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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Better Catch That Train, Mr. Melvin! [Sharon Hollingsworth]

Here is another case of "can you really believe everything you read in the newspapers?"

You will remember that four newspapermen were on the special police train that was stopped at Glenrowan by Thomas Curnow. The train also carried Hare and his troopers, Inspector O'Connor, the black trackers, and O'Connor's wife and sister-in-law as well as a civilian volunteer. Among those four pressmen who were present for the start of the siege were John McWhirter of the Age, George Allen of the Daily Telegraph, Joe Melvin of the Argus, and Thomas Carrington who worked for the Australasian Sketcher (he also had a story about the siege published in the Argus).

A news report in the Sunday Times (Perth) of Oct 15, 1911 had this bit about the then-late Joe Melvin of the Argus as concerns the police special train. It is rather fanciful, to say the least!

"When the gang were surrounded at Glenrowan, the chief of police sent word to the newspapers that a special train would be leaving in the very early morning for Glenrowan with drafts of police and a machine-gun. Reporters were invited to attend. Joe was told off for the "Argus," and he slept at the hotel near the Spencer-street Station, in order not to miss the train. But Melvin overslept himself and missed.

When he did wake he promptly took in the situation. He interviewed Mr. Moore, the stationmaster, and arranged for a special engine and van to catch the police train at Seymour. This was a run of 56 miles, which, at 10s per mile, figured out at £28. The stationmaster knew Melvin very well, and took his I.O.U. for the amount. The pressmen were caught at Seymour, and Joe went on with them to Glenrowan. On the following Friday night when the weekly expenses account had to be sent in Melvin's loomed up pretty tall with a £28 item for a special train. As soon as MacKinnon, the manager, got the little bill he sent for Joe, and said he would be dashed-blashed if he would pay for Joe's carelessness in missing the train. "Surely, Mr. MacKinnon," said Joe In heroic style, "you don't suppose I thought of a paltry £28 when the prestige of the 'Argus' was concerned. If you do, sir, I will pay the money out of my own pocket. Loyalty to the paper has been the spirit you have always instilled into the staff. I hope I shall never go behind that splendid dictum even at the expense of my own pocket. That fairly knocked the stuffing out of
MacKinnon. He initialed the account for payment, and as Melvin was leaving the room he called him back and remarked, "Mr. Melvin, I admire your loyalty, but try and make it a little cheaper next time."

It is odd that this story appeared in the paper as elsewhere it has been proven that he was on the train when it left Melbourne's Spencer-street station. Thomas Carrington in his account of the siege of Glenrowan said this:

"On the platform I met the representatives of the three morning journals..."

Of course, those were Melvin, McWhirter, and Allen, as listed above. He went on to talk about their wait for the train, and at no point did he infer that Melvin left the platform or station to have a nap!

Another fact proving that the above missing-the-train story can't be true is Joe Melvin's article for the Argus of July 29, 1880. In it he tells about being on the special train when it ran through the railway gate at Craigieburn. He was quoted as saying that the sound was like "...a crack like a bullet striking the carriage."

I looked it up, and Craigieburn is only 16 miles (or 26 km) from Melbourne. As it said in the earlier article snippet, Seymour was 56 miles (or 90 km) from Melbourne. The train did stop at Seymour, as Carrington had related about having some coffee there,  but I assume it was not to take on a late pressman passenger! Melvin would have had to have been on the special from the start to be able to describe the gate crashing.

Also note that they did not have a "machine gun" on board. Maybe that is in reference to the cannon that was later ordered and was en route via rail but was turned back at Seymour after getting a telegram saying the siege was over.

Something else that throws a new light on all this is a letter to the editor of the West Australian (Perth) of July 22, 1909. In it someone who presumably knew the late Joe Melvin told of the time that Joe was supposed to report on a speech given by then Victorian Premier James Service. Joe missed the train carrying Service to Beechworth (a distance of 176 miles or 284 km from Melbourne..oddly, also the destination of the police special that was stopped at Glenrowan), so he decided to engage a special train to take him there at a cost of £50. He arrived and got the story and never said anything to Mr. MacKinnon about being out of pocket as he was nobly not seeking any type of reimbursement. MacKinnon found out about it and happily presented a check to Joe!

Ok, there seems to be quite a change in the personality of MacKinnon between the two supposed events, doesn't it? As far as what year the James Service event happened, that would have had to have been at some point within a few months' time in 1880 or between March 1883 and February 1886, as those were the terms Service was the Premier. Was someone confused about one event or the other and got them mixed up in their mind as the destination was the same?

Just goes to show that everything in the papers cannot be taken as gospel truth!

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