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Gatton and Oxley Murders

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Census Year

Population

1881

143

1901

449

1911

1307

1954

2163

1971

3547

1986

4597

2001

5101

2006

5295

Gatton.
Beautiful Gatton one of Queensland's earliest rural settlements now home to around 6,000 people is located 90 km west of Brisbane 104m above sea level.
Lying in the heart of one of South East Queensland’s most productive rural areas with some of the richest farming land in Australia. The fertile black soils provide huge crops of potatoes, onions, and other vegetables for the Brisbane markets. The area is also known for its beef, pork and dairy industries, for its University campus and its good pubs.
The University of Queensland acquired the Gatton Campus in 1990 and offers many agriculture related courses. It is regarded as the finest institution of this sort in Australia.
The presence of the uni and its attendant students gives Gatton a university town flavour reminiscent of Oxford. It may not have old buildings, famous academics, prestige, tourists, shops, traffic, rain and freezing weather but it certainly does have PUBS.
The town centre is organised in the same way as in most Australian towns. Almost all commerce focuses on the main street. Every one of the town’s five pubs are also located on the main street. The area was explored as early as 1825 by Major Edmund Lockyer and settled in the 1840s after land around Moreton Bay was opened up to free settlers.
By the 13th April 1855 the village of Gatton (probably named after Gatton, Roxburghshire, Scotland) was gazetted. By 1858 it had become a major stopover point (it was a changeover point for the Royal Mail horses) on the road from Brisbane to the Darling Downs.
The town was officially surveyed in 1859 and allotments went on sale in 1860.
By 1875 the railway line had been extended from Ipswich and the town expanded rapidly as a service centre for the surrounding farms.
There was even some talk about the feasibility of dredging the Lockyer, so as to make Gatton the head of navigation, which once accomplished, the relocation of Government House and public offices would naturally follow, and Gatton could be proclaimed the capital of the colony, it being decidedly more central than Brisbane, and in a much better position than Toowoomba, not to mention Ipswich.
A high-level bridge across Blackfellow's Creek, constructed for the convenience of the Tent Hill people proved to be the "making" of the Sandy Creek farmers, particularly those nearest the bridge. The population in that quarter increased rapidly. It saved much waste of horse and bullock muscle.
Another high-level bridge was proposed for Tent Hill, thanks to Mr. Armstrong the indefatigable member, for Lockyer at the time, who looked sharper after the interest of his constituents than any other member in the House. The proposed bridge was to cross Sandy Creek, on the road, about fifty chains above Grange Ash Villa.
It was said at the time long may Mr. Armstrong represent Stanley.

The Gatton Murders 1898
One of the most intriguing chapters in Gatton's history is the unsolved multiple murder known as 'The Gatton Murders', 'The Gatton Tragedy', 'The Gatton Mystery' or 'The Murphy Murders'.
Late on a bright moonlit night on Boxing Day, Monday 26th of December 1898 or early in the morning of Tuesday 27th, tragedy struck this small country town, in the form of a triple murder, the worst crime perpetrated in any of the colonies to that time. Although thoroughly investigated by the Queensland Police, the investigators remained baffled and the crime remained unsolved and remains a mystery to this day.
Several books and countless articles have been written about the crime offering various theories but it appears the truth has eluded them all.
No direct evidence seems to exist to verify any of them, and no convincing circumstantial evidence has been presented.
The graves of Michael, Norah (Honara) and Ellen (Theresa) Murphy can be seen in the Gatton cemetery.

The Crime
Two sisters Norah aged 27, Ellen aged 18 and their brother Michael Murphy aged 29 were murdered in particularly strange circumstances. The Murphy family, who had lived in the Gatton area for over 20 years, farmed outside Gatton at Blackfellow’s Creek. Michael and Ellen attended a race meeting at Caffey (near Mt Sylvia) during the day of 26 December. Later that night Michael drove his sisters Norah and Ellen to a dance to be held at the Gatton Divisional Hall. They left their parent's farm in a two wheeled cart at about 8:00pm and arrived in Gatton at about 9:00pm. Not knowing the dance would be cancelled due to a lack of young female attendance. The trio turned for home without stopping and on the way they were brutally murdered.
The next morning their bodies were found by, William M’Neill their brother-in-law, who mysteriously called at what is now the Imperial Hotel alerting the towns people before reporting it to William Arrell, the local Sergeant of Police, creating a ghoulish rush to the scene. Michael and his sister Ellen, lay back to back while Norah lay a few yards away on a neatly spread rug both the girls hands were tied behind their backs and a hames strap tied tightly around Norah’s neck. It appeared that the girls had both been outraged before being bludgeoned to death. Michael had been shot then bludgeoned, while Tom the old cart horse had been shot and killed. The 15 shillings it was known Michael had in his possession was missing and his empty purse found in his hand and a breeching strap found nearby.
The subsequent investigation was a litany of stupid bungling by virtually everyone involved.
Within hours the Moran’s paddock, where the Murphy's had been killed had up to forty people in it, destroying most of what little evidence there was. The police who would later head the investigation took a day to arrive from Brisbane. Doctor Von Lossberg who carried out the first post mortem in room No. 5 at Charlie Gilbert’s Brian Boru Hotel (now the Imperial Hotel), failed to find a bullet in the head of Michael Murphy (it was only found later when his body was exhumed and a second post mortem carried out). Screams of “Father, “Father and shots were said to have been heard by two girls who lived near the scene. Much valuable time was wasted chasing a swagmen named Richard Burgess their prime suspect but later proved to have an ironclad alibi.
At a Royal Police Commission held in late 1899 the finger was somewhat pointed towards a man named Thomas Day an itinerant labourer. At the time of the investigation he was all but disregarded by the head policemen.
His hut was about 300 yards from the fateful sliprails of Moran’s paddock. He had apparently been seen standing near the sliprails of the paddock by a number of people. He said he had gone to bed at 7:00pm and hadn't been seen at a fireworks display at the local butcher Mr. Arthur Clarke’s property where he was employed and staying. It was claimed that he had washed blood from a pullover a few days after the murder.
Two weeks later Thomas Day claiming that he didn't like his employer's food, packed his gear and disappeared. It is known he enlisted in the military sometime after he left Gatton and deserted in May 1899 and was never heard of again.
In a poem about the murders John Manifold concludes with the memorable lines:

Whether it was a madman's work
Or that of a fiend from Hell
Only the stark white ringbarked gums
And the silent moon can tell.

Gravestone Michael Ellen and Norah Murphy

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