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Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Strange Doings At Springwood"

Nepean Times, 1st February, 1890
“Petty Thieving. – Petty thieving in and around Springwood seems to be the popular amusement – mean despicable appropriation of other people’s goods – one of our hardworking neighbours has to pick his ripening fruit every morning before he goes to work; if not it is sure to go during his absence – another one left a few tools where he had been working some little distance from his house, the next day they were missing – and on Tuesday we met our road maintenance man plodding towards Springwood with a very doleful countenance, his road repairing tools having left between two days – we believe some people would steal a dog-leg fence if they could get it on their shoulders – O Tempore ! O Moses! “
Nepean Times, 3rd May, 1890
“More petty thieving and wanton mischief in the back blocks, one poor fellow loses five of his best hens, and another has his wire fence cut in various places and some of the wire stolen – this is beyond a joke.  Another had a few (a case or so) late apples on the tree one night – the next morning they had disappeared .  We shall have to interview the war office and have a detachment of mounted infantry sent up here.  They could make a dear little camp on peach tree flat, and it would be such fun for the girls.  We are sure they would be just as useful in the country (even more so) than displaying their roosters’ feathers in the neighbourhood of Sydney, and if our liberal government would supply them with a little ammunition, we might get rid of our flying foxes without trying to blow them up with dynamite.  Lor!  what a scare the wallabies would get.”
Nepean Times, 10th May, 1890
“The operations of our Springwood thieves are extending and taking a higher tone.  A few days back they took advantage of Mrs Hoare’s absence and forced an entrance into her house (1), but they were evidently new at this branch of the trade for they decamped without taking anything of much value (2).  Their entrance was effected very clumsily as they had roughly bored holes in the front door and burst a panel in sufficiently wide to get their hands in and undo the fastenings of the door.  This is certainly an upward tendency in the style of theft from robbing orchards, making a raid amongst the hen roosts, stealing and cutting wire fences to barefaced robbery.  We shall next hear of them sticking up our local bank or stopping the mail train.  We are as far too go-ahead in villainy as we are slow in other natures.”
Nepean Times, 19th July, 1890
“Another petty robbery has occurred in the district.  Miss Todd upon returning home, near the railway bridge, after a short absence, found it broken into and some blankets and a cruet stand abstracted.  It is a curious thing that in all the late cases of robbery about Springwood, the thieves have always appropriated a cruet-stand.  It does not seem to matter much whether the stand is electro or silver it is all the same to them, it is taken.  We wonder whether he, she or they are going to set up a dining saloon, and are thus commencing to appropriate the necessary stock.  It’s a risky game; and for our part we would rather buy the articles on terms, and leave before payment was required – with the articles, if not too bulky.

Nepean Times, 28th June, 1890
“I daresay you have heard of the nefarious proceedings of certain unknown “gentry” in the district of Springwood.  Truly, we are in bad case.  No one when he retires for the night can say he will have a peaceful time of it.  He may examine under his bed with his rushlight  to see if anyone is there, and he may perchance keep his revolver loaded too under his pillow; but for all those precautions he may find the next morning that his fowls have been stolen, or his beehives disappeared – the very wires of his fence may have been cut and taken away, or worse still his house may be broken into and many of his favourite articles gone.  If he has goods consigned to him by rail and leaves them or his luggage on the Springwood platform, part or the whole may disappear in the twinkling of an eye without his authority.  These are not fanciful cases.  These things have happened and that lately.  Some no less than last week.  You may say the remedy lies in having one policeman stationed here, whose district extends from about Blaxland right away to Lawson and beyond.  Well he is no doubt a very worthy constable, but so far has been unable to afford us any relief.  He cannot even find one offender, and I fear it is hopeless to expect that he will be able to unless ably assisted by the Inspector General of Police’s instructions.  It is plain to me that we want more police here if only as a temporary expedient, then there may be some hope of being able to keep one’s goods intact., If no help is afforded, and more burglaries and thefts occur it will have but one ending – somebody will be made a target of; perhaps the wrong man which would be a lamentable result.  Revolvers are to be brought into requisition by several of our folk who are determined to use them too if occasion demand it.  Perhaps our Progress Committee will make a move in the desired direction, for at present “our” policeman’s lot is not a happy one.”
Nepean Times, 26th July, 1890
“Theft. – In the midst of life we are in theft, at least we find it so this side of the Zig-zag, and a consignment of tower muskets will have to be forwarded to the district.  Neither our cruet stands or our clothes lines are safe. In fact this system of petty fogging appropriation of other people’s underlinen is the meanest type of kleptomania.  Last Saturday our two hotels had their clothes lines stripped in a most barefaced manner, and the night befor Mr Humphries, a quiet hard working man, had his home broken into and a quantity of wearing apparel and papers taken.  We can understand a starving homeless wretch filching from the super-abundance of a rich man’s house, the temptation being so great, but for thieves to break in and steal from a hard working tiller of the soil seems the very poorest kind of employment.  We would just as soon work for our living and take our natural rest at night.”
Nepean Times, 2nd August,1890
“No more robberies. – Since the stirring events of the last week have transpired, our village has returned to its usual placid serenity.  We carefully take in all our washed clothes at night, lock the back gate with a six inch nail, and shove the cruet stand as far up the chimney as possible.  Having made these preparations, we chain the dog up to the grind-stone, and feel easy for the night.”
Nepean Times, 16th August, 1890
“Mr Parker’s house on Single’s Ridge was entered the other day in the absence of the owner, but nothing much was appropriated, but there has been an increased demand for shot, caps and powder at Mr Rayner’s store.  We pity the marauders if the vengeance is carried out that we have heard threatened them.  Life will be a burden and death a happy release to them.”
Nepean Times, 11th October, 1890
“A sensation is now being experienced through some discoveries made this week by Constable Illingworth.
  It will be recollected that our little community was moved by feelings of alarm and indignation some few months ago  in consequence of the numerous burglaries and robberies which took place in our midst, some which “took the cake” for barefacedness.  Well the secret is being unearthed at last, much to our relief of mind, and very much to those who were unfortunately wrongly suspected of being participants in the proceedings.  It is an old saying that “murder will out”, and it looks as if it is going to prove in our case.  It appears that Mr Larsen (3) had in his employ as caretaker and gardener a man named Lars Peter Hansen.  This individual enjoyed the confidence of his employer for over a year and left for “fresh fields and pastures new” about a month since.  The next news we heard of Hansen was that he had been arrested for supposed complicity in the murder of a man named Charles Duncker in the Peak Hill district. Opinions began to be expressed here that he might have been guilty of some of the crimes in this district.  Then did our constable arise to the dignity of his profession.  Without further ado he considered it advisable to make a little search for himself (4) in the house and grounds of Mr Larsen, and was well rewarded for his trouble by finding a “plant”.  A waterhole in the grounds was “fished” with the result that two tin trunks and part of a leather portmanteau were found, minus the contents, the said packages being those which were mysteriously conveyed away from the station here in June last.  Heaps of rubbish were overturned, resulting in the discovery of sundry articles, all of which have been already identified as stolen goods belonging to our villagers.  In a cooking stove were found some lumps of white metal which had evidently been melted down in the hope of it being silver, but which it is probable is something baser.  Much therefore has been done towards clearing up a great mystery.  The circumstantial evidence thus afforded points strongly towards Hansen as the perpetrator of at least some of the robberies.  As at present he is suspected of the most serious crime of murder, we can afford to wait and see how he gets on with that charge.”
Nepean Times, 25th October, 1890
“Since Hansen’s departure from our district we have been free from robberies, for which much thanks.  The various goods found on Mr Larsen’s premises, after Hansen’s arrest for the Peak Hill murder, which is believed to have been stolen by Hansen, have all been identified; some as belonging to some ladies at Miss Hooper’s school (5) at North Springwood, and others as the property of Mrs Hoare.  The only article missed by Mr Larsen is a tomahawk which that gentleman states he could identify.  It is hoped he may have an opportunity of seeing the tomahawk which is said to have been in Hansen’s possession about the time of the murder.”
Nepean Times, 24th January, 1891 
“Murder will out!  We note that Hansen has confessed to the murder of the little German on the peak Hill Road.  Who in our little community would have suspected that so quiet a man as Hansen would have been guilty of the several robberies here, much less the serious crime of murder.”
Lars Peter Hansen, 30 years of age, was born in Denmark and arrived in Australia in about 1889.  After leaving Springwood (probably with some of his purloined pieces), he went to Sydney where he stayed in lodgings with a German man, Charles Duncker, aged 23, and a Swedish man called Peter Petersen.
In 1889 gold was discovered in Peak Hill in Central New South Wales between Parkes and Dubbo, hundreds of people rushed there to seek their fortune, and the area rapidly expanded into a thriving town.  Hansen and Duncker decided to try their hand at prospecting but rapidly reached the conclusion that it was not for them – as Hansen put it to several people he met, “the diggings are all duffered out” and “there were too many people”. (This was not exactly correct as gold mining is still continuing in Peak Hill)  They decided to return to Sydney although Hansen told one man he was going to catch a train to Springwood.
In September, 1890, Hansen and Duncker walked along the road from Peak Hill to Dubbo where they intended to catch a train.  Several people remembered seeing the two men, describing Hansen as a tall stout man about 6ft 7 or 8in. (200cm.) high with a thick accent and carrying a heavy swag with a tomahawk strapped to it.  One man said he looked fierce and frightening. Duncker, a short distance behind him and hurrying to catch up, was described as small and slight and carrying a light swag.  The next morning some of these witnesses found the body of a man they believed was Duncker, lying on the remains of a fire with a knife nearby.
Hansen was immediately suspected of murdering Duncker and they finally found him working on the docks at Port Kembla.  He was known to be trying to earn enough money for his passage to Germany.  He was wearing a cap he claimed toi have bought from Duncker and admitted to the possession of a revolver, also bought from Duncker, which was in his box in Market Street.  In the box they also found a number of pawn tickets for Duncker’s clothes.  When arrested he said, “I no murder the little German”.
He was taken to Dubbo for the inquest and, on arrival at the railway station, was greeted with booing and hissing from the crowd.  Duncker’s body was officially identified by the Swede, Peter Petersen.  The knife was also identified as belonging to Hansen. The inquest into the little German’s death concluded that “he was murdered by person or persons unknown”.  However, Hansen was immediately charged with the murder.  At the trial he pleaded not guilty and said in his defence, “I no guilty.  I kill him to save myself”.  Mr Justice Stephen (son of Sir Alfred Stephen) passed sentence of death on him.
On 2nd June, 1891, Lars Peter Hansen, attended by Archdeacon Wilson, was led to the gallows of Dubbo Gaol (6) showing little anxiety or fear.  When asked if he felt safe he replied, “Yes”, shook hands and said, ”Goodbye”.  He was asked if he had anything to say and he replied in his broken English, “I am not guilty of this murder.  I die an innocent man and a Christian, and trust myself to Jesus Christ.”  Although death appeared to be instantaneous, the doctor said the heart had continued for some minutes after the drop.

Shirley Evans
1.        Mrs Alice Hoare, a wealthy widow, owned “Homedale”, a handsome villa, valued at £5,600.0.0 in 1884, located at the corner of Homedale and Railway Parade.  Mrs Hoare was the sister of John Frazer, benefactor of the Frazer Memorial Church.  Edward Deane established the Blue Mountains Grammar School in Homedale in 1918.  The house was demolished in 1975 to make way for  Wingara, an aged persons’ complex.
2.       “A cruet stand is a small stand of metal, ceramic or glass which holds condiments.  Typically these include salt and pepper shakers, and often cruets or bottles of vinegar and olive oil.”    Wikipedia
3.       Gustav Larsen and his nephew Axel Bech were tobacconists in Balmain.  They had come from Denmark and their country house in Springwood was “Elsinore” situated on the Bathurst Road on 4 acres of land with a frontage of 550ft stretching eastward from the first Public School (now the Northern Car Park).
4.       Constable Illingworth’s decision to search the grounds of “Elsinore” was prompted by Axel Bech’s daughter falling in the water hole in the grounds.  In retrieving the child Bech found portions of three empty trunks.  He immediately reported this to the Constable.
5.       Miss Hooper’s school for girls was “Hartlands” (now “Hartfields) on the Hawkesbury Road.
6.       Dubbo Gaol  1871- 1966  Eight men were hanged at Dubbo Gaol including Jacky Underwood who inspired Thomas Keneally’s “Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.

The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria) – various issues
Australian Encyclopaedia, Grolier Society of Australia, 1963
Cook, Kerrin and Garvey, Daniel, “The Glint of Gold”
Nepean Times – various issues
N.S.W.Family History Document Services
inquests 1890/gg4115.gif
N.S.W. Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages
Sydney Morning Herald – various issues
Wikipedia – Old Dubbo Gaol
-          Cruet Stands

My thanks to Pamela Smith and John Merriman for research assistance

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