This is the unlikely true story of an habitual criminal, Anthes, who tried to break into Parramatta Gaol so he could retrieve the songs he had written while an inmate there.

The story started some 4 years earlier when he was sentenced to a term in Parramatta Gaol. While there he took up the unlikely profession of popular song-writer. When freed on 29 May 1926, he was unable to take the songs he had written while in jail with him because of the absurd and almost certainly fictitious value he placed upon his own songwriting skills. As a result he had kept them carefully rolled up and buried in a pickle jar in a remote part of the gaol garden. Away from the prying eyes of his fellow prisoners and the guards.

As the Cumberland Argus explained … the subject of this little story is no average citizen. He is bound by no such chains of mediocrity. During his incarceration, his nobler qualities asserted themselves. The uncongenial atmosphere of his surroundings fostered rather than checked his literary genius. And by the time he was released he was the author of numerous songs. The children of brain however were not in his possession.

Once free and outside the grey, grim walls of the gaol he found himself separated from his compositions and was, he felt, driven to commit the extreme and somewhat incomprehensible crime of breaking back into the prison to liberate his buried treasure, which in his mind would make his fortune once sold to music publishers.

On the night of 12 June, while walking along Church Street, Sergeant Walsh caught sight of a man he thought he recognised and on asking him his name the man stated he was a member of the large and complicated ‘Smith’ family tree and that he lived in Baulkham Hills. The sergeant however arrested him after noting the evasive manner in which he answered his questions and also the suspicious pair of gloves he was sporting. Once back at the station Anthew confessed to being responsible for placing a stolen ladder against the wall of the prison. This had been found by warders but presumed it was some part of a break-out plot.

Anthes however explained to the policeman that the opposite was in fact true and that he had placed the ladder against the wall to see if it was tall enough for him to be able to climb into the gaol and retrieve his precious jar of songs. Anthes even visited the gaol with Sergeant Walsh and dug up the pickle jar full of songs.

But after being taken to court his account became more convoluted as he tried to pin the blame on others for trying to get into the gaol and for stealing the ladder. The only consistent feature was the extravagant claim he made about the worth of his songs (60,000 pounds according to the Sydney Morning Herald) but this seemed to have the opposite effect on the court who after hearing this fanciful tale began to wonder if in fact he was actually trying to aid an escape.

Eventually Anthes was sentenced to 12 months for stealing the ladder and a crowbar. As far as I could find out he never secured the publishing deal with Palings and didn’t sell any of his songs – in or out of prison.

by-saGeoff Barker, Research and Collection Services Coordinator, Parramatta City Council Heritage and Visitor Centre, 2014