Electoral Rolls — A New Episode

Scouring old newspapers to piece together stories for Forgotten Australia is endlessly fascinating, not least for the incredible stories you stumble across while looking into an already incredible story.

For instance, it was while reading a Sydney newspaper’s front page about Robert Walker’s demise for the three-part episode Australia’s Most Vicious Gunman that I saw he was sharing the page with another man-killer, this one named Shirley Beiger — and that led to the two-part episode The Model And The Murder Case.

But historic newspaper articles, particularly those from the first half of the 20th Century and earlier, can also frustrate in their naming conventions, with people often only referred to with an honorific, perhaps an initial and then a surname. If you want to know more about a “Mr A. Smith” that can make things difficult. Good luck if it’s simply “Mr. Smith”.

For the most recent episode, In The Execution Of Their Duty, I wanted to humanise not only the mentally ill killer, John Kennedy, but also the young police who responded when this gunman was reported stalking the streets of Bondi Junction, Sydney, on the morning of 3 January 1931.

That meant knowing their full names, their dates of birth and a little of their personal and professional backgrounds. Newspaper articles from that week provided these details for the dead constables, Norman Allen and Ernest Andrews, but not for the surviving officers involved, who were only referred to by their rank and surname.

Here’s where Ancestry came to the rescue – and led to a whole new episode.

Ernest Andrews’ friend, roommate and fellow officer, Constable Denholm, was on the spot his mate was killed. So who was this man? While he was quoted about his friend’s death, newspapers didn’t include his first name, his age or how long he’d been in the New South Wales police force. But a couple of articles did mention in passing that he and Constable Andrews had boarded together in Grosvenor Street, Waverley/Woollahra.

Using Ancestry, I searched the electoral rolls for people with the surname Denholm who lived in the area around the time of the murder. Lo and behold:

Constable Denholm’s first name was Adam.

From there I was able to search his family history on Ancestry, and learn where he was born, when he came to Australia, when he joined the police, when he married and so on. It helped make him more than just a name in the episode.

But I was utterly astounded by what else I found in terms of his contribution to policing in New South Wales and to… Australian television. Here’s a clue.

You’ll be able to hear all about Adam “Scotty” Denholm in an upcoming episode. On the next page: how Ancestry records shed light on a dangerous WWII mission.