Mostly the research into my ancestry has been as expected, with labourers and farmers the common occupation. But occasionally a story is discovered that is out of the ordinary. Such is the story of Annie Hörberg.
Annie is a relative on my mother’s side of the family. Annie Evelyn Hörberg, born in 1892 in Heywood, Vic., was the daughter of Agnes Adela née Kelly and her Swedish husband, Joel Anderson Hörberg. Annie’s elder brother was Axel Hyarmer Hörberg and there was another child, Ola James Hörberg that had died as an infant.
The Hörberg family moved to 53 Farrell Street, Port Melbourne where they ran a boarding house. In 1912, when she was 19 years of age, Annie became the innocent victim of a shooting in which she lost her eyesight.
Edith Eleanor Babb known as “Nellie”, was one of the boarders at the Hörberg house, she was 20 years of age and ran a confectionery shop in Bay Street, Port Melbourne. 21 year old Robert Davies was another boarder. He had been cared for by the Hörbergs since he was a boy. Robert Davies had been employed at Swallow and Ariell’s tinsmith shop but had been laid off, then was disappointed when a later job offer was withdrawn. During the ensuing three weeks before the fateful day in September, 1912 Davies became despondent. “His inability to find work added intensity to his usually morose temperament. Amongst his companions, to whom he was known as “Fidgety” Davies, he is accredited with a violent temper when put out,” “The Argus” of the 30 September, 1912 reported.
Robert Davies developed an attraction to Nellie Babb, however, Nellie did not wish to make an attachment with him. Nellie later gave evidence that on the 27 September, Davies had come to her shop, where “she told him she was not going with him. He said, ‘Very well, I am not done with you’ She said, ‘Bob, why can’t you be friends?’ Davies retorted ‘There is no friendship between you and I.’” Davies had told her that morning, ‘If I don’t get you, no one else will.’
“The Argus” reported the event of that Friday night under the dramatic heading “TRAGEDY OF JEALOUSY. Two Girls Shot. One grievously wounded. Assailant Commits Suicide.”
It was Annie Hörberg’s practice to visit Nellie Babb’s shop at closing time at 11 pm and accompany Nellie back home. She did so again this night and though Davies had sullenly told Nellie that morning that, ‘he had not done with her yet,’ she did not anticipate any serious trouble with him. Annie and Nellie went into the kitchen for supper and were laughing and joking, when they heard a noise at the back window. Annie Hörberg was the closest to the window, there was a loud report and flash outside, the window shattered and Annie fell onto the floor. “The Argus” reported, “Miss Babb felt a stinging sensation in her temple and chin, and blood commenced to trickle down her face. Barely had she time to realize what had happened when there was another report out in the yard. Attracted by the shooting, Mr and Mrs Hörberg hurried into the kitchen, and their discovery was a horrible one. Their daughter was lying on the floor, almost under the table, in a pool of blood, with her face so peppered with shot that her features were barely recognisable.”
Axel Hörberg, Annie’s brother gave his version of the events, “At about 11 I came to the back gate of my father’s residence. Miss Babb and Annie were sitting in the dining-room having supper. My mother and father were in bed. We heard a noise in the back bedroom as if someone was moving about, and, thinking it must be a burglar, I went out to see who was there. Standing in his bedroom just behind me was young Davies. He had a gun in his hand, and was loading it. He stood back, lifted the gun, and put the end of the barrel against the side of the door. By this time I could see in the distance Miss Babb and my sister. They also had come to see who was creating the disturbance. Before I could utter a word, the gun had been fired. There was an ear-piercing scream. Davies had fired through two windows, a distance of about 30 yards. I saw my sister drop, having received the full charge in her face. Miss Babb fell right across her prostrate body, and the two, as I reached them, lay in a heap on the floor. Annie’s face was covered in blood. I stooped down, and as I did so, a shot rang out from Davies room. He had committed suicide.”
A further newspaper article described Annie’s injuries, “Miss Hörberg’s injuries were examined by Dr. Webster on Saturday, and indications were found that the bulk of the charge from the single-barreled shot-gun struck her between the eyes. One eye was destroyed, being riddled with the small pellets, while the other is injured in such a way that it is very improbable that the sight can be saved. All over her face there are puncture wounds where the shot had penetrated, and it is feared that more than one has entered her brain. Many of the pellets were found embedded in her chest. She regained consciousness for a few minutes yesterday afternoon, but her condition later on was very low, and during the night she showed no improvement.” “Annie Hörberg is described as being an exceptionally bright and intelligent girl, promising much ability as a pianist, singer and dancer. In the latter regard she has appeared in pantomimes, and alas in the plays “Driving a girl to Destruction” “After Dark” and other dramas played in Melbourne.”
Though permanently blinded, Annie Hörberg survived the ordeal and lived to 77 years of age dying on 29 July, 1969 at Ascot Vale.