Originally published in the Daily Telegraph, March 10, 2015. By Naomi White.
HENRY Louis Bertrand was many things. Husband, father, dentist, self-proclaimed mesmeriser, philanderer… murderer.
His tale of murderous desire and betrayal took place on the streets of Sydney 150 years ago, but is proving intriguing today, revived in an exhibition of historical crime held at the Justice and Police Museum, the former site of the Water Police Courts that operated from 1856-1924, whose walls Bertrand would have passed through after his arrest.
Portraits of Mrs Bertrand, Henry Louis Bertrand and Mrs Kinder, from the Illustrated Sydney News, circa 1865. Picture: NSW State Library
Bertrand, a native of London, had moved to Australia as a young man and set up a dentistry practise in the CBD, building a thriving business on claims he could mesmerise patients so they would feel no pain.
But it would be one of these patients who would be his undoing, after he struck up an affair with a married woman that ended with the murder of her husband in 1865.
“It’s one of those really incredible stories in criminal history and one that not only the Australian public were really interested in, it also ignited quite a bit of interest overseas in New Zealand and London and throughout Europe because it just had so many unusual and dramatic twists and turns in it,” exhibition curator Nerida Campbell said.
As his obsession intensified, his assistant took to arming himself with an axe
“And Bertrand himself was such an unusual character, you know, he was larger than life. The things he said were quite often just remarkable and the way he acted was also. One of the journalists at the time thought he had been influenced by reading too many romantic novels and that was part of the character he had chosen to create for himself.”
Maria ‘Ellen’ Kinder had been married to Henry Kinder, 35, a heavy drinker and teller at City Bank who was in financial strife, for five years when she booked in as a patient at Bertrand’s dental practice.
The two quickly began an affair, with 25-year-old Bertrand imposing himself and his wife Jane and their two children into the Kinders’ lives, striking up a friendship with Mr Kinder and making regular calls to their north shore home over 10 months on the pretence of cards and suppers.
But it would not be the only visits he’d make, with Bertrand regularly forcing his dental assistant, a young man known as Byrne, to row him across the harbour for midnight reconnaissance missions to spy on the couple.
Henry & Ellen Kinder in early undated portrait, Ellen allowed lover Henry Bertrand to kill her husband in 1865 before she moved in with him and his wife.
He reportedly went as far as breaking into their home to survey its layout as part of his master plan to dispose of Mr Kinder.
As his obsession intensified, his behaviour became increasingly erratic, so much so that Byrne, in fear of his own safety, had taken to secretly arming himself with an axe.
Bertrand continued to force him to do his dirty work, dressing as a woman and accompanying Byrne as he visited a gun-shop and negotiated the purchase of two pistols to use in the murder.
Sydney dentist Henry Louis Bertrand in early undated portrait, mastermind of one of the most bizarre ‘crimes of passion’ in Australia when he killed his lover Ellen Kinder’s husband. Picture: Supplied
He then bought a pig’s head which he kept at the surgery to practise his aim on.
“He fell in love, heavily in love with her and she returned his affection and they started an adulterous affair,” Ms Campbell said.
“This went on for a period of time until it became clear to Bertrand that he needed her, that he had to have her, that he wasn’t prepared to share her with her husband any longer. And his plan was to kill her husband, Henry Kinder and divorce his own wife Jane so that the two of them could be together”.
After travelling to the home several times with the intent to murder him, he finally found the courage to fire a single shot at Kinder’s head, as he sat on a chair in his home, in front of both his wife Jane and his lover.
But it failed to kill him and Kinder was carried to his bed to recover, while Bertrand, with the help of both women, convinced police Kinder’s financial woes and drinking had got the better of him and he had tried to kill himself.
Looking down Margaret Street to George Street showing Wynyard Square on the right where Bertrand worked as a dentist. Picture: NSW State Library
“So Kinder is upstairs in bed and the police have visited, they’ve accepted the story of this attempted suicide, but he’s not dying, he seems to be getting better. It’s at this stage that Bertrand apparently convinced the two women to poison Kinder and apparently it was his own wife Maria that allegedly fed him the poison which ended his life.”
The coroner assessed his death on the evidence of a past suicide attempt and ruled it non-suspicious.
“I am satisfied, thus once more I perish my enemies”
A diary entry from Bertrand
However it brought him no closer to Maria Kinder, who moved to her parent’s home in Bathurst to preserve her reputation. Bertrand at least appeared to have got away with it.
That was until a past lover of Maria Kinder’s turned up, got wind of Bertrand’s involvement and sent him a note demanding 20 pounds (more than $2,000 AUD today) for his silence.
“And Bertrand then showed what kind of a daring and quite heartless criminal he could be. He took that letter to the police and said ‘look, this man is attempting to blackmail me, smirch my reputation’ and they charged him. So Francis Jackson actually went through the Water Police Court, which is the current Justice and Police Museum, on trial for attempted blackmail and he was convicted to spend time in prison.”
Water Police Court at Phillip Street, Sydney. Picture: NSW State Library
Bertrand noting in his diary, kept to communicate with Maria Kinder, that “’I am satisfied, thus once more I perish my enemies” after Jackson was handed a 12 month gaol sentence.
And so he may have if it wasn’t for his own boastings that he had murdered Kinder.
This got back to an original juror of the blackmailing trial, who took it to the police who arrested both Bertrand, his wife and Mrs Kinder, charging all three with murder.
The cases against the women were dismissed quickly, Mrs Bertrand’s as she could not give evidence against her husband, Mrs Kinder due to lack of evidence.
But Bertrand’s trial was a long and messy affair that captured headlines.
It was said Bertrand had several uncles who had been committed to asylums and there was much speculation that Bertrand, too, was ‘mad.’
“It was really he who stood trial and during that trial of course the media were incredibly interested. It was very salacious, there were stories about the three of them sharing a bedroom and poison and mesmerism and how he could control people and make them do his will through his mesmeric powers. There were all kinds of rumours and I suppose to an extent the journalists beating up the story and making it even more sensational than it was,” Ms Campbell said.
Bone carving by Henry Louis Bertrand while in hospital. Picture: NSW State Libra
Not only the details of the affair, but the cruel treatment of his own wife was exposed in the trial, showing a history of “dreadful” domestic violence, beatings, whippings, control and humiliation in Bertrand inviting Mrs Kinder to live in their home.
“One of the things about Bertrand, one of the things that shocked many people was the way he treated his wife,” Ms Campbell said.
“At that time, because her family had disowned her when she married him, she had two young children and she really had nowhere else to go, there was a lot of sympathy for her and for what she had endured.”
Bertrand was found guilty of Kinder’s murder, but controversially, spared the nominal punishment of the day — hanging, sentenced instead to 28 years at Darlinghurst Gaol.
The murderer spent his prison time honing his artistic side, producing accomplished watercolours of the inside of the gaol and making intricate bone carvings.
Until his release in 1893 when he slipped into obscurity after boarding a boat to London, believed to have been en-route to live with a well off aunt.
A watercolour of the inside of Darlinghurst Gaol painted by Henry Louis Bertrand in 1891, two years before his release Picture: State Library of NSW
While Jane Bertrand, overwhelmed by the public attention of the case, moved to New Zealand with their two children to begin a new life.
Mrs Kinder is also believed to have settled there, where she had lived previously with late husband.
The two pistols, along with two pen holders carved by Bertrand during his prison term can be seen at the Notorious Criminals exhibition currently on show at the Justice and Police Museum.
A photo of Henry Louis Bertrand by the Zimmer Brothers. National Library of Australia.
The following are newspaper accounts of the life, times, crimes and trials of Henry Louis Bertrand. The details are repeated in many of them, but I am posting them because of the many differences in how individual papers and journalists handled the facts, both at the time, and further down the line.
Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October 1865
Empire, 8 December 1865
Goulburn Herald and Chronicl, 28 February 1866
Illustrated Sydney News, 16 March 1866
Empire, 17 September, 1866
Sydney Mail, 7 September 1867
Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, 11 January 1889,
Truth, 17 June, 1894
Evening News, 18 June 1894
Newcastle Morning Herald, 18 June, 1894
Crookwell Gazette, 20 June, 1894
Armidale Express and New England General Advertise, 6 July 1894
Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 4 July 1894
Evening News, 16 May 1891
Herald, 18 June 1894
Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertise, 15 February 1895.
Queensland Times, 29 April, 1916
Smith’s Weekly, 16 August 1919
Truth, 28 December 1924
Truth, 15 March, 1925
Daily Standard (Brisbane), 28 April 1934
Truth, 17 October 1937
Wellington Times, 2 September 1937