Dr Thomas George Davy is one of the minor characters in the book I recently finished. As the Police Medical Officer in Perth, he visited Alice Mitchell’s home with a police constable in February 1907, shortly before Alice was arrested for murder. He later appeared at her trial as a witness.
Dr Davy was born in Jamaica in 1856. He arrived in Western Australia in 1895 after spending time in medical practice in China, India, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand. Oxford-trained, a polymath and a skilled musician, he spoke nine languages.
But he was best known in Perth for his inability to get along with other members of the medical profession, and for his motor car, which he bought in 1904.
The first petrol-driven vehicle in Perth was a tricycle imported by Armand Bargigli in 1898. But the first recognisable ‘motor car’ arrived in December 1900, having been bought at the Paris Fair by John Banfield, an engineer.
Restored two-seater, 6.5 HP Gladiator from 1901
Photo by Krzysztof Marek Wlodarczyk, used under a CC license
Although Dr Davy was proud of his motor car, he was not very adept at driving it. In December 1904 an unfortunate man of Chinese background sued Dr Davy for £100 for injuries sustained when Dr Davy ran over him. The court dismissed the claim.
In November 1905 Dr Davy appeared in court charged with obstructing the traffic. He had parked the car in front of the town hall in order to go inside to vote, and had ignored a request by a traffic inspector to move it. He argued in court that, having stopped the car, he couldn’t restart it.
“The fact of the matter is that the inspector does not understand the vagaries of motor cars, and I can assure you I had the very best of intentions,” Dr Davy is reported to have said.
‘Motor cars’ were still a rarity in Perth in 1907. When Dr Davy parked his car outside the Mitchell’s house in Edward Street, it brought a crowd of curious neighbours, eager to see what was going on.
After Dr Davy’s death in 1908 the Sunday Times recounted another tale about his car:
The Doctor ran a motor, which was reckoned to be absolutely the most erratic machine on the face of the globe.
After a while the public became aware that it was the doctor’s playful mechanical eccentricities that accounted for the break-downs.
One day, a week after purchasing the stormy petrol, it whirred suspiciously, gave a few spasmodic coughs, and stopped dead, but with the underneath machinery going around at a terrible rate.
The Doctor jerked and tugged at every available lever and tap, and finally descended, and rushing into the Palace Hotel rang up the agents for the motor-man to come and take the blanketty dash away, and throw it on the scrap heap.
When the Doctor came out he saw a terrific convulsion, the motor, luckily a weak horse power one, was snorting and grinding furiously along the street with half-a-dozen cabmen and as many casuals hanging on to it to keep it back.
Someone had accidentally touched the right button, and set her going. The ensuing grateful ‘shout’ cost the Doctor fifteen shillings.
(A ‘shout’, for those reading this outside Australia, refers to buying a round of drinks for everyone in the party. Some of the information in this post originally appeared in my newsletter but I’ve updated and extended it )