On the 17th of January a meeting to consider the proposed introduction of Indian labour was held, the attendance at which, owing to the floods, was " not numerous but highly respectable." This meeting terminated in the usual way - a petition to the Governor was drawn up, and between 300 and 400 labourers signed for.
The prayer was duly presented, and the deputation was informed that the Governor had by the last ship received despatches from Earl Grey stating that her Majesty's Government had determined to send out exiles and ticket-of-leave holders, who after five years of probation would be followed by their wives and children; and further that it was intended to send out one free person for every exile, the home Government bearing the whole expense.
This, though taking the wind out of the deputation's sails, was received with general satisfaction. Briefly the proposal was: 2000 free persons (all in families) should be taken to Port Phillip and 4000 to Sydney, making with the exiles 12,000 persons; the first vessel to leave London in October, and others at intervals of a month until all were despatched. With this prospect of casing the labour market and consequent relief of one of the greatest drawbacks I will leave the subject for a time, in order to record.
The last misfortune of James Canning Pearce which was brought about by the loss of the Experiment. From the first, the Experiment had been a source of trouble owing to her leaky condition, but with an almost constant attendance at the pumps she was kept afloat. With the view of remedying this, Mr. Pearce brought men up from Sydney to effect repairs. Unfortunately these workmen preferred idling to labour, and were not very particular as to the quality of the work they turned out.
Mr. Pearce tolerated this for some time, but he got tired before his men reformed. Consequently, he took them before the magistrate, who ordered them to be. imprisoned. Mr. Petrie then undertook to do the necessary repairs, which he did to the evident satisfaction of all parties concerned, for when the Experiment was launched she scarcely needed pumping to keep her afloat. By this time the boat had become a kind of institution, and the prospect of her again engaging in the carrying trade was hailed with delight by the Ipswich people especially.
But life is made up of disappointments. The supplies, etc, for the Downs had accumulated in the Settlement, so that when the steamer was loaded she had a large quantity on board; so much so that it was piled high on her duck. Owing to squally weather Captain Dix erected a sort of hurricane-house of tarpaulins over the cargo, in which condition he left the boat the night before she was to leave for lpswich.
After pumping her a second time the hands retired, but had not long been asleep when the inrush of water reminded them that they had no time to lose if they valued their lives; and they had only just got out when down she went at her moorings. A gust of wind had caught the extemporised hurricane-house, which caused her to careen over and allow the water to rush in the cabin port-holes, which when she was upright were not more than 8in. clear of the water.
The shippers were at once informed of the occurrence, and by 2 a.m. all interested were engaged in picking up what they could. The event caused considerable excitement, and much sympathy was expressed for the now dispirited and unfortunate owner. Of course the two punts benefited by the mishap, and the owners of one of those (Reid and Boyland) purchased the Experiment, which after several attempts, and much expense, was raised and again placed on the trade.
Perhaps one of the most striking signs of progression about this time was the enlargement of the Courier, which alteration, necessitated by the increased demand on its advertising space, was initiated in its first issue of ,1818. Another proof of growth was furnished by the fact that our products were greater than could be carried by the available shipping not with- standing that the vessels' decks fore and aft were literally piled with goods. This overcrowding was practised to an alarming extent, and on several occasions the cargo so carried had to be jettisoned to save the ships and the precious lives aboard.
George Watson built spacious stores on Kangaroo Point, but these were not sufficient to accommodate the produce from the Downs. During the first week in January there were over 1000 bales of wool awaiting shipment to Sydney, and so pressing did the necessity for a mode of conveyance become that the pastoralists advertised that "10s. per bale freight will readily be paid. This notice is purposely inserted to induce vessels to come to Moreton Bay to carry our wools. The depth of water on the river bar at high spring tides is 12ft., and the coals with which steamers are here supplied only require to be tried to be found adapted for Sydney consumption."
Such an advertisement would seem strange reading in these days of competition. Various propositions were mooted, too, for opening up the resources of the district, chief among those being that of coal mining. But business in the Settlement was dull, and every thing was stale, flat, and unprofitable.
Even the offer of the owner of the Nelson (which had sunk and had been raised) to obtain shells and convert them into lime did not meet with the necessary inducement, while the endeavours of many residents to run a brewery were equally unsuccessful. And there was really no immediate hope of anything outside of pastoral pursuits "looking up," for no one seemed disposed to venture beyond the regular routine of his own particular trade.
To counterbalance the rehearsal of the sorrows and misfortunes of a deserving colonist, let me turn to a matter more pleasing, the regatta with which the people commemorated the formation of the colony on the 26th January. Something like £40 was collected for prizes, and the few stores were closed to give the place a holiday appearance. Indeed the whole affair is spoken of as being of a most agreeable character. Our old citizen Dr. Kersey Cannan acted as treasurer, while Captain Freeman filled the important position of umpire.
The first race was for whaleboats pulling five oars, for which there were three entries. This was won by John and Walter Petrie's boat, the Lucy Long, the two brothers, we are told, fully maintaining their well-earned reputation as oarsmen. Poor Walter Petrie did not, however, live long to enjoy this honour, for a few months later he was accidentally drowned in the creek which ran across, Queen Street by Creek Street.
The next race was for four-oared gigs pulled by amateurs, though why this stipulation was made is not very apparent. Two boats, the Flying Fish and the Pirate, entered. The Flying Fish, manned by squatters, came to the scratch, but although her opponent Pirate was also to the fore no crew could be found for her but blacks, who, however, determined to try the mettle of the squatters. The Flying Fishes rowed over their course with dignified composure and proved their superiority by permitting the natives to show them the way round. Though last, the Flying Fish was declared the winner, and her gallant crew reposed upon their laurels!
The Dart and Spring-heeled Jack entered for the event for amateur scullers, but the former being invisible at the starting point the spring heeled gentleman "walked" over the course. Owing to the fact that he had rounded the boundary boat on the wrong side, however, he had to try again, and doing it this time with hotter success won the prize £2 10s.
For the two-oared amateur event there were three starters -the Eclipse, Kipper, and Dart. This is described as having been a good race between the first two boats. The Kipper, however, lost some way by breaking a rowlock, but the deficiency was supplied by the steersman, and the Eclipse might herself have been eclipsed but that one of the Kipper's pullers being unaccustomed to the short rapid stroke required became fagged and changed places with the steersman, while the other man was at a loss where to stow his legs. The Kipper was thus disqualified, and the "pace" being too hot for the Dart, the Eclipse was allowed to get in a good first.
The seventh race was between Spring-heeled Jack and Moonbeam, but at the start the latter was invisible, and he of the spring-heels having no substantial antagonist was pulled by blackfellows against his own shadow and was pronounced victorious. The best race of the day was that for blacks, the prize money being expended in clothing.
The Pirate and Swiftsure were entered, the former being the boat given, to the Amity Point natives for their exertions in rescuing the Sovereign survivors. The efforts of the sable oarsmen simply delighted the spectators, who became most enthusiastic when the Pirate came in. A second prize of £1 was subscribed by three of the spectators, the amount representing their bets won on the race.
The proceedings terminated with a race for a dingy and a four-oared gig, the bowman of the latter to catch the man in the dingy in twelve minutes after the start. Any thought of amusement that might have been anticipated from such an event were quickly dispelled when the barque of the fugitive was brought out. This was a ship's jolly-boat, and consequently was far too unwieldly to show much sport.
After a vain attempt to dodge the gig round the flagship the "dingy" was overtaken and the tenant obliged to leap overboard. The gig's bowman followed him, but was compelled to return to his boat, which soon overtook the victim, who was making for the shore. The bowman now pounced upon him, and thus finished the race in five minutes. There was much festivity on board the barque Ebenezer, which did duty as flagship.
Late in the previous year the pioneers had come to the conclusion that they must have direct communication with other countries and be enabled to share in the intermediate profits which as far as this country were concerned were exclusively enjoyed by New South Wales. They accordingly petitioned to the Queen asking that Moreton Bay should be made a free warehousing port.
They had, however, the wind taken out of their sails by the reply of the Colonial Secretary, which was received early in 1848, and which stated that
" under the report of the Collector of Customs on the subject, and considering that Brisbane was already a port of clearance and entry, it did not appear that it would derive any advantage at present and it was therefore not considered desirable to grant the request."
But the Courier thought otherwise, and swooped down on the offending parties in the following fashion :-
" How dare he (the Colonial Secretary) in this cool way suppress an appeal from his fellow-subjects to the Throne of England? Who was it that desired him to treat British colonists in this autocratic manner? He had his authority from the report of the Collector of Customs. But at whose instance so ever he has presumed to offer this insult, we can tell him that he has mistaken the character and temper of those whom he has addressed. The spirit which urged our forefathers to shed their best blood in resistance of powerful oppression is not extinct even in the neglected district of Moreton Bay, and we can assure him it is very unlikely to cower beneath his petty domination."
I do not know whether a copy containing this declaration was sent to the Colonial Secretary, but the fact remains that shortly afterwards he crawled into his shell and sent the petition to the Home Office, and in July of the following year (1849) those who were, so "unlikely to cower beneath petty domination" got what they wanted.
Business was still slow, and thus set free and with plenty of time on their hands most of the days were spent by the residents in agitating for concessions small and large. North and South Brisbane took it in turns. Among other things the latter had to complain of was the want of "courtesy" on the part of the supplier of butcher's meat - the only one, in fact, on that side of the river.
As the people put it themselves, this particular knight of the cleaver did not evince much anxiety to accommodate those of his customers who were compelled to send for their meat, but the greatest rub of all was that in many instances they had to 'tip up" with much greater promptitude than was either convenient or pleasant.
However, no one seemed anxious to run in opposition to the offender, and he continued for a long time "to carry on the same old game" And this was characteristic of the people they would make the bullets but relied upon somebody else to fire them. A good example of this is furnished by a meeting called to draw up a petition for presentation to the Government asking them to repair the road between Limestone and South Brisbane.
All were certain that unless the spirit of agitation was kept up, the smallest coin would not be placed at then disposal, yet when the meeting day came round those who attended could almost have been counted on the fingers of both hands. One could not attend because a raffle intervened , one failed to be there because he was quarrelling with his better half, and another could not attend because he had the " blues," induced by the unfortunate result of a public sale.
This latter worthy returned to bed before the meeting commenced, as he said, " to sleep away dull thoughts ". The man is but an indifferent member of society, and takes a limited view of his social position, who selfishly considers his own individual interest the only motive to exertion, objects affecting the public generally having no claim upon his attention or his care.
Local intelligence was made up almost entirely of a recital of house robberies, street thefts, assaults, and kindred offences, the monotony being occasionally relieved by a set to between members of the " fairer" sex. Another land sale was conducted on the 22nd March, which furnished ground for comment. The old cry of " Cleveland must be the headquarters" was again raised, and the result was that Brisbane was almost entirely passed by speculators.
Six 36 perch lots in North Brisbane were offered, but only two were sold, there being no offers for the others, each realizing £22 10s , or 12s 6d. a perch. Fifteen Ipswich lots were submitted, and all were sold, the price obtained ranging from 6s. to 23s. per perch. Fourteen lots in Yeerongpilly were put up at the same time and three disposed of, ranging from 5s. to 40s per acre. Regarding this sale the Courier was led to remark
"23s. a perch for allotments in a remote village like Ipswich cannot but excite wonder, but this is due to local jealousies and personal spitefulness, which ran up the land beyond its intrinsic value. The desire is to depress a real or supposed rival, Brisbane, and we protest against the result of the sale being looked upon as a true criterion of the value of land in Ipswich "
On the 27th March, 1848, the whole community was thrown into a state of great excitement by the report of a murder committed on Kangaroo Point the circumstances attending which were so barbarous as to be scarcely paralleled in the history of crime, and which in atrocity almost outdid the worst deeds recorded of the unenlightened savage. The unfortunate individual whose career had been so violently arrested by the hand of the murderer was Robert Cox, a sawyer, who had been working on the Tweed, and had only arrived in Brisbane five days previously.
The first intimation of the terrible affair (which must have been enacted on Sunday night, the 26th) was the discovery made by George Cummins, a joiner, of the lower portion of a human body lying on the river bank at about the end of Main Street and considerably below high-water mark. Constable Murphy was summoned, and he with assistance removed the trunk, which was almost in two parts, being cut across the loins, to Sutton's Bush Commercial Hotel, at the corner of Holman and Main streets.
There was a stab in the breast, there was a cut on the left side, and the ribs were broken. The head was missing, but the clothes were recognized as those of Cox by the constable, by William Fife, the cook at Sutton's, and by a man named Moseley, with whom Cox had been staying. Cox had been seen in Fife's company on Sunday night, the latter carrying the former, who was drunk, to his (Fife's) room. A search was made, and in the kitchen where Fife slept was found a towel with blood stains upon it, but which was not concealed.
At this moment James Davis (Duramboi) discovered blood marks on the fence at the back of Sutton's house, and on going a little further into the back yard found a quantity of blood near the well. Someone then procured a ladder, and going down the well found three shirts (a circumstance to which much importance is even now attached by old residents), a knife, and towel.
The liquid in the bucket, too, was found to be blood and water; while on the flooring boards of the kitchen being taken up a sheet with a small blood stain on it was found. A man named Lynch, with whom Cox had stayed on the Friday night, was arrested as well as Moseley and Fife, and on being examined in the lockup a spot of blood was discovered on the breast of Fife's shirt. Sutton made the remark that it appeared that his servant Fife had committed the murder, and at a later period Sutton also was arrested.
On another examination of the locality being made, one spot near the well was found to be saturated with blood, the top of Sutton's fence was stained, and the grass on the other side had the appearance of something bloody having been dropped upon it; while a tomahawk and an adze were found covered with clay near Fife's bed.
In the meantime a man named James Clouston was out on a fossicking excursion, when, observing a dog coming out of the unfinished building standing near the hotel and owned by Mr. Campbell, he went in and was horrified to find a human head resting between two joists. He immediately secured it, and holding it up by the hair before Fife, that man at first failed to recognise it as that of Cox. On being asked to again scan the features he did so, and said boldly that they were those of Cox. Duramboi was asked for his opinion as to the site of the murder, which he fixed as being between the well and the fence in Sutton's yard.
Perhaps the most important evidence adduced at the inquiry, which lasted five days, was that of Charlotte Sutton and John Connell. The former said that on returning home at dusk on Saturday she heard Cox and Fife quarrelling in the kitchen, Cox blaming Fife for waking him and robbing him. She asked her father if Cox had any money, and received the reply that he thought not. She then went to the kitchen again and told Cox to go to the men's sleeping room, which he refused to do, but proceeded to the bar and had some ale or rum, and returning to the kitchen lay down on Fife's bed.
The next time she went to the kitchen was at about 10 p.m., when, seeing Fife in bed, and supposing Cox was there, too, she locked the door and retired. The knife found in the well she recognized as their property, as also was one of the towels, but not the sheet. When she went to the kitchen on Sunday morning after hearing of the murder Fife asked for a clean shirt, "as his own had not come from the washerwoman's, and as he was the last man with Cox he would like to appear clean."
Connell in his evidence said that Cox had accused Fife of robbing him, and that the latter, shaking his fist, had remarked that "he would knock his head off and kick his ribs in before he left town." He at that time thought Cox was in danger, and fearing to sleep in the kitchen he had been locked in the bar all night by Sutton. On Sunday morning he had observed Fife was cleaning out the kitchen with a cloth. And now comes the most important point.
The jury had been sitting on the case two or three days, but not until the fourth did they decide to inspect Sutton's hotel. They found below the floor of the room where Fife and Cox were supposed to have slept a candle and some papers, clots of blood, a blood-stained shoe, and also stains on the bed, while in Fife's box was one of his shirts bearing a stain. Remains of buttons, too, were found in the fireplace, and remnants of partially consumed clothing in the oven.
The remarkable thing was that these were not found by the police when they previously searched, and the fact that they were not observed lent colour to the assertion of Fife at his trial that they had been placed there during the time that had elapsed between his arrest and the time they were discovered, for no one had been placed in charge to watch that such a thing was not done.
Fife proved, too, that the clothing, destroyed was not his, and that the adze found near his bed had not been used in connection with the murder, but the circumstantial evidence against him was regarded as too strong, and he was on the fifth day, the jury having been locked up all night, committed for trial, Sutton and the rest being discharged.
On the 12th of April he was removed to Sydney, and on the 5th of June he was brought up at the Central Criminal Court. The evidence adduced there was similar to that given at Moreton Bay, and was entirely of a circumstantial nature. The only points in Fife's favour were the medical evidence, which showed the possibility of Cox having died a natural death before his body was butchered, and the absence of motive, for it was well known that Cox and Fife were on the most intimate terms, having been together during the penal times, and that the former had no money.
A circumstance which was regarded as more than passing strange was the finding of the additional evidence - the blood stains, etc, in Fife's room and under his bed - two days after a most minute examination had been made by the police; and this, coupled with the fact that scores had been allowed into his apartment at Sutton's during the time Fife was in custody, strengthened the conclusion arrived at by many, that whatever Fife might have known of the awful tragedy it was not his hand that had committed the deed.
For years after, indeed up to the present day, there are those who couple with the crime the names of men who afterwards became more or less prominent citizens. Mr. Henry Stuart Russell states with regard to this terrible crime that a man "in the horrors of a deathbed upbraiding confessed that he was the guilty one, and had looked on at the execution of the innocent locum tenens"! But to return.
At the trial the Judge admitted that the evidence was very remarkable, and at the same time commented severely on the neglect of the police in not taking charge of the room at Sutton's, but the jury after half an hour's deliberation brought in a verdict of "guilty." On being asked it be had anything to say why judgment should not be passed, Fife, in a faltering voice, replied, "I am not guilty."
His behaviour throughout was exceedingly self-possessed, and he heard the verdict of death in a cool and collected manner, although he several times interrupted the Judge by alleging that if a witness who was absent had been in attendance, and if another had spoken the truth, he would have been acquitted. The absent witness, I have been told, was a man who was known as "Long Bill," and who it is alleged knew more about the murder than it would have been safe for him to disclose.
On being removed the officials found sewn up in his coat a pair of steel spectacle frames, one end of which was broken off and ground to an edge as keen as that of a lancet. This was regarded by the authorities as being a means of suicide prepared by Fife to be used if found guilty. During the time, Fife lay under sentence he wrote a speech for delivery on the scaffold.
This was written on the first, second, and fourth pages of a sheet of foolscap paper, the other side being left blank until the Sunday preceding his execution, when he filled it in. In the meantime he had remained unmoved, almost sullen, always replying to any observation on the subject of the crime with a protestation of his innocence.
Just previous to leaving his cell on the fatal morning he put his hand into his bosom to feel for his speech, but it was gone; it bad been abstracted surreptitiously by a gaol official, and was refused him. On the way to the gallows he joined fervently in a hymn, singing in a clear and firm voice. On reaching the foot of the scaffold he caught sight of his coffin, upon which he gazed for a moment or two.
After praying for five minutes he thanked some of the officials and then turned to the crowd, which numbered about 4000, without the usual military and police guard, and made a request that he might be allowed to read his speech ; but the authorities refused to give him the document. He then wished to address the people, but in the midst of this the cap was pulled over his eyes, the bolt was drawn, and the drop falling, be was launched into the presence of his Creator. But what followed ?
The miserable man struggled for nine minutes, and then ensued a sight which sickened even those most habituated to such scenes. In falling his body had struck against the side of the floor, and large drops of blood trickled down the legs of his trousers on to the ground. On after examination it was found that his hand and thigh were grazed and his ribs broken.
Fife, I may remark, had come to the colonies under a sentence of transportation of fourteen years, and after this had been served he was in service on the Downs, from which place he entered Sutton's employ as cook, I am unable to give the dying man's statement in full, but the following is the portion written on the Sunday preceding his death :-
"I am about to suffer death for the awful crime of murder. I was found guilty on circumstantial evidence ; and however well that evidence might have been supported on my trial by a complication of villainy on the part of some of the witnesses, the Almighty God, at whose bar I shall soon appear, knows that I am innocent of the awful crime; and I trust for the safety of all human beings and the honour of my friends in a distant land that the Almighty God, whose eye sees the least wing that flits along the sky, will bring the perpetrator of that awful deed to light when my body is mouldering in the dust.
I cast no reflection on the Judge who tried my case, as he cannot tell the inward thoughts of man. I think had my case been tried at Moreton Bay on the spot where the awful deed was committed the jury would have taken a different view of the case. I have been a guilty sinner before God, but I never was so far hardened in crime as to imbue my hands in the blood of my fellow-man, I forgive my cruel enemies. I shall leave them in the hand of God, who declareth, ' Vengeance is mine ; I will repay, saith the Lord.' I cannot impress on your minds my innocence of the awful crime of murder. I am now before my God, and I shall suffer death for a barbarous murder. I shall appear at the bar of Almighty God as innocent as the child in its mother's womb."