Gatton Murders - Chief Inspector John Stuart

Gatton Murders

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The Gatton Tragedy Exposed At Last. An Examination Of The Secrets And Lies.

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Acting Sub-Inspector of Police, John Stuart, 1871Chief Inspector John Stuart

Acting Sub-Inspector of Police, John Stuart, 1871.

THE following announcements appear in The Government Gazette of Saturday last 15/1/1876:— APPOINTMENTS.— John B. Isley and Robert Grayson to be second-class, and John Stuart to be First-class, sub-inspectors of police. Inspector of Police, 1879.


The police engaged in searching for the Gatton murderers are being added to almost hourly.

By the goods train that arrived early this morning from Brisbane four fresh mounted men arrived.

All the men are being well armed both with revolvers and carbines, as it is expected that when the culprits are brought to bay they will make a fight for it.

Chief Inspector Stuart and Sub-inspector Durham have also arrived.

The black trackers returned late last evening, and are still in the town.


Inspector Stuart arrived by mail train last night from Gatton. He intimates that no fresh developments have arisen in connection with the outrage, and no arrests been made. The police and their assistants are actively engaged in pushing on the work of investigation, but under extreme difficulties.


Chief Inspector Stuart was here during part of last week, but Inspector Urquhart Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, has really charge of the case, and has with him Sub-inspector Galbraith, Detective Toomey, and two other officers of the Criminal Investigation branch of the force.


Burgess, who was sentenced in Toowoomba to two months' in Brisbane Gaol for vagrancy, was brought to Brisbane by train on the 28th January, and safely lodged in Boggo Road Gaol.

The public were not aware of the intention to bring him down, consequently there was no demonstration. Sub inspector Urquhart arrived in Brisbane from Gatton yesterday night. He and the Commissioner, Mr. W. E. Parry-Okeden, and Chief Inspector Stuart, had a long consultation at Mr. Okeden's private residence to-day on the Gatton and Oxley affairs. The Commissioner states that investigations are progressing satisfactorily.

He expresses himself hopefully of the result. Mr. Okeden leaves for Gatton on Wednesday next.


The police inquiry was continued this afternoon.

Inspector Stuart was examined, chiefly with regard to the Gatton murders.

The fact was elicited that a telegram from Gatton announcing the murder was despatched a few minutes before 11 on Tuesday morning, the day after the murders, and reached Brisbane the same morning at a quarter past 11, but was not opened by Inspector Stuart until the following morning at 8 o'clock, when he found the message lying unopened on his office table.

Though no one appeared to know how it got there, a telegraph messenger stated that the message was delivered at Inspector Stuart's office about noon on Tuesday.

The message was sent as an ordinary one because the operator at Gatton refused to send it as an urgent telegram.


The sittings of the Royal Police Commission were continued at the Commissioner's office, Treasury Buildings, yesterday afternoon, under the presidency of his Honour Judge Noel.
The Chief Inspector (Mr. John Stuart), who was again called, said he desired to amend his evidence at the part where he said he "performed his duties in a perfunctory manner." What he meant was that he did not perform his duty with close supervision.

Mr. Sadleir stated that the return of arrests for drunkenness presented showed that those on Sundays were very much less than those on weekdays.

The Chief Inspector said he had prepared a précis of facts concerning the Oxley murder.

The Chairman: Understand this: If you are not cognisant of the facts as well as the officer who really superintended the whole thing, we don't want to force you. The officer who conducted the inquiries might be able to do it better.

Sub-inspector White conducted all the searching, and he could give you all the facts better. I came in with the finding of the body, and supervised matters afterwards. That is not what we want particularly. Sub-inspector White conducted the inquiries up to that time.

As to the Gatton matter, were you the officer in charge from the inception? -Up to the 30th I was in charge from the date it was reported to me.

But were you the officer who first got the information with regard to the murders? -Yes; the official information. I received the telegram.

Then we will go on with the Gatton murder. When did you receive that? -The first intimation I received was about 5 o'clock in the afternoon of the 27th December, 1898. I was at my home at Bowen Hills.

In telephonic communication with this place? -No.

How did you receive the information? Inspector Urquhart called in me, and said he had heard a rumour that a murder had been committed at Gatton.

Mr. Unmack: When was the murder committed? -On the night of the 26th December, supposed to be between 9 and 10 o'clock.

The Chairman: At 5 o'clock on the 27 th (about twenty hours after) you received the first official intimation of a rumour? -Yes.

Did Urquhart tell you why he called it a rumour? -He said he had given Constable Murphy leave to go to Gatton; that he had received a telegram stating that his brother and sisters had been killed. He thought that the telegram was a hoax. He asked if I had any information. I said, "Certainly not;" and that if it was a fact, I ought to have been apprised at once.

Did he say what time Murphy got the telegram? -He said some time in the afternoon-about 1 o'clock. I was suffering from anthrax in the leg, and was in the act of poulticing it. I said, "Go into town at once, and make inquiries." I heard nothing further until I came in to the office in the usual way in the morning. I saw an ordinarily-addressed telegram, addressed to the Commissioner of Police, on my table.

This was a telegram from Sergeant Arrell, saying Murphy and his sisters had been murdered at Gatton.

What time was that telegram despatched? -I have all the records here-"December 27, at 10.55 a.m." "Murphy and his sisters murdered. Can you send some black trackers?" What time was it received? -It is timed 11.16 a.m., "B." (Meaning Brisbane).

You found this telegram waiting on your table on the morning of the 28th, it having been here nearly twenty-four hours: -The 26 th was a holiday. I came into the office, and, there being no clerks, I opened all the correspondence.

This telegram had not arrived then? -No. I telephoned to Inspector White, and asked him if there were any reports. I stayed till about 12.30 that morning, and then-I was suffering from anthrax-went to my home at Bowen Hills.

When was it delivered? -I don't know.

Is there anyone whose duty it is to attend to telegrams on holidays? -They should be delivered here or at Roma-street.

Is there no record in the books as to when that was received by any police officer? -No.

How did it get on to your table in the morning? -I don't know.
What does the messenger say? -There are a great many contradictory statements.

We have this telegram here at 11.16, and you were here till 12.30 on that morning, and the telegram did not get to your notice until 9 o'clock the next morning? -That is so.

I have a statement here from H. Massie. Is he the person who was on duty here to receive telegrams? -No; this is the messenger (from the Telegraph Department. He states: "I took it out at 11.52 a.m. and, as the office in the Treasury is generally closed on a holiday, I took it to the Roma street station, where I arrived at 12.15. The constable in the office told me I could deliver it at the office at the Treasury, as they were up there. I took it up there, and delivered it to the messenger, Mr. Hurst. I had a message to deliver at Lennon's Hotel before I went to the Treasury, Building, and that was what made him take some time in getting to the Treasury Building." And it just missed you? -If his statement is correct.

Do you doubt it? -Yes, I do.

Why? -I did not leave exactly at the half-past.

Then you doubt his statement? -Yes.

Then what does Hurst say? -Constable Hurst reports: "At about 12.30, the senior sergeant telephoned from the Roma-street Police Station, asking if the Commissioner was in. I said no; but that the Chief Inspector was here, and he was acting for the Commissioner. He stated there was a message there, and asked if he sent it over would be all right. I said, yes. After about five minutes a messenger arrived with two messages, and handed them to the constable. He handed them to the Chief Inspector immediately they were received from the messenger." These were not the Gatton telegrams. With reference to the telegrams delivered by "a" telegraph messenger, I have them here.

When did you get these telegrams? -I cannot remember exactly. It was between the hour I arrived and the hour I left the office. My memory is not sufficiently accurate.

For instance, don't you note in the office the hour received? -No.

Does not anybody? -Not as a rule.

At any rate, neither of these telegrams referred to anything at Gatton? -No.

Does Hurst say anything about the telegram stating about the murder? -(Witness looks over papers).

Mr. Garvin: I have gone through the papers. Hurst states he went into the office, and there were two telegrams on the table: but neither of them was the one from Arrell. He is positive about that. (Witness goes through the papers.)

The Chairman: We don't want you to give the evidence if you are not cognisant with the facts. -I would suggest that you get the evidence direct from Hurst.

Mr. Garvin: How do you account for finding the telegram on your table on the following morning? -All the telegrams received a little late, when everyone is away, Hurst generally puts on my table, immediately in front of my seat.

So telegrams coming like that would not be opened by anyone? -That was a holiday.

That does not matter. -No one opens them on a holiday.

What is the practice on a holiday? -That was the usual practice.

If it was a holiday a telegram would have to wait till the following morning? -Yes, unless marked " urgent."

Then Hurst would send it away at once, either to some sub-inspector, myself, or the Commissioner.

The Chairman: Ought telegrams to be marked urgent? -Certainly.

Mr. Garvin: Up to the time of the murder a telegram would be merely put aside until the next morning? -It would be put on my table.

Is that not a dangerous practice? -It has been altered.

Mr. Garvin: Never mind about that. Mr. Dickson.

When did Murphy receive that telegram? -About 1 o'clock.

To whom did he apply for holidays? -He should have applied to White; but he was away, and he then went to Urquhart.

What did you do in the morning? -I inquired where Urquhart was, and I was informed he had left in the morning train for Gatton. I asked for the Commissioner; but he was not in. I waited until the Commissioner came in.

The Chairman: When was that? -About 10 o'clock.

Is there a telephone connected with the Commissioner's house? -Yes, from Roma street.

Did you ask them to telephone to the Commissioner? -No; I thought he was on the way in. I handed the Commissioner the telegram, and he said he heard about it, and had sent Mr. Urquhart away in the morning train.

Mr. Garvin: When Urquhart told you about the rumour did you instruct him to telegraph to Gatton? -No, I thought it was a hoax.

But this is a serious thing. There is a rumour that three persons were murdered.

Did you ask him if he saw the telegram that Murphy received? -No.

You say it was the practice prior to this offence being committed for telegrams arriving at the office to be allowed to remain till next day. Who gave the orders for that? -It was the practice. I don't know who gave the orders. But if the telegrams could not be left here, they would be sent to Roma-street.

Do you know what hour of the day Murphy applied for leave to go away? -No.

Do you know if Murphy went and had that telegram verified? -No; I don't known any thing about his actions.

Did Urquhart not tell you he went to the telegraph office and had it verified? -No. I thought it was a hoax.

The Chairman: You jumped to that conclusion? -It was an unheard of thing for a private telegram, to come and no official word.

Did you make inquiries from Arrell whether he sent the telegram "urgent”? I did. From what I understood from him, the stationmaster, who is also the telegraph master, would not send it urgent. At the time I was up I could not make proper inquiries, as I wanted to go to the scene of the murder. I left the other for inquiries after. It has since been inquired into by the Commissioner.

You don't know anything about it? -No.

Mr. Garvin: Is not a responsible person left to open telegrams on holidays? -It has now been arranged that all telegrams shall be taken on holidays to the Roma-street police station, and opened.

That is only since the Gatton murders? -Yes.

The Chairman: Is there not an arrangement with the Telegraph Department that telegrams on police matters should be sent at once? -I cannot say.

Mr. Garvin: Is it a practice for telegrams to be sent at all hours? -I have received them at all hours.

Is there not an officer always kept at the telegraph office on holidays? -Yes. There is always a man on duty at Brisbane.

Prior to these murders, it was perfectly useless to send telegrams to the Police Department on holidays? -I could not say that. It depends who was in the office.

But you said there was no one in the office? -I always come in on holidays. I don't know a holiday when I did not.

When would you leave? -Between 12 and 1 o'clock.

Any telegrams coming after that would have to stand over? -Yes, if they were delivered here.

What- would be the first train leaving here after it was shown the telegram was delivered? -Five o'clock in the afternoon.

Urquhart was the first officer who went? -He went up at 7.30 on the morning of the 28th.

The Chairman: I don't propose to go further with Mr. Stuart on this matter; but with other officers. On the other murders we were going to ask some questions, but we will defer them.


The Police Commission continued the investigations yesterday into the action of the police in connection with the Gatton tragedy, when Inspector Urquhart, Detective Toomey, William M'Neill, and Chief Inspector Stuart were examined.

Urquhart expressed the opinion that the man Day was not concerned in the murder, and he also said he thought Sergeant Arrell had done his best according to his lights.

M'Neill complained of the worry he had been put to by the police without a reason being given him.

Chief Inspector Stuart questioned the efficiency of the Government medical officer who made the post mortem examination.


Chief Inspector Stuart was called.

The Chairman: You want to say something about Government medical officers? -Yes.

From the inquiries I made when I went up to Gatton I thought the examination of the bodies that is, the post-mortem was not what I call a post-mortem at all, but merely a superficial examination of the bodies. After inquiry there for about two days, and gaining all the information I could, get, I came to the conclusion that Michael Murphy, at least, had been shot.

The Chairman: And Sergeant Arrell did not find that out? He was there supervising the post-mortem? -Yes, he was present.

Well, then, from the information I gained, I thought it was my duty to have the bodies exhumed, and have a proper post-mortem.

That was done. Galbraith said Michael Murphy showed signs of having had his head examined, and the skull cap taken off? -Of course, I know nothing of that.

I was not present.

Well, then, the bodies were exhumed, and a fresh post-mortem made? -Yes, and from inquiries of people who had seen the bodies, I satisfied myself that there must be a bullet wound, which was found to be the case.

What recommendations have you to make that more efficient Government medical officers should be appointed? -I think that is a matter that speaks for itself.

Do you complain generally of the inefficiency of the Government medical officers? -No, that is the only case I have known of inefficiency on the part of a Government medical officer. There is no doubt a grave mistake was made at the first examination.

It was not thorough. Was there anything overlooked at the first post-mortem? - I consider the bodies should have been opened and thoroughly examined.

What good would opening do? -It would show if death occurred, say from a knife being put through the ribs, and other things.

Is that gentleman still a Government medical officer? -Yes, Dr. Von Lossberg.

The commission then adjourned till 10 o'clock the following day.


The investigations into the actions of the police in connection with the Gatton murders were continued by the Police Commission yesterday. Dr. Von Lossberg, Government Medical Officer for the Ipswich district, was called. He said he wished to state that he did not come voluntarily to give evidence; he came in answer to a summons.

Witness said he had explained to Sub-Inspector Galbraith that he could not conclude the post-mortem, owing to the injury to his finger. Witness was present at the second autopsy. The exhumation was made on his (witness's) recommendation. The Chief Inspector (Mr. Stuart) had called upon him and said, "I am the Chief Inspector; I come about the Gatton murders." Witness said, " My word, you will be in a nice mess."

Stuart asked him about the wound in the head, and he (witness) pointed out that it was not his fault that further examination was not made, and that he had not given instructions for the burial or the bodies, and consequently it was the fault of the police that they were buried before the discovery was made. The bullet wound was almost in a horizontal course, and Michael must have been in an erect position. At the exhumation of the body Dr. Wray asked witness to point out the bullet wound, which he did.

Dr. Wray said, "That is no bullet wound."' Witness insisted, and an examination was made, the bullet being almost immediately brought to light.


The proceedings of the Royal Police Commission were continued on Saturday.

Among those present were Drs. Wray, Von Lossberg, and Orr.

Dr. Wray, Government Medical Officer at Brisbane, was called.

The Chairman: We now wish to ask you some Questions as to the second post mortem on the Gatton victim, and we specially draw your attention to what was said by Dr. Von Lossberg - that you disputed the fact of a bullet wound being in the head, and that it was not until he insisted ‘that you consented to look for a bullet at all. I was called upon to make this exhumation and post-mortem of bodies and one of the reasons for having another post mortem was to set this matter beyond dispute as to whether the man was shot or not.

I had no dispute with Dr. Von Lossberg: in any way. I simply went to discover whether there was a bullet there or not.

Who gave you instructions? -I could not say if it was the Commissioner or Mr. Stuart.


Archibald Meston, protector of aborigines in Southern Queensland, said he had had forty years' experience of aboriginals.

The Chairman: We understand that shortly after the Gatton tragedy you were on the scene? -On the Wednesday he (witness) was at Fraser's Island, and received a telegram from Chief Inspector Stuart asking for three trackers. He started the men at midnight, an hour after he received the wire, and the boys reached Gatton late the next night.