It’s not often a small  outback town can boast of having an Earl open  their garden fete, but that’s what happened at Molong in 1897.

The man  responsible for the coup  was  Mr John Young, ex-mayor of Sydney and owner of the huge Burrawong Estate at Molong. He had met the Earl of Hardwicke in Fiji, and sailed on the same ship, the Taviuni,  back to Sydney.


The Earl had originally introduced himself as Harry Picker, but word soon spread aboard ship that he was travelling under an assumed name.


John Young, who owned a vast property at Molong ,, was duped by a bogus Earl.


When the ship docked in Sydney Mr.Young suggested the young Earl might like to spend a few weeks in the country at Burrawong Station, now run by his son Frederick.  The property had developed  extensive cool climate orchards and a fruit preserving factory after an investment of  £30,000c. The property resembled a small town. Frederick and his wife were delighted to host a member of the English aristocracy, especially as they were organizing a large charity event.  It was to be a fundraiser for the Molong Hospital, which urgently needed new wards.

The Earl graciously agreed to open the bazaar and fete, held on October 14 on the lawns outside the Young’s palatial homestead, Strathmore. He gave a well received speech, beginning;

Ladies and Gentlemen – I feel it is my duty before discussing the object for which his bazaar is held, to express my keen sense of satisfaction and the honour I feel at being asked to preside at this, its opening ceremony, and to say that the recollection of today will be one of my most pleasant when I return to England.  (Molong Espress Oct. 16 1897)

The bazaar was  a great success. The Earl had wanted to repay his hosts for their hospitality and asked how he could contribute. It was suggested that he could provide some items to be  raffled and he generously donated  prizes  such as cigarette cases, silver trinket boxes etc,

The daytime events were followed by a ball in the great hall at  Strathmore. The Earl presented a gold bangle to the best dressed lady, and a brooch to the best dancer. There must have been many families in the area hoping  a daughter might catch the eye of a nobleman, but it was not to be.

At the the end of October he left by train for Sydney, sharing a first class carriage with the Bishop of Bathurst. His plan was  to attend the Melbourne Cup the following week .  He booked into Sydney’s  prestigious Hotel Australia, where he was interviewed by a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald;

The Earl of Hardwicke , who is visiting Australia on a pleasure trip, arrived in Syndey from Molong on Wednesday morning. He came to the colony two months ago and has been spending a few weeks at Burrawong with Mr Frederick young, a son-in-law of Mr Norton Russell , of Woollahra.   In the course of conversation the Earl referred to a few of his experiences of travel during the past 12 months. The Earl, who until a few months ago bore the title of Viscount Royston, has been in the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Fiji and Auckland.    He was on the shores of the Western Pacific when the news came of his father’s death, the message also conveying the intelligence that he had succeeded to the title and estates. Before returning home he decided to visit Australia. Some of his experience of the country had been of an unexpected character. “I went to Molong to hunt kangaroos” he said, “I expected to rough it, but rather to my surprise I was invited to dances and to open a bazaar. I didn’t expect to find you so up to date. ” The Earl, who states that he likes Australia and will be sorry to leave it, goes on to Melbourne at the end of the week. – S.H. Herald.


The Hotel Australia, where the Earl of Hardwicke stayed after leaving Molong.

The Hotel Australia


The next person to interview the Earl, was not a journalist, but a detective.

It turned out that the gifts the young man had dispensed at the Molong bazaar and ball had come from  the leading  jewellers  Flavelle and Roberts, in Sydney’s George Street.  He had written to them as the Earl of Hardwicke on stationery headed Burrawong Station telling them about the charity event and asking them to send sample pieces.  The shop, eager to receive the patronage of an aristocrat (almost as good as the Royal Warrant! ) sent him  a  large case of items on approval, None had been paid for.

During the investigations Picker had a bit of bad luck.  It turned out that Captain Ferguson, private secretary to His Excellency the Governor, had gone to school with the real Earl of Hardwicke.  When shown a photo of Harry Picker taken by police he declared that it definitely wasn’t the Earl.

Meanwhile Picker had decamped to Parramatta and was staying at the Woolpack Hotel.


The hotel where the bogus Earl was arrested after leaving Molong.


When detectives arrived his room was empty and he didn’t  return until midnight, whereupon he was placed under arrest. As the trains had stopped running he had to walk  fourteen miles back to Sydney under police guard. The party arrived as the Post Office clock struck 4.00 am.

While the Melbourne cup was being run on November 2 the ‘Earl’ was in the lock-up facing a barrage of questions.  Asked what his occupation was he indignantly replied, ‘None!

Picker was officially charged at the Water Police Court on November 5.  Oh my goodness, just look at that list of treasures the jewellers sent him,

List of items sent to Molong at the request of the bogus Earl.

Select what items appeal to you dear  Earl.

At his trial, Picker said Detective Gouder had visited him at the Hotel Australia about the  jewellery.  On the second visit  Goulder said he knew Picker  was not the Earl of Harwicke.  At this point  Harry  knew the game was up. The following is his testimony from the trial;

He said he completely lost his head, and what he did after this he hardly knew. He utterly collapsed. His reason for travelling had been to recover from the effects of a concussion to the brain, which was the result of an accident he met with in the hunting field during  November last, whilst hunting with the North Warwickshire hounds…… he pawned some articles to cable to England for a remittance. Having paid his debt with the remittance which  he thought he would receive he proposed to leave the colony.

In fairness to Harry, the bazaar at Molong raised nearly  £90 for the hospital;

The alterations to the hospital building are fast approaching completion, and it is expected that the new ward will be ready for occupation some time during the latter part of next month.  (Molong Express Feb, 19 1898

As to why he pretended to be the Earl, Picker said someone had got the idea he was Hardwicke, and he just misguidedly went along with it. Of course he had started the rumour himself. It was discovered that back in England he had a long list of fraud offences.

None of Picker’s excuses had any effect on the judge.   He received a sentence of twelve months with hard labour, to be served in Goulburn gaol.


On Oaks Day at Melbourne’s Flemington racetrack in 1899 a fashionably dressed patron  approached one of the gatekeepers and asked to be admitted to the grandstand. He didn’t have the required ticket, and was refused entry. He then said, ‘Sir, I am the Earl of Hardwicke, and am entitled to admittance to your grandstand.’  The official was taken aback by the title, but somewhat suspicious.  Stewards were called and then detectives, including a visiting officer from Sydney who remembered the 1897  fraud case. You might say that Harry Picker’s  race was run and lost.  He slunk away, never to appear in the Australian press again….well unless he assumed another identity!

The whole saga prompted a journalist in The Sydney Morning Herald to speak out against the peerage. ‘The aristocracy is too much with us…. The doings of the ‘wrong’ Earl of Hardwick prove the danger of having a large titled class that spreads itself all over the world to the imminent risk of confiding persons.


NOTE – By a strange co-incidence the real Earl of Hardwicke had also lived in Australia under an assumed name, but in this case it was a reverse situation. Instead of opening bazaars and swanning about, he worked as a miner in Western Australia and Tasmania.







  1. tut tut, who’d of thought it! A proper rascal to put it mildly.

    • Pauline

      Shows how susceptible our wealthy squatters were to the social coup of a supposed peer!

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