Margaret Clement and her sister Jeannie were dubbed “The Old Ladies of the Swamp” by the popular press in the 1950’s. Their 14 room mansion in Tarwin Lower was falling down and the swamp had reclaimed the 2000 acres of prime farmland around the house. The women lived without running water, electricity or sewage. With no wood to light a fire, the sisters were living on cold tinned baked beans and bread. When Jeannie died in 1950 it became a massive job just to bring her body out for burial. Two years later, Margaret simply disappeared. It became a real life whodunnit that captured the attention of the world. Someone murdered Margaret but the question is who, and where is her body?
Margaret and Jeannie were the middle children of a father who went from bullock driver to one of the wealthiest men in Australia. Peter Scott Clement Snr. emigrated from Scotland with his siblings during the gold rush of the 1850’s. He worked as a bullock driver in and around Walhalla when, in payment for debts, he accepted shares in the Long Tunnel Gold Mine. Peter continued to purchase shares and reaped the benefits when the mine became one of the richest in Australia.
In November of 1876 when he was 43 years old, he married Jane, the 16 year old daughter of Arthur Thompson, a rival bullock driver in Walhalla. By now Peter’s wealth allowed him to purchase Prospect Station in South Gippsland. Comprising of 4220 acres, the station covered 20 square kilometers of land in the Seaspray area. He continued to purchase land including nearby Erin and Vale Station and land in Tinamba, Dennison, Upper Maffra and Merriman’s Creek.
His wife Jane was a very busy girl. In 1877, she gave birth to Flora and then in 1879 and 1881, Jeannie and Margaret (“The Old Ladies of the Swamp”). Two years later William Scott arrived and Peter Scott Jnr in 1885. It was shortly after she gave birth to Anna in 1879, that Peter collapsed and died while speaking to his overseer on Prospect Station. At 30 years old, Jane was a widow with 6 young children.
Peter’s will was complicated but certainly did not favour his wife. He left her an immediate legacy of £200 but his sister received a massive £1000. To his brothers and niece he gave £500 and even his cousin’s children received £250 each. Jane did receive an annuity of a further £200 for the upkeep of the children but this would be reduced to £100 if she remarried. His lands and property were to be sold and the money invested and made available to his children when they became of age. His executors followed most of his instructions but they did retain some of his properties until Anna, the youngest child, reached 21 years. At that point they sold everything and distributed it to the children.
Jane’s situation left her no choice but to move into the township of Sale. She purchased a house on the corner of Elgin and Macalister streets and it is here that the children grew up. When the eldest child, Flora, reached maturity she married the son of Henry Glenny, an early photographer, writer and successful businessman from Ballarat. When Jeannie and Margaret reached 21, Jane took them on a tour of Europe. Finally the money was available to be used and the girls spent it like water.
Suddenly they were part of the Victorian “squattocracy”. They entertained influential guests. They toured the far east and Europe again. They purchased antiques from Japan and China and shipped them back to Melbourne.
In 1907 with the help of their brother Peter Jnr. they purchased a property near Tarwin Lower called Tullaree. This property is the same one that featured in my article about Martin Wiberg (Buried Treasures). Martin selected the land shortly after he had stolen 5000 solid gold sovereigns from the mail steamer “Avoca”. He had numerous stashes of the gold and some of the treasure was found hidden on the property. When Jeannie and Margaret bought it, it had been thoroughly searched by the previous owners including Francis Longmore who had built a 14 room mansion on the 2,000 acres. The land was reclaimed swamp, rich and fertile with a heavy carrying capacity for sheep and cattle. Peter became their manager and the girls were living in style. They had 11 staff, a stable of beautiful horses and an elegant gig and later, new motorcars and a chauffeur. On shopping days the girls would be driven into Sale and merchants would bring goods out to their vehicle for the girls to peruse. They were treated like royalty and they loved it.
Tullaree became something of a family seat. Their youngest sister Anna came to live with them and joined them on their European trips. Peter remained their manager until 1912 when he married a divorcee named Alice Maude Hoggart and moved to South Yarra. With Peter gone, the girls employed a farm manager but a combination of mismanagement and dishonest employees began to take the toll on their fortune.
Anna, the baby of the family, loved the high society lifestyle. An extremely wealthy young heiress, she was feted and spoiled. In 1910 she managed to delay two steamships when she refused to come on deck for an inspection. When told by the quarantine inspector that she was delaying both the Morea und the German mail steamer, she replied, ‘”Oh, the devil, I’ll come when I’m ready “. She was convicted for delaying the inspection by the Fremantle police. In 1913 Anna married John Edwin Carnaghan, a sailor in Melbourne. Shortly after, her husband went off to fight in the First World War and she gave birth to Clement Scott Carnaghan. The marriage didn’t last and Carnaghan eventually went to America where he became a radio announcer. In newspaper clippings after Margaret disappeared, Anna describes herself as a widow although her husband was alive and living in the U.S. Their son, Clement, played a part in this strange story.
Jeannie and Margaret’s two brothers also have a part to play. It has been said that Peter Jnr. went off to fight in WW1 but I can find no evidence of this. It was widely thought that he suffered shell shock and came back a changed man. What I did find was that William signed up and went to war. When I searched for his records I found that the words DESERTER were stamped in purple ink across the top of his records. Today it is commonly believed that most deserters were suffering from shell shock.
In 1944, seven years before Margaret disappeared, Peter was found gravely injured on his farm at Wurruk (near Sale). He was removed to the Sale Hospital where he died without gaining consciousness. His death was caused by a gunshot wound to the head and he was found near the cattle yards on his farm. Their brother William was one of the first on the scene and with a neighbour he picked up a gun from under a chair in the parlour, discharged it and then put it in a drawer in the bedroom without telling the authorities. William declared that he had never seen the gun before. A coronial inquiry was held and their nephew Clement Carnaghan was called to give evidence. In 1935, Carnaghan is listed as a competitor at the Sale Rifle Club so he was obviously well versed in the use of a gun. The coroner recorded an open verdict and most people believed Peter had committed suicide although a suicide note was never found.
In the 1920’s Jeannie and Margaret’s fortunes began to slide. They had debts much greater than they could pay and they put mortgages on the property. The amount owed remained smaller than the total value of the property and so in time when the bank sold off the mortgage the girls were able to go to court and obtain a caveat allowing them to remain at Tullaree.
With no money to pay employees and no idea how to run the farm, the swamp slowly reclaimed the land. The blackberries, thistles and teatree clogged up the drains and the muddy water crept over the paddocks. The house sat on a rise and became an island on the water choked land. And like the land, the sisters turned inwards and became reclusive.
The house, well designed and made of brick showed it’s worth. It stood up to the years of neglect with only the timbers rotting from the constant damp. With the land covered in water, the snakes and rats headed for the high ground and settled into the house with the sisters. The women also shared their living space with a host of cats and a well loved little dog by the name of Dingo.
With no income the sisters relied on handouts from their family to survive. Each week while their mother was alive, a food parcel would be sent to the nearby township of Buffalo. The women would hitch up their skirts and wade through the water and then walk 11 kilometers to retrieve the parcels of baked beans and bread. As time went on the water became deeper and their trip would be through pockets of water that was chest high. It was only the close personal knowledge of the land that made the trip negotiable for Margaret and Jeannie. Their mother Jane died in 1937 and it is probable that their brothers took on the roll of providers of sustenance but by 1947 both brothers were dead and the girls were on their own.
The rest of the family managed their inheritance better than Margaret and Jeannie although none retained the obscene wealth left to them by their father. It’s also probable that the depression of the 1930’s took it’s toll on their incomes. In 1906 William and his mother Jane purchased Fulham Park near Sale. Fulham Park comprised of 345 acres and a beautiful Colonial Georgian style homestead of handmade brick. William occupied himself as a grazier while also having a very good stable of racehorses. At times Anna and her son Clement lived with them and Peter joined them for a while in the 1930’s.
By 1950, the sister’s contact with the outside world was almost nil. The depth of the water and the effort taken to leave the house was taking it’s toll. In July of 1950, Miss Jeannie Clement died at the Tullaree homestead of natural causes. It was midwinter and the freezing water meant that Margaret spent days trying to get out to request help. Eventually Margaret waded through the swamp to the Buckleys, a neighbouring family who were her contact with the outside world. Bernard Buckley contacted the authorities and two policemen, a doctor, the coroner and one of Buckley’s sons waded through the miles of swamp to retrieve the body. By the time they arrived at the homestead it was dark and Jeannie had been dead for some time. The return trip through the miles of swamp in the dark with Jeannies putrefying body was horrendous.
The story of the two sisters poverty and isolation made it into newsprint. A neighbour and relative newcomer to the area, Stan Livingstone and his wife Esme befriended the elderly Margaret. Stanley Russell Livingstone reportedly had a hot temper. He was a former Footscray footballer and CRB employee who had purchased a small farm at Meeniyan. Esme was a Gippsland girl and her father had been a carpenter and undertaker in the Traralgon area. According to the Livingstones they took Margaret shopping and had her come over for meals. At one stage Stan took Margaret to see her sister Anna in St. Kilda and her nephew Clement was present. An altercation occurred and Stan punched Clement in the jaw. Margaret did visit Anna again but a local policeman who met her on one of her return journeys declared that she had discolouration around one of her eyes after a visit. Margaret stated that she was very unhappy in the city and just wanted to return to Tullaree and her little dog Dingo.
There is very little information about Margaret’s eldest sister Flora and her husband Robert Anderson Glenny. He had passed away in 1930 but Flora was still alive when Jeannie died and when Margaret disappeared. Flora and her daughters lived in Ballarat and the girls stood to inherit in Margaret’s last will.
In a complicated legal move, Stan Livingstone’s solicitor arranged removal of the caveat on Tullaree. Margaret then sold the property to the Livingstones for the sum of £3000 and the Livingstones also paid the mortgagee £12,500. Prior to Margaret’s disappearance they were building a small unit for Margaret to live in as she did not want to leave Tullaree. The same solicitor wrote a new will for Margaret that removed her nephew Clement Carnaghan as her beneficiary and instead listed the daughters of her eldest sister Flora.
In March of 1952, Margaret’s little dog, Dingo was found dead. In an unusual twist, his throat had been bitten and clawed out. Just two months later, his mistress, the women he would have given his life to protect, simply disappeared. Margaret Clement was last seen by Stanley Livingstone on Thursday, May 22, 1952. On Sunday, May 25th, Stan reported her disappearance to the police. By the following day, there were 100 people, including police, neighbours and a blacktracker searching for her. Originally it was feared that she had collapsed and drowned while walking through the swamp but the searchers failed to find any trace of her body. They dragged the wells on the property then started looking further afield such as nearby farmland, creeks and rivers. The search went on for months with hundreds of people involved but no trace of Margaret was ever found.
The nephew Clement Carnaghan was unaware that he had been removed from her will. After Margaret disappeared and when it became known that the Livingstones had purchased Tullaree, he started legal proceedings to disclaim her latter will and make the sale of the property null and void. He retained Frank Galbally (a brilliant criminal defence lawyer in Melbourne) as his solicitor. He attempted to claim undue influence and later senility or insanity regarding Margaret’s affairs. The court cases went on for years and were hampered by the fact that Margaret had to be proclaimed dead, although her body was never found. In yet another twist to the story it seems that Stan Livingstone had borrowed back most of the £3000 he had paid to Margaret for the property. In 1955, the Chief Justice, Sir Edmund Herring ruled in favour of the latter will and and the Livingstones were declared owners of the property.
During these years Livingstone had been living on and working the property. In 1954 another writ was lodged in the Supreme Court by the Tarwin River Improvements Trust. It seems Livingstone was denying access to work on the drains along of Fish Creek. This is interesting because Livingstone himself had been working to drain the property and could not proceed until the creek areas were completed.
In 1956, just five years after Margaret sold Tullaree to Stan and Esme Livingstone for £3000, and less than one year after the court case finished, the Livingstones sold the property for £67,500. They eventually purchased land on Curtis Island near Gladstone in Queensland. Stan died in 1992, a millionaire who’s fortunes were changed by Tullaree. Esme died just one year later. It was revealed after her death that she was too frightened of her husband to help the police with their investigation but had told friends that she knew who the killer was.
Margaret’s sister, Anna Elizabeth Carnaghan was the last of the Clement siblings alive. Anna died in 1961 and her son, Clement Carnaghan passed away in 1982 in Heidelberg, Victoria. He never married.
In 1978 human bones were found in a shallow grave at Venus Bay. The skeletal remains were identified as female but could not conclusively be identified as that of Margaret Clement. There are some reports that the land where they were found was at one time leased by Stan Livingstone for grazing cattle but I am unable to find any evidence supporting the claim. In 1979, a lace shawl, a ladies handbag and some coins were found in the same general vicinity. All dated pre 1952 but they were never proved to belong to Margaret Clement. Recent studies of the skull suggest the wear on the teeth indicate that the skeleton is that of an aboriginal. To this day the fate of Margaret Clement remains a mystery.
The two main suspects in the disappearance of Margaret were Stan Livingstone and Clement Carnaghan. Neither were ever formally charged with her murder and the question of why she was murdered remains a mystery but the theory that there was still gold hidden on the property cannot be dismissed.