The Squatters Inn at 20 Mile Hollow Murder Trial

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The first known white residents at Twenty Mile Hollow were an ex-convict, named William James, and his wife. They lived in a crude stone and slab hut from which they illegally sold alcohol. An Irish ex-convict named Thomas Pembroke, together with his family of seven, was granted two acres at Twenty Mile Hollow in 1831. He established an inn shortly thereafter, which later became known as 'The King's Arms'.

The builder of the Woodford Inn -Thomas Michael Pembroke fortunes deteriorated - perhaps due to the continuing wrangling with his neighbour Mr. William James. James ran an illicit grog shop at 20 Mile Hollow. 

Thomas was involved with the court case when James was charged with the murder of his wife. Thomas was a material witness for the Crown but was too inebriated to finish giving evidence. Mr. Justice Burton immediately directed that he should be taken to the General Hospital, there to undergo a course of purgation, by means of the stomach-pump or emetics; and, in the mean time, His Honor adjourned the Court for an hour  on February 3,1836 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 waiting much beyond that time, the witness Thomas Pemroke was again produced, and upon being put once more into the box, was asked by the learned Judge if he though himself sober enough to state what he knew; to which he replied that ``he hoped he was."  Mr. Therry, the prisoner's Counsel, then came into Court, and the examination was resumed by the Solicitor-General. 

It had not, however, proceeded far, when it was made quite evident that the ``course of medicine," or whatever other ``course" the witness had undergone at the Hospital had not been sufficiently powerful to render him a fitting witness in a case of murder.  The learned Judge soon professed his utter inability to understand what the witness meant to convey to the Court; and the Jury, through their Foreman, told the Judge that they could not think of forming an opinion upon testimony given by a person in such a state.


His Honor said that the Court was placed in a situation of great embarrassment in the case, and suggested that the prisoner's Counsel should consent to the Jury being discharged, and the trial commence de novo on the following morning.

His Honor then directed the cause of all this scene of confusion and delay - to wit, the drunken witness - to be consigned to the watch-house or gaol till the following morning, and then to be brought before the Court.

In the course of the morning the witness, whose intoxication yesterday had led to all the inconvenience which followed, was brought before the Court, and after a very severe reprimand, and serious remonstrance on the impropriety of his conduct, was sentence to a month's imprisonment, for the contempt of which he had been found guilty

The Case of Murder at the Squatter James's Inn  Before Mr. Justice Kinchela and a Military Jury.

William James, a free man, residing at Twenty-mile Hollow, in the district of Bathurst, was indicted for the wilful murder of Mary his wife, by strangling her with a handkerchief on the 12th October last.

The Attorney-General briefly stated the case to the jury.  The prisoner's wife had threatened to hang herself, and had tied a handkerchief to a rafter for that purpose, when the prisoner not only put it round her neck, but shoved her off the box.  If he proved these facts the Judge would tell them it was murder.  The prisoner had been arraigned last Session, but a witness being drunk Mr. Justice Burton discharged the jury. 

The following witnesses were then called:-

Patrick Cahan, private in the 4th Regiment, being sworn, stated, on the 12th October last, I was in company with Corporal Spence at the prisoner's house, at Twenty-mile Hollow; we called in to light our pipes in the afternoon; we remained but a very short time, we saw the prisoner and some children; three or four minutes afterwards a female named Smith called me in to see Mrs. James; I looked between the slabs and saw her hanging by a black handkerchief from the rafters; there was a box near her feet, she appeared to be dead; he hands were up as if she had been trying to lay hold of the handkerchief; I called out to Corporal Spence and told him; the prisoner was in the kitchen, and he came to me when I called out, and said ``go and cut her down," I told him to go himself, and I saw the prisoner's son go in the room with a knife to cut her down and I think the prisoner helped him; a publican named Pembroke, who resided near the spot, came up, and him, me, and the Corporal, went into the room, the deceased was lying on the floor, and Mr. Pembroke said he was sure she was dead; the prisoner was sober, he appeared to be melancholy.

Cross-examined - When we first went in we saw the prisoner near the fire; not more than five minutes had elapsed when Jane Smith called me, I went in immediately, James was still in the kitchen; I cannot say whether the door was locked inside; Corporal Spence went to Pembroke's; I did not hear the deceased when we first went in; if she had made any alarm I must have heard it; Creran did not give me the alarm, it was Jane Smith; I saw Creran in the house after Mr. Pembroke had arrived; some time had then elapsed; I saw him come out of another room; there was no time for the prisoner to have hung his wife from the first time I entered until I gave the alarm; no person without peeping could see Mrs. James hanging


Patrick Creran - I have been free three years, I have been ten years in the colony; I was at Pembroke's the day Mrs James was hanged; one of her sons came crying out that his mother was hanging; it was about eight or nine o'clock in the day; I went up to the house; I saw James, and I asked him what was the matter, he said there was nothing the matter and asked me what business I had there; the children were all laughing at the door; I went into the room and saw the woman hanging; I cut her down; James was standing with his back to the fire; he threatened me, and said I had not right to interfere; there was a dispute between me and James; I got him fined forty shillings, he did not like to see me about the house; I heard James say, ``let her hang and be d--d;" this was before I cut her down; she was hanging by a red handkerchief; when I cut her down she was a long time before she came too; when she did come too she took some rum that James had, but he gave her a push and she fell down; I had seen Mrs. James before that morning; while I was trying to recover Mrs. James, the prisoner was in the kitchen, he gave me no assistance; when Mrs. James came into the kitchen she said she understood I was the b--y rogue that cut he down; she was angry with me; I said I did cut her down, and I asked her if she was not glad of it; she replied no, the prisoner had been long enough trying it on, and that if I had not interfered she would have been in a better world.  The prisoner and his wife then had a dispute about Jane Smith, and I went into another room, and by standing on the sofa I was able to see into the room in which the prisoner and his wife usually slept; I saw Mrs. James with a black handkerchief in her hand which she tied to a rafter; she asked the prisoner, who was in the next room, where her eldest son was, and he said he had gone for sugar; Mrs. James then got on a box, and the prisoner came to the room door and asked her if she was as game as she pretended; she said she wanted to see her eldest son; the prisoner said stop a minute, and then put the handkerchief round her neck and pushed her off the box; he then dragged her by the feet; he then left her and went into the kitchen; the son almost immediately came in and cut her down; the sudden jerk he gave her must have hung her; I saw the soldiers come in; I heard the soldier sing out; I was on the sofa and was looking over the wall when I saw the prisoner drag his wife by the feet; I intended to have cut her down, but the son was before me; the boy entered the room almost immediately after the prisoner left it.

Cross-examined - I was drinking at Pembroke's when the son came to me; I was at the door and saw the boy; I got there in time to save her; I was in the house the second time but was not in time then; it was after the soldiers had come in to light their pipes that James acted as I described; I do not know whether the door was locked inside; I did not tell constable Abrahams that the door was locked, I should have made an alarm if I had not been afraid the prisoner would have escaped; if I had done such a deed I should have run away; I knew he had pistols in the house; and I told the magistrates at Penrith that was the reason; the prisoner had threatened to take my life; I thought it was necessary for me to keep my eye on him; there was no time lost before the soldiers made an alarm; I did at one time say I saw the deceased through the slabs, but it was the first time I alluded to; I do not think I said so with regard to the second time; the box was about half a yard high; it might have been more or less; I did not hear Jane Smith call the soldiers; I did not see the soldier from the time he lit his pipe until Mr. Pembroke was in the house; I did not see him look through the door; when I saw the prisoner leave the room; I got down as gently as I could in order that the prisoner might not hear me for fear he should blow my brains out, and I got out of the room as quick as possible but the son was before me.

Cahan re-called, I never left the house from the time Smith called me until Pembroke came up; if Creran had been trying to cut the woman down I must have seen him.

Cross-examination of Creran continued.  I laid two informations against James, I convicted him on one of them; I was charged with perjury but it could not be proved; I was in the house about settling one of the informations, the prisoner sent for me and offered me a pound and a pistol; I have just been giving evidence in the other court; I swore that all my clothes were stripped off me, and the man who was with me swore I was not stripped, but it is easy to get people to swear any thing; James was partly drunk; I was not out of the house from the time she was hanging the first time until the second time; I remained in the room all that time through what I heard amongst them; I wanted to see whether she was for hanging herself, or he was for hanging her; I saw that officer (Mr. Faunce) come in.

Mr. Pembroke an inn keeper residing at Twenty-mile Hollow.  Corporal Spence called me and said Mrs. James was hanging; I went up to the house; the body was cut down; I recommended James to send to the depot for a medical man, but he refused; the body was quite dead; I saw Creran in the house.

Cross-examined - The prisoner refused to send for a medical attendant; he afterwards appeared to be in great tribulation; the deceased was subject to take a drop; Creran called me on one side and pointed out a place from where he said he saw the prisoner commit the act; I did not know anything about the deceased having attempted to hang herself before; I do not think Creran was at my house that morning; I understood Creran to say he had seen through the slabs; he did not tell me that he had got on the sofa and looked over the wall; I cannot say whether he could have done so; no person came to my house and called Creran to go and cut the woman down.

Mr. Thomas Black, surgeon - On examining the body of the deceased, I found one or two slight contusions on the eye, but think they were inflicted by her falling forward after she had been cut down; she died by strangulation, which I have no doubt was caused by hanging.

Cross-examined - Creran said he saw the transaction through the slabs; he never said anything about sofa or bark; he said her feet were about the height of the table from the ground, but that was impossible, as from the position of the handkerchief, her feet could only just be clear of the ground; I recollect Creran was flogger at the station; from the very inconsistent manner in which he gave his evidence I would not believe him on his oath.

The prisoner made no defence, but called the following witnesses:--

District Constable Samuel - I was sent to the Twenty-mile Hollow; Creran told me the door was bolted inside; he took me into the inside room and shewed me where he said he stood to see James put the handkerchief over his wife's head; I am a taller man than Creran, but when I got on the sofa I could not see over; I could not lift the bark, I was not high enough.

Lieutenant Faunce, 4th Regiment - I was on the spot with Mr. Campbell the magistrate just after the affair; Creran did not offer his evidence; after all the persons had been examined, Mr. Campbell said as Creran was a constable he would examine him, and then he told this long story; I would not believe him on his oath; The box pointed out as the one from which the deceased was thrown, was about seven inches high.

Mr. Foster said that he had other witnesses, but he did not think it was necessary to call them.

Mr. Justice Kinchela said, that in law, a person who assisted another to commit suicide, was guilty of murder; so that in a case where two disappointed lovers agreed to commit suicide, and went out in a boat for the purpose of drowning themselves, and one of them survived, the survivor was held to be guilty of murder, and the case was afterwards argued before the twelve judges, who were of the same opinion.  The present case as it affected the prisoner, stood solely on the evidence of Creran; they had heard his evidence, and they had heard what had been said about him, and it was for them to shew by their verdict whether they believed him.

When the Jury had been absent about half an hour, they returned, and the Foreman (Captain Macpherson) said that they wished to examine James the son of the prisoner, who cut his mother down.  Mr. Justice Kinchela said that they were bound to return a verdict on the evidence laid before them; they could re-examine any witness they pleased, but they could call no new ones; neither the prosecutor or the defendant had called him, and the Jury could not.  Captain M. said that there was no likelihood of their agreeing, and they again left the Court which was adjourned for two hours.

Soon after seven o'clock the Jury again returned to Court, and said that they were unable to agree upon which His Honor said that he was very sorry, but he must lock them up for the night.  He could not discharge them without the consent of the Crown and the prisoner.  If the Crown would forego the prosecution entirely, or the prisoner consent to be tried again, a Juror could be withdrawn, otherwise they were entitled to a verdict.  Mr. Carter on the part of the Attorney-General, and Mr. Foster on the part of the prisoner refused to acceded to the suggestion, and the Jury were locked up for the night.

Saturday, August 13. - Upon Mr. Justice Kinchela taking his set this morning, the jury in James' case, who had been locked up all night, came into Court and returned a verdict of Guilty.  Death.  Ordered for execution on Monday morning.  His Honor stated that he would respite the prisoner until he could take the opinion of the Judges on the point raised in his behalf by Mr. Foster.

Dowling A.C.J. and Burton and Kinchela JJ, 19 August 1836 Source: Burton, Notes of Criminal Cases, vol. 26, State Records of New South Wales, 2/2427

On the 12th January 1836 the prisoner named in the margin was put upon his trial before His Honor Mr Justice Burton in the Supreme Court for the wilful murder of his wife.  After the Jury had been sworn and charged with the prisoner and some of the merits of the case were gone into a material witness for the prosecution being put into the box the presiding Judge discovered that the witness was so drunk as to be incapable of giving Evidence.  Whereupon the learned Judge adjourns the further prosecution of the case for two hours, and directed that in the [p. 93] meantime the witness should be taken to the General Hospital, for the purpose of having remedies applied to him, as were within the skill of the Surgeon to restore him to a fit state to give evidence.  After the lapse of considerably more than two hours the proceedings were resumed the witness then appearing to have recovered he was sworn and proceeded with his evidence far enough to shew that he was a very material witness when he became again incapable of giving evidence from the operation of the healed Court upon his previous intoxication.

James was respited until the opinion of the Crown Lawyers in England was made known.  In the meantime, he was still in the condemned cell in November 1836: Australian, 8 November 1836.