Record-breaking conviction

In 1888 a lad reported as being sixteen-years-old appeared in the Criminal Sittings of the Ipswich Circuit Court before Mr Justice Harding. The courthouse is pictured above. This was a landmark case and set an Australian record that may remain unbroken to this day. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

Justice George Rogers Harding became a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland. His father was a church minister who had lost a legal case alleging fraud of £40,000. And his daughter owned for twenty-three years the historic house Dovercourt at Toowong in Brisbane.

Justice Harding

The witnesses included Robert McGrory who was the landlord at Ipswich’s Harp of Erin Hotel on the site of what today is the Metropole Hotel. His mother-in-law is one of only two people who have died on the site and so may play a part in the modern haunting of the hotel.

Then there was the bank manager Joseph Foote. He was a member of the famous Ipswich families of Cribbe and Foote, and his brother Benjamin Foote was later a suspect in an unsolved murder. Joseph died after falling off his veranda at his house at Blacklands in Ipswich.

The prime witness was grocer George Siemon whose store was in the centre of Ipswich on Brisbane Street. He was previously the prime witness in another criminal case involving the disturbance of a Salvation Army church service using rotten egg gas. His brother Charles Siemon was later mayor of Toowong.

George Siemon

The boy appearing in court was William Henry Hair Siggs. He pleaded guilty to having unlawfully and feloniously forged a cheque for £7 and 5 shillings.

One remarkable aspect of the case were the sentencing remarks made by the judge. Justice Harding said that the lad was too old for the reformatory school and so it was his opinion that “a sound thrashing would do him the most good.”

However, Siggs could only be punished as an adult. He was therefore sentenced to twelve months imprisonment, although he could have got off on a good behaviour bond if he had come up with the enormous sum of £80.

The most remarkable thing about this case, however, was the age of young Siggs. He was reported to be sixteen-years-old, but was actually slightly older at seventeen years, two months and twenty-two days old. Even at that age he was the youngest convicted forger in Australian history.

His criminal career didn’t take off though, because his only subsequent conviction came two years later. That’s when he was found guilty of bathing in the Bremer River “within view of a public place” and was fined one shilling.

In 1913 at the early age of forty-two, Siggs died probably from exhaustion after his wife had seven children in thirteen years.

Just weeks earlier, Siggs’s brother George Siggs was hit with a meat cleaver by his wife when he discovered that she was cavorting with a boy half her age.

George Siggs

Importantly though, William Siggs’s forgery record stood for at least fifty-four years. That’s because in 1942, Melbourne police claimed to have arrested Australia’s youngest forger. It was reportedly another sixteen-year-old boy. But by then the names of minors were supressed, and so we’ll never know for sure if the claim was correct.

That means that William Sigggs could still hold the record as Australia’s youngest convicted forger, which was set in Ipswich one hundred and thirty-four years ago.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON RADIO

Photo credits:
Ipswich Courthouse 1889 – Ipswich Historical Society via Picture Ipswich
Justice George Rogers Harding 1895 – State Library of Queensland
George Frederick Siemon 1901 – Queenslander, Brisbane, 15th June 1901, page 1145
George Frederick Siggs – Truth, Brisbane, 11th April 1909, page 2

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