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OUR AUSTRALIAN LETTER.

[From Our Own Correspondent.]

Melbourne, July 23. THE IBERIA GOLD BOBBERY, The saying that " Truth is stranger than fiction" may well be applied to the mysterious robbery of bullion from the steamer Iberia on its last voyage Home, and the curious manner in which some of it has been recovered. It has not yet been completely proved that the sovereigns which have been recovered are those which were abstracted from the strong room of the Iberia, but the fact that they were found last Sunday buried under the pier at VVilliamstown (at which the Iberia was berthed on her last voyage from Sydney to London), and the circumstance that no other loss of such a large sum as L 5.000 has been reported, point to that conclusion. The sovereigns were discovered in the simplest manner possible, and, as in the fable about the ensnared lion, a mouse played an important part in the business. On Saturday afternoon two boys named George Gordon and James Sweetenham, aged respectively fourteen and fifteen years, living in South Williamstown, left home to enjoy themselves according to their bent. As they were walking down the railway pier without any fixed determination as to where they should go, they noticed a mouse dart from under the platform of the pier railway station. Thinking that a hunt would afford some sport, they went after it, and saw it disappear in a hole in the earth under the northern end of the platform, behind a large outhouse constructed of corrugated iron. They noticed that ihe mouBC ran into a hole close to one of the centre uprights supporting tho floor of the platform. Falling on all fours they went underneath, but could not see the mouse after peering into the hole. Gordon then took a stick, and inserting it as far as it would reach, commenced to wriggle it about. The action produced a clinking sound, which was so unexpected, and so aroused the curiosity of both lads, that they investigated further. On their scratching away the earth there was suddenly displayed to their gaze a mass of sovereigns. They proceeded to gather up tho coin, putting; it as quickly as possible into their pockets. While they wero thus engaged a man passing by stooped down and looked at what tbey were doing, doubtless thinking that the boys were up to some mischief. On seeing him Gordon says that they desisted, and he lay down over the sovereigns, concealing them with hiß body, while Sweetenham remained sitting near him. The man in a few minutes went away, believing that nothing wrong was in progress, whereupon the boys resumed their task of raking out the coin. Having at last pretty well filled their pockets, they covered up tho hole they had made and went homo. Gordon found that he had 118 sovereigns in his possession, and his companion's share amounted to 164. The boys gave the gold to their parents, who communicated with the police on Sunday morning, and the result of a diligent search was that bullion was found which, with the sovereigns previously discovered by the boys, made a total sum of L 3.742. The sovereigns had been originally contained in four bags, which were tied with pieces of yarn and tape in a manner suggesting the skill of a seaman; but the bags had rotted to some extent, allowing the coins to escape. They had only two inches of earth over them ; yet, were it not for the instrumentality of the mouse, the gold might never have been discovered. The question of interest now is: " Who was the skilful robber or combination of thieves who abstracted the gold from the strongroom of the Iberia, and why has it been left so long " planted "? In the face of the interesting discovery which bas been made, the circumstances under which the gold was lost may be reviewed:—On the lost homeward voyage of the Iberia some specie was shipped at Sydney. On the arrival of the vessel at Melbourne other boxes of gold wero taken on board, and the whole of the contents of the specie room were examined and placed in order for the trip. The strong room in which the specie is stored is situated in the main hold of the vessel, and is secured by a special Chubb lock. After the room is locked the key is deposited in a cash box, and this box is looked by the captain in the presence of the purser. The captain retains the key, which for greater safety he wears round his neck, and the cash box containing tho strong room key is locked up in a safe in the purser's room. The specie is sent Home in boxes containing 5,000 sovereigns each. These boxes were carefully counted at Melbourne, found to be all correct, and the usual precautions were taken with the key of the strong room. Throughout the whole voyage the room was not supposed to be opened, and tho keys, as far as is known, never left the custody of the commander and the purser; yet when the vessel arrived at London one box of gold was missing. Captain Shannon, the commander, had been in the company's service for several years, and was looked upon as a most trustworthy officer. The second officer and the purser were also regarded as above suspicion, but the gold was gone, and as no explanation of its loss could be given at all, the directors of the company felt compelled to ask these gentlemen to resign. They did not wish to suspect them, but it appeared to them that there must have been carelessness in some quarter or the robbery could not have occurred. The surmise, of course, is that if there was no connivance on the part of the late officers the robbery must have been committed by someone who was well acquainted with the ship's routine, and had in some mysterious way obtained an impression of the key of the strong room on some previous voyage, and, aided by this, had manufactured a second key which could unlock the door. But even when he obtained possession of the bos, he must still have had considerable difficulty in getting the gold off the ship. 5,000

sovereigns weigh close upon lcwt, and if a man attempted to carry them out in portmanteaus the weight of them would excite suspicion. They were got off, however, and the box which had contained them vanished. A TERRIBLE MURDER. A shocking crime, which for some days has been regarded as a mystery in Melbourne, but which heß now been successfully traced home to the perpetrator, has occurred in the suburb of Carlton. On Wednesday last a bad smell was noticed in the vicinity of a small house whioh had for some time previously been occupied by a woman named Annie Thornton, and as the place had been locked up for days, and nothing had been seen of the woman, the police were communicated with. Constables Canfield and Frawley, who were commissioned to inquire into the matter, lifted a small boy over the fence of the backyard to open the gate, and his services were afterwards called into requisition to enter the house. He was lifted through the bedroom window, but no sooner was he in the room than he toreamed with fright, as he found a dead woman lying on the floor. Constable Frawley then clambered through the window and opened the door for his companion. At the foot of the bed, lying on the floor, they found the murdered woman. She had evidently been dead for some time. In the deep gashes in her throat a blue mouldy growth had collected, and her features were almost unrecognisable. She was dressed in a black walking dress, which had apparently been only loosely thrown on, as but few of the buttons had been fastened. Over this she wore a Bmall check walking jacket, which was aUo unbuttoned. The reßt of her garments were found in a heap at the bottom of the bed. Her head lay close to the dressing-table, on which was spread out in a conspicuous manner a certificate of a marriage celebrated before the Registrar of Marriages at North Melbourne on July 17,1882, between Henry Thornton, a blacksmith, aged twenty-six, and Annie Gorrie, aged twenty-two. At the side of the body was found the wedding ring, which she had evidently worn. It had been removed from her finger and placed upon the floor. Under the head there was a large pool of dried blood, and in the corner a large-sized towel, which had been completely saturated with blood. The basin on the washstand was half full of blood • stained water, showing that the murderer had washed his hands before leaving the place. On the handle of the front door, however, small blood stains were found, which would seem to indicate that the murderer had gone out in this way, and had failed in his intention to remove all traces of his crime. There were no signs of a struggle in the room, and none of the neighbors had heard any screams coming from the house at any time. The body was undisturbed, and the detectives were communicated with. Sub-inspector Thomas and Detective-sergeants Whitney and O'Donnell afterwards visited the place in company with Dr O'Brien, who was called in. From a cursory examination which the doctor made of the body, he gave it as his opinion that murder had unquestionably been committed. There were five or six wounds on either side of the neck, any one of which would have been sufficient to cause death. They had been done with a sharp instrument, and could possibly have been inflicted with a keen penknife. From the direction in which the blood seemed to have spurted, he was led to the belief that the murderer had knelt upon the woman's cheßt while he cut her throat. Two empty beer bottles were found in the room, and some glasses which still contained beer. Until Saturday the police could get no clue as to who the murderer was. In the first instance suspicion naturally fell on the murdered woman's husband, and a warrant was issued for his arrest, but he was able to show tbat he had left her some time ago and had been living at Ballarat, For some time she had been recognised as one of the degraded women of the town, but as she had at different times consorted with paramours, investigations were next made in regard to them. No evidence was forthcoming againßt them, and the supposition was beginning to prevail that the murder was the work of a fiend like "Jack the Ripper." On Saturday, however, the police were communicated with by Miss Pole, the daughter of a tobacconist in Flinders Btreot, who had received as a present a silver bracelet, inscribed " Maggie O'Neal," from Philip Costelloe, a cook employed at a neighboring restaurant. The detectives knew that the deceased had been in the habit of wearing such a bracelet, and they at once proceeded to the restaurant and examined Costelloe's room. Several articles of jewellery were found, and on a shelf a medium-sized double-bladed penknife, the main blade of which was as keen as a razor, and bore traces of having been recently sharpened. A white waistcoat stained with blood and a coat, the sleevelining of which was also besmeared with blood, were found in the room. All these Costelloe claimed, and stated that the blood stains had been caused by his carrying raw meat. This explanation was considered unsatisfactory, and he was then arrested. On the way to the city watch-house, where he was subsequently locked up, he made a voluntary statement to the detectives, in which he admitted his guilt. He said that had he met the deceased in the street, and in response to her solicitations had consented to go home with her to her cottage in Carlton. When they arrived there they had some beer, and afterwards they quarrelled. Deceased struck him in the face, and this enraged him. He drew his penknife and stabbed her in the neck, and then cut her throat. At the time he had his coat off, but he put it on before washing his hands, and this accounted for the smears on the inside of the Bleeves. His shirt was badly stained ; but when his coat was buttoned np this was not noticeable, so he removed his collar, which was badly marked, took all her jewellery, and left the house, locking the door behind him. He made no statement as to how the marriage certificate came to be spread out on the table, but it is now supposed that in his search for plunder he took it out of her purse, and, being a foreigner, was unable to understand if it had any commercial value or not, and that his curiosity, even in such terrible surroundings, was so great as to induce him to spread it out in order that he might examine it carefully. He took the keys of the doors with him, and threw them away when he had gone some little distance from the house. He admitted that a watch and ring which had been found had belonged to the deceased, and that he had taken the rings from her fingers after he had killed her. Before he reached his room at the restaurant he had thrown away his bloodstained shirt, but he did not like to discard his other clothes, for he thought that he might account for the marks upon them by stating that he had got them whilst carrying raw meat. He declined to say anything further about the matter. He is a native of Manila, and a miserable-looking individual, with a distinctly Chinese cast of countenance. He is very little over sft in height, but wiry in frame. His complexion is Ballow and pock-marked; his eyes small and cunning; his lips thick and sensuous ; and bis general repugnance of appearance is intensified by masses of long, black, lifeless-looking hair. He is only twenty years of age, and has been in the colony about three years. He understands English well, and speaks it with considerable fluency. He knows that he was born in Manila, but is able to give little or no information as to his parentage, and the fixing of his nationality would be a very difficult matter. He is, however, the most unlikely looking character to be suspected of having committed such a brutal murder, but all things now point to him as the culprit, independent of his own confession of guilt. _»■»—

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890730.2.14

Bibliographic details

OUR AUSTRALIAN LETTER., Issue 7972, 30 July 1889

Word Count
2,452

OUR AUSTRALIAN LETTER. Issue 7972, 30 July 1889

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