The forerunner of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum was The Technological Museum, located in Harris Street Ultimo. Its purpose built home, completed in 1893, is now incorporated within the vast University of Technology campus.
In 1921 there was a robbery at the museum, which went un-noticed for several weeks. When curator Mr Richard Baker was showing some ladies around on Sunday, May 1, they asked to see a display of antique Irish silver. It was known as the Jones silver, or alternatively the Hinder collection. I have been unable to discover the connection to these names.
The items were housed in a 7 foot high glass cabinet, located just outside curator Baker’s office. To his shock, he realized that the antiques were missing, replaced by a selection of cheap objects. Of the original Irish silver, only two spoons and a butter knife remained.
Among the missing treasures were a George II tankard (1750), a George III cream jug (1778-79), an old Irish mug hall-marked ‘Dublin’ (1778), an antique Indian pearl, emerald and ruby brooch (1750), and many other valuable exhibits. The items stolen were valued at around four hundred pounds. It seems the silver was on loan, and that the owner was away in New Zealand at the time.
There was no sign of a break-in at the Museum, and the locked case had not been forced. The key to it was missing. From The Sun, May 6;
Police made inquiries made around city jewellers’ shops. As The Sun reported on May 20, their detective work soon produced a result.
Jeweller Daniel Collins told the officers that on April 15 a man visited his shop and offered to sell him a silver tankard, which he said was a family heirloom. He was paid thirty shillings for it. On April 30 he returned and sold Collins a silver spoon and a server, for another thirty shillings. The man, whose name was Henry Peter Glasson, told Mr Collins that he had lots more antique silver at home, including an afternoon tea-set and a tea and coffee set.
Glasson, aged 54, was promptly tracked down and arrested. There was little doubt that he was guilty, as he had been a special constable and night watchman at the museum for five years. He had free access to the keys of the display cases. Nevertheless, he denied everything.
Six years earlier he had been declared bankrupt, so perhaps he had found himself in financial trouble again.
Glasson was committed for trial, which took place in September, before a judge at the Darlinghurst court. And the outcome? Well, it’s hard to believe, but Mr Glasson was only found guilty of receiving stolen goods. Even more incredible was the fact that because it was his first offence Judge Cohen released him!
So many questions remain. If the verdict was guilty of ‘receiving’, then who did our culprit supposedly receive the stolen silver from? Was the case pursued any further? There is no evidence that it was.
And were the missing objects ever recovered? Well, apparently only items worth about twenty quid. The whole case, but especially the trial, was quite odd. 😵
Mr Glasson died in 1929. He left adult children, and part of me hopes there is still a piece or two of rare Irish silver in the family.
1930 – ANOTHER HEIST
The year after Mr Glasson’s death there was a much larger robbery at the Museum. In August 1930, numerous display cases were broken into overnight and silver antiques; snuffboxes, plate, urns etc, were stolen. This time the value of the losses was estimated at two thousand pounds. The robbery had been cleverly planned, probably by a professional gang. Twelve months earlier the collection had featured in an article on special occasion dinnerware from days gone by.
Sydney’s Daily Pictorial reported that detectives were reluctant to provide any information about the case. However, the fear was that the items would never be recovered, and would either be sent overseas or melted down. A month later, no trace had been found of the treasures and no arrests had been made. Besides their intrinsic value, the stolen items represented a collection of enormous historic importance, assembled from around the world over some fifty years.
FRIDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 1945 The Minister for Education introduced a measure to establish trustees to control Sydney’s Technological Museum, which will in future be known as The Museum of Technology and Applied Science. Purpose of the measure is for better provision for public displays of exhibits related to applied science, applied art and industry.
If you are interested, here is a story about the earliest times of the city’s Natural History Museum.