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Casanova on the loose: Double bigamist William Eric (John) Hamilton’s failure to learn from his mistakes *

Part II

Mélanie Méthot and Annelise Litke

Marriages and Military Career 

In the last post about Hamilton, we saw that while prison may have cured his thieving tendencies, the young man developed other sinful habits, mainly serially seducing the fairer sex. [] Serving only 19 of 23 months in Long Bay gaol for bigamy after marrying blonde bombshell Marjorie Catherine Ingram, our man came back to Ruby, the young mother of his two daughters, who had been living with her brother-in-law and his wife while her husband served his sentence. The couple reunited only long enough for her to get pregnant again. Ever the gentleman, Hamilton left Ruby as soon as he found out about her condition.

National Archives of Australia [NAA] 

B883, VX80780, John Hamilton

He then seemingly settled down for a few years, or at the very least, wasn’t found out or apprehended for almost a decade, in which time he moved to Queensland. When he enlisted in October 1939 under the alias John Jakeman, he listed his best friend Maude Martin as next of kin. [1] Then, in April 1940, under the alias of James Jakeman, still legally married to Ruby, the philandering Hamilton went through a form of marriage with the unsuspecting Dorothy Florence Burey in Brisbane. [2]  

1940 wedding picture of Dorothy Burey and James Jakeman, Personal collection of John Barnes.  

No doubt, armed with his false identity and living in a different state, Hamilton felt untouchable.  The happy couple even announced their engagement in the paper.  

Brisbane Telegraph, 18 March 1940.

Six months into the marriage, Hamilton joined the Royal Australian Naval Reserve under his new alias listing as his next-of-kin his soon to be forgotten “wife Dorothy F. Jakeman.” 

NAA A6670, James Jakeman. 

Surprisingly, Hamilton seemed ready to assume his husbandly duty by giving a portion of his military pay to his illegitimate wife.  He must have known when he joined the Navy that Dorothy was expecting, but even that fact was not enough to keep our man faithful. Born in January 1941, John Barnes would never meet his biological father but photos show he would come to bear a strong physical resemblance to him. 

“Jakeman's” military papers showcase that Hamilton had a “very good character”, and after only a year he moved up the ranks. Hamilton was apparently proving he could reform! Transferred to Melbourne, it was there that he weakened, meeting his latest conquest and once again deserting the armed forces. [3] When the military allotment stopped coming, Dorothy, a dressmaker by trade, found a job at a

John Barnes, from personal collection.

uniform factory.  She must have perceived at that point that “Jakeman” was no good. Military authorities informed her in December 1941 that her pension would be reinstated only once they found Jakeman. [4] Not only had Hamilton avoided supporting his legal wife Ruby and their children, but he obviously had no intention to care for Dorothy and their son John. 

Between December 1941, the moment he deserted, and July 1942, when he joined the Australian Military Forces under yet a new alias, Hamilton went to live in Richmond (VIC) with Elizabeth Victoria Bond. [5]  

NAA, B883, VX80780, John Hamilton 

Despite identifying her as his wife on his 1942 enlistment papers, Hamilton had actually never married Elizabeth. Was he learning from past mistakes? Or did he realise he had merely been lucky for getting away with his bigamous marriage to Dorothy

More likely, he did not marry Elizabeth because SHE was still legally married to Arthur David Nicholson whom she had wed in 1935. [6] Their daughter from that marriage, six year old Patricia, lived with Elizabeth. For a mother, it was always harder to get away with posing as a spinster.  If Hamilton had no qualms in committing bigamy, Elizabeth probably didn’t want to risk it, even if the couple were soon to become parents together. Did Hamilton decide to rejoin the forces as a way to escape, because there was a new baby on the way?  It would fit his previous pattern of abandoning Ruby and Dorothy when they were pregnant. 

Enlisting as John Hamilton, the name he later legally adopted, the twice bigamous father of five living children (three from Ruby, one from Dorothy and one from Elizabeth) was deployed to Milne Bay in New Guinea. After six months in active service, he was given an office job as a native overseer but in February 1944, a bout of malaria brought him back to Australia. [7] Military discipline seemingly did him good. Corporal Hamilton earned medals, but the discipline was not strong enough to keep him from falling for yet another woman. Within a month of arriving in Sydney, the piercing blue-eyed corporal did not look for the Elizabeth he had listed as his wife. Hamilton had once more fallen for the charms of yet another member of the fairer sex. In fact, before he embarked for New Guinea, he had already met the lovely Beryl in Wagga (NSW).  As soon as he was back to Sydney, our man lost no time in verifying that his legal wife Ruby had indeed finally obtained a divorce. Having confirmed that he was now legally free to marry, and within only a week of his return on Australian soil, Hamilton married Beryl Vera Smith at Lakemba (NSW) under his legal name, with his own father serving as witness. [8] The couple moved in with Beryl’s parents.

The Final Trial

Hamilton was settling in with his latest legal wife, whom he supported through his job as a dairy hand in Parramatta (NSW). The couple was living only a few kilometres away from his own parents. His Jakeman military papers reveal that a certain Mrs Wilson (probably a maternal relative of Elizabeth Bond, unless it was Elizabeth herself) wrote to the Melbourne enlistment office to try to establish the fact that James Jakeman was the one and only Corporal John Hamilton. [9] When we follow the money trail, we find out that when Hamilton married Beryl, he had instructed military authorities to stop Elizabeth ’s allotment. 

The 1944 Queensland State Archives bigamy file showcases officials’ resolve in establishing the truth around Hamilton’s tangled love affairs. Military authorities and constables from five different police stations, amongst them North Melbourne Detective Rosengren who testified in nearly fifty bigamy inquiries, combined their efforts to bring Hamilton to justice. For a while, they believed that Hamilton had committed bigamy with Elizabeth, but she assured them that while she’d lived as man and wife with Hamilton, and the couple had welcomed a daughter, they had never married. It took five months to gather all the evidence to prove Hamilton had committed bigamy back in 1940 when he married Dorothy.  He was first arrested at the end of August 1944 on a charge of military desertion, taken to Queensland, he remained at Groveley Military Detention Camp in Brisbane as  police investigated the suspected bigamy. When officially charged in September 1944, he pleaded guilty in the hopes of avoiding the limelight. He told the arresting officer: “He did not desire any evidence to be called or any witnesses to appear at the Court,” adding that he considered his marriage to Beryl a good one and he did not want to jeopardise its success.  Hamilton made it clear that he wanted to begin a new life with a clean slate. Detective Raetz seemed to sympathise with the offender suggesting that the Judge “might be pleased to consider the circumstances with a view to having Hamilton brought up on an ex-officio indictment.” [8]

Despite his earnest desire to pass incognito, the modern Casanova story still attracted considerable attention. Eighteen papers from four states printed details of this fascinating real life tale.  

The Brisbane Telegraph quoted Judge Philp who took the opportunity to make a statement on the war’s effect on the crime of bigamy: “Bigamy is on the increase, and seems to be always on the increase in times of war, and the only way to stop it is to imprison offenders.” Carefully considering Hamilton’s record, Philp pondered: “I don’t know whether women can’t leave you alone or you can’t leave them alone. Apparently, you descend to bigamy to get your desires.” [10] The judge's choice of verb, descend, reflects his view that bigamy was even worse than adultery. Philp implied that Hamilton could have satisfied his desires through other means, but the unscrupulous man had stooped lower than what may be considered forgivable alternatives.

Hamilton’s attorney, Mr. T. A. Barry, responded to the judge’s comment by pointing out that “Hamilton’s skull was fractured in a gelignite explosion… Since 1930 his only troubles had been of a feminine nature.” Philp did not buy the argument that Hamilton had sustained brain damage and the injury led to his womanising, nor that bigamy was of a less serious nature than armed robbery. He sentenced Hamilton to a prison term of two and a half years with hard labour. [10] 

Various newspapers reported on Hamilton’s supposed dramatic fainting in the dock. Upon hearing his sentence, he “placed his hands to his head and reeled from the dock, and fell in a faint down the stairs.” [11] Truth described the scene more realistically.  Hamilton “babbled” on about his sentence and subsequently “clasped his head with his hands as he walked down the stairs to the cells, and then collapsed in a heap.” [12] The description of Hamilton’s physical weakness emphasises that the bigamist could feel emotions. Hamilton wasn’t prepared to return to jail, nor to leave behind his newest love. It might be at that time that in a romantic gesture he had Beryl tattooed on his right bicep. [13]

Hamilton appealed the length of his prison term.  He played the patriotic card, arguing that his sentence was harsh given that “since committing the offence he had given the best two years of his life in the service of his country.” [14]

 He added that his sentence was more than double that of other bigamists. He had a point: between 1939 and the time he was convicted, Queensland courts prosecuted 49 male bigamists and only five of them received 2-year sentences. With his 30 months, Hamilton was indeed getting the harshest punishment.  Probably fueling Hamilton’s sense of injustice, on the same day that Judge Philp sent him to prison, Irene McAuliffe received a suspended sentence for committing an identical offence. [15] Acting Chief Justice Macrossan  responded to the appeal with all the

QSA, Prison Registry.  John Hamilton or

William Ernest Hamilton, ITM271638,

logic he could muster: “But this is not your first offence. You were sentenced in 1934 to 23 months imprisonment for bigamy.” The three appeal judges unanimously rejected Hamilton’s request for a shorter sentence. Taking into account that two other bigamists failed that week to have their sentence reduced, it does not seem that Hamilton was treated unfairly. [16]

Life After Prison

Did his legitimate wife, Beryl Hamilton stand faithfully by her much-married husband? All newspapers specified that he supported her, but it seems Hamilton’s long prison term took a toll on their relationship. Beryl eventually petitioned for divorce in 1946, but according to electoral lists kept her surname until 1949. In contrast to Ruby, Marjorie and Dorothy,  three of the women Hamilton had deceived and betrayed, Beryl never remarried.

When he came out of prison, out of the half-dozen or so women in his past, Hamilton found his way back to Elizabeth Victoria Bond, his former de facto wife. They had three more children together.  Despite his rocky history with women, Hamilton shared his life for nearly twenty-five years with “Betty”. His headstone is a reminder that no matter how dark and complicated a life might appear to the outsider, Hamilton was “dearly loved & sadly missed by his [de facto] wife Betty and family.”

Stay tuned for more! Two divorce files will shed light on how exactly his victims felt about the modern Casanova. 


We would like to thank John Barnes and his wife Susan for their assistance in locating the Queensland bigamy file and for sharing personal pictures.

We are also thankful for Mark Heinrich and Marian Lorrison who make the story better with their editorial suggestions.

1 National Archives of Australia [NAA], B883, QX4198, John Jakeman.

2 Queensland Government, Family History Research, Registration 1940/B/39063

3 Queensland State Archives [QSA], Item 96409, “Rex v John Hamilton. Elizabeth Nicholson questioned on 17 April 1944”

4 QSA, Item 96409, “Rex v John Hamilton. Statement of Dorothy Florence Burey, 10 August 1944.”

5 QSA, Item 96409, “Rex v John Hamilton. Testimony of Elizabeth Nicholson questioned on 17 April 1944.”

6 BMDVictoria,, 8161/1935.

7 NAA, B883, VX80780. 

8 QSA, Item 96409, “Rex v John Hamilton”.

9 NAA A6670, James Jakeman. 

10 “Gaol Only Way to Stop Bigamy,” The Brisbane Telegraph, 2 October 1944.

11 “Casanova Given Term in Gaol,” Daily Mirror, 2 October 1944.

12“Soldier Sentenced for Bigamy,” Tweed Daily, 3 October 1944; “2 ½ Years for Bigamy,” Townsville Daily Bulletin, 3 October 1944; “Soldier Sentenced for Bigamy Charge,” Morning Bulletin, 3 October 1944; “Soldier Gets 2 ½ Years for Bigamy,” Maryborough Chronicle; “Fondness for Women Leads to Gaol,” Daily Mercury, 3 October 1944; “Five Women in Soldier’s Life,” Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate 3 October 1944; “Bigamous Soldier,” Cairns Post, 3 October 1944; “Sentenced for Bigamy,” Singleton Argus, 4 October 1944; “Soldier Sentenced,” The Central Queensland Herald, 5 October 1944; “Bigamy Charge,” Western Star and Roma Advertiser, 6 October 1944.

13 “Love Affairs Brought Them Into Dock,” Truth, 8 October 1944. 

14  QSA, Item 271638, Prison Registry.  “John Hamilton or William Ernest Hamilton”.

15 “No Appeal for Two Bigamists,” The Courier-Mail, 22 November 1944.

16 “Woman’s Offence,” Brisbane Courier Mail, 3 October 1944.

17 “No Appeal for Two Bigamists,” The Courier-Mail, 22 November 1944, 6.

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More on Hamilton's wives in a forthcoming post!

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