ON THIS DAY – December 30, 1921

Alma Tirtschke, aged 12, was raped and murdered on this day in 1921. Tirtschke was last seen alive close to a drinking establishment, the Australian Wine Saloon near Gun Alley in Melbourne. Earlier that day she lifted from her grandmother’s house in Jolimont, on her way to her Uncles butchers shop in Swanston Street, to collect a parcel of meat, drop it at an aunt’s Collins Street home and return to Jolimont. It was uncharacteristic for Alma to take so long on her errands. A witness said he saw a man following Alma. Reliable witnesses who had nothing to lose or gain by telling police what they knew said Alma was dawdling, apprehensive and obviously afraid. Just a few metres away from the Australian Wine Saloon in the Eastern Arcade, between Bourke and Little Collins Streets, where Alfred Place runs off Little Collins Street, Alma was last seen about 3 pm on 30 December 1921. Her naked body was found early the next morning in a lane running east off Gun Alley, not far from Alfred Place. Following the discovery of the body, the owner of the Australian Wine Saloon, Colin Campbell Ross, was charged with her rape and murder. The case against him was based on the evidence of two witnesses, plus some strands of red hair, apparently from Tirtschke’s head, which provided a vital connection between Ross and the murder. Ross protested his innocence but was hanged. The two witnesses were later considered by many to be unreliable, both having had a motive to lie. The only credible piece of evidence was the red hair that connected Ross to the case. Ross could account for his movements at the time Alma disappeared, and later that night, when her body was dumped in Gun Alley. With nothing to hide, Ross had told detectives who interviewed him that a little girl matching Alma’s description had passed his saloon, but that this was his only connection with the victim. More reliable forensic examinations in the 1990s disproved the red hair connection and showed that Ross was probably innocent. Colin Campbell Ross was granted a pardon on 22 May 2008, the date on which the Victorian governor, as the Queen’s representative, signed it. The pardon was announced publicly on 27 May 2008. It is the first – and to date only – pardon for a judicially executed person in Australia. In the book which led to Ross’s pardon, author Kevin Morgan revealed for the first time the evidence missed by the police in their original investigation and identified by name Tirtschke’s probable killer.

 

At 6.30 pm Ah Tune returned to the house of William Braslin, where he stoked up the kitchen fire, took meat from the pantry and began to cook. Braslin entering the kitchen asked him what he was doing, to which Ah Tune replied “making supper”. William then told him to get out of his house. Ah Tune, took the pot off the fire and threw it into the back yard and left. Returning later that evening Ah Tune found Braslin to be drunk and lying on the floor. Ah Tune walked over to his Victim and began to kick William violently. Christina, Braslins wife tried to stop Ah Tune only to be punched in the face. After the attack Ah Tune went back outside, collected his meat, washed it and began to cook again. Ah Tune was found guilty of the murder of William Braslin in Beechworth’s Chinese Camp in 1914. At first Tune was sentenced to death, but was later changed to 10 years hard labour. He spent part of his sentence at the Geelong Gaol.

Henry Cutmore had been imprisoned for 12 months in May 1901 on a charge of begging and disorderly conduct. Cutmore said at his trial that he would be better off in gaol. Cutmore was born in1821 and was known as the “Fire King” because he had a habit of setting fire to the grass stacks of anyone who he had a grudge against! On the 2nd November 1901, Cutmore had been lined up outside of the infirmary waiting his turn for treatment at around 1.30pm. Warder Edwin Coy deposed that Cutmore must have slipped up the stairs unobserved to the third floor landing. He also observed that Cutmore was behaving normally. Coy witnessed Cutmore hanging by his hands from the balcony of the third floor. Cutmore suddenly let go and “fell onto the rail of the bottom balcony on his descent to the floor”. This was a distance of about 22 feet (about 6.7m). Dr Croker deposed that Cutmore when he was admitted to gaol in May was suffering from Old Age, Debility, Rheumatism, Umbilical Hernia and Enlargement and disease of the collar bone! Dr Coker saw Cutmore again about 5 minutes after his fall. He reported that he was suffering from a collapsed state, that both eyelids were contused, a contusion on his right temple which was very swollen and broken right elbow. He was removed to the Gaol hospital where Cutmore complained of abdominal pain and paralysis of the bladder. Cutmore appeared to improve slightly but then passed away at 6.20am on the 5th November 1901. The official cause of death was shock of injuries after a fall.

On this day …….. 30th of December 1949

Three men escaped from Ballarat gaol at three o’clock on this day in 1949, by climbing through a smell window in the gaol kitchen. The inmates are James Bretherton, labourer, Leslie Francis Carson, Labourer, and Sydney William Best. It is believed that the men joined blankets together and scaled the rear wall of the gaol. The escape was first reported by three children, who saw the prisoners running from behind the gaol. At the time, the gaol was out of communication with the police station, because of a telephone fault. All available police in the Ballarat district are searching for the men, who are thought to be heading for Melbourne.

 

On this day …….. 30th of December 1864

About six weeks ago a notorious bushranger was arrested near Seymour, charged with horse-stealing. On being brought before the Kilmore bench he gave the name of Lowry, but had been known to the police under the aliases of Cook and Davis, and was suspected of several robberies in the neighbourhood of Heathcote and at other places. When he was arrested, by Constable Deasy, Lowry, it appears, fired at the constable as he approached the hut, the constable returning the fire, his shot carrying away a portion of the bushranger’s lip. In consequence of having given refuge to the bushranger the hutkeeper was also arrested. The prisoner, who was remanded by the Kilmore bench, effected his escape from the Kilmore gaol on this day in 1864.

 

On this day …….. 30th of December 1934

A strong trouser belt saved a boy from falling beneath the wheels of a fast moving tram on this day in 1934. Jumping on the tram in George Street West, Sydney, the youngster slipped and fell on the coupling ripped through his trousers and caught his belt. He was dragged along for some distance before the tram was stopped. The boy was unharmed.

 

On this day …….. 29th of December 1911

John Harding escaped from Wangaratta gaol on this day in 1911. He was committed for trial at the local court on a charge of stealing £9 from Geo. Cover, and was locked up in gaol pending removal to Beechworth. In the afternoon he was missing. It was found that Harding had pulled some boards down, and securing a spike then picked out the mortar between the bricks, eventually pulling out enough to enable him. The police made a search immediately the escape was discovered. Harding travelled along the King River towards Oxley. He left the river this morning and passed through farms in the Laceby and Greta districts in the direction of Benalla, but the police were close on his tracks throughout, and Constable Ryan came upon him at midday lying asleep in a scrubby paddock near the Greta township. This paddock curiously enough is owned by the Police Department. Constable Ryan traced the man for several miles by his footprints, one of his boots having a rubber heel.

 

On this day …….. 29th of December 1945

Reg Wells was fishing in the surf at Maroochydore, Queensland, late on the 29th of December 1945, when his wristwatch fell into the water. He returned to the spot early the next morning to search for it and a wave washed it up at his feet. The watch was still ticking.

 

On this day …….. 29th of December 1948

A man attending the Warren show at Manjimup, Western Australia, on the 29th of December 1948, was reunited by blind luck with his watch nearly a year after it was stolen. Out of the 4000 strong crowd at the show, he asked a casual bystander the time and recognised his own watch when the man raised his sleeve. He challenged the man, took the watch from him and sought assistance from a nearby policeman. The unlucky thief was arrested and later found guilty of theft. It had been stolen from his clothes while he was swimming in Busselton. The man was fined £2 and left to mull how fate had reunited the watch with it’s rightful owner.

 

John Bellin was born in London in 1827, before travelling to Australia, arriving in the colony in 1852 a board the Dinopore as a free settler. Bellin worked as a auctioneer in Melbourne. On the 23rd of September, 1890, Belling was sentenced at the Melbourne Supreme Court to five years penal servitude on two charges of fraud as a director of a body corporate, the Fourth Investment Building Society, the sentences being two years and six months on each charge. He was transferred to Geelong gaol on the 17th February 1892 from Pentridge, as being an invalid suffering from general debility. On the 15th of March 1892 Bellin died in the Geelong gaol at the age of 65 years.

George Burnett was born in England in 1847. At the age of 19 he travelled to Melbourne aboard the Garonne arriving in 1886. Burnett work as an accountant in Geelong. On the 3rd of January 1894, Burnett shot and killed a youth named Walter John in Wellington street, West Geelong with a rifle, when he was in an intoxicated condition. The jury returned a verdict of guilty with a strong recommendation of mercy. The judge said he concurred with the jury, considering the great provocation given. Burnett was sentence to be executed but it was committed to 15 years hard labour. On arrived at the Geelong Gaol he was described as having a bullet wound to left breast, scare above eyes and a long scare on the front of head. Burnett was released on the 21st of September 1903.

ON THIS DAY – DECEMBER 29, 1888

A horrible tragedy occurred at the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum on this day in 1888, which resulted in the death of a warder named Archibald Hunter, who was in charge of one of the cottages for idiots. Hunter it appears called into his bedroom one of the patients named Howard, a man about 40 years of age, who was in the habit of assisting to make the beds, and the door was locked after them. Howard left the room subsequently and locked the door after him, and as nothing was seen of Hunter it was ascertained through the window that he was lying in a pool of blood on the floor. The door was forced open, and the fact disclosed that there was a fearful gash on his head and six stabs about the body, of which two were fatal, one being caused by the passage of a knife through the lungs and another through the liver. All the wounds were of a desperate character, and would hardly have been caused by any one other than a madman. Hunter lived for about an hour and a half, but did not regain consciousness. An examination of the room showed that a potato masher, with which the wound on the head had been inflicted, and a large carving knife, covered with blood, had been thrown under the bed. Suspicion immediately fell on Howard, who is said to have had previous disagreements with Hunter, and an examination of his clothes disclosed the fact that they were covered with spots of blood. Howard is a quiet sleek man, and was classed as an idiot, but had a previous history, as he was a convict, having perpetrated a robbery, and was brought to the asylum for attempting to commit suicide. He is about medium size and not a powerful man, and the deed must have been done when Hunter was not looking. The deceased was a married man without a family, and had been in the asylum five years. He was an old soldier, and received a pension of a shilling a day. The authorities at the asylum are very reticent as to the facts pending the inquest.