When 'Harry Leon Crawford', hotel cleaner of Stanmore was arrested and charged with wife murder he was revealed to be in fact Eugenia Falleni (sometimes spelt as Eugeni), a woman and mother, who had been passing as a man since 1899. In 1913, as 'Harry Crawford', Falleni had married the widow Annie Birkett. Four years later, shortly after she announced to a relative that she had found out 'something amazing about Harry', Birkett disappeared. Crawford told neighbours that she had run off with a plumber. In 1919 Birkett's young son, who had remained in Crawford's custody, told an aunt of attempts made on his life by his drunken stepfather. The aunt contacted police. A charred body which had been found in Lane Cove in 1917 was belatedly identified as Birkett's. 'Crawford's' astonished second wife, when finally convinced of Falleni's true gender remarked, "I always wondered why he was so painfully shy ...". Public Domain / mediadrumworld.com

By Tom Dare

FASCINATING PHOTOS of Australian men and women arrested in the early 1900s in Sydney have helped to capture the expressions on the faces of some of the country’s most brutal criminals just moments after they were apprehended.

Images, some of which form part of a new colourised photo-book called Retrographic by author Michael D. Carroll, include those of killers, paedophiles and backstreet abortionists arrested by the New South Wales police between 1910 and 1930, with each posed in front of various backgrounds.

Matilda ‘Tilly’ Devine used a razor to slash a man’s face in a barber’s shop and was sentenced to two years gaol. She was Sydney’s best-known brothel madam and her public quarrels with sly-grog queen Kate Leigh provided the media with an abundance of material. Aged 25. Public Domain / mediadrumworld.com


One photo in particular, seemingly of a man arrested in 1920, has a fascinating story behind it. It actually shows Eugenia Falleni, a woman who posed as male cleaner Harry Crawford for 21 years between 1899 and 1920. ‘Crawford’ married widow Annie Birkett in 1913, but Ms Birkett went missing just four years later under mysterious circumstances, with ‘Crawford’ insisting that she had had an affair and ran away.

It wasn’t until three years later, after ‘Crawford’ had met and married another woman while posing as a man, that the charred body of Ms Birkett was found and traced back to ‘Crawford’, who was then revealed to have been Eugenia Falleni all along. Upon hearing about his true gender, it was recorded that Falleni’s second wife had remarked “I always wondered why he was so painfully shy.”

George Whitehall, carpenter, handed himself into Newtown police after hacking to death his common-law wife, Ida Parker on Thursday afternoon 21 February 1922, at their home in Pleasant Avenue, Erskineville. This photo was apparently taken the following morning at Newtown Police Station. Public Domain / mediadrumworld.com


There are several other incredible stories behind the mugshots. One is of a woman put behind bars for her role in offering backstreet abortions to women, with the practice illegal in Australia at the time. Another is of a British-born woman, Phyllis Carmier, who stabbed her ‘bludger’, or pimp, to death during a violent altercation in Crazy Cottage, a sly-grog shop in Surry Hill. One particularly disturbing photo shows two men, one of whom is smiling, sitting for mugshots shortly after being arrested for “attempting to carnally know a girl eight years old,” and “wilful and obscene exposure.”

The pictures feature as part of a series of around 2500 “special photographs” taken by New South Wales Police Department photographers between 1910 and 1930 and featured at the Sydney Living Museum.

British-born Carmier was known as ‘Yankee’ Phyllis because of her peculiar accent. She stabbed her ‘bludger’, or pimp, to death during a violent altercation in Crazy Cottage, a sly-grog shop in Surry Hills. Carmier attracted much sympathy in the media, who labelled her crime a justifiable homicide. Aged 32. Public Domain / mediadrumworld.com


Mostly taken in the cells at the Central Police Station, Sydney, the photos are, according to museum curator Peter Doyle, of “men and women recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their apprehension”.

“The subjects of the Special Photographs seem to have been allowed – perhaps invited – to position and compose themselves for the camera as they liked. Their photographic identity thus seems constructed out of a potent alchemy of inborn disposition, personal history, learned habits and idiosyncrasies, chosen personal style (haircut, clothing, accessories) and physical characteristics.”

Albert Stewart Warnkin is listed in the NSW (New South Wales) Police Gazette of 10 November 1920, as charged with attempting to carnally know a girl eight years old. No entry is found for Beutler, whose picture is inscribed ‘wilful and obscene exposure’. Public Domain / mediadrumworld.com


Michael D. Carroll’s book Retrographic: History’s Most Important Images Transformed into Living Colour, is currently available on Amazon for a discounted price of £14.97 (RRP £19.95)

For more information see https://www.amazon.co.uk/Retrographic-Historys-Exciting-Images-Transformed/dp/1908211504