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The Gatton Tragedy Exposed At Last. An Examination Of The Secrets And Lies.
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Evidence Of Mary "Polly" McNeill
GATTON, March 23 1899.
Inspector Urquhart, Detective Toomey, Mr. Shand, P.M., and the deposition clerk are on their way to Toowoomba to examine Mrs. McNeill this afternoon, if the doctors permit.
TOOWOOMBA, March 23 1899.
Mr. M'Neill arrived by mail train from Gatton this morning. Mrs. M’Neill has been subpoenaed to appear at the court at 2 o’clock this afternoon. It is understood that she is well enough to give evidence.
MRS. M’NEILL’S EVIDENCE. FURTHER ADJOURNMENT.
TOOWOOMBA, March 23 1899.
At 2 o’clock a few people began to file into the courtroom until about two dozen were present. At five minutes past 2. Inspector Urquhart entered and took his seat at the table, where there were no less than seven Press representatives seated.
Dr. Garde. Government medical officer occupied a seat in court; also Messrs. E. Boland and P. Connor, JJ.P. and J. N. Herbert, the solicitor who recently appeared in defence of the man Burgess.
At 2.15 Mr. Shand took his seat on the bench, accompanied by; Messrs. S. B. Kennard and S. H. Whichelle, JJ.P.
Inspector Urquhart said he had but one witness to call.
The Government medical officer had examined that witness, Mrs. M'Neill, and he considered her strong enough to undergo an examination. It would probably be detrimental to her if this examination were public, however, and it would be advisable to have the public excluded.
A chair was placed for the witness on the left of the bench, opposite to the witness-box, in order that Inspector Urquhart need not raise his voice.
At 2.25 the witness, Mrs. M'Neill, was carried into court from a room at the rear of the bench, in the arms of her husband. Mr. M'Neill was ordered to leave the court by Mr. Shand who said it was possible that he might be recalled. M'Neill asked to be allowed to stay with his wife, but permission was refused.
Mrs. M'Neill, it was observed, is a very frail woman. Her small, thin body was attired in a black dress, loose, and fastened at the waist, with a black straw hat, something like a sailor hat in shape, but of a softer straw, and trimmed with crape. The hat was tied under her chin with black strings.
Witness was evidently ill at ease by the manner in which she glanced round the court. She gave her answers in a low, weak voice, her eyes being rarely raised to the face of her questioner, and frequently turning to the door, through which her husband had disappeared. Witness was in no way hysterical, nor did she at any time give evidence of tears. At the conclusion of the examination, and during; the reading of the depositions, witness had several times to be asked to give her attention to the reading.
Having been sworn, witness said her name was Mary M’Neill, wife of William M’Neill, and sister of the victims of the late tragedy. She resided with her husband at Westbrook, and occasionally visited her parents at Tent Hill.
She remembered Boxing Day, when she went from her parent’s residence with her husband in Mr. M’Neill’s little two wheeled trap, and attended the Mount Sylvia races. While at the racecourse, her sister Ellen came and sat in the trap with them. They left for home about 6 p.m. They passed Barlow’s Hotel, but drove straight past without stopping.
They reached home about a quarter-past 6.
They all had tea together. There were then in the house witness, her brothers William, Michael, and John, and her father and mother, the youngest sister Katie, and her own two children. Norah and Ellen also were there, and witness’s husband. She was sure that Pat also was there.
She heard no one speak of a dance at tea time. Ellen had said, when at the races, that she had declined an invitation to the Mount Sylvia dance, and she was going to Gatton. The invitation came from Jimmy Ryan, of Blackfellows’ Creek, and was given in witness’s hearing.
Ryan appeared to go on with the joke, and said, “Ah, do come.” Ellen replied, “I don’t think I will, Jimmy,” and Ryan said, “Do come; Michael will be there, and if not I will bring him.” Ellen only laughed, and there seemed to be some joke which witness did not understand. Ryan then went away.
Witness did not hear anything further said about the dance.
She did not remember anything being said about it after tea.
Witness knew they were going to the Gatton dance, because she saw Helen and Norah getting ready.
She knew that Michael was going to drive them in, but not before she saw him preparing. Previously she thought Pat might be going to drive them.
Witness thought this because she saw him speaking to Norah before going to the races; but she did not hear what was said. Norah told witness she wanted to put her (witness’s) child to sleep before going, but witness replied, “ The child will be all right, it will make it too late.”
Witness’s husband said to Norah, “I will see to the child; you had better go.”
Witness did not know of her husband ever having any intention of going to the dance, and he never left the house with that intention.
It was nearly 8 o’clock when the party left the house for the dance. Witness’s brother Pat left soon after. Witness remained up about half-an-hour after he left, and then was helped to bed by her mother. The room she occupied in Murphy’s house was off the sitting-room, with a door opening into the sitting-room. There were two windows, one at the side opening on the front veranda, and one at the end of the house. They were both sash windows. The two children went to bed after her, but she could not say what time. Witness did not know how long her mother stopped in the room; she thought a quarter of an hour.
Witness did not go to sleep. She did not notice if the windows of the room were shut, she slept with them open generally. Her sister Ellen usually occupied the room with her. On the night in question her husband slept in the same bed with her. Her eldest child, 2 years and 5 months, slept in the bed also. The child could speak a little. The other child slept with witness’s mother. The eldest child usually slept well, and was sleeping well at Christmas time.
Witness sometimes burned a light all night, but did not remember if she did so on that occasion.
There was no clock or watch in the room.
Witness could not say what time her husband brought the child in; but she remembered him doing so. The child was awake at the time, and undressed.
Witness slept on the outside, and her husband put the child on the wall side.
Inspector Urquhart: Had your husband his boots on?
Witness: No; he would not come to bed with his boots on.
Inspector Urquhart: No, of course; but when he entered the room?
Witness: No; he had not his boots on.
Continuing, witness said her husband entered the room from the sitting-room; but she could not remember if he shut the door. There was a light in the sitting room.
Witness knew, because her mother was reading. She could not see her mother or the light, but heard her turning the leaves of the book. She could have seen the light if she had looked, but she did not. She was wide awake at the time. She thought there was a light in the sitting-room.
Inspector Urquhart: You said just now there was, you know. Don’t give the first answer that comes into your head.
The question was again put, and witness replied that she did not know. She had not been told to say she did not know.
She had not taken any medicine or anything to drink before going to bed, nor did she have any injection with a needle.
She could not remember if her husband shut the door.
She could not remember if the child had spoken.
She did not remember if she herself spoke. Her husband got into bed with his clothes on, after putting the child to bed.
She had no idea what time this was, or how long it was after Pat left. The bedroom door was sometimes left open, and sometimes shut when she was in bed.
She could not say which it was that night after he got into bed.
She did not snore, that she knew of; but her husband did sometimes, and pretty loud.
She did not know if he spoke to her when getting into bed, or if she spoke to him.
She went to sleep that night, she thought, about half-an-hour after her husband went to bed.
She did not know if he was awake also. The child was asleep.
She did not notice the door of the room during the half-hour.
She heard some one moving in the sitting-room, but could not see them, because she did not look.
She thought she could have seen them had she looked.
She did not hear anyone in the sitting-room ask some one to have a drink before her husband went to bed. Her husband usually put his boots in the bedroom when he took them off.
She did not see him take them off that night. After lying awake half-an hour that night, she went to sleep. The bed was a three-quarter bed, with an iron railing at the bottom. There were mosquito curtains on the bed, but they were pulled back, and were not in use that night.
Witness was in better health, and sleeping better at this time than she had been.
She slept all night that night, and until morning. Nothing disturbed her, she was sure.
She had a good night. Her husband did not have to get out that night on her account, and he did not get up at all that she knew of. It was long after daylight when witness woke. She heard others in the house moving about, but did not know the time. Her husband was not up when she awoke.
Inspector Urquhart: Was he awake? Who woke first?
Witness: I don’t know.
Inspector Urquhart: Try and think of that morning.
Witness, after a pause, again said she could not remember.
Inspector Urquhart: Are you sure he was there?
Witness: Yes, because I saw him get up, and he came back, and told me the others had not come home. Continuing, witness said her husband still had his clothes on when he got up, the same as he had worn at the Mount Sylvia races. It was not usual for him to do so, but when he did it was on account of the little girl, because she was troublesome. The child was not troublesome that night. Witness was sure nothing of any kind disturbed her during the night. No one entered the room during the night that she knew of. Her mother might enter the room to look at her without her hearing; but she knew of no one entering or leaving. She did not remember who gave her her tea that night. Norah usually did it. She sat at the table that night for tea. She did not know if her husband put his boots on before going out in the morning. He was only away a few minutes, and when he returned she saw his boots on his feet. He said, “Michael and the girls didn’t come home yet.” Witness replied, “Really? Are you joking?” He replied, “No; they didn’t turn up yet.”
She did not think anything more was said. Witness got up, and had breakfast in the kitchen with her brother, Jack, Jerry and Bob Smith.
Her husband did not say he was going to look for them before he went. It was about 8 o’clock when witness had breakfast. Her husband returned about 10 o’clock.
Witness saw him return, and he spoke to her and her mother.
Witness asked if he had seen them, and he said, “Yes.”
Witness said, “Are they coming?” and he replied, “No.”
She noticed nothing wrong, and he spoke in quite his ordinary way, with nothing strange in his speech.
Witness asked why they were not coming, and “Where are they?”
Her husband replied, “They’re dead.”
Witness said, “What, the three?” and he replied, “Yes.”
Witness asked where, and he replied, “Away in some paddock near the cemetery and Clark’s butcher’s shop.”
He did not know whose paddock.
Witness did not remember what her mother said.
Witness asked her husband could it be true, and he said, “Yes.”
Norah used to mind witness’s little girl, and the child was very fond of her: so also was witness.
Inspector Urquhart: When you heard they were all dead out in the paddock, did you not care enough to make further inquiries as to how it happened?
Witness: I daresay I did; but I forget.
Inspector Urquhart: Well, Mrs. M’Neill, when did you first hear they were murdered?
Witness: M'Neill said so, during the course of the conversation. Neither she nor her mother asked who they were murdered by. She did not know why she did not ask. She did not know who murdered them. Witness was fond of the three deceased.
She had no favourite brother; they were all alike to her; but Michael had been working near her place. If she had any idea or suspicion of who was the murderer she would say so. She had no idea, and had never had since it happened.
She had never said she had, or that she knew whose work it was.
She was 32 years old.
Inspector Urquhart: But at the Inquest your brother William’s age was given as 32.
Are you older or younger?
Witness said she was the younger; but she always understood she was 32.
She had been married about three years, but had been away from home some time before.
She had been away from home about eight years altogether; but had visited it during that time. Prior to meeting her present husband, there had been some sweethearting between witness and Tom Ryan. This had died out.
They had often had rows, and witness had also had a beating from her mother for going with him.
The sweet hearting continued after this. Ellen had carried letters between them, and Tom had lent her his horse, which she had kept at her place without her mother knowing.
Tom did not seem annoyed when she married M’Neill. Norah was against her going with Tom, and she had told him that her mother was against a match.
She did not remember telling him that Norah and Ellen were against it.
She might have told him that witness’s mother had told her that Ryan had said he would have Polly (meaning witness), in spite of her. The reason they objected to Tom was because he was fond of drink.
Witness did not know if Michael was against the match with Ryan. Tom had not told her so. Ryan and M’Neill had not had a row over witness. Her mother did not want her to marry M’Neill, because he was a Protestant, and she was a Roman Catholic. The other members of the family did not know anything about the proposed match with M’Neill.
She had never told anyone that her husband had been away all night on the night of the murder, and she did not think anyone had asked her.
She had seen Tom Ryan at a distance since the murder, but not to speak to.
Witness and Tom Ryan had been sweet-hearting nine or ten years.
She did not know when it was that she finally told him she would have no more to do with him.
She had never heard Ryan say, and had never heard that he had said, he would be revenged for not getting her.
She did not know of her brothers or sisters ever having quarrels with anyone.
Michael and M’Neill were on good terms, and the latter was on good terms with the whole of the family since the 17th June, 1898, prior to which date he did not know them.
M’Neill had never said he suspected anyone, and she did not think he did suspect anyone. The Murphy’s had never said they suspected anyone.
Witness had never known Ellen or Norah to have any sweethearts or any preference for any young men. The party were expected home from the dance early in the morning. Witness remembered a rifle being burned in the fire at Westbrook.
She did not know of any revolver being burned at the same time.
She did not know of her husband or Michael having a revolver. The rifle had been used for shooting bullocks. Her husband was a butcher, but she did not think he was left handed.
She had seen him at work cutting up, and she believed he could use both hands.
She had never seen the bullocks shot at Westbrook; but had seen the heads.
She did not know what part they were shot in.
On the night in question, she did not think her husband could have gone out of the room without her knowledge She could swear he did not go out that night.
Witness was covered with the bedclothes, but her husband slept on the outside.
Inspector Urquhart: Can you really swear that your husband did not go out?
An oath, you know, is not taken for nothing.
You must be sure. Consider your position, and give me your answer.
Witness remained silent for several minutes, and looked around the court.
Inspector Urquhart: Did you hear my question, Mrs. M'Neill?
Inspector Urquhart: Have you no answer?
Inspector Urquhart: What is your reason for not answering? Have you been told not to answer?
Witness said she had not been told not to answer the question. She felt that she could not answer it.
Inspector Urquhart: Anyone could answer Yes or No. If anyone asked you a couple of months hence if you have been in the court you could answer. If you are in a position to swear your husband did not leave the room, do so; and if you cannot swear that, then say so.
Witness remained silent, and the Inspector informed the Bench that he could press the Witness no further on the point.
Witness said she had told all she knew of the happenings of the night in question.
She and her husband had talked about her coming to give evidence. He had told her to answer what she was asked, and not to be frightened or excited.
Inspector Urquhart: Well, if he told you to answer what you were asked, why did you not answer that question I just asked you?
Witness remained silent, with averted head.
Mr. Shand: I would not press her any more.
Inspector Urquhart: Very well, your Worship.
This closed the examination. When the depositions were read over, witness stood up to sign them; but the papers were handed to her and she again sat down.
Inspector Urquhart said he had no more witnesses to call in Toowoomba.
Mr. Shand said he could not understand why the officers of the court had been brought to Toowoomba to examine this witness, who, after an examination lasting two and a half hours, appeared as well, if not better than when she came into court.
He then announced the adjournment of the court to Gatton at 10.30 next morning, at which time and place William M’Neill had been subpoenaed to attend.
M'Neill, on entering the court to remove his wife, appealed to Inspector Urquhart for means to take his wife home and to attend the summons for the following day.
The inspector replied that he was not entitled to assistance; his duty was to obey the summons of the court.
Inspector Urquhart afterwards instructed a constable to assist M'Neill all he could.