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Author: Tara Oldfield
You wouldn’t think you would find the letters of a devoted wife to her husband within the police correspondence files of our collection, but that’s exactly what we found, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Larceny by trick
James Greene was an auctioneer who owned a shop in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. It appears from our records that his wife may have helped at the shop, which specialised in jewellery and watches. On Boxing Day 1917, James Greene and his friend Percy Lennon (pictured left) held a sale at Brighton Beach, selling watches for £1 each, when a man by the name of Dannock claimed that they tricked him out of £10.
Scheduled to appear in court for larceny by trick, Greene went on the run for a time, with only his wife aware of his whereabouts. When Greene was eventually caught by police in Adelaide, he was sent back to Melbourne to answer the charges.
In the police correspondence there is a police record which states the items that were on James Greene when he was found, including: 1 metal watch, 1 metal chain, 1 gold pendant, 1 metal sovereign purse, 2 pencils, 1 thimble, 2 travelling bags and contents, 1 bundle of clothes, and private letters.
Mrs Greene to Mr Green
The private letters reveal a wife understandably desperate to see her husband escape the charges for which he was accused, and the devotion of a woman who wrote to him even though concerned she was being watched by the police - she even mentions police detective Armstrong by name.
“Tuesday afternoon. My Dear
Just a few hurried lines to tell you the case was called today. The Crown Prosecutor said “This man Greene cannot be found. He is evidently keeping out of the way to evade service. As he is the chief offender I ask for a warrant for his arrest (which was granted) and a remand until the next sessions – 1st March.” Tich was allowed out on his own recognises [sic]. They said they could always get him when wanted. Harvey Klina met me at the court and he said the best thing we could do was to obtain a jury list (you understand). Tich is going to see him tonight and going to let me know the result I will do nothing until I hear from you. (The charge is larceny by trick). Jones did not appear. He had a case at the City Court. Klina said I could get advise [sic] from Sonenbery for 1£1. He said Jones is no good in a case like this, and also that you done [sic] the right thing by keeping away young Mrs Lennon asked me if you had gone away, I said no – she said it is a pity he could not get to America and then they might not bother with Percy. But the pump was dry dear it would not work I said. He would not like to go any distance away he must stand by Percy. I will try and get out of this house this week for no matter how careful I live the money will soon go. No more just now dear I must run out and post this, and I must be careful in case I’m watched so if I don’t write regular [sic] you will no [sic] I cannot post a letter.
Tich says keep in smoke until after next week no more at present from your ever loving Pal am wiring be very careful if they find out Dicks name they might make a search Love xxx”
Less than a week later she wrote to him again. The next letter, much longer than the last (from two pages to four with writing also scrawled in the margins), expresses her loneliness without her husband and worries over the health of their baby. She also talks about moving and selling their furniture but is anxious for his opinion on such matters.
“Sunday afternoon. My Dear Husband
Just a few lines to let you know how things are going. I am very lonely and miserable without you dear and I’ve neuralgia very bad. Baby is getting better thank god, but he is so ill dear, I really thought I was going to lose him. However I think he will soon pick up now. But I had a dreadful time with him. Had to nurse him all day long, he would not stay out of my arms. I got a place for Leo at a printers in L Collins St 10/-a week, it is a very nice place and will do him for a while. I was fined 2/- for JJ. I went to the Clerk of Courts the day before the court – I asked him if I would have to attend. He told me I would probably be fined a couple of shillings but I could give the money to him. I explained to him that you were away in the country on business and that JJ was my stepson and I would not like the case to get into the papers. He said he would see to that, so there was nothing about it: - Thompson was here this morning and he cannot find out a thing from the mob, about the case he thinks Bill might have told them to keep quiet, or else the demons themselves are keeping things dark. The Gun said – Don’t you think you are running a risk by stopping here, they might pinch you for working at the shop? So we are thinking dear that they might have got someone who bought goods at the shop and are going to make a big case out of it. But we can’t find if they can issue a warrant. There is none out yet to my knowledge. If there should be one I will wire at once. But they might try to keep me in the dark. But I will do my best dear and you be sure and keep away from the mob for they will shelf you. I was thinking of getting out of this house next week if I could. It is a dreadful rent to pay.
I could get a small house for 10/- the other 12/6 would keep us. Thompson wants me to go out Brunswick way and if things went alright for us, he would drive the buggy to Sydney. Do you think I ought to advertise the furniture? If I want to go away I want a bit of time to sell it so as to get the best possible price for it. I must get rid of all the timber, what do you think I ought to ask for it and what about the big table and what is the price of all the electric light fittings I might as well sell them if I can. They will be no use to us now only creating lumber. – Did you take that pleated shirt you were wearing away with you also the old collars? If you left anything behind I might as well get them. We are having a mission here, the same priests that we had at St Patrick’s. It is most unfortunate that you missed it. I know you would like to hear Father Mayohan again. But I always remember you in my prayers dear and pray to the Sacred Heart to lift this dark cloud from our lives. Don’t miss your Holy Mass on Sundays dear and don’t eat meat on Wednesdays or Fridays and only once on the other days except Sundays during Lent. I put your rosary beads in your port.
This is a copy of the letter I received from Jones on Sat morning
Dear Madame Will you kindly let me know if Mr G has yet returned to Melbourne. I have to see the Crown authorities this afternoon, about information, as to when the case may come on. I have seen Counsel as to the defence but cannot instruct him properly until Mr G returns. Please let me have 5£ or 6£ on account of costs.
I will do nothing until I hear from you dear and I will tell him I want no other Counsel but him that you depend on him. He was not in when I went on Friday morning but I saw Armstrong and two others at the corner of Collins and Elizabeth St perhaps they were waiting to see if you came along. Any how it is just as well to mention it to you. No more at present from your ever loving Pal xxx”
Mrs Greene seemingly signs off with the name Pal. Perhaps this was her name, or short for something else, or a nickname they had for each other.
Interestingly Mrs Greene also mentions the “mob” which makes you wonder whether James’ criminal activities extended beyond the occasional trick. This may have been news to the police who initially seemed not to be suspicious of Greene’s disappearance. Detective Armstrong wrote to the court:
“I have served a copy of notice of trial on Percy Lennon but up till the present I am unable to find James S Green to serve him with the notice. I have called at his home at 55 York St North Fitzroy on several occasions but failed to find him at home. His wife told me that he left for Gippsland on the 7th inst on business and said he would be home early this week but has not returned. I am of the opinion that he is not wilfully keeping out of the way. His solicitor Dr Jones has wired for him to return but as he is hawking it is possible he may not get the wire.”
After his arrest, Greene was sentenced to nine months in prison for larceny by trick. No doubt his devoted wife wrote to him in Pentridge and was waiting for him upon his release.
Search police correspondence records here. (See the tip! along the side of the page for information on VPRS 807 which is where the letters related to James Greene have come from).
- Inward Correspondence Files, Victoria Police, VPRS 807 P0 Unit 1335
- Police Gazette 1918, on the shelves of the North Melbourne Reading Room at the Victorian Archives Centre