Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Deadly Wager in Little Ipswich

Moreton Bay Courier  May 17, 1851
Public brawls were a frequent occurrence in the streets of Ipswich, mostly outside public houses.  Sometimes the fist fights could have fatal results as the local press reported in 1851.[1]

Michael Collins, otherwise James Brennan, was indicted for the manslaughter of Robert Schools, at Little Ipswich, on the 9th December, by striking, beating, braising, and throwing him to the ground. Prisoner pleaded not guilty.

In December 1850, two men were drinking in a pub at Little Ipswich, now known as West Ipswich.  Patrons often were resident guests at the hotel, in town from the bush on a spree.  These drinkers had arrived the evening before. They resumed consuming the landlord’s ale the following morning.

Richard Allen, publican, residing at Little Ipswich, deposed that prisoner was in his house the 7th or 8th of December, at about 7 o'clock in the evening. He had a few glasses of ale, and went to bed. Next morning he had two or three more glasses of ale, and treated the deceased, who was in prisoner's service, to some glasses of ale.

View of Ipswich in 1870

As often happened the initial convivial mood between the drinkers changed to one of confrontation with the relaxing effect of the libations resulting in a loosening of tongues and unresolved animosities.  The subsequent trial did not reveal the source of the conflict.  Probably some trivial argument greatly magnified by the fruit of the barley.

After a short time they had high words in the tap room, and witness distinctly heard deceased say, "I’ll fight you." Prisoner did not appear willing to fight; but the words became so high that they got up to fight. Witness refused to let them fight there, and they then sat down peaceably for a few minutes. They had each drunk three of four tumblers of ale, and were rather the worse for liquor. They got up afterwards, and walked away through a passage which led to the kitchen.

In his continued evidence, the publican, whose manner was coy to say the least, testified that the next he heard of the pair was that they were fighting outside in the yard.

Boxers assume a fighting pose
They appeared quiet then, and witness went into his bar, where after a short time his stepson came and, informed him that two men were fighting in the yard. Witness went out, and saw deceased and prisoner fighting. The deceased fell. Prisoner did not fall. Witness might have had a glass or two that morning, but was sober. He might have been half-and-half. Saw blows exchanged between the two men. Does not know whether the day was Sunday or Monday.

After admitting he had been drinking as well, the landlord claimed he could not remember the day it happened.  This was convenient for he could have been prosecuted if he had been selling liquor on a Sunday.

Fortunately there were other witnesses who were more forthcoming.

Georgiana Wells, residing at Little Ipswich, deposed that she saw George Schools and the prisoner fighting together at Little Ipswich. Heard a squabbling, and came out and saw the fight. They fought for about five   minutes. Saw one man fall first, and get up, and then saw another fall, but cannot say which man fell, or whether the same man fell both times. Went and looked at deceased, by Allen's request, and found that he was dead. Prisoner was supporting the deceased. Does not know whether he was drunk or sober.     

Another witness placed the publican Allen at the scene during the fight.

Joseph Trainor deposed that he saw prisoner and deceased fighting together. Allen was present, but nobody else. Witness was at his own house, about 50 or 60 yards away. Saw prisoner raise his hand as if to give a blow, and saw the deceased fall. Thinks the day was Monday. Witness went over and lifted up deceased's head, and saw that he was dead.      
Boxing Match on the Goldfields

In his defence the prisoner supplied a written statement.  He claimed that the fight was to be over two rounds for the wager of a bottle of rum.

This being the case for the crown, the prisoner put in a written defence, alleging that he was urged to fight contrary to his wishes, for half-a- pint of rum, and after having been knocked down himself, claimed the bet, on the ground that he had struck the first blow. This, he said, the deceased denied, and said he could not hit him; whereupon the fight was continued, and deceased received a blow and fell, without any intention on the part of the prisoner to do him serious injury.         
The jury soon returned their verdict along with a condemnation of the cagey publican Allen.

The jury without hesitation found the prisoner guilty of manslaughter, strongly recommending him to the mercy of the Court; and desiring at the same time to express their strong disapprobation of the evidence of Allen. 
Jail House West Ipswich

It seems that the judge himself was sympathetic to the prisoner when delivering the relatively light sentence.

His HONOUR, after a feeling address to the prisoner, sentenced him to three months' imprisonment, with hard labour, in Darlinghurst gaol.

Thus did another spree in town end badly.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] All of the extracts that follow are taken from the Moreton Bay Courier 17.5.1851


  1. One of my ancestors, James McMahon, storekeeper, was also reported is being in a fight in Little Ipswich in 1849. He was sent down to Sydney for trial, and is reported in the Sydney Morning Herald as being sentenced to Sydnay (Darlinghurst) Gaol for 2 years. There are several articles in the Moreton Bay Courier about this, as it caused some stir among many of the public.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I shall read with interest the story of your ancestor. I find this a very interesting time in our history, life in a frontier town with many untold stories.

  2. If you are keen to have a read, then you will find articles on the following dates in the Moreton Bay Courier:
    Sat 28 July 1849
    Sat 4 Aug 1849, Letter
    Sat 18 Aug 1849
    Tues 18 Sep 1849, Sydney Morning Herald (report on Quarter Sessions)