Fading headstone covers a mysterious story
MARY Ellis's headstone is slowly decaying in the old Tweed Heads cemetery.
Her life ended early, at the age of 57, but it was the mystery of what happened to her husband that made this story much sadder than it had to be.
In 1896 Mary Reiff married Arthur Ellis in Germanton, near Albury.
Nine months later their daughter Mary was born and the young family moved to Newcastle.
Fast forward to 1923 and Arthur was reported in newspapers of the day as being a grocer at Byron Bay.
The situation was not good as he had received a message from his daughter that his wife was very sick. She had been admitted to a private hospital in Sydney and he needed to make his way to her.
Arthur booked tickets aboard the steamer SS Orara, and on June 26, 1923, it made its way down the east coast towards Sydney where his daughter was to meet him two days later.
But he never made it.
An inspection by authorities of Arthur's cabin found it was empty but his luggage was still there.
Witnesses had reported that when the steamer had arrived in Newcastle to take on coal, Arthur was seen disembarking to buy a paper.
He had returned to the boat, but appeared to be sick and had disembarked again.
There was no record of him ever returning.
Despite alleged sightings of Arthur over the next couple of months at Menangle (70km from Sydney), Campbelltown and Goulburn, his family never saw him again.
To make matters even more mysterious, his daughter Mary received an envelope containing two £10 notes and a letter signed A. Edmonds.
Despite the strange name Mary was convinced the handwriting was that of her father.
The Ellis women finally returned to the family home on the Far North Coast and on Christmas Day 1924, Mrs Ellis suffered a seizure and never regained consciousness.
She died two days later, never knowing what happened to her husband.
REFERENCES: Mysterious disappearances, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, July 2, 1923; Passenger from Byron Bay, The Northern Star, September 5, 1923; Letter with Money to Relatives, The Sun, September 4, 1923; Death - Mary Ellis, www.bdm.nsw.gov.au; The mystery of the book-keeper with a double life, Tweed Daily News, June 6, 2013.