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The Williams Family and Percival the Pet Bull

The Williams family came to South Brighton in 1858 and established themselves on a property in Highett Road, Highett. The second son, Joseph, married Hannah Francis Westlake and they both ran a mixed farm at Hampton. They had four children Ernest Joseph 1884, Frances Elizabeth May 1886, Fanny Josephine 1891, and Helena Mary 1894. The property on which they lived boasted a Victorian style cottage quite well set up as it had a maids call device in every room. It boasted high ceilings and a very large bathroom with a claw-foot bath and stained glass windows and ornate doors with all the usual fancy hardware such as doorknobs and locks. The toilet or ‘thunder box’ was outdoors.

According to one of the younger members of the Williams family [Colin W Jephcott] Joe and Hannah were very hard working folks. They had a mixed garden/orchard/dairy farm where they produced sweet Jonathan apples and a big green cooking apple probably a Rennet as well as apricots and a wide variety of vegetables. The modus operandi for the vegetables was that Joe would harvest the crop and take them by horse and cart to sell to the shops around the Sandringham area. He would also pick up all their green waste and plough it back into the ground. The balance of any crop would be taken to the Queen Victoria Market. It seems they always kept a small herd of six to eight Illawarra x Jersey cattle possibly because of their high in butterfat milk content and the volume of milk produced by this breed. They were milked twice a day and the milk was sold locally.

Although it was not necessary for them financially to work the farm, as Joe at times sold off some of his land, but they voluntarily choose to do so. After all the children had long grown up and left home they found it usefully occupied their twilight time and the rewards were satisfying to them. They were getting old but managed to lead quite healthy and active lives.

Approximately two years before World War Two started an Illawarra x Jersey bull calf was born and Hannah decided to hand raise the calf. Perhaps it was her motherly instinct. It was beautifully marked fawn, black and red. It became very tame and she grew quite fond of the animal naming him Percival. As Percival grew up he followed Hannah wherever she went, much like dogs do, on the farm sucking on her finger or apron strings as any opportunity arose. He was playful and ran and jumped about like youngsters do. He kept Hannah company from morning till night even followed her into the hen house when she fed the chickens, much to the disgust of the cock whose fathers used to get ruffled by his presence. He used to attack Percival. If Hannah went to their vegetable patch Percival would follow. He followed her to the wood heap. He even accompanied her to the out-house toilet and if Hannah had permitted it, Percival would have followed her into the house.

Every night religiously Hannah would put Percival to bed and often gave him some special treat to eat; like a carrot or an apple or perhaps lettuce leaves. As time went on Hannah found herself very fond of Percival and the animal warmly reciprocated her attention. Perhaps she was a little blinded by the facet that Percival had grown up and needed to take on the role in life Mother Nature created for him.

After a couple of years Percival grew and grew until he was fully grown and weighted about 900 or 1000 kilograms. His horns had grown dangerously pointy as Illawarra cattle do and were around 60 centimetres long. But he was a gentle as a lamb to Hannah and assumed the role of a watchdog. Naturally he couldn’t bark but if any visitor came he would paw and gore the ground and bellow as bulls can. Hannah had a chain around the base of his long horns and used to tether the animal with a steel spike driven into the ground and religiously move him twice a day to eat sweet green grass.

No one could handle Percival like Hannah it seems. One time Hannah’s son-in-law tried to assist Hannah move Percival. The bull demonstrated his displeasure and charged him. Luckily Percival’s horns did not connect. Apparently the son-in-law believed up to this event that the bull was friendly.

On May 2, 1943 on a cold rainy winter’s Sunday evening about five o’clock Hannah’s daughter Fanny and her husband Louis came over for an evening meal. Hannah always looked forward to their company. She had cooked a nice family roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with fresh homemade horseradish sauce and everyone was engaged in the enjoyment of the meal. Approximately at six o’clock Hannah excused herself and said that she was going to attend to Percival. No one was perturbed by this announcement, as this was Hannah’s normal routine.

As it was raining Hannah put on a long dark coloured waterproof raincoat, a yellow hat with black stocking tie to keep it on. Around half an hour later Hannah had not returned. Joseph noticed her long absence and he mentioned his concerns to Fanny, his daughter and son-in-law Louis. Everyone immediately volunteered to go and check on Hannah. Joseph went on one side of a dividing boxthorn hedge whilst Fanny and Louis looked on the other side. Everyone was calling out attempting to identify Hannah’s location and if she was all right. There was no reply. Louis had a battery torch and was shining it in the direction of Percival’s very disturbed bellowing.

Suddenly the torch beam caught sight of Hannah lying unconscious in a crumpled position on the ground. Hannah’s raincoat was badly torn about and there was blood all over her face which was weeping from abrasions and scratches. Her hat and stocking tie were missing. Louis went to the shed door nearby and wrenched it off its hinges. Fanny was calling out trying to reassure her mother that everything would be all right but by this time Hannah was wet and quite cold. Fanny and Louis picked her up and placed her down gently on this rough old door stretcher. Joseph followed as they carried Hannah into the house and placed her on a bed. Louis was urged to go for the doctor urgently and he left straight away for Doctor Morton who lived a few kilometres away in Thomas Street, Hampton.

Meanwhile Fanny wiped Hannah’s face clean of all the blood and dirt but she could not see any major wounds so she thought perhaps Hannah was just in a state of shock. Joseph got a blanket to cover her and keep her warm. It was almost 7.30 p.m. by the time the doctor made it to the house. He sadly declared the Hannah had died, without recovering consciousness, from the shock and wounds she had received from Percival.

Speculation was that perhaps Percival didn’t recognise Hannah in the darkness of the night and charged her with considerable force launching her into the air over or through the horrendous thorns of the boxthorn hedge. Apparently Percival just went berserk and then gored Hannah to death.

Doctor Morton, at the request of Louis, immediately notified the police of the accident. Later that evening Detective Sergeant Hunt and First Constable George Stafford of the Moorabbin Police came and took statements from Louis Jephcott. It was too dark to make a thorough search of the area and besides they did not know the exact status of the bull. Whether he was tied up or loose was not known. The body of Hannah was conveyed to the City Morgue by First Constable Houlihan of Sandringham.

The next day at around eight o’clock Detective Stafford returned and at his request Fanny accompanied him to the place in the paddock adjoining the house where they found Hannah. It was approximately one hundred yards from the house in between two boxthorn hedges. Stafford found a piece of torn raincoat, her hat and stocking tie. The ground was covered with multiple hoof prints and was torn up because Percival had the habit of pawing and goring the ground when he was disturbed. Stafford then caught sight of this fully grown bull. Percival was right down the other end of the paddock. He asked Fanny, “Was this the bull,” to which she replied “Yes.” In her presence the police then shot Percival, killing him instantly.

On May 3, 1943 the coroner Mr A C Tingate conducted an inquest into the death of Hannah Williams. Redford John Wright-Smith, a legally qualified medical practitioner of Caulfield in his deposition as a witness at the inquest, presented a detailed list of injuries inflicted on Hannah by the bull. These included: numerous abrasions on the face, neck, hands and legs; small bruises on the face, head and arms; large bruise in the right groin; fractures of the breast bone; fracture of the right side of the pelvis and the lungs were generally pale and showed recent haemorrhages in the lower lobes. The death was noted as being due to haemorrhage and shock from injuries.

Although Hannah was eighty years of age her death was sudden and unexpected, sad and tragic. In the family there were two opinions about her death. There were those who said it was bound to have happened as young bull is not a suitable pet. Others felt that Percival had mistaken Hannah due to the darkness of the night.

Almost sixty people attend Hannah’s funeral. She was laid to rest in the Cheltenham Pioneers’ Cemetery. Her demise greatly affected Joseph who grieving over her death died three years later at eighty nine years of age. He too was buried in the Cheltenham Cemetery.


Fred Williams


  • Williams, F., House of Williams, 2004. (Manuscript)

Article Cat. People
Article Ref. 342

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