Caroline Collits- a life short lived

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When Caroline Collits woke up on Monday, her husband William was in his usual mood. Being a little slower than his brothers, he always was the “baby” of the family and had been able to avoid all the  usual demanding work that went with their many acres of land.  As he grew older William loved to drink and found many a willing partner in his favourite pastime.


John Walsh was a willing partner to the binge drinking sessions that William was fond of.  John’s wife Maria and her sister Caroline had been bought up in a world that was all too familiar to them.  Their mother was a continual drunkard as was their father.  Nights melded into days in the stupor their parents found themselves in for the young girls. 


A question arises as to why William would marry into this household.  A marriage to William seemed to be set in place for this young girl.   The irrational outbursts that surrounded the drunken parents and licensees was hardly a proper upbringing.   Her sister Maria was just 12 when she was married to John Walsh.


Caroline James must have thought she had a good catch with William as his father was quite wealthy and William himself owned a considerable amount of cattle.  But William was said to have a weak mind and his father was  mindful   of his son's shortcomings.  Pierce even put an advertisement in the local paper advising that no-one was to extend credit to William as he was not of a sound mind. 


Caroline married William on the 18th November 1840. 

Amelia Skeen  Williams  older sister who was 3 years older than himself, witnessed the marriage,  She had married John Skeen in 1832  and they had two daughters at the time of the wedding. 


Caroline was at the exceptionally young age of just over 13 years she married William.


But she had just jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, for William also loved to drink too much. Her father William James was the proprietor of the slab hut pub at Woodford and there was a continual squabble between Thomas Pembroke ( Francis Collits husband) and her father over the land.


Mary her mother had married William James  20 OCT 1820 in St John's at Parramatta. William James, from Worcester, England, was the first known white resident on this site. He was listed as a convict among 136 disembarked from the 'Baring' on 3/7/1819. He built a rough stone and slab squat thought to comprise 5 rooms, stable and stockyard. James had been asked to leave the squat in part due to his reputation for the illegal sale of alcohol. In the Colonial secretary's papers of November 30th 1831, he is described as the only "illegal" squatter on Bathurst Rd. They had  6 children 



John JAMES b: 29 OCT 1821 in Campbelltown, NSW, Australia

Isaac JAMES b: 9 JUN 1925 in Argyleshire, Mr. Bradbury's Estate

Caroline JAMES b: APR 1827 At Mr. Twilford's Near Liverpool, NSW

Maria JAMES b: APR 1829 in County Camden, NSW

Simon JAMES b: 1831 in 20 Mile Hollow, Woodford, NSW

Jane JAMES b: 1835 in NSW, Australia



Caroline had married William Collits  on the 18 Nov 1840 in St Lawrence Church of England Sydney.  Williams Collits sister - Frances Collits  - was married to Thomas Pembroke an Irishman from Kerry in 1822,  eighteen years earlier.   Thomas had his eyes set on Caroline's father’s property and had accused her father, William of murdering her mother.He was then to be called as witness at his trial for murder.


In Oct 1835, her mother Mary a habitual drunk,  perhaps she was unable to cope with the birth of her newborn daughter Jane,  decided that it was time to end her life down at 20 Mile Hollow, Woodford at 8am in the morning.  It may have been post natal depression and the stress of the continual flow of travelers together with the drunken encounters of the two squabbling neighbors over the land - Thomas Pembroke and her husband were always at each other over the rights to the land. Pembroke was ordered to pay William James for the land that he was squatting on and had applied for a grant. However Pembroke started  the trouble with the courts, but no payment was ever received by William James or his family.


Mary’s death was recorded  as being  12 OCT 1835 in 20 Mile Hollow, Woodford, NSW (by own hand).  Mary had been born  on the 30th January 1797 at Parramatta.   She was aged 32 when she took her own life and hung herself from the rafters.  While Thomas Pembroke was the licensee of the Inn,  Mary James was discovered hanging in the and her husband was charged with her murder. The case against him was subsequently dismissed and after a second trial he was freed. Thomas was a material witness for the Crown but was too inebriated to finish giving evidence. He was placed in  gaol on February 3 to dry out and the case adjourned until 8 December 1836 when James was found guilty, but later pardoned for reasons of fairness in regard to the Judge's wrongful discharge of the Jury in the first instance.


After just 6 months after her marriage to William on 18th November 1840, her sister Maria, married John Welsh (or Walsh) 7 JUN 1841 in Hassan Walls Presbyterian Church. In 1841 

However  it was stated in the Sydney Morning Herald, April 27, 1842, that  Caroline cohabited with  John Walsh and had in fact been for a considerable time living with him, under the same roof with her sister, and in a state of separation from her own husband  (William Collit)


Frances husband Thomas Pembroke died  in Jun 1840  5months before  William Collits married Caroline. Frances had been married 7 years when Thomas started to build an inn at Woodford. Frances and Thomas had 8 children (Frances was 11 years old when William Collits was born in 1815 so she must have taken upon herself to look after him

Her husband Thomas also was a notorious drunkard and of a mean character.


The Coach and Horses  Inn was a favorite haunt of the teamsters as they made their way down the steep Victoria Pass.  It was a long haul for them and their nerves really needed settling once they got to the flats at the bottom of the pass.


Joseph Jaggers was getting tired of the antics of John Walsh. John Walsh had married  Caroline's sister Maria on the 7th June 1841 at Hassan Walls Presbyterian Church. Unbeknown to them he was a man with a violent streak simmering below that charming surface. He had already before been tried for murder.

On the night of 4th January 1842, Caroline, William and Walsh met at Joseph Jagger's Inn at Hartley, Mount Victoria to have a drink. Soon after leaving the Public House Walsh knocked William Collits to the ground, without the slightest provocation. Caroline came to his assistance by grabbing Walsh's arms and telling William to "run, run, he has got a stone and will murder you", which allowed William to escape. These were the last words Caroline was heard to utter. Matthew Mall, a mail driver from Penrith to Hartley, was delivering mail as usual. At about 6 a.m. midway between the top of Mt. Victoria and Soldier's Pinch, about three miles from Jagger's, he saw some clothes lying on the road. On further investigation he discovered a body nearby. It was established that this was Caroline, William's wife. She had been assaulted and her skull crushed by a rock. John Walsh was later taken into custody. At his trial Walsh maintained his innocence and accused young Jagger and three others of following him, hitting him with a pistol and taking Caroline away from him. A report by John Jones, Sergeant of H.M. 80th Regiment in court, stated that John Walsh had come to his hut at 11 p.m. on the night of 5th January stating he had been attacked by young Jagger and four others, but Jones didn't believe him and sent him to get assistance elsewhere.

The Jury deliberated for half an hour, then returned to pronounce a verdict of guilty. The Judge stated at the trial that Jagger and other witnesses should have been summoned and that expense and inconvenience should have been disregarded in a case such as this.

John Walsh was hanged on Tuesday, 3rd May, 1842 at Bathurst  aged 36. 

Obviously the death of Caroline was not of major cause of mourning  for  William. William and Caroline was not living together at the time of her death.  William wasted no time once Caroline was murdered.  On the 1st August 1842 William married Mary Anne Quinn..  Their daughter Eliza then married Edward Field.


One wonder what the meeting at the Coach and Horses was about.  Caroline was living with Walsh and her sister . Obviously when the three of them met and Walsh knocked William to the ground, the living arrangements were not going well.

In the Vale of Hartley: In the Blue Mountains, an emancipist sawyer who previously murdered three people, violently beats to death his lover, Caroline Collitts, the seventeen-year-old sister of Maria, his fifteen-year-old wife.

A younger sister of Caroline Collit, married John Walsh, the convict at present under sentence of death in Bathurst gaol, and, it appears, continued to live with him up till the time of her sister’s murder; but she, as well as her sister Caroline, since the trial, have been ascertained to have borne very loose characters, which is fully established by the fact, that both before and after Walsh had married the younger sister, Caroline cohabited with him and had in fact been for a considerable time living with him, under the same roof with her sister, and in a state of separation from her own husband (Collit). Sydney Morning Herald, April 27, 1842, The Mount Victoria Murder.

About twelve months after her marriage, her mother who was a notorious drunkard hanged herself in her own house… Sydney Morning Herald, April 27, 1842, The Mount Victoria Murder.


Thomas Michael Pembroke of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, arrived as a convict aboard the "St. Michael" in 1818 aged 22. By 1831, he had been given a grant of land at Twenty Mile Hollow. This site included William James's squat. That year, Pembroke employed fencers, splitters and stonemasons to erect an inn which was largely complete by 1833. In 1839 this 'for sale' advertisement appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald "50 acres, 20 cleared, well-built stone and wood house, inn known as 'Sign of the Woodman', licensed, comprising 9 excellent rooms, stabling for 6 horses, store, stock and sheepyards etc. with productive garden and overflowing spring of water" (SMH 14/6/1839, Mitchell). He sold the property to a Michael Hogan of Penrith for £450.

The earliest parts of Woodford Academy (as it became known in 1907) -- those fronting the highway -- remain largely in original condition and, although there is evidence of alterations, the plan form is typical of an 1830's inn.