The Notorious Amy Bock, 1909
It could be said of the case of Amy Bock, the Dunedin masquerader and general delinquent, that it has no real place in a chronicle of notable trials since, when she was laid by the heels for the last time, she pleaded guilty to everything charged against her. There was no trial. After a remand she appeared in the Magistrates' Court and was committed for sentence to the Supreme Court. Her sins were legion – impersonation, fraud, forgery, and false pretences being the chief of them. But for the Dunedin community of 1909 the reason for her notoriety was undoubtedly her “marriage” to the daughter of her host and hostess in a boardinghouse at the little South Otago seaside resort, The Nuggets. She was then 45 years of age and the “bride” was 32. Amy Bock had arrived in New Zealand 25 years before from Victoria, and at the time of her adventure at The Nuggets she had already served prison terms at Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin, Oamaru, and Timaru, the sentences ranging up to three years, and the crimes including false pretences, forgery, and larceny. Her final and most heartless escapade – the “marriage” – was probably a practical demonstration of what she meant when she told the police, after her last conviction, that she was “tired of defrauding men; they are too soft and easy to work on”. It would be idle to deny that she had the experience on which to base such a conclusion.
Amy Bock used a number of aliases – Shannon, Channel, Vallane, and Skevington being among her most popular choices – but it was as “Percy Carol Redwood” that she “married” Miss Ottaway, of The Nuggets, in the grand manner, with the Anglican vicar officiating, and the local Presbyterian minister assisting. Her gifts to the “bride” included £100 worth of jewellery obtained by a false pretence in Dunedin, and for which she had given the name of her “father-in-law” as a guarantor. The honeymoon was to have been in Melbourne, and even in this she was able to persuade someone else to purchase the steamer tickets. The gay and debonair manner of “Percy Redwood” captured the fancy of The Nuggets, particularly as there seemed to be no lack of money to be thrown about, and it is perhaps not surprising that the masquerader won the heart of Miss Ottaway. In the meantime, however, the police were searching high and low for their old friend Amy Bock in connection with the small matter of a fraudulent bill of sale which she had given over the furniture and household effects of the family by whom she had been employed as a domestic. Her ready money also included a substantial sum which she persuaded a well-known young Dunedin woman to part with, and before leaving Dunedin she had had a field day among all the tradespeople she could coax to give her credit. Hence her immaculate masculine wardrobe.
The end came when inquiries followed a Dunedin man's suspicion about her sex. She was arrested on the eve of her honeymoon (on which, she confessed, she had no intention of taking her “bride”) and was taken to Dunedin. A contemporary eyewitness of her arrival in Dunedin under escort said she looked every inch a male, “walking with hands thrust deep into the pockets of a stylish grey overcoat in the way of a man when the wind is raw and his underclothes are thin”. Her appearances in Court drew large crowds of excited people, and there was no secret about the public disappointment over the failure of a sensational trial to eventuate. Amy Bock admitted the worst the police could charge against her, and after she had appeared in the Supreme Court for sentence on charges of masquerading as a man, forgery, false pretences, and theft, she was returned for a few more years to the prison cell where she had already spent not much less than half the quarter century of her sojourn in New Zealand. That she achieved fame of a sort was shown by the absurd prices paid at auction for her personal effects which were sold for the purposes of restitution. A few weeks after her final appearance in Court, divorce proceedings were brought by her “wife”. Although legal opinion agreed that such a “marriage” required no official annulment, the relevant formalities of dissolution were carried through for the sake of the records.