Who really was Royston Rennie?

This was the name given to the man who murdered John Greville on a train in Perth, Western Australia on the 3rd June 1926. Researching this person uncovers a man of many deceptions over his short life time.

His real name was Samuel Royston George Rainsbury who was born in 1900 at Wentworthville, Victoria, Australia, to parents Samuel Rainsbury and Edith Alice Simmons. He was the eldest of at least 9 children born to this couple in Victoria, Australia. From this inauspicious beginning, Roy as he was called started his trail of deception in 1916 when he enlisted under the false name Royston Simmons for WW1 and increased his age by 3 years to 19 years and 3 months. At the time he enlisted he was in a reform home for stealing and selling a bicycle. It appears that the deception of his true identity and age was revealed in March 1918 (he would now have reached the legal age of 18 to be in the army) with a Statutory Declaration stating his correct details. He served until the end of the war initially enlisting in the 2nd Cyclist Battalion with the 21st Battalion and finished in the Australian Corps Working Party. Roy was hospitalised both in France and England across mid-1917 to mid-1918 and again in early 1919 but none of his admissions was for being injured in any explosion which he used as an excuse to explain some of his behaviour at his appeal trial. Aldershot and Tidworth Hospital in England treated him for a Hydrocele.

While in England after the Armistice Roy was Court Marshalled at Folkestone England in July 1919 for being absent without leave and wearing a Warrant Officer Badge Class I to which he was not entitled. He pleaded guilty to both charges and was initially sentenced to 12 months detention which was then reduced to 6 months but in reality he was sent back to Australia in September 1919 and discharged from the Army in December with a British Service and Victory medal issued (no Military Medal). His level of attainment in the Army at discharge was the same as his enlistment, that of a Private. This is relevant as a newspaper article in the Geelong Advertiser, March 1919 reported

“Lance Corporal Roy Rainsbury, son of Mrs Rainsbury, of Foster Street, and Great grandson of Mrs. Simmons, Wellington Street, Geelong West, who enlisted in 1916 at the age of 16, has been awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field”

Life took on some normality for Roy back in Australia and his home town. He married Lillian Alice Hawksbury in 1920, and became a Tram Employee, then in 1924 applied for a War Service home loan. A short time later he became a Railway Employee. All looked very normal up to this time, indeed up until early April 1926 he was working as a Clerk at the Newport Shops (Victorian Railways) and being a press correspondent for the Williamstown football club.

What triggered Roy’s decision to travel to Western Australia under an assumed name: Royston Rennie is unknown but he appears to have travelled by ship to Western Australia in late April as he was residing there for about a month before he committed the robbery and murder of Bank Officer John Greville.

Roy was convicted and hanged at Fremantle for his crimes under his assumed name even though the authorities had discovered his true identity. This was said to be for the protection of his wife and elderly mother. However a newspaper article in the Wentworthville Chronicle on the 19th June 1926 gives his correct name Rainsbury as the killer of the Bank Clerk in WA. Despite Roy not wanting to divulge his family details the police managed to contact both his wife and father to inform them of his whereabouts and what had happened. Consequently his wife came to WA to see him before he was hanged and his father wrote him a letter. Curiously given these public leaks of his real identity, the Government official death record only uses Roy’s alias while the Metropolitan Cemetery Board gives his correct name as Royston Rainsbury and in brackets his alias. However most of the newspapers of the day stuck to using his alias which possibly did make things somewhat easier for his family.

Lillian Rainsbury, Roy’s wife, returned to Victoria before he was executed and appears to have at least used her correct name in the Electoral Rolls but moved from Wentworthville to North Richmond. In 1933 she married Jack Reginald Newton and the couple mostly stayed here until Jack died in 1966 and Lillian in 1970. Lillian does not appear to have had children to either husband.

It would appear that Lillian paid for Roy’s body to be exhumed from where he was initially buried at the Fremantle Cemetery and had him reburied there in an Anglican plot which has only recently expired (2012). She also paid for his grave to be tended right up to 2012.

Roy seemed to have an impulsive nature and love of adventure but his talent for manipulating the truth could not rescue him from this last one.

© Darlington History Group       Ver 2.1.3     Oct 2019