November 12 - 18, 2017: Issue 337
Summer Houses In Pittwater: A Cottage Of 1916 And Palm Beach House - 1916 To 1929
'£20 TO FIRE HOUSE'
Kitchenman's Allegation of Offer Denied by Employer INQUIRY INTO PALM BEACH FIRE
SENSATIONAL allegations of a conspiracy to burn down Palm Beach House, the well-known seaside boarding-house, were contained in a statement read at the City Coroner's Court last week when Mr; E. A. May enquired into the cause of two fires which occurred at Palm Beach - one on April 1, and the other on May 24.
THE statement is alleged to have been made by Eric Woodger, and implicated Sydney Keys, owner of Palm Beach House. The two men who were present in court had previously been charged with conspiracy and arson. The first witness was Constable Fleming, of Manly, who said that on May31 he and Constable Newton interviewed Sydney Keys at the Manly Police Station. Keys said to him: 'I want to give a man named Woodger in charge for blackmail. He came to me at Palm Beach and said he would 'split unless I gave him £50.''I asked him what Woodger was going to 'split' about,' said Constable Fleming, 'and he replied, 'About the fires at Palm Beach on April 1 and May 24.''Woodger later said to me: 'Keys Is a liar. I saw him at Palm Beach and asked him for nine days' wages I considered he owed me. He said to me: 'I will give you £50 If you keep your mouth shut about the fires.' ''At the station,' continued Constable Fleming, 'Woodger said, I set fire to the house at Keys' suggestion. He wanted the insurance and, offered me £20 to set fire to the place— -£10 before the fire and £10 afterwards, but he gave me only 50s.'Woodger's alleged statement was as follows: 'I was In Keys' employ as a kitchenman at Palm Beach House, Palm Beach, for about three months up to Easter last. He told me the house and furniture were Insured for a couple of thousand pounds. He hinted to me shortly after I went there about burning down the house for the insurance.' A few -days after that he said to me, 'I will give you £20 to burn the place down for me; I will give you £10 before and £10 after you do the Job.' I more or less agreed to this in order to keep my Job.' He said three or four days before the fire, 'We will set her going on Monday night when everybody is out of the house.' On Easter Monday morning he showed me a bottle of petrol and gave me a piece of old towel to saturate with petrol and place over the hole under the bed.' About 6.30 that night he came tome In the' pantry, and producing a bottle of whisky said, 'We will have a few stiff ones cut of this before we send her up.' We had- several whiskies each.' I then went into the garage under the house and applied a match to the hole over which the petrol-soaked towel was. It caught fire, and I cleared. 'I just went on to the road outside. I could see smoke issuing', from No. 7.Shortly after that a crowd came on the scene, and the fire was 'extinguished.' Keys returned about 10 .o'clock that night, and came down to my, room with two bottles of wine. He said, 'You are a fool; you made a Wiess of It on purpose. You did not try to fire It.'' Keys did not give me any portion of the £20 which he had promised me for setting; fire to the place. About a week later I left Keys' employment. When he was paying me I said, 'You haven't played the game?' He said, 'You did not try to set fire to It.' All he gave me was 50/-,and he said, 'There, that's for your trouble.' ..'On Wednesday, 29th Inst., Keys came to me at my boarding house about 6 p.m., and I said- 'It looks like as If we are going to get into trouble over this. What are you going to do about it?' He said, I know nothing about It.''
He then handed me 30/-, and said, 'You had better keep quiet and know nothing.' He then left I consider Keys owed me nine days' wages.'I went to him at Palm Beach yesterday and asked him for it. He said, 'I can see what you are doing. This is-a case .of blackmail, -I will give you nothing.'
'I then saw -Keys,' added Constable Fleming, 'and told Mr. Woodger had denied the allegation of blackmail, and had stated that Keys had offered him £30 to keep his mouth shut. Keys, according to Constable Fleming, replied, 'Dear, oh dear, what a fool a man is.' 'He appeared to be ill,' added the constable. 'I read the statement to him, and Woodger looked at Keys and said: 'Every word of that is true!' Keys was silent, and appeared to be ill. A little later he remarked: 'I'm admitting nothing; I'm denying it all'.' Mrs. Eileen James, of Darlington-road, Darlington, said she had been employed
SAID TO HAVE TOLD THE POLICE that Keys offered him money to burn down - the house. — Eric Woodger.
as a Housemaid-waitress at Palm Beach House for about 12 weeks prior to last Easter, and also for four days during Easter. She was In charge of room No. 7,which was occupied by a lady guest who smoked. 'All the ladles smoked while I was there,' said the witness, who added, that she washed out No.7 on April 1, and saw no hole in the floor. . 'Waltent Hubert Rayner, of Independent means, said he had known Keys for six or seven years. He had been a hall porter at Ushers Hotel before he went to Palm Beach. The furnishings of his house there were above the average;, and he (Rayner) estimated them to be worth between £1200 and £1400.'I have always looked upon Keys as a straight-going, decent fellow,' he added. 'I once recommended him for an hotel and would do so again now.'
Mr. Moors: Did Keys see you shortly after the fire?— Yes. He said something about a man who had been in his employ. I don't think he mentioned any name. He said he was trying to blackmail him. ' He told me the man said to him that the Insurance Company had offered him £200 if he would tell them anything about the fire on May 24.'I told him,' continued Rayner, 'that I would have punched the man on the nose and kicked him out of the place. I also said his best plan was to see his solicitor the next day.' At this stage the Inquiry was adjourned to June 28. . - .
Mr. Rogers (Crown Law Department)appeared to assist the police; Mr. Moors(Instructed by Messrs. Turner, Nolan and Bender) for Sydney Keys; Mr. J. Yeldham for Eric Woodger, Mr. Aspinall for the Palm Beach Land Syndicate, unpaid vendors, and Mr. Rainbow for various insurance companies. "£20 TO FIRE HOUSE". (1929, June 23). Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954), p. 20. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169319074
'ONLY MEANT TO MAKE SMOKE'
Kitchenman Denies Intention to Fire Palm Beach House
STARTLING EVIDENCE AT INQUIRY
STARTLING developments occurred at the City Coroner's Court last week when the inquiry was continued into the fires at Palm Beach House on April 1 and May 24. ERIC WOODGER, who, with Sydney Keys, has been charged with conspiracy and arson, entered the witness box and corroborated the statement he had previously made alleging that Keys bribed him to set the house on fire.
WALTER HUBERT RAYNER, who gave evidence at the previous hearing, was recalled last week and stated, amongst other things, that Keys told him on one occasion that Woodger had said to him (Keys) that the Insurance Company had offered him (Woodger) £200 and police protection. Dudley Sanderson, law clerk, said Keys told him that Woodger had called on Mrs. Keys and stated he had a proposition for her husband. Asked what it was he is alleged have said that he had been offered £200 and police protection if he would give certain evidence. 'Why do you come to us, then?' Mrs. Keys said she asked him. 'Oh,' Keys is alleged to have replied, 'if Sid. Will give me £50 1 will say nothing about it.'
Christina Smith, of Burrangong Station, Young, said that early in 1929 she was employed at Palm Beach House. Early in June, she said, a man named Simpson visited her at Young, and told her that Eric Woodger had said he had warned her to pack her bag ... that the place(Palm Beach House) was going to be set on fire. 'I told him that was not true, and that I was willing to swear so,' said Miss Smith. Mr. Rogers: Do you know what terms Woodger was on with the rest of the staff? — They didn't like him. What about yourself? — I was like the rest — I didn't like him.
Mr. Yeldham: If you were not friendly with Woodger why did you smoke cigarettes with him in your room? — I did not do so. Did you ever smoke with him?— I may have done so in the kitchen.
George Moodie, laborer, of 'Florida House,' Palm Beach, said that on May 24 he and a pal named Petersen passed Palm Beach House about 8.30 p.m. They saw a sky-rocket land on the roof of the house. About 45 minutes later he saw the fire break out.
Stood by Story
Woodger then entered the box and said he stood by the statements he had given the police..
Mr. Yeldham: What about Chrissy Smith's statement that she was unfriendly with you?— It is a deliberate lie. She was in my room nearly every night smoking cigarettes.
Continuing, Woodger said that following the suggestion about burning down the house he suggested to Chrissy that he should write a letter regarding it and place it in safe keeping. However, he did not do so.' On the night of April 1,' he continued, 'I went into the garage and put a lighted match through a hole Keys had bored.' I had previously poured water on one end of the mattress, and also had three buckets of water ready. It was not my intention to set fire to the house, but to make a smoke. Afterwards, I went out on to the road and then assisted to put out the fire. I know nothing of the fire on May 24—I was not in the district.' For some reason or other Eileen James did not like me. I think her friendship with Simpson had something to do with it. Later I detected her cheating at cards.'
Mr. Rainbow: Was any property removed from Palm Beach House prior to Easter? — Chrissy Smith informed me that the Keys' were taking all their effects out of the rooms. Chrissy and I went into the Keys' rooms and found the drawers empty. Did Keys ever tell you about his financial position?— Yes; he said he was dead up against it. He said he had to meet a cheque at Easter, but would have to transfer £100 from his wife's account to do It.
Mr. Dovey: Are you giving evidence against yourself in this case out of a sense of decency? — I am giving evidence out of a sense of truthfulness. You also realise you are giving evidence against Keys? — Yes. Didn't you ever boast to Keys about your conquests with women?— I'm not here to call him a liar.
Were the girls at Palm Beach House forward with you?— No. Chrissy used to come to my room at times and smoke a cigarette. She also told me once that Keys was making her life unbearable over a certain matter.’ Continuing his cross-examination, Mr. Dovey asked Woodger if Keys had ever given him any money for the fire. Woodger: About four days after Easter, when he was paying my wages, he gave me 50s.
Mr. Dovey: If you did not propose to burn down the house, as you have stated, why did you think it necessary to warn Miss Smith? — I thought the house might go at any time. What did she say when you told her?—She said she suspected it. What was your opinion of Keys when you left him?— I thought he was a man in desperate circumstances.
‘Weren't you under notice of dismissal when the first fire took place? — Woodger(striking the Bible dramatically): On that Bible, no. Did Keys give you a week's notice on March 12? — Yes. Did you tell Keys in Manly that the police were enquiring about your movements on the night of May 24?— Probably I did.! Did you say you thought they suspected you for something?— No. I Did you tell the police you had been in the company of three girls on the night of the fire?— No, I said I had been with three ladies. Have the insurance people been to see you? — No. Did you tell Keys they had offered you £200? — Rubbish.
Mr. Yeldham: Did -you ask Keys for anything but your wages?— of I told him that as he hadn't played the game with me I knew of no reason why I should shield him from the police.
Helen Keys, wife of Sydney Keys, said there were about 22 guests at Palm Beach House for tea on Easter Monday. About 7 p.m. her husband left by car for Manly with four passengers. Woodger was in the pantry all the time. About 8.15 news of the fire was spread by a guest. It was extinguished when Woodger appeared.
His evidence that he had several buckets of water in readiness was totally untrue. At this stage, the inquiry was adjourned until July 2. Mr. Dovey intimated that in view of developments, he would put Keys in the box. Mr. Rogers (Crown Law Department)appeared to assist the police; Mr. Moors and Mr. W. R. Dovey (instructed by Messrs. Turner, Nolan and Bender) for Sydney Keys; Mr. J. Yeldham for Eric Woodger; Mr. Aspinall for the Palm Beach Land Syndicate, unpaid vendors; and Mr. Rainbow for various insurance companies. "ONLY MEANT TO MAKE SMOKE". (1929, June 30).Truth(Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169323786
CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT. (Before Mr. Justice Stephen.) Senior Crown Prosecutor, Mr. McKean, K.O.
CHARGE OF ARSON. ACCUSED ACQUITTED.
Eric Geal Woodger, 35, labourer, was charged with having maliciously set fire to a dwelling-house in the possession of Sydney Keyes, at Palm Beach, on April 1, with intent to injure. Mr. Robert M. Kidston (Instructed by Mr. John Yeldham) appeared for the accused.
The accused, so the Crown stated, was employed as a kitchenman at Palm Beach House, a guest house, and on April 1 a fire broke out in one of the bedrooms. It was soon extinguished, and only a mattress was burned.
Constable Fleming stated that accused had admitted having set fire to the house, and in a statement said that Keyes had offered him £20 to do so. Keyes, who had been charged with the offence, denied the whole of the accused's statement.
The accused gave evidence, and said that Keyes had tried to get him to set fire to the house, so he "bluffed" him by setting fire to the mattress, which he had first thrown water on. He had done it to please Keyes, as he wanted to keep his job.
After the accused had given his evidence the jury intimated that it did not wish to hear anything further, as it had come to the conclusion that no attempt had been made to set fire to the whole house. The accused was acquitted by the jury without leaving the box, and he was discharged. CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT. (1929, September 13). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16583694
The other places where you could stay were Florida House and Barrenjoey House, among the many cottages that could be rented for 'the Season' or during off-season times too - including the Customs Station buildings at the foot of Barrenjoey from at least 1919 on.
A Few Extras
Palm Beach - In 1921
Above- the photo from this 1921 news item. History!
A MAGNIFICENT VIEW OF THE HAWKESBURY ENTRANCE, SHOWING PALM BEACH (ON THE RIGHT), BARRENJOEY LIGHT -HOUSE, AND LION ISLAND IN BROKEN BAY. Palm Beach is a favourite rendezvous for motorists, but the road from Newport needs attention. SYDNEY'S WOMEN ROWERS—BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BAY—HISTORIC PORT MACQUARIE. (1921, April 13). Sydney Mail(NSW : 1912 - 1938), p. 18. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article159037391
This great panorama is one of many that is part of Enemark collection of panoramic photographs available with a zoom function on the National Library of Australia's website. If you use this you can see the dirt roads of almost one hundred years ago and even a historic ferry on the estuary itself! You can see all of them HERE - and if you want to see those from our area, just enter words like 'Pittwater', 'Palm Beach' or 'Avalon in the search function.
Panorama of cottages overlooking Palm Beach, New South Wales , 1, picture] / EB Studios, PIC P865/207/2 nla.obj-162480696
Below are some sections we zoomed up for you from this great image, nla.pic-vn6195149 - courtesy of your National Library of Australia - the same great team that brings you TROVE - this second one shows a cottage where one wasn't previously (in above panorama).
Summer Houses In Pittwater: A Cottage Of 1916 And Palm Beach House - 1916 To 1929 - Threads Collected and Collated by A J Guesdon, 2017