The man who invented the ‘lock-nut’, entrepreneur James H. Shekleton was also a bush publican

Busseltown Hotel Western Australian C1905
The Ship Inn, Busselton, C1905. Jim Hardgrave Shekleton was host from 1904 to 1908 before relocating to Sydney. Picture: State Library of Western Australia.


NOT far from where once a long-forgotten bush pub traded, 450kms east of Perth in the Western Australian outback, sits the lonely grave of Scotsman, Tom Davidson.

The goldfields of Western Australia are a strange last resting place for the Scotsman, who once called the rolling green hills of Galashiels, near the English border, home.

The official verdict of Tom’s death declares he committed “suicide, while in a state of temporary insanity” after he shot himself in the head with a revolver.

But there’s more to the story of Tom’s death – one that involves grog, and a short lived pub, run by entrepreneur, inventor and intrepid traveller, James Hardgrave Shekleton.

The publican became famous for inventing and later patenting in 1915 the “Shekleton Nutlock,” a device for locking a standard nut to a bolt, and much used in the automobile manufacturing industry.

A 1915 newspaper diagram showing how the ‘Shekleton Nutlock’ works

In 1915, 40-year-old Tom was found dead with his brains blown out in his tent near the Duladgin bore, about 15km north of the Yellowdine Shell Roadhouse on the Great Eastern Highway, Jim Hardgrave Shekleton opened his pub.

Tom was a single man in charge of the Government bore, and had only a few days previously arrived at Duladgin from Koorarawalyee to drill for water.

On Tuesday May 28 1895 he committed suicide. While the coroner later found he killed himself in a fit of temporary insanity and alcohol was reportedly to have played a part in his death, there’s little doubt that the drink would have come from the region’s only pub, Shekleton’s wayside inn.

The lonely grave of Scotsman, Tom Davidson at Duladgin, Western Australia.

About 40 years later, long after the Duladgin road had fell into disuse and the pub had dissapeared, Government surveyors came across Tom’s grave stone.

Whilst in camp close to Tom’s tomb stone, an old prospector paid them a visit. He told how at the time of Tom’s death a bush pub had traded close by where they were camping – it was at the junction of the roads that led to the gold fields at Menzies and Kalgoorlie.

One night Tom went to the pub, and after a good deal of drinking a fight started between him and another man. Tom was struck on the head and died later. It was several days before a policeman arrived to make inquiries, and found that he had died from natural causes, hastened by drink.

From the official coroner’s report, however, we know that Tom met his fate in a much more gruesome manner. Research shows though that the old prospector was correct when saying that a bush pub traded at Duladgin, and probably was visited by Tom before he ended his life.

Tom’s family, who were in Scotland, apparently thought that Melbourne was somewhere close to his burial site, for they ordered and had a tomb-stone sent from there to Duladgin. His grave stone remains a heritage site in the now deserted settlement.

The publican of that bush pub, Jim Hardgrave Shekleton is an intriguing character.

An entrepreneur, he never stayed in one place very long. He was the son of a timber merchant from Albion, now an inner-suburb of Brisbane, Queensland.

By the age of 22 Jim was hosting his first pub, the Metropolitan Hotel, which traded at the corner of Ruthven and Bowen Streets, Toowoomba for well over a century until its closure in 2017.

Jim had a short stay at the Metropolitan Hotel, and by 1893, he and his wife, Anastasia had travelled to the goldfields of Western Australia seeking their fortune.

Although described as a bold move at the time, Jim opened his wayside inn. However, it was not a success, and the area never developed as he had hoped.

By June 1896 Jim had closed the pub, and had moved to the bustling outback city of Kalgoorlie, and in 1898 to the coal mining town of Collie, about 50km from the coast, where he built another hotel.

back T Carrigg J. Doherty front J C Cox J C Coombes J H Shekleton
James Hardgrave Shekleton (sitting front right) with (backrow) T Carrigg and J Doherty and (front )J C Cox and J C Coombes, in 1898. The five were members of the Collie Progress Society at the time.

Collie was financially rewarding for Jim. He operated a Jarrah hauling business, and invested in property. By the turn of the century he was back in Perth where he operated an agency for selling coal, and in 1902, he and his wife and two children were operating a general store at Werribee, 50km east-north east of Perth.

The Shekletons tried to gain a hotel license for the general store in 1903, but were refused. That same year Jim became a widower, when his wife, Anastasia died. She was just 38.

Jim relocated to Busselton, on the southwest tip of Western Australia in 1904, where he became host of the Ship Hotel, which continues to trade to this day. He also remarried 32-year-old Capel Roberts in 1904 – a relationship that was set to fail.

They lived together at the pub for three and half years, but Jim’s heavy drinking and neglect for the business, resulted in him failing to pay his mortgage, and he was forced to sell the pub.

His new wife became gravely ill, and with Jim’s consent she went to stay with her mother.

In July, 1909, strongly against Capel’s wishes, Jim went to Sydney, ostensibly to float a company for his many inventions – including the ‘locknut’. Before leaving he told her that he had £100, but though she asked him for money he gave her only £2.

Arriving in Sydney, Jim had set up his engineering business at Marrickville, where over the following years he patented several inventions, including a method for binding dust on roads, an application to apply to wounds on sheep to protect them from blow flies, an adjustable hanger for building scaffolding and a cement treatment for protecting timber from white ants, and decay.

Capel wrote to him asking him to return, and to send her money, but he did neither.

On October 2 1909, she filed for divorce, and Jim returned to Western Australia and called to see his estranged wife at her parents’ home. He asked her to return to him and said he could offer her a home. She declined, saying that his proposal came more than five years too late, and that he had not cared for her in over seven years.

Jim was on the verge of success with his greatest invention yet, when his wife was granted a divorce in Perth during 1914. Fronting the court, he reportedly presented a dapper appearance. He had become successful in business and looked every part a man who was well-to-do. Just six years after the divorce, Capel died at the age of 48.

The former publican had began patenting his inventions in 1911, and in 1915 he formed the company ‘Shekleton Locknut Limited’. He travelled the world, England, New Zealand Canada and the United States of America over the following years. He settled in Canada and later New York, where he lived for many years before returning to Sydney in his twilight years. He lived at Penshurst, where died at the age of 89 on March 3 1958 – a far cry from his humble beginnings on the dusty goldfields of Western Australia, and the lonely tomb stone at Duladgin bore.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2018

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