Police presence

The prelude and presence of police in Beecroft.

In 1880 a plan of subdivision shows a police station at Thompson’s Corner and in 1887 the Police Department paid James Bellamy rent for a house at Pennant Hills. Neither property, nor who staffed these properties, has been located [1].

Beecroft and Cheltenham are not noted for crime. During the 1890s there were a number of small robberies until 1895 when the first ‘major’ crime took place when the safe at the railway station was blown and nearly 7 pounds and the station master’s title deeds were stolen. In 1898 the home of Mr T C Allard, on Beecroft Road, was broken into and some valuable jewellery stolen. During this time the district was serviced by Constable Denman travelling from Hornsby.

Following representations of the Progress Association made as a consequence of the Allard robbery, Constable Kelly was appointed to serve in Beecroft from April 1898. The Police leased a home on the original property of Mr Abram in Beecroft, at present day 35 Wongala Crescent as the police station and residence [2]. In addition to a home and office, they also gave Constable Kelly a bicycle to assist in his duties – however he could not ride [3]. Upon Constable Kelly enlisting to serve in the Boer War [4], Constable William Wade arrived in February 1900, having been transferred from Picton. In 1904 he was promoted to first class constable and then in 1905 was transferred to Hornsby [5].

Constable Duncan Joseph McDonald (‘Mac’) arrived in January 1906. “Mac is every inch a man and there are many inches of him.” [6]. In 1906 he received a ‘stripe’ by way of promotion [7]. A number of reports indicate his taking annual leave to visit Melbourne to enjoy horse racing – especially the Melbourne Cup including one item that said “report hath it that the genial Mac got home on the Hebrews an won a tidy sum.” [8]. De4spite his role in the 1906 Massacre, and earning some more stripes Mac was not promoted and he remained in Beecroft until 1912 when the police station was transferred to The Esplanade, Thornleigh following the non-renewal of the lease of the Wongala Avenue property. No subsequent permanent placement of police thereafter took place [9]. “The inspector says the population here is so law abiding that it doesn’t need a resident police officeman, whilst the fact that there are two hotels in Thornleigh and Pennant Hills [that] call more for a resident officer there” [10].

The station at Thornleigh was still called Beecroft Police Station until it was gazetted as Thornleigh Police Station in 1916. Photographs of Beecroft Station are usually of this building.

During this time the activities of the police were various: suicide, [11] a small amount of petty theft; [12] a dead baby was found in the bush; bodies of those killed by trains, [13] and a young boarder set light to the local school – Ravenhurst College. Ancillary activities included maintaining the electoral rolls and being the sanitary inspector [14].The most serious crime took place in 1906.

A number of former residents talk of a police station on Beecroft Road in the 1930s but further information about this has not yet been located.

The most serious crime: the Pennant Hills Massacre of 1906 [15]

Charles John Tye was a Chinaman who had worked as a market gardener for Mr Hughes of Dundas and sold vegetables for him throughout the district. He had been 20 years in NSW. He left Mr Hughes employ and went to work for Riverview College at Hunters Hill. On Sunday 12 August 1906 Mr Tye left his residence at the school and travelled to Thornleigh to visit a friend, Joe Young a gardener working for Mr Garrett. On the following Tuesday night he slept in the bush. On the Wednesday afternoon he visited Mr Young, also Chinese. He left Mr Garratt’s, with another friend Yeo Sam, and walked pass the Royal Hotel carrying a parcel until he arrived at the railway station.

At 5 minutes to 5 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon there was a gathering of people waiting for the train to Sydney. Mr Tye purchased a single ticket for the full journey for both himself and his friend. The station master counted out the change “in the Chinese method.” There were over a dozen men on the station as the train started to arrive. John Edward Hockley, a 21 year old slaughterman working in Mr Pollard’s yards, was one of the men standing on the station when, as he lent against an awning post, felt a blow on the back of his head, and then as he moved forward, another between the shoulder blades and then a third across the side of his face. Mr Hockley ran to the local hotel to seek assistance. Mr Tye had struck him with a tomahawk.

The station master, after attending to the train upon which Mr Tye’s friend departed, dispatched Arthur Welsh, post boy and messenger to get Constable McDonald from Beecroft. Master Walsh, having earlier seen Constable Allen from Hornsby in the vicinity went and sought his assistance before going in search of Constable McDonald.

In the meantime Mr Tye, crossed the line still carrying his tomahawk, scaled the bank and then disappeared in the vicinity of St Joachim. In the gully at the bottom of Stevens Street Pennant Hills, Mr Tye came across 9 year old Albert Gordon Pettett. Gordon (as he was known) was the thirteenth and youngest child of Thomas and Mary Ann Pettet of The Esplanade Thornleigh [16]. On the fateful day Gordon was returning to his father’s dairy farm after delivering some milk, in a billy can, to Blitchford’s. Gordon saw Mr Tye coming with a tomahawk and tried to run, but Mr Tye caught and killed him with a number of blows to the head.

Mr Tye then made for Pennant Hills along The Esplanade when a man coming from the other direction held out his hand in a threatening manner causing Mr Tye to divert into Stevens Street where he came across 16 year old Horace Henry (‘Tos’) Aitken sitting in his cart outside the Hines home – having just made a grocery delivery. Tos knew Mr Tye and his parents remember him telling them “People don’t seem to care much about Chinamen, but I like Charlie Tye. He is a real nice fellow” [17]. Mr Tye struck Tos one blow and Tos tried to escape but again Mr Tye caught him and killed him with a number of other blows. Mrs Hines called out to Aitken “Run Tos; run for your life, Tos!” She and her daughter screamed “Murder! Murder!” The deceased scrambled up somehow, and made as if to get under the fence dividing the road from William Thompson’s place opposite but the Chinaman rushed upon him and chopped him with the tomahawk as though he was chopping wood. “Oh, it was awful!” said the girl, who shuddered at the thought of the terrible scene she had witnessed” [18].

Mrs Hines and her daughters fled into their house and bolted the dining room door behind them, before the mother and two of the daughters (Esther and Ethel) escaped into the garden mistakenly leaving the youngest daughter in the house. A neighbour Mr Jim Shields broke in to rescue the littlest girl. By this time a number of other people had come to the house and Mr Tye barricaded himself inside the main bedroom of the Hines residence. Constables Allen and McDonald now arrived on the scene together with “some forty or more people had assembled, and if ever a man was near being lynched, that Chinaman was” [19] The surrounding crowd started to throw stones through the bedroom window at least one of which struck Mr Tye. Mr Tye lit a fire in the room using the bedding but the people threw in water to douse it.

Mr Charles Aitken, a relative of Tos, battered the bedroom door in with a stout piece of wood and both constables rushed Mr Tye with Constable McDonald having his revolver drawn. A tussle ensued, in which Constable McDonald was wounded, before handcuffs were secured on Mr Tye’s wrists.

The prisoner was taken initially to Pennant Hills Police Station and then by the 6.42 pm train from Hornsby to the police cells at Ryde. When asked why he did it Mr Tye said “something went wrong here” indicating his forehead. He also said to Constable McDonald “I not mad; I killed two boys. Devil tell-ee me kill three. You shoot-ee me, no harm. I very sorry now” [20]. Mr Tye was found unfit to face criminal charges due to a lack of mental capacity and was committed to Parramatta Lunatic Asylum where he remained until at least 1919 [21].

Mr Yee Sing President of the Sydney Branch of the Chinese Empire Reform Association and the Chinese Merchants Association wrote an open letter published in The Cumberland Argus conveying “sympathy and condolences … in your irreparable bereavement….we regret that one of our countrymen should be the cause of bringing so much sorrow to you and yours and to assure you that we view the whole circumstance with the utmost abhorrence. I have also been requested to state that if financial assistance will tend in any way relieve any distress occasioned by this terrible affair …. I can assure you we will do our best to alleviate it without any publicity” [22].

The District established a team to door knock local residents under the chair of Councillor J Boyles and over 30 pounds was donated to the two families [23].

The boys had a double funeral with their coffins preceded from Pennant Hills Methodist (now Uniting) Church to the Pennant Hills Wesleyan Burial Ground (now Cherrybrook Uniting) graveyard by some 50 Thornleigh Primary School pupils marching 4 abreast with the headmaster Mr A W Stanley in front [24]. There only appears to be a headstone in the cemetery for Gordon [25].

Constable McDonald remained at Beecroft, and while he received a number of stripes, was not promoted. When the premises at 35 Wongala Avenue were sold by the owner in 1912, Constable McDonald initially, and unsuccessfully, looked for alternate premises in Beecroft but was then re-located to Thornleigh and no police presence has been based in either suburb since. As the Cumberland Argus reported:

Crime after the closure of the police station

Following the removal of the police presence, the assessment of the Police Inspector appears to have been justified.

There was an incident in 1915 when Ernest Arthur Martin was convicted of assaulting another local resident, Thomas Bellamy following an argument arising over Martin digging for rock too close to a right of way used by Bellamy to access a part of his farm [26].

For the story of the largest drug bust in Beecroft in the 1920s return to Public Utilities/ Police.

Neree Mason a 33 year old commercial artist of York Street Beecroft was found dead by a gunshot would in a creek bed in Beecroft in 1933 [27].

In 1949 Albert Alan St George of Wongala Crescent about 6.00 pm in the evening went into the home of his wife’s parents (who lived next door to his own home, and said “come in and watch me shoot your daughter.” Despite their attempts to dissuade him he grabbed his “attractive 29 year old wife,” Daphne, by her hair, pulled her onto the bed and then shot her before turning the gun onto himself and killing himself as well. They had been married for 4 years but had no children [28].

A brush with international crime occurred in 1969. Eric Flower, was serving a 12 year sentence for armed robbery and conspiracy in Wandsworth Gaol, when he escaped from the gaol with the infamous Ronald Biggs one of the Great Train Robbers.[29] Biggs and his associates stole 2.6 million English pounds in a train robbery in 1963 – with most of the money never being recovered. Flower was subsequently caught living in Beecroft in 1969 before being extradited back to England [30].

The robbery with perhaps the highest value took place on 29 May 2003 when robbers smashed the reinforced panels around the Commonwealth Bank automatic teller machine with sledge hammers. This took place at 4.15pm when the bank was closed for business but the tellers were counting the takings for the day. The Bank at that time was on the northern side Hannah Street, the first premises away from the corner with Wongala Crescent – where the physical exercise establishment is located in 2021 [31].

Yet another, tragic accident took place in 2012. Parents were waiting for a bus to bring home students of Beecroft Public School from a three day camp in Port Stephens. The bus swung from Beecroft Road left into Hannah Street. Unfortunately one of the mothers (Mijn Shin) was waiting for her 11 year old, on the corner with a younger daughter. Ms Shin was killed by the bus as it turned the corner although the younger daughter was miraculously thrown free and survived [32].

[1]      H Barker & P Dewey, Pennant Hills: People and Places 1800-2010 (Pennant Hills Civic Trust, Pennant Hills, 2018) p. 195-196.

[2]      For the police station building in Beecroft see a separate article on this website under Houses – 35 Wongala Crescent.

[3]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 30 April 1898

[4]      T McCaskill, One Great Hour (Beecroft Cheltenham History Group, Beecroft, 2000) p 5

[5]      As to an incident of police brutality see another article on this web site under People: Children.

[6]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 14 May 1910 p8

[7]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 7 June 1919 p 6

[8]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 November 1911 p8

[9]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 27 July 1912

[10]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 30 December 1911, 27 July 1912 p8.

[11]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 25 April 1903 p 4 concerning Walcot Way a 25 year old labourer and son of John Thomas Way orchard manager of Leslie Herring of “Sheen” Beecroft.

[12]    For example apples of Mr Gordon Ray were stolen by two plumbers (Robert Rayward and John Henderson) who were working on a building site in Beecroft: Cumberland Argus and Fruit Growers Advocate, 19 January 1918 p 6

[13]    For example Gordon Norton was a block porter killed at Beecroft: Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 16 August 1919 p 8

[14]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 21 May 1898

[15]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 August 1906

[16]    K Richardson “A Brief History of the Pettet Family of Thornleigh” (2014) Hornsby Shire Council website [accessed 2 December 2017].

[17]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 19 August 1906

[18]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 August 1906

[19]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 August 1906

[20]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 August 1906, p 11

[21]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 7 June 1919, page 6

[22]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 August 1906

[23]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 August 1906

[24]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 August 1906

[25]    H Barker & R Hawkins, Early Wesleyans of Pennant Hills, Hornsby Shire Historical Society 1983, p 151

[26]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 4 September 1915, page 8

[27]    Townsville Daily, 20 April 1933

[28]    National Advocate, 1 July 1949 p 1.

[29]    The Guardian, 9 July 1965

[30]    The Age 16 December 1969, Sydney Morning Herald 28 October 1969

[31]    A Tink, Private Members Statement, NSW Parliament Legislative Assembly Hansard, 20 June 2003.

[32]    G Smith, Private Members Statement, NSW Parliament Legislative Assembly Hansard, 3 May 2012.