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The Beecroft Opium Bust

Following a tip off, NSW Police detectives and customs officers raided the Copeland Road East home of May Alice Quan in March 1918. They were looking for opium. They had unsuccessfully mounted a watch the previous night to see if there would be any attempt to move the drugs.

Both the stake out and subsequent search of the bush was at considerable personal risk to the officers as the Press at the time described this area  (now known as being in the vicinity of Argyll Place, Cheltenham) as ”mountainous country [where they had to be] continually on the alert against the death adders which infested the district.” [1] As a result of searching the bush the officers found a parcel comprising tins and small capsules containing pellets of opium under rubbish at the rear of a cave near the end of Copeland Road East. The pellets were made like revolver bullets which, when strung together, could be hung around the body to avoid identification by Customs officers. Some 30 lb of opium was found to a 1918 value of 600 pounds sterling. It was thought that  the pellets had been smuggled ashore from a steamer in the Harbour.

Following this find, the Customs officers gave chase, on 14 March 1918, to a car belonging to 38 year old James Law (also known as James Tingyou and James Harlet), the brother of Mary Alice Quan (nee Tingyou). The “sensational motor car chase at Balmain near Mort’s Dock” resulted in police and customs officers firing at the car and its two male occupants. During the course of this excitement Customs Officer George Bradley was assaulted.  

When the matter came to trial Law admitted that he was the brother of Mrs Quan, near whose house the opium was found and that he owned the car. However he said that he had lent the car for a trial to another man and that it was this other man who had possession of the car at the relevant time. His co-accused, Robert Campbell Powell, (a 44 year old fisherman living in a houseboat on Darling Harbour) said that he was home asleep at the time. The magistrate said that he had not the slightest doubt that Law and Powell were in the car at the time but there was no evidence to link them to the car chase or the opium and so they were acquitted. [2] 

Mary Alice Quan died later that year and by 1924 James Law, now described as an engineer, had a range of investments including a liquor store amongst other things. He died in 1927.

[1] The Weekly Times 30 March 1918

[2] Singleton Argus, 18 April 1918; The Telegraph (Brisbane) 15 March 1918; Mudgee Guardian 25 March 1918.