Charlie Leeming, one of the smartest telegraphists in Tasmania, leaves Launceston to take charge of the Queenstown office. His co-workers packed him with lots of good wishes, travelling bag and rug of the very best. He will be much missed in Launceston. (The Clipper, Sat. Jul 23 1898)

View of Queenstown.

Thirty year old Leeming was the first postmaster in Queenstown, the booming mining town on Tasmania’s rugged west coast. He was a married man with a young family. The Post Office was at the very heart of the community. This was especially so as Queenstown was considered a remote location, and Leeming acted as registrar for births, deaths and marriages.

Queenstown Post Office.

The following year a young man called Norman Brownrigg arrived in town to take up a position as accountant/teller at the Australasian Bank. The son of a well known Anglican minister, Brownrigg had been transferred from the coastal town of Ulverstone, where he had been very well liked.

We are losing from our midst Mr. N. Brownrigg, the accountant of the Bank of Australasia, who has been promoted to the Queenstown branch. The members of the Ulverstone Club had a pleasant social to bid farewell, and extend good wishes for his future happiness and prosperity, at which a handsome presentation was made expressive of their esteem and regard. We all regret Mr Brownrigg’s departure, and wish him every success in his new home. (Mercury, Feb. 11 1899)

The 25 year old teller was single, and he inquired at the Post Office about a good place to board. Charles Leeming steered him in the right direction. By now the popular postmaster knew everyone in town, not only due to his job, but to his involvement in tennis, cricket, cycling, and the kennel club. Thus began a friendship between the young men.


On Friday, January 24 1902, Norman Brownrigg was working late at the bank while his Manager, Mr Charles De Vere Hodge, was out playing chess at The Imperial Hotel. (Now the Galley Museum).


Just after 10 o’clock Mrs Hodge heard banging and went to investigate. She discovered Brownrigg on the floor, gagged with cloth and with his arms and legs bound with a length of clothesline. He had managed to wriggle to a wall, kicking it to raise the alarm. He gave an account of the break-in;

A knock came to the front door of the bank, which opens onto Orr Street, and Mr Brownrigg, thinking it was some customer of the bank, who wished to see the manager on business, opened the door in the usual way. Immediately he did so, two men rushed in, one of them pointing a revolver at his head, and saying at the same time, ‘Not a word!’, and under the circumstances Mr Brownrigg was as dumb as an oyster. One of the burglars then went outside the bank, presumably to keep watch while the other busied himself looking for spoil. The safe was open, in consequence of Mr Brownrigg having been at work…. (Zeehan & Dundas Herald Jan 27)

The theft amounted to £5446 in gold and currency, a huge amount at the time. One positive for the bank was that the serial numbers of the £10 notes had been recorded and were published.

Serial numbers of notes stolen in the Queensland bank robbery.


A significant development in the case came a few days later. The post office’s saving account was at the National Bank of Tasmania, and a recent deposit by Postmaster Leeming included a large number of Bank of Australasia notes. A search was conducted at his home, where more of the notes were found. Leeming’s close friendship with Norman Brownrigg put a new light on the circumstances surrounding the ‘hold-up’ and both men were arrested. Queenstown residents were in a state of shock and disbelief, as were Brownrigg’s former colleagues at Ulverstone and Leeming’s in Launceston.

On February 23, evidence of earlier, suspicious activity by the men was found by bank manager Hodge. He came across two old coats belonging to Brownrigg. There was a letter in a pocket dated May 1, 1901. It was written on a telegraph form, and enclosed in a public service envelope. The note, signed C.W.L, was in Charles Leeming’s handwriting. It read;

Dear Brownie – I have £170 to make up this morning, and shall have to wire to Hobart for it, but if this can be avoided with pay day on us it would be better. Kindly say if possible. (Zeehan & Dundas Herald, Mar 7 1902)

Brownrigg would cash cheques for his friend, to buy Leeming time when he had insufficient funds.

Charles Leeming had already been in some financial difficulty when he arrived in Queenstown. He began speculating in mining shares, but simply lost more money. Desperate not to default on bills and loans he resorted to ‘borrowing’ post office funds and stealing stamps, risking discovery at every audit of the books. By the time Norman Brownrigg arrived, he was in dire straits.

Before long Brownrigg was also investing in various west coast mining ventures. Naturally some failed and he slipped into debt himself. As their problems grew worse the friends even purchased Tattersall’s lottery tickets in hopes of a windfall.

About twelve months before the robbery Leeming confided the full extent of his debts to Brownrigg, who was genuinely concerned about the postmaster and his family. He was also anxious to extricate himself from his own growing debts.

And so it was that two highly respected men plotted to rob the Bank of Australasia when the manager was absent at his regular chess game. Leeming tied up Brownrigg and filled a bag with gold and cash before making his way home via back alleys and yards without being seen. All the ten pound notes had to be burnt due to the serial numbers being recorded…. over a thousand pounds reduced to ashes (Police would find remnants of the notes in an extinguished fire at the rear of the Post Office). The rest went to paying off debt, leaving a very clear money trail.

There was no point in pleading not guilty. The realization of bringing such disgrace to his family was too much for Brownrigg. He collapsed in the dock when he was sentenced to four years gaol. Leeming received five years.

After completing his sentence Norman Brownrigg found work as a fruit inspector. He died unmarried in 1956, aged 84. He was buried with his minister father, Canon Brownrigg.

I have not been able to find out what became of Leeming after his release, or whether his wife Pearl waited for him. It would be good to think that the couple were able to make a fresh start, especially for the sake of their four children.

UPDATE – Many thanks to Lilla Gardener, who discovered that the Leeming did start a new life, in New Zealand.


Bank manager Mr Hodge was transferred to head office in Melbourne after the trial. Perhaps it was considered that his oversight of the Queenstown branch had been somewhat lacking.

There was also fall-out for the postal authorities. An editorial in The Clipper on March 15 1902 read;

The confession of Charles Leeming, the Queenstown bank robber, disclosed that, as postmaster, his official accounts had been for some time in a very sorry state, and that he had utilised some part of the big steal by paying £2000 back into the Deputy Postmaster-General’s account, and spent £150 in purchasing stamps to correct the stamps account. That such manipulation of Post Office moneys was possible is a gross scandal; and there is no denying that, as Deputy Postmaster General, Mr Bayley must be held responsible for laxity of management’

It was suggested that the matter be brought up in federal parliament.


  1. Your sins will find you out!

  2. Kelvin Leeming here, great great grandson. well it all turned out ok… us Leemings have done well in Christchurch New Zealand. Enjoyed reading this story. Thanks for the research, Kelvin3

    • Pauline

      Hi Kelvin, thanks for taking the trouble to leave a message. I’m delighted to hear that all turned out well for the family.

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