The gay scandal QLD Police hushed up for over a century


Inspector Durham

In 1906, the Queensland Police hushed up the greatest gay scandal in the state’s history. The cover-up endured for over a century.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following story contains the name of a person who has died.

This writer uncovered the cover-up while researching the brutal murder of 67-year-old Peter Lumberg in Cairns in 1905. Despite oodles of evidence pointing to the guilt of the old man’s ‘most intimate friend’ – an obvious psychopath – the murder was never solved.

In fact, Inspector Hubert Durham, officer-in-charge of the far north police district, did everything possible to ensure the psychopath escaped justice. He even tried to frame another man for the murder. An Aboriginal man named Tommy Tomahawk was tortured to extract a false confession.

Evidence presented to an inquiry also showed that the psychopath I allege killed Peter Lumberg, Previously attempted to poison Peter and to kill his own wife by the same method. His 54-year-old father-in-law died unexpectedly earlier in 1905; both his children died in infancy, and his wife, after surviving the poisoning, disappeared a few years later. Her husband told the local paper she died in a New York hospital despite her not having the means to travel to the United States and no record of her travel, hospital stay or death.

So why would Inspector Durham risk everything to protect a homicidal maniac?

To me, the obvious answer always seemed blackmail. The psychopath had something on him.

Gay sex remained illegal in 1905. Durham’s life would have been ruined by accusations of gay sex. He already picked up and started again on the other side of the world as a young man. An officer in a British regiment, young Durham suddenly resigned and moved to Queensland, cutting off contact with his parents.

Legendary sportsman

Tall, athletic and good-looking, Hubert Durham became a legendary Queensland sportsman. He was a leading player on the Queensland rugby team that first won an inter-colonial match against NSW in 1886. A decade later, as Treasurer of Queensland Rugby, he was instrumental in introducing maroon as the team colour.

Durham also achieved many newsworthy successes during his police career. However, suspicion of some nature always hung over him. He spoke in his suicide note of ‘vile wretches’ starting ‘atrocious rumours’ about him.

“I never was able to locate the beginning of that calumny. But the herd loves to sniff prurience of that sort, and therefore, I have never professed to be perturbed by the damnable slanders…”

After a public outcry about Tommy Tomahawk’s mismanaged prosecution, Commissioner Cahill ordered his Mr Fix-it to Cairns. Cahill and Inspector Toohey communicated by coded telegram as they worked to minimise damage to the police force. Toohey stage-managed a public inquiry designed to share with the public no more information than they already knew. Other highly incriminating evidence remained shrouded in secrecy.

A few cops suffered minor punishments. Durham was demoted and transferred to Hughenden – a hot and dusty hellhole where he’d hopefully never be heard of again.

Charlie Cocks 

But in Hughenden, Durham did something he’d obviously done many times before. He connived to get a junior officer naked, then forcibly restrained the young man and performed oral sex on him. He also offered to put his penis in the constable’s arse but accepted that could wait until ‘some other time’ when Charlie Cocks refused.

Charlie Cocks was not intimidated by anyone. He reported the incident to the local station sergeant who took possession of some physical evidence and communicated with the commissioner by coded telegram.

Commissioner Cahill immediately dispatched an inspector to Hughenden. He gave him firm instructions to do whatever it took to avoid a scandal.

However, Durham got wind that the inspector was on the way and realised it was all over for him. He committed suicide.

Meanwhile, Charlie Cocks confessed to another young constable that the Inspector Oscar Wilded him. That constable blabbed, and soon the cat was out of the bag.

The cover-up of Queensland’s greatest-ever gay scandal

I came across an article on Trove about Durham’s suicide in the Cairns Morning Post almost 15 years ago.

‘A Good Many Things Explained’ shouted the headline above an article that explained none of those things.

‘No Wonder He Shot Himself’, it added.

However, the paper provided very little detail, though it did misquote the testimony of someone it called Constable Cox.

“Something occurred. More than one thing occurred. The proceedings were of a nature calculated to be a gross insult towards me.”

And it seems this was the start of Cahill’s gigantic cover-up. The papers were given the wrong spelling of Charlie Cock’s name. Over a century later, I wasted years searching for Constable Cox.

The police also limited what they told the newspapers to very salacious evidence that no publication could risk printing at the time. Only three newspapers printed substantive articles on the assault and subsequent suicide: The Hughendan Observer, the Cairns Morning Post and the Brisbane Truth.

QLD State Archives

But when I searched the Queensland State Archives for more information, I expected to learn more. Despite only launching in 1959, the State Archives are a great resource with an amazing collection of information.

But try as I might, I could find little more there about the incidents in Cairns and Hughenden than I already knew from the newspapers.

I was quite sure I knew what happened. It was easy to connect the dots and put two plus two together.

But I needed evidence. Many of my readers seem reluctant to simply trust my intuition. (What bastards!)

After years of searching, one afternoon, I had 15 minutes spare before the Archives closed. I asked to see Inspector Durham’s police file. Police files usually contain a handful of documents detailing time off sick and transfers. But when the Durham file arrived, it was a big, thick collection of documents that, upon examination, turned out to be transcripts, telegrams, secret reports, and so much more. I had seen the Queensland Police do this before – store documents they were legally obliged to conserve in a place where no one would ever look. In this case, the tactic worked for over a century and this story was almost lost to history forever.

The long searched-for files were judged too old and fragile to allow access

I quickly photographed a few key documents and determined to return the next morning. However, the next morning I was denied access to the file because of its age and fragility.

I asked the cost to have the file photographed by the institution’s professional archivists and was quoted thousands of dollars.

After arriving home heartbroken, I drafted an email to the Archives.

I explained that much queer history went unrecorded or suffered erasure from the record. While I understood the need to conserve historical documents, it would be very sad if we were denied access to what we could discover of our history. No one had looked at Durham’s file for over a century, and now it would become inaccessible for all eternity because of cost.

I did not expect a reply, but within days an official of the Archives wrote back, agreeing with me and offering a photographic copy of the file on PDF for $48.

And thus I was able to find evidence of much I previously only suspected. Thank you, Queensland Archives! ❤️

Over the next few weekends, beginning today, QNews will document the happenings in Cairns and Hughenden in 1905 and 1906. We’ll detail the story of Hubert Durham – the story the Queensland Police never wanted you to know – and almost succeeded in hiding for all eternity – the story of the greatest gay scandal in Queensland history.

History and filling in the gaps

I have resisted the temptation to fill in the gaps in information in this story. We can’t know everything about the past any more than we do about the present.

Fortunately, enough documentation survives to tell this story in full. Certainly, there is no doubting the evidence that Hubert Durham was gay. Whether he had sex with the psychopath he did so much for, you can make up your own mind from the available evidence. I obviously made up mine.

Deduction is a legitimate tool for historians – considering the known facts to reach a conclusion. We trust juries to do it every day.

Again, I believe Peter Lumberg was gay and had sex with his killer, or at least was besotted with him.

The killer’s sexuality is irrelevant. Psychopaths have sex for what it will gain them, so who they have sex with reveals nothing about their sexuality.

Finally, I know some will question that a good-looking urbane young man had sex with a dirty old town drunk.

All I can do for those people is suggest they live a bit more – get a little more life experience – and learn more about people.

People have sex for many reasons, and what appeals to them sexually varies greatly.

Until you learn that other people are different from you, history and much else will remain beyond your comprehension.

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’.

For the latest LGBTIQA+ Sister Girl and Brother Boy news, entertainment, community stories in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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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