Thursday, January 24, 2019

Train Mystery - Alexander Eastman never made it to Koo Wee Rup

In June 1919, Alexander Gordon Eastman and his aunt, Miss Annie Maria Smith, boarded the 6.30pm Gippsland train at Hawksburn, bound for Koo Wee Rup, where they were going to stay with another aunt, Mrs Thompson. Alexander never made it, his body was found on the roof of  a carriage, when the train arrived at Korumburra. The Coroner called it a most extraordinary case and in the end decided that there was no foul play. 

Did the Coroner get it right? There are two reports in The Argus, that cover the incident - they are transcribed, below, so you can make your own mind up. There is some information about the family at the bottom of this post.

The Argus June 10, 1919

Gold Ring Missing from Finger.
What is regarded by the detectives as one of the most remarkable sets of mysterious circumstances met with for some time surrounds the death of Alexander Eastman, whose dead body was found on the roof of a railway carriage when the Melbourne train arrived at Korumburra late on Saturday night. Detective-sergeant Sullivan was sent to Korumburra yesterday to investigate the case, but up to late hour last night no information was received at headquarters which would indicate that the solution of the mystery was nearer. Constable C. G. Marchasi arrived from Korumburra last night with the body of Eastman, which was identified by his brother, and was taken to the City Morgue, where a post-mortem examination will be conducted today. 

Miss Annie Smith, Eastman's aunt, who left Melbourne with him with the intention of spending the week-end with another aunt, Mrs. Thompson at Koo-wee-rup was interviewed by the police at Koo-wee-rup on her arrival there on Saturday night. From her it has been learned that Eastman boarded the 6.30 p.m. Gippsland train with her at Hawksburn, and had with him a rifle and handbag. When the train reached Dandenong her nephew left the compartment in which they were travelling, saying that a friend of his was on the train, and that he desired to have a chat with him. Miss Smith did not see the young man again. He had her ticket as well as his own in his pocket, and on reaching Koo-wee-rup she made inquiries as to his whereabouts, and found that he was not on the train. She thought that he had missed the train when it left Dandenong, and would follow by another.

The police have learned that Mr. S. A. Marchbanks, of Vickery street, East Caulfield, who was a passenger on the train that reached Korumburra at about 10 o'clock, expressed the opinion that the body found on the roof was that of a young man to whom he had spoken on the platform at a station between Dandenong and Koo-wee-rup. Mr. Marchbanks asked him if he had seen a bag for which he was searching, but received no reply. 

A puzzling feature about the case, which seems to suggest foul play, is the fact that a gold band ring having Eastman's initials (A.G.E.) engraven upon it, which Miss Smith says he was wearing on the little finger of the left hand at Dandenong, was missing when the body was found. He had had the ring for some considerable time, and it fitted too well to permit of its dropping off. On leaving Melbourne, also, he had much more money than the 3½d. found in his pockets. The theory of robbery is, however, weakened by the fact that a gold and a silver watch, which had both stopped at about 10 minutes past 7, remained in his vest pockets, while gold links were still in his shirt sleeves.

In bright moonlight the fireman on the train, Frederick Mills, noticed the body lying on the sloping portion of the roof of the carriage just behind the engine tender. The lead was nearly 2ft. below the level of the feet, and the steel flange of the folding leather passage-way alone prevented the body from falling into the tender. Death had occurred only a very short time previously, as the body was warm and the night was bitterly cold. The train had passed under four or five railway bridges, but if the man struck his head against one of them it is regarded as practically certain that he would have been thrown off the carriage roof. The youth's hands, which were in his overcoat pockets, were blackened with soot, but it is thought that this came from the roof of the carriage, suggesting that he had been on his hands and knees on the roof. An examination of the interior of the compartment below showed that it would have been a comparatively easy matter for an agile person to draw himself on to the roof from a ledge above the door at the end of the corridor.

The Argus  June 26, 1919.

No Foul Play.
An inquiry was held yesterday at the Morgue by Mr A H Phillips J.P, deputy coroner, into the circumstances surrounding the death of a young man, Alexander Gordon Eastman, whose body was found on the roof of a railway carriage at Korumburra on June 7.

Herman Eastman, a brother, said that deceased was 21 years of age, sturdily built with keen faculties. He drank little. Witness had lent him a rifle for use on a weekend visit to Koo-wee-rup. On the journey he was to meet a man named Morrison, either at Caulfield or Dandenong.

Dr C.H Mollison gave evidence in regard to the post mortem examination which showed that death was due to suffocation, the result of regurgitation of food into the air passages. In answer to Sub-inspector Wardley, witness said that suffocation could not have been caused by fumes from the engine.

Annie Maria Smith, an aunt of deceased, said that she and her nephew left Hawksburn together at 6.30 on the night of the tragedy they changed trains at Caulfield for Koo-wee-rup. At Dandenong he left the train to see his mate, and she saw him standing at the carriage door talking. At Koo-wee-rup she went to the smoking carriage to look for him, but could not find him. He had carried a Gladstone bag but there was nothing to eat or drink in it. They had dined before leaving home. She did not think that he had got out at any wayside stations for drink.

Thomas A. Marchbank, sawmiller, of Ruby, a passenger said that after the train left Dandenong he went along to a first-class compartment to look for his bag and inquired of a man there, the sole occupant, who seemed a bit confused and did not answer. On arrival at Korumburra, on hearing there was a man on the roof of the carriage, witness went up to see, and afterwords identified the body as that of the man he had seen in the carriage.

Detective-sergeant P. Sullivan said that said that at the time of his inquiries on June 9 he was not aware that there was a van between the carriage and the tender, but he had since learned that the van was taken off at Nyora. His theory was that deceased, finding the corridor door leading to the second-class compartment locked, and probably thinking that Marchbank was a railway official who would raise a question on his ticket, climbed to the roof at the engine end as a temporary place for concealment. He may have become frightened at an overhead bridge some 300 yards from Clyde, and in lowering his body struck his chin and became sick. To Sub-inspector Wardley - By means of the steps at the end of the van he could easily have crossed to the carriage top.

Charles James, guard on the train, said that he thought that it would be impossible to see the bridge on a dark night.

John F. W. Miles, engine fireman said that after leaving Nyora he noticed that the siding door of the concertina buffer was open. When the train was about to shunt at Korumburra the light from a signal-box revealed something on the carriage top, which was afterwards found to be a dead body.

William Ridd, a ganger, stated that the bridge would just knock off a man's hat were he sitting up on the carriage roof. It was quite possible that deceased was about to get down to a crouching position just as the bridge was reached. Witness had found deceased's hat near the spot.

Constable C.G. Marchesi said that when he was called to the carriage at Korumburra the sliding door next to the engine was open. He found on Eastman apart from small personal property, a farthing three half-pence, and a large string pocket knife.

Lavinia Naughton Smith, deceased's aunt said that she was sure that her nephew had a few pounds with him - probably part of his wages and perhaps more, as he had sold a saddle for £4 a short time before.

Frederick Girdlestone, assistant guard deposed that he had personally locked the sliding door before the train reached Dandenong. It could have been opened by a strong pocket knife or railway key.

The deputy coroner remarked that the case was most extraordinary. Whatever the deceased man's intentions were it was impossible to say. There was a good deal in Detective Sullivan's theory. He did not think a robbery occurred. There was no doubt how Eastman had died. He was a decent, hard working young follow and the post-mortem examination had not revealed any mental trouble. That there was no foul play was clearly proved. His verdict was that "on the night of June 7 at Korumburra railway station, Alexander Eastman was found dead on the roof of a railway carriage, having died by suffocation. There is no evidence to show how he got there, but I am of opinion that it was by his own act"

Family information
Alexander was the son of Alexander George Eastman and Sarah Smith, he was born in 1892. Sarah Smith was the daughter of Thomas Smith and Maria Norton and she was born in 1872.  Annie Maria Smith, the aunt travelling with Alexander, was born in 1861 and Lavinia Norton (listed as Naughton in the article) who also gave evidence at the Inquest was born in 1874 - they had nine other siblings as well. Mrs Thompson, whom they were visiting, was, I believe Elizabeth Thompson, who died at the age of 66 in 1919. In the Index to the Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages her father is listed as Thomas and her mother as Maria Norton, she was born in 1853 - so that all fits in. Is that why they were going to visit her, because she was sick?

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