On this day April 30: Harry Sheppard, Country Draper


harry sheppard

On April 30, 1919, the Queensland Times reported on an event organised by Harry Sheppard as a fundraiser for the Musical Union in the town of Rosewood, Queensland. A renowned small town country draper, Harry only stayed in Rosewood a few years but like everywhere he went, he left his mark on the local community.

Harry McLean Sheppard arrived in small parochial communities as a stranger. But when he then left after only two or three years’ residence, locals lamented his departure as keenly as losing family.

Harry worked through a succession of Queensland country towns, first Esk, then Rosewood, Clifton, Barcaldine and finally Dalby.

He was a draper and a bloody good one. Because Harry Sheppard grew up on a farm and understood what rural women required of clothing and fabrics. Store owners across rural Queensland competed to entice the celebrity draper behind their fabric counters.

Lifelong Bachelor

The lifelong bachelor enjoyed playing the piano and tending his prize-winning flowers. Indeed, his floral arrangements, decorated baskets and ornamented vases often took out trophies.

But Harry was no haughty know-it-all fiercely guarding his tape measure and The Good Scissors while blabbering about variegated gerberas.

In fact, although naturally shy, Harry liked people and he liked to see them happy. The country draper also knew how to organise a fun shindig without taking centre stage himself.  He brought joy to the communities blessed with his presence.

Indeed, his leave-takings occasioned bittersweet civic gatherings. Music played and townspeople danced. There were speeches, gift presentations and remembrances of times gone by. Neighbours laughed, cried, and frequently extended open-ended invitations for the popular draper to return anytime.

The Warwick Daily News reported on Harry’s departure from Clifton in 1922.

“Councillor Murphy proposed the health of the departing guest. He said they assembled to bid farewell and also to show their keen appreciation of Mr Sheppard’s many sterling qualities. During his residence, he identified himself prominently with many movements for the welfare of the town. Mr Sheppard took an active role in musical, dramatic and social circles.”

Harry volunteered as a pianist at dances and church fetes and also raised funds for ambulance brigades, sporting teams, lady’s auxiliaries, and more.

Harry Sheppard was a bloody nice bloke. No one ever said a bad word about him. Well, only one. But he was an arsehole, or — ‘a most loathsome man’ — in the more couth parlance of a learned NSW judge. However, William Davis’s penis will intrude on our story soon enough.

In 1927, Harry’s parents retired to a horse stud at Greenbank outside Brisbane. Harry’s dad loved horses but, at nearly 70, he needed help. So, Harry moved back with his parents, managing the stud and volunteering in the local community. He subsequently became the driving force behind the Greenbank Progress Association.

October 1936

In 1936, Harry was 53.

On October 6 that year, he drove into Brisbane. His sister lived at Annerley. After lunch, he drove into the CBD and stopped at a public toilet on William Street.

Harry Sheppard consorted with essentially law-abiding citizens and lived his entire life in small towns. Otherwise, he might have known a detective when he saw one. The selection criteria for detective duty — big and strong — in addition to stringent rules regulating appropriate workplace attire resulted in a uniform appearance. Plainclothes policemen looked like… plainclothes policemen.

In the William Street men’s lavatory, a burly young man with close-cropped hair followed Harry to the urinal.

Harry later told a court the young man did something indecent. If that man’s actions on other occasions are anything to go by, he probably waggled his erect dick enticingly in Harry’s direction. The two people present — Harry and the young man with his dick out — differed on what happened next. But both agreed that afterwards, the man followed Harry out of the toilet and accused him of exposing himself.

“I’m Detective J. H. McLaren of the C.I. Branch. Too much of this sort of thing has been going on, and you’ve been up to it, too! The sergeant told me to get these places cleaned up. What’s your name and address?”

“Harry McLean, of Sunnybank.”

The detective jotted down the details.

“You chaps often give crook names. We will have to go to the watchhouse till I see if it is correct.”

Hoping to avoid the watchhouse, Harry volunteered his correct name and address.

“My name is Harry McLean Sheppard, and I live at The Meadows, Greenbank via Kingston.”

Still unsatisfied, the detective insisted Harry accompany him to the station. However, the cop’s demeanour seemed to soften as they walked.

Bail

“Can you get bail?”

“I do not know.”

“This matter can be fixed up!”

“What do you mean?”

“Can you get £20?”

“No, I haven’t got £20. All the money I’ve got here is a few shillings.”

“I would want £10, and the sergeant would want £10, too.”

A lifeline. Pay the bribe. Avoid arrest and public disgrace. Otherwise, it was Harry’s word against that of a policeman. He offered to mail the money, and McLaren agreed, telling him to send it care of the post office.

“If the money’s not there by Friday, I’ll come and get you.”

McLaren strode off towards the police station, and Harry Sheppard returned to his car. Although flustered, he had plenty of time to think during the hour’s drive back to Greenbank.

Harry probably did not know that Brisbane cops looking for a quick bust sometimes entrapped gay men under similar circumstances. Or that some negotiated bribes to ignore the ‘crime’.

He went over and over the incident in his mind. Harry was outraged. He did nothing wrong. Whatever happened in that lavatory, the younger man instigated. Harry talked with his father, and they then consulted the local member of parliament. Finally, Harry Sheppard returned to Brisbane and marched boldly into the CIB.

William Charles Davis

Asking to speak with Detective McLaren brought only quizzical stares. Detective J. H. McLaren did not exist. But the officer in charge was intrigued. Detective Sergeant Nobby Clark had heard whispers of this new scam. Plus, the sergeant took a well-known interest in southern imports. He boasted to the papers that graffiti in the North Quay toilets warned newly arrived crims to ‘stay away from Nobby Clark’. McLaren’s physical description and modus operandi matched a recently arrived Sydney criminal. The Brisbane Truth reported that William Charles Davis arrived in town just five weeks before.

“Possessor of a long, unenviable record in New South Wales dating back to 1932, Davis eventually found things too hot for his low type of criminal activities in the southern state.”

Billy Davis’s first-ever conviction was for indecent exposure. Since then, he’d turned his passion for flashing into a lucrative business. A judge described the stunt he pulled on Harry Sheppard as his ‘stock-in-trade’.

Davis imitated the speech, appearance and actions of plainclothes policemen, something his frequent arrests gave him ample opportunity to study. He targeted well-dressed, apparently well-off, middle-aged men who would have the most to lose.

Davis then chose known homosexual meeting places in busy areas. He wanted to cause maximum embarrassment to his victims as he bawled them out within view of curious passers-by. Choosing locations nearby police stations added to his credibility and also left his panicked victims little time to think as he barrelled them towards the cells. Then he suddenly threw a lifebuoy. His victims could pay him off and put the incident behind them.

If nothing else, Billy Davis had balls of steel.

However, his strategy of operating close to police stations meant he risked encountering passing police.

Posing as detective

On 8 October, Detective Sergeant Nobby Clark was driving along North Quay. He spotted what looked like a detective hauling a man up the street. It was Billy Davis. Clark slammed on the brakes. Davis heard the tyres screech and saw the police car. He released his captive’s coat sleeve and scarpered but Clark gave chase and ran him down on Ann Street.

“You answer the description of a man who has been posing as a detective.”

“Not me.”

Back at the CIB, a search of Davis revealed a note with Harry Sheppard’s name and address, prompting a confession.

“There’s no good beating about the bush. I was broke and had to get money somehow.”

At the initial hearing, the prosecution requested a remand.

“There is a likelihood of other charges of a similar nature being preferred against the defendant.”

However, the police could not convince other victims to testify. But Harry Sheppard did not back down.

Associate of criminals and sexual perverts

NSW police described Davis as ‘an associate of criminals and sexual perverts’.

But nothing in his record indicated Davis was gay. His association with gays, as far as we know, consisted of extorting them by inviting them to partake of his dick and then ‘arresting’ them. The cops should have known that did not necessarily mean Billy was gay. ‘Straight’ cops often pulled the same stunt.

Chief Justice Sir James Blair sentenced Davis to a year in Boggo Road Gaol.

Following his release, Davis returned to Sydney and immediately returned to his old tricks. He met 43-year-old Fred Evans just after dark outside the St James public toilets at Hyde Park. As the trucking company owner and Davis strolled and chatted, Davis suddenly stepped in front of Evans.

“Stay where you are. I am a constable. If you move, I will draw the gun and shoot you in the legs.”

Davis demanded Evans pay him £50 to avoid arrest. Evans promised to meet him with the money the following day and headed straight for the police station. In court, Davis insisted Evans suggested something ‘unnatural’ to him.

Judge Sheridan threw the book and sentenced Davis to three years in jail.

As far as can be told, William Davis ‘went straight’ after completing that jail term. There don’t appear to be further jail records for him.

Many acts of kindness

Harry Sheppard died in 1949.

The Beaudesert Times said that he “identified himself with any move for the advancement of the district.

“He was of a retiring nature and performed many acts of kindness of which the general public knew little. He will be sadly missed by those who knew him best.”

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