Spotlight: The Private Escort Robbery. Examination of the Prisoners. (30/08/1853)

Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer (Vic. : 1851 – 1856), Tuesday 30 August 1853, page 1



The following prisoners (handcuffed) were placed at the bar, viz.:—George Elston, George Melville, George Wilson. William Atkins, Edward McEvoy, and Robert Harding. Agnes Atkins, charged as an accessory, was allowed a chair. Mr. Read complained to the court that his clients were placed at the bar in shackles, which was a breach of the constitutional laws of England. The bench declined to make any order with reference to Mr Read’s remarks.

Mr. James Ashley, sworn — From information I received, I proceeded on board the barque Collooney, and I made a search in one of the cabin’s, where I found a leather trunk which contained two parcels of sovereigns, viz.:— one containing £103 10s in gold; the other containing 720 sovereigns; amongst other things I found several papers and receipts, bearing the name of George Melville; on the 12th August, I went to the house of a man named John Atkins, where I saw the prisoner, William Atkins; I arrested him and told him the nature of the charge against him; searching him I found a draft on the Bank of Australia (Sydney) for £400; we went into an adjoining room, where we saw the female prisoner; I asked if she had any money, and she admitted having some, and I took from her pocket a parcel containing £81 10s. in gold and a dress lying over a barrel. I took hold of it, when she snatched it out of my hand; I snatched back the dress, and on searching I found, in the lining, a draft on the New South Wales Bank, (Sydney) for £700, payable to Agnes Mclaughlin; on searching Atkins, the male prisoner, I found on him a receipt for money paid for cabin passages of Mr. and Mrs. Atkins, in the Hellespont, steamer, to Sydney; about eight o’clock the same evening I went to the North Star Hotel, where I arrested George Melville.

Hindle Thompson sworn — I am a detective policeman; and on the 11th August, I was aboard the ship Madagascar where I arrested prisoner George Wilson; I found 302 sovereigns on his person.

Samuel Davis, sworn — I am a trooper in the Private Escort; yesterday, the 24th August, I went to the Melbourne gaol, I recognized two men whom I believe to have been amongst the parties who attacked us; the prisoner Melville, and the second approver.

Mr. McMahon, deposed as follows — On or about the 12th August, I sent for the younger Francis, in order to hold some private conversation with him; when he came to my office, I told him, as he might see by the notices posted on the gates, that one of the parties concerned in the outrage would receive a free pardon, a passage out of the colony, and £500, on turning approver; after considerable hesitation he admitted that he was one of the party who attacked the Private Escort, and also informed me of the names of the others who were his companions on that occasion, and he assisted in their apprehension; the names of the whole party, as he gave them, were:— George Francis (himself), John Francis. Joe Grey alias another named Billy, Bob Harding, George Elton, George Melville, George Wilson, two others, names unknown; I promised him that I would not use his evidence against his brother.

At this stage of the proceedings, the second approver was introduced into the court, and as may be expected, was an object of universal attention. Dark and bitter were the scowls of hate and vengeance darted at him by some of the prisoners; but he appeared comparatively unmoved, and gave the following evidence in a calm and firm, though low tone of voice.

My name is John Francis, and I arrived in Van Diemen’s Land under a sentence of ten years’ transportation. My sentence has not yet expired, but will in September. On the 20th July last, I left the McIvor in company with my brother, George Wilson, George Melville, William Atkins, and Joseph Grey. Of these I now recognise Melville, Wilson, and Atkins, as three of the party named. We went through the bush towards the Mia Mia Inn, and stopped on the side of the road a few miles from the inn. We soon after heard the Private Escort coming up, and it was now between ten and eleven in the morning. The Escort troop was coming up from McIvor, and (I believe) going towards Kyneton. Previous to this we arranged a few branches of trees, and placed two men behind, the rest of them (and I) being stationied behind trees about thirty yards higher up the road. I heard some person of the Escort cry halt; and on looking out, I saw some of the troopers firing at the two men behind the branches. We then, the rest of us, rushed down to their assistance. We all challenged the Escort men to stand, when they refused, and fired on us, when a general fight commenced. I fired at the Escort troop, and observed four of the troopers wounded; two of the latter escaped, and were followed by two of us. viz., myself and the prisoner Wilson, calling upon them to surrender. They replied by shooting at us, and galloping away. I and Wilson then went down the road, and gathering up all the fire-arms we could see, we followed Atkins, Melville, Grey, and George Francis, who preceded us in the bush, whither the boxes of gold had been carried, and we then took the gold out of the boxes. It was whilst I and Wilson were after the two men that the gold had been removed from the dray. Where the gold was taken out of the boxes was some 20 yards from off the road, in the bush; and after doing so, we travelled about seven miles through the country that day, and camped in the bush. We resumed our route on the following morning, having first divided the gold. We passed the second night by a river’s side, on Mollison’s run, and continued our route in the same direction, always keeping the bush and avoiding the road. The next night we passed in the bush, near Kilmore, and then, on the Sunday morning, we all left together for Melbourne, but separated on coming to the Rocky Water Holes, Grey and George Francis accompanying me into Melbourne. That night we reached town, and proceeded to my house, at Collingwood Flat, where I saw Wilson and Atkins, it being previously arranged that we were to meet there. They remained at my house all night, and on the Tuesday after Atkins left for the digging, Grey and Wilson remaining with me. On the day before I was apprehended, I saw the prisoner Melville in Melbourne, when he told me he was going to the Mauritius; about seven days after leaving town, Atkins returned from the diggings, and I saw him in town; he told me that he had been to the McIvor; the last time I saw Grey he said he was going to Adelaide; the prisoner, I, and my brother were to have started for England in the Madagascar, and we had accordingly engaged passages in that vessel; I was soon after apprehended on a charge of stealing a pistol, and was subsequently remanded for robbing the Escort; the last time I saw George Francis was in this court; since which time I have had no communication with him; I sent a message to Captain McMahon, from the gaol; and I subsequently told him all the proceedings; the confession was voluntary on my part, and there was no inducement held out to me: after the confession, Captain McMahon told me that he would send me a free man from the colony, with my wife; on arranging for this attack we had resolved, if possible, not to take human life; for we thought we could get the gold without firing; I did not see any of our party shoot at the men in advance; the first firing was commenced by the escort party.

Mr. Read submitted that there was no case whatever against Mrs. Atkins; then, as to the prisoners McEvoy, Elson, and Harding, that there was not a particle of proof against them.

Captain McMahon was informed that the man Grey had been arrested in Portland, and confessed the crime; as to Harding, Elson, and McEvoy, he thought there must be some mistake; they had been taken into custody on the statement of the former Francis, and he (Capt. M.) did not believe them to have been implicated in the robbery. The Bench decided upon remanding the prisoners, McEvoy, Elson, and Harding, for one week; and committed Melville, Wilson, and Atkins, to take their trial for shooting at and robbing the private escort, and Atkins’ wife as an accessory after the fact. The prisoners were then removed in custody. — Herald.

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