20 year old Henry Serpell was the accountant at the Boxhill branch of the E.S. & A. bank.

E.S. & A. Bank at Boxhill.

Serpell slept on the premises, and on May 17 1904 he was woken by three men; one was holding a flashlight and another was aiming a revolver at his head.

‘If you move, we’ll blow your brains out!’

Woken by bandits at the Boxhill Bank.

The poor fellow was tied to the bed and gagged. The intruders then made their way to the strong room. They drilled holes in the main safe and ‘blew’ it with nitroglycerine. To muffle the noise they had packed it with railway carriage cushions, stolen from the station across the road.

A smaller safe inside was also blown up, and around £1,700 was removed. Much of it was in gold and coins, a heavy load to manage.

Meanwhile, Serpell had managed to free himself and raise the alarm, but it was all too late.

The loot was loaded onto the bank manager’s horse and buggy, kept at the rear of the bank. Off the robbers went through the town; clip clop, clip clop. Their lamps were spotted by a couple of local people, but by the time news of the heist leaked out they were well away.

Manager's pony trap used in the Boxhill Bank Robbery

On Wednesday morning the first big lead came when two discoloured sovereigns were paid into the same bank. It was suspected that they had been affected by the nitroglycerine used to blow the safe. The sovereigns were traced to the local council. Had one of the councillors been moonlighting as a masked bandit? Well, no….the clerks disclosed that the coins were part of a rates payment by an elderly lady. They had been buried in her garden, hence the staining, and it was not the robbers who had hidden them there, but the lady herself.

It turned out that she had had the two sovereigns buried for nine months in a raspberry jam tin under a rose bush in the corner of her garden. ‘I was keeping them there’, she said, ‘to help pay for my funeral when I’m gone, but I owed a lot to the council and I had to dig them up to pay my rates’. The old lady, whose little hoard became the subject of such an anxious enquiry, has been a resident of Boxhill for 50 years.’ (Adelaide Observer, May 28 1904)

And I’m afraid that detective never got any closer to discovering who robbed the Boxhill Bank.

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