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Jestyn: ‘her tremendous courage.’

Patterns are hard to come by in this mystery, but there is one that’s unmistakeable and it’s about the name used to sign off the inscription in the Rubaiyat given to Alf Boxall by Jessica Harkness when they met in the Clifton Gardens Hotel 1945, just prior to Boxall being posted north.

Harkness was interviewed once by Detective Canney in 1949 and twice by Gerry Feltus prior to his book being published in 2010. Boxall was interviewed once by Stuart Littlemore in 1978 and Harkness’ daughter* Kate was interviewed once by Charles Wooley in 2013.


When Detective Canney knocked on the door of 90a Moseley Street in July 1949 he was looking for Sister J E Thomson (pic), but the woman who opened the door to him was Jessica Harkness. She mentioned giving Boxall a copy of the Rubaiyat.

Detective Gerry Feltus knew who he was talking to in both his interviews with Jessica Harkness but decided to withhold her real name from publication, calling her Tessie and her then husband Prestige Johnson.

When Stuart Littlemore interviewed Alf Boxall in 1978 and was shown the inscription written on the Rubaiyat’s fly leaf, the Jestyn signature was hidden by a slip of tape (pic).

Lastly, when Charles Wooley interviewed Kate Thomson in 2013 he didn’t ask her if she knew of her mother* ever being called Jestyn.

Neither did Feltus ask that question of Harkness in either of his interviews, and Littlemore didn’t ask Boxall if it was Jessica who signed the inscription.

Four interviews, and not one mention of the name Jestyn.

Perhaps the key to this secrecy can be found in the notes of the Littlemore / Boxall interview where it’s written that Boxall stated of Harkness ‘I think she had great courage, tremendous courage.’

Great courage to do what?

Harkness was a nurse at the Royal North Shore Hospital, a job she apparently didn’t like given what she said in a letter home when visiting the UK some years later.

I would be wise I suppose to be a withered virgin in some hospital or another emptying pans and taking temperatures.

Tremendous courage to do what?


header pic Jessica Thomson

*Thanks to GC for the assist and corrections.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Clive #

    What was Boxall getting at? Doesn’t it suggest that Boxall knew far more about Jessie than he was prepared to say?

    December 2, 2021
    • What was the context of his comments?

      December 2, 2021
      • Barz #

        Admitting an affair with a chap?

        December 3, 2021
        • Barz: I’m reading through the transcript of Littlemore’s interview looking for the reason Boxall was prompted to express such admiration for Harkness.

          December 3, 2021
  2. Clive #

    Barz: You could be on the right lines, if Boxall knew this chap and, this chap was of interest to certain parties-was Jessie the ‘bait’? Did Boxall have a profile of the chap and, knew full well that events could turn nasty, if Jessie wasn’t careful?

    December 3, 2021
    • Clive: a reading of the Littlemore Boxall transcript fills in a few gaps … for instance, when Alf arrived home after the police visited him at the Randwick depot, he found the street was full of reporters, cameras, lights and journalists. The old boy wasn’t at all happy.. He also said that he and the other instructors stayed overnight at the Water Base during the week. He also confirms he only met Jessica twice and very briefly on both occasions, a fact Gordon mentioned some time ago.
      Should have the details ready for posting tomorrow.

      December 3, 2021

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