A Gold heist in Australia 1878?
The Sundheim part of the family seem to have a family member that could not resist the temptation of committing a serious crime. According to an article in the Victoria Police Gazette on 22 jan 1879, a norwegian ships carpenter, Martin Wiberg escaped from prison on the 20 Dec 1878. A £50,- reward was offered for his capture, which was a quite high reward at the time. This was to be known as the “Wiberg Robbery”, and was to become one of the most famous robberies in the Australian historybooks. To this day people are searching for the remaining gold sovereign coins, since less than 1/4 of the stlen sovereigns was recovered. Another question we seek in this article is: Could there be any living decendents after the brothers Martin & Mathias “Matthew” Olsen Viberg?
Martin was arrested for allegedly to have stolen 5000 Gold Sovereigns of the Royal Mail steamer “R.M.S Aloca” on its trip from Sydney to Melbourne. He escaped from capture, but was arrested again near Cape Patterson and centenced to 5 years in the HM Pentridge Prison for “The Weiberg Robbery”.
Martin Wiberg, 28 year old. According to the Police Gazette, he came to the colonies with the ship “Robert Henderson” in 1873. According to another record on Ancestry, Martin Wiberg, Ablebodied Seaman, age 21, arrived from London to Sydney with the ship “John Duthie” in August 1872. According to other records on Ancestry.com, Martin was married to Rosina Brackley in 1875, and they had two children: Ethel Christina Wiberg, and Lena Martina Wiberg. Atleaset one of the daughters married and had children, so it is very likely there is australian descendets today.
Martin Wiberg was born in Åsgårdstrand, Norway in 1851. He was son of baker Mons Olsen Viberg b.1822 og Maren Evensdatter b.1827. He was Great Grandson to Erik Andersen Sundem b.1774. Martin became a ablebodied seaman and went to sea about 1868, and his brother Mathias followed suit in 1872. According to his norwegian seamans’s records, he “escaped” a vessel in 1871, and that was the last on record in Norway.
In the census for Åsgårdstrand in 1875, it is mentioned that Martin Wiberg is in Australia, and this confirms that it is the same person. In addition it is listing Martins half-brother Frithiof Iverson b.1859, also listed as a seaman and currently in Australia. This fits with information that there was a 3rd brother mentioned in some of the newspapaer stories.
Martin was living i Wellington Park, Williamstown, Victoria, Australia in 1877
Fate of Martin Wiberg?
Others have been wondering. Found this very interesting website at martinwiberg.net
According to the website, Martin was released from prison in 1883. Afterwards he made his way to Hobart where he together with his brother Mathias “Matthew” Wiberg purchased a vessel named the “Neva”, and sailed back to Waratah Bay. After some strange story, Martin drowned during an attempt to get across to and island in bad weather where the ship was waiting. His daugthers was left behind?
Martin’s brother Matthew Olsen, aka Mathias Olsen Viberg, married Margaret McDonald on the 3rd January 1888 and they lived at Waratah Bay. By 1892 Matthew was deceased, and is buried at Waratha Bay historic cemetary. Matthew & Margareth had two children: Martin & Mathilda Olsen. It seems that they have secured actual descendents in Australia today.
What really happened to the father, Mons Olsen Viberg?
An important question is: what really happened to their father, Mons Olsen Viberg? It is very likely that this story started with a dramatic event long before the sons sailed out into the world. The father dissapeared sometime between the birth of Mathias in 1855 and the national census in 1865. The father is not listed in the census, but in the census notes is is written: “The husband, Baker M.Viberg is abroad”. Later, in the national census for 1875, the wife is listed as Widow, and the mother and a daughter is now supported by the Communal Poverty Services. In May 1855 it seems that baker Viberg is bankrupt, and travels abroud shortly after. In 1864 the wife Maren Evensdatter is seeking the courts for a divorse, since the husband have been dissappered since he left home in June 1855.
Martin & Matthew had a sister, Olufine Mathilde b.1853, back in Norway. They also had a half-brother, Frithjof Edvard Jacobsen b.1859, who also became a sailor. The mother and the daughter is found in the censuses 1900 & 1910, and they are living in a poverty shelter, just barely managing. The mother Maren passed away in 1914, and Oluffine passed away in 1920, still unmaried. This poverty started basically when the sons went to sea, and may very well be some of the reason/motivation for the desparate deed of the theft, who knows?
Message to all conspiracy seekers
The narrator of this website have researched the ancestry of the Vibergs, and nothing indicates that Martin ever returned to Norway, or Sweden, that some source seems to have indicated. Martin worked on various norwegian merchant vessels until he ran away from his last vessel in Swansea, UK in Sep 1871, and then he is not seen in Norway again. A Martin Wiberg, AB, age 21 is crew on the “John Duthie, arriving from London to Sydney in Aug 1872. He works as a carpenter on the RMS Avoca for a few years and become the famous “Gold Robber of the Avoca”. His younger brother Mathias (Matthew) was also a sailor on norwegian vessels. He seemed to have a longer career on norwegian vessels from 1871 until 1882. It seems he may have signed off a vessel in Australia on 4th July 1882, probably trying to reunite with his older brother.
What is maybe puzzeling is how Mathias supposedly owned a ship, the small cutter Neva, at such a young age, when his brother was realeased from prison. They came from a very poor upbringing, as they lost their father while in their teens. The mother and their sister was living at the national census of 1910, still supported by the communal poverty services. A theory is that the stolen gold very possible was a desparate attempt to grab a unique opportunity as the carpenter onboard the Avoca, and possibly bring this fortune back to Norway and “rescue” their mother and sister from really unfortunate circumstances. On the other hand, Martin married in 1875, and had two daughters. His own new family may of course also be the main motivation. There is of course no excuses, but that is probably closer to the truth than anything else. Obviously the ship “Neva” that the brother seem to have, was probably obtained from the possession of the gold, or possibly other bad deeds, because the brothers were not well paid marine officers, just merely young ablebodied seamen Records also showed that Matthiew first arrived in Australia in 1881. It was mentioned that Martin had two brothers onbard a ship at the time of his release from jail. This does not fit the facts, because the younger half-brother Frithiof was working on norwegian vessels until abt 1894. But, the final destiny of the sister Olufine and the half-brother Frithiof is yet to be determined. There is no proof to support that Martin survived the famous swim across the “Andersons Inlet” of Inverloch in Victoria, because there is (so far) no evidence to support such a claim. That should be good news for those still searching for the remaining gold sovereigns in the area of Inverloch.
If you are in any way related to Martin & Matthew Olsen Wiberg and their decendents, kindly get in touch via the contact form please.
THE BULLION ROOM – THE STORY HOW THE THEFT WAS MASTERMINDED
Martin was employed as the Avoca’s carpenter. As the ships carpenter, he had been asked to repair the lock on the bullion room door, and when doing so, he took an imprint of the key in wax.
He then had access to the Bullion Room where he crafted a secret hatch that allowed him to enter the room without being seen by navigating the hidden tunnels of the ship.
The trip from Sydney to Melbourne encountered stormy weather which provided the perfect cover to muffle any sounds that he might make in extracting the sovereigns. When everyone was asleep he entered the bullion room and with a cold-chisel carefully pried open a box marked “X.O.X”. Inside the box was sawdust, and underneath a smaller box with seals. Martin took a hot knife and melted the wax on the seals before removing the sovereigns. He then restored the boxes to near original condition so that his deed would not be detected until long after he had left the ship at Williamstown.
(Text and copyrights from martinwiberg.net website)
Other Relevant links
- John Duthie
- Census 1875
- R.M.S Avoca
- Waratha Old Cemetary
- Waratha Old Cemetary 2
- Avoca PAX record 18 Mar 1876
- Avoca PAX record 10 Jun 1876
- Gold Sovereign 1877 value?
- ABC News Australia
- Nelson Evening Mail 19 Nov 1878
- Illustrated Australian News 7 Jun 1879
- New Zealand Herald 26 Jul 1879
- Bendigo Advertiser 16 Oct 1883
- Oamaru Mail 9 Feb 1897
- Otalgo Daily Times 17 Aug 1906
- Evening Star 3 Jan 1930
- The Argos 8 Jan 1938
- The Argos 22 Jan 1938
- The Great Southern Star 23 Jan 2018
- Victoria Police Museum
- HM Pentridge Prison
- The Inverlock Treasure
- WesternDistrictFamilies.com (The Argus 22 Jan 1938)
Vessel arrivals – Immigration records for Martin
- “John Duthie”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 30.08.1872 (this seems to be the actual first arrival of Martin Viberg to Australia, and not with the vessel “Robert Henderson” in 1873 as described in the “Victoria Police Gazette” in 1879)
- “Ellora”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 01.06.1875
- “Ellora”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 26.07.1875
- “Ellora”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 25.08.1875
- “Ellora”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 21.09.1875
- “Ellora”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 19.10.1875
- “Ellora”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 16.11.1875
- “Ellora”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 20.12.1875
- “Ellora”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 14.01.1876
- “Ellora”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 18.02.1876
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 28.06.1876
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 06.07.1876
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 24.07.1876
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 04.08.1876
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 21.08.1876
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 31.08.1876
- “Avoca”, departure Albany 13.09.1876
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 26.07.1877
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 20.08.1877
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 15.09.1877
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 28.09.1877
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 27.10.1877
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 15.11.1877
- “Avoca”, arrival Sydney from Melborne 06.12.1877
Transcript from the New Zealand Herald 26 JULY 1879 – “MARTIN WIEBERG, THE GOLD ROBBER”
The trial of the above clever and ingenious scoundrel ended this week in the Supreme Court of Victoria. The circumstances of the ease are peculiar, aid, even at this stage, will bear repetition. The offence with which he was charged was that of robbing one of the P. and O. Company’s boats of a consignment of 5000 sovereigns, shipped by the Oriental Bank, while the vessel was on the passage from Sydney to Point de Galle.
A second charge of receiving stolen goods was also laid, and it is upon the latter that he has been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. All efforts failed to trace the thief at time, but, on evidence collected by an officer of the P. and O. Company, Mr. Elliston (the Chief officer of the Avoca), and Martin Wiberg (the carpenter), were both dismissed for alleged neglect of duty. Elliston went to England, but Weiberg married a barmaid in Melbourne, and took up his residence as a selector on the Tarwin River, Gippsland, announcing his intention of making there a home for his young wife. A less hopeful spot for agriculture it would be hard to find, and into that desert Weiberg departed taking up a selection next to that of one Laycock, who owned the one inn which adorned the sterile settlement of Baas. From “information received,” the police went to watch the ship-carpenter who is so kindly disposed towards agriculture. A raid was made upon his hut, and 200 sovereigns found secreted in a hollow log. Another plant was discovered by Weiberg’s servant girl in a bar of soap, which she was accidentally cutting in two for household purposes. To her astonishment, the knife struck something hard, and, on looking for the cause, she saw the shining gold pieces wedged in the soap, and she took the money to her apparently astonished mistress. Other “plants” were discovered in various localities.
Weiberg, on being brought to Melbourne, confessed his guilt, and blamed Elliston, who, he said, bad given him a bribe of £200 to do the deed. He explained also to the police, the method by which he accomplished the robbery, and stated that there were four different ways by which he could reach the bullion room of the mail steamer. By and by he told the detectives that his share of the plunder came to £1800 more, and that if he was taken back to his home in Gippsland, he would point out where the money was concealed. The police closed with the offer, Inspector Secretan and two of his men (one Mahony, being specially chosen on account of his fleetness of foot) started with the confiding prisoner to Gippsland. The Tarwin was reached, and on the morrow the penitent thief declared he would bring up from its gloomy depths an iron pot, containing the missing gold. A boat was procured, and Secretan descended first into her. The bank was steep and slippery, the current strong, and Duncan, watchful for the safety of his officer, took bis eye for-a moment from the prisoner. Wieberg was unhandcuffed, “so that he might give the better assistance,” and a blow of his elbow in, the diaphragm of the fleet-footed Mahony, left him an instant free. Then began a race between the constable and the thief; but Weiberg knew the bush, and having the advantage of a start, was soon out of sight. A howl of public indignation was the result of this fiasco, and public opinion, as well as the report of the I Board of Inquiry, half-hinted at the current rumours that the police had been “provided for.” These statements put the detective force on its mettle. The first trustworthy information ascertained by the detectives concerning the movements of Wiberg after his escape were drawn from the circumstances disclosed in the case of Matthews v. Pearce, in the County Court. Pearce, was a man well known to the police as a hunter. For some time he was a hunter at King’s Island, and subsequently appeared as a hunter on Tarwin River. His skins were sent to Melbourne, and he appears to have had dealings with a pawnbroker, named Crawcour, at Williamstown. With Mr. Crawcour it is alleged that Pierce entered into certain arrangements for the purchase of a vessel, and deposited with him the sum of three hundred sovereigns. It was from Crawcour, and not Mr. Matthews, the owner, he had chartered the cutter Petrel, which was subsequently found to be unseaworthy. After the case in the County Court in Melbourne, a member of the detective force saw Crawcour, and learned from him the nature of the transactions between himself and Pearce. The further intelligence was afterwards obtained that Pearce had given the son of Mr. Hill, hotel-keeper, at Emerald Hill, a further sum of 800 sovereigns. Young Hill, after a little difficulty, disgorged the money he had received. Inspector Secretan and Detective Mackay paid a visit to Mr. Crawcour at Williamstown, and there obtained s portion of the sovereigns Pearce had deposited with him. Crawcour made a statutory declaration concerning the circumstances under which Pearce gave him the money. Hill did the same, and they were called as witnesses of the Crown in the charge that will be preferred against Pearce, who has received a year’s imprisonment. The detectives, having been put on their mettle by the expression of public opinion, exercised a constant supervision over Weiberg’s wife, who lives in unassuming grass-widowhood at Emerald Hill. It was known that she had £50 in the house, and was suspected of possessing more. In consequence of further intelligence, another detective was sent again to Gippsland on the track of the fugitive. This officer, disguised as a bushman, travelled quietly to the Bass side of the Western Port. At an appointed place he met a mounted constable, and the two set out Bay. Dressed as swagsmen, and aimed only with concealed revolvers, and Taylor made the seventy-mile journey unsuspected. One day, on the sandy beach, they saw the print of a naked foot, which led to a track in the scrub, and similar footprints at an inlet leading to the water. They conjectured that the hunted man was accustomed to swim across the inlet, and camped in the scrob awaiting his arrival. A man suddenly appears, and is challenged. He vainly runs for the cliff and the river, as the bullets whiz round him. Feeling that certain death awaits him if he does not surrender, Weiberg throws up his hands, and is speedily secured, and brought down to Melbourne. It is believed that the balance of the stolen sovereigns have been secreted by Weiberg in the vicinity of his late haunt, and impressed with that belief, a systematic search has been instituted. Thus far the mystery of the Avoca has been cleared up ; it remains to be seen what further light future events may throw upon it.
Transcript from the Bendigo Advertiser 16 Oct 1883 – “The fate of Martin Weiberg”
In order to solve the doubts as to the death of Martin Weiberg, the notorious gold robber, a World reporter was commissioned yesterday morning to interview Captain Leith, of the schooner Gazelle. Captain Leith stated that there was a fierce wind blowing from the north-east at the time, the sea was mountains high, and it was impossible that Weiberg’s dingy could live long in such a gale.
“Do you think that Weiberg had any idea of committing suicide ?” said our reporter.
“Not the slightest,” replied the captain, “he was far too clever a man for that. He had been drinking hard, and was half drunk at the time, and his death was simply the result of a reckless drunken spree.”
“What about the gold ?” was our reporter’s next question.
“Of that I know nothing at all, and I don’t believe any living person does either.”
“You are quite sure he is dead anyhow ?”
“I am perfectly sure that he is dead,” replied the skipper, “and I offered to bet a friend of mine.”
About a year subsequently the Detective department of this city received information from a private source that Martin Weiberg, who had been the ship’s carpenter on board the China at the time of the robbery, but who was then a selector on the Tarwin River in Gippsland, was the robber. A party of detectives where sent out to capture Weiberg, whom they met as he was on his way into the city. He returned with them to the place where he had been living, and a search revealed a number of ” wreath” sovereigns hidden in an old plane by means of a hole bored in the wood. Weiberg then declared that he had only been a tool in the hands of Captain Ellison, and was now ready to show them where the remainder of his portion of the gold was hidden. He said he had placed it in an old iron kettle, and sunk it in the Tarwin River. The detectives went to the place under Wieberg’s guidance, and while they were fishing for the precious pot with a boat-hook and line, he managed to effect his escape. Soon after this the detectives found 1,000 of the sovereigns at Emerald Hill, where, it was pretty certain, they had been left by the clever rogue.
After several months hiding in Gippsland, Weiberg was again captured, tried, and sentenced to five years in Pentridge. The next day after his release from that institution, about three months ago, he was charged at the Hotham Police Court with having been drunk, and was fined £1, including costs. He paid the fine with a ” wreath” sovereign, and went away to Gippsland, where subsequently he spent a lot more ” wreath ” sovereigns at a public-house. In this connection it should be mentioned that immediately upon the discovery of the robbery and receipt of the news in Sydney, the coining of wreath sovereigns was discontinued, and only the one box of them ever found their way or were allowed to get into circulation. The device on the colonial sovereign was then changed to St. George and the Dragon, so that the fact of Weiberg’s having so many of the old pattern to dispose of, even after his long incarceration in Pentridge, has a peculiar significance. Less than one-fourth of the stolen money was ever recovered.
Transcript Portland Guardian Tue 4 Dec 1883 – WEIBERG’S CUTTER “NEVA”
The small cutter Neva, which arrived in Port Phillip Bay on Thursday, was boarded next morning by Inspector Mackey and Sergeant Witcher. Matthew Olsen, owner of the cutter, is a brother of the Avoca gold robber, the surname Weiberg being assumed. Olsen informed the police officers that he was confident his brother Martin was not drowned, but professed entire ignorance of his whereabouts. Inspector Mackey made a search of the vessel, which is known to be Martin “Weiberg’s” old cutter, with the object of ascertaining if any gold had been stowed away, but he was unable to find anything. Olsen, however, produced several £10 notes, with which he assured Mackey he was going to enjoy himself, at the same time stating that he had plenty more to fall back upon. Olsen appears to have some knowledge of
the whereabouts of his brother, as he affirms most positively that he was not drowned, as was supposed some time ago. With reference to the cutter, it was his object to offer her for sale, but seeing that so much notoriety has been given to his movements it is probable that the Neva will leave the bay again in a day or two.—
Transcript Oamaru Mail 9 Feb 1897 – Remarkable Gold Robbery
THE WEIBERG SENSATION, Apropos of the recent mysterious robbery of 5000 sovs. from the Oceana, between Sydney and Melbourne, the Age recalls the remarkable robbery nearly 20 years ago of 5000 sovs. from the P. and O. Company’s steamer China, which forms one of the most extraordinary chapters in the annals of crime. Martin Weiberg, the man who abstracted 5000 sovs. from the China, was a ship’s carpenter, and had made careful preparations for his attack upon the bullion stowed away in the strong room. He had supplied himself with special tools for cutting all round the seals affixed to the boxes containing the gold, and by these openings he abstracted the sovereigns and afterwards carefully replaced the seals and portions of the- boxes to which they were attached. The job was so neatly done as to entirely escape detection until the steamer reached Galle (Ceylon), and on the 4th of September, 1877, the police of Melbourne first obtained intimation of the robbery. The cold had been forwarded by the Oriental Bank at Sydney, and sent on to Melbourne in the coastal steamer Avoca and thence transhipped to the R.M.S. China. For some time it was not known whether the sovereigns had been stolen during the voyage of the Aroca from Sydney to Melbourne or after the boxes had been placed on board the China. The chief officer and the carpenter of the China, Martin Weiberg, were discharged. There the matter rested until October – , 1878, when Weiberg, who had in the meantime settled down on a selection of the Tarwin (Vic. was arrested. Over 200 sovereigns were found in his possession. After his discharge Weiberg married a barmaid, and turned farmer in the wild regions of the Tarwin River. He might have succeeded in escaping from the clutches of the law but for a quarrel with his wife, who had learned his secret, and after the quarrel communicated it to her mother, who in turn confided it to the police. Weiberg had displayed great ingenuity in securing his plunder, having placed 1000 sovereigns in a tin of fat, which he stored at Port Melbourne, and some of the gold was placed inside an ordinary carpenter’s wooden plane, which had been specially hallowed out for the purpose. This plunder was quite accidentally discovered by the detectives in handling Weiberg’s tools, when the weight of the wooden plane immediately arrested attention. In various ingenious plants, one being an auger hole bored into the trunk of a tree, some 200 sovereigns in all were discovered corresponding with those stolen, which all had for the reverse a wreath instead of the St. George and the Dragon stamp. Weiberg was brought up to Melbourne Tor trial, and, in a moment of apparent repentance,
CONFESSION OF GUILT, and offered to show the police where a parcel of 1700 or 1800 sovereigns was sunk in the Tarwin river. There is every reason to believe that Weiberg on this occasion partly described the actual hiding place, fur his description of the spot when in gaol was fount to correspond in detail to the locality to which he afterwards took the police. Weiberg stated that he had scaled up the sovereigns in a tin kettle, and sunk them at a point between a conspicuous gum tree on one bank and a clump of tea-tree on the other. These were found by the three detectives who accompanied Weiberg. While they were dragging tho mud for the gold Weiberg at first worked like a nigger, and was apparently as eager as the police to recover the spoil. On day, while two of the detectives were in the boat and a third on shore with Weiberg, the robber suddenly dealt the officer beside him
A TERRIFIC BLOW In the pit of the stomach, and made a dash for the scrub. One of the detectives tried to stop him with a shot, but the revolver missed fire. The other—one of the fastest runners in Victoria—partly recovering from the blow, started in pursuit, but Weiberg, having reached the scrub, was safe, and for some months nothing more was heard of him. Later the police learned that he had sent a sum of nearly 1000 sovereigns in Melbourne to purchase a vessel called the Spray, and this money was found secreted in a house in one of the Melbourne suburbs, and seized. The police meanwhile endured hardship searching for Weiberg. One evening, however, they saw a man at a distance approach them, and hide behind trees. It was Weiberg, who, getting within 50 yards of them, caught a glimpse of one of the officers, and immediately made
A DASH FOR THE WATER, Jumping down a cliff some 14ft high to reach it. Constables Edelston and Taylor got within range before he could swim far, and both fired, Taylor’s bullet cutting the water about a foot in front of him, and this so startled the robber, fine as was his nerve, that he at once turned shoreward again, shouting, ” I give up.” The arrest took place close to the high rocks on Mount Patterson, known as the Eagle’s Nest. Weiberg afterwards boasted of his cleverness in blotting out his tracks, and said it was his custom when walking along the shore to do so only at low water, and the next rising tide blotted away all traces. The plants chosen by him were unique, a servant girl, who lived with Weiberg and his wife, stating at the trial that she once discovered a lot of sovereigns planted in a bar of soap. Weiberg got
FIVE YEARS FOR THE THEFT. And having served it returned to Gippsland. He was known afterwards to have bought a boat, subsequently found capsized at sea. Thus the daring gold robber, who for a time was in the eyes of the criminal classes a hero second in importance only to the blood guilty Kelly gang, was no sooner free that the fate he had so dared in swimming Anderson’s Inlet overtook him, and the robber and possibly his gold went down at sea. The particulars of his death were vague enough to establish in many minds the conviction that Weiberg lived and got away with a share of the spoil, for little more than a thousand sovereigns in all were recovered.
Transcript from the Otago Daily Times, 17 Aug 1906 – UNDER SUSPICION
A CELEBRATED GOLD ROBBERY. (Melbourne Argus.) A sensational gold robbery, which for some time furnished’ Australia with one of its mysteries in crime, is recalled by news of the death at Felixtowe, England, of Mr R, B. Elliston. In August. 1877, the steamer Avoca, of _ which Mr Elliston was chief officer, arrived from Sydney, bringing a shipment of sovereigns for transfer to the P. and 0. steamship China. The gold was placed aboard the liner, in Melbourne, without suspicion that any of it was missing until the China reached Galle, then the port of call for mail steamers at Ceylon. There it was found that 5000 sovereigns had been taken from two boxes consigned to Ceylon, and nothing but the sawdust packing remained. Mr Elliston was invalided home some time afterwards, suffering from blood-poisoning. He was one of the best known of the younger officers in the P. and 0. service, for he had decided musical gifts, and quite exceptional skill in conjuring tricks, which he had picked up amongst the natives of the East. He married in Sydney, and was about to settle down in his native town, when one day lie was stopped in the street by two London detectives, and. on the strength of a cable message from Australia, where a wan-ant had been issued, charged with the theft of the Avoca gold. Although he was unaware of it, the real thief had been arrested in Australia, and, knowing that Mr Elliston had gone to England, an invalid, possibly dying, had cunningly charged him with instigating and assisting in the crime. Mr Elliston appeared at Bow street, and was remanded on bail to await evidence from Australia. where events connected with the Avoca robbery were taking a more sensational turn.
A curious superstition of the Cingalese was in a large measure responsible for the detection of the real gold-robber. The sovereigns taken front the Avoca had been specially minted in Sydney for circulation in Ceylon; but. as the natives disliked the St. (George and Dragon stamp, these wore stamped with a wreath pattern. After a time those wreath sovereigns of 1877 Sydney mintage were found to be in circulation in Victoria, and the detectives turned their attention to Martin Weiberg. who had been carpenter of the Avoca at the time of the robbery, Mid had left the ship a few months afterwards to take up a selection on the Tarwin River, in Gippsland. A servant girl employed by Weiberg, in cutting a bar of soap, found it packed inside with sovereigns, and in this way, it was believed, suspicion was first directed to Weiberg, who, it was found, paid for everything in gold, and always with wreath sovereigns of 1877. The detectives travelled down to Gippsland, disguised as selectors in search of land; but the first man they met riding up the bush track from the Tarwin was Martin Weiberg. They promptly arrested him, and found a purse, with 40 wreath sovereigns. “Why, those are the’ very sovereigns taken from the Avoca,” they said, and Weiberg, answered, ” Yes; some of them.” Two of the detectives went on to search his hut. on the Tarwin, where they found 60 of the sovereigns in an old carpenter’s plane, which had been bored with an augur, in which the coin was neatly packed. Another plant was found under a log. Weiberg had many plants in most unlikely places”. When arrested, he, after a day’s reflection, made a confession, when he said that Mr Elliston planned the robbery, and that he merely acted on his instructions, and only received £300 of the spoil. It was upon the strength of this confession that the warrant was issued for Mr_ Elliston’s arrest. The confession was varied later. The police were keen to discover the whereabouts of the missing gold, and often interviewed Weiberg in gaol. Those interviews at length suggested to him a plan of escape. Pretending to make a clean breast of it, he said that he had buried 2300 sovereigns in a tin kettle on the banks of the Tarwin River, at a point indicated by two large gum trees, growing close together on the bank, and he offered to take the police to the spot. Ho was in charge of an escort of three armed detectives, one of them (now Inspecting Superintendent Mahony) a famous runner; but Martin Weiberg was not a man to be baffled by risks, and waited his chance. The party went down to the Tarwin, got a boat, and rowed to the spot indicated by the goldrobber, where the bank was very stoop. Two of the police got down the bank into the boat. Ono of them stood near Weiberg, who was not at the moment handcuffed, and who, of a sudden, dealt the detective a tremendous blow in the pit of the stomach, which doubled him up, and disabled him for a moment. In an instant Weiberg, who was both powerful and speedy, dashed into the thick scrub, and escaped. For five months this daring gold-robber was a fugitive in the scrubs about Anderson’s Inlet, living chiefly in the huts of kangaroo hunters, whoso imagination was dazzled by his deeds, and who harboured him, partly as a celebrity, and mainly because he was able to pay for their hospitality. Whatever else Weiberg lacked, he had plenty of wreath coin. Ho arranged a plan of escape with one of these men, who went up to Melbourne with 800 sovereigns io buy and provision a small craft, the Petrel, in which Weiberg hoped to make his escape. The emissary muddled’ his mission, was robbed by people sharper than himself and more unscrupulous, so that both he and the gold were soon in the hands of the police, who recovered in all about 1000 sovereigns. Detective Eggleston and Mounted-constable Taylor, who knew a good deal about the locality, thought that they could capture Martin Weiberg, and spent an unpleasant fortnight in the scrubs in the month of May, 1878. They were encouraged by finding footprints leading at ono point from the inlet to the scrub, and retorting to the water at another point—though the robber, on the whole, was cautions, and when he walked along the sands always did so at. low water, so that the rising tide would obliterate his footprints, Concluding their man was accustomed to swim in the inlet—though over a mile wide, and in summer infested with sharks—the police rode round 30 miles to Capo Patterson, on the outer shore, where, after watching for some time, they one day saw Weiberg walking -towards them. The moment he sighted the police he dashed off like a deer for the water, and would probably have escaped again but that Taylor took the risks in jumping down a cliff to intercept him. After two shots had been fired—one bullet striking the water just in front of the fugitive—who threw up his arms and surrendered. The whole plan of the Avoca mystery was then revealed, for Weiberg, had given many men his confidence. In repairing the lock of the bullion room door he had managed to take a print of the key in wax, had made a trapdoor entrance to the bullion room hatch from another part of the ship, and on the trip down from Sydney removed the gold, melting the wax on the seals of the boxes with a hot knife, and after the removal of the gold restored the boxes to as nearly as possible their original_ condition. The robbery must have been discovered in Melbourne when the gold boxes were transferred to the liner, but. that the lascars who did the work were too stupid or too indifferent to notice the difference in the weights, though the natives in Ceylon who handled the boxes at once drew attention to it. Weiberg, who finally exonerated Mr Elliston from all knowledge of the crime, was tried, and sentenced to five years’ hard labour. He. served his sentence,” and a few days after being released was arrested in the city for drunkenness, and with rare audacity paid his fine with a Sydney wreath sovereign. He afterwards bought a small cutter, the. Sea, Queen, which was one day found drifting in Bass Straits with her sails set. That was the last heard of the notorious gold robber, who was believed to have been drowned at sea.
In the meantime Mr Elliston had some solace for the pain of mind both he and his friends endured. The charge was pressed against him when there was no longer evidence to support if, so on being acquitted he took actions against the P. and O. Company and others. His innocence had been so completely demonstrated by the developments in Weiberg’s career that no defence was offered, and the eases were all settled out of court by apology and payment of damages. The Victorian Government hold out for some time, but, finding that Mr Elliston was less concerned about loot than the reinstatement of his character, it finally voted him a sum of £500, and passed a resolution of the House in honourable and generous terms, expressing public regret that an innocent man should have been so deeply wronged. The P. and O. Company did not stop at compensation. It offered Mr Elliston a responsible post in its service, and when he refused paid him a pension until his death. A remarkable faith in the ultimate triumph of innocence marked M r Elliston’s conduct while tinder ‘suspicion. Incidents in his early life at soi made a deep impression upon a mind which had naturally a religious bent. On one occasion he was washed overboard from his ship. Heroes of Alma, off the coast of Madagascar. He was swimming in a rough sea nearly an hour, for the volunteer crew which lowered a boat in the hope of rescue could neither see him nor hear his calls. He had a’ few minutes of supreme suspense when he saw the ship signal the boat to return, and then, when hope seemed gone, was luckily seen and rescued. There are many old Australian voyagers who, even after the lapse of years, will hear with regret of the death of this Suffolk sailor, who until the end maintained his touch with the sea by taking charge of the coast signals on the cliffs fronting his native town.
Transcript from the Evening Star, 3 Jan 1930 – Australian History
AVOCA GOLD ROBBERY AN AUDACIOUS THEFT One of the most sensational episodes in the history of the Australian mercantile marine was the robbery of 5,000 sovereigns from the steamer Avoca, commonly referred to as the Avoca gold robbery. Although it occurred over half a century ago, the details of the audacious theft still make interesting reading, and serve to enable us to visualise things as they were in those far-off days (writes “C.S.” in the Melbourne ‘Age’). Built in 1866, the good ship Avoca was used in the Sydney-Melbourne service. At that time all mail steamers terminated at Melbourne ,Williamstown, to be correct), so that it was necessary to tranship passengers and mails to another vessel to enable them to reach Sydney. This was the part allotted to the Avoca, md nothing untoward happened until she left Sydney in July, 1877, with consignments of gold on board for transhipment to England. Arriving at Williamstown, the boxes which were supposed to contain gold were duly transhipped to the mail steamer China without any indication of their having been tampered with.
5.000 SOVEREIGNS MISSING. The China arrived at Galle (Ceylon) on August 29. and it was then discovered that a box containing 5,000 sovereigns had been broken open and the contents abstracted. At the time it was not possible to ascertain if the gold had been stolen from the China or Avoca. Naturally the news created a sensation, and extensive inquiries were instituted by the-police, but without success. The carpenter—Martin Weiberg—was, however, suspected and dismissed, as well as the chief officer for, neglect of duty. After dismissal. Weiberg married a barmaid, and with the proceeds of the robbery took up a selection of 120 acres of land on the banks of the Tarwin River. Meanwhile, the detectives had been quietly collecting evidence against him, and he was eventually arrested and brought to Melbourne. Over 200 sovereigns were found in his possession. Weiberg then made what he professed to be a “ full confession,” in which he accused the chief officer of being the instigator and central figure in the affair. He also gave the startling information that _ he (Weiberg) had 1,700 more sovereigns concealed on the bank of the Tarwin, and, if taken to the spot, would disclose the plant. This was readily agreed upon, a guard consisting of an inspector and two detectives accompanying him. It seems strange to relate that Weiberg was not handcuffed, neither were the police pistols in order. Whilst the inspector was engaged in dragging the river in a boat, the robber suddenly stunned one of the detectives (the other was temporarily absent) and made good his escape.
FOUND AGAIN. The chief officer was afterwards arrested in England, but owing to lack of evidence the charge was dropped. Months later, after diligent search, the police again located Weiberg—this time on a desolate part of the coast and rearrested him at pistol point. Again lie was brought to Melbourne and placed in the cells. The evidence disclosed that he had bored holes in carpenters’ planes and filled them with sovereigns he also concealed part of the loot in bars of soap. He was thus enabled to carry the plunder ashore without exciting suspicion. A plane that was discovered in his hut was found to contain 54 sovereigns. The police also seized 1,000 sovereigns which the robber had forwarded to some friends to charters small vessel to go to Gippsland with a cargo of provisions. This vessel —the Petrel was, however, unseaworthy, and got only as far as the Heads, when the trip had to be abandoned. His sentence was five years’ imprisonment with hard labour. His wife was also arrested, and 50 sovereigns were found in her possession. When liberated, Weiberg went to South Gippsland (near Waratah Bay), where it was thought some of the booty was hidden. Ho had sufficient money (1,000 sovereigns) to buy a yacht, and it was his intention to go to New Zealand. At that time his wife was employed at Waratah Bay, and, after leaving the Neva in charge of two of his brothers, came in with the dinghy with the intention of inducing his wife and child to accompany him. This his wife refused to do, so Weiberg was obliged to depart without them. Two days later the remains of a boat, also a cap (presumably Weiberg’s) were found on the beach, and it was believed the robber was drowned. A fortnight later the yacht was seen at anchor off one of the islands near the Promontory and brought to Melbourne. Apparently Weiberg had intercepted a Swedish sailing vessel and, as ship’s carpenter, worked his passage to Sweden, for he was seen there a few years later by a Melbourne resident who knew him well. Weiberg was then carrying on an hotel business.
Transcript from The Argus 22 Jan 1938 – Letters from Editors postbag
BURIED TREASURE: Sir,—I was very interested In your article on the Avoca robbery. It brought many interesting things to my mind in regard to the mystery of the lost gold. How many Victorians know beautiful Waratah Bay, a shelter in fierce storms for ships battling in the straits? At the Liptrap end of this perfect bay there was, 35 years ago, a prosperous settlement, a lime-burning company having four kilns on the beach, burning the limestone from the cliffs there. The manager was a Mr. Dewar, who lived in a large, rambling house with his wife and family. He was a Scotsman of the finest type—upright, honorable, and his word was his bond.
I preface this to the tale I shall tell, as I know he would not romance with the truth. About 36 years ago I was spending a quiet holiday at the bay. I went down to get my letters, which came rather spasmodically. Mr. Dewar, who was also the postmaster, was sunning himself, and I sat down beside him. I expect I remarked idly on the beauty of the scene. I remember that I said how free from history such places In Australia are.
Mr. Dewar said, “Why, lassie, the bay has its history, too,” and as time was heavy on our hands, the Wiberg story was told to me. I think Mr. Dewar’s first contact with Wiberg came when he ensconced himself in a cave near the settlement. Wiberg was a man of violent temper. Mr. Dewar said that he roamed the bush from the Tarwin toward Cape Lip-trap, his clothes being ragged, and replaced by possum skins. The incident of the Tarwin was that Wiberg was taken in a boat, of which one of the party was Sergeant-Detective Mahoney, reputed to be the best runner in the force. When the boat was pulled in close to the bank, amid high reeds and scrub, Wiberg suddenly dealt Mahoney a violent blow, completely winding him. In the confusion the culprit escaped. Eventually Wiberg appeared at Waratah Bay, and lived in a cave, which he made comfortable. He was still being searched for, as police came sometimes to stay at Mr. Dewar’s for a few days to look round.
As Wiberg had a very good pair of field-glasses, he could see anyone coming, and he simply faded away at search times. He had plenty of money. Mr.Dewar said that the Despatch brought down kerosene tins of axle grease, evidently stuffed with the gold. “One day,” said Mr. Dewar, “much to my surprise, I saw Wiberg coming down the pier. He asked if his wife (who was a housekeeper to a resident) was still there. Mr. Dewar said, “She is, but how did you get here?” Wiberg told a tale that he had been to Sydney and bought a large yacht, which was lying in shelter outside one of the islands. His two brothers were there, and others, to make up the crew. He had come for his wife and child, and would take them with him, and then they could sail for the south of New Zealand, in search of a gold-laden ship, said to have sailed into a cave one dark night. Mr. Dewar said, “Let me have a look at the boat,” and with scorn in his voice, he said, “Why, man, it is only a caravel. You came in on the tide, but you will never get out again.” Wiberg persisted that he would, so Mr. Dewar persuaded him to ballast the boat with some bags of sand. Then Mrs. Wiberg and her daughter came along the pier, very tearful and unwilling to go. Mr. Dewar said: “I thought very quickly, and said, ‘Get back to the beach with your child, Mrs. Wiberg. Get off my pier.'” Very gladly the mother and child retreated, and Wiberg, in a towering rage, started for the yacht, miles away, and in the face of a strong tide. Mr. Dewar watched him until he turned a corner and disappeared from sight. A day or two later a Mr. Pilkington, living at Sandy Point, away across the bay, rode in to Waratah. He asked if anyone had left in a boat, as there were pieces of a boat and a red cap washed up. Mr. Dewar subsequently identified the timber and the cap. He said it left no doubt in his mind that Wiberg had been drowned on his foolhardy trip to the yacht. A day or two later the Despatch, on her trip to the Lakes, saw the yacht lying in shelter, with distress signals flying. On inquiry the crew was found to be short of food, and living on toffee made from sugar and water.
I think no one can doubt that Wiberg was drowned. After some time, Mr. Dewar said, the two brothers came from Melbourne and occupied a vacant house. One man had his young wife with him. They were very poor, seemingly, as they lived on fish and vegetables, raided by night, from neighbours gardens. All the time they could spare the two men searched the coastline for the gold. One morning the young wife came to Mr. Dewar and said that her husband had not returned home. They found him dead. He had evidently slipped or fallen on a pinnacle of rock, which had entered his head. Mr. Dewar said most impressively: “What a lesson on the lust for gold! Wiberg’s bones lie in the bay at our feet, and his brother’s body lies in the little cemetery away to our left.” Mr. Dewar was firmly convinced that the gold was planted between Waratah and Cape Liptrap. Your readers will be glad to know that out of this welter of misery Mrs. Wiberg came into peaceful days. She married again, for obvious reasons I can not say to whom, but her life undoubtedly then “fell in pleasant places.”—Yours, &c.,Cheltenham. M. HUNTER.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS: Sir,—I was much interested to read the article on the buried treasure at Inverloch. It keenly brings to my memory some facts connected with the Wiberg robbery. Turning up an old ledger I found this item, dated September 25, 1879:—
“Load of furniture from Tooradin to Bass Landing for Martin Wiberg. From the landing it was carted to Anderson’s Inlet by bullock waggon. The load consisted of bedstead, chairs, and about 20 boxes, and some were very heavy. Wiberg said they contained carpenter’s tools, &c. We got as far as Queensferry the first night, and Wiberg had a couple of meals with me, and slept at my bachelor quarters that night. We arrived at Bass Landing next day. The bullock dray was loaded up, and Wiberg paid me with two sovereigns, and went with the load.”
Little did I know at the time that the boxes contained so much wealth, or I might have been tempted to put one of them aside. Your account is fairly correct, but It does not mention how suspicion fell on Wiberg. He married a barmaid at Williamstown, and spent money freely, but his wife became jealous and gave the police a hint. A search of his hut ended with some of the money being found in bars of soap and carpenter’s planes. He was then arrested. The officer he kicked into the river was Detective Secretan. Some years later I had a German seaman working for me, by name Martin Kunzie, who came from the same town as Wiberg. He said that when he left home Wiberg was keeping an hotel and that he made no secret that he had been to Australia, and had made his money there. So, in my opinion and that of other old hands very little treasure will ever be found at Inverloch—Yours, &c., Grantville C T WHITE
Transcript The Argus 8 January 1938 – Buried Treasure of Inverlock
Somewhere a Hidden Cache of 15,000 Sovereigns Awaits a Lucky Finder
By JOHN PHILIP
WHAT could you do with 15,000 minted sovereigns, each worth more than £2 of present-day money? Somewhere in Gippsland, near Inverloch, that much gold, it is believed, lies hidden, waiting discovery by some fortunate person. The man who stole the Avoca’s gold hid it so cunningly that police and others have sought it off and on for nearly 60 years, with only a few sovereigns to spur their hopes . . . But here is the story.
A little more than 50 years ago the Avoca, a steamer of a branch line of the P. and O., set sail from Sydney for Melbourne. She had on board the English mails, a chest with about 20,000 newly minted sovereigns, and a ship’s carpenter, Martin Wiberg. Because of a contract forbidding P. and O. liners to carry mails directly between Sydney and England, the mails and chest were transhipped in Melbourne into the Royal Mail steamer China. And, also in Melbourne, the ship’s carpenter picked a quarrel with the second officer and was discharged.
The China came in due course to Colombo and the chest from the Sydney Mint was examined. It was filled with iron bolts and pig lead. When the news of the disconcerting discovery reached Melbourne, inquiries were naturally made on the Avoca, and the ship’s carpenter, who had been discharged for having insulted the second officer, came under suspicion. The robbery could only have been the work of a man skilled with tools, because the chest, which must have been forced open to remove the gold, appeared, when it was opened in Ceylon, to be untouched. It was thought that Wiberg, the carpenter, could have made his way at night along the keel to the strongroom of the ship, entering it from below. He would then have been able to open the chest and close it again when he had removed the gold. No one ever made any clear suggestion how Wiberg could have taken the gold ashore. Certainly he could not have taken it off the ship in Melbourne. Twenty thousand sovereigns would make an exceedingly heavy parcel. Possibly he sealed the gold in a number of small wooden boxes and threw them overboard to a confederate when the Avoca was passing the lovely Anderson’s Inlet. A few boxes, perhaps a few hundred pounds worth of gold, might have been lost, but the thieves might reason ably have expected to land most of their spoils.
Something like that must have been done. The only difficulty is that it suggests the necessity of a confederate, and if Wiberg had a helper he seems to have been entirely neglected by the police in their investigations. While the China was still on her way to Colombo Wiberg took up land at a delightful place near Inverloch, on the Tarwin, and he was living quietly but apparently prosperously, when the news of the robbery first reached Melbourne. He was sending regular consignments of soap to Melbourne, and when the police became suspicious of Wiberg they examined one of these shipments. Their suspicions were confirmed, for they found a number of sovereigns embedded in the soap. When they investigated further at Inverloch they discovered 200 more sovereigns hidden in Wiberg’s hut. So they promptly arrested him and took him to Melbourne. Wiberg stood his trial for robbery, and he was sentenced to imprisonment for five years. But only 200 odd sovereigns had been found, and the underwriters thought that they could persuade him to restore the rest if part of his sentence were remitted. Wiberg agreed, but said he could not sufficiently describe the various caches in which he had hidden the gold. He would have to lead the police to the places himself. So, escorted by a police sergeant and a constable, he went back to Inverloch.
The first of the hiding places, where he said he had concealed about 1,700 sovereigns, could be reached only from the river. So early one morning, with the sergeant sitting beside the manacled Wiberg in the stern and the constable at the oars, the three men rowed up the wild reaches of the Tarwin River. Presently Wiberg pointed to the bank and said, “The place is in there, under the roots of that gum.” Then, with the eyes of the sergeant and constable fixed on the spot, Wiberg crashed his hand cuffs on the sergeant’s head, and leapt on to the gunwale to upset the boat. Neither policeman could swim, and while they drifted downstream, clinging helplessly to the upturned boat. Wiberg disappeared into the thick bush. Keeping always away from settlers, Wiberg made his way to Anderson’s Inlet, which is one of the loveliest bays along the coast. Unlike the Kelly gang, which was beginning its activities at the time, the former ship’s carpenter never offered violence, and he avoided the few scattered farms. He made his encampment beside Eagle’s Nest, and in the caves near by, which are accessible only at low tide, he must often have hidden. Indeed, it may be in the caves that a great part of his loot was hidden, because it would have been convenient to stow the gold in them when it was taken off the Avoca.
No one had seen him for some months, when a party of police surprised him in his camp at Eagle’s Nest, near Cape Patterson. This time he served part of his sentence, but, with ingenuity equal to that of his first escape, he broke gaol and was never recaptured. There are stories that he became an Innkeeper in Europe, but nothing definite is known. One story was told years later by a Victorian squatter who had been on a journey overseas. He stayed at a small Provencal inn while travelling in France, and was surprised to find that his host had a brother In Victoria who knew Inverloch, and who had told him about the gold robbery. The brother said that the police were fools; they should have made a thorough search, not in the hut but in the ground near it.
THE people in the Provencal village called the innkeeper Andre Duvain, but they thought him a mysterious character. He had lived in the village only five years, and he never spoke of his earlier life. They did not know anything about his brother. The Victorian police made a thorough search of the hut. They recovered more than £1,000 of coined gold hidden in scooped-out pieces of timber, in the seat of a chair and buried under the hearth in a great cake of beeswax. But when they had recovered all that they could there were still more than 15,000 sovereigns missing. And the gold is still waiting for a finder.
Until a few years ago Wiberg’s hut was still standing on Mr. Wyeth’s property, Pine Lodge, Inverloch. Then Mr. Wyeth pulled it down to clear a fairway for a golf course. When the hut was removed every corner and cranny, every stone in the chimney, and every piece of timber was carefully examined without result. But the people of Inverloch still believe that Martin Wiberg’s gold is hidden somewhere there. Perhaps the old innkeeper in Provence, whose mysterious brother had lived at Inverloch, knew more about the hiding place than he told the squatter.