Spotlight: Bothwell (1840)

Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 – 1857), Tuesday 22 December 1840, page 5


We have received some additional information respecting the Bushranging, robbery, and murder affair in the district of Bothwell, and the consequences of the absence of that Police Magistrate. At half-past 11 ‘o’clock on Sunday the 29th ultimo, one of the neighbouring magistrates was roused out of bed by the arrival of a messenger from Bothwell, with a letter from the district constable, stating that a woman, who had been ill-used in the settlement, lay in such a dangerous state, that her life was despaired of, and that it would be necessary to take her evidence immediately, at the same time informing him that the Assistant Police Magistrate was not home. The J. P. proceeded immediately to town, and found the woman as described; that her skull had been fractured, and she was vomiting clotted blood in large quantities. He did all he thought necessary in the matter, after which he returned home.

We stated in our last, that two intelligent constables were sent to bring the murdered bodies of the shepherds (if they could) to Bothwell, with such information as they might obtain respecting the murder. It will be recollected that the shepherds were missing ten days before they were discovered, and then lay two days afterwards before any steps were taken respecting them, while the thermometer was 86° in the shade, yet it was too great an effort of sagacity for the Bothwell police to discover that decomposition must have been too far advanced to render their removal possible; and consequently the constables had to march nearly 90 miles to make the discovery. On the 11th instant, in the afternoon, an inquest was at length assembled, and the following evidence was adduced :–

Inquest held at the Great Lake, 11th December 1840 on the bodies of William Trueson, free, and William Freeman Clark, assigned to Mr. Brodribb.

William Luck sworn, states – I hold a ticket-of-leave; I am shepherd to Mr. Flexmore, and reside at this place. On Sunday last (6th Dec.) William Dann asked me if Trueson’s dog had come back. We saw his dog just at this time coming from the spot where the bodies now lay. We went to the place where the dog came from, and found the bodies; I know Trueson by his dress; I saw him dressed so, a month ago. The other man William Freeman Clark, had a bad finger for a long time; He now has a rag on the same place. I know him by that. I immediately reported the circumstances to Mr. Charles Armitage, and he came and examined the place, and then rode off directly and reported it at Bothwell.

William Dann sworn, states, – I am assigned to Mr. Armitage; I was going home last Sunday morning (6th Dec.) to Bagdad, I asked Luck where Pittwater (Trueson’s dog) was; he began to call the dog, and he came from that spot (pointing to where the bodies lay). Luck said he had seen the dog come from that direction three or four times; he said, “I think there is something there” I said. “Well, let’s go and see.” We called the dog, but he would not come, so we went up, and Luck said, “there they lay”; I just saw the cord trowsers of a person; we turned back and went over to Armitage’s hut; I do not know either of them. I came back again to the spot with Armitage, and Luck and two more men, we went up and looked at them, and saw more plainly that these were two bodies. Young and Armitage went off to report it.

By a Juryman. – I was going home and called here to know if there was any message. I heard at our hut that the dog was missing, and enquired if he came back. I only came up the day before with young Mr. Armitage with some sheep to the run, and was going back again. I had heard the men at Mr, Armitage’s hut say, that the two men belonging to this hut, William Trueson and William Freeman Clark were missing.

By another Juryman.– I think it is about a hundred yards from the hut where I found the bodies; I speak of this hut, Brodribb’s.

Henry Pinfold sworn, saith.– I am assigned to Mr. Armitage. On last Wednesday fortnight, (26th Nov. ult.) I was going to the neck after some of my master’s sheep that were left behind; I met Mr. Brodribb’s shepherd, Pitwater (i.e. Trueson) about a mile from this on the run; he went with me to my master’s and remained all night, and went away about ten o’clock on Thursday morning. I never saw him again until last Sunday, when I came over here with Mr. Armitage and the others; I never saw the other man before I saw him dead.

By a Juryman.– I do not know if Pittwater was in the habit of carrying fire-arms ; I never saw him with any.

William Cooper sworn, saith.– I am assigned to Mr. Edward Nicholas. On Friday in the afternoon – that is, this day fortnight, (20th Nov.) we were bringing my cattle; we found, when we came to Brodribb’s, the door fastened, and a pup dog inside the hut. We found things thrown about, the flourbag open, a damper appeared to have been fresh made on the table, and baked in the fire. A fire was lately raked up. When we first came, no one was in the hut, and we yarded the cattle and sheep, and waited outside till night and no one came home, we went in and staid all night. William Trueson was shepherd here, and Willum Freeman Clark was hut-keeper; they should have been there; no one came home all night; I went away next morning; the men were then missing.

By a Juryman.– I came to the hut with the cattle about half an hour before sun-down; there was a good fire to keep the fire alight, a log and ashes thrown over it.

Edward Swarbreck Hall sworn, states.– I am District Assistant Surgeon at Bothwell. I have examined the bodies on which the inquest is held; they are both in an advanced state of decomposition, and much mutilated, apparently by birds of prey or animals. On as careful an examination as the state of the bodies will admit of, I have been able to ascertain, that, on the taller body, said to be that of William Freeman Clark, there is a severe fracture of the Skull, extending through the parietal and acouputal bones to the base of the skull. That is all the appearance I could observe on that body. On that of the shorter individual, said to be that of William Trueson, there are on the back of the head, on the left side, two small triangular wounds, and very extensive fractures parietal and occipatal bones. In the loins of the same corpse there is a hole, about the size of the palm of a small hand, one of the lumber vertebrae is completely destroyed; somewhat higher on the back, there are two holes close together, about the sise of a small pea extending quite through into abdomen. The first blow must have been done by some heavy blunt instrument, it might be the butt of a musket. On that on the other body, I should think them more likely to have been inflicted by blows from heavy sharp pointed stones, thrown on the body as it lay on the ground. I consider the holes in the back to be gun shot wounds; they most have been inflicted at some yards, or the space would have been smaller. They would cause instant death. I have no doubt that the injuries of both bodies would have caused death.

Let us now take a short review of this melancholy affair, and in doing so, we look back at dates. On the 16th November, the bushrangers were comfortably and confidently following their occupation within 7 miles of the Police-office of Bothwell, on which day they robbed Mr. Ries’ place of arms, ammunition, provisions, &c., which was instantly reported at the the said Police-office, and in consequence of which, two men were sent after them. On the 19th, they were again seen and spoken to, on the highway near the same place, which was also reported at the Police-office, but nothing further was done, until the 24th, when, in consequence of the interference of a respectable individual, more constables were sent in pursuit, which however did not seem to disturb them, for they kept near the same quarter, where they were seen by several persons, nor is it at all unlikely they watched the Assistant Police Magistrate, on his departure for Hobart Town to see the Regatta on Saturday the 28th Nov., the day on which they set to work boldly, committed several robberies, and most probably the murder of the two unfortunate shepherds. Now we appeal to every principle of justice, whether, when a public officer leaves his post without leave, or a substitute, he is not liable for all consequences of occurring during such unwarranted absence? We certainly think he is. We learn, too, that the two constables sent after the two murdered bodies had no ammunition with them, either to protect themselves or capture the enemy! After this can it be possible that the person who has so acted, can be permitted to remain in that station one hour longer; we also learn that three other constables who were sent after the bushrangers on the 24th, were compelled to provide their own ammunition or go to war with empty muskets! In short the district of Bothwell appears to be a safe resort to bushrangers and runaways, where the trade of robbery and murder may be followed not only with impunity but in perfect safety; this is prison discipline with a vengeance. We have just been informed, that four additional runaways have been lurking in the neighbourhood, one of whom Mr. Nicholas’s man captured, and brought to Bothwell. We Have also heard, that the shepherds of the district have bravely formed themselves into a party in pursuit of the villains. We may next ask, what is our equestrian police about in Hobart under such circumstances? We exceedingly regret to learn that there has been yet no board of enquiry appointed — but that after the Legislative Committee is discharged, the matter will be enquired into — what can such procrastination mean? Can it be possible that such conduct as this is to be passed over? Is all consideration of public feeling and human life, to be put aside? We have stated, that the brave shepherds of the district have formed themselves into a police, but what will become of their flocks? Will the Police Magistrate send his constables with empty muskets to keep these flocks together? We must wait the issue of another publication, in the mean time all parties concerned may rest assured our reporter will not be idle.

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