Michael Halbert 1858-1930

Grandma & Grandpa Halbert

Michael Halbert

(AKA Albert Miller Halbert Snr.) 1858-1930 

It was one giant leap over water to a fast-rising gangplank, and as though his freedom depended on it, he managed to grab onto it with both hands, and scramble over it, hidden from sight. Albert Miller Halbert, also known as “Miller”, “the Red Headed Bastard” or later “Baldy”, left Victoria that day for…uh… New Zealand, it seems, and a new life, none too soon.

As he threw himself over onto the deck, he grabbed sight of the D’s (Detectives) scrambling down the Port Melbourne docks. Yep, they were just a little late in thwarting his hastily unplanned escape. Albert, a then resident of Boundary St. South (now Pickles St), Port Melbourne (known as Sandridge until 1884) was very aware of the shipping timetables and their comings and goings. His uncle and some cousins were ships captains who regularly sailed the Pacific. He had bolted for the next departure, leaving the police guessing as to which dock and which ship he might choose, to sever his ties with the Constabulary, and Victoria, forever.

Albert was just over thirty, a country jockey who took up the occupation late in life to make ends meet. Indeed, he was so keen to make ends meet he got involved in the seedier side of the sport, and it was his ability to ‘ring-in’ a horse which led to this desperate 1890’s escape.

Race fixing (ringing in) would be later explained in the Sydney, Sunday Herald of 5th June 1949. “Before a race the jockeys and bookmakers in the ring decide which horse is to win. They then back it heavily, always choosing a horse with a ‘reasonable chance’ so its win will not arouse suspicion. During the race the jockeys ‘in the know’ bunch up and box in other horses which are running well. A free passage is thus assured for the selected winner.” Detectives say that dishonest jockeys generally make a great show of punishing their mounts with their whips. “In fact, however, they do not give their mounts a clear cut, the whip is merely brushed against the horse’s flanks.”

This “ringing in” was the explanation I had always assumed to be the type of “ringing in” made in papers written by, and orally espoused by, his son Gordon Halbert. Another son Arthur, however, grew up with an entirely different slant on this story, handing his version on to his daughter Glenys and Glenys has only just handed it on to me in 2017. I cannot disclaim it, nor prove it, tho’ I did put in a sturdy effort in contacting all relevant racing bodies, to little or no avail. Some things about this event, those there at this time and its location “ring true” to me, and may go some way to explain circumstances I later touch on. Glenys’ father always said a horse was “rung in” or a horse was a brumby “ring in”. It seems the only proof is word of mouth, handed down.

This event would have happened between 1888 and 1891.

Arthur’s story goes: “A brumby was entered in a race at Kingston S.E., South Australia with the legal name and credentials of a bona fide racehorse, a horse “unlikely” to win a race. The brumby had a white blaze, to which brown nugget/paint was applied to disguise it’s true breeding or lack thereof. With jockey Halbert on its back, the horse won!

Alas a heavy shower of rain melted away the staining, but not before Halbert and his accomplice had collected their dues and scampered, never to be seen again.”

If this story rings bells, we have to remember that the “Fine Cotton” affair was nearly a hundred years later and scams of a similar ilk happened long after these family stories were generated.

Too me, Gordon’s and Arthur’s words support some of both scenarios:

That, great grandfather  “wanted to make money too quick and got into trouble through riding and ringing a horse in” as a Victorian Country Jockey, a tall jockey at that, but nevertheless a jockey. In relation to the scam, for some reason, Gordon states that “he had to do it”, and that “they got quite a few hundred quid, him and his mate”. “They heard the D’s were on to them, someone had put them in, and they had to leave the country in a hurry.” They fled at speed, “they had to leave via the port of Melbourne and by the skin of their teeth they accomplished that deed, looking back to see the D’s, (Detective’s) who had just come onto the wharf looking for them. They fled to New Zealand and never came back to Victoria or the eastern states.”

So the “ringing in” was replacing an average horse with another (not a brumby) but one likely to win, and riding it to win, not holding it back. The paint aspect rings true.

The Australian Turf Club states; “There is no doubt ring-ins occurred in the 1880s. Some would have been successful and not known about. The unsuccessful ones usually caused great headlines in the press.” And further “Your story of a brumby being substituted seems strange because brumbies would mostly be slower than racehorses. Also by the 1880s all racehorses were thoroughbreds and it is easy to tell a thoroughbred from a brumby.

If such a confidence trick was attempted it would have to have been in the bush or at the pony race meetings. Kingston is a country town in SA. Pony racing was for small racehorses, under 15 hands, so a brumby might have been able to pass in a field of such horses. But, again, a brumby would almost certainly be slower than a thoroughbred pony”. (There is also a Kingston in country Victoria. Ed.)

While growing up, Albert endured a lot at the hands of his father. His father taught him well in the skills of alluvial mining, but in doing so, sacrificed his son’s chances at any education. There were many times when his father whipped him. Luckily, on the last occasion he managed to do a runner, finding refuge in a New South Wales shearing shed. Although his father chased him down, a beefed-up bunch of shearers, horrified at the apparent beatings the father had etched onto the torso of the lad, (as son Gordon states “he had all his skin off his back”) surrounded the son, and refused to release him back into his father’s ‘care’.  The shearers “kept him there as a shed hand right through the piece, that’s how he first got away from Kingower”.

I doubt Albert Miller Halbert (then Michael) ever returned to the family home after this rampaging encounter, but I do know he learned to shear early in life, so perhaps this was the beginning of an independent life away from his 1858 birth place, and his humble start as an unpaid lackey on the Kingower Goldfields.

Nettleton Ship Escape by Michael Halbert

(Above, Port Melbourne Railway Pier, Nettleton and Arnest circa 1890.) 

‘Stowaway’ Albert successfully reached Waiapu, New Zealand, but it is impossible to trace the actual date and ship’s name, as Albert would have falsified his name or used family contacts to steal away. The changing of names in this family was a ‘skill’, an art-form, and this would not have been the first time  nor would it be the last! Indeed, it seems that his father James Lamb Halbert (perhaps more a fox, than a lamb) set this trend on leaving England. He chose to purchase tickets to Australia using his wife’s family name of “Charlton” and did a ‘midnight flit’ to avoid an  excruciatingly large tax and creditor debt, that was hanging over the public house that he owned and ran. Just days before his planned departure, he quickly and quietly sold both the fixtures and furnishings of this pub.  Alas, the ship of departure, the S.S. Great Britain, developed a fault on departure, and had to turn back. The delay was long enough for the constabulary to ‘cotton-on’ to his location and they arrested him on board.

Taxes paid and creditors satisfied, he was eventually able to resume his travel plans on the same ship, and on the 13th June 1854 more than six weeks later, James Lamb Halbert (1828-1907), using the name James ‘Lindsay’, departed Liverpool on the S.S. Great Britain (the longest ship of its time) sharing the journey with 138 crew and 349 paying passengers.

SS Great Brit 1

Above (the SS Great Britain 1843, Liverpool & Australian Navigation Co.).

The family arrived in Melbourne 66 days later on the 18th August 1854. A new life awaited him in this very distant land, but it was certainly less glamorous than that of his dreams, due to his depleted purse.

The “Newcastle Courant” of Friday 5th May 1854, reported:

“On Saturday, last, Mr James Halbert, landlord of the White House public house, Pilgrim St in this town, suddenly decamped leaving his creditors minus a considerable sum…Halbert had gone to Liverpool to embark for Australia… [the police] arrived at Liverpool and proceeded to the Great Britain steamer where they discovered him on board…” “Halbert had entered himself amongst the passengers as James Charlton. He was accordingly brought to this town on Monday and safely lodged in gaol awaiting the due course of law.” “It appears that the plan for his flight had been well matured by Halbert, as, previous to his departure by the Saturday night’s express train, he sold every piece of furniture in his house. He, however, left a short supply of ale and spirits with which several of his friends, after he left, made too free, some of them afterwards having to be conveyed to the station house on barrows by the police, drunk and insensible. Hence arose the rumour of his departure.”

The “Newcastle Courant” of Friday 12th May 1854, reported:

“The Liberation of Mr Halbert – We alluded last week to the sudden departure from this town and capture of Mr James Halbert of the White House. Since then it is stated that after settling with his chief creditors he was liberated from goal and departed once more to raise his falling fortunes at the diggings in Australia.” (Articles courtesy of Cameron Day and Garry Halbert)

He died in Kingower, Victoria, Australia on 6th December 1907 as one of its oldest resident’s, having moved there more than 50 years before.

His son David Carrot Albert Halbert, also a publican, lived from “cradle to the grave” in Kingower. His hotel license transferred to Mrs. Ellen Douglas Halbert (nee Souter) his wife  before his 1910 death. (Below the grave of David Carrot Albert Halbert and Ellen Douglas Halbert nee Souter at Kingower, Vic. Aust.)

Halbert, Garry David Carrott Halbert - Copy

The local newspaper stated, in relation to James: Kingower from year to year has added many to the death toll of “Old Residents” and on Friday last still another was added to the list in the person of  Mr. Jas. Halbert, father of Mr. David Halbert of that place. The deceased gentleman was probably better known to the “old identities” than to the younger generation, but he was one of those pioneers to whom the present day workers owe much. Mr. Halbert was eighty years of age.

But back to Albert, in New Zealand…

New Zealand treated Albert well. He was now truly his own man and he decided that in this life, if he was to get on, it was up to him.  He learned to shear like the New Zealanders, he learned to butcher and he learned to pull teeth, a very handy asset for a man who was seemingly from nowhere and came with nothing. He also perpetuated the family trait, he was now known in New Zealand as “Michael Halbert”, according to the NZ Electoral Rolls.

No. 1466, Halbert, Michael, Waerenga-a-Hika, butcher, residential. Followed by:

No. 1467, Halbert, Thomas, Te Arai, farmer, residential. (His quite famous N. Z. cousin.)

He missed the gold though, and so in late 1892, on hearing of a big find in Coolgardie, he pooled his pennies and with what possessions he could carry, packed up and took a roundabout route to Western Australia. Going via any eastern port was not an option for Albert, as he still feared arrest, should he be recognized. For whatever the crimes, he was a “wanted man” and “a person of interest” in the east of Australia.

Coolgardie owes its very existence to the discovery of gold at nearby Fly Flat, 120 miles to the east of Southern Cross. According to all accounts, gold was discovered by Arthur Bayley and William Ford on the 17th September 1892. Bayley hastily reported the discovery of 554 ounces of gold to Mr. J. M. Finnerty, the then mining Warden, resident at Southern Cross. (It was Warden Finnerty that later gave Coolgardie its “official” name in 1893.) At the time 554 ounces of gold was worth about 2,200 pounds ($698,040 today) and in accordance with Western Australian mining regulations, Bailey was offered a ‘reward claim’, a claim granted to a miner who discovers gold in a new area, this claim covered twenty acres of land at Fly Flat. This claim proved to be very profitable, and during its seventy years of existence, spawned over 500,000 ounces of gold.

So, New Zealand  Michael Halbert, now calling himself Albert Miller  Halbert (1858-1930) turned up in Coolgardie, hot on the heels of this “find” either from the south, west or north. Did he walk up from the South or inland from the West?

I doubt he traveled south from the north…but again we may never know, as once again he did not use his real name or either of the above.

Everyone was keen to get to the goldfields be it via Esperance, Fremantle, Wyndham or overland, a long and arduous trek.

Travelling Camp P. 12 Resources Sect. Sun. Times 2 Apr 2006

(Traveling Camp P. 12 Resources Sect. Sun. Times 2 Apr 2006)

Albert’s “future wife” (Rose Ann Keogh) traveled to the goldfields by rail and coach on the newly opened rail section, which extended the line from Northam to Southern Cross. This section had officially opened on the 1st July 1894, and from there Rose traveled another 190 kilometers on to Coolgardie by coach.

According to her son Gordon, “she was the third white women to venture there; the first two in the area were Mrs Felix Murphy and her daughter Edith, who arrived in Southern Cross by camel in about 1889, and then went on to Coolgardie in 1894.”

This however is hearsay, handed down from Albert to Gordon and then to me, but it is not what the books say.  This first train to Southern Cross may have brought with it, guests to the first Coolgardie wedding which took place three days later on the 4th July 1894 between Clara Saunders and Arthur Williams. The service was conducted by the Rev. Thomas Trestrail at John De Baun’s Great Western Hotel in Bayley Street (now the site of the Coolgardie Motel on the corner of Bayley and Hunt Streets). Clara was either sixteen or seventeen and Arthur was twenty eight years old. Lucky man!

Clara Saunders 1st wedd. Cool. Written

(Clara pictured above Courtesy of the National Trust of Australia, W. A.)

The next extension of the rail line, to Coolgardie, was officially opened by Sir Gerard Smith on the 23rd March 1896. The Mayor of Coolgardie held a banquet for five hundred invitees to celebrate. The first train arrived, led by an Afghan Guard of Honour, and was greeted by the resident Aboriginals participating in a welcome ceremony at its end. (Picture 2)

Coolgardie Name photo

Aboriginals welcome Rail to Coolgardie

(Pic. 3. Coolgardie March 1899 SLWA and  Pic. 4. Coolgardie, East end of Bayley St 1896-97 Shire)

When Federation occurred in 1901, Coolgardie became the centre of the O’Connor Federal Electorate, named in honour of Charles Yelverton O’Connor of the Pipeline fame. It was the third biggest electorate of Western Australia. A bustling metropolis.

As previously stated James Lamb Halbert, Albert’s father and my Great, Great Grandfather, died on 6th December 1907, in Kingower, Victoria.  No notices were posted in any newspapers regretting his loss or notifying the funeral details, from Albert or any of his West. Aust. families and, likewise, there was no mention of this son or this son’s families by James’ family.

The Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA) of Tuesday 21 January 1908 simply stated:

HALBERT. – On 6th December 1907 at Kingower, Victoria. James Halbert, aged 78 years, father of Joseph Dudley Halbert of Menzies.”

Albert Miller Snr. (son of James and my Great Grandfather), died on 10th May 1930 from pulmonary fibrosis and heart disease. The death notice states:

“HALBERT-On May 10, 1930, suddenly, at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Bryan, 10 Southport St, Leederville. Albert Michael, dearly beloved husband of Rose Ann Halbert, loving father of Dulcie (Mrs. Bryan), Miller (Meekatharra), Gordon (Kalgoorlie), Ruby, Clara (Mrs. Catchpole), James (Redcliffe), William (Ardath), Arthur (Kundip); aged 71.

It appears that he died as Albert Michael, not as Albert Miller, and that’s as the official documents at Births, Deaths and Marriages, Western Australia, and the Karrakatta Cemetery records state.

His son  Gordon’s death certificate records him as Arthur Miller. Warden Frederick William Spence knew him as Michael in 1902. There had been many other names along the way. He appears in the Western Australian Directory of 1926 as Halbert, M. Miner & Orchardist, Albert M in the Coolgardie (PO Dir.) and Michael A in the Kundip (PO Dir.). He signed as Albert Miller on his son Gordon’s birth certificate, above right. His death certificate below says parents’ names “unknown”?

Halbert, William, Albert, James Grave Karrakatta.

Halbert, Albert Michael Death Cert. Fr Garry H - Copy