Saturday, August 5, 2017


Detective  work  by  art  correspondent  Ponsonby  Willis  unravels baffling  cold case  with   traces  of  white  out , not  blood .
Sacre bleu! While flicking  through  the  pages of a  profusely   illustrated , French text  art book , in a set of three ,  out  pops  a  folded , faded   leaflet . On  examination  it  is  found to be  an  invitation to  attend  a    June  1929  branch  meeting of  the Mothers'  Union  at  Saint  Oswald's  Anglican  Church , Swanbourne , Perth , Western Australia , the  special  speaker, Mrs  Stileman.
There  is a penned , hard  to decipher inscription  on the front free endpaper  which could  be taken  to read : A  Gwen  en souvenir,  Henri Leonard  or  Given   as  a souvenir ...   It also bears a trade  sticker of  the   Brussels  library/bookshop of M. Lamerton .   The situation  is clarified somewhat in another volume, a general history of art in France , by Louis  Hourtico , 1919,  by another inscription :  To my dear friend  Gwen , H. Leonard .  The  third  book contains  an inscription which has been   whited  out  ,  a  modern  concoction used to hide names and erase errors .
 What would the French detective , Chief  Inspector  Maigret (not the Rowan Atkinson version )  do  in a baffling   case  like this? He would, of course, Google the name of  the guest speaker , Mrs Stileman . This  bright  piece of  detective work  resulted in an unexpected turn  in  the  investigation .
Directed to  Trove , the wonderful source of yesteryear  newspaper  information, up came  a   February  4  , 1927   Children's Court case  in the Perth Daily News  involving  a  15 year old  girl  who had stolen a  seven stone  diamond ring valued at  70 pound   from  Mrs   F. W.   Stileman . The  girl  had been in service  to  Mrs Stileman , and after receiving the  first week's pay had run away with the ring , wearing  it when  picked up  by  detectives  at  a  railway station . 

In a plea  for leniency , the  girl's mother   said  her   daughter was out of control; she  was  committed  to  an  institution for  a  year. While her  daughter may have run off  the rails , it seems Mrs Stileman's  husband was  the chief engineer of  WA Government  Railways  who drew up a grand  rail extension  plan   for  the state , part thwarted by the Depression  and other issues ,   a  member of  the  university  senate  from  which  in 1930 he  was  given  a  send off  before  departing  back  to  England . 

In  near mint  condition , printed in Paris  in 1928  , another  inclusion , above, was  later detected , advertising  the  three  volume  set  Encyclopedie  Des  Beaux  Arts .
( These books came  from the collection of  an  artistic lady in North Queensland who may well  have been  a keen French  apache dancer  in   her  younger  days.)