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Unable to Learn From His Mistakes: Double Bigamist William Eric Hamilton

Part 1

Annelise Litke and Mélanie Méthot *


The eldest of 12, William Eric Hamilton was born in December 1907 in Emmaville, a small and isolated mining town in NSW. At the ripe old age of 18, he began his criminal career  by breaking into the home of one Jack Tick in Cootamundra (NSW), almost 1000 kms from his birthplace, and stealing several items of clothing valued at 17 pounds, then a hefty sum [1] Charged with breaking, entering and stealing, Justices Dunphy and Watson released the teenager on a good behaviour bond under the First Time Offenders Act - a lucky break since Hamilton was liable to

imprisonment for 14 years according to the 1900 Criminal Act. [2]

States Records of New South Wales, Gaol Inmates/Prisoners

Photos Index 1870-1930, Item No: [3/6121] | Digital ID: IE240965

| Series: NRS2467 | Page No: 283 | Photo No: 23087 (Photo taken

6 June 1928)

While his brush with the law did not attract much media attention, Hamilton’s “lucky escape” [3] after falling into a dynamite well did indeed ‘blow up’ in the news, reaching readers as far away as Western Australia and Queensland. [4] Nine papers picked up the story of the young lad “who had the presence of mind to grab the fuses from the charges and so save himself from being blown to bits.” While he survived, Hamilton sustained abrasions and a fractured thigh.[5] Apparently Hamilton found working for a wage too dangerous, reverting to his earlier career choice of theft once he’d recovered from his injuries.  His prison record lists three charges between June and September 1928, beginning when he and another young man, John Piper, broke into the store of William Maitland & Co. in Condobolin and stole 10 pounds worth of merchandise [6] The new offence won him a further entry into the New South Wales Police Gazette. [7] While awaiting sentencing, he committed yet another breaking and entering offence, this time stealing shoes and gramophone records.[8]  Unwilling to overlook Hamilton’s past offences, Judge Curlewis sentenced the twenty-year-old to two years hard labour in Long Bay gaol, yet, for an unknown reason, the young man would not serve this sentence, receiving instead a bond to be on good behaviour.[9]

A hair short of the required two years of good behaviour, our man graduated to armed robbery,  this time in Sydney on March 14th, 1930, when he and an unnamed accomplice robbed a petrol station. [10]  

Record of Crime, 19 March 1930.

While Hamilton pleaded not guilty, Judge Armstrong did not buy his flimsy claim that someone had stolen his clothes, thus supposedly leading to his  false identification as one of the  masked thieves. [11]

Although the robbers wore masks, the victim positively identified Hamilton as “the man who held me up.” [12] Hamilton received a two year gaol sentence which he served. It would mark the end to his spree

Evening News, 14 April 1930.

of property crimes and the beginning of

new ways for him to break Australian laws. 


Between offences, the blue eyed, black haired, 141 lbs,  5 '5 1/2 debonair thief succeeded in gaining the heart of a girl five years his junior. The pair ran away together, but not before long  the father of Ruby Pearl Kendall charged Hamilton with abduction. Our young man received yet another lucky break when Kendall’s father dropped the charges, allowing Hamilton to marry his daughter rather than face a potential sentence of 14 years. [13]

Twelve papers discussed the “alleged abduction”. The Sydney’s Sun painted a sympathetic portrait of the couple, giving considerable space to Ruby’s testimony. 

She swore she went with Hamilton “on her own free will.” If Ruby was perjuring herself on the stand, she was taking a considerable risk by mentioning that she’d gone to the police the night her mother threw her out of the house, which would have been verifiable. The paper ended the snippet by quoting the apparently enamoured man: “I love the girl and I am still willing to marry her. I will marry her if I have to wait until she is 21.” [14] The Sydney Morning Herald provided an even more softhearted account: “Defendant in a statement from the box said he had known Ruby Kendall for five years, and had been infatuated with her for three years.” The paper afforded some agency to Ruby, who asked Hamilton for his help. “If I had been working”, the Herald quoted him, “I would have been marrying her the following day.” [15] Bathurst’s National Advocate went even further and described the scene of Ruby returning home with police officers. After they had left, “Mrs Kendall threw Ruby’s clothes into the street, and told the pair to go to _______ out of her sight.” [16] True or imagined depictions, it seems curious that none of the newspapers mentioned Hamilton’s criminal past, instead emphasising young love. With Ruby’s father’s blessing, they wed a week later and over the next two years, had two children. 


Though the sweet talker Hamilton had convinced the judge and the press of his feelings for young Ruby, the honeymoon was short lived. After living with Hamilton’s parents for a short time, the couple moved to their own home in 1934.  Hamilton suggested to his pregnant wife that she go on a trip to her sister’s home in Yanco - a journey of almost 600 kilometres. When Ruby agreed to this ‘holiday,’ she was completely unaware that her faithless husband had already begun courting the young, beautiful and blonde Marjorie Catherine Ingram. 

Marjorie had met the charming Hamilton in May 1934, and was swept away with the romance. The young couple went on several dates and he soon proposed marriage. With his legitimate wife away, Hamilton tried to go through a form of marriage with Marjorie at Glebe’s St-John Anglican church (a mere 400 metres away from his place of residence), but the minister received a message presumably from Hamilton’s mother in law letting him know that the hopeful groom-to-be was already married. 

Determined to marry Marjorie, Hamilton took her instead to the Annandale registrar office just around the corner, where the ceremony took place. [17] The couple then moved into the home he had shared with Ruby, and began another brief, but apparently happy marriage. According to Marjorie, about a month after going through this false marriage, Hamilton abruptly left the home and failed to return. Ruby later testified in court that her mother had contacted her about two months into her holiday in Yanco, causing her to come home, and no doubt find Marjorie living in the house. [18] It seems likely that her mother told her about her son-in-law’s shenanigans. 


Hamilton was eventually arrested and tried in Glebe. During the preliminary inquiry, the police were very vocal in their belief that Hamilton was a dangerous criminal, and likely to harm his wives, a concern not without merit since Hamilton did indeed have a criminal record and one that involved violence. [19] Worse than Hamilton’s past criminal activities, it

seemed that Marjorie needed protection, since she had fallen for his devious charms. In order to prevent Hamilton from further harming Marjorie or other innocent and trusting young women, the police strongly opposed bail. Nonetheless, Justice Owram ultimately set it at 100 pounds. [20]

Most papers stressed Marjorie’s naivety, reporting that she was ready to marry the man who committed a crime against her. Only the sensationalist Truth acknowledged the heartfelt exchange between the two lovers in court: “You were happy when you lived with me?” asked the accused. To which Marjorie replied: "Yes, I was Bill”. Truth’s manner of reporting implies that Hamilton proposed again as the victim was sitting in the witness box. Marjorie accepted, under the rational condition that he obtain a divorce from his wife. [21]

If Marjorie inevitably appears as a damsel in need of rescuing, newspapers sometimes depicted Ruby as a young girl “burdened with the ordeal of motherhood,” [22] while more often she was portrayed as a bitter woman.  Articles would conclude with the report that Ruby refused to take back her legal husband, nor would she set him free with a  divorce.  “‘If you won’t live with me will you give me my divorce?’he asked.‘No.’ replied the wife.” [23]

In an effort to avoid jail, Hamilton wrote a heartfelt letter to the sentencing judge.  Hamilton’s characteristic boldness and blunt “honesty” shone through:“I know I am asking you a great thing when I ask for you to give me a heavy sentence and suspend it upon me entering into a bond to be of good behaviour. I have already had two bonds previously one in 1926 the other in 1928 but I have done four years gaol since 1926 and I have a good record as far as my conduct in gaol is concerned.” [24]

SRNSW, NRS-857-1[10/38363]-862/1934 William Eric Hamilton.

Justice Philp ignored the plea, stating that Hamilton “deserved no consideration,” and sentenced him to 23 months in gaol. [25]  Next, we will see that despite his imprisonment, Hamilton failed to learn his lesson.  


*We want to thank Mark Heinrich and Marian Lorrison for their sensible suggestions

[1] “Lucky Escape”, The Uralla Times, 20 Feb 1927.

[2]”The Industrial Battlefield”,  Brisbane Worker, 23 Feb 1927; “Dodging Dynamite,” Perth Sunday Times, 20 Feb 1927.

[3] “Fall Among Dynamite” Macquay Daily Mercury, 25 Feb 1927.

[4] “Local and General”, Lachlander and Codobolin and Western District Records, 16 May 1928.

[5] “Apprehensions”, New South Wales Police Gazette and Weekly Record of Crime, 23 May 1928, 342.

[6] “Apprehensions”, New South Wales Police Gazette and Weekly Record of Crime, 15 Aug 1928, 532; “Quarter Sessions”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Sep 1928.

[7] States Records of New South Wales [SRNSW], NRS-857-1[10/38363]-862/1934 William Eric Hamilton, “Letter to the sentencing Judge”, 15 November 1934.

[8] “Quarter Sessions”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 April 1930, 12. 

[9] “Alibi Fails”, Evening News, 14 April 1930, 8.

[10] “Alibi Fails”, The Sun, 14 April 1930, 11.

[11] New South Wales Crime Act 1900 No40, Abdunction, Sections 86-89.

[12] “Love Her”, The Sun, 15 February 1932.

[13] “Alleged Abduction”, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 February 1932.

[14] “Loved the Girl”, National Advocate, 16 February 1932.

[15]  “Alleged Criminal Bigamist for Trial”, Truth, 18 Nov 1934, 23.

[16] “Sent Wife Away, Allege Police”, The Sun, 13 Nov 1934, 14.

[17] SRNSW, NRS-857-1[10/38363]-862/1934 William Eric Hamilton.

[18] “Bigamy Charge”, National Advocate, 14 Nov 1934, 3.

[19] “Alleged Criminal Bigamist for Trial”, Truth, 18 Nov 1934, 23.

[20] “Robber, Gunman, Abductor - Scoundrel Gaoled”, Truth, 2 Dec 1934, 14.

[21] “Sent Wife Away, Allege Police”, The Sun, 13 Nov 1934, 14; “Got Rid of Wife to Marry Again”, The Newcastle Sun, 13 Nov 1934, 8; “Bigamy Charge”, The Age, 14 Nov 1934, 13; “Young Man’s Record”, Border Morning Mail, 14 Nov 1934, 2; “Alleged Criminal Bigamist for Trial”, Truth, 18 Nov 1934, 23.

[22] SRNSW, NRS-857-1[10/38363]-862/1934 William Eric Hamilton.

[23] “23 Months’ Gaol”, National Advocate, 29 Nov 1934, 2.

[24] SRNSW, NRS-857-1[10/38363]-862/1934 William Eric Hamilton.

[25]“23 Months’ Gaol”, National Advocate, 29 Nov 1934, 2.

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Looking forward to share the follow up! Stay tuned as we got more documents to analyze! 😀

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