A number of court cases with connections to the Wimmera were held during her period of service. In addition to those matters relating to passengers such as stowaways, there were also the following cases involving her captains and crew:
Crew in Court
David Walker Munro first joined the Wimmera as Chief Cook in 1904. He was a native of Aberdeen, Scotland and resided in Carlton, Melbourne with his wife, son and daughter. At the age of 38, in January 1906, he was aboard the Wimmera when she arrived in Dunedin from Lyttelton during her return voyage to Melbourne from Sydney. Unfortunately for Munro, as he stepped ashore from the Wimmera on the evening of her arrival, the small parcel he carried with him would not only lead to two court cases but also the loss of his job aboard the ship.
EVADING PAYMENT OF CUSTOMS DUTY.
Mr H. Y. Widdowson, S.M., was occupied the greater part of Saturday morning hearing charges connected with the landing of cigarettes without paying duty. The accused, a cook on the Wimmera named David Munro, was charged with having, on January 27 last, knowingly imported, or being concerned in the importing and unshipping of certain uncustomed good—to wit, a box of cigarettes. Mr J. F. M. Fraser appeared for the prosecution, and accused was defended by Mr W. C. MacGregor, and pleaded ” Guilty.”
Mr Fraser, in opening, the case, said the information was laid under section 210 of the Customs Act of 1882, which provided for the infliction of a penalty of £100, if the Customs authorities had elected to proceed against accused for this sum. There were certain powers under the act which enabled the presiding magistrate to mitigate the penalty down to one-fourth of the amount. The facts were that the accused was a cook, employed on the steamer Wimmera. On the night in question, when leaving the ship with another man, he was detected landing a box of cigarettes, dutiable under the act of 1895.
Mr MacGregor, in addressing the court, stated that accused had been in the employ of Messrs Huddart, Parker for 10 or 12 years, and had been chief cook on the Wimmera for 14 months. On the date in the information he went ashore with a friend, carrying two parcels—one was a box of cigarettes wrapped in a newspaper. He was stuck up by a Customs officer, who was not in uniform. The officer asked what were the contents of the parcels, and Munro told him quite frankly, saying that the cigarettes were a present to his son from a man in Sydney. The point was, had accused intended Is deliberately smuggle these goods, he and his friend could have stuffed their pockets with the packets of cigarettes and got away with them unobserved. But he didn’t think he was doing wrong. Of course, he should have known
–he had been long enough at sea. What would be the use of fining the man £100; he had not 100 pence. He had lost his position, he had a wife and family, and counsel held that he had already been sufficiently punished for his indiscretion. He asked his learned friend to reconsider the matter, and reduce his claim to the treble value of the cigarettes, which sum would 45s.
His Worship said it was not merely a question of punishing the accused. The decision must be such as would act as a deterrent lo ethers.
Mr MacGregor said what his Worship said was quite true, but he asked for his Worship’s leniency, and pointed out that Munro was a first offender.
Mr Fraser said it was only right he should point out that in the treatment of these cases the revenue must be protected. If people imagined they could indulge in practices of this kind with impunity, the result would be that the revenue would suffer very severely. That was the reason such a serious view had been taken of the case. He did not, however, deny that it was within the jurisdiction of the court to mitigate the penalty. He pointed out that there was a further charge against accused, in reference to an offence alleged to have been committed later on in the evening of the 27th January. Though disconnected with the present charge, it really arose from it.
Mr MacGregor said the effect of imposing the £100 penalty would only mean putting the man in gaol.
His Worship said in the first place he must convict the man and fine him £100. The only question then would be that of mitigating the penalty under the section of the act.
Mr Fraser, replying to a question by the bench, said the value of the box of cigarettes was 15s.
Accused was fined £100 and costs (£3 10s) the penalty being reduced to £25 and costs.
Munro was then charged with having, on the 27th January, assaulted James Smith, an officer of the Customs, and obstructing him in the execution of his duty.
Accused pleaded ” Not guilty,” and elected to be dealt with summarily.
Mr Fraser said that this charge, which was laid under section 211 of the act, was really of a more serious nature than the charge laid under the previous section. It must he admitted that it was a most serious offence to obstruct or assault an officer of the Customs while he was executing his duty. The evidence of the complainant would show that at 8 o’clock on the night of the date mentioned in the information Smith, in his official capacity, seized from the accused a box of cigarettes. About two hours later accused came to complainant’s office slightly under the influence of drink, and asked him for the cigarettes. He suggested to Smith that he never need be short of a shilling or two. Smith told him he would not accede to his request, and accused went away, but at a later stage returned once more with another man, knocked at the office door, forced his way in, and hustled Smith about in his endeavours to get the cigarettes, which he failed in doing. It was only right to say accused was affected by liquor. The evidence went to show that accused behaved in a very gross manner indeed, used bad language, and ended up by spitting in Smith’s face.
James Smith, night watchman in the employ of the Customs Department, deposed that accused and a companion came ashore from the Wimmera about 8 o’clock oil the evening of the 27th January. They had two parcels–one containing fish, which he passed, and the other was a box of cigarettes, of which he took possession. Accused said the cigarettes were his—his friend had nothing to do with them. The cigarettes were, he said, a present for somebody. Witness took the cigarettes to the Customs office on the cross wharf, and placed them under the counter. At about 10 o’clock accused came back with another man. He was not drunk, though he had been drinking. Accused said he wanted the cigarettes; he was making nothing out of it. He also said that if witness wanted a
shilling or two it would be all right. Accused then asked him to have a drink, but he refused. Munro then went away, but subsequently returned at a quarter to 12, and knocked at the office door. Witness opened it, and accused then forced his way in. When inside, accused demanded the cigarettes, which meanwhile witness had placed in the cupboard of a washstand. Then another man came in and told witness to give Munro the cigarettes. Witness told them they were gone. Then Munro hustled him back, and began searching the office. When he failed in finding them, accused lost his temper, and said he had a good mind to spit in witness’s face. The threat was immediately followed by the act. Accused then left, and was shortly after followed by his companion. In cross-examination, witness denied that accused pulled two half-crowns from his pocket, and asked if that sum was sufficient, to pay the duty.
John Scott, Custom-house officer. also gave evidence as to identification, and the case for the prosecution being closed, Mr MacGregor contended that the only evidence in support of the charge was that of the prosecutor. He (counsel) did not say that Smith had deliberately given false evidence, but he did say that he had distorted the facts. He had grossly exaggerated, intentionally or otherwise, the offence. The evidence for the defence would prove that the goods were taken from Munro on the night in question, that when he returned to the office he was not drunk; that he asked for the box of cigarettes, and offered 5s, with which to pay the duty, doing so in all good faith. On his offer being rejected, he went on board his ship, and afterwards went to Smith’s office with the carpenter, both thinking that they might be able to fix matters up. Accused did not realise that he was attempting to commit the offence of smuggling. He would also deny pushing the door open. He knocked, it was opened, he went in. He would further deny there was any hustling. Accused asked for the cigarettes, and Smith said that they had been taken away. Munro had a good look round the counter, and left the place quietly. He would also deny spitting in Smith’s face.
Accused and the vessel’s carpenter (James Wiley) gave evidence on the lines indicated by counsel in his address to the court.
Thomas William Myers, chief steward of the Wimmera, also gave evidence to the effect that he was in his cabin all the evening of the 27th January, and though in close proximity to the Customs officer’s quarters he heard no disturbance of any kind. He had known accused Munro for 12 years, and he had always borne a very good character.
His Worship decided that in the face of the evidence for the defence he could not convict, and the case was therefore dismissed.
Otago Daily Times, Issue 13533, 5 March 1906, page 2
Several years later, in July 1909, surplus fat and dripping from the vessel was being sent ashore in Wellington in old kerosene tins. Of the 26 tins sent ashore, it was discovered by a Custom’s officer, through prodding, that three contained ‘prime New Zealand butter’ with only a thin layer of fat on top for disguise. In all about 120lb of disguised butter was found.
On Friday 26 April 1912, John Bugby, a crew member of the Wimmera, and Joseph Milburn, who were both on remand, appeared before Mr. Love, S.M. at the Water Police Court, Sydney. For having stolen five tins of jam and ‘other trifles’, the property of Huddart, Parker Proprietary, Ltd., on board the steamer Wimmera, both men were fined £5, or in default six weeks’ imprisonment, with hard labour . The Wimmera had arrived in Sydney on 19 April 1912.
Captains in Court
Besides misdemeanors by crew or waterside workers, the Captains of the Wimmera also faced in Courts in both Australia and New Zealand on occasion for various breaches:
In October 1908, William Waller was charged with “failing to enter in the log an agreement with Michael Smith, seaman on the Wimmera” who was carried between Lyttelton and Dunedin. As the Wimmera was then in dock in Sydney the case was adjourned until 23 November…
Breach of Shipping and Seamen Act.— William Waller, master of the s.s. Wimmera, was charged with that he did carry a seaman between Lyttelton and Dunedin without entering into an agreement with the same. Mr G. P. Keddell (instructed by Mr Fraser) appeared for the prosecution, and Mr Hanlon for the defendant, who pleaded guilty. Mr Keddell said that an A.B. had been taken on at Wellington without an agreement being made. The man had made inquiries at Dunedin as to his legal standing, and this had led to the discovery of the offence. The department did not wish for a heavv penalty, but wished to bring the Act before the notice of masters.—Mr Hanlon said that defendant admitted the charge. The man had been taken on just as the vessel was casting off, and the purser had been too busy to sign the man on at the time. The chief officer had forgotten to mention the fact to the captain.—His Worship said that defendant would be convicted and ordered to pay costs (21s).
Evening Star, Issue 13115, 23 November 1908, Page 4
EXCESSIVE SPEED IN YARRA.
CAPTAIN OF WIMMERA FINED.
In the District Court yesterday, before Mr. Goldsmith, P.M., Herbert James Kell, master of the steamer Wimmera, was proceeded against by the Melbourne Harbour Trust on a charge of having navigated his ship on March 6 at a greater speed than that allowed in the River Yarra. Mr. Woods, who appeared for the prosecution, said that the Wimmera traded with New Zealand. On March 6 the vessel was navigated at excessive speed between the head of the Victoria Dock and a point about 300 feet from the mouth of the Yarra. An unfortunate collision occurred between the Wimmera and a Harbour Trust steam hopper at the mouth of the river. The time that should have been occupied by the Wimmera in covering the distance in question was 35 minutes, but, according to the captain’s own story, he covered it in eight minutes less, and according to the evidence of the prosecution in three minutes less time. His own evidence was , therefore, the more unsatisfactory from his standpoint.
At the close of the evidence Captain Kell said that his reason for navigation his vessel faster than usual was owing to a strong northerly wind blowing across the river. When going slow it was difficult to steer with a strong wind blowing. At the mouth of the river the steam hopper struck the Wimmera, and slid alongside the vessel.
Mr. Goldsmith, P.M., said that there was no marked excess speed shown. The Bench appreciated the difficulty of trying to steer while going slowly down the river. Captain Kell seemed to have bad luck, but he should take care not to run into a Harbour Trust vessel, but select a P. and O. steamer for a collision! (Laughter). He was fined £2, with £1 1 costs.
1915 ‘SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 17 April, p. 19. , viewed 21 Oct 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1510435
© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021