Phillip Island & District Historical Society

Death of two boys at Seaside Garden Home for Boys, Newhaven, Phillip Island

Last updated on 06-Jul-21

April 2016  Joe Fairhurst spoke about the secret terrors of the Seaside Garden Home for Boys, Newhaven which until 1933 was under the control of the Superintendant William Baye. Joe has been researching the home and Baye for the last 20 years, especially in regard to the deaths of two boys under Baye’s supervision.


Joe first heard the story of one of the boy’s deaths when working with Offshore Theatre on a production at the St Paul’s boys home chapel. On opening night he took a group of dignitaries on a backstage tour of the choir loft, when he suddenly felt a knife of ice through hip and shoulders. Someone said “Don’t worry, it’s just Danny; he haunts the chapel”. Joe had a background in journalism, so naturally wanted to know more and started his research then. “Danny” was actually Rex Simpson.


Joe discovered that it was actually very difficult to research the boys’ deaths, as many official records had apparently been burnt in a 1933 fire, and other information was hidden under layers. He went to the newspapers of the day, where he read the details, which he found very hard to cope with.


William Henry Baye, the supervisor, was born in Adelaide and came to Melbourne with his parents in 1900. They were greengrocers. He had made a mess of his schooling in Adelaide and was working as a market gardener when he met his wife Elizabeth in 1905. He went to work at Tally Ho Boys Village as a teacher – he got the job because of his gardening skills which the village emphasised. 


Once Baye got the job at the Seaside Garden Home for Boys he began planning punishments. He was a Eugenicist, and believed that boys only ever feigned illness and were ‘malingering’. He was greatly influenced by Melbourne University’s Professor Richard Berry, (with whom he formed an alliance in 1924-25) who believed he could predict whether a boy would become a criminal or a girl become a prostitute by measuring their heads. He was obsessed with skulls and after he left, over 400 skulls, including 300 aboriginal skulls, were found in his University rooms. At that stage Eugenics was quite popular even among powerful people such as the Rockefellers, who believed that by selective breeding, all the ills of humanity could be bred out. (Nazism was an extreme example of Eugenics, and saw the end of its popularity).


As an example of Baye’s methods, Joe told us about a boy who ran away from the home and was found in Cowes by the constable, who contacted the home and offered to bring the boy back. Baye said he would get him instead. When he arrived in Cowes he tied the boy to the back of the jinker and made him run the 10 miles back to Newhaven. Baye claimed he did not know the boy was blind, and anyway, he said the horse was a Clydesdale and couldn’t go very fast.


If boys showed signs of illness or unwillingness 

to submit to discipline, Baye would strip them and make them stand in the cold outside the dining room and watch the other boys eat. He kept a fat leather strap on the wall of his office and often used it to belt the boys.


Baye tried many devious means to take over Newhaven school, which he overloaded with the boys from the home. Due to their propensity for stealing boats they were a real headache to the head teacher. Also, in order to stop the boys from running away, Baye would send them to school without shoes, and in some cases, without trousers.


Some years ago a crying woman from Wonthaggi phoned Joe to say she was the Great Aunt of the boy Baye had killed. Joe was confused until she said she was Freddie’s Great Aunt. Joe had been researching the story of Rex, and did not know about Freddie. Then he discovered the story of Freddie. Ernest Alfred (Freddie) Smith was born in 1914 in England. His father Percy was gassed in WWI and died. Freddie and his mother Gertrude came to Australia and Gertrude married a Gibbons. Gibbons resented the fact that Freddie was so attached to his mother, but the boy was an angel of a child.


During a world-wide outbreak of encephalitis, Freddie contracted the disease but was not diagnosed. The effect it had on him was to reverse his character and he became a real problem child, setting fire to haystacks and swearing. Gibbons took him to Berry who said he was malingering and had him sent to Baye in 1926. There Freddie broke a window and ran away. Baye found him at the Newhaven jetty, took him back, where he belted him, stripped him and doused him with water. We believe now that he also hit Freddie with a cricket bat. He left him and came back an hour later, when he found Freddie dead on the floor. This was Saturday p.m. Freddie’s body was examined by a doctor with an inquiry by a JP only. There was no inquest. Freddie was buried in the afternoon of the inquiry. His mother wasn’t told for 4-5 days after, and was never told where Freddie was buried. Joe found the grave in 2002 and the remaining relatives were able to place a marker on the grave and have some closure.


The boy Joe originally set out to research was Rex Simpson. He was a ten year old serial truant when he was sent by the courts to Baye. This was not unusual, as even 4-5 year old boys were left at the home by their parents. The court gave the family a choice – either the father went to gaol or Rex went to the home. Baye earmarked Rex for punishment straight away. Joe showed us newspaper photos of Rex which clearly showed a ‘cheeky’ faced child, which was like a red rag to a bull to Baye.


Rex contracted tetanus. He could have done this by a number of means as the boys were sent shoeless to work in the gardens before school, and they also cleaned out the horse’s stable. The symptoms of late stage tetanus began showing on Monday morning when Rex fell at the gate and couldn’t get up. Baye rushed out and belted him, then dragged him to his feet and told his friend Sydney to get him to school. There, Rex’s limbs started to get stiff and he couldn’t sit at his desk.

On the Tuesday Rex did go to school but was sobbing so much that the teacher Sunderland said he’d had enough and told Sydney to take Rex home and make sure Baye got the doctor. But Baye only dragged him back to school, where there was a slanging match between Baye and Sunderland.


Baye then dragged Rex back over ditches and forced him to walk to the farm. Rex fell over twice, when Baye took him back to the home. The deputy Hamilton later swore he saw Baye take Rex into his office and belt him.


On the Wednesday Rex fell over on the doorstep and fell onto his knees, when Baye belted him four times on the backside with a cricket bat. Baye then asked the boys for a pin and jabbed it into Rex’s leg. Rex was a tough boy who wouldn’t show Baye any pain or fear, and didn’t cry out, even though it must have been agony. Baye then took Rex into his office and forced him to bend his leg and put his heel to his bottom. Rex apparently cried out, but Baye later claimed he did not.


On Thursday Rex was stiff as a board and couldn’t get up. Baye and his wife Elizabeth put a shirt on him, and Baye jabbed the back of his leg with a knitting needle. He then made Rex stand against the wall in the dining room and tried to force porridge into his locked jaws. Baye went to a meeting in Melbourne, and still hadn’t called a doctor. Rex lay on a couch all day getting worse. Finally Dr Maclaine was called and said to get Rex to Wonthaggi Hospital immediately. There he was seen by Dr Sleeman, who worked on Rex for three hours, but the boy died on November 16 1933. Sleeman had seen the bruises and cuts all over Rex’s body and refused to sign the death certificate. Hamilton told Sleeman that Baye had done it.


On returning to the home, Hamilton stormed into Baye’s room and shouted “Murderers” at Baye and Elizabeth.


Baye was tried twice, and both times resulted in a hung jury. His defence barrister, the blind and brilliant Maxwell, was considered to be the best barrister in Australia, and Joe wonders how Baye managed to afford his services. Maxwell was successful in discrediting the witnesses, especially the boys from the home, whom Maxwell told the jury were nothing but thieves and liars, so how could they be believed.


Baye was sent for a third trial, but the Attorney General, Menzies, was asked to grant a nolle prosequi (a formal notice of abandonment by a plaintiff or prosecutor of all or part of a suit) which he did, meaning Baye could go free and could never again be tried for Rex’s case.


Baye died ignominiously and in poverty in Bairnsdale with a bout of influenza in 1955. Elizabeth died in 1954 in Kew Asylum, where Baye had placed her. She was apparently tormented by the deaths of the two boys and died horribly in the asylum. Baye sent his nephew to identify and claim Elizabeth’s body.


Unfortunately, Baye’s lack of education and his obsession to cure ‘malingering’, tarnished the whole idea and operation of the Seaside Garden Home for Boys.


Joe concluded by showing us a letter he found which implicates the director of Education of the time, James MacRae, Kearnan MLC and Isaac Cohen, Minister for Education, in a cover-up of what had `actually happened at the home.


Rex had been one of ten children. Tragically, his mother died in their cottage backyard three days after seeing Rex’s body in the morgue.


Vote of thanks:

Anne Davie gave the vote of thanks, saying that this had been a gruelling but informative talk on a subject which is a part of Phillip Island’s history. Joe had gone on to write an award-winning play about the murder of Rex, and had raised sufficient funds to put a monument to Rex at his previously unmarked grave at Frankston Cemetery. Rex’s brother, Ralph, was able to attend to see the monument. Anne concluded her thanks by saying that society needs people like Joe.