Gravesites Of Tasmania




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In memory of

 George Johnson (1857-1865)

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.  

On the 12th September 1865 George Michael Johnson left his home in the hills at the back of Glenorchy to cart materials to Hobart for the erection of a new slip at Ross’ shipyards.  Later that morning his wife Emily (nee Onner) left the hut and crossed the rivulet with her elder daughter Mary Ellen to cut firewood leaving the two younger children playing outside.  It would appear she had not been long absent when William Griffiths appeared upon the scene looking for something to steal to obtain alcohol on his return to Hobart .  After ransacking the hut and leaving with his spoils he was seen by the children who ran off to give the alarm.  They were chased by Griffiths who struck both children about the head with a shingling hammer and they both fell at the spot where they were later found.

A short 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.

The body 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.

This was 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.

Such was 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.

The chase and capture of Griffiths was described as follows

At about 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 Hobart Town to give information to the Warden of the Municipality, Dr Butler, and also to the Inspector of Police.  During Tolland’s journey to town he overtook the unhappy father of the children near the Maypole Inn, about five miles from the hut, and communicated to him the dreadful intelligence. Johnson immediately unharnessed one of his horses and rode home, whilst the sub Inspector proceeded to fulfill his mission in the city.  Meanwhile, the authorities at Glenorchy had not been idle.  Immediately after the dispatch of Tolland, Mr. Superintendent Hunter, accompanied by John Franklin Hull Esq proceeded to the scene of the murder, and at once, placed Constable William Smith in charge of the body of the murdered girl with instructions to closely watch the spot so that no traces (if any remained, which might lead to discovery of the murderer) should be effaced. A close examination of the spot afterwards disclosed a footprint near the body of the girl, partly hidden under a bush which had protected it from the influence of the rain, and which was found subsequently to correspond exactly with the imprint of the right boot of the prisoner Griffiths.

At the 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 across to Kangaroo Valley into which bush tracks run from Johnson’s hut, in the direction of Stoney Hill; and by which tracks it was naturally supposed, anyone desiring to avoid observation, would endeavour to reach town. Of these tracks there are several leading into the rough Kangaroo Valley road, but the points of junction and divergence were soon closely watched by constables in the scrub, who had orders to remain there until something arose to report, or until further orders reached them.  The Inspector, the Warden and Mr. Jones then proceeded to the scene of the murder.  Here the valuable medical skill and experience of Dr Butler was at once directed, as detailed in the evidence, with a view to restore consciousness to the poor boy; while the Inspector of Police, Mr. C.D.C Jones and Mr. Superintendent Hunter proceeded to make a minute inspection of the area surrounding the hut and the place where the bodies were found and it was thus that those important connecting links were found in the chain of evidence leading to the apprehension and conviction of the murderer were discovered.

Having 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.

Whilst the 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 Bridgewater , he sent out constables to watch the bush tracks leading from the hut into the Bridgewater Road , and thus five miles of additional country were guarded.  Confident however, that the murderer would seek to make the city, Mr. C.D.C. Jones dispatched three additional constables to scour the bush between Kangaroo Bottom and the scene of the murder, each taking a different route, and all under orders to meet again at Johnson’s hut.  At about 7.00 a.m. Constable Goddard, Rural Police, one of the constables in question, returned to the police station at Newtown, stating that he had received information to the effect that a man had been seen passing through Kangaroo Valley on the proceeding day about 3.00 o’clock “with a clock under his arm” as afterwards sworn to by witness McKenna.  From this point then, the track of the supposed murderer was fairly struck.  Constable Goddard was at once sent to Hobart Town to inform the city police of this very significant fact, and the information was accompanied by a request to Mr. Superintendent Propsting that all hands should be employed in a vigilant search for this man.  An accurate description of Griffiths being in possession of all engaged, every available policeman was distributed throughout the town with precise instructions how to act. District Constables Goddard and Dove were detailed to watch the Cascades Road and McRobie’s Gully, the Huon Road being also blocked by constables.

D.C Armstrong and Sergeant Ruddoch also left Newtown to search for tracks in the bush.

Every 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 Liverpool Street , where it had been sold by Griffiths and a man named Wilding.  This information complete, Messrs Jones and Hunter determined upon searching the Kings Arms and they made their arrangements accordingly.  District Constable McGuire and Constable Evans were sent round by the back of the house, Messrs Hunter and Jones guarding the front while detectives Morley and Vickers, with sub Inspector Dorsett remained close at hand.  At about a quarter past eleven o’clock on Wednesday 13th September, and after a very brief examination of the place Messrs Jones and Hunter entered the public house and captured the man for whom such a close search had been made.

On being taken Griffiths denied all knowledge of the crime and vowed vengeance against Mr. Hunter for dragging him handcuffed through the public streets. Although every precaution had been observed previous to the capture to prevent alarm, no sooner was Griffiths taken than numbers of people were congregated about the public house, and when it was known that the man in custody was the Glenorchy murderer, the police had some difficulty in guarding their prisoner from the summary vengeance of the crowd.  He was at once brought up before the Stipendiary Magistrate, then sitting in the Police Court, and formally charged with murder.

The Inquest

On the morning of Wednesday 13th September, the coroner, Henry Bilton Esq J.P. opened his enquiry at the Dusty Miller Inn on the Main Road from Hobart Town .  The Court assembled at 6.00 a.m. and the following jury were then impannelled

Foreman, Mr. Thomas Stone Kellaway of Glenorchy, farm overseer

Richard William Shoobridge of Glenorchy, farmer

English Corney of Glenorhy, wheelwright

Thomas Smith of Glenorchy,  boot and shoemaker

Charles Holly of Glenorchy, storekeeper

John Hickson Jnr of Glenorchy, yeoman

William Nicholls of Glenorchy yeoman

Having 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 were examined.

During the whole of the enquiry upwards of thirty one witnesses were examined.

After an address by the Coroner of two hours he left it for the jury to give a solemn and deliberate verdict which was as follows

We, the 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.

The 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.

The Trial

Tasmanian Criminal Court Tuesday 24th October 1865

Before His Honor Sir Valentine Fleming Knt, Chief Justice

The Queen v. William Griffiths

The Hon. Robert Byron Miller Esq., Attorney General, conducted the prosecution on behalf of the Crown.  The prisoner was undefended.

The following gentlemen comprised the jury

William Giblin of Providence Valley , gentleman Foreman

Edward Walter Goodwin, Black Brush, farmer

Andrew Guy, Hamilton Road , Farmer

John Gowland, Campbell Street , gentleman

Thomas Green, Campbell Street , gentleman

Jas Forsyth, Glenorchy, farmer

Daniel Graham, Patrick Street , Merchant

Thos Jabey Francombe, Victoria farmer

Chas Gaylor, Elizabeth Street , jeweler

Benjamin Giffin, New Town, bootmaker

Alex Gellie, Davey St. gentleman

Henry Brabin Forster, Clarence Plains , miller

The court was densely crowded throughout the trial

Verbatim report of witnesses called

Emily Johnson wife of George Michael Johnson who deposed:

I live with my husband at Glenorchy, a short distance from Tolosa, in the bush;

I was 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.

Mary Wheatley deposed

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 Hobart .  She was full length and on her face.  She was covered all over with blood and her head was open.  I had not presence of mind to touch her.  The boy lay about a yard from the girl, also on his face and hands.  His head was also opened at both sides.  I did not then notice that the child was not dead.  The mother went for assistance, and I ran towards my house to fetch my boy for safety.  I saw no more to Mrs. Johnson until I saw her with the boy in her arms.  When I came up the second time I noticed foot tracks.  Mrs. Johnson, myself and the little girl were then present.  I did not much notice the footprints.  They were large.

Mary 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

(Witness identified the clock.

Henry Butler, a duly qualified medical practitioner deposed

That on 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.

By His Honor

I feel 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.

District 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.

Wm. James Norris, a boy about 11 years of age

Said he 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:

I live with my stepfather Thomas Smith, near the Main Road , not far from the Dusty Miller Lane .  My stepfather has some bush land not far from the lane.  I remember hearing of the murder of the little boy and girl.  About that time work was being done on our bush land. We were felling a tree.  Prisoner Griffiths was working for my step father.  Griffiths left our place on Monday the 11th September.  On the Sunday I noticed father using a shingling hammer.  After the prisoner left I never saw it again.  He was in our back room on the Monday morning and then I saw him go away across the creek.  He had the shingling hammer with him.  It was stuck in his belt with the head upwards.  As he went across the creek my mother told me to call him to his breakfast, and I did so. He said “No, No” and went away. He had been working for my step father for about a fortnight, but I had not seen him drunk at all.

Jane Smith, mother of the previous witness deposed  

I remember 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.

John Franklin Hull, council clerk of the Municipality of Glenorchy deposed

I have 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 Dusty Miller Lane .  He was going in the direction of Tolosa, and he was about half a mile from the hut of Alexander Smith, and going in that direction.  He had on a dark brown jumper, and had a shingling hammer either under his arm or in his belt.  I had heard that Alexander Smith’s place was broken into, and I went there on Saturday, 16th September and near the hut I was shown footprints which had been kept carefully covered up.  There was an old tray over one and a wheelbarrow over that.  The footprint nearest the hut was 21 feet from the doorway, pointing from the house.  I examined five impressions in the immediate vicinity, and all corresponded in length and breadth.  I made a diagram of one of them.  The foot seemed to have been set down on a piece of limestone, which threw the weight to one side, giving, of course, a very distinct impression of that side.  I selected this impression because it was nearest the house.  I saw a boot compared with the diagram on the same day by the Superintendent of Police, in presence of Alexander Smith.  The boot and impression corresponded exactly.  The impressions are those of a right boot.  There were left foot impressions, but at some distance from the house.  The right foot impressions in every instance were the most distinct.  I have known the prisoner for some years, and I have noticed that he treads heavier on his right foot than on his left.  This would probably rise from the fact of his occupation having been that of a ploughman.

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 Hobart Town .  They were lost and indistinct in most place but could be traced all the way through.  I picked up the tracks between the Stoney Hill and the road to Kangaroo Bottom.  That track was pointing toward Hobart Town .  I picked it up again at Mount Lofty near Roope’s and again going in the direction of Hobart Town .  I again found it in the way of Mrs McGuppy’s to a street called Melifont Street .  All the impressions pointed in the direction of Hobart Town .  I found impressions between Weeding’s hut and Butterworth’s hut going towards Johnson’s hut.  I believe the places where the impressions were seen to have been the same as the witnesses describe having seen the prisoner.

Alexander Smith, a farmer residing at Tolosa

Described 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.

Isaac Simpson, a general dealer residing in Murray Street deposed

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

O’clock, 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 the inquest.

John Gibbons, publican keeping the Sir John Franklin, public house Murray Street deposed

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. 

Susan Males, wife of a publican, keeping the King’s Arms Murray St deposed

My house 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 place with Griffiths , they had nothing with them.  Griffiths was apprehended at my place on the Thursday.

Bridget Doran, deposed

I live in Murray Street near Mrs. Males’ I saw the prisoner about 10 o’clock on the morning of the 12th September.  He came to my shop and looked around and asked if there was anybody in.  I said only the children. He said “Have you any money?” and I said “No, and if I had, I wouldn’t give it to you” He said “Well, I’ll have money today if it comes from hell and damnation” He then went away.  I next saw prisoner about 4.00 o’clock in the afternoon.  He came in by the back gate and went into the children’s room.  He had no business there.  He had an old fashioned American clock with him.  I went into the room after prisoner, brought the clock out, and laid it on the kitchen table.  I asked him, “William, have you been at a raffle, or where did you get the clock”.   He said “Mind your own business.  You want to know so much.”  He asked me was it worth a pound?  I told him I did not know.  He asked if he might leave the clock while he went to look for his mate.  I set the clock going and asked him for the key, but he did not produce it.  He said that he had the clock bought for twelve months.  I said whoever had kept it had taken good care of it.  He left the clock at my place, and came back in a quarter of an hour with Wilding.  They left together soon afterwards, and prisoner took the clock, covering it with his handkerchief.  The clock produced is the same clock which the prisoner brought to my house.

James Dowsey, a resident of Glenorchy deposed

I know the prisoner at the bar.  I saw him on the New Town Road on Tuesday 12th September.  He was going towards O’Briens Bridge about half past nine in the morning.

Catherine Weeding deposed

I live 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.  

Margaret Butterworth, residing with her husband, near Tolosa, deposed

That she 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.

Edward Weeding, a little boy eight years of age said

I remember 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.

Mr Hull 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.

Charles McKenna, a boy about 11 years, having been examined as to the nature of an oath, deposed

I live with my father and mother in Kangaroo Valley , close to the Kangaroo Bottom road, passing the back of the Orphan School , near the Coal Mines to Swan’s Hill.  Where I live is about half a mile from Stony Hill.  I remember Tuesday 12th September.  On that day I saw a man going towards Hobart Town .  It was about 3.00 o’clock.  The man had a clock under his arm.  It was a large American clock.  The man was dressed in a grey coloured jumper and trowsers.  He had a hat on but I did not notice it.  I had never seen that man before. I did not speak to him, nor did he to me.  We passed 10 or 12 yards off.  I next saw the man at the police office.  Prisoner is the man.

Ann McGuppy deposed

I live in New Town in a street leading into Hobart Town .  I was at home on the 12th September.  I saw a man pass my place at 10 minutes past 4.  The man had a clock with him like the one now produced.  The man had on dark dirty clothes and a billy-cock hat.  Prisoner at the bar is the same man.

Mary Stephens, residing with her husband in Lansdowne Crescent deposed

That on the afternoon of the 12th September she was in Hill Street .  She saw a man coming down past the Wesleyan burying ground corner.  He had a clock with him.  She did not take particular notice of the man, but he was in dark clothes.  She next saw him at O’Briens Bridge. Prisoner was that man.

John Hughes, a lad residing in Upper Murray Street, deposed

That he 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 Lansdowne Crescent by Warwick Street .  It was a little after four o’clock.  Prisoner was that man.

Emma Swift, residing with her husband in Liverpool Street deposed

I remember Tuesday 12th September. I was offered a clock for sale by a man named Griffiths now at the bar. It was first offered to me by Wilding.  After we had some conversation Griffiths was called in.  Wilding asked Griffiths to put the weights on the clock.  He did so, and also wound up the clock.  They left the clock with me for an hour to see whether it would go.  It went for five minutes.  In less than an hour Wilding came back.  I said the clock would not go.  He said that was strange for he had had it twelve months and it always kept good time.  He then called Griffiths in and he said the same.  Griffiths said as they left, we’ve got to get away in the morning and we’ll make the clock a present to her.  She did not know who they meant.  The clock produced was the same.

William Gale, an eating house keeper, resident in Liverpool Street said

On Tuesday 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.

John 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 saw Griffiths come into the house about 9.00 o’clock on the morning of the same day.  He then said he was going to O’Briens Bridge to get a cheque, that he would be in in the evening and would spend a shilling or two. He went away up Murray Street .

John 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 prisoner Griffiths.

Daniel 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 them.

Superintendent Hunter of the Glenorchy Municipal Police deposed

I arrested the prisoner at the King’s Arms, Hobart Town on 13th September on the present charge.  He said he had done nothing and would make me sweat for having him exposed through the streets.  I took the boots off his feet.  He was dressed in a dark jumper, trowsers etc which were produced.  I received from C.D.C Jones a pair of boots which were taken from Wilding.  I afterwards compared the boots taken from the prisoner with certain footprints.  That was in the presence of Mr. Hull and Alexander Smith.  The boots corresponded with the prints.  I was present when Mr. Hull made the diagram of the footprint near the body.  I examined it, and found it perfectly accurate.  I never noticed anything in particular in the prisoners walk.  I walked with Mr.Hull from Johnson’s to Hobart Town by way of Mrs. Mc.Guppy’s.  I should say the distance was about six miles and a half.  It took us 2 and a half hours, but of course we were observing.  Along the road we found footprints which generally corresponded with the other impressions described.  I speak positively, because the boots are nailed diamond form, and there is a diamond wanting in the right hand corner.

Frederick Wilding deposed 

I have 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 Liverpool Street and went into a house and called for something to drink.  I went from there to the Red Lion and about 10.00 o’clock went to Mr Gibbons’ house.  I stopped there for a good bit and then went to Simpson, the broker, to get my bedding.  I then went to Power’s to see if I could stay there all night.  I could not, and went to a place lower down where I sold another shirt besides that day.  I went from there to the lodging house taking me bedding with me.  I had some tea, and bread and butter, and on coming out again, I met Griffiths .  He said, “Come along with me, I have a clock for sale, I’ll take you up to a married woman, Mrs. Doran’s.”  We went up and into the house, and the clock was going on the table.  Griffiths took the weights off and said “We’ll be off.”  We then went to several places to try and sell it.  I had two pairs of boots at that time, an old pair and a pair which were very near new.  I swear that I never told Mrs. Swift that I had had the clock in my possession for twelve months and that it went very well. My boots were made by two different men on the township of Evandale .  My boots were taken from me by the police, so was my bedding.  I suppose they are in the police office now.   The boots produced are mine.  

Henry Bilton, Coroner of the Territory deposed

To having 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.  

A lengthy statement given by the prisoner at the inquest was then read to the court.  

This closed the case and His Honor suggested an adjournment until the next morning.  




William Griffiths was again placed in the dock charged with the willful murder of George and Sarah Johnson at Glenorchy on 12th September last.  

His Honor said the evidence for the Crown having been closed it was prisoner’s opportunity to make his defence  

Prisoner said

I have 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)  

In answer to His Honor, prisoner said he had no witnesses to examine separately from those already called.  

His Honor

Then proceeded to sum up the case to the jury.

He dwelt 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:

That 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 evidence.  

The Verdict

The Jury then retired at twenty five minutes past 12.00 o’clock and at half-past one o’clock returned with a verdict of guilty.  

His Honor then addressed the prisoner

William 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

That 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.  

The Execution

At six 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.  Griffiths ate very sparingly of the breakfast handed to him, and was deeply moved, crying bitterly during the whole morning.  At 8.00 o’clock precisely, the Under Sherriff, Mr. Crouch, entered the gaol, attended by Mr. Reidy, the Wardens, reporters, and the few persons who were to witness the execution.  He at once proceeded to the condemned cell, and demanded the body of the prisoner.  The hangman then entered, and proceeded with the process of pinioning.  Griffiths (who was dressed in the prison clothing which he wore during the trial) looked well, and was firm, but cried very bitterly.  He spoke not a work, beyond requesting permission to place in his breast a handkerchief, which had been conveyed to him from his wife by the Rev. Mr. Bromby:  this having been accorded, he walked firmly to the drop; the Rev. Mr. Davenport reciting a portion of the burial service.  The rest is soon told, the ghastly preparations occupied but two or three minutes, when the bolt was drawn, and William Griffiths was launched into eternity.  Death seemed to be almost instantaneous and beyond a few muscular twitchings of the head and shoulders, there was nothing to indicate suffering.  


The usual 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 Campbell Street burying ground during the morning 




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