Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Murderous Attack at Apis Creek

The Perils of Travel in Colonial Queensland

Shepherd with his flock - sheep fold and his hut in background

In late November 1869, a traveller and his dog arrived at shepherd’s hut at nightfall seeking food and shelter. What happened that night is the stuff of nightmares.

The Brisbane Courier of December 13 reported:

Attempted Murder - Information was received last Friday from Mr. McClellan[1], of Apis Creek[2], that a robbery, coupled with an attempt at murder, had been committed by a shepherd named Christopher Faust, a German in Mr. McClellan's employ, on a man named Peter Shaw, a traveller, who was over sixty years of age.

At the Waterhole

Abandoning his flock of sheep, Faust fled from his hut.  He was eventually captured weeks later.

The Peak Downs Telegram of December 17 reported:

It will be remembered by our readers that in November last an unfortunate traveller named Peter Shaw, who was upwards of sixty years of age, was brutally assaulted and robbed by a shepherd named Faust, at Aphis Creek. Shaw was fearfully wounded, and serious doubts of his recovery were entertained. The assault, which was evidently committed by Faust with the intention of murdering his unfortunate victim, was of a most brutal and disgusting character, and before information could be conveyed to the police the would-be murderer escaped. On Saturday, he was arrested at Copperfield[3], and is now on his way to Rockhampton. Great credit is due to Sergeant Bramley for the capture, as the career of a bushranger of the meanest type has been probably cut short thereby.


The trial of Faust was set for March 28, 1870 before the Rockhampton Circuit Court.

The Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser of March 31 reported the entire proceedings:

Christopher Faust who had been indicted the day before with having on 22nd November, 1859, at Apis Creek station, feloniously wounded one Peter Shaw, with intent to kill and murder him, and on a second count, with intent to do him grievous bodily harm, was placed in the dock.
The prisoner pleaded not guilty, and was defended by Mr. McDevitt, instructed by Mr. Milford. Mr. Paul stated the case for the Crown.

The victim, who somehow had survived despite horrific wounds, was the first to testify.  He recalled his coming to the shepherd’s hut and the later arrival of Faust.  Claiming his supplies were stolen, Faust accepts money from the traveller Shaw to procure food elsewhere.

Peter Shaw, who being sworn, deposed: Was a shepherd until lately knows the prisoner; he might be mistaken, but is sure he knows him; felt him before; was travelling and was at a hut and prisoner came to it in November last; on a Monday about the 30th; the hut was on Crinum[4] run; there was no one there when he got there; the prisoner came to the hut after he got there; it was a little before sundown; spoke to him; prisoner went into the hut; witness went in after him; asked prisoner if he could let him have a bit of meat as he had none; prisoner said some travellers passed and robbed his hut, and he had to get his meals at some other place until he got his rations from the head station; asked prisoner if he gave him some money if he could get a little tea and sugar for him from where he was going to; he said he would try when he was going; they were fitting near one another; took a box out of his pocket and gave him out of it half-a-crown to buy some rations for him; there were three half-crowns left in the box; put the box in his packet again; prisoner went away then for his supper;

Slab Hut

Having seen that his guest Shaw has a money box, Faust hatches a plan and returns later that evening with murderous intent.  Shaw’s testimony continued:

he came back after dark; the moon was up a good bit; witness was asleep, and prisoner shook him and told him he had some supper for him; witness had his supper; prisoner took none; witness lit his pipe and lay down again on his blanket in the hut, and fell asleep; prisoner woke him and told him witness' dog was after taking a bait; was not able to get up; tried to get up and prisoner helped him outside to where the dog was; witness could walk a little then; went back to the hut in about half-an-hour after doctoring the dog; went to his blanket and said to prisoner it was very curious he could not walk, how he and the dog got sick, they were both well enough before supper; prisoner said it was the dog's breath which witness inhaled that sickened him; witness vomited before he went to sleep; prisoner said he had too, but that he would stay up two or three hours; witness then laid down and went to sleep;

Station Homestead

Shaw (and his dog) having survived eating the poisonous supper, settles down for the night.  There will be, however, no sweet dreams.  Shaw is awoken by what he believes to be an attack by aborigines. The victim testified:

felt something hit him on the head and awoke; got more than one blow; thought of the blacks, and said- "The blacks, the blacks" and tried to get up on his hands and fell out of the bunk on the side of his head on the floor; did not know with what he was struck; presently he saw prisoner who came round and dragged him by the two heels out into the other room, and then outside the hut; prisoner then went in and brought out some beef bags; he spread one out and put it round his neck and over his head; he then opened his mouth end thrust a piece of cloth into it as far as he could; then he took the money-box out of his pocket; he doubled the first bag over his face; then he put another bag over his head and face, covering them both; he tied a string round them; he raised him up on his legs and took him on his shoulders; he carried him a piece and laid him down; then he took him up again and carried him further; prisoner put him down again heavily, and put his hand on his heart, below the shirt, and muttered something about "getting stronger"; he then pulled the bag off his face, and put his hand on his nose, and tried to push the cloth further into his mouth, and dropped him on the ground; then prisoner dropped down repeatedly on him with his knees on his right side, and witness cried out to him- "Oh ! if you are going to murder me, why don't you put me out of pain at once";

The murderous shepherd leaves his victim in the bush. It later transpired that Faust returned to his hut to get his tomahawk.  Despite his injuries the sixty year old Shaw manages to crawl away and hide in the night.  He wanders for several days before happening on a road:

prisoner then got up and went away; witness crawled, after a minute or so, on his belly, towards the head of a tree; saw the prisoner again that night coming back again to where witness was left by prisoner; he was looking about there; knows Mr. McClennan[5]; saw him on the road a couple of days after; his head was so bad witness could not tell exactly, was frightened of him at first and told him to stand off"; he spoke to witness; did not go with him; Mr. McClennan got down off his horse, bound his head up with a handkerchief, and gave him a drink of water; witness went back again to the bush and crawled up to where a flock of sheep was camped; witness was afterwards taken to Marlborough; Dr. Salmond attended him there.

A Squatter in Country Attire

The victim is cross-examined as to his ability to identify his attacker but maintains his testimony.  The squatter McLennan who found Shaw, and who was the shepherd’s employer, was the next to testify:

Roderick McClennan, residing at Apis Creek, deposed: Was squatting there in November last; knows the prisoner, he was in his employ in November as a shepherd; saw him last a few days previous to the 24th of November; about the 17th; prisoner remained in his employ until the 21th, when he met Shaw on the road; prisoner then absconded and left the sheep in the bush; there was £3 9s. 11d. due to prisoner then, on condition that everything was all right; it was due to prisoner now; he never applied for it; the sheep were all right; Shaw was six miles from the station he left, and sixteen miles from the head station where he met him; he was alongside the road near a tree; prisoners' hut was about six miles off; Shaw presented a frightful appearance; he presented a piece of stick at witness, as long as his arm and cried "stand"; his horse shied and he was nearly off; is quite sure it was not a gun; Shaw roared out blue murder, and for God sake not to kill him; he was all blood all over; he was cut all over the head; witness bound up his head and gave him a drink of water; left him there.

Mr. McClellan told Shaw to wait for the mailman but the old man wandered on until Friday without anything to eat or drink.  Finally he stumbled into to a sheep-camp.  The owner Mr. Graham sent his overseer with him into Marlborough, and Sergeant Galway arrived shortly afterwards. The wounds in the interim festered and were full of maggots; the skull was almost entirely bare, and it was a perfect miracle how the unfortunate man could be alive. Dr. Salmond dressed the wounds on Sunday, was of the opinion that Shaw would not survive. Sub-Inspector Gough and Sergeant Galway, with the black troopers, set out after “the scoundrel.”
 Faust is eventually taken into custody near Clermont by the local policeman.


Sergeant Brannelly, stationed at Clermont, deposed: Knows the prisoner and apprehended him at Copperfield; first asked him his name; he said his name was Christian Weis, and that he came from the Cape River; asked him if he knew where Apis Creek was, and if he was ever there; prisoner said he did not know it, and was; told him he arrested him on suspicion of being Christy Faust who had assaulted and robbed a man named Shaw on the 22nd of November last; prisoner said he knew nothing about it; took him to the lock-up on the 11th December; had a conversation with him on the following Monday; took a man to see the prisoner; after prisoner saw this man, prisoner said he was the man he was looking for, and that he was the man that was at Apis Creek "the old man that got the warrant out for me, owes me £17; I was going to St. Lawrence, to set a summons for him."


The defence tries to throw doubt on the victim’s evidence and his state of mind.

Mr. McDevitt addressed the jury for the prisoner, contending that the evidence against him was defective. Shaw did not see who gave him the wounds; the sergeant's and the doctor's evidence all goes for nothing, unless they had proof of the prisoner's identity. The answers to the Sergeant did not establish it. For often, even innocent persons, when charged, make statements that are not strictly true to get out of the difficulty of a trial. The prisoner might have made the statement to the Sergeant under the excitement of the moment. Shaw was actually mad, and was found so by McClennan. It was quite consistent to suppose the assault was committed by the blacks.

His Honour summed up and the jury retired to consider their verdict.

Shortly after the court resumed the jury returned to the box with a verdict of guilty on both counts.

His Honour, in passing sentence, said that the jury, after almost patient hearing and deliberation   in the case, had found prisoner as the person who had inflicted the wounds upon Peter Shaw. The case was one of the most serious short of that of murder-that bad ever come before him since he had had the honour of a seat on the Bench of the Supreme Court; and looking at the evidence in the present case, his belief of the fact was verified. He was satisfied that prisoner first attempted to poison Shaw, and failing in that, either by administering too strong a dose or from some other cause that produced vomiting, struck him with a tomahawk which, being small, was not heavy enough to effect his purpose. Finding that there was yet life in him, he dragged him out of the hut, and attempted to suffocate him; but, even then seeing that he had not yet extinguished life, he jumped on him, and, further finding he had not killed him, left him; and, his Honour had not the slightest doubt, with the intention of procuring some more deadly instrument with which to effect his purpose.

A case of greater malignity and determination of purpose he had never before seen evinced by any criminal who had stood in that dock; and, happily for Shaw and prisoner himself, too, his foul and malignant purpose was not fulfilled. He should ill fill his position on that Bench if he did not mark his sense of the enormity of the crime by a very severe sentence. The sentence of the Court was, that prisoner be kept in penal servitude for the term of twenty years.

Prison Van outside Brisbane Gaol

The robbery had netted Faust the grand sum of seven shillings and sixpence along with a cheque for £1 12s. 9d.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Actually Roderick (Roddy) McLennan.
[2] A property west of the town of Marlborough in Central Queensland. Apis was the name of the Egyptian bull god.
[3] Near the town of Clermont.
[4] Named for a common flowering plant.
[5] The local squatter.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog. Thanks for giving your readers access to long lost information re our Australian Colonial past. I look forward to reading more.