The early death of the bushranger George Palmer

George Charles Frederick Palmer
George Charles Frederick Palmer (c. 1846 – 24 November 1869) was born and brought up  in Queanbeyan, New South Wales. He was named after both his father and grandfather who were both named George Thomas Palmer.  His father was George Thomas PALMER (1809 - 1889) and his mother was Selina Augusta ROWES (1820 - 1902). He was their third son. His grandfather, George Thomas Palmer, (1784-1854) was a landowner and magistrate who acquired extensive lands and stock in Australia including Ginninderra Station

History of the time.

In January 1867 the Queensland Government offered a £3,000 reward for the discovery of payable goldfields in the state. As a direct result of this 1867 saw new goldrushes in Queensland. The most important discovery in 1867 was when James Nash discovered gold at Gympie
THOSE wild and colourful days in American frontier history, when bandits infested the coach routes to the goldfield towns of California and Texas, had their Queensland counter-part in the lonely stretch of country between the Gympie gold-field and Brisbane in the late sixties. Stage robberies were so frequent in 1868 and 1869 the Brisbane newspapers ran the stories under small headings in their news columns and rarely devoted more than an inch of space to them. Gangs of robbers ranged the country in the triangle between Gympie, Kilkivan, and Maryborough. They were always well mounted on horses stolen from station paddocks, and their practice was to wait in ambush among the scrub on the side of the lonely bush track until the coach horses driven at a jog trot reached the spot where they were hidden. Then, from both sides of the road in front of the horses' heads, and also at the rear of the coach, the robbers would emerge flourishing sawn-off shotguns and pistols. 
George Palmer's Time in Queensland.
George Charles Frederick Palmer moved to Queensland from New South Wales and married Sarah Robertson in 1868.

Palmer had many adventures with the police during his brief and eventful life. He rode a splendid grey thoroughbred named Bobby, which he had stolen from Morinish station. On this animal he escaped from the police repeatedly.

He was an expert horseman, and the animal was a fine steeple-chaser, saving its rider from capture on many a wild chase by leaping over high fences at whichthe police horses baulked.

One evening in 1868 Palmer galloped up to the punt on the north side of the Fitzroy River, trying to make a getaway from two troopers who were after him for horse stealing. Just as Palmer dismounted at the ferry approach, and led his horse on board, the two troopers cantered along the approach and boarded the ferry, a clumsy wooden contraption worked by long sweeps.
The ferryman whispered to Palmer to help him with the sweeps. The night was dark, and the police, thinking Palmer was miles away, bestowed only a casual glance at the man industriously working at the sweeps in the shadows, believing him to be a ferry employee.
They told the ferryman they were looking for Palmer, and asked him if he had seen him. He denied having done so, and when the punt reached the other side of the river the two constables galloped away without suspicion. Palmer lost no time in escaping in the opposite direction.

PALMER was not seen again for several weeks, and it was commonly believed that during this
time he was operating with a gang of bushrangers between Gympie and Maryborough. One day he returned, and lived in a hut in the bush outside Rockhampton.

Throughout much of 1868, Palmer led a gang that bailed up coaches along roads leading out of Gympie, which was experiencing a gold rush. In January 1869, he and a gang member, William Bond, attempted to rob a Cobb & Co coach travelling along Brisbane Road. One of the occupants, Bank of New South Wales manager Selwyn King, shot both bushrangers. The wounded Bond was later arrested, but Palmer escaped to Rockhampton, where, in April 1869, he and several other bushrangers were involved in the murder of gold buyer Patrick Halligan.

Four men concocted a plan to waylay and rob Halligan. George Palmer, a wild and reckless rogue of 26, and a splendid horseman, who was suspected of bushranging activities and was known as a horse thief, was the leader of this dark enterprise. His confederates were:—John Williams, known as "Old Jack," a man in his fifties, whose bushy beard and whiskers almost concealed his face, and whose reputation was that of a spieler and an associate of criminals; Alexander Archibald, a dark-complexioned man with a face deeply pitied by smallpox, a horse-breaker and horse-dealer, who was a fine cross-country rider; Charles Taylor, a man of 25, also a good horseman. From The Trove 'THE MURDER of HALLIGAN' Sunday Mail, 18th June 1939

The Queensland Government offered a reward of £200 for the capture of Palmer; the people of Rockhampton put up another £428. Palmer returned to Gympie, where his wife lived, and hid in a sandstone cave near Eel Creek. He was captured and arrested by police on 28 May 1868 and identified based on the bullet wound he received from Selwyn, on the corner of his elbow. 

We append a description of Palmer, as furnished by Inspector Lloyd :'George Charles Frederick  Palmer, stockman, native of New South Wales, aged 23, 5 feet 6 or 9— some say 10 inches high, medium or stoat build, dark curly hair, short whiskers, lately shaved,teeth project When laughing, rather good looking, scar over one of eyes, said to have marks on back of hand, also an old gunshot wound on corner of elbow.'

George Palmer and Alexander Archibald were convicted of the murder of local publican and gold trader Patrick Halligan.


George Charles Frederick Palmer was the first of the prisoners arraigned, charged with the wilful murder of Patrick Halligan, on the 25th of April, 1869.

The Attorney-General (the Hon. C. Lilley, Q.C.), with him the Hon. R. Pring, Q.C., and Mr. S. W. Griffith, appeared to prosecute. Mr R. Baird, instructed by Mr. H. J. W. Bowker, appeared for the prisoner, who pleaded not guilty. The following jury was empanelled :--- George Forman, John Rees, R. S. Davidson, John Shannon, S. N. Spong, Frederick Goddard, Luke Pike, John Gibbs, R. Camp, E. Butler, R. Irwin, and Joseph Brown.

The prisoner was allowed to sit, and the Attorney-General opened the case for the Crown. Nearly the whole of the first day was taken up in producing evidence of the finding of the body. The hat, whip, and other things found near the scene of the murder were identified as Halligan's, as were also the body itself and the clothes and boots found on it. This portion of the evidence was all very complete. The discovery of the body and the way it was bound and weighted with a bag of bricks, were fully explained, so that quite apart from the statements of three of the prisoners, there could be no doubt that the man whose body was found in the Fitzroy River, near the Eight-mile Island, was Patrick Halligan.
Then came the evidence of several persons who saw Halligan returning from the Morinish. Two witnesses stated they saw him on the downs, about three miles from where the murder took place, about half-past five o'clock.
Mrs. M'Nevin, wife of one of the prisoners, stated that she lived at the Ten-mile (or Wells) sheep station, two miles from Murray's, and knew Palmer, who had been about the Agricultural Reserve during February, March, and April. He always carried a revolver. In March,1869, she saw Palmer and said to him : "I thought you had left the district ?" Palmer replied : " I would have, only for Alick Archibald, who wishes me to remain another week." That was the last conversation she had with the prisoner.

The next witness to enter the box was Donald M'Nevin, a shepherd, who had been committed in the case for abetting murder. He stated he had known Palmer for about eighteen months. During the previous February, the witness was feeding his sheep around Baker's deserted house, when he saw a man sitting on the doorstep. M'Nevin walked up to the man, whom he then recognised as Palmer,
and bade him good day. He then asked : 
"Have you rented this place?" 
"Yes," was the reply. 
"Are you not Palmer ?" asked M'Nevin.
Palmer answered : "Yes : you would not have got up to the steps had I not known you." 
"Why ?" queried M'Nevin.
"Because I would have blown your brains out," said Palmer, adding, "I do not want anyone to know I am about here, and by G-- if you tell I will take your life."
M'Nevin replied : "I do not know much about you, and will not say anything."
Further conversation followed, during which Palmer said his mate was in town after rations, and he was expecting him every minute. Palmer had one revolver in his hand and another lay on the floor. As M'Nevin was going away, John Williams and Charles Taylor rode up, took the saddles off their horses and went inside the house. As M'Nevin moved off, Palmer came after him, and asked if he
could give him some sugar, as Williams and Taylor had brought none out. He told M'Nevin their names, and said they were his mates, Williams being the principal one.
A few days subsequently M'Nevin saw Palmer again, and after some remarks, asked him :
" How is it you do not go away from here when you are so frightened to be seen ?"
Palmer said : '"Well, I will tell you ; but by G-- if you tell anybody what I say to you I will take your life."
M'Nevin said he was frightened, and promised to say nothing about what he was told, and Palmer remarked : "I am put on a 'lay.' I want to wait to see Halligan to rob him !"

Nothing further was said at the time, and two or three weeks afterwards M'Nevin saw Palmer again on the open downs. In reply to a question, Palmer said he had been up country after horses. He also said he was getting sick and tired of waiting about ; but Archibald wanted him to wait for something to turn up, and meanwhile he was supplying him with food and what little money he needed.
From the 13th of March, M'Nevin saw Palmer nearly every day, and sometimes Williams and Taylor. M'Kevin's child died, and his wife went into Rockhampton. On the 25th of April, M'Nevin saw both Palmer and Williams, and they were arranging their swags on their saddles. About five o'clock in the afternoon he saw them riding in the direction of the Six-mile scrub. This was evidently the time they were watching for the return of Halligan.
M'Nevin next saw Palmer on a Tuesday night after the murder. Williams was with Palmer, but Palmer got on his horse and came over to M'Nevin, and said: "M'Nevin, do you know what it is ; I shot Halligan !"
" Good God, you wretch," said M'Nevin. 
Palmer returned : "Don't you tell Old Jack I told you, and if you split I will blow your brains out." Palmer subsequently told M'Nevin that he had to kill Halligan as he knew him (Palmer).

The remainder of the evidence was with regard to Palmer showing and giving away pieces of his gold, and his arrest at Gympie by Inspector Lloyd. Palmer's statement, in which he said it was Williams who fired the fatal shot, was put in as evidence, and then the Attorney-General closed the case. It should be mentioned that Palmer's statement was very strong against Archibald. and no doubt biased the public mind somewhat. Palmer, however, was readv to blame anyone but himself, and his statement admittedly contained a lot of lies. On the other hand, Archibald gave his evidence in. the witness box, on oath, aud was cross-examined on it, and as it was not shaken in any way what he said is certainly more worthy of credence than the story of the man who, having committed the murder, wished to throw the blame on others.

Mr. Baird, in his address to the jury for the defence, urged that it was possible if Palmer shot Hailigan, and not Williams, as Palmer had said it van, the pistol might have gone off accidentally. Archibald was the man, he contended, who detained and goaded on Palmer to rob Halligan. He believed the jury, after careful consideration of the case, would see that there were many circumstances which would tell in Palmer's favour, and how that he was not guilty to the same degree as the others.

The Attorney-General showed how clear the evidence was against the prisoner.

He believed that both Palmer and Williams fired at Halligan, and that Halligan never fired at all. One of them missed, and the bullet struck the tree, and the other shot Halligan through the ' body. Palmer fired from the front and Williams from behind. He believed they intended to murder Halligan from the first, as neither were disguised, and they expected to get £300 or £600 worth of gold on him.

The Judge then summed up, and the jury retired. After an absence of seven minutes they returned into Court with a verdict of' guilty. In spite of all his cruelty and wickedness, it was hard to withhold a little pity from the now repentant young man who had been sitting in the dock, broken and gloomy, listening to a recapitulation of his great crimes. Despair 'was written on his features; for him— 'Even ev'ry ray of hope destroyed, And not a wish to gild the gloom.' During the 'whole trial he had shown no emotion. The same calm, set look on his face was maintained throughout. When asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed on him, Palmer murmured 'No,' and the Judge pronounced the dreadful sentence that he was to be hanged. FROM TROVE: The Capricornian, Rockhampton 13th December, 1902.

The night before he was hanged, at Rockhampton Gaol, Palmer made a written confession in which he stated simply. "I shot Halligan." George Charles Frederick Palmer died on 24 Nov 1869 at Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia aged 23.

I can find no reason why George Palmer moved to Queensland away from his family and started a life of crime. One can only surmise that he, like many others of the time, moved to Queensland to find his fortune due to the gold rushes in the area. As with all large gold discoveries crime grew as individuals and coaches were robbed for their gold.


No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...