SCANDAL AT BLACKHEATH

The deep autumn colour of Wentworth Sreeet


Wentworth Street in the Blue Mountains village of Blackheath  is filled  with tourists  during April and May, when  the deciduous trees put on a spectacular display of  autumn colour. I live just around the corner and it’s always a pleasure to walk along the street on my way to the village.

But in 1918, long before the  trees  had been  planted, Wentworth Street was the location for a tragedy that destroyed two families and left  local residents shocked and grief stricken.

30 year old Linda  Loosley lived at a house called Athol, with her  elderly father William and her  sister Ruby, who was 34.  Their brother was a school teacher near Wagga.  Sadly, Mrs Loosley had died from pneumonia on June 14 1914, aged only 53.   Mr   Loosley was a pioneer of Blackheath and a successful orchardist. The family was highly respected in the village.

Linda’s social position meant that she did not have to earn her own living    However, like most young ladies she  was very involved in community affairs.  She carried on her late  mother’s volunteer  work, helping  on produce stalls at Church of England  fairs and other  fundraising events.  With World War I still raging, one of her  passions was encouraging local men  to sign up.

A FATAL ATTRACTION

Early in 1917 Linda  became infatuated with a local boot maker by the name of James Collins, who lived in Chelmsford Avenue.  It was a most unlikely  (and illicit) affair. The man was 54, old enough to be her father, and married with a family. Collins was also well known in Blackheath as a member  and past secretary of the Labour League.  Linda’s father, then 76 and in ill health, was  almost certainly unaware of the situation.  However, her  sister Ruby was horrified, and tried  unsuccessfully to persuade Linda to end what soon developed into a sexual relationship. Apparently she would visit Collins at his shop, at the corner of Wentworth Street and Govett’s leap Road.  Naturally  this created trouble with the man’s wife, Matilda.  Mrs Collins threatened to leave her husband, but  the liaison continued.

 

Blackheath village shops circa

The block of shops where  Linda Loosley  visited Collins at his boot shop. The sign is just visible at far left above the row of windows.  C 1920

In December  that year the inevitable happened and Linda  realized  she was pregnant.   She informed Collins, who simply dismissed it, claiming he ‘hardly believed it’.  Of  course it  was  all too true.  From then on the poor young woman became increasingly desperate.  What on earth could  someone in her situation do?  As the pregnancy became obvious she could no longer even  leave the house.  She considered running   away somewhere, but her love for her sick father was so strong that she felt she would rather die than live without seeing him. She spoke to her sister of wanting to  shoot herself, or to take poison. It’s unknown whether Ruby tried to help in any way.  It is likely that   she was as stricken and helpless as Linda. They were both very naïve and unsophisticated.   When Linda could no longer be seen in public, her lover visited her weekly in Wentworth Street, but offered no  help or advice  whatsoever.

At some point Linda procured a revolver.  Her sister would later say that by the end of May, Linda had begun to act very strangely.  On Friday June 1 1918 she shot the family dog, in what appears  to have been a ghastly rehearsal for what was to  follow.  Why her sister Ruby did not intervene at this point is a mystery. That same day Linda arranged for £50 to be transferred from her own bank account to Ruby’s.

At 2.30am on Sunday morning   Ruby was awoken by two gunshots.  Guessing what had happened  she  rushed  next door and asked the neighbor to call the police. Constable Coleman arrived and broke into the room.  He found Linda Loosley dying from a gunshot wound to the forehead. James Collins was staggering at the foot of the bed with a wound behind his ear. There was a half empy bottle of whisky on the dressing table.

A doctor was summoned from Katoomba, but it  was too late to save Linda. Collins was taken to Lithgow Hospital, about sixteen miles to the  west.

By morning, word had spread throughout the village. The rumour was that Collins had been critically injured,  though in reality he had suffered barely more than a flesh wound. He was discharged from hospital within a few days.

The tragedy was reported  in the newspapers around the country under   salacious headlines;

 

Considering Collins was only wearing a shirt, the final sentence  of the article was completely  disingenuous;

Collins’ presence in the bedroom is a complete mystery, as his home is some distance away.

Linda had written  letters to various people. To her sister she confessed;  ‘I hope when you are reading this I shall be out of this world. I know it is a cowardly way, but I am broken hearted and sick, and life is a burden to me.’

A post mortem revealed what Dr Allan described as,  ‘a tumour which conformed in all respects to a pregnancy of between five and six months.’  It’s shocking to think that the pregnancy is likely to have been even further advanced.

A coronial inquiry was held in  Lithgow.  James  Collins was forced to reveal the sordid details of his affair, and his utter selfishness  in relation to Linda Loosley’s pregnancy. In his evidence he said that Linda had urged him to drink a large quantity of whiskey on the night of the tragedy. This was no doubt to ensure he would sleep heavily, so that his lover’s terrible  solution to her situation could be carried out.

One of the letters found in Linda’s bedroom expressed her feelings of being unworthy to be buried beside her mother. She requested a quiet funeral, with a plain coffin and no flowers. The Church of England minister was a close family friend and to spare his feelings she asked that the Baptist  minister conduct her funeral service. She mentioned her beloved father, pleading that he be  comforted and supported after her death.  I was interested to discover   that in 1903, William Loosley was advertising a holiday cottage in Blackheath called ‘Linda’, no doubt named for his  daughter.

Summing up, the coroner was scathing in his remarks about Collins.  Acts of brutality by Germany were being  regularly reported in the newspapers, and  the coroner remarked that the man’s conduct had been  ‘…even more reprehensible than that of the Germans and Huns’. He  stated that Collins had  been responsible for the ruin of two families and the death of a young woman. He said he could hardly find words adequate to express his  feelings, but hoped Collins would find it impossible to remain in Blackheath.

Linda’s death notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was cold and  brief. Even though she had clearly worshipped her father, there were  no words of love or loss in the announcement, and no mention of her siblings;

LOOSLEY.- June 2, 1918, at Athol, Wentworth-street, Blackheath, Linda, daughter of William Loosley, aged 30 years.

She was buried in the Independent section of the Blackheath cemetery.   I was touched to read that a large number of  friends  and residents attended the funeral.  Their grief  and sympathy  simply outweighed any  feelings of judgment.  There is no headstone for Plot 8, Row 2; nothing to show Linda is buried there other than the council records and a blue outline on  an on-line cemetery map.  When I visited the cemetery  I was able to count along the row of headstones , and find the exact spot.


 

I wished I’d brought along some flowers. I will  go back on the anniversary of her death this year  and take a little posy from my garden.

The saddest thing is that not far away,  her mother Elizabeth lies alone in a double plot in the Church of England section. The headstone reads,  ÍN MEMORY OF MY DEAR WIFE, ELIZABETH LOOSLEY,  NEARER MY GOD TO THEE.  Clearly had William intended being buried beside her, but Linda’s  tragic death forced him to leave the Mountains.  I really wished  that  Linda’s bones  could be dug up and  reinterred with her mother.

The empty plot beside Elizabeth Loosley says so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Linda’s death Ruby and her father left the Blue Mountains  for Sydney.   In 1920 William, perhaps because Ruby was unwell, went to live with his married son at Forest Hill. He died there six months later. Ruby  lived on at  Summer Hill in Sydney but  died on Christmas Eve, 1922 at a private hospital, aged  38.

WHAT BECAME OF THE COLLINS FAMILY?

On August 30  1918 an advertisement  appeared in the Blue Mountains Echo for an auction to be held on September 4 on behalf of Mrs  Collins, late of Chelmsford Avenue, Blackheath.  The entire contents of the house  was to be sold; furniture, pictures, crockery, cutlery, garden tools etc.  Matilda Collins  moved to Sydney’s inner western suburbs and died at Ashfield in 1924.

The boot shop continued after the tragedy, at least for a while.  It appears that one of Collins’ adult sons took over. In January  1920 an advertisement  appeared in Sydney’s  Catholic Press. It seems slightly odd to  target  the tourist market,  but perhaps locals were still a bit uncomfortable about  shopping there.

Blackheath is one of the most popular of mountain resorts. Visitors are crowding  to it every week, and those who are not very familiar with its business capabilities are surprised when they find that Arch. E. Collins, Govett’s Leap Road, offers them quite as good value in footwear as any they can procure in the city. He is one that goes in for the hand-sewn article, so the most desirable boot or shoe is therefore guaranteed. Repairs are neatly done, and at moderate process. Give him a trial.

UPDATE – After this piece was published Larraine Home, who lives in a nearby village, provided me with some more information.  It’s hard to believe, but Mrs Collins actually remained with her husband! He died at Ashfield  in 1958, at the ripe of old of 93, and was buried  beside his wife at Rookwood Cemetery.

FOOTNOTE – There are far more upbeat stories about Blackheath, including this one involving Don Bradman.

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10 Comments
  1. Thank you so much for researching and sharing this story with us, Pauline.

    • Pauline

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a message, Rosalind. I appreciate it.

  2. What an amazing article. Thank you for publishing it.

    • Pauline

      My pleasure, Debi.I really appreciate you leaving a message.

  3. Thanks for telling this story, it made me think how many other tragic stories are buried in unmarked graves.

    • Pauline

      Very true Joan. Thanks for your perceptive comment.

  4. Thank you for your research and well written article of this tragic affair. Being involved in another cemetery, we have found that every grave, marked or unmarked, has a story, and we are most appreciative of people like yourself who are able to research and tell these stories so they are not forgotten.

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much Dorothy. We are hoping that some sort of marker can be placed on Linda’s grave. I have always been interested in social history, even though it can be really sad.

  5. Merci chère Pauline d’avoir relaté ce fait divers. Quelle tragique histoire !
    Mais qui est Lucy dont vous parlez des os ?
    Pourquoi Linda n’a t-elle pas été enterrée avec sa mère ? Ni son père ni sa soeur Ruby n’ont été enterrés à Blackheath non plus ?
    Bonne journée

    • Pauline

      Chére Jo, Linda a été enterrée seule, en raison de la honte du suicide etc. Ruby et son pére est parti Blackheath.

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