Gatton Murders - Sub-Inspector John Warren White

Gatton Murders

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

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Sub-Inspector John Warren White Input And Time Spent in GattonSub-Inspector John Warren White

Born Unknown
Appointed Cadet, 1882 (POL/4/620)
Promoted 2nd Class Sub Inspector, 1884 (QPG, Vol 21: 66 & QGG, Vol 34: 895)
Promoted 1st Class Sub Inspector, 1894 (COL/E171/94/430 & QGG, Vol 62: 1013)
Promoted 1st Class Inspector, 1907 (QGG, Vol 88: 1334)
Retired 1911 (A/40349)
South Brisbane, 1947 (A/40349)
Staff file
AF/2347 (A/40349)
Notes Served at various Cape York Peninsula camps (1882-89) and captured the “Bunya Blackfellow” (a Melanesian man) in 1889.
Married Tuesday 15 March 1892 to Elizabeth (Ruby) Barker (QBDM) and his brother (CBB White) applied unsuccessfully to join the Native Police in 1897.
Sub Inspector John White was a witness at the CIB RC in 1899, after the Gatton Murders.


A special train, with Drs. Wray and Von Lossberg, and Sub-inspector White, arrived this morning just before daylight. They left the train before reaching town, and drove direct to the cemetery, where the exhumation took place.

The police prefer to say nothing of the result of the post-mortem examination.

The special train returned to Brisbane this morning. Before the exhumation Mr. Parry-Okeden put the matter before the Murphy family, and took every care to prevent any unnecessary pain to their feelings, and in this Father Walsh assisted.


LATEST BY WIRE.GATTON, January 5, 10.30 p.m.
Sub-inspector White, with trackers, has made a further examination of Campbell's paddock, but without making any discovery. The place had been previously searched.

Sub-inspector Durham visited Laidley to-day, presumably to make inquiries. Several persons have been examined to-day, but there are no fresh developments.


Mr. Parry-Okeden and Inspector Urquhart, with trackers, have visited the waterholes near the scene of the murder, and were engaged in making careful examinations all the morning, but without success.

Sub-inspectors Durham and White and several of the police are out making inquiries.


Sub-inspector White left with packhorses to-day for the outlying districts.


The police authorities have formed subdistricts here, Sub-inspector Galbraith taking Tent Hill, and Inspector White Laidley.

Inspector Durham, when he returns, will go to Helidon.

Each has been supplied with squads of police and trackers for working in a systematic way.

Sergeant Tom King takes a constable and tracker, with a roving commission.

I saw the King brothers, also Bell, Tighe, Perkins, Adam Johnson, Colville, and other crack bushmen out to-day, and Sub inspector White was working new ground with black trackers.

If any fresh discovery has been made the police are keeping it very quiet.


Sub-inspector White, who was in charge of the Laidley sub-district, is at present down Ipswich way, working in connection with the Oxley tragedy. In his absence Sergeant Walter King is carrying on the work.


Mr. Parry-Okeden and Mr. Morris, solicitor, of the firm of Morris and Fletcher, arrived here to-night. Sub-inspector White also arrived.


A regular police caucus has been held here by the Commissioner, Mr. Parry-Okeden Inspector Urquhart, Sub-inspector Galbraith, and Sub- inspector White, and Mr. Charles Morris (of Morris and Fletcher, Brisbane solicitors), was present also.

The object, so far as I can learn, was to go thoroughly into the matter of the evidence regarding the tragedy at present, in the hands of the police.

Several prolonged interviews were held, and to-day Mr Parry-Okeden and Mr. Morris and Sub-inspector White returned to Brisbane, while Sub-inspector Galbraith went out to his camp at Tent Hill.


By the mail train this morning Sub inspector White was a passenger for Toowoomba. I believe that the sub-inspector takes on with him from Brisbane the clothes belonging to Burgess, which have been undergoing microscopic examination and analysis in Brisbane.


On Sunday Sub-Inspector White came up to Toowoomba, bringing with him the clothes which Burgess wore at the time of his arrest, and which it will be remembered were taken from him over a week ago for the purpose of being sent to Brisbane for microscopical examination by experts.

Before 11 o'clock this morning several witnesses had left Gatton for Toowoomba for the purpose of identifying Burgess. These included Mrs. Veitch, of Cleveland, Mr. Cushing, of Oxley, and Miss Florrie Lowe, Mrs. Hallen, her son and daughter, Mr. T. Drew, and Mrs. Connolly from the Gatton neighbourhood. They were accompanied by Detective Head, and on arrival at Toowoomba were met at the railway station by Sub-Inspector White, and driven to the Gladstone Hotel. After lunch they were taken to the police station, where Richard Burgess is confined, and at 2.15 p.m. the test commenced under the direction of Sub-inspector White.

Very complete preparations had been made for the test. Seven men resembling the prisoner in height and build as near as possible, and clad in their ordinary working garb, had been called in. Burgess made the eighth. He was told that he could place himself whenever he wished for identification purposes, and he took up the fourth position on the flank, being attired in the clothes, which he wore at the time of his arrest.

The result was that he was identified by the witness from Cleveland, the witness from Oxley, and three out of the five witnesses from Gatton. Mrs. Veitch, the lady from Cleveland, it appears, first identified Burgees from his photograph as that of a man she saw at Cleveland between the 30th of November (the date of Burgess's release from gaol) and the 10th December, the date of the Oxley murder.

To-day she identified Burgess immediately she heard him speak, and even before she had opportunity of closely inspecting him, stating that she recognised his voice as that of the man she saw at Cleveland at the time mentioned. Mrs. Veitch's testimony when the proper time comes will he exceedingly interesting.

More important than this was the identification of Burgees by Mr. Cushing, an old resident of Oxley, who identified him as the man whom he saw in that neighbourhood on the 10th of December. Mr. Cushing saw him on two occasions-namely, a few hours before the murder could have occurred, and after it happened-that is, after the time it is supposed to have happened. On the latter occasion Mr, Cushing states that he saw Burgess moving in the direction of Wolston, and he is confident he doubled on his tracks. His appearance, when last seen by him, was, he says, by no means inviting, and in the case of very nervous persons might be calculated to inspire apprehension. Mr. Cushing is positive that Burgess is the man he saw near Oxley on Separation Day. Another most important identification of Burgess was that by Miss Florrie Lowe, who positively identified him as "the man at the sliprails" at Moran's paddock on the night of the Gatton tragedy. To-day Miss Lowe was positive that Richard Burgess was the man whom she saw that night.

Another important witness who identified Burgess was the boy who was driving with Mrs. Carroll on the night of the tragedy. Mrs. Carroll, it will be remembered, was returning from the Mount Sylvia races when she and her son saw a man in the vicinity of the sliprails. She did not get a good look at him, as he drew back in the shadows suddenly; but the boy did, and to-day he identified Richard Burgess as "resembling the man."

Another witness identified Burgess as having been in the neighbourhood of Gatton at an earlier hour during Boxing Day, and two others failed to identify him. During the identification test Burgess changed his position from fourth place to second place, but it made no difference in the result.

Burgess was then removed back to his cell, the other men dismissed with thanks, and the witnesses escorted back by Detective Head to the Gladstone Hotel.

Burgess expressed a desire to have a conversation with Sub-inspector White, which desire was immediately gratified, and a long talk ensued. An incident during identification deserves recording. While waiting for one of the witnesses, Burgess snatched the hat off the man alongside of him, but Sub-inspector White ordered him to keep his own hat, and put back the other.

Burgess left Toowoomba at 9 o'clock-, to-night by goods train for Gatton, under a strong -escort. He was taken the back way, via the goods-shed, so as to avoid publicity. Mr. Herbert, solicitor, applied for permission to see him on the larceny charge, but was refused.


Early on Monday afternoon six persons from the Gatton district, and one from Oxley, and a woman who resides at Cleveland, were given an opportunity of identifying Burgess. Seven men resembling the prisoner in height and build as nearly as possible, and all clad in ordinary working garb, were placed with Burgess in a yard.

The prisoner was told that he was at liberty to place himself wherever he wished.

Three out of the five witnesses from Gatton identified him, also the person from Cleveland.

An Oxley resident, and Mrs. Veitch, from Cleveland, identified him as the man seen there between November 30th and December 9th immediately they heard him speak, and before they inspected him.

Cushing, an old resident of Oxley, says he is positive that Burgess is the man he saw on two occasions, namely, before the murder of the boy Hill, and after the data on which it is supposed to have been committed. On the latter occasion he saw Burgess moving towards Wolston. Another important identification was made by a son of Mrs. Carroll, who, on returning with his mother from the Mt. Sylvia races on the night of the murder, saw a man resembling Burgess and another man near the sliprails.

Whilst the identification was proceeding Burgess changed his place, but the next person brought forward fixed upon him. Burgess then expressed a desire to have a conversation with Inspector White.

His application was granted, but with what result has not transpired.

Mr. Herbert, a solicitor, has been refused permission to speak to Burgess.


Campbell's paddock, which was referred to in fragments of a letter brought in by William M'Neill on Thursday, was further examined by Sub-Inspector White, with the trackers, on the same day. They returned late in the evening, and it is reported that they did not make any discovery.


Mr. Parry-Okeden, Chief Commissioner of police, has been here for some days. Detective - Inspector Urquhart, of the Criminal Investigation Department, has charge of operations, and working in conjunction with him are Sub inspectors Durham, White, Galbraith, Detective Toomey, and Sergeant King, the famous tracker.


The conduct of Burgess in his cell is not bad. He is nervous at times, but fairly composed generally.

Yesterday, after the identification proceedings, he did not relish the idea of giving up his clothes again, but after some patient remonstrance from Sub Inspector White he consented to change. At one time it seemed that violence would have to be resorted to get his old clothes off him.

This morning Burgees was marched, handcuffed, to the railway station, and taken to Toowoomba by the mail train. He wore no coat or waistcoat, and took no notice of anyone, and there was no demonstration on the part of the few people who were on the station.


The police authorities have adopted a somewhat novel course with respect to Richard Burgess, who was recently sentenced to two months' imprisonment for vagrancy, and who was originally arrested on the 6th January, and charged with being concerned in the Gatton tragedy. Burgess has been removed from the Brisbane Gaol and, under police escort, with Sub inspector White in charge, is being taken to various places where he states that he called after leaving the prison at St. Helena on the 30th  November last.


It is understood that the magisterial inquiry into the Gatton tragedy will be resumed in a few days.

There is an impression that recent investigations have not strengthened the theory with respect to the crimes having been committed by one person.

The Commissioner of Police, Inspector Urquhart, and Sub-inspector White held a consultation with respect to the case on Wednesday.


On the closing day of the session Mr. Dawson, Leader of the Opposition, asked a question as to whether it was true that on the day the Gatton murders were reported Sub-inspector White received the telegram and took it out with him in his pocket to the races.

The Home Secretary (Hon. J. F. O. Foxton) had a report made on the matter, and from this it appears that there was no foundation for the suggestion that Sub-inspector White did anything of the kind. As a matter of fact, he was not at the races on the day referred to, neither did he receive any wire notifying the Gatton murders.

This report of Sub-inspector White is corroborated by Inspector Stewart.


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 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 27th (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 26th 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 evidence of Sub-Inspector White went on to show that the telegram from Gatton was not delivered, as alleged, by a telegraph messenger.

The private wire received by Murphy from the constable stating that his two sisters and brother had been murdered was generally regarded at the police station as a hoax. Inspector Urquhart proceeded to show that redtapeism was really the cause of the delay, and that no earlier action was taken by the officials at headquarters.


First News of the Murder.

Sub-inspector White stated that about a quarter to 1 on 27th December Senior-sergeant Masterson telephoned from Roma street to the effect that Constable Murphy had received a telegram announcing that his sisters and brother had been murdered at Gatton, and that he had gone to get the matter confirmed.

News then came that the fact had been confirmed.

Witness then telephoned to the Commissioner's office, asking if there had been any news. It was about 1 o'clock.

Constable Hurst at the Commissioner's office said through the telephone that there was no telegram or news at that office.

Masterson had also stated that he had asked the CI. Branch.

Witness held himself in readiness for emergency; but did nothing further.

He gave Murphy the necessary leave.

Senior-sergeant Masterson, stationed at Roma-street, stated that about half-past 12 Constable Hoolahan handed him a telegram received by Murphy.

He at once telephoned it to White.

He asked the orderly (Hurst) at the Commissioner's office if there was any information there, as he said if there was any truth in it there must be some information at the Commissioner's office.

This was immediately after the telegram was placed in his hand.

He telephoned to the C.I. Branch and informed Inspector Urquhart of the contents of Murphy's telegram.

He believed that officer said there was no information at that branch. Murphy afterwards got his wire confirmed.

Another constable named Joe Murphy asked permission to accompany Dan Murphy (who was brother of deceased), and witness tried to ask permission from Sub-inspector White. But the officer was not at the depot.

He kept Joe Murphy waiting until close on train time, hoping to communicate with one of the sub-inspectors.

As he failed to do so he gave the permission on his own responsibility.

In communicating with the depot during the afternoon be stated to Sergeant Anderson there that Murphy's wire had been confirmed.

The messenger who came with two telegrams in the morning arrived much before the telegram for Murphy. He did not remember another messenger coming with a wire, and being sent on to the office of the Commissioner of Police about half-past 12.

By Inspector Urquhart: He did not remember inspector Urquhart asking him if the contents of Murphy's telegram were believed at the police station at Roma street.

He might have said to Urquhart that it was believed to be a hoax; it was generally treated so at the station.

Murphy himself did not seem to treat it very seriously.

Witness suggested it might be a hoax to get him home for the holidays; he said the man who sent it was a "harem scarem" fellow.


Inspector Urquhart had knowledge at a quarter to 1 o'clock that a telegram had been received by Daniel Murphy containing news of the murders, and was content to let the matter rest, as there was a rumour that the matter was a hoax.

At 1.15 Sub-inspector White had definite information about the murders, although not official, but did not take any action.