Sunday, February 3, 2013

Murder of a German

In September 1858, news reached Brisbane Town of a murder committed on a sheep station on the frontier west of Kingaroy. The victim was one of the German workers on the property who had been felled by a single gunshot fired by a countryman.

The Moreton Bay Courier Wednesday 22 September 1858


On Saturday afternoon the 4th instant just before sundown, hearing a row amongst some of the Germans on the station, Mr. Thelwall went down to see what was the matter, and found some of them had been quarrelling.

He succeeded in making all quiet as he thought but about half-past 9 o’clock at night heard a shot fired, and a short time afterwards the overseer came to inform him that a German named Frederick Schlomer, a man employed on the station, had been shot by another German, Johannes Staumers, a bullock-driver in the employ of Messrs. Lawson, of Boondooma, who was camped with a dray at this station.

 Mr. Thelwall immediately went down to the huts and found Schlomer quite dead, Staumer having made his escape. Mr. William Haly had arrived and Mr. Lawson hourly expected to hold a magisterial enquiry.

 In the meantime every effort was being made to apprehend Staumer who, it is reported intends delivering himself up to Mr. Lawson.[2]

Sketch of Burrandowan Homestead in the 1860s.

During the 1850s, workers began to be recruited in Germany. They were considered preferable to “coolie” labour imported from China.

Station managers preferred single men as life on the frontier was considered too harsh for women and children.  Where there were women on the stations, tensions could develop between the men. This was the situation at Burrandowan which escalated into a fatal shooting.

Johannes Staumer was a young married man described being “a young looking man, little more than a boy”.[3] He worked as a bullock driver transporting wool and general cargo. His brother, who worked on the property, lived in a small slab hut with his wife.

It seems the dispute started in the hut of one Christian Young, over some comments a man named Reece had made about Staumer’s sister-in-law.  The nature of the insult was never specified during the trial, but probably questioned her moral reputation.

Station Hands and Shearers

Christian Young: I have known the prisoner since he bought a gun from me on the 4th September, on a Saturday afternoon. Schlomer was with him. About 3 o'clock prisoner and his brother came to my hut. Prisoner loaded the gun at my house and discharged both barrels. I left prisoner in my house. The gun was put in the corner.

Reece, a German, came up and said something about prisoner's brother's wife. The row then began a little. Reece ran away. Prisoner wanted to fight. I told them to go away as I would not have quarrelling there. (This witness corroborated the fighting with a stick, and the blow over the eye with a stick to the last witness.)

When the row began I stopt in my hut, and my Mrs. shut me in. At nearly sundown prisoner came on horseback to fetch the gun. I told prisoner to go to his dray, as people were running after him, and he did not want a row afterwards.[4]

The altercation soon escalated and soon an angry mob of station workers, emboldened after drinking “five or six bottles of brandy”[5] and shouting threats in German set off to besiege the hut of Staumer’s brother. Johannes Staumer was waiting in the darkness inside the hut with a gun. At the trial Frederick Hausmann told how they approached the hut in the darkness.

Roughly built slab hut
When we reached prisoner's brother's hut I opened the door and saw a woman and someone sitting in the house, but who it was I am not certain. I did not hear him speak.

I heard the cocking of a gun, and then saw the man had a gun. I was one step then into the house. I then began to call the man names, and said it was a great shame for him to cock the gun as no one intended to do him any harm. I could not recognise the man at first because I could not see, as one of my eyes was covered up.

The prisoner called out to his sister-in-law to get out of the way as he intended to shoot. This was because the sister-in-law had stepped between the prisoner and the door while the gun was at his side as he was sitting. We then went about six paces from the house.

I then saw prisoner's brother come from the direction of Young's house, and Schlomer, the deceased, was close behind the prisoner's brother. I pulled back the deceased and told him prisoner was going to shoot. The prisoner could have heard what I said.

The deceased said, "Oh, he won't shoot, I shall go in and light my pipe." Nicolei had an old pistol, but Schlomer had only the pipe. When deceased had stopped two steps into the house, I heard the report of a gun. I listened, a little longer, and then saw prisoner came out. I ran up to the house and Schlomer took hold of me by the breast, tried to say something, but before he could do so he fell down. [6]

German Queenslanders in a  German Wagon

The trial was long and involved, many witnesses called and conflicting statements given, but the jury after a brief consideration, brought in a verdict of not guilty.

An editorial in the Moreton Bay Courier summed up the general feeling.

By that decision a young man is saved from ignominy, public justice vindicated, and a lesson taught which will be   more valuable than dooming ST√úRMER, the accused, to become the moving diagram of JACK KETCH'S last teaching.[7]

We commend the careful perusal of the case, with all its deformities, to the people of the Northern Districts. 'The disgusting effrontery of one of the witnesses on the part of the prosecution - The charge indecently made against the relative of the accused - the workings of the spirit of alcohol, which primed the human fiends up to bloodthirsty excess - the threats which were used, the death signal, by the discharge of the gun, and last, not least, the disagreement of the counsellors, while death was waiting in prospective to take the victim, and all together, the lighted chamber, the robed Judge, and the technicalities of law seeking outlet over common sense, may make a drama of reality to satisfy the most morbid.

That the prisoner has been acquitted we are heartily glad; not because we have sympathy with the Act which deprived the man of life, but that the gallows has been robbed of a victim, and the maniac indulgers in brandied excitement taught, that sober men will regard their conduct as madness; and the finale in this painful case as a reward for the demoniacal excess of passion.
Our hasty remarks at such a late hour must of necessity be brief, and with a perfect concurrence in the decision, and a desire that the bar may be dignified in its conduct, we usher our present issue.[8]

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1] West of Kingaroy.
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Wednesday 22 September 1858
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Wednesday 12 January 1859
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Wednesday 12 January 1859
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Wednesday 12 January 1859
[6] The Moreton Bay Courier Wednesday 12 January 1859
[7] Jack Ketch was an infamous English executioner employed by King Charles II.
[8] The Moreton Bay Courier Wednesday 12 January 1859

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