Skip to content →

Murder by Granite, 1859

On Monday 8 July 1861, The Argus—the now-defunct Melbourne morning daily newspaper—reported on a murder trial, or rather, gave a second hand account of it from an earlier report in the Castlemaine Advertiser.

It tells the story of a brawl—apparently between groups of ‘Irishmen’ and ‘Welshmen’—wherein one man sustained a terminal head injury after being assaulted with a shard of granite.

The doctor called to treat folks injured in the brawl was ‘Dr Young’. Perhaps this was Joseph Young, for whom the road over Mount Alexander is named?

Here is the text of the Argus article:

THE ALLEGED MURDER AT HARCOURT IN 1859.

 The following case, heard before the Castlemaine Police Court, is reported in the Castlemaine Advertiser of Friday last :—
John Callaghan was charged with the murder of Hugh Griffiths, at Harcourt, on the 30th of October, 1859. Mr. Flanagan appeared for the prisoner, and the superintendent of police prosecuted. 
George Hughes, miner, at Epsom, said that on the 30th of October, 1859, that being Sunday,he was in the Talbot Hotel, Harcourt. In the morning, about ten o'clock, a number of Irishmen came into the tap-room, and attacked some Welshmen. Himself and the deceased were Welsh. The prisoner was among the Irish in the bar, drinking. Some words passed about a quarry, some trespass being alleged on the part of the Welsh. A few minutes after this, a general row took place. He saw a man called Thomas Jones, who struck the deceased, when fitness asked him to try and stop the row. The prisoner at this time was beating John Roberts. He carried Roberts up stairs, leaving the deceased in the bar with the prisoner. About five minutes afterwards witness saw from the top of the stairs the deceased chased through the porch. His eyes were bunged up. He hid hold of the bannisters, and tried to get up stairs, but fell over on his side. About two hours after this the row was continued in the garden. Witness saw the prisoner pounding the face of a man called" Bristol Jack," whom he was holding on the ground. Witness afterwards saw the deceased, and blood was running from about his eyes. Next day he noticed a cut on the deceased's forehead, and he appeared affected in his head, like a drunken man. By Mr. Flanagan.—I did not notice the cut until the day after the row, although I had previously washed the deceased's face. My countrymen there were John Roberts, John Williams, and the deceased. There were a number of Irish. The Welsh did not get a reinforcement. The deceased said he did not know who gave him the cut. Re-examined.—I identified the body of Hugh Griffiths at the inquest, about three weeks after the row. 
Robert Gravenor, farmer, said he knew the prisoner. On the 30th of October he was at the Talbot Hotel, Harcourt, and saw the deceased there. About three o'clock in the afternoon they were in the garden with twenty or thirty others. A fight commenced between two quarrymen, which soon became general. Soon after he saw the prisoner sitting across the chest of a man who was lying on his back. He had a piece of granite in his hand. The man's face was too much covered with blood to say who he was. Witness afterwards saw the deceased with his face covered with blood. He had previously seen him in the garden. The prisoner was hitting the man over the head with the piece of granite, which was a three cornered piece, and two or three inches long. He did not see the deceased fighting. By Mr. Flanagan.—There appeared to be between 20 and 30 in the garden, all fighting together. The deceased came into the garden a few minutes after the first fight began. The deceased never mentioned the prisoner's name when witness had conversation with him. 
Alfred Pilfoot, farmer, living near Guildford, remembered one Sunday in October, 1859, being at the Talbot Hotel, Harcourt. The prisoner was in the garden, fighting with some Welsh-men. He had a stone in his hand, hitting any one who came near. Afterwards he had a man down on the ground, hitting him in the face with the stone. He did not at this time see the deceased, unless he was the man on the ground. Next day, he saw the deceased with some cuts on his face. The stone the prisoner had in his hand was a three-cornered piece of granite. By Mr.Flanagan.—There were about fifteen Irishmen fighting about eleven or twelve Welshmen.
Dr. Young remembered a disturbance having occurred at Harcourt in 1859. He was sent for to the Talbot Hotel to dress the wounds of several. Griffiths, the deceased, was one. His eyes were bunged up, and he had a cut on the top of his forehead. It was a punctured wound, as if he had been struck with a nail or a piece of glass. He was satisfied a stone could not have done it. A piece of granite would not have done it, unless it was very sharp, like the point of a nail. Griffiths died, and witness identified his body at the inquest.
Dr. Hutchison, resident-surgeon of the Castlemaine Hospital, remembered Hugh Griffiths being admitted to the hospital on the 17th November, 1859. He was partially paralysed. There was a small punctured wound in his forehead, which had partially healed. On probing the wound he found the bone bare. The wound must have been caused by something pointed. A pointed stone might have caused it. The man died on the 6th of December; and witness, with Dr. McGrath, made a post-mortem examination. The outer table of the skull was fractured, but not the inner. There was a small piece of bone, the size of a pea, loose. An abscess had formed in the centre of the anterior portion of the brain, in the upper lobe, corresponding with the wound. The deceased died from the abscess, which he believed was occasioned by a blow. The deceased died in a convulsion fit. 
Dr. McGrath was present at the post-mortem examination held on the deceased, and described the wound similarly to the last witness. 
Mr. Reid stated that the most important witness was not able to leave the Benevolent Asylum, and the Bench adjourned the case for this evidence till three o'clock, at the Asylum. 
In the afternoon, the depositions of Groat, the witness alluded to, were taken. He identified the prisoner as the man he saw using the piece of granite upon a man who was down, and swore that man was the deceased Griffiths. 
This was all the evidence, Constable Gordon having been fortunate in tracing out, within a week, all the witnesses who gave evidence before the coroner in October, 1859.
The prisoner was fully committed on the charge of murder. 

Thanks to the National Library of Australia’s excellent online archive, Trove, you can see the original Argus article in context.

—added by David J Ling, PhD