Spotlight: Smith and Brady on Trial (22 October 1872)

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Tuesday 22 October 1872, page 3


Monday, 21st October.

(Before Messrs. G. R. Berry, J. Turner, G. Graham, and Dr. Fox, J.P.’s.)

Robbery under Arms and Attempted Murder. — James Smith, Thomas Brady and William Happenstein, three men in the garb of bushmen, were charged with robbery under arms, and attempted murder at Wooragee. Mr Superintendent Barclay said that the defendants had been to a certain extent identified by some of the persons who were present when the robberies took place; as, however, they had only been arrested on Saturday afternoon, he would ask for a remand, in order that proper enquiries might be made. Remanded till Monday next.

Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Wednesday 27 November 1872, page 3


(Abridged from the Melbourne Age.)

At the Beechworth Police Court, on 31st October, James Smith, William Heppannstein, and Thomas Brady were charged with the murder of John Watt, of Wooragee. Thirteen witnesses were examined. The following is the evidence chiefly bearing on the case:—

Catherine Mitchell, wife of Peter Dominick Mitchell, living at Wooragee, deposed: I was at home on the 15th instant; was alone; about half-past 7 in the evening, heard a knock at the door; opened it and saw two men, one of them came into the house, the other remained outside; the one that came inside said, “Where is your money?” I said “I have none;” he said nothing further, but took a gun down; I only saw one of the men; I should take the man standing next the constable (Smith) to be the man who was in my house and took the gun; I saw the two men taking my husband away from the cowyard; about five minutes afterwards the men came back with my husband, and came into the house, one of them — the tall one — came into the front room, the other stayed out in the back room; they asked my husband for ammunition; he gave them some powder and shot; the men remained for about a quarter of an hour whilst we were looking for caps; did not find any caps; they then left; heard the report of a gun about 9 o’clock, about an hour after the men had left; had heard the report of my husband’s gun many times; it had a peculiar sound; when I heard the gun fired I did not recognise the report as being that of my husband’s gun; the gun was not loaded when they took it away.

Peter Dominick Mitchell, a gardener, residing at Wooragee, deposed: On Tuesday, 15th instant, about half past 7 o’clock in the evening, I was standing near a cow that was in the bail, when I saw two men come out of the house towards me; one of the men, whom I believe to be the prisoner Smith, said, “Come this way,” three times; they told me to go back and deliver the powder and shot I had; I walked in front of them back to the house; I gave the powder and shot to the tallest of the two; I took particular notice of the face of the tallest man; both men had something dark on their faces, with holes cut for their eyes; to the best of my belief I can recognise Smith, from his eyes, his build, full chest, and his voice; could not recognise the second man, who had a kind of dragging walk; when they left the house the tallest man said that if they catched me down the road they would shoot me; about an hour or an hour and a half afterwards I heard the report of firearms.

William Jarvis, a bullock-driver, residing at Wooragee, deposed: On Tuesday, 15th instant, I was in Gale’s store between 7 and 8 o’clock in the evening; Mrs. Gale was also in the store; there was no one else there; whilst there my attention was called by a knock at the door; when I opened the door there were two men with firearms, one at each side of the door; one had a single-barrelled gun, the other appeared to have a double-barrelled pistol; the man with the gun said, “Come outside here, you wretch, or I’ll blow your brains out;” I walked out on the verandah alongside of him; he asked me whether there was anybody else in the house; I told him there was only a woman there; he called out two or three times; he said that if he had to call her out again he would blow her brains out; I cried out, “Mrs. Gale, you had better come outside;” she came out, and stood alongside of me on the verandah; the man with the gun said to Mrs. Gale, “There’s £50 in that house; I want it, and I’ll have it; go in and get it, or I’ll shoot you;” she said there was no money in the house; after the man with the gun and Mrs. Gale had gone into the house, he called out to me to come in, and I went and stood inside the door, the man with the pistol taking up his place on the step of the door; I heard the man who carried the gun ask Mrs. Gale to go and get the fifty pounds; Mrs. Gale said she would give him anything she had in the shop, but that she had no money for him; he told her that if he had to ask for money again he would blow her brains out; I said to Mrs. Gale, “If you have got any money you had better give it to him;” she said she would, and took him to a little box behind the counter, she laid the box on a little bench behind the counter, and he took the money himself; the other man was outside the house all the time; the man with the gun then went towards the door, when he turned round and said to Mrs. Gale not to allow me to leave there that night, or he would blow her brains out; he said there were two more men down the road waiting; he told me not to go away from Gale’s that night, or also I might be shot; I told him that I would not go away; the men then went away; it would be from twenty minutes to half an hour from the time they came to the store until they went away; during most of the time I had a good opportunity of seeing the man who carried the gun; he had a kind of handkerchief over his face; it was very thin and very dirty; the color of the skin could be seen through it; there were two holes for the eyes, and a hole on the side of the cheek, through which skin appeared quite plain; Smith is the man; I am positive of it; the next time I saw him after that evening (15th instant) was in the police yard, Beechworth, on the following Monday; he was with a number of others; I picked him from amongst them, and had no hesitation in doing so; after I had picked him out I heard his voice; it was the same voice that I heard at Mr. Gale’s house; indentified the prisoner Smith in the yard by his whiskers and hair; I could see the whiskers and hair through the handkerchief when he was at Gale’s.

Margaret Gale corroborated the evidence of the previous witness, and further deposed: I recognise that man there; that is him standing in the corner (Smith); I am as positive about him as I am about my husband; I pointed him out as soon as I saw him from the expression of his face, his make, and his hand; also recognised his voice.

Henry Gale, storekeeper, Wooragee, deposed: On the evening of the 15th instant I was coming out of my bakehouse, about 250 yards from my store; on my way home I met two men, one of whom had a gun, and the other what I took to be a pistol or revolver; the men called out to me “Stop, hold on,” and presented their pieces at me, one in front and the other at the side; the place where I was stopped was about sixty yards from my store; I was about to pass on, when the man with the pistol said, “Stand or I’ll shoot you;” I stood and said, “Are you really in earnest; I thought you were only joking;” the man with the pistol said, “If I put a ball in your head that will not be a joke;” he then said, “Turn out that money;” I told him that I had no money; he insisted that I had, and I turned out my pockets to show that I had not; the man with the gun then stepped forward and searched me; having satisfied himself, he fell back again; The man with the pistol then said, “It’s no use, he has the money,” and then addressing himself to me, said, “Go in the bush; ” I said, “What is the use of taking me in the bush, are you not satisfied?” he said that they had been told I had £50; the man with the pistol then said, “Go to your store, and don’t come out to-night; there are men up the road and down the road; ” I do not think I could recognise the men again; I had an idea that I had heard the voice before; I have an idea that Thomas Brady was the man who stood in front of me with the pistol; Brady I have seen several times, and he has been at my store, and I firmly believe that the voice I heard when I was stuck up was that of Brady; not only the voice, but I think there is a resemblance in the stature of the man.

John Alexander Kennedy, poundkeeper, Albury, deposed: Was at the Wooragee Hotel on Tuesday, 15th instant, about 9 o’clock in the evening; I was in the kitchen; there were present Hugh Pierce, Thomas Fraser, and the late John Watt; Mrs. Watt was going in and out of the kitchen; when Mrs. Watt was outside heard her call out, “John, there’s a knock at the door, will you open it?” Mr. Watt got up and went to the door; between half a minute and a minute afterwards I heard the report of firearms; directly after the report I felt as if I had been burned on the arm, and a numb sensation followed; when Mr. Watt came into the kitchen he said, “I am shot”; there was blood running down the front and left side of his coat; he sat down on a form, and immediately afterwards got up, and fell over on the floor; I picked him up, and put him in a sitting position against the wall.

Ellen Watt, wife of the late John Watt, of the Wooragee Hotel, deposed: On the evening of Tuesday, 15th instant, saw two men passing the gate, along the main road; had them in sight from one to two minutes; about one minute after they had passed, I called out to my husband there was someone knocking; heard him leave the kitchen and go along the passage to the front; about a minute afterwards I heard the report of a gun; when I got into the kitchen I found that my husband had been wounded; my husband told me that he was mortally wounded; Dr. Walsh attended him shortly after; he lived till the 25th instant; my husband described the men to me whom he saw at the door; he told me that he was shot by two men; one was a fair tall man with high cheek bones; he said that he had very little hair round the chin, and that it was of a lightish color; the other he said was shorter, and had a sandy complexion; my husband said that one of them said to him, “Come out, you wretch, or I’ll blow your brains out;” I believe that Smith and Brady would answer the description of the men as described by my husband; Smith was about the same size as the man who passed the gate first, and Brady appeared like the second one.

Mr. Superintendent Barclay put in the declaration made by Mr. Watt, before Mr. J. Turner, J.P., believing himself to be dying, as follows:—

“Between 7 and 8 o’clock two men came to my place. They knocked at the front door. I went outside and opened the door. The man with the gun said, ‘Stand out here or I will blow out your brains.’ There was another man with him. I then ran through the passage to the kitchen, and received a shot in the left side. I got to the kitchen, when I dropped down. I don’t think they followed me. The one that fired was a medium sized man, ill-looking, and thin. He had a cap on. I don’t think he had very much whiskers, which were dark. I believe the smallest man fired. He spoke with a gruff voice. He was a youngish man, I think.”

The Rev. W. C. Howard, incumbent of Christ Church, Beechworth, deposed: On the 23rd ultimo saw the deceased, Mr. Watt, at the Wooragee Hotel; remember the prisoners Smith, Heppannstein, and Brady being taken to Wooragee; was in the room with Mr. Watt when they were brought in separately to see Mr. Watt; he was at that time in an extremely feeble condition, hardly able to speak; Brady was first placed before him; Mr. Watt said he thought that was not the man who fired the gun; Brady was then taken out; Heppannstein was placed before Mr. Watt, who said, “That is not the man at all; he is much taller than the man who fired the gun;” Heppannstein was then taken out; Smith was then brought in; Mr. Watt was then becoming more feeble, and I could not hear exactly at the time, whilst Smith was in the room, the exact words which he used; afterwards Mr. Watt kept speaking partially to himself; I stooped my head down to the pillow, and asked him what he was saying, when he replied in a sufficiently strong voice for me then to hear him, “That is very much like the man who fired the shot; ” when Smith was in the room Mr. Watt made a movement with his hand, which I could not interpret.

George Graham, merchant, residing at Wooragee, deposed: On the 23rd instant I was at the Wooragee Hotel; was standing alongside Mr. Watt’s bed when the prisoners Heppannstein and Smith were brought into the room; as soon as Heppannstein was brought in Mr. Watt, who was in a very low state, shook his head and said, “No.” When Smith was brought in I lifted up a portion of the curtain; Mr. Watt partially turned his head, looked at Smith, and pointed with his hand and said, “That’s the man;” there was a brief pause, and I heard something like “me” after. There might have been another word between, but did not hear it.

The prisoners were then charged with highway robbery under arms. Evidence at considerable length was taken, and the usual caution having been administered by the Bench, the prisoners, as in the former case, said they had nothing to say. All three — James Smith, William Heppannstein, and Thomas Brady — were then committed to take their trial at the next circuit court to be held in Beechworth for wilful murder; they were also committed to take their trial at the same court for robbery under arms.

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Friday 18 April 1873, page 3


The following is the list of cases remaining for trial :—

James Smith and Thomas Brady, murder, Wooragee.

James Smith and Thomas Brady, robbery under arms, Wooragee.

David Stewart, breaking into and stealing from a dwelling, Beechworth.

John Mulhall, unmentionable crime, Benalla. James Quin, on remand from last Circuit Court, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.


Thomas Gidley, sheepstealing, Beechworth.

Ah Hen, wounding cattle, Beechworth (2 cases).

Cornelius Foote, perjury, Wangaratta.

Kilmore Free Press (Kilmore, Vic. : 1870 – 1954), Thursday 24 April 1873, page 4


(From the Ovens and Murray Advertiser, April 19th.

A crime that for a time seemed to be enshrouded in mystery has been sheeted home to the criminals. After a fair and impartial trial, James Smith and Thomas Brady have been found guilty of the murder of Mr. Watt, at Wooragee, and have been sentenced to expiate their crime on the scaffold. So far as we can judge, after hearing the evidence brought forward, the verdict returned by the jury is a righteous one. The testimony of Happenstein, an associate of the prisoners, and who was to some extent connected with them in the crime, supplied the one link that was wanting in the chain. Without the evidence of the approver, the case against Smith and Brady left no moral doubt. His testimony, corroborated as it was by the statements of other witnesses, cleared away whatever legal doubt there was as to the guilt of the prisoners. Mrs. Gale’s identification of Smith as one of the men who stuck up and robbed the postoffice and store at Wooragee was complete, that of the witness Jarvis was not less so. Both witnesses swore positively to his having been the man, who, armed with a gun, compelled Mrs. Gale to deliver up the money she had in the store, and who made use of threats as to blowing her brains out and that of the witness Jarvis, in the most approved bushranging fashion. The evidence of Mr. Mitchell and his wife, from whose house the gun was taken, was scarcely less conclusive. Both were positive in their own minds that Smith was the man, but they had that shadow of a doubt which prevented them swearing directly to his identity. So far as the outrages at Mitchell’s and Gale’s were concerned, the testimony of the independent witnesses sufficiently established the complicity of Smith, whilst Mr. Gale’s testimony proved the identity of Brady as one of the robbers. Morally, there was not the slightest doubt that the same men who visited Mitchell’s and Gale’s were those who called at the Wooragee Hotel, and finished a night of crime by shooting Mr. Watt; legally there might have been some difficulty in connecting them with the firing of the shot, had not Happenstein come forward and told what he knew of the matter. As a rule, we have a strong dislike to the evidence of approvers, but in Happenstein’s case there are several circumstances that lift the testimony out of the usual category. In the first place it was known from the outset that his share in the crime was no more than that of an accessary before the fact, and it was doubtful whether, if he had not turned approver, the crown could proceed against him on the capital charge. None of the witnesses — neither the Mitchells, the Gales, nor Jarvis — deposed to having seen him in conpany with Smith and Brady; in fact, it was evident, as he himself stated, that he had acted as waiting man to the party, taking charge of the horses and keeping guard while the others went on their marauding expedition. Under these circumstances, and considering that no promise was held out to Happenstein to furnish any statement, we consider that his evidence — more especially as it was corroborated in almost every important particular — was entitled to the credence it received. Looking back, we cannot help agreeing with the Crown Prosecutor in his statement that the manner in which the case was got up reflects the highest credit on the police; there is no doubt that both the officers and men engaged showed great sagacity and skill by the way in which they added link to link until they made the chain of evidence complete. It must be remembered that the crime which formed the subject of the trial at the Circuit Court yesterday was of no ordinary nature. Two men visit a lonely wayside public house, after dark knock at the door, and when they are answered they order the landlord to stand outside threatening in case of refusal to blow out his brains. He turns round to regain the shelter he has quitted, is fired at and mortally wounded; the murderers speed away in the darkness, and excepting a passing glance at their forms caught by the murdered man’s wife, they are not seen by anyone in the house. Unless for the traces the murderers left by their visit to Gale’s, in all human probability the Wooragee murder would have been added to the list of undiscovered crimes, of which there have been not a few in Victoria. Fortunately for the peace of mind and security of lonely dwellers in the bush, and perhaps also for those who may be inclined to enter on a criminal career, justice has been vindicated by the charge having been brought home to the guilty parties. Some complaints were made when those men were arrested as to the delay that must take place before they could be placed on their trial. But all things considered, we are of opinion that it is as well that the delay did take place. The excitement that was occasioned in the district by the shooting of an inoffensive and much respected resident in his own house, has had time to die out during the six months, that have elapsed since the murder took place. Whatever the character of those accused of the crime, they were entitled to a fair and impartial trial, and they have received it. Mr. C. A. Smyth, in conducting the case for the Crown, strained no point to secure a conviction, but, as is his wont, while doing justice to the side on which he was engaged, he treated the accused with every fairness. It is necessary that the law should be vindicated; at the same time it is lamentable to see two healthy strong young men sentenced to have their career cut short by an ignominious death. A little sin, says a high authority, is like the letting in of water. Smith commenced criminal career with the too common and much too-lightly esteemed offence of cattle stealing, and ended it as a murderer’s doom. His fate and that of his fellow convict ought to be a warning to others lest they trangress against the law. Once a criminal career is commenced it is hard to tell where it will end. In a country like this, where honest labour is well rewarded, crimes of every description are as unprofitable as they are wicked.

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