The Avoca Gold Robbery
What exactly happened to Martin Wiberg after he was released from Pentridge Prison on the 29th May 1883?
Well, there are a a couple of different myths at completely different ends of the spectrum
What we do know is that the day after being released from prison, Martin was arrested for drunken behaviour in Mount Hotham, and subsequently charged 20 shillings by the Hotham Police Court. Naturally, as legend would have it, he paid his fine with a single gold wreath sovereign.
Afterwards, and with his brother, he made his way to Hobart where he purchased a vessel named the "Neva", sailing back to Waratah Bay.
It is at this point that the differing tales begin...
By order of Her Majesty
FROM PENTRIDGE PRISON
29th May 1883
Image: Williamstown by Arthur Fox 1906-ca. 1914. State Library of Australia
After all indicators pointed to Martin Wiberg having drowned off the coast of Waratah Bay, reports suggest that Wiberg was spotted on board the "Sorata" under an assumed identity which left Melbourne, bound for England, on Saturday 1st December, 1883
Prior to the "Sorata" leaving, Martin's brother (Matthew) chartered the "Neva" to Hobson's bay in order to sell it. When customs and police boarded it to check for Wiberg, sovereigns and dutiable goods, it had been considered strange that Matthew claimed to have recently been fishing at Waratah Bay and sightseeing, given his brother had only recently drowned. However, customs and police found no sign of Martin or the sovereigns. Subsequently the vessel was cleared for docking.
Had Wiberg hood-winked the officers again, by faking his death?
Portland Guardian (1883) & Bendigo Advertiser (1883).
Image: Loading Lime - Waratah Bay. State Library of Australia
On Saturday 6th October, 1883 - merely 5 months after Martins release from prison, he left Waratah Bay for the Glennies Island where his vessel, the "Neva" and his brother were waiting.
According to various reports, Martin Wiberg had earlier approached the jetty at Waratah Bay in a dinghy and was met by Mr. James Dewar who was the lime-stone kiln manager. James enquired as to what Martin wanted, and Martin advised that he wanted to take his wife Rosina, and daughter Christina with him to New Zealand in search for a lost ship that had been carrying gold. The weather on this day was particularly stormy and Mr. Dewar argued that there was no way he could travel safely in his dinghy back to The Glennies in such weather. In addition, it was alleged that Wiberg had been drinking heavily and was intoxicated. Rosina and Christina came up the sandy shores of the beach to the jetty crying as they did not want to go. With that, Mr. Dewar prevented them from accessing his jetty. Martin allegedly was furious and took off in his dinghy.
The following Tuesday, on the 9th October, 1883 William Millar the owner of Yanakie station found an overturned boat, oilskin coat, and other possessions washed up on Yanakie Beach, Sandy Point. The police went down to the area and confirmed that the boat belonged to Wiberg. They also combed the beach for 20 miles, but found no trace of Martin's body.
Captain Leith of the Gazelle who towed in the Neva to Waratah Bay with Martin's brother, said that he found Martin's brother at The Glennies low on provisions, anxiously awaiting Martin's return. Captain Leith also dismissed any suggestion that Martin had committed suicide when asked by a World reporter
Some residents at Waratah Bay claimed to have seen lights on one of the Glennie islands leading some to speculate that Martin had in fact not drowned, however many others believed that a combination of alcohol and bad weather had resulted in Martin's demise; and although Martin was a strong swimmer he was possibly weighed down by gold sovereigns.
Source: The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser (1883)
The Argus (1883) / Bendigo Advertiser (1883)
Ten years after Wiberg's disappearance, a selector by the name of Radcliffe was reported by "The Caulfield and Elsternwick Leader" (1893) as having found the skeleton of Martin Wiberg while digging a drain on a property near Waratah Bay.
However, whether this skeleton actually belonged to Martin Wiberg remains unclear, given there are some who believe that Wiberg left the colony alive, including Wiberg's brother who allegedly did not believe that Martin had drowned when he was asked on arriving at Hobson's Bay with the "Neva" to sell.
After Wiberg's alleged death, Rosina Wiberg lived in William Street, Melbourne for some time. After, which it was reported in the Camperdown Chronicle (1892)that she had re-married a Captain of a Coaster in early 1892.
A letter to an editor of the "Morwell Advertiser" dated 1928 suggests that she married Captain Leith, of the Gazelle, and that they kept a hotel at Moe.
Unfortunately, further details on Rosina's life post Wiberg remain elusive
Do you have information on Rosina?
Ethel Christina Wiberg
It appears that after her dad's death, Ethel was adopted by the prominant Laycock family of Inverloch (Morwell Advertiser 1928). A reporter doing a piece on Wiberg for the Warragul Guardian and Buln Buln and Narracan Shire Advocate 1889 visited Mr. Dewar, manager of the Lime-Kilns at Waratah Bay and was taken on a trip around the areas that Wiberg frequented. While at Anderson's inlet at Inverloch Mr. Dewar pointed to a "flaxen-haired pretty little girl" as the daughter of Wiberg.
A few years later, The Camperdown Chronical (1892) claimed that Ethel eloped with a sailor in 1891 at 15 years of age.
Interestingly, however, the Inverloch Historical Society suggest that her name was possibly changed by the Laycock's to Matilda, and that she married Peter Pescia in 1902 becoming the post-mistress at Inverloch in 1903. They note that she had three children, Gladys, Selina, and Rosina. Matilda's death is dated at 1942, aged 65 which ties in with the date of birth of Ethel in 1877.
Were Ethel and Matilda the one, and same?
Martin's brother Matthew Olsen married Margaret McDonald on the 3rd January 1888 and they lived at Waratah Bay.
By 1892 Matthew was deceased. Rumour has it that he died after falling off a cliff at Waratah Bay while searching for the missing sovereigns. However, the Camperdown Chronicle (1892) suggested, that while he did search for the sovereigns, his actual cause of death was from being swept off rocks while fishing at Waratah Bay. He is buried at the Waratah Bay historic cemetery.
Did Martin Wiberg leave Melbourne for Sweden?
In 1897 a Melbourne man claimed that while he and his wife were holidaying through Sweden they saw Martin Wiberg alive and well, and even talked with him. This is the interview as reported by the South Australian Register (1897).
"My wife and I," said our informant, "were travelling through Sweden and Norway on a pleasure excursion, when one evening we stopped at an hotel. When I saw our land-lord I at once recognised him as Martin Weiberg, whom I had seen in the dock at the Melbourne Criminal Sessions, and in whose death I never believed. He had altered somewhat, grown stouter, and was almost stone deaf. Of course he did not know who we were, or where we came from, and I did not enlighten him for some time.
Over a glass of wine he became very communicative, and soon began to talk about Australia, Melbourne, and Gippsland. He said he had lost his hearing through exposure in an open boat off the coast of Victoria. After drawing him out in this way for half an hour I casually mentioned that I had just left Melbourne, where I had been resident over twenty years. You should have seen the change that came over Weiberg when I spoke. In a couple of minutes he made some excuse and left the room, and although we stayed two days longer at the hotel neither my wife nor I saw him afterwards.
Weiberg has been the licencee of the place for years. I was told. He was married again, and is evidently doing a good business in a quiet way."
Source: South Australian Register, 1897.