St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne was founded in 1893 by The Sisters of Charity’s Mother Mary Berchmans Daly. She is referred to in this piece as the Mother Rectress. In 1905 the Mother Rectress decided to hold an art union, to raise funds for furnishing wards at St Vincent’s.


William Naughton, a recent arrival from New Zealand, heard about the Mother Rectress’ plans and approached her with a suggestion that his patented ballot boxes be used for the draw. He had been accompanied on the trip by his mechanic, Joe Grayden. The nun referred Norton to two secretaries of the art union, saying that if they were happy with a demonstration of the boxes his proposal would also be acceptable to her.

All went well at the demonstration and the draw subsequently took place at the Athenaeum Hall in Collins Street on June 20, with Mr Naughton himself operating the boxes. In announcing the winners, special mention was made of the patent boxes being used for the first time in the State, ‘giving perfect satisfaction‘.

The lucky winner of the £300 first prize was No. A31536, held by a Mr Charles Watson from South Melbourne.


The Mother Rectress wrote to Mr Watson advising him of the win, but oddly enough he hadn’t even entered the competition. He explained this to her, but meanwhile the holder of the ticket had turned up in person, given his name as Charles Watson, and claimed the £300. A puzzled Mr Watson then wrote to The Age, querying the whole affair.

In response the prize winning Watson stated that he was now living in Ballarat;

A check revealed there was no person called Watson at the Ballarat address. By this time alarm bells were ringing among the organizing committee members. Something just wasn’t right.

When Naughton warned the Mother Rectress that any hint of deception would reflect badly on St Vincent’s and the Sisters of Charity, she began to suspect that he was involved. She contacted the police and a thorough investigation began.

The box holding the marbles was dismantled and sawn through. However, everything appeared to be in order. No hidden compartments could be found. How on earth could a fraud have been carried out?

Well, it turned out that the box itself was fine, but what it was sitting on was another matter.

The base of the ballot box had been fitted with a secret tube, operated by a spring. The tube was loaded with 14 balls carrying the numbers of tickets Naughton had purchased for himself. It allowed him to divert the balls to the chute at the draw, one by one.

Diagram of ballot box used in the St Vincent's art union fraud.
Diagram of secret tube used in the St. Vincent's art union fraud.

The discovery of the tube was enough to push Naughton into a confession. When the winning number was published he had his mechanic friend Joe Graysen assume the identity of a fictitious Charles Watson and receive the first prize from the Mother Rectress. Graysen then took his cut, paid Naughton the rest, and vanished. It was only through an incredible co-incidence that their plan came unstuck. The address chosen for the imaginary Charles Watson was York Street where, as mentioned above, a real Charles Watson lived!

William Naughton was found guilty and sentenced to five years gaol. The money retrieved from him was donated to charity. His partner in crime, Joe Graysen, was never found.

The Auckland police were contacted, to check whether Naughton had committed similar offences there. Oddly enough the report on him stated that he had never been convicted of any crime in New Zealand and ‘bore the reputation of being an honest man.‘ (Evening Journal Sept 22 1905)

He had conducted a number of ballots in NZ. including a fundraiser for the Sisters of Mercy, in 1903. And yes, he used his patent ballot box. Who won the major prizes on that occasion? Well, surprise, surprise, it was a Miss Grayden, sister of Joe Grayden who accompanied Naughton to Australia, and who assisted him by posing as Charles Watson. I wonder whether the New Zealand police ever investigated Miss Grayden’s good fortune?

The Mother Rectress was in no way blamed for the fraud, although she did have to admit that she had failed to obtain official permission to hold the art union. She died in 1924. In 1935 a bronze bust of her was unveiled at St. Vincent’s. I have been unable to find a photo of it, so if it is still there I would love to have one.

Article on unveiling of bust of the Mother Rectress at St. Vincent's in 1935.

UPDATE – My thanks to Steve Zironda for locating a newspaper photo of the bust being presented.


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