The Tin Opener Burglar

The biggest robbery in Ipswich’s history for ninety years has served as a reminder not to mess with the locals. This town was founded on coal and railways, so any outsider would be wise to think twice before crossing the line. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

On the 14th of March 1931 with the Great Depression at its peak, Clifford Jackson broke into the Hastings Jewellery Store on the ground floor of the Colthup building (pictured above) at 181 Brisbane Street in Ipswich.

Clifford Jackson

It was a daring robbery because it was in broad daylight right after closing time on a Saturday afternoon.

Jackson went straight the safe towards the front of the shop and dragged it into the back room where he tipped it onto its front. He then went to work with a giant tin opener and cut the back of the safe open and took everything he could see.

He got away with over £1,000 of jewellery and £100 in cash. This was a huge amount back them, enough to buy eleven workers cottages. Today it’s the equivalent of around $400,000 based on average weekly earnings. It remains the biggest heist in Ipswich history.

There had been a series of five tin opener safe crackings that shocked nearby Brisbane in the months leading up to the Ipswich robbery. The audacity of the Ipswich break-in meant that it made headlines around Australia and the perpetrator became known as the Tin Opener Burglar.

Ipswich proved the undoing of Jackson who was arrested within days of the theft. Unfortunately for him, he had made a number of misjudgments that led to his downfall.

Firstly, he had only recently been released from gaol in Sydney where he’d been convicted for a number of robberies that were very similar to his Queensland jobs. This included opening safes by using a giant tin opener. Six years earlier, Jackson had been shot and arrested by police who were hiding in a darkened shop basement in George Street, Sydney, when Jackson broke in while in possession of his huge safe cracking tool.

After the Ipswich break-in, Brisbane detective ‘Nobby’ Clark was in Sydney and quickly identified Jackson as the prime suspect.

Nobby Clark

When Jackson was picked up in Brisbane, he had a gold pen on him, and inside of which were hidden one hundred and fifteen diamonds.

Jackson had trusted his brother Harry Collins. Immediately after the robbery, Jackson sent twenty watches to Sydney and asked Harry to look after them. Harry threw the lot in the Sydney Harbour and when questioned by police, he told them what he knew. Harry was an upstanding citizen having served in both the British and Australian navies, both the Brisbane and Sydney fire brigades, and was waiting to join the New South Wales police force.

But the biggest mistake that Jackson made was that he actually caught a taxi to and from the robbery. He left his brother to wait in the car while he did the job. The driver was life-long Ipswich taxi driver Bill Jones who lived in Newtown Street at Booval. Bill of course remembered everything and gave a complete description of the men, time and place.

Jackson and his brother Harry were both charged with the offence. But Jackson gave an impassioned plea for his brother. He said that Harry had nothing to do with the robbery, rather that he had been tricked into being there, and that their mother would die of a broken heart if Harry went to gaol.

Brisbane Truth, 12th April 1931, page 18

Jackson got two-and-a-half years hard labour. Harry was given a suspended sentence of twelve months. I don’t know for sure what happened to their mother.

And Arthur Hastings the owner of the Jewellery shop on Brisbane Street, he became many times the Ipswich Bowls Champion.

Ipswich is more than tough coal and railway workers – it also has its taxi drivers and jewellers.

Arthur Hastings


Photo credits:
Colthup Chambers 181 Brisbane Street Ipswich – Google Maps
Cifford Jackson – Truth Brisbane, 12th April 1931, page 18
Detective Acting Sergeant Arthur Nobby Clark 1934 – Queensland Police Museum
Poignant Appeal – Truth Brisbane, 12th April 1931, page 18
Arthur Edward Hastings – Ipswich City Council

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