2/ Sandy Gallop: Police piss up at murder scene

peter lumberg sandy gallop essence of dear departed

The crime scene at Sandy Gallop was more like a buck’s party than a murder investigation – no strippers though. Inept cops tried to determine who killed Peter Lumberg between swigs of grog. Just one more in the crazy string of events that ended with the greatest gay scandal in Queensland history. No wonder Queensland cops covered it up for over a century.

The story of a Cairns murder, the attempted framing of an innocent First Nations man, the sexual assault on a young constable by one of Queensland’s most senior cops and a suicide. The Queensland Police hushed up this story. It stayed hidden for over a century before this writer found the documentation that shows these crimes were the tip of a torrid, tropical iceberg. The story of taboo sex, blackmail, a serial killer and the police and government corruption that enabled the cover-up.

Sometimes, I have a bad memory… I prefer to say nothing about police action on that day.

Thomas Lennox Seaton, Inspector of Nuisances.

While he awaited the forces of law and order, George Dunwoodie neither interfered with evidence nor brooked interference. Passing women and children stopped to see what was going on. A local alderman riding into town from his farm stopped to ask the identity of the deceased. But George kept everyone out of the clearing, steadfast in his refusal to allow contamination of the crime scene.

Down the road, McGuire, Murray, Seaton, and O’Shea returned to the cab, fortified by Mrs Dunwoodie’s refreshing beverages. A homicide awaited investigation, so the intrepid crimefighters resumed their journey. This day would afford ample opportunity for boozing. Indeed, the party was just getting started.

Noticing a crowd ahead, Cabman O’Shea discovered a sudden sense of urgency. He urged his horses toward the clearing at speed. Assembled onlookers scattered as the cab veered off the road and dashed towards George before wheeling around and lurching to a halt just short of the body. At sixpence a glass, Mrs Dunwoodie’s whisky was not only refreshing but invigorating. It transformed ordinary cabmen into superheroes. The police sprung out of the chariot and strode to the body, Seaton and Super-O’Shea hot on their heels. George Dunwoodie attempted to draw McGuire’s attention to the tracks they were trampling underfoot. But the Acting-Sergeant was a busy man. Officer in charge of the district and a homicide investigator, no less. Like Seaton earlier, he ignored George Dunwoodie.

A horde of flies hummed over the lifeless body. The smell of rotting flesh hung in the air. There was a gruesome wound on the back of the head, blood in the matted hair, on the ragged clothing, and pooled on the surrounding sand. Constable Murray pronounced the bloody obvious, “This man has been murdered.” What a sleuth! A genius of modern policing.

The constable ordered watching women and children to leave. They moved back a little. For a while. George Dunwoodie looked on in horror. “Soon after the police arrived, people walked over the tracks and spoiled them. They walked all around in the vicinity of the body and started pulling bushes apart and searching, so there was no chance of preserving the tracks.”

McGuire rolled the body over and declared it was Peter Lumberg and that life was extinct. He recorded a list of wounds in his notebook. Despite the multiple injuries, McGuire noted only slight evidence of a struggle in the sandy soil and a single uprooted bush lying under the body. Based on the smell and the decomposition, he estimated the time of death as twelve hours earlier, a little before midnight.

Out on Hop Wah Road, Percy Le Vaux strode toward the scene. As the young solicitor passed Dunwoodie’s, he saw the crowd up ahead. Mrs Dunwoodie watched from the pub veranda.

“What’s the matter?” Le Vaux called out.

“Peter’s killed,” she replied.

A cab stopped beside him, and Detective Constable Seymour leaned out, “Is this true about Peter?”

“I just heard that he was killed,” said Le Vaux before Seymour offered him a lift.

Observing the approaching detective and the dapper lawyer, the crowd parted. Although Seymour wore civvies, after six years in Cairns, everyone knew him. Many also recognised Le Vaux even if today he wore his second-best suit instead of the familiar pinstriped favourite. Most local men wore beards; their hair seldom saw a barber, and their clothing inclined to the rustic. Percy’s delicate, unweathered features, carefully-scissored hair, feather-light wisp of a moustache, and urbane suits excited an occasional arched eyebrow. By this time, the throng included men and was within fifteen yards of the body. Seymour pronounced loudly to no one in particular, “No one should have been allowed near here.”

Again, some retreated. Just a little. But most remained. Seymour and Le Vaux scrutinised the body.

“This is terrible,” said Le Vaux, “It’s Peter, alright. Kanakas did this. He had a £5 note on him.” By Kanakas, he meant indentured Pacific Island labourers, brought to Australia, sometimes by force, to work in the cane fields.

Detective Seymour embarked on a search of the camp while Murray checked Peter’s pockets. In the right-hand trouser pocket, he found an empty wallet — no £5 note — and in the left, a pocketknife. Murray also uncovered a broken chunk of false teeth in the blood-soaked sand.

Another cab arrived. This one delivered Le Vaux’s friend Chissy, editor of the Cairns Argus.

“Poor old Peter,” Le Vaux said to Chisholm, “I should never have allowed him to come out here. This is terrible. We were only here on Sunday and I came back last night with Marston Mayers.”

Near the tent, Seymour discovered a tomahawk with blood on both the blade and the handle.

“That is my tomahawk,” said Le Vaux, “I lent it to Peter on Sunday as he told me his own was broken.”

“Was it in that condition when you gave it to him?” asked Seymour.

“No, it was not,” replied Le Vaux, walking away but then immediately returning, “I think Mrs Le Vaux killed some fowls with that tomahawk on Saturday.”

Joining the search, Murray stumbled across the head of a second tomahawk. Another policeman, Constable Twiss, reported for duty.

“When did you last see Peter alive, Mr Le Vaux?” Seymour inquired.

“About three o’clock on Sunday afternoon. Chisholm and I were down here in the forenoon, and I took Peter home to dinner with me. He left my place about three o’clock in the afternoon.”

Chisholm obtained a description of the injuries from McGuire and jotted down his impressions of the campsite. Eager to prepare his article for tomorrow’s Argus and telegraph news of the atrocity to newspapers around the country, the newspaperman returned to Le Vaux. “Unless you’re wanted here, you might as well come into town with me.” Tom Seaton hitched a ride with them. In the cab, Chisholm remarked, “This must be a violent man’s work, probably a South Sea Islander.”

But after initially suspecting kanakas, Le Vaux had changed his mind. While at the camp, he overheard someone mention a nearby Malay camp, “It might be Malays.”

Acting-Sergeant McGuire left soon after, returning to town to convince young Dr O’Brien to conduct a post-mortem in the absence of Dr Webster.

A labourer named John Treahy called out and asked for a closer look at the body. He was a friend of Murray’s. The constable shook his head but asked his mate to do him a favour. “I suppose it’s near dinner time. I wish you would go and get us some refreshments – I feel hungry.” Out of earshot of the crowd, Murray asked Treahy to go to the pub for grog. When he returned, Treahy sat with Constables Murray and Twiss on a crate ten yards from the body and guzzled Colonial Beer.

Somehow, somewhere, Murray rustled up a sandwich. No rational explanation was ever forthcoming for his snack. Everyone agreed Treahy never bought it at the pub. It simply appeared; one minute, nothing, and the next minute, sandwich. Magic! Murray either left home that morning with a sandwich in his pocket or raided the dead man’s outdoor pantry. Scattered about the camp: tins of peas and sardines, condensed milk, rolled oats, sweet potatoes, and cooked salt beef. A loaf of French bread rested in the fork of the mango tree.

One by one, McGuire, Tom Seaton and Percy Le Vaux returned to Sandy Gallop. McGuire reported Dr O’Brien’s response. The post-mortem would wait until the doctor finished his lunch. It seems all local doctors were a bit cranky. Meanwhile, Percy Le Vaux took James O’Shea aside and offered to shout a bottle of whisky. It was a hot day, he observed, and the body stank. Perhaps whisky would help? The cabman readily accepted. He was not averse to a drink or three. Even the local crocodiles knew that.

Dr O’Brien arrived at 1.20 pm and made an early diagnosis — at least two of the police, McGuire and Murray — were drunk. However, Percy Le Vaux, despite paying for a bottle of whisky, did not drink himself. He waited for O’Shea to return from the Royal with his change, and then left. O’Shea stashed the bottle in his cab, occasionally offering a swig to some of his new police chums. He’d invented something never before seen in the northern town: the mobile bottle-o. Hot and thirsty and too lazy to walk over to the pub? Let Cabman O’Shea bring the liquid cheer to your murder investigation!

McGuire, however, needed food. He left Murray to assist the doctor in the post-mortem and headed to the pub for lunch. Whether he also enjoyed a liquid refreshment, he never mentioned. Of course, neither George nor his mother said anything. Publicans relied on positive reports from the police and the Inspector of Nuisances to retain their liquor licences. Widowed in 1887, Mary Dunwoodie raised six children while managing a succession of premises, each grander than the last. At times, she suffered setbacks. In Townsville, a business burned to the ground, but Mary persevered. When a daughter died, Mary applied for guardianship of her four grandchildren and reared them. Ever the pragmatist, Mary Dunwoodie knew not to incur the displeasure of the police.

Dr O’Brien probed the wounds, noting their length, breadth, and depth. He concluded the murderer used two weapons, a 2½ inch knife and a tomahawk. From the injuries and blood spray, he assumed the killer fled the site with his hands and clothes covered in blood. Detective Constable Seymour also showed O’Brien the bloodied tomahawk found at the scene and asked if the blood came from a chook. The doctor agreed it did.

Another constable arrived, so on McGuire’s return from lunch, he sent Constable Twiss into town to secure a burial order. As Twiss strolled through town, Percy Le Vaux fell in beside him. Intending yet another return to Sandy Gallop and grumbling about the heat, Percy hailed a cab and offered Twiss a ride. After Twiss acquired the necessary documentation, they visited Henry Svendsen, cabinetmaker and undertaker.

“I suppose you heard about Peter,” said Le Vaux.

“Yes,” said Svendsen, who first met Lumberg decades before in Cooktown.

“I want you to give Peter a first-class funeral,” said Le Vaux, “I also want to get him cleaned and washed. I will send Miles if you have no objection.” George Miles, a drinking mate of Le Vaux’s, was a sign writer and odd-job man. Svendsen agreed to take a coffin to Sandy Gallop later in the afternoon and collect the body.

On the trip back to the camp, Le Vaux said to Twiss, “I am awfully sorry for poor old Peter. He was one of my best friends. It must be blacks that did this as I have lately heard that he was in the habit of following after their g***.”

Le Vaux could easily have just said ‘women’. But denigration of non-whites was socially acceptable, even expected. Racial slurs were stock-standard everyday expressions, sanctioned everywhere from courts of law to the federal houses of parliament.

At the camp, Dr O’Brien requested the police move the body under shade for an autopsy. There in the sand, they stripped Peter naked for dissection. An audience of cops and their mates watched ringside with less favoured onlookers relegated to the cheap seats roadside. O’Brien sliced the body open, and Murray prised the chest wall apart so the doctor could examine the heart and stomach.

Arriving to clean and dress the body, George Miles came bearing a gift — a lemonade bottle full of whisky. “Spare no expense,” Le Vaux said when hiring him, without detailing what expense cleaning the body might entail. The only place to spend money in the vicinity was Mrs Dunwoodie’s increasingly popular hotel.

Constable Murray controlled his nausea during the post-mortem but vomited afterwards. “This will settle your stomach,” promised Miles, offering a dose of medicinal ‘lemonade.’

Murray took a swig of the whisky and threw up again. But Acting Sergeant McGuire was made of sterner stuff. He also partook, though without vomiting.

Faced with the unpleasant task of cleaning the putrid body, Miles offered Seaton payment to assist. The council paid the Inspector a generous wage — £3 a week — but he didn’t mind the odd lucrative side hustle, a cause of some resentment among ratepayers. Tom Seaton had loitered at the scene for hours, aside from his quick trip home for lunch and dashes across the road for nips of whisky. Let the rubbish pile high, and the dunnies overflow. The Inspector was pissed and couldn’t give a shit. On the promise of extra cash, he nipped off for more whisky, which, as Miles later described, the pair of them ‘whacked.’

During a typical working day, Seaton discharged a range of duties designed to allay nuisance. Dirty outhouses, careless horse riders, feral goats, stray dogs, mangy cats, ramshackle brothels: all this and more fell within his remit. At first, the council employed him out of admiration for his youthful service in the British Navy. Later, they continued his contract, impressed by his willingness to do whatever it took. Once, after complaints about the state of the municipal gardens, gunshots rang out across the town from Norman Park. Panicked locals discovered Seaton shooting kids for eating the flowers. Baby goats, that is. Not children. Children usually fled into the upper branches of trees when they saw the Inspector coming. Fortunately, none were harmed by stray bullets despite the military veteran being a notoriously poor shot.

No public official ever cared more about lavatories than Thomas Lennox Seaton, far northern overlord of backyard dunnies. The man was positively anal about shit. He carried a ruler and fined dirty bums for overfull toilet pans. Three inches from the top as per regulation. Not a turd more. He designed a ‘perfect’ toilet pedestal and lobbied to make it compulsory. Yep. He was eccentric. But who wasn’t in Far North Queensland? Even those who arrived sane went a little troppo in the northern heat. Mango Madness, they would call it in the years to come.

Also of Seaton’s design, his uniform, worn to evoke his wartime service. On significant occasions, he adorned it with his service medals, all four. He bragged of his role in the Battle of Ulundi, telling how 25,000 Zulus charged at the bayonets of 8,000 British soldiers and sailors during that legendary engagement, only to die in their thousands, butchered on the British blades. Tom Seaton yarned about joining the navy as a boy and fighting as a 15-year-old in that epic seven-hour hand-to-hand struggle. But today, Tom Seaton seemed less gallant war hero and more drunken sailor.

Besides, not the best time to boast of expertise with bayonets. A mutilated body lay nearby. No suspect yet. However, Seaton and one other person in the vicinity were acknowledged masters of bladed weapons. Tom Seaton and Percy Le Vaux, formerly a captain in the pre-federation Queensland Militia, both previously drilled the Church Lad’s Brigade in the cut and thrust of close combat fighting with cutlass and bayonet.

“Able Seaman Seaton is constantly in attendance and takes evident delight in drilling the youthful brigade,” reported the Morning Post on October 28, 1897.

Then, on February 1, 1899, “Captain Le Vaux has been kind enough to consent to act as an instructor, and every Monday evening, the members of the Church Lads Brigade will be thoroughly drilled for a reasonable length of time.”

Speaking of the lawyer, a hush fell over the sandy clearing when Fanny McDaniel called from the watching crowd, “Mr Le Vaux must have done this.”

A lone voice rebuked her, “My good woman, you shouldn’t say such things.”

After the doctor left, the police searched a little, chatted a little, and drank a lot. Leaving McGuire and Murray at the scene, the other police departed for town duty. When Henry Svendsen arrived with the coffin, the undertaker saw Miles and Seaton were drunk. They offered him ‘lemonade’, which he declined, so they left him with the body and staggered over to the Royal to continue drinking. A right royal piss-up. Meanwhile, McGuire and Murray packed items of evidence into O’Shea’s cab. Then, they abandoned the crime scene to the inquisitive explorations of local sightseers.

Stopping at Dunwoodie’s, McGuire and Murray poured Seaton and Miles into the cab for the short trip to town. The day wasn’t all bad. Mrs Dunwoodie enjoyed an excellent trade. Later, neither Seaton nor Miles could recall how they returned to town. You know it was a bloody good party when you can’t remember how you got home.

Hubert Durham, gay policeman and the great police cover up:

The gay scandal QLD Police hushed up for over a century.

1/ The murder

2/ Sandy Gallop

3/ Peter Lumberg: The Essence of the Dear Departed.

4/ Percy Le Vaux – the victim’s ‘most intimate friend’.

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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