Hey There Everyone!
If you've followed me for a while, you will know that one of my passions is genealogy - that is, researching my family tree and where I come from. The earliest I've been able to go back is 1689 on one of my branches, with other branches going back to the mid-1700s. I've been able to find and learn about some amazing people in my ancestry, and there's been a number of intriguing stories unearthed. So that's what I want to share with you today - stories and people that make up the branches of my family tree.
Now, I started off this post with the intention of telling you a multitude of stories from all branches of my tree. But as I got writing, I knew it would be way too long to tell you all the stories, so we are just starting with one branch. One that just happens to have two major cases for murder and manslaughter. Grim, I know, but it's extremely fascinating.
a terrible case of fratricide...
My 4th Great Grandfather, William Hogan, came out from Ireland with his wife, Ellen in November 1857, settling in Benalla, Victoria. William's two brothers, Thomas and James, joined him at some point during the 60s. Before we get to the fratricide, William had some unfortunate luck while in Benalla. The first comes in January 1837 when a stack of wheat caught alight and was completely consumed, decimating that season's fortunes. Then in May, William's world was turned upside down when his wife Ellen went to town with the dray and horse to do shopping. With six children at home, the youngest of which was still breastfed, William grew worried when she failed to return home. He went up to the gate to find the horse feeding, having come home with Ellen deceased on the floor of the cart. This was the final straw for William, so he packed up his young family, the oldest being only eleven, and headed north to Bundalong, with his brothers. While life in Bundalong improved for William, he was about experience another terrible year.
William and his brothers erected many buildings on the 205 acre property, with Thomas eventually taking up a selection nearby and having James work for him. However, Thomas' fortunes were poor - he was not only broke and couldn't pay his brother, he'd also incurred a number of other debts. To help the situation, he signed a bill of sale for his land over to James, regretting the decision afterwards. This regret and alcohol was all it took for things to turn. On Saturday, 15 February 1879, the three brothers were at the local pub, with a lot of alcohol consumed. Thomas was threatening to shoot anyone who made a disparaging remark about Ned Kelly - who at this time was still at large and would be captured the following June. Eventually, the three left and started to make their way back to Thomas' hut. Here, Thomas, who was growing irritable, twice brandished an axe, fueled on by the grog. William, fearing what his brother could do in this state, told James to take his swag and spend the night at his place. However, when James left, Thomas followed, with a gun.
Thomas confronted James and the pair argued. When Thomas aimed his gun at James, the latter asked, 'You're not going to shoot me, Tom?', to which his brother replied, 'I've got you now, you beggar.' Thomas, who was standing quite close to his brother, fired a shot, the bullet lodging in James' left breast. His clothes then caught alight due to the close proximity. William, who had been nearby and heard the exchanged, rushed to try and extinguish the fire that was consuming his youngest brother's body. Eventually, with the help of Hugh Mackinnon and Ah Moy from the pub, they were able to put out the fire, but James' body was considerably burnt and charred. When the police arrived at 9am, they found Thomas, unarmed, kneeling beside the body, lamenting his actions. However, as police approached him, rifles aimed, his mood turned, declaring 'Don't point that at me like that; if I had a gun I'd drop you like a crock.' He was arrested for the wilful murder of his brother, to be put on trial in the Beechworth Assize.
The defence was calling it 'delirium tremens' - severe alcohol withdrawal with symptoms such as shaking, confusion and hallucinations - with the argument being that such an attack, when it comes on suddenly, could cause a person to rise up with an axe. Therefore, they argued, that this meant his charge should be manslaughter, not murder. The prosecutor for the Crown didn't see it as such, stating that Thomas had already stated his intentions of shooting anyone who threatened or approached him, so it was most definitely murder. The jury returned a guilty verdict and Thomas was sentenced to death by hanging at the Beechwoth Gaol.
On 9 June 1879, a large crowd waited outside the gates of the Gaol, eager to get a good spot near the gallows when they were allowed in. Reports say that Thomas appeared calm and jovial, even making a joke that it would take a long time to pick your way out of the manacles as the blacksmith removed the rivets. Before 9am, he was stood on the gallows and was administered the last sacrament. Then the executor, Mr Gately, who was himself serving a sentence in the Melbourne Gaol, affixed the rope around his next and drew the cap over his face. Thomas' body was left to hang for an hour before a post-mortem was carried out. His body was placed in a coffin full of quicklime and buried in a grave already containing two previously convicted men. He was the seventh of eight men to be executed at Beechworth.
James was buried at Burramine, later to be joined by his niece and brother after the turn of the century. And interestingly, I visited the Beechworth Courthouse and Old Beechworth Gaol not long before learning about this story, walking into the condemned mans cell and standing above and below the gallows where Thomas took his final breath. And I didn't even know it.
it happened at the hotel...
Now we move down two generations to my 3rd Great Uncle, Patrick Lawrence Gleeson, William Hogan's grandson. Paddy, as he was known due to his father also being Patrick, had become a share-farmer on Bulgandry Station at Bulgandra in southern NSW. In 1918, he began a relationship with the liscensee of the Bulgandra Hotel, Mary Devlin, a separated woman with five children. Initially spending weekends in the Hotel, working the bar and doing odd jobs to pay his way, he eventually moved in. Mary then seems to have grown closer with a man named Benjamin Ward, and around this time she grew tired of Paddy's seemingly layabout ways, going so far as to call the constable to evict her former lover.
Between 8-10 February 1919, Mary refused to serve Paddy his breakfast and evening meals, with this being repeated on Saturday, 9th. On that Saturday, Paddy was reading the paper in the Hotel when Mary came in, angry that he was sitting around reading a paper that she had paid for, ripping it from his hands. Paddy left and came back in the evening with a gun and confronted Mary in the Hotel's kitchen. The two argued, with insults thrown at one another and Paddy fired the gun, hitting Mary just above the right elbow. He then attempted to shoot himself, but failed to do so, simply shooting a hole through his beard, clipping his chin, with the bullet going out through the ceiling and tin roof.
Paddy left the scene, with Mary's daughter Marjorie finding her mother in the kitchen, bleeding profusely from her arm. Marjorie and her brother John managed to apply a tourniquet to her arm and drove her the 41-miles to Albury. During the journey, Mary passed out, and by the time she reached the doctor, she'd lost a lot of blood. It was decided that Mary's arm would have to be amputated, but instead of doing it at the time, it was put off until the following morning. With her arm amputated above her right elbow, Mary put in a good fight, but sadly passed away by 2pm that afternoon. Cause of death was stated as being due to haemorrhage and shock, resulting from a gunshot wound in the right forearm. However, a more contemporary cause of death has been stated as lead poisoning from the bullet.
Paddy, meanwhile, hadn't strayed far from the Hotel, and when the constable came, he didn't deny the charges. He was taken into custody, standing trial two months later at the Circuit Court in Albury. Here, Paddy regaled the conversation that took place between Mary and himself in the kitchen:
"I said I did not think she had treated me fairly. I had spent close on £100 in the place, including £25 I had borrowed. She called me a “rotten mongrel” – or something like that and turned towards me. She came closer to me and as she did so she moved her right hand. I stepped back a step. I was very angry. So was she. As I stepped back the gun went off. I never raised the gun or took any aim. She screamed and ran out of the kitchen. I turned the gun and fired at myself. I was in a very mad and angry state of mind. Then walked across to Parnby’s old place, sat down there for about an hour and asked Gunn to go see how she was. That is all."
Although Mary had passed, her dying deposition was read aloud to the court:
"Patrick Gleeson came to me about 11 p.m. on the 8th inst. He said, ‘You would not give me breakfast this morning. I’ll blow your brains out.’ I said, ‘Go away, and keep away from the place.’ That was all he said to me. He had a double-barrelled gun in his hand, and he put it up to his shoulder and fired straight at me. The charge hit me in my right arm. I was in the kitchen of the Bulgandra Hotel when this happened. No one else was present at that time. Gleeson was at the hotel before 11 o’clock that night. He was there all the evening. There was no quarrel. We had no words. He was residing at the hotel about eight months. I feel very bad. I realise that an operation has to be performed and that I am in danger of losing my life."
The jury eventually adjourned to deliberate, coming back four hours later, confused as to whether this was murder or manslaughter. The judge defined each term - murder if a person shot to kill or conflict grievous bodily harm; manslaughter if a person, spurred on by abuse or insult, lost control and shot without intent to take a life - and the jury adjourned again. They returned half an hour later with a verdict: manslaughter. Paddy was sentenced for 15 years in the Goulburn Goal. Although released in 1934, he did not return to his family in Yarrawonga until the 40s. By this time, his siblings all had substantial families, and most were unaware of who Uncle Paddy was, or that he had been in gaol. Rather, he had just been 'away in Sydney', and that was that.
Morbid as both these stories are, they are both extremely fascinating. It's kind of fun to be able to say that you've got some interesting, if not murderous, characters in your family tree. Besides, it's these major stories that you are able to find so easily in your research - there are numerous newspaper articles, court documents and gaol papers. It's easier to stumble upon stories like this, more-so than just stories of everyday life. So while some people may be ashamed to have so much scandal in their family tree, I love it.
And this is just the beginning. As I said, this is just one branch of my tree and there are still more interesting stories to tell. Don't worry, they aren't all dark and grim like this one, although some of the best ancestry stories are about death, murder and accidents.
Get digging into your own family tree, because you are sure to find a hidden gem that's a family legend.
See You Soon!
See DISCLAIMER for information about Affiliate Links