Dollypot, Greenhide and Spindrift:

a journal of bush history

Vol 4 No. 4

Who was Royston Rennie? Hanged under an alias!

On reading Charnley’s item I considered that it would be a useful historical pamphlet for the Perth area. I do not have a ‘dog in the fight’. My interest is merely in publishing historical documents, chewing the leg of a silly wattle parrot laying its addled eggs at Trove, and doing what all good old dogs do, to the legs of the incompetents at Trove. That he was said to be American, and gave a false name, was also of interest. A quick check of the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board website for Rennie drew a blank. Strange. Checking Trove newspapers gave numerous items, many of which were plastered with graffiti that Rennie was the alias for William Arthur Hope alias William Haywood, a small time violent criminal from Melbourne. This derived from a news report suggesting that fingerprints were to be checked as Rennie had used the pseudonym of T. A. Hope in Perth. It appears that the Trove newspaper cuckoo calling itself ‘Wattlesong’ considered this was RESEARCH! William Hope was in a Victorian gaol at the time of Rennie’s offence! Checking this name at the MCB also gave a negative result. A military record of a similar name did not gel but possibly indicated that someone had spent $ on this false lead.

Then to Fremantle Cemetery. Who was buried at 3.00 p.m. on 2 August 1926? The problem was resolved. Royston Rainsbury. Then to his military file and the finding that he had enlisted under a false name, adding three years to his age, and had actually been born in 1900 at Williamstown, joining the AIF at 16 years 3 months. He was sent to France in 1916. There he promptly caught VD and was, he later said, wounded in an explosion. Well he had an impressively big bang for a 16 year old! He returned to Australia in 1919. His military charge sheet and his life record seems to indicate a childish irresponsibility, with a Walter Mitty world view. A hard case of reality impinging upon a dream world.

A check of the birth records showed that his false name of Simmons was his mother’s maiden name. It then being a new day, the State Records Office files were ordered. Two were little help and the third was mis-searched. Another few days and the final file gave all the rest of the details.

Except for one. Why was he hanged under a false name? Certainly the police would have broadcast it far and wide. There is no explanation on the surviving files. However both Rennie and his family wished to avoid the pain for his mother. Perhaps because he was a returned soldier and that he exhibited such good behavior the authorities acceded to his request to not to inflict public pain on his mother, and his wife, Lillian nee Hawksworth, who he had married in 1920. She remained faithful to his memory, paying for the upkeep of his grave to 2012. This is MON A3, 0439 at Fremantle.

There are problems in tracking his wife without expenditure. Did Lillian Alice Rainsbury remarry? When did she die? Perhaps she learnt some of Royston’s travelling tricks to maintain anonymity.

As is usual, the police have covered their tracks and their files on Rennie’s capture and interrogation have disappeared.

4th April 2017


For the full story, See Murder at Maylands by  W.C. Charnley and Peter J. Bridge, coming shortly from Hesperian Press.