The butcher and the policeman

I wrote a post earlier this year about my great grandfather George Thomas SMEDE. In it I noted that he had been declared bankrupt in Berridale in 1917, but at the time of writing the post I did not know why. I do now, and what I have discovered is both maddening and sad.

A couple of months ago a friend very kindly made a copy of GT’s bankruptcy file when she made a trip to the State Records of NSW in Kingswood. (Thank you Tracy!) This is my first experience with a bankruptcy file and it has been interesting to see how much information is contained in one.

In the bankruptcy file, GT attributes his bankruptcy to an action for damages in the District Court at Cooma in June 1917. The claim for damages for an amount of £130.5.7 was taken against GT by a John Oliver WESTON of Berridale, described in the file as a “Butcher and Grazier”. So, I already don’t like Mr Weston.

In order to be discharged from bankruptcy in 1920, GT wrote a declaration and included his side of the story regarding Weston’s claim against him. At the time, (which I can only judge to be prior to the court case in June 1917 as no date is given), GT was a police constable in Berridale and arrested Weston after he was accused of stealing some timber. Weston had purchased some wire netting at a sale in Berridale and had been informed by the auctioneer that although there was timber attached to the wire netting, it was not included in the sale. Weston took it home anyway, and when he refused to hand it over to GT who went to his house in an official capacity, GT arrested him.

On Weston’s appearance at the Police Court in Dalgetty, however, the case against Weston was dismissed because the Magistrate held that there was insufficient evidence against him. It may have helped GT’s case if the Magistrate had called on the auctioneer’s clerk to appear before him and state what had occurred, but he didn’t. As a result, the case was dismissed and Weston claimed £400 in damages from GT for wrongful arrest, even though the Magistrate at one point made the comment, “The fact is, Weston took the timber without authority”.

Paying Weston’s damages claim is what forced GT into bankruptcy.

Throughout my research into GT’s bankruptcy I have tried to be mindful that it is GT’s account alone that I have access to. Unless I find another account that backs his up, which is unlikely, I must be careful to remember that I am only in possession of one side of the story. Unfortunately, no-one alive on this side of the family has any details on GT’s bankruptcy. All his children have passed away, including my grandmother, and none of his grandchildren, including my mother, had ever heard that he was bankrupt. It may be that none of his children were ever aware it had happened as they were quite young at the time.

I digress. I have a soft spot for GT, although he died before I was born and I did not know him. Maybe having his clock has formed a connection between us. Regardless, I would love to believe his side of the story, and after digging further in Trove, I am inclined to.

I did a few different searches for John Weston, using a variety of combinations of his name, on Trove and found some intriguing pieces of information. The most interesting results appeared when I searched for “John Oliver Weston” and I have tagged them for future reference. It would seem that Weston had a tendency to take people to court. One action in particular caught my eye. Two years after he took GT to court, Weston went after three other policemen. I wonder if people were asking questions about his integrity at this stage, particularly as this time he was awarded a token amount of one farthing, (did farthings exist? – something else to research!), in damages.

1919 ‘Unusual Action at Cooma District Court.’, Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer (NSW : 1915 – 1927), 20 June, p. 2, viewed 8 June, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31648921

I still have a few places to look for to either confirm or discount GT’s account. I need to check local press, as yet not digitised on Trove, as well as obtaining a copy of GT and Weston’s appearance in front of the Police Magistrate in Dalgetty, if one exists.

Who knows, they may shed further light on the story. I hope so.

There is a John O WESTON listed as being born in 1869 (Ref: 9902/1869) in Cooma to William and Mary A. Death of same man included in BDM index in 1934 (Ref: 12684/1934)