Friday, November 30, 2012

A Dastardly Assault with Brickbats & Bones

Many of the labourers in the early days of the colony were ticket-of-leave men, convicts who had served part of their sentence and demonstrated good behaviour. Ticket-of-leave holders were allowed to take up paid work in an allocated district and had to notify any change in their circumstances. The ticket-of-leave could be rescinded if the holder fell afoul of the law.

Example of a Ticket-of-Leave

Given their hard and often isolated lives, most ticket-of-leave men upon receiving their pay-cheque would head for the nearest town for a spree, an extended drinking session.

One such ticket-of-leave man named Caldicott made his way to Ipswich to indulge his thirst for a few days. His libations in honour of Bacchus would end tragically. The local press reported his misadventure.

The town has just been thrown into a state of excitement by the murder of a ticket-of-leave holder, named Henry Caldicott. The unfortunate man shortly after receiving his ticket, about twelve months back, went to work as a butcher for Mr. White of the Logan; and the boiling down[1] season being over, he came to Limestone[2] to pass a few days, no doubt little dreaming of the fatal termination of his visit.

19th Century Boiling Down Works
Like most of his class, he continued constantly drinking, and while in this state hither spoke to or at another ticket-of-leave man, named Mat Horrigan, an Irishman, who immediately commenced pelting him with brickbats[3] and bones, one of which having struck him on the left side of the head, caused his death in about ten minutes, notwithstanding all the efforts employed by Dr. Dorsey.

Horrigan, on committing the dastardly assault, decamped, but, through the vigilance of the police, life had not departed from his victim five minutes, ere he was in the hands of the constable.[4]

The subsequent investigation established that the altercation had taken place outside a butcher’s shop. It seems that the Irishman Horrigan was looking for a drinking companion. He first approached the butcher and on being refused asked his fellow ticket-of-leave man Caldicott who it appears was not endeared to the Irish. William Holt, butcher, testified the following:

While killing two sheep, the prisoner came to me to bid me good-bye, as he was going to the station on the following morning early. He asked me to drink with him, which I declined, as I had my work to attend to.

The prisoner asked the deceased, in a friendly manner how he was, and if he would drink with him, to which the deceased replied, that he would not, nor with any man of his bloody country. This conversation took place in Union-street.[5]

Colonial Butcher's Shop

Not taking kindly to the rebuff and the insult to his origins, the volatile Irishman launched an attack on his foe with what was immediately at hand, namely brickbats and, as it was a butcher’s yard, large bones. Another witness, Thomas Palmer, testified:

Yesterday evening at sunset, I was at the blacksmith's shop, when I heard the prisoner and the deceased quarrelling. I saw the prisoner throw a stone or bone at the deceased, which missed him; the prisoner then walked back a few paces, and picked up something else hard, with which he hit the deceased, who then staggered to the outside through an opening in the fence; after staggering a few yards he fell.[6]

Another witness confirmed that Henry Caldicott had indeed been dealt the fatal blow from a bone.

William Slack, a lad twelve years of age, on being questioned as to his knowledge of the responsibilities of an oath, gave satisfactory answers, and was then examined:-

That is the man (pointing to the deceased) who was struck by this man (pointing to the prisoner.) It was near the door of the butcher's shop; I was standing near the place, when prisoner hit deceased with a bone which he picked up. Deceased after receiving the blow, went a short distance, and fell down; I think deceased was outside the fence when the prisoner struck him, but I am not sure. I know the bone produced in court; it was the same with which the prisoner hit the deceased, as I went afterwards and picked it up, while the people came round the deceased.[7]

Based on the evidence, Horrigan was sent to Sydney for trial.  He was found guilty of manslaughter by the jury, but recommended to be treated with mercy. Despite the jury’s plea for mercy, the judge considered that Horrigan was lucky not to be convicted of murder. His ticket-of-leave forfeited, the Irishman was sent off to work on a chain gang.

19th Century Road Gang
Matthew Horrigan found guilty of manslaughter was sentenced by His Honour the Chief Justice. The circumstances of the case as nearly amounted to murder as possible and although recommended to mercy by the Jury in consequence of the generally good character of the prisoner he should sentence him to be worked on the road for five years, the first three years in irons.[8]

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The process of rendering animal fat into tallow, a product used in a variety of products such as candles and soap. Tallow was a major colonial export product.
[2] The original name of Ipswich, named for its limestone outcrops.
[3] A piece or fragment of a brick. It is the typical ready missile, where stones are scarce. OED
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 13 November 1847
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 20 November 1847
[6] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 20 November 1847
[7] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 20 November 1847
[8] The Sydney Morning Herald Monday 3 January 1848

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