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Land forger caught out 30 years later

In December of 1890 a very interesting case of forgery was presented to the City Court in Melbourne, involving journalist and business man William John Henningham.

As defendant, Henningham was accused of forging documents of land ownership in Footscray, Victoria that went all the way back to 1860. At that time he was working as an auctioneer and commission agent in Melbourne.

Henningham sold the land in question to Alexander Ross, a postmaster at Leithbridge, a station on the Ballarat line, who paid one pound per allotment and three pounds to Henningham for the conveyance. However, Henningham never gave Ross the conveyance of title. When Henningham left the colony, Ross was unable to follow him up to get the necessary paperwork, and worse, lost the receipts he had received for the transaction acknowledging his ownership.

Then it got more complicated. A miner, by the name of York came forward to show that Henningham had sold him part of the land originally sold to Ross. Again, Henningham had failed to provide clear titles to the land. When York made an application to the titles office in 1886 to secure a title to the land he had purchased, it was discovered that in 1860 there had been a conveyance of the same land from Henningham to Ross.

When Ross decided to investigate what had happened to his land, he found it was still in the name of Henningham 'to whom a transfer had been granted in the end of 1888', according to one local paper. Ross claimed he had never sold the land back to Henningham and his signature at the bottom of the conveyance paperwork was a forgery.

Melbourne General Cemetery. Courtesy Shutterstock

It was worked out that while Ross had paid 60 pounds for the land in 1860, its present value in 1891 was between 6,000-7,000 pounds. Definitely incentive for forgery.

Henningham was convicted of forgery and sent to Pentridge gaol for three years hard labour. Only a month into his sentence, he died in the gaol hospital from phthisis and chronic Bright's disease. He is buried in Melbourne General Cemetery.


  • 'Alleged Extensive Fraud', Wagga Wagga Express, Tuesday 16 December 1890, Page 2

  • 'The Alleged Land Frauds', The Herald, Wednesday 29 April 1891, Page 2

  • 'Death of a Forger', The Advertiser, Thursday 18 June 1891, Page 4

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