In memory of
Sarah Johnson (1859-1865)
There were many murders in the early history of Hobart but none that
caused so much interest and outrage as the murder of the two Johnson children.
the 12th September 1865 George Michael Johnson left his home in the
hills at the back of Glenorchy to cart materials to
time later Emily Johnson sent her daughter home to see whether the children were
alright but when Mary Ellen reached the hut she found it ransacked and no sign
of the two younger children. The
panic stricken mother at once returned home and finding no trace of the children
sent for a neighbour Mary Wheatley to help with the search.
of six year old Sarah was found first and a few minutes later George, who was
still alive, but had horrific head injuriesr was found. He died without
regaining consciousness at 11.00 o’clock that night.
not the first murder that occurred near the Johnson home, another being an old
and infirm man named John Fawks who was in his 90th year.
The murderer went under the name of “Black Tom” and was apprehended
shortly after the crime by Mrs. Johnson’s father.
the public interest and outrage over the murder of George and Sarah Johnson a
booklet was produced (copy held in Walker Collection) detailing every aspect of
the case by “The Mercury Steam Press Office” which sold for one shilling.
All the following notes are taken from that booklet.
chase and capture of Griffiths
was described as follows
2.00 o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday 12th September Mr. Maxwell
Hunter, Superintendent of the Glenorchy Municipal Police, received information
from a man named James Smith, a servant in the employ of Mr. Stephen
Knapper, farmer, of Glenorchy, that two of George Michael Johnson’s
children had been murdered near their father’s hut at Tolosa.
Immediately on receipt of this information, Mr. Hunter dispatched
Constable William Smith to Johnson’s hut with special instructions to guard it
until his arrival. He then sent
sub-Inspector Tolland on to
office of the Inspector of Police in the city, Mr Sub Inspector Tolland,
communicated the intelligence of the murder to that active and zealous officer,
Mr. Alfred Jones, the Chief District Constable.
Immediately afterwards, the Inspector of Police, Dr Butler and Mr Jones
rode over towards O’Briens Bridge, arriving at the New Town police office
about five o’clock. Here Mr. Jones
summoned his available force, and dispatched constables from the police station
secured these silent witnesses, Messrs Hunter and Jones proceeded to institute
enquiries around the district and from the result of these enquiries Sergeant
and sub Inspector Tolland were at once dispatched into Hobart Town with
instructions to look for a certain individual who, it was discovered, had been
missing from his service during two days previous to the murder. These officers,
on reaching town, communicated with the Superintendent of City Police, Mr.
Propsting, and soon the whole detective force and constabulary were on the
scent; the theatre, public rooms and houses being especially guarded, and the
man they were all looking for was William Griffiths.
city was being thus rigidly scrutinised, and the constables were still lying in
the bush covering the tracks leading from the hut towards town, Mr.
Superintendent Beresford, of the Bridgewater Police, had not been idle.
Information of the murder having been given him, he at once visited the
spot, and proceeding to
Armstrong and Sergeant Ruddoch also left
arrangement now being complete to prevent the escape of the fugitive from the
city, and it having been ascertained that a man answering Griffiths’
description had been seen in town with a clock, the detectives went to work, and
step by step, from one public house to another, this man was traced at length to
the Kings Arms, a public house situated in Murray Street.
Meanwhile, Detectives Morley and Vickers had succeeded in tracing the
clock to the house of a man named William Gale, an eating house keeper in
morning of Wednesday 13th September, the coroner, Henry Bilton Esq
J.P. opened his enquiry at the Dusty Miller Inn on the
Mr. Thomas Stone Kellaway of Glenorchy, farm overseer
William Shoobridge of Glenorchy, farmer
Corney of Glenorhy, wheelwright
Smith of Glenorchy, boot and
Holly of Glenorchy, storekeeper
Hickson Jnr of Glenorchy, yeoman
Nicholls of Glenorchy yeoman
proceeded to view the scene of the murder, and the bodies of the poor children
as they lay in the hut, the jury returned to the Dusty Miller Inn, where the
Coroner briefly opened the proceedings. The
evidence of Emily Johnson, the mother of the children, was taken. The inquest
was then adjourned until the 15th September when five other witnesses
whole of the enquiry upwards of thirty one witnesses were examined.
address by the Coroner of two hours he left it for the jury to give a solemn and
deliberate verdict which was as follows
jury aforesaid, by our Foreman do say that the children, George Johnson and
Sarah Johnson, were willfully murdered on the 12th September 1865 by
William Griffiths and return our verdict accordingly.
Coroner then made out his warrant of commitment, the prisoner was removed, and
having thanked the jury for their patient attention during so lengthy an
enquiry, Mr. Bilton broke up the court.
Criminal Court Tuesday 24th October 1865
His Honor Sir Valentine Fleming Knt, Chief Justice
Queen v. William Griffiths
Robert Byron Miller Esq., Attorney General, conducted the prosecution on behalf
of the Crown. The prisoner was
following gentlemen comprised the jury
Walter Goodwin, Black Brush, farmer
Forsyth, Glenorchy, farmer
Giffin, New Town, bootmaker
was densely crowded throughout the trial
report of witnesses called
Johnson wife of
George Michael Johnson who deposed:
with my husband at Glenorchy, a short distance from Tolosa, in the bush;
present at the inquest on the bodies of two of my children held on the 13th
September. The children’s names
were George Johnson aged 8 years and Sarah Johnson, aged 6 years.
I last saw those children alive on the 12th September last.
It was about 12.00 or 1.00 o’clock.
I then went with my eldest daughter into the bush.
I closed the door of my hut leaving my two children outside.
I believe I must have been 180 yards away from the hut.
I said at the inquest 80 yards but I found out since that it was 180
yards. There was a fresh in the
creek that day and it made a great noise. I
sent my daughter home after three quarters of an hour absence and from what she
told me I returned home myself. When
I returned, the doors of the hut were wide open, and the clock was gone from off
the table. The boxes were open and
standing across the door. I have
never seen the clock since but I could recognize it.
I did not see it at the inquest. I
could know it by two notches cut in it to enable a string to be put round to
keep it from falling down. The white
of the figure X1 is broken; there is a knot in the back of the case, and the
case is loose. (Clock produced and fully recognized).
The clock differs from what it was when I had it, by the removal of a
piece of print which had been pasted across the bottom glass.
I have no doubt whatever that the clock is mine. I have had it for 12
years. I lost a number of other
articles from the hut, none of which I have seen since.
When I found the hut open, I went and called my children and went to a
neighbour’s-Mrs. Wheatley-to look for them.
They were not there and she came to help me look for them.
My girl also came with me. I
found the two poor children. I first saw Sarah about 70 yards from the hut, in
the scrub. Mrs. Wheatley went to where the children were, and I stood in the
road. I was as one struck and could
not move. The children were close
together and the girl was dead. Mrs.
Wheatley said “and Oh, Georgy too” That was all I heard until I went for
assistance. I returned in an hour
with a man named Marsh and his little boy, and a Mrs. Smith.
I took the
little boy home finding he was still alive.
He lived until 10 minutes to 11.00 o’clock the same evening when he
died. He never spoke until the time
of his death.
I am a
next door neighbor to Mrs. Johnson. My
hut is a quarter of a mile from her place. I
saw her children, Sarah and George, about a quarter of an hour before they were
killed. They were playing behind the
hut. I had not at that time seen any
man in the neighborhood. When Mrs.
Johnson came to me I went to help her look for them.
She first saw the girl, and afterwards I saw the boy.
The two children were lying in a triangular way.
The girl lay with her hear towards
Ellen Johnson having
been examined as to the nature of an oath deposed
I am the
daughter of Mrs. Johnson. We live at
Glenorchy. We had an American clock.
We missed it on Tuesday 12th September.
Mother used to wind it up. I
should know the clock again if I saw it. There
are notches in the top for string to hold it up, and there is a knot in the back
which will push out
identified the clock.
Butler, a duly qualified medical practitioner deposed
Tuesday 13th September he was at the house of George Michael Johnson.
He reached there about 5.00 o’clock in the afternoon.
He was accompanied by the Inspector of Police, Mr. Forster.
Inside the hut, in the inner room, I found a little boy on the bed.
He was then alive, but unconscious and dying.
He died between ten and eleven the same evening.
I afterwards made a post mortem examination.
He had two fractures of the skull-one on each side- penetrating the
brain. Those fractures were the
cause of death. The one on the right
was fractured in a semicircular shape. Such
a wound could only have been inflicted by a blunt instrument, having a rounded
sharp edge, such as a hammer. The
other wound must have been done with a longer instrument, and a narrower; it
penetrated the brain four inches. The
opening was smaller and went far deeper than any hammer would go.
The instrument must have been pointed and blunt, but the wound could not
have been done by the axe head of a shingle hammer.
It seemed almost as if an iron bolt had been driven in.
After examining the boy’s condition, I went out to where the body of
the girl was. It was in charge of
Constable Smith. The girl was quite
dead, and must have been so during two or three hours. Death had been caused by
a fracture of the upper and back part of the skull, beating in the brain, and
also a wound in the back part of the neck dividing the spinal marrow.
There was a third wound dividing the skin, made apparently with the same
instrument as the semi circular wound on the boy.
I should say the instrument was a hammer.
The fractures of the skull must have been caused by repeated blows with a
blunt instrument, pointed. The skull
was starred in all directions. The cut on the back of the neck was two and a
half inches broad and must have been done by some sharp cutting instrument such
as the axe head of a shingling hammer. That
is exactly what would cause such a wound. When the prisoner was apprehended a
shirt was shown me by the Superintendent of Police, which was said to have
belonged to the prisoner. There was
a stain on the sleeve of the shirt corresponding to the situation of the elbow.
I examined it under the microscope, and it was undoubtedly the stain of
blood. It was also seen by Doctor
Turnley. It had the general
appearance of human blood, but it is almost impossible to determine human blood
from that of sheep, when it has to be diluted to make the necessary test. From
the nature of the injuries, I think there need not of necessity be blood on the
person of the murderer. From the way in which the blows must have been struck,
the person inflicting them could keep clear of the blood. I examined the
prisoner’s elbow to see if there was any wound corresponding to the stain.
There was none, and he said his shirt had become stained from carrying
meat. He said he was perfectly innocent of the charge: that he had come into
town with Mr. Shoobridge on the Monday, and had never been out of town since.
sure two instruments must have been used in the murder of the boy.
The features of the wound were so peculiar that I went and made a very
minute examination. The wound was a
great deal too long and broad to have been inflicted with the shaft of a
shingling hammer. My attention was
directed to some harrow tines which were lying on the ground near the hut.
One of those is exactly the kind of instrument I should have expected to
have inflicted the deep wound.
Constable Wm Smith, Glenorchy Municipal Police deposed
I was at
the inquest held on the bodies of George and Sarah Johnson.
I was placed in charge of the body of Sarah Johnson on the 12th
September. Mr Hunter placed me in
charge. It was between 3.00 and 4.00
o’clock. The body was lying in the
bush. Mr. Hunter pointed out the
impression of a foot near the body. It
was 8 or 10 yards from the body pointing toward it. There was only one
impression and it was in soft ground. The
ground around was green, but this particular spot happened to be soft.
A foot would not have left an impression on the green grass. The surface
of the ground had been moved where the impression was.
Mr. Hull and others came and took a description of the impression.
They made a drawing.
James Norris, a boy about 11 years of age
had gone to school at O’Briens Bridge. He
had been sworn on the bible and understood that he was to tell the truth.
After further examination the witness was sworn and deposed:
with my stepfather Thomas Smith, near the
Smith, mother of the
previous witness deposed
the murder of the two children. After enquiry was made, I missed a shingling
hammer. I last saw it on the Sunday
afternoon. I saw the prisoner on
Monday morning, about 7.00 o’clock. He
had the shingling hammer then. He
had on a strong pair of boots.
Franklin Hull, council clerk of the Municipality of Glenorchy deposed
known the prisoner at the bar for some years. I saw him on Monday 11th
September. It was about quarter past
nine in the morning in the
I heard of
the murder on Tuesday the 12th September.
I went to Johnson’s house and I was shown the body of the girl by a man
named Marsh. That might have been
about a quarter past two. There was
an impression of a foot about 9 yards from where the body was lying.
There was only one foot print. I account for that by the fact that the
ground about was soft and the rain would was the footprints out.
The one footprint to which I refer was almost under some bushes which
protected it from the rain. There had been a fire there and the footprint was in
the ashes. I made a careful diagram of that impression, which is now produced.
That diagram I saw compared with the boot of the prisoner.
That was on the 16th September, and in the presence of Mr.
Hunter and Alexander Smith. The boot
and the impression corresponded exactly. The
boots produced are the same. There
are nails in one diagram which do not appear in the other.
The omissions are in the diagram of the impression near Alexander
Smith’s house. There were other
footprints trending in the direction of Johnson’s hut from the body, and also
from Johnson’s to
Smith, a farmer residing at Tolosa
how his hut had been broken into and a suit of clothes and other items stolen
from it. He observed footprints near
the hut which he protected by covering, and which he afterwards compared with
some boots by the Police Superintendent and Mr Hull.
He had previously seen Mr. Hull make a drawing of the impression which he
believed was a true one. He saw the
suit of clothes which he lost at the police court O’Briens Bridge afterwards.
The suit produced was the one lost by him.
Simpson, a general dealer residing in
I know the
prisoner. I brought a suit of
clothes from him on the 11th September.
I afterwards gave the clothes to the police. I gave the prisoner 15
shillings for them and afterwards spent 1 shilling with him which was the
agreement. I know Henry Wilding, he
sold me an opossum skin rug on the day the prisoner came with the clothing.
Wilding bought a rug and blanket from me for eight shillings.
He left them in my care. I afterwards saw Wilding on the Tuesday before
2.00 and 3.00
he came to enquire after his bedding. He
came again at 4.00 o’clock and asked me to buy a clock, but I positively
refused because I did not want it. He said his wife was a drunken woman, and he
was afraid she would make away with the clock. I never saw Wilding again until
Gibbons, publican keeping the Sir John Franklin, public house
I know the
man Wilding by sight. He and the
prisoner were in my house on the 11th September.
The man Wilding came first. The
last witness Simpson and the prisoner came in afterwards.
Wilding was then sitting on a seat in the bar.
Prisoner and Simpson had some drinks together.
Prisoner stopped until about 2.00 o’clock, when he and Wilding left in
the company of a little jewish woman. I
saw Wilding again at 5.00 o’clock but not the prisoner. While
in my house prisoner changed have a sovereign, putting the silver in a steel
beaded purse. Prisoner called at my house at eight o’clock on Tuesday morning
and asked if his mate had been. I
said he had been, on the previous night, and had gone to the play.
Prisoner then said his mate had robbed him of half a sovereign.
I said “don’t tell lies” He couldn’t have robbed you when I
changed it for you. Prisoner then
said “Will you trust me with a pint of beer”
I said “No, we don’t trust”. He
said “you have no occasion to be afraid, I am going to the bridge and I’ll
get some bloody money, and I’ll spend a few shillings when I get back. With
that my wife drew him a glass of beer and he went outside to go away and I saw
no more of him until the next day.
Males, wife of a publican, keeping the King’s
is rather nearer O’Briens Bridge than Gibbons’ I saw the prisoner at the bar
there about 9 o’clock on the Tuesday morning the 12th September.
He stayed about ten minutes and I can’t say in what direction he went.
I next saw him about 5.00 o’clock on the same afternoon.
He was accompanied by Wilding. I
had seen Wilding about between 1.00 and 2.00 o’clock on the same day at
Gibbons door. When he came to my
I live in
Dowsey, a resident of Glenorchy deposed
I know the
prisoner at the bar. I saw him on
with my mother and father at Tolosa, near Mr. Butterworth’s.
I saw him about 12.00 o’clock on Tuesday 12th September at
the back of our place where I was cutting wood.
Prisoner spoke to me and said “Your’re a belting away”
He asked me what Butterworth had had in his ground, and I told him
principally wheat. He went towards
Butterworth’s and I afterwards saw him come back in about a quarter of an
hour. He went towards Mr.
Propsting’s fence, in the direction of Johnson’s land.
When prisoner came back he had a little tomahawk stuck at his left side.
I only saw the handle.
Butterworth, residing with her husband, near Tolosa, deposed
saw the prisoner at her place about 12.00 o’clock on Tuesday 12th
September. Prisoner had some tea and
stayed about a quarter of an hour. He
was sober. He left her place and went past Weedings, the back of the house, as
if he was going to his work.
Weeding, a little boy eight years of age said
the day of the murder of the two children, Johnsons.
I saw the prisoner on the day of the murder.
My sister was with me. It was
before I had my dinner that I saw him, in the middle of the day.
He was coming from the direction of Butterworth’s. He went in the
direction of Propsting’s fence afterwards.
I know Johnson’s. I would
not go from Butterworths that way. There
is a track after you cross the paddock. I
would turn off between Propsting’s and Tolosa. I don’t think it is quite two
miles from our place to Johnson’s.
was here recalled, and proved the position of Propsting’s fence, stating that
the distance from Weeding’s to Johnson’s was about a mile and three quarters
at the very furthest. He could walk
it in twenty minutes.
McKenna, a boy about 11 years, having been examined as to the nature of an oath,
with my father and mother in
I live in
New Town in a street leading into
Stephens, residing with her husband in
the afternoon of the 12th September she was in
Hughes, a lad residing in Upper Murray Street, deposed
was on the roof of the house putting out a fire which had occurred in the
chimney when he saw a man with a clock under him arm coming down from
Swift, residing with her husband in
Tuesday 12th September. I was offered a clock for sale by a man named
Gale, an eating house keeper, resident in
12th September I bought a clock which I afterwards gave up to the
police. I purchased the clock of the
prisoner at the bar. The man Wilding
was with him at the time. They came
twice to my place with the clock having left it an hour with Mrs Swift in the
interval. Prisoner told me he had
been accustomed to go with horses, and he had purchased the clock that he might
see the proper time to get up in the morning. He said he had had the clock a
twelve months, and it was a very good clock.
They first asked 7s. for the clock, then they came down to 6s and lastly
offered it for 5s and said they would buy something to eat.
I handed the clock over to the police.
Power, a tailor residing in Brisbane Street, deposed
I know the
prisoner and the man named Wilding. I
saw Wilding in Mr. Gibbons’ public house on the 12th September,
about half past 2.00 o’clock. I
brought a shirt from him for sixpence. I
Brown, a shoemaker, residing at O’Briens Bridge, deposed
I saw an
impression of a boot near the body of the girl Johnson on Tuesday 12th
September last. From that impression
I knew I was the maker of the boots. They
are tipped toe and heel with hobs and a diamond in the centre.
The impression was that of a number 7 size.
Witness identified the boots produced has having been made by him for the
Tolland, a Sub-inspector of the Glenorchy Municipal Police, deposed
Prisoner at the bar was in my custody on the 21st
inst. He made a statement to me.
He said, “I suppose I’ll not have long to walk about now.
I’ll get no justice done here (alluding to the inquest) they won’t
let a man speak for himself and I expect they will hang me.” He then said “I
know I’m into the other (meaning the robbery) but, as for the murder, I am
innocent of it. I could go to the
gallows tomorrow morning with a clear conscience.”
He requested me to speak to Mr. McDermott, his late master, to see if
he would advance him the money to get him a lawyer.
A lawyer he said would explain things better than he could, and he would
work out the money advanced. On a
subsequent occasion he asked if he could be allowed to get witnesses, I said
yes. He said he was innocent and
could get three witnesses to prove where he was on the day if he could find
Hunter of the Glenorchy Municipal Police deposed
the prisoner at the King’s Arms,
known the prisoner at the bar for about 3 years.
I was in his company on Monday and Tuesday 11th and 12th
September. On Monday night I had too
much to drink, and found myself in a back yard near the Theatre.
I left the back yard about daylight.
I went up a street leading to
Bilton, Coroner of the Territory deposed
held the inquest on the bodies of Sarah and George Johnson at O’Briens Bridge.
Prisoner was present, excepting on the first day.
He tendered himself as a witness, and after cautioning him his statement
was taken on oath in the usual way. The
statement produced is the same. I
have gone over the tracks in the vicinity of the murder.
I have noticed a peculiarity in the prisoner’s mode of walking.
He seemed always to put his right foot down heaviest.
From the impressions on the ground my attention was particularly called
to the prisoner’s mode of walking and the pressure I found was always thrown
on the right side of the right foot. During the inquest the boots were never
handed to the witnesses until their evidence had been taken.
I examined the bodies of the children, and I believe that all the wounds
could have been caused by either a shingling hammer or a slating hammer.
statement given by the prisoner at the inquest was then read to the court.
closed the case and His Honor suggested an adjournment until the next morning.
25TH OCTOBER 1865
COURT RESUMED AT 10.00 O’CLOCK
Griffiths was again placed in the dock charged with the willful murder of George
and Sarah Johnson at Glenorchy on 12th September last.
said the evidence for the Crown having been closed it was prisoner’s
opportunity to make his defence
nothing to say, Your Lordship, excepting that I am quite innocent of the crime
brought against me. I would not take
away the life of anything. I
havn’t the heart to do it. That is
known in the neighbourhood well. I
am not long in the country, your honor, and everyone knows that I work hard for
my living, but I never could hurt anything.
I don’t deny that I was drawn into the selling of the things but oh, I
am sure I had nothing to do with the murder.
I havn’t been used to being in any sort of trouble like this before.
I wish that Your Lordship and the jury would consider my case, for I am
innocent. I hope you’ll (the
remainder of the sentence was altogether incoherent)
to His Honor, prisoner said he had no witnesses to examine separately from those
proceeded to sum up the case to the jury.
upon the circumstances that the charge of murdering both children was embraced
in one information, and said this was perfectly justifiable in law.
He then proceeded to call attention to the fearful nature of the crime of
which the prisoner was charged. The
murder of two helpless children was enough to arouse the most painful interest
in the minds of everyone, and was certainly calculated to arouse the most
painful interest in the minds of everyone, and was certainly calculated to
create feelings of the strongest execration in the breast of man towards the
individual who was believed to have committed so fearful a crime.
He trusted most sincerely that they would ponder over the very judicious
remarks of the learned Attorney-General, in reference to any preconceptions
which they might have of the case. Under
any circumstances they could scarcely help being acquainted with the details of
such a crime, but where a public inquest had been held on the bodies, and the
whole of the details had been minutely made public through the medium of the
public press, he hoped they would ponder well upon what had been said by the
Attorney General. As the human mind
was constituted, it was a necessary consequence that impressions must have been
produced as the result of what they had read and impressions might have been
formed which were unfavourable to the prisoner charged with this crime.
No doubt there would be some difficulty in getting rid of these
impressions. Nevertheless they had a higher and paramount duty to perform, and
it was this:
case ought to be tried and tried alone on what had transpired in the court, and
during the progress of that trial, and whatever they might have heard or read of
the case should all if possible be case aside, and their verdict founded solely
and exclusively on the testimony produced during the trial. He had every hope
and confidence this would be so. Justice
to the prisoner and the cause of public justice demanded it, and therefore he
felt satisfied it would be so. He
Honor then proceeded to explain that this was a case founded solely on
circumstantial evidence, as the majority of murder cases generally were.
He dwelt upon the usual character of such cases, and proceeded at very
great length to review the whole of the evidence, placing the several facts
minutely before the jury in consecutive order.
Having recapitulated the leading points of the evidence, His Honor
referred to the possession by the prisoner of the clock and articles stolen from
the hut, and pointed out that in the ordinary case of murder, the possession of
articles taken from person of the murdered would be strong presumptive evidence
of the possessor being connected with the crime.
In this respect the law recognized the same rule in cases of murder, as
in cases of robbery. He referred to
the murder of Mr. Briggs for which the man Muller recently suffered at home.
That man had been brought to justice simply by the tracing of certain articles
known to have belonged to Mr. Briggs, to his possession.
In the present case the presumption might not be so strong because here
the property was not taken from the persons murdered, but from the hut, however,
it was the same character of presumption, and it was for them to say what degree
of weight they would attach to it. If
they believed the prisoner to be guilty of the robbery, who else could be the
perpetrator of the murder? What
motive would anyone be likely to have in murdering those helpless children.
They could see a motive which would actuate the perpetrator of the
robbery. The desire to screen himself might induce him to destroy the only
living witnesses, and those, in this instance, two helpless children.
Before they could convict the prisoner, they must satisfy themselves of
these presumptions, and they must be satisfied also not only that the prisoner
might be the man that committed the murder, but that he was the man.
His Honor now referred to statements made by the prisoner to Messrs
Tolland and Hunter, and said these statements were in no way inconsistent with
his innocence, and neither of those statements could in any way be construed
into a confession of participation in the murder.
His Honor now proceeded to review the prisoner’s defence which really
amounted to a statement that he was not the guilty party, but that the murder
had been committed by another man who had been placed in the witness box.
Prisoner did not deny that he had been in town on Monday, or that he had
been at Weeding’s and Butterworth’s on the Tuesday, but that he said he had
gone to look for a tree to get some posts. His
possession of the shingle hammer was explained by the fact that it was used by
him at work. In reality, what the
prisoner said was that he had been looking for a tree, and being ill he sat
down, when Wilding came across him with the clock.
He did not deny having carried the clock, but he had asserted that
Wilding had asked him to do so. His
Honor now referred to the evidence accounting for the whereabouts of Wilding on
the day in question, and said it all tended to place Wilding clearly in such a
position that he could not possibly be a party to this murder.
He referred to the decided difference between the boots of Wilding and
the impressions discovered, and said this was a strong collateral circumstance
to support the other evidence having reference to his whereabouts.
There was one very strong circumstance which it was his duty to point
out, and which the prisoner had not made any attempt to explain.
What had become of the shingling hammer?
The evidence was strong to the effect that prisoner had it In his
possession when he was at Butterworth’s and Weeding’s.
The wounds on the bodies of the dead children were persistent with the
presumption that they had been inflicted by an instrument of that character.
Then, what had become of it? Had
it been made away with because of a consciousness that it was the fatal proof of
the guilt of the murderer. They
could easily suppose that the prisoner might have accidently lost the hammer,
but unfortunately for him, no such explanation was offered.
Nor were they told where it was, or why it was not forthcoming. The
question which they ought to put to themselves in arriving at a verdict on this
case was, whether all the evidence adduced, -unfavourably as it might bear
against the prisoner –was consistent with his innocence, and he would go
further and say, that even although the evidence was consistent with his guilt,
it would be unfair to return a verdict of guilty so long as the evidence might
be consistent with the guilt of someone else.
Unless the evidence was found to be inconclusive with any other
presumption than the guilt of the prisoner, then he was entitled to the full
benefit of any doubt which might exist. They
had but one duty to perform, and however painful that duty might be, they must
perform it truly in the interests of justice.
He was satisfied that they would return a righteous verdict founded on
conscience, and on the convictions which they would be able to adduce from the
then retired at twenty five minutes past 12.00 o’clock and at half-past one
o’clock returned with a verdict of guilty.
then addressed the prisoner
Griffiths, after a long and patient trial, and an anxious investigation of all
the facts of your case, a jury of your country has pronounced you guilty of the
terrible crime of which you have been charged.
It is idle, and now too late for you to tell us that you are innocent.
The constituted tribunals, established by the laws of your country, have
determined otherwise, and they have done so on the evidence of a chain of facts
which, I am bound to say does not surprise me, should lead to that conclusion.
Because I am sure that that evidence must have led any impartial and
reasonable mind to precisely the same result as that at which they have arrived.
Now the crime of which you, William Griffiths, have been found guilty is
one of the most fearful, I think, which the annals of crime can produce.
No doubt there have been many murders committed, accompanied by
circumstances of atrocity of a different and perhaps worse character, but I
believe that, in the annals of crime, there never was committed –or at least I
have never read or heard of them being committed-any murder, by any sane man,
marked by circumstances of such ruthless cruelty as was the murder of those two
helpless children, aged only eight years and six years respectively.
The history of your case, William Griffiths, is to my mind perfectly
clear. The demon of drink possessed
you, and you are only one out of thousands of those victims, who have paid the
fearful penalty of their cursed addiction to that demon drink.
You too are sacrificed on that altar, and on that only.
And why do I say so? Because
I remember well what fell from you on that fatal morning.
You had drunk all the money which you got on the day before by the sale
of your ill obtained plunder, which you had taken from the hut of smith, and now
the lust for drink was in you, that unconquerable love of drink which has
brought you to your present position. You
started off on a roving commission to obtain more money, by any means. With the
expressed intention of getting it by unlawful means too, you started on that
fateful morning. I do not for one
moment attribute to you that you contemplated at that time such an atrocious act
as you afterwards did, but that you contemplated getting money to satisfy your
insatiable lust, by repeating an act of robbery similar to that which you had
done on the day before, I can entertain no doubt.
Then see how it is that one gradation follows another-that one crime was
followed by another of greater magnitude. The
robbery of Johnson’s hut was, no doubt, effected by you, and then these two
poor little things saw you taking away your plunder, and because you saw them
running away, perhaps, to give an alarm, in order to destroy the means of
identification in the event of your being afterwards arrested, you ruthlessly
and barbarously slaughtered them. I
entertain no doubt that this is the true version of your crime, and the only way
in which this case could have occurred. I
don’t allude to those matters in order to harrow your feelings, or to render
your unhappy position more painful than it is now, but I do so in order to point
out to you two things which it is right you should have pointed out to you.
The first is that you now only have meted out to you that justice, which
your crime has brought about. It has
been by almost providential means that the consequences of this crime have been
brought upon you, and I would also point out this circumstance to you in order
that you may not for one moment indulge the hope that any mercy can be shown to
you in this world. You must look for a more enduring mercy in another world.
You who have thus mercilessly deprived two innocent children of their
lives-it would be a mockery to suppose that any mercy could be extended to you.
And let me conjure you to avail yourself of the short time that will be
allotted to you in this world; to make the most of it.
Don’t allure yourself for one moment with the supposition that your
life will be spared, because any such hope entertained will be calculated to
withdraw your mind from the consolation and teaching of the religious instructor
of the persuasion to which you belong, and by whose assistance you may be led to
seek, and to obtain that pardon and mercy through the merits of your Redeemer
above that can never be extended to you here.
It is now my duty as the mouthpiece of the law to pronounce upon you the
sentence which it provides for your crime, and which is
you be taken from the place from whence you came, and from thence to a place of
execution, and that you be there hanged by the neck until your body be dead, and
my the Lord God have mercy upon your soul.
o’clock on the morning of the 2nd. December, The Revs. Messrs
Davenport and Smales were in attendance on the unhappy convict, the former
gentleman administering to him the last consolation of religion.
certificates were given by those present, as to the execution having been
legally carried out, and the body having hung for one hour, was submitted to
medical inspection, and buried in
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