When Falkenberg the Forger came to town

Bushranger Frank Gardiner passed through the district in 1862 just after he’d led the biggest gold heist in Australian history. Fellow bushranger Captain Thunderbolt was arrested and released from here in 1870. But when Falkenberg the Forger came to Ipswich in Queensland in 1883, that was a step too far and his career ended. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

Frank Gardiner was at the top of his game. The total value of his robbery near Eugowra on New South Wales was about £14,000 or $13 million in today’s money. He then retired from bushranging and travelled north via the Ipswich district and the Darling Downs to run a general store west of Rockhampton. That’s where he was captured 1864. (Pictured above.)

That same year 157 years ago there was another perhaps more notorious felon in Queensland. He was described as having a downcast look, was round-shouldered, and pigeon-toed.

His name was Falkenberg the Forger and he was one of the most famous forgers in Australian history. His full name was Arthur Alfred Falkenberg, alias Oscar Bird, Oscar Vogle, Oscar Bulow, Oscar Lindon, P. Thompson, Hunter, Williams, and many more.

Falkenberg was so well known that when the bushranger Frank Gardiner was arrested, Falkenberg was in custody on the same ship and he stole much of the limelight.

Falkenberg was a well-educated former Prussian Army officer who arrived in Melbourne during the Gold Rush in 1854. He then put his education as a draughtsman to use and embarked on a career as a forger.

By 1862, Falkenberg was cashing forged cheques across Sydney in cahoots with a well-known criminal at the time ‘White-headed Bob’. He was forced to flee to Brisbane.

For four months he worked for the architect William Coote who designed some of the most important buildings in the Moreton Bay colony including the original Brisbane Town Hall. But the office was straight across the road from the Brisbane police station. And so when Falkenberg’s description was sent to the Brisbane police, they walked straight across the road and arrested him.

Architect William Coote employed Falkenberg

Falkenberg escaped from the Brisbane lock-up by bending one of the one-inch iron bars that covered the windows. He left a lock of his hair as a memento for the lock-up staff. Outside in the street, Falkenberg bumped into the Chief Constable and Senior Sergeant of Police but they didn’t recognize him.

Instead of heading south in the disguise of a female, as was claimed by the police and the captain of a Sydney steamer, Falkenberg went to Ipswich and then north via Toowoomba and Dalby, and finally to Maryborough. That’s where he was recognized and recaptured.

Falkenberg escaped from the Maryborough lock-up despite wearing both leg-irons and handcuffs. He got out of the lock-up this time by removing bricks from the wall. But he was again recaptured.

Much excitement was aroused in Brisbane in 1864 when it was announced that a ship had arrived from Rockhampton and Maryborough, and had brought down not only the notorious bushranger Frank Gardiner, but also the famous Falkenberg the Forger.

North Australian newspaper, Brisbane, Tuesday 15th March 1864, page 2

Both were sent to Sydney where they served their time.

But Falkenberg never lost his interest in forgery and was again convicted and this time locked up on Moreton Bay’s penal St Helena Island.

When he was released in 1883 he went to Ipswich where he began victimizing with more forged cheques scores of tradesmen, miners, and railway workers. That’s when he was arrested one last time and sent back to gaol. Ipswich had proved a step too far.

Ipswich might be an innocent place these days, but back in colonial days it was a mecca for bushrangers and Falkenberg the Forger, and was not to be toyed with.


Photo credits:
Capture of Frank Gardiner – studyingthehumanities.wordpress.com
William Coote 1898 – State Library of Queensland
Capture of Notorious Depredators – North Australian, Brisbane, Tuesday 15th March 1864, page 2

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