Wells, Henry (Mounted Constable)
|Type of person||Individual|
|Date of birth||c. 1954|
|Place of birth||Adelaide, SA|
|Principal occupation||Mounted Constable, Cabinetmaker|
|Date of death||1928|
|Place of decease||Adelaide, SA|
Mounted Constable Henry Wells was stationed at Willunga from 22 August 1903 to 29 June 1908.
Henry Wells was born around 1854. His parents were John Wells, a carpenter and cabinet maker, and Martha Wells (née Edwards). The family lived in Hindley Street, Adelaide when Henry was born. Henry appears to have followed in his father’s footsteps to become a cabinet maker. At the age of 27, however, he changed his life’s direction and became a mounted constable.
Henry’s initial postings gave him vast experience in northern South Australia. He was stationed at Beltana, Blinman, Hegott (Marree) and Quorn for eight years. On 4 December 1889, he married Helena Dwyer from Kapunda at his sister’s house in Norwood. Helen joined him in his northern postings and they had four of their five children at Quorn, namely John Roy (b. 6/5/1892), Harry Reginald (b. 14/2/1894) and Kathleen Martha (b. 10/8/1897).
In 1898 Henry was posted to Morphett Vale and, from 22 August 1903, Henry and family were stationed at Willunga. During this time, Helena gave birth to their youngest child, Marjorie Iris (b. 15/11/1904). Henry coped with the variety usual in a mounted constable’s life. He organised rocket crew practices and dealt with thefts, arson and untimely deaths. By that time motor cars had been added to the mix. Perhaps the most harrowing incident that Henry had to deal with was the fire at Mount Compass in April 1908.
Henry was out collecting agricultural statistics when MC Ewens, who was stationed in Goolwa, summoned him to the scene at Mount Compass. The home of Mrs Caroline Elsely was a smoking ruin and inside were the charred bodies of Mrs Elsely, her 13 year old daughter, Violet, and Violet’s friend, Annie Hailstone, from Willunga. Mrs Elsley’s custom, since the reporting of a murder at Glenelg, was to fit a chain and padlock to secure the door of the house and this led to their deaths. It seems that when the fire erupted, the inhabitants were awake but trapped in the house. According to the Express and Telegraph (21/4/1908), p.4 :
The positions of the bodies of the victims suggest that they rushed frantically about the room endeavoring either to look for the key or find an exit. The body of one of the girls was found underneath the bed, where she had evidently crept in an unsuccessful attempt to get away from the flames and smoke. Another body was in the centre of the room, while the third was in a corner.
Mounted Constables Ewens and Wells were praised for their conduct in taking:
the greatest of care, and with due regard to the susceptibilities of the onlookers, removed the charred bodies from the debris. Their work was rendered difficult by the fact that the bodies fell to pieces as they were moved. They also spent the night at the scene of the tragedy, guarding the remains from wild dogs and foxes.
Several months after this tragedy, Henry was posted to the Kingston area. In late 1910, he appears to have applied for an extended leave, much to the regret of the people of Kingston who greatly esteemed both Henry and Helena. It is doubtful that Henry returned to the police force, as he resigned on 1 March 1911.
Henry went back to the family business of cabinet making, later retired and died on 5 January 1928. He is buried in the West Terrace Cemetery.
- Almanacs & Directories – State Library of South Australia
- Border Watch. 9 November 1910. p. 3
- Express and Telegraph. 21 April 1908. p. 4
- Family History SA. https://www.familyhistorysa.org/
- Mail. 7 January 1928. p. 13
- Advertiser. 7 January 1928. p. 15
- SA Genealogy Online Database