Breakfast and bigamy

Fire station

The scene of our drama

In late 1924 Amy Coall showed up at Perth Fire Station on Murray Street. Unable to locate her husband, turning up at his place of work was a last resort. It was rumoured Joseph had married another woman, and Amy had to know the truth.

As it turned out, he had tried to be a bigamist. But his mum had stopped him.

But let’s return to the previous year. Amy and Joseph were lovers, and she was six months pregnant when they married in December 1923. The newlyweds moved into 9 May Street, Bayswater.

From the start, though, things were not right. Joseph spent two nights a week away, allegedly back at his parents’ house in Victoria Park, because he said his mum needed help looking after his father.

Their child was born in March, and the relationship rumbled on, with Joseph’s odd disappearances continuing. One Monday in August, Joseph left for work at the Fire Station and did not return for a week. When Amy questioned him, he simply shrugged it off, saying it had been a long shift.

Shortly after this Amy discovered guests had been invited to the wedding of Joseph Coall and Doreen Caple, followed by a wedding breakfast in Fremantle.

When Amy turned up at the Fire Station, Joseph admitted everything. And, by the way, his new lover was pregnant with his child. But he wasn’t actually a bigamist. His mother got cold feet at the last minute, and rushed over to Doreen’s family and told the truth.

Bizarrely, no one could bear to disappoint the invited guests, so the bogus wedding breakfast went ahead as planned, with none of the assembled party any the wiser.

You won’t be surprised to discover Amy got herself a divorce shortly afterwards.

Fraudster, bigamist… those are his good points

Dr David Stewart in 1938

Dr David Stewart in 1938

We at Dodgy Perth take pride in being just a little bit dodgy ourselves. (But only when no one is looking.)

However, we have a long way to go to catch up with Perth’s dodgiest man: ‘Doctor’ David Stewart, the man with more wives than Henry VIII.

David joined WA’s Department of Agriculture in September 1932, to become their head veterinarian. His praises were quickly sung by the newspapers. He was a genius, a war hero, a “real man’s man”, and Perth was very lucky to have him here.

Around six months into his post he was made to resign. Despite his protestations of innocence, he had been moonlighting as a medical doctor (with forged certificates) calling himself Dr Russell. Apparently faking medical qualifications was not the done thing in the 1930s.

Oh. And his vet degrees were faked too. As were all his references.

Even while working for the Dept of Ag, he had been defrauding a number of local businesses of various goods. And sold all the furniture from the house he was renting.

At the trial, David got two years for forging his certificates.

But this was only a tiny fraction of ‘Doctor’ David Stewart’s life. He was also a bigamist. If bigamist is a big enough word for someone with at least seven wives. (He claimed to not be able to remember how many!)

A few quick dates in the court life of an astoundingly complex character:

  • April 1923: Ipswich, QLD, married a minor
  • April 1923: Brisbane, obtained property under false pretences
  • September 1923: Brisbane, larceny
  • July 1924: Melbourne, larceny to obtain a car
  • December 1924: Melbourne, bigamy
  • July 1933: Perth, forged medical diplomas; got two years, but was released after serving three months
  • March 1938: Melbourne, bigamy

Such was the mess of his life, and the fact that he married and worked under at least nine aliases, no one was able to say how many wives he had or what other crimes he might be wanted for.

We take our hat off to Perth’s dodgiest man.