewton police put me away’ [xv]. Penhall, who was also charged with assaulting Elizabeth and another 11 year old girl, was tried on the same day; the jury were unable to come to an agreement but a further trail in December saw him sentenced to two year’s prison.

 

Finally imprisoned for his crimes, Rima was moved from Maryborough Gaol to Pentridge days after his admission, and five months later was taken to Geelong, before being returned to Melbourne just before his release in July 1900. The year after the trial, Elizabeth was made a ward of the state, her case notes including reference to the poor circumstances of the family but also that her parents were unable to control the girl ‘who is very fond of being out at night and keeping low company ’[xvi]. She spent time in service at several places, including St Peter’s parsonage in Leongatha, and McMillan’s in Toorak but by 1906 she was in Benalla and became pregnant.

By 1900, Rima was back in Bendigo where he ran an amusements and shooting gallery in Market Square, another business which put him in direct contact with children. In July 1901, he was again charged, this time with shooting – with intent to grievously injure – a boy named Charles Housden, but he was discharged. His defence – Cornish again – argued that the boys had been annoying Rima and he fired, striking the boy in the neck. The jury accepted the justification and Rima was discharged.

 

A few years later, in November 1905, Rima was admitted to the Bendigo Benevolent Asylum suffering hemiplegia (a type of paralysis) and it was as an inmate here in 1906 when he died of apoplexy (sometimes used to refer to stroke or cerebral haemorrhage) [xvii]. William Webb JP was appraised via a report from Constable Killury, and held a closed inquest to make the determination. Rima had been found collapsed near the stables in the Asylum grounds at 8 o’clock on August 20 by John Downie, a blind patient in the habit of walking in that area. John Oldham, the night warden, deposed that Rima was brought in and placed in a chair before being encouraged to his bed where he said something that Oldham could not interpret before leaving him, checking soon after to find him deceased.

ENDNOTES

 

[i] 'Bendigo assizes', Bendigo Independent, 8 Aug 1901, p2

[ii] 'A View Street surprise packet', Bendigo Independent, 22 Sep 1904, p3

[iii] 'Some young girls', Bendigo Independent, 30 Sep 1904

[iv] 'Juvenile depravity', Bendigo Advertiser, 30 Sep 1904, p4

[v] 'Girl assault', Bendigo Advertiser' 14 Oct 1904, p4

[vi] 'Criminal assault: treat the Chinese tenderly', The Toscin, 10 Nov 1904, p4

[vii] 'Encouragement of indecency', The Toscin, 8 Dec 1904, p8

[viii] 'City police court', Bendigo Advertiser, 12 Jul 1892, p3

[ix] 'Indecent assault', Bendigo Advertiser, 15 Jul 1892, p4

[x] 'Not an Italian', Bendigo Advertiser, 19 Jul 1892, p2

[xi] 'Assize court', Bendigo Independent, 20 Aug 1892, p3

[xii] Ibid

[xiii] 'Shocking depravity at Castlemaine', Bendigo Advertiser, 31 Oct 1896, p5

[xiv] 'Maryborough supreme court', Mount Alexander Mail, 12 Nov 1896, p3

[xv] Ibid

[xvi] Victoria Public Record Office, VA 475 Chief Secretary’s Department, VPRS 4527 Ward Registers, P2 Item Book 11, page 223 Elizabeth Ann Allen

[xvii] Public Record Office Victoria, VA 862 Office of the Registrar-General, VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files, P0 Unit 802, Item 1906/556 Lazarus Reima