Miss Mary Latham Clulow, of Sydney’s exclusive Bellevue Hill, had made a lot of money, mainly through property investments. She was an astute business woman, as this 1903 court action demonstrates;

Miss Clulow's  will, the case versus her builders.

Miss Clulow died on October 26 1944 at a private hospital in Rose Bay. Subsequently there was a court case over her estate. A judgement was made, but I’m not sure I agree with it. 😎 I wonder what you will think?


It seemed that the 80 year old had died intestate, although the general feeling within the family was that surely she had made arrangements to dispose of her estate. The old lady’s home was searched, to the point where each volume in the bookcase was shaken in hope that a document might fall out. Her solicitor and her various banks were contacted, but no will emerged.

Six weeks later her eldest nephew, John Clulow, announced that he had found the will. The circumstances were odd to say the least. He said he was throwing out an old mattress, and cut it open to remove the kapok stuffing. In one end he found a previously used envelope containing the rather crumpled missing document, along with his own will, written twelve months earlier. John Clulow, who had lived with his aunt for about twenty years, was named as her executor and main benefactor, He was due to inherit almost £10,000.

John Clulow found Miss Clulow's will.

His two brothers and a sister received a token £25 each, somewhat less than the laundry lady, who was left £100.

The document was written and signed on September 6 1944, only a month before Miss Clulow died. It had been witnessed by her housekeeper, Mrs Margaret Laws, and Margaret’s brother, Peter Watt. Mrs Laws had a flat within the Bellevue Hill home. Oddly enough, in the weeks before the discovery, even while helping to check all the volumes in the bookcase, Margaret Laws never once mentioned being a witness.

Oliver Clulow, John’s youngest brother, decide to contest the will on the basis that it was fraudulent, and that the signature was not his aunt’s. The case ended up in Probate Court. There was much debate over the signature. Oliver Clulow’s lawyer suggested it was ‘laboured’ as though carefully copied. However, the opposing view was that Miss Clulow was elderly and unable to write in a flowing hand. On a couple of occasions her bank had refused to cash cheques because her signature did not match their specimen.

The will was typewritten by Miss Clulow herself. This seems peculiar, but John Clulow claimed his aunt was an experienced typist.

A typewriter expert giving evidence for the defendant said he typed a copy of the will on the old lady’s Bar-lock machine and it was identical.

A Bar-lock typewriter was used to type Miss Clulow's will.


MISS CLULOW’S WILL IS GENUINE. Justice Nicholas found in favour of John Clulow. Despite evidence regarding the suspect signature, he said this wasn’t the major issue. He said it came down to whether Mrs Laws and her brother were telling the truth about having witnessed the document. If they hadn’t, then they were part of a conspiracy. His belief was that the pair could be believed as they did not stand to gain any financial benefit.


John Clulow insisted that he couldn’t type. But hey, he had six weeks to tap out what was a reasonably brief document. To me, a frail 80 year old doing the same thing is just as difficult to imagine. Miss Clulow could have simply asked her solicitor to draw up her will.

Housekeeper Margaret Laws told the court that yes, she and her brother did act as witnesses. When asked why she didn’t mention it during the search she said, ‘It was none of my business.’😎 Hmm, that seems a weird response. She had a lot to lose with Miss Clulow’s death, including her home. If she had been offered a financial incentive to go along with John Clulow it would have been almost impossible to prove.

And here’s another thing. There was no explanation of how the will got into the mattress….did the old lady cut the material, pop the envelope in, then stitch it up again? I just can’t see that happening. And what was the point of doing such a thing anyway? There’s no point in having a will if it can’t be found and if his story is to be believed it was sheer luck that John Clulow cut open the mattress. What do you think?


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