Cornwall Borough resident Bruce Chadbourne moved to Cornwall Manor a few years ago after his retirement, drawn by the history of the mine and the Cornwall Iron Furnace. He has taken to writing a few historical articles, which he’s kindly shared with LebTown for our readers to enjoy in a semi-regular series titled, “Who knew?” We hope you enjoy.
Recap: Lebanon’s highly esteemed citizen, Capt. B.F. Hean, mysteriously left town with a small satchel on a westbound train one night in October 1895, the strong undertones of scandal quickly erupting. The story now resumes in January 1896 in an unlikely place. Read part one in full here.
Note: The author faithfully spelled “Pittsburg” as it was found in the Daily News and Melbourne papers in the 1890s.
When B.F. Hean left Lebanon, he actually might have gone to Pittsburg as he told witnesses, but at some point he reversed direction almost immediately to make his way to London. There he resided briefly at the Great Eastern Hotel. Somewhere along the way he had acquired a trunk and a complete wardrobe of gentleman’s accessories. From London, Hean sailed to Melbourne, Australia. As he traveled, he identified himself to others as Frank Herne of Pittsburg, a manager of iron works. Given his tenure with Robert H. Coleman he thus represented himself most credibly.
Hean arrived in Melbourne on Dec. 26, 1895, on the mail steamer Orient from London. He could not have stayed long in London given the transit time from America, and then perhaps at least five weeks from London to Australia.
Whatever money he carried in his satchel from Lebanon did not last long because on the trip to Melbourne he borrowed $20 from John D. Campbell, a fellow traveler he had befriended, promising to repay when he received his remittance from Pittsburg. He had apparently kept enough for rail and steamer fare, but how he spent or disposed of the remaining money remains a mystery. The gold watch he had while on the steamer was not found among his personal effects, presumably pawned to provide his needs or to repay his travel companion.
In a few short days, the odd story of B.F. Hean took another bizarre twist. To the shock of citizens of Melbourne, and later to citizens of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, his body was discovered New Year’s morning on St. Kilda beach, with a gunshot wound to the head.
On that Wednesday morning, a warm New Year’s day (Australian summertime), a gentleman named Thomas Jarvis walked the St. Kilda beach of greater Melbourne. Finding a body on a bluff, Jarvis located a constable.
The initial report described the body as very stout in build, dressed in black paget coat and vest, striped tweed trousers, white cotton drawers, white canvas shoes, black cotton socks with red stripes, white straw hat with red and blue band, a white shirt with the initials B.F.H. on cuffs and Smith, Gray & Co. New York and Brooklyn on the band, and white cotton ringlet.
The left forearm of the body was tattooed in red and blue Indian ink with the figure of an American soldier holding the American flag, underneath was printed the name “B.P. Hean” (the amateur quality of his Civil War era tattoo having left the middle initial in doubt).
Property found on the deceased included a silver mounted pipe, a cigar holder, a nickel match box, folding scissors, a pocket knife, pocket comb, pocket corkscrew, two small keys, one pince-nez eye glass, four Brummagem shirt studs, two solitaires, seven pence farthing in coppers, and a three-penny bit.
Given further investigation by the constable, the body was identified as “Frank Herne of Pittsburg” by the several men who had met him. Dr. Richard Youl, coroner, and Senior-Constable Davidson conducted an inquest on Jan. 6, 1895, from which the following timeline is reconstructed.
His last few days
Thursday, Dec. 26, 1895 – As reported by John Campbell, his new friend on the Orient steamer, he and Hean arrived Thursday in Melbourne. Both checked into the elegant Grand Hotel (now the Hotel Windsor) on Spring Street. Both men stayed through the weekend.
Monday, Dec. 30, 1895 – Both men checked out and went their separate ways; Campbell to the Piccadilly Hotel and “Herne” to Her Majesty’s Hotel. They met twice at the post office, apparently Hean appearing to make good on his debt. Campbell testified that Herne was “sober” when they parted at 8:30 p.m. “I never again saw him alive; the revolver now produced belonged to him; he wore a gold watch; I have not seen it for three weeks.”
Frederick Pollock, the manager of Her Majesty’s hotel, stated that on checking in, “Herne” went to his room and having received his baggage he locked the door. Later he left, “I never saw him again alive; he never returned to his room so far as I know; on Wednesday [1 January] I reported him missing to the police. On the next day Senior-Constable Davidson told me he thought the man was in the morgue; I went to the morgue and identified him; he had never slept in the bed.”
Tuesday, Dec. 31, 1895 – A gardener residing at St. Kilda, Frederick Sefton testified that “Herne” was seen in the afternoon of this day at the Marine Parade (the road parallel to the beach). He had two tarts and a bottle of ginger ale. They saw each other again that evening on the Marine Parade and discussed the fact that Sefton was going fishing in the bay. When asked the time, Herne replied he did not have the time on him but wished Sefton “to catch more fish than he could carry.” When Sefton returned later that evening, Herne was sitting on a bluff, the same as where his body was found the next morning. That kind wish may have been Hean’s last conversation with another human being.
Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1896 – A gentleman of St. Kilda, Thomas Jarvis was walking the beach at 6:30 a.m. near the foot of Dickens Street and would have missed Hean until a man on a bicycle called his attention to a body lying on the beach. He appeared dead from a head wound, with a revolver in his right hand.
Responding to the call, police constable Patrick Keaney investigated the scene and confirmed Jarvis’s report. The body had a pipe and “other trifles” including ten pence farthing, but no watch. He noted the tattoo “B.P. Hean.”
Monday, Jan. 6, 1896 – The inquest performed by Richard Youl, coroner concluded based on the testimony that “Frank Hern” shot himself, “there being no evidence to show the state of his mind.” The Melbourne Herald-Standard reported the story of a man who “died with the year,” having premeditated suicide “for he hovered at the site for nearly twenty-four hours.”
The effects belonging to the deceased were all handed over to the curator of the intestate estates of deceased persons. The body of deceased was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery as a pauper. The value of the estate was not more than a few pounds sterling. One remarkable thing in connection with the deceased and his effects when searched was that no papers whatever were found. One large traveling trunk bears the label “Frank Hearn, Great Eastern Hotel, London.”
In addition to the property found on the body the following items were found in his room at Her Majesty’s hotel: one box, containing a dressing gown; two felt hats; dress suit; six white shirts; 13 pair cuffs; 29 collars; 17 cotton handkerchiefs; one silk handkerchief; one silk scarf; small brown leather bag, containing four cricketing shirts, five pair drawers, 12 pair socks; and a brown leather bag, containing menthol inhaler, nail brush, four pipes, overcoat, two gold platinum studs, four gold wash studs, 14 foreign silver coins, and enameled scarf pin (scarf-pattern).
The story lingered a few more months. Based on initial correspondence to Pittsburg regarding “Frank Herne” the coroner began receiving correspondence from several authorities and citizens of Lebanon who had been trying to locate Hean. The Daily News of Lebanon was more than proactive in the investigation, having sent the drawing of Hean to the coroner, which confirmed his ultimate identification as B.F. Hean. The News proudly and repeatedly informed its readers how diligently they had been pursuing the matter.
In a letter to the proprietors of the Daily News, “Messrs. Schropp, Light & Schropp, 24 South Eighth Street, Lebanon U.S.A” Dr. Youl said he had not the slightest doubt that the deceased was “your Major B. F. Hean.”
On a lighter note, when Senior-Constable Davidson had contacted Pittsburg, Dr. Youl received a batch of correspondence addressed to “Mr. Richard Soule, Osborne, Australia.” The Melbourne paper wryly reported: “Dr. Youl, the veteran city coroner, might well have exclaimed ‘And is this fame?’ … The letters turned out to be communications from America—where it is evident the authorities are not experts in calligraphy…”
Getting more redundant inquiries in the mail than he could respond to, Dr. Youl chose to correspond only with the Daily News, asking them to relay information to the other parties in Lebanon. He sent along several Melbourne newspaper articles and requested that they reciprocate so that he would have the information for his files. Among the articles sent by the Daily News was the drawing that aided Hean’s identification. The Herald Standard published its final account of the story on May 28, 1896, confirming “Hearn” as Hean.
Epilogue – Jan. 27, 1898
Two years later the Daily News checked in on the Hean story one more time. In 1889 through the agency of George N. Reynolds of Lancaster, Hean had taken a $2,000 life insurance policy with Northwestern Mutual. The News reminded its readers of the story, in which Hean had been found dead in “Osborne, Australia.”
Although Major Hean’s creditors had rather quickly seized the insurance policy, it took two more years to settle, the insurance company refusing to pay until identification could be made positive. Furthermore Northwestern Mutual required the creditors to continue paying premiums on the policy, refundable on settlement. On this date the creditors had some satisfaction upon receiving the proceeds of the policy.
Slow down for a minute, turn off your busy 21st-century mind and come alongside a 19th-century man. For a few minutes, be Benjamin Franklin Hean. A man who grew up too quickly in a nation at war with itself. Who paid the price with wounds to his body, yet rose to acts of heroism. Who served honorable jobs as an apothecary clerk, and trusted aid to Robert H. Coleman, one of the most successful young men of the 1880s. A manager of a furnace during the emerging age of steel. A respected citizen of Lebanon in the gay ’90s. A clerk of the court, tempted by ill-gotten gain. Discovered for his foolish crime. The rhythm of the rails beneath him as he fled to perceived safety, ashamed of his fallen state. The days at sea before arriving in London. Rebuilding his life and possessions in a hotel and choosing as others had to emigrate to Australia. For five weeks during his passage to Melbourne he saw sights never experienced or imagined before in his life. A new world of Portugal, Gibraltar, Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, India.
A diary of another traveler on the Orient records the happy days at sea, amusements on deck, the daily hymns, Scriptures and uplifting church services afforded the passengers. Hope, on arrival in Melbourne, as this traveler wrote, “I am a ‘New Chum’ to the friends here, but I am certain already that the good feeling, disposition, and kind hospitality evinced by the Victorians will soon make me feel an ‘Old Chum.’”
Not so for B.F. Hean as he sat alone on the beach for 24 hours, sipping ginger ale and reflecting on life. Although the answer he sought had been very near on the ship, he missed the opportunity to find personal redemption and return home. Hope eluded the man who had sought peace half-way around the world.
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? … If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.Psalm 139
The author has written a faith-based, fictional conclusion to this otherwise historical story on his personal blog page. Read it here.
There is help, there is hope, and there are solutions.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of harming themselves, please call Lebanon County Crisis Intervention at (717) 274-3363 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Find more help in Lebanon County here.
The author gratefully acknowledges local historian and friend Michael Trump for much of the background material on B. F. Hean.
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