The enigma of the one-armed man

Depression era transients would often jump freight trains to get from place to place, where Wingie would nab them for fare evasion.

Wingie was the ‘nickname’ of (Bill) William Harvey Connellan, a one-armed man – a fact which earned him his nickname.

The story of Wingie the Railway Cop is a fascinating one.

According to his death certificate, William Harvey Connellan, sometimes known as William Henry was born in South Africa.

Other records indicate that he may have been born in Ireland.

He is first found on the Australian Electoral Rolls in 1917 living in Lily St, somewhere in Queensland with no listed occupation.

However, the Queensland Railway Employees Index indicates he was a labourer with the maintenance branch.

From here he moved to Toowoomba and back to Brisbane, but by 1925 he was residing at ‘Beech’s’, Davidson St, East Ipswich and was a railway employee.

It could be assumed that he was boarding with the Beech family as the girl who was to become his wife, Ellen Beech, was living at the same address.

According to the Australian Marriage Index, they were married on 13 December 1928 in Queensland.

A newspaper report from Trove reports that he was transferred from Maryborough to Gympie as the railway night watchman in December of 1932.

Inspecting every train that came into the station, Wingie apprehended hundreds of non-paying passengers in the days when it was not uncommon to see scores of tattered, penniless tramps herded into a compound at the police station awaiting Court punishment for “jumping the rattler.”

He was well-known for his determination to “get his man” and often braved considerable danger to carry out his job.

Swaggies usually left the train just before the trains slowed near the Red Hill Road railway gates, re-joining it a short distance to the north.

If Wingie missed you, there was every chance that his short-fused alsatian dog would not.

It was his dogs which became the victims of perhaps revenge for Wingie’s vigilance.

On two occasions, several Queensland newspapers report of the poisoning of his dogs.

He was also assaulted and badly beaten by three men.

The Daily Standard from Brisbane on Thursday 9 March 1933 reported;

“A nightwatchman, H Connellan, was attacked by three men after he frustrated an attempt on the part of eight to board the goods train.

“One man was armed with an iron bar, another with a piece of wood and the third with a bottle.

“Connellan has only one arm but he fought bravely and was considerably battered.”

In 1936, in what become known as the Gympie Train Murder, he testified to having witnessed the accused, Herbert Kopit, boarding the Brisbane train in Gympie.

As the impact of the Depression years lessened, the reports of his exploits also lessened.

In the One Mile School admission registers Eric William Connellan aged 11 years 1 month was enrolled on 14 February 1944.

His date of birth is 16 January 1933.

His father was listed as William Connellan, railway employee, residing at 67 Hilton Rd, Gympie.

By 1949, Wingie had returned to Maryborough, was living in John St and was a railway officer.

He died in Maryborough on 20 September 1950 and is buried there.

His funeral notice was a sad affair without any family or relatives mentioned.

There was a notice from the RSL but a war service record could not be found for him.

So, in death, Wingie the Railway Cop, remains the enigma he was in life.

How did he lose his arm?

Why is he never recorded as living with Ellen?

What happened to their son born almost 10 years after their marriage?

These questions will perhaps be answered by another researcher in the future.

Thanks to Keith Buchanan, Ray Mullaly, Val Thomas and Margaret Long for their memories of Wingie.

As a footnote, the country and western singer Tex Morton wrote a song entitled Wingie the Railway Cop which was recorded by Buddy Williams in 1957.

It was somewhat of a hit in country music circles and certainly did the rounds of Gympie pubs.

The Youtube video can be found at