Spotlight: The Melbourne Private Escort Robbery (03/09/1853)

Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer (NSW : 1845 – 1860), Saturday 3 September 1853, page 1


From our Melbourne exchanges we extract the following, having reference to the progress of the investigation pending before thc authorities:—

SUICIDE OF FRANCIS, THE APPROVER.— Intelligence reached Melbourne, yesterday of the self-destruction of John Francis, the approver in the Escort robbery. The affair occurred yesterday morning at the Rocky Water Holes, a few miles from Melbourne, and from what can be as yet ascertained, it appears that Francis and the other persons in custody on their way to Melbourne, stopped at the Water Holes on Monday night. About eleven o’clock yesterday morning, Francis, by some means not yet ascertained, picked up a razor at the lock-up, which he appears to have secreted on his person, and having occasion to visit the water-closet, got in behind it, and there cut his throat. Two constables were supposed to have charge of him at the time, and the first intimation they had of the occurrence (though they were within a few paces of him at the time), was suddenly hearing a gurgling in the throat, and on running to ascertain what was the matter, found Francis with his throat cut almost from ear to ear. He walked about 12 paces and then dropped dead. How his death will affect the prosecutions for the Crown, is more than we are at present in a position to say. — Melbourne Herald, August 25th.

EXAMINATION OF THE PRISONERS. — Yesterday at the District Police Court, the following prisoners charged with being concerned in the robbery of the Private Escort Company, were brought up handcuffed for examination:— George Elston, Robert Harding, Edward McEvoy, George Wilson, George Melville, and William Atkyns. Agnes Atkyns, his wife, was also accused of being an accessary after the fact. The female prisoner was greatly excited, and was accommodated with a seat under the Bench. She frequently interrupted the proceedings by her sobs, when the evidence was such as to affect her husband.

Mr. Read appeared for the prisoners, and applied to have their handcuffs removed, which was immediately done. He then stated that he had been refused all intercourse with his clients, and prayed for permission to put himself in communication with them, which was granted.

John Francis, brother to the suicide-approver, was admitted as evidence on the part of the Crown, and after a long examination, the Bench remanded the three prisoners Harding, McEvoy, and Elston, for one week, but would allow them bail, themselves in £200, and two sureties in £100 each. The rest of the prisoners the Bench did not feel the least hesitation in committing to take their trial in a higher Court.

When the prisoners were about to be removed, the wretched woman made an attempt to reach her husband, but was prevented by the constables. She pleaded hard to be allowed to speak to him for one moment, saying she would then go where they liked, but the indulgence was not allowed her.

THE PRIVATE ESCORT ROBBERY. — There is something extraordinary connected with this affair, as it now turns out that all the information given by the suicide approver (George Francis), proves to be pure fabrication, and the four men arrested by the detective police at the diggings are supposed to be quite innocent of the crime imputed to them. We may, however, state that Francis’s brother (John) has now, in his turn, become informer, and by means of his evidence it is supposed five men will be convicted. Four of them are now in custody in Melbourne, and the fifth, named Sam Grey, is reported to have been arrested in Portland where he was committed for another offence, but confessed his participation in the Escort robbery. It is now ascertained that the gang originally consisted of only six persons, and should such be the case, the five men above mentioned and the informer will be found to make the whole. — Melbourne Herald, August 26th.

THE PRIVATE ESCORT. — We regret to learn that this enterprising little company is about to be wound up, in consequence of a want of a sufficient support from the public. By the way, the £6,000 in hard cash found upon the men in custody for robbing the Escort, will, it is supposed, in the event of their conviction, (of which, we are glad to hear, there can be little or no doubt,) be handed over to the Company, who would rateably divide it among the parties who had sent their gold down on the occasion of this robbery. — Ibid.

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