SUCH SWEET SORROW
Several of our local confectioners and chocolatiers experienced heartbreak in many forms, Percy Smith and Thomas Goodman seemingly struck more than most…
Excerpt from inquest (Percy Smith will),
Public Record Office Victoria, VA 2807 State Coroner’s Office, VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files, P0, Unit 1056, Item 1924/728 Percy Shearwood Smith
Lovelorn at La Mimosa
Many Bendigonians were familiar with Percy Smith, being a journalist with the Bendigo Independent and taking part in pigeon racing with his father, James, an engine driver living in Golden Square. He was the eldest of James and Sarah’s children and had been in the local cadet unit since he was twelve.
Percy Shearwood Smith
Lovelorn at La Mimosa
In September of 1914, aged 18 years and eight months, Percy enlisted in the AIF first reinforcements and a send off was held at the Metropolitan Hotel, with many of his Independent colleagues present. Toasts were given to his health, successful efforts at the front, and a safe return, and heads of the paper’s departments spoke in high terms of Percy, particularly his ‘practical patriotism’ [i]. Before leaving the training camp, he had been promoted to the rank of corporal, and later, staff-sergeant.
“With a pair of clippers, I cut one of my chum’s hair as would resemble a hot cross bun,” related Percy of the sailing part of the voyage to the other side of the world – perhaps the sign of a frustrated baker? – “I cut a narrow strip from one ear to the other, and another strip from the front to the back. This began to create a joke and had it not been for the crowd congregating around I would have been able to leave it as it was [ii]”. Percy’s first recorded interaction with genuine sweet stuffs seems to be in a letter he sent home from Gallipoli in 1915 which was published in the Bendigo Independent:
“Even soldiers have a desire for something palatable to eat… I presume everyone knows the kind of biscuit issued. If they don’t, it is a biscuit that is almost indigestible unless they are soaked in one’s tea. Well, my ‘dug out’ mate [‘dug outs’ were men situated away from the front lines] was affected with the same desire as myself, desirous of having some desert. So we resolved to make ‘something’. Then came the difficulty. What could we make? We had biscuits, we had sugar, and we had some bacon fat and some jam. We eventually decided upon making ‘platoons’. Possibly the recipe is worthy to be published by Violet under ‘According to Eve’ [the women’s column in the Independent]. Nevertheless, this is how we made the platoons – firstly we broke the biscuits to a fine powder, and I can assure you it took some doing. Then we mixed the biscuits with sweetened water until it was a stiff paste. The paste was made into pates and fried with bacon fat until a nice brown colour. The pates, when cold and served with jam, made a delicious palatable dish (for active service, of course).” [iii]
Lovelorn at La Mimosa
Just after departing for training, Percy’s mother Sarah delivered a daughter – Ivy Olive – but in 1916, Percy received news that the little sister he had never met had died; this came on the back of several other Smith siblings being laid up with illness, and seven-year-old Albert severing a tendon in his arm in a fall. Barely a month later, his grandfather John Smith passed away. Shortly after that, following eight months on the Gallipoli peninsula including the bloody April campaign of 1915, Percy along with his fellow soldiers was evacuated to Europe.
Percy’s father James got word in December 1918 that his son was in Rouen (France), preparing for furlough in England and it seemed likely he would be back in Australia by the end of the year. However his London furlough extended to July the following year, where he had taken non-military employment and was attending George Williams College and evening classes at Pitman’s Secretarial School, where shorthand and other such skills were taught.
Early in the campaign, Percy related back to the Independent a number of stories and tales from the front, including a ‘Plan of Campaign’ that had been circulating among the men, which included ‘climb the pyramids’, ‘drink beer’, ‘boot the Kaiser’, ‘drink more beer’, ‘return home covered with medals’, and one he seemed particularly to take to heart, ‘flirt with French girls’ [iv].
Before departing London early in the new year of 1920, Percy was married by the registrar at St George Hanover Square to Germaine Cleypoint, a 20-year-old French woman from Rouen. The couple returned to Australia and made their home in Bendigo, purchasing a shop in Pall Mall they named La Mimosa, where they both worked as confectioners with a 16-year-old shop girl, Ena Stephens. Mimosa is the French name for silver wattle, a species imported to the country from Australia in the early 19th century. By this time, Percy’s parents and siblings had been relocated to Fitzroy through his father’s work on the railways.
Barely four years later, Mdlle Germaine suddenly became ill and quickly deteriorated, passing away in April and being buried at the Bendigo cemetery on ANZAC Day, 1924. ‘His petite partner endeared herself to all who came in contact with her and was highly respected’ [v], reported the Bendigo Advertiser, who later would recount how the event caused him to ‘fret considerably’ and show diminished interest in La Mimosa[vi]. Percy ran a classified advert in the Bendigo Advertiser the following week, thanking friends and relatives for their telegrams, letters, cards, floral tributes, visits and expressions of sympathy, and particularly Dr Little, Dr Jacobs, Dr Long, Sister Bramley and Sister Jackman and the hospital staff for their care of his wife. After her death, Percy’s 18-year-old brother George came to live at 43 Pall Mall, working as a salesman for the business.
The loss of Germaine seemed to hit Percy very hard, and perhaps suffering ongoing affects from his active service, barely two months after her death, he made a fateful visit to the Law Courts Hotel, next door to the confectionery shop. After sending George to Raywood on an errand, Percy was on the hunt for a pen, and unable to garner one from his shop girl, Ena Stephens, walked next door to ask landlord John Blencowe for one [vii]. To all appearances, he was perfectly calm and sober.
Blencowe indicated that there was one in the pub’s writing desk and Percy seated himself there, engrossed in writing for around ten minutes. He then got up, and brought his papers to Blencowe, asking him to witness his signature, and to be served a pot of beer. Producing the ale for Percy, Blencowe turned his attention to the papers, and was surprised to see that the document was a will. “What is the meaning of this?”, asked the barman, and Percy responded by yelling, “Sign this, sign this” before taking a bottle from his pocket and pouring the contents into his beer.
He then downed the concoction, despite Blencowe’s best efforts to stop him, calling for another patron, James Duggan, to assist. Duggan took Percy by the arm and walked him back to the confectionery shop, where Ena put him into a chair in a room off the main shop. “They would not sign it,” Percy told his shop girl, and when she asked him what was wrong, he replied that he was finished with life, “I have poisoned myself” [viii]. He repeated this when Constable George Hogben was brought into the store, handing him a bottle of Lysol [a disinfectant widely used during the Spanish influenza pandemic]; the Constable immediately commandeered a vehicle and conveyed Percy to the Bendigo Hospital. Dr Ross washed out his stomach, finding evidence of Lysol, and administered stimulants but by the time George had arrived from Raywood, after being told his brother had taken ill, Percy had died.
A Dunstan JP led an inquest the following day at the Warden’s Court, the jury recording a verdict of poisoning by Lysol, self-administered, but that there was no evidence to Percy’s state of mind at the time; indeed Dunstan remarked that it was hard to understand that a young man would do such a thing deliberately. This despite the fact that George indicated that Lysol was not kept on the premises and Ena had seen ‘will papers’ in the shop recently.
Draped in a Union Jack, Percy’s casket was taken to the grave in the Bendigo Cemetery by six returned servicemen with Reverend R Graham conducting the burial service, followed by a Masonic Sandhurst Lodge service read by Worshipful Master J Broughton. As one of the original ANZACs, ‘even though he be asleep’, wrote the Bendigo Advertiser, ‘he will be remembered as those others who sleep on foreign shores’. He had had a headstone erected for Germaine but to date, Percy’s particulars have not been added to it despite resting in the same plot.
He is recorded in the probate and administration papers as being intestate; though the will he hurriedly made at the Law Courts Hotel writing desk was not witnessed and therefore invalid, it’s curious that as a soldier he did not create a will during his active service [ix]. He did, however, have over £400 in life insurance policies, and owned a block of land on Alcock Street in Reservoir, part of the Merrilands Estate, as well as his business. Curnow & Son undertook a clearing sale of all the stock and plant in La Mimosa, including the complete stock of confectionery, show cases and mirrors, in August, having already sold his Ford car for the trustees; the car, business, stock and plant fetched £373 in total.
The Crestfallen Confectioner
When the shutters were still down on Thomas Goodman’s lolly shop in High Street at his usual opening time, his neighbour and landlord, bootmaker John Cahill thought it odd and unable to raise Thomas, went in via the back door to assess the situation. Seeing no signs of a struggle or disturbance, he entered the man’s bedroom to find him dead. A rumour of the death soon circulated around Sandhurst but was widely disbelieved, so temperate and steady was Goodman in his conduct.
Goodman, 53, had been a confectioner in Launceston and then a hotelier in Longford but in 1871, after the Queen’s Arms Hotel started to fail, came to Victoria. Having lived and run a successful business for a year or two in Melbourne, his wife left him – supposedly to live ‘a fast life in St Kilda’ [x] – and he removed to Eaglehawk where he bought the pastry cook and confectioner’s business of ‘Tommy the Pieman’ upon the baker’s departure to England, for £2,800. Finding the business unprofitable, in 1876 he took up one of Cahill’s buildings to offer confectionery in Sandhurst.
Thomas had written several letters, outlining that at one time he could have put his hand to a cheque for £500 if required but misfortune had fell upon him and reduced him to dire financial circumstances. “Being as low as I can well be, I have come to the determination of ending my days”, wrote Thomas, “It cuts me to the heart not to be able to pay all demands that is made upon me, which is not very great, but I hope my little creditors will forgive me for not paying in full” [xi].
Evidently it was not just financial woes that led Thomas to his demise, described by the Bendigo Advertiser in early reports of the death as confirming that ‘the suicidal mania has again set in’ [xii] after such other incidents had been recorded in Geelong and Majorca in the days previous. Pinned to his shirt, over his heart, was a cabinet card of a woman and a further letter:
“This is the likeness of my lawful wife, who still is dear to me. I cannot see her to say goodbye so I place her likeness close upon my heart, with the intention to die. For many years together we have been, in number 29, and since I have become reduced, she has forsaken me; but, should this catch the eye of my dear Bell, and cause her to reflect upon days gone by, and now to hear of my most unhappy death; but, should she hear of my sad fate, I suppose she will only laugh and say to William Humphries (alias Henry Gray), ‘come let us rejoice, dance and play upon Tom Goodman’s grave’. My grave she will not know where to find. Expense to her it will be none, and, as for black, she need not wear when Tom Goodman is dead and gone. Dear Bell, I’ll soon be laid low in my grave. Pray let me lay at rest. God forgive my sins, and receive my soul, and let me be at piece. Adieu to the world, I am quite tired of my life. Please advertise this, so that it may come under the eye of my wife.” [xiii]
Thomas’ friend of 25 years, John Perry – a wood merchant in Melbourne – knew of the situation ahead of time, having received a letter from Thomas outlining his intention to commit suicide. He had also received by train a box containing a small accordion, a gold watch and chain, a possum skin rug and £10. Perry contacted detectives in Melbourne to pass the information on to their Bendigo colleague in Detective Alexander, but by the time the telegraph arrived, the discovery had already occurred.
Excerpt from inquest, cabinet card
Public Record Office Victoria, VA 2807 State Coroner’s Office, VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files, P0, Unit 348, Item 1876/966 Thomas Goodman
An inquest was held at the City Family Hotel by James Pounds, and heard evidence from Constable James Bradley who managed the scene, Cahill, Perry, and Dr Harry Atkinson who made a post mortem. He found the heart to be healthy and there were no marks of violence, but the lungs were congested and a few ounces of what he took to be strychnine in the stomach, though Constable Bradley was unable to find any local chemists who had sold Thomas the liquid. The jury recording a verdict of suicide by his hand by taking strychnine, and the unadvertised burial took place at Bendigo Cemetery.
[i] 'About people' Bendigo Independent, 30 Nov 1914, p4
[ii] 'Australia’s soldiers', Bendigo Independent, 4 Feb 1915, p4
[iii] 'Beach parties’ finest', Bendigo Independent, 27 Jul 1915, p1
[iv] 'Soldier’s comicalities', Bendigo Independent, 27 Mar 1915, p5
[v] 'Obituary Smith', Bendigo Advertiser, 25 Apr 1924
[vi] 'Bendigo poison drama', Bendigo Advertiser, 2 July 1924
[vii] Public Record Office Victoria, VA 2807 State Coroner’s Office, VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files, P0, Unit 1056, Item 1924/728 Percy Shearwood Smith
[viii] 'Bendigo poison tragedy', Bendigo Advertiser, 3 July 1924
[ix] Public Record Office Victoria, VA 2620 Registrar of Probates Supreme Court, VPRS 28 Probate and Administration Files, P3, Unit 1457, Item 196/849 Percy S Smith
[x] 'Suicide of Thomas Goodman', Weekly Examiner, 2 Dec 1876, p10
[xi] Public Record Office Victoria, VA 2807 State Coroner’s Office, VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files, P0, Unit 348, Item 1876/966 Thomas Goodman
[xii] 'Another suicide', Bendigo Advertiser, 11 Nov 1876, p2
[xiii] Public Record Office Victoria, VA 2807 State Coroner’s Office, VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files, P0, Unit 348, Item 1876/966 Thomas Goodman