Monday, March 8, 2010

Ellen LYNCH, widow of William WOOD, and of William THOMSON; hanged as a murderess.

Ellen LYNCH, a native of County Cork, arrived in N.S.W. on 6 April 1858, on board the ship Joshua, with her widowed mother Mary LYNCH (aged 36, daughter of Michael and Ellen MURPHY, both deceased), and her younger sister Mary (aged 9).
Ellen's age was recorded in the Immigration Board's Passenger Indent as 11 years (although the accuracy of this is questioned by  records of her age in later documents); her mother's birthplace was recorded as Dromtariffe, County Cork (as was that of herself and her sister, although some evidence suggests they may have been born instead in Ballyvourney, County Cork); her parents were recorded as Thomas and Mary LYNCH, father deceased and mother on board ship; their religion was Roman Catholic; and none could Read or Write.

Ellen was hanged in Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane, on 13 June 1887, aged 41. She had been tried in Townsville, on 17 May 1887, for the murder of her second husband, William THOMSON, at Port Douglas, eight months earlier, on 13 September 1886, along with her accomplice, a British Marines deserter named John HARRISON, who was hanged shortly after her.

"Ellen strenuously denied her guilt upon the gallows, and insisted that her innocence would be established. She was a very talkative woman, of a cheerful temperament. Had led a rough, hard life in the northern part of Queensland and had probably learned to attach little value to life. Not a bad dispositioned woman, very temperate in her habits. Capable and industrious. Died instantaneously."
[Unsigned remarks attached to a police dossier, recording her arrival details, personal details, physical description, charge and sentence, and a formal portrait photograph, reproduced above, taken 17 May 1887.]


Ellen's parents, Thomas LYNCH and Mary MURPHY, were probably married in Dromtariffe, R.C., 27 April 1833; Mary was of Racool (probably Rathcoole). Details of the marriage were not recorded in the transcript of the Dromtariff R.C. Register published by Albert Eugene O'CASEY in his "O'Keif, Coshe Mang, ..."; but they were recorded in the on-line transcript at the web-site.

Ellen was recorded, in the passenger list compiled by the N.S.W. Immigration Board on her arrival in Sydney in 1858, presumably on information supplied by her mother, as being aged 11 years, which indicates her birth between April 1846 and April 1847. Her age at death was 41, and was probably recorded on her own information, although her Police file did contain details of the 1858 Joshua arrival, which indicates a birth between June 1845 and June 1846. Taken together, we might confidently speculate that she was born sometime during the period April to June 1846.
Ellen also recorded her age at her 2 marriages, and when she informed the births of 2 of her 5 children in N.S.W., but as she appears to have been not yet 16 at her first marriage, it is not surprising that she "elevated" her age in these registrations, indicating an earlier but unlikely birth in early 1843.
However, when her mother Mary recorded her own age on arrival in 1858, she gave it as 36 - which cannot be correct if she was married in 1833, when she would have been only 11.
It follows that if Mary's age was wrong, so might be that of her daughters - and at least one researcher has suggested that Ellen's age was lowered to put her as an under-12 for the voyage, and perhaps thereby qualifying for a cheaper passage.

Ellen's baptism is not recorded in available transcriptions of the Dromtariff R.C. baptismal Register for the years January 1841 to December 1848.
But, on 19 December 1836, there was baptised there, Joanna LYNCH, daughter of Thomas LYNCH and Mary MURPHY, of Buolimore, sponsored by W'm RIORDAN and Hanorah MURPHY. This appears certain to be an elder sister to Ellen.
Further, on 16 February 1841, Mary's alleged sister, Hanora MURPHY of Buolimore, married John HEFFERNAN (see below); from this, it is clear that the MURPHY family was, for a time, associated with the Townland of Buolimore alias Boolymore, Bolemore or Bolimore, just south of the River Blackwater, in the Barony of Duhallow, County Cork.

Twenty kilometres to the south-west, at Ballyvourney, about 15 km W.N.W. of Macroom on the road to Kilkenny, Thomas LYNCH and Mary MURPHY had a son John baptised R.C., 10 October 1844; if the same couple (and we have no other evidence as yet of another with the same names), we have yet another sibling for Ellen.
Further, Thomas LYNCH and Mary MURPHY had another child baptised at Ballyvourney, December 1841 (name and day unreadable; sponsors Con HEALY Ellen L...); and a Tim'y LYNCH (probably in error for Thos) and Mary MURPHY had a child baptised at Ballyvourney in April 1849 (all other details unreadable except for 1st sponsor, Michael LYNCH), which may just have been Ellen's younger sister Mary - once again, there were no other mentions of a Mary MURPHY spouse named Tim LYNCH. Most entries for 1846, Ellen's probable birth year, appear to have since gone missing.

It may indicate the direction Thomas LYNCH was heading after he left Dromtariff, and before his death; but it is in the opposite direction from Mallow, where Ellen had a notion she was born.
But there may be another explanation - Ballyvourney is definitely a LYNCH family stronghold; there were 8 families of the name recorded at Ballymakeery Townland alone (Griffith's Valuation returns, about 1852), including Thomas LYNCH, occupying 78 acres. Ballyvourney may have been the native place of Ellen's father.

After arriving in Sydney, Ellen and her sister were apparently taken by their mother Mary to live with their aunt and her sister, the same Honora HEFFERNAN alias MURPHY mentioned above, together with her husband John and family, at Gurrundah, County Argyle, near Goulburn.

No trace has yet been found in N.S.W. of the death of Ellen's mother Mary (living 1861, and perhaps still living in 1887).
However, Ellen's alleged aunt, Hanorah HEFFERNAN alias MURPHY, died at Gurrundah, District of Goulburn, on 30 January 1866, aged 46, Reg'd #4143, her parents named as Patrick MURPHY and Ellen CALLAGHAN - thereby Ellen's supposed maternal MURPHY grandparents - except that Mary LYNCH had, in 1858, had recorded her father instead as Michael MURPHY.
Further details in Hanora's death registration confirm her birth in Ireland, her marriage in 1841, that she had been in the Australian Colonies for 19 years, and that she had given birth to five boys and two girls living, and two boys and one girl deceased.
Hanorah's husband John HEFFERNAN, a native of Kanturk, County Cork, died at Gurrundah on 11 April 1878 #5922, parents John and Elizabeth (both died in Goulburn, John Senior on 21 August 1865, aged 85, son of Richard and Honorah; and Elizabeth on 4 June 1860, aged 65 or 67; both buried in the Old Goulburn Burial Ground in Mortis Street; their daughter-in-law Hanora was buried in the same grave).

John and Hanorah's children, Ellen's cousins, included:
1. John HEFFERNAN, baptised at Dromtariffe, County Cork, February 1842; aged 6 on arrival in N.S.W. on the ship "Hyderabad," 19 February 1848; died at Goulburn, 17 September 1862.
2. Patrick HEFFERNAN, baptised at Dromtariffe, October 1846; aged 1, ditto; died at Goulburn, 1941; married Ann, issue:
     a. Hanora HEFFERNAN, born at Gurrundah, 1870; died at Goulburn, 6 June 1923, aged 53.
     b. Mary HEFFERNAN, born Goulburn, 1873; probably Mrs BAIN of Sydney, 1923.
     c. Nellie HEFFERNAN, born Goulburn, 1877; of Goulburn, 1923, unmarried.
     d. John HEFFERNAN; of Dalton, 1923.
     d. Patrick HEFFERNAN; of Gurrundah, 1923.
     e. Jeremiah HEFFERNAN, born Goulburn, 1878; of W.A., 1923. 
     f. Michael Joseph HEFFERNAN, born Gurrundah, 1880; of Bimbi, 1923.
     g. William HEFFERNAN; of N.Z., 1923.
3. William HEFFERNAN, born at Gurrundah, 24 April 1849; died at Goulburn, 9 June 1936, aged 87 (although the index records his father as William, so perhaps another); married firstly, in Goulburn, 1875, Margaret Mary QUINN, who died at Goulburn, 8 June 1878; issue:
     a. William John HEFFERNAN, born Goulburn, 1876; died in Goulburn, 19 November 1927.
     b. Margaret HEFFERNAN, born Goulburn, 1878.
William married secondly, Mary MOORE, who died in March 1909, aged 55.
4. Jeremiah HEFFERNAN, born at Gurrundah Creek, 29 June 1851; died at Goulburn, 5 June 1877.
5. Denis HEFFERNAN, born at Gurrundah, 8 February 1853; died at Gurrundah, 11 June 1878.
6. Ellen Mary HEFFERNAN, born at Gurrundah, 18 January 1855; died at Laggan, 21 April 1893; married at Goulburn, 23 April 1879, John Thomas NAUGHTON; issue.
7. Daniel HEFFERNAN, born at Gurrundah, 14 October 1856; died at Kyogle, 1949; married at Crookwell, 4 July 1882, Catherine Rose McCORMACK.
8. (male), born and died at Goulburn, 1858.
9. Elizabeth HEFFERNAN, born at Goulburn, 1859 #7542; died at Hilston, 10 August 1898; married at Goulburn, 1883, Michael MAHON; issue.
10. Honorah HEFFERNAN, born at Goulburn, 1861 #7494; died there 1861 #2994.

And Ellen's niece was born at Gurrundah on 6 October 1862 - Mary Anne LYNCH, illegitimate daughter of Mary LYNCH (aged 18), the Registrar informed by the child's grandmother, Mary LYNCH Senior.
It is possible that, as Mary Anne WOODS, she was married St Xavier's R.C. Church at Gunning, on 27 August 1884, to Jeremiah William O'NEILL (he died in Tumut in 1941); and that, as Mary Anne Agnes O'NEILL, she died at Kenmore Hospital, near Goulburn, on 2 January 1913 (in the Registration, her birthplace was recorded as Gurrundah, her parents were named as William WOODS and Mary Ann LYNCH, and her ages was recorded as 43 at death, and 17 at marriage), having had issue 4 sons and 3 daughters who survived her.

By the time of her first marriage, Ellen was a servant, living at Gurrunda, County Argyle, about 30 km W.N.W. of Goulburn.

By a curious co-incidence, there was enrolled at Port Douglas State School, on 11 November 1879, one Maria J. LYNCH, aged 10 years and 9 months. BDM indexes in Qld and N.S.W. do not record her birth under that name; it is not yet known whether she may have been related to Ellen WOOD, whose own children were enrolled in the same school over a number of subsequent years.
She may have been the Maria LYNCH who was married in Qld, in 1885, to Peter FINN; and she was probably the Maria FINN who died in Qld in 1948, her parents recorded as Thomas LYNCH and Mary NASON; which does not confirm any relationship between her and Ellen, unless Ellen had a brother Thomas.


[The original 1839 St Saviour's Church, Goulburn. The present Cathedral church was built "around" it, 1874-78.
Image courtesy of the web-page.]

Her husband was William WOOD, a Labourer, also of Gurrunda, and the marriage was consecrated in St Saviour's, Goulburn, on 23 July 1862, according to the Rites of the Church of England. Ellen was aged 19, and consent was given by her mother Mary LYNCH, who so endorsed the Statutory Registration (but not the church register). Ellen's father was named on the registration as Thomas LYNCH, Labourer, and her mother as Mary MURPHY. Ellen's birthplace was recorded as County Cork, in Ireland; this was clarified in a later statutory registration in Qld as Mallow. William and Ellen, as well as her mother Mary, all unable to write, made their "X" marks.

[The Marriage Notice published in the Goulburn Herald.
Image courtesy of National Library of Australia (via their trove web-site).]

William was born at Baulkham Hills, near Parramatta, on 17 November 1826, son of John WOOD, a former convict (born Lancashire about 1796; transported on the ship Ocean, arrived 5 February 1816; buried St John's, Parramatta, 27 June 1832), by his wife (married St Matthew's, Windsor, 5 May 1823) Maria KENTWELL.

William's baptism, at Castle Hill on 28 January 1827, was recorded on page 1 of the Picton Register of similar date, but does not yet appear in the N.S.W. pre-registration indexes to church registers.

[The Picton Register page of Castle Hill baptisms, with entries for William WOOD and his first cousin Charlotte ROUGHLEY. The sisters Mrs Maria WOOD and Mrs Harriett ROUGHLEY were daughters of William KENTWELL
 and Elizabeth MORRIS.
Image courtesy of the Society of Australian Genealogists, microfilm Reel 0195, S.A.G. library copy.]

William's mother, Maria WOOD, was born at Toongabbie, about 1806, a daughter of two other former convicts, William KENTWELL (transported on the ship Admiral Barrington, arrived October 1791), and his wife Elizabeth MORRIS, later THOMPKINS (transported on the ship Mary Ann, arrived July 1791). Maria married twice more before her death at Baulkham Hills on 1 September 1881 - secondly at St John's, Parramatta, on 17 March 1834, to John GREENWOOD (he was a convict assigned to the WOOD household, and by him she had six more children) - and thirdly in the same church, on 6 March 1854, to widower Samuel BALDWIN (he died in 1904, without out further issue by her).
John and Maria had other issue:
1. Elizabeth WOOD, born at Baulkham Hills, 1824; died at Castle Hill, 1896; married at Parramatta, 1840, John Williams FOSTER of Castle Hill, with issue an only son.
2. John WOOD, born at Baulkham Hills, 1829; further particulars unknown.
4. Mary Ann WOOD, born at Baulkham Hills, 1830; died at Castle Hill, 1904; married at Castle Hill, 1850, James CRANE, with issue.
5. Eliza WOOD, born at Dural, 1833; died at Granville, 1894; married at Parramatta, 1855, Charles CLARK, with issue.
Maria was evidently still living when her daughter-in-law Ellen THOMSON was hanged in Brisbane.


Ellen followed William around the southern highlands and slopes, as he worked variously at labouring, boundary riding, farming and stone cutting. She had 5 children by him, the 5th after William had died, their birthplaces showing the growing family's progress through the region:

1. Victoria WOODS, born at Winderadeen, Lake George, 24 May 1863 (her father a Labourer); as Victoria Jane, she died at Wagga Wagga, on 22 August 1867, aged 4, of Scarlet Fever (father a Fencer), and was buried at Wagga Wagga Cemetery, without a Minister in attendance.

2. John WOOD, born at Currawang, near Collector, 28 August 1865 (father a Labourer); probably sent south by his mother soon after her 2nd marriage in Port Douglas, unless he had been left behind on their way north; later known as John Reginald WOOD, and raised by his paternal aunt Elizabeth FOSTER alias WOOD at Southleigh, Castle Hill; Orchardist in Castle Hill, and then Secretary to the Tamworth Agricultural Society and Caretaker of the Tamworth Showground; he died in Tamworth, on 23 October 1920.

[Part of the marriage portrait of John Reginald WOOD, 1892.
Original Studio print in the PIGOTT of Ceylon Family Album, now in my possession.]

John Reginald WOOD was married at St Paul's Anglican Church, Castle Hill, on 28 January 1892, to Effie Giles PIGOTT (born at Maradana, Colombo, Ceylon, 8 November 1870, daughter of Rev Henry Robert PIGOTT, Baptist Missionary, and later Anglican Curate at Castle Hill, by Ellen GILES - they emigrated to N.S.W. in 1890 - see separate blog on this site, posted June 2009, and entitled "A Missionary in Ceylon: Henry Robert PIGOTT"); Effie died in Tamworth, on 13 March 1943.
John Reginald and Effie had issue.
a. Reginald Kenneth WOOD, born at  Castle Hill, 20 November 1893, and married Ruby CAMERON, with issue.
b. Marion Katherine WOOD, born at Castle Hill, 10 February 1895, and married Henry KELSO, with issue.
c. Ethelwyn Irene WOOD, born at Castle Hill, 1896, and died aged 21.
d. Francis William John WOOD, born at Castle Hill, 14 December 1897, married 1927, Marguerite BARBER, with issue.
e. Harold Edwin WOOD, born at Tamworth, 12 July 1899, married with issue.
f. Grace Freda WOOD, born at Tamworth, 4 October 1900, married Ernest MOSS, with issue.
g. Ellen Marjorie WOOD, born at Tamworth, 19 March 1903, married George INGRAM with issue.
h. Effie Dorothy WOOD, born at Tamworth, 1905, and died aged 6 months.
j. Evelyn Janie WOOD, born at Tamworth, 23 October 1906, married Keith MILLER, with issue.
k. Lillian Edith WOOD, born at Tamworth, 28 May 1909, married Edward DOUGLAS, with issue.
Well-known Tamworth Citizen.
"Mr. John Reginald WOOD, the well known secretary of the Tamworth Pastoral and Agricultural Association, died
in the Tamworth District Hospital on Saturday night. He had been ailing for about a fortnight, the sickness being induced by blood poisoning. Previous to this, however, his health had been very indifferent for two years past.
"Deceased was born at Adelong, New South Wales, and was 55 years of age.
"He was educated at King's School, Parramatta; before coming to Tamworth 23 years ago, he followed the occupation of an orchardist at Castle Hill, near Parramatta, for a number of  years. In Tamworth he carried on the business of a commission agent, and for 23 years was also secretary of the P. and A. Association, an office which he filled with satisfaction to the Show Committee and all concerned.
"The high esteem in which Mr. WOOD was held was shown by the large procession which followed his funeral, and
which contained representatives not only of the P. and A. Association, but the Municipal Council and other public
bodies, as well as many private citizens.  The burial took place in the Church of England portion of tho West Tamworth cemetery yesterday afternoon, members of the Show Committee acting as pall-bearers. The Rev. Canon Fairbrother officiated at the service A very large number or floral tributes was sent in, including wreaths from the P. and A.
Association Committee.
"Deceased is survived by a widow, three sons — Ken, Frank, and Harold (all of Tamworth), and five daughters— Marion and  Grace (Sydney), and Nellie, Jane and Lillian."
[Daily Observer (Tamworth), Monday 25 October 1920, page 2 - courtesy of the trove web-site.]

3. Ellen WOOD, born at Wagga Wagga, 21 July 1867 (father a Fencer); later known as Ella Evelena or just Evy; enrolled at Port Douglas Primary School, in the 1st class, 9 May 1881, aged 13 years and 10 months (residing at Port Douglas, parent a Storekeeper), and leaving in June 1881; remained with her mother, and spent the 9 years prior to her marriage "working" for Billy THOMSON; her marriage took place in St Andrew's (C. of E.), Port Douglas, on 13 September 1886, to John George ROBBINS, a farmer residing on the Mowbray River, near Port Douglas; it appears that Billy THOMSON had "planned" for her to marry his brother Tom, and was much enraged when he learnt of her plans to marry ROBBINS, whom he banned from visiting his estate; in his rage he threw a lighted kerosene lamp at Evey.

[A view of the Port Douglas Cemetery.]

Ella died at her residence, "Mayfield" at Mowbray River, 9 December 1932, aged 65, and was buried at Port Douglas Cemetery; both parents were named in full in the death index. John George ROBBINS died there on 17 July 1933, aged 82.
They had issue, including Ellen's first known grandchild, born 4 months after the execution, and living at their parent's deaths:
a. Ann Killen ROBBINS, born 7 October 1887; died in Brisbane, 25 May 1966; married firstly, in Qld, on 16 January 1907, William Thomas COLLIE; he died 1922 F1723 (Forces - a War Death); she married secondly, in Qld, on 26 July 1927, James Robb WARD.
b. Evelina Jane ROBBINS, born 17 May 1889; at Mowbray River, 1913, 1919; died in Qld on 15 September 1962; married at St Andrew's Church of England, Port Douglas, on 7 December 1921, John Thomas HARDWICK (second son of Mr and Mrs W. HARDWICK of Winnum).
c. Ella Elizabeth ROBBINS, born 19 June 1891; at Mowbray River, 1913, 1919; married  L.J. McCONACHIE.
d. John James Montomery ROBBINS, born 26 August 1893; farmer at Mowbray River, 1919, 1925, 1930, 1936; died in Brisbane, 16 June 1971; married at "Sunnyside" on the Mowbray River, on 21 February 1923, Elizabeth ANDREASSEN.
e. William George ROBBINS, born 12 November 1896; farmer at Mowbray River, 1925, 1930, 1936; died on 8 Aug 1981; married firstly, in Qld, on 26 September 1929, Dorothy Alice EASTMENT; married secondly, in Qld, on 7 October 1932, Ethel Albertine MATHIESON; she died in 1978 (parents Mathias MATHIESON and Claudiane RASMUSSEN).
f. Harold Alfred ROBBINS, born 26 June 1903; farmer at Mowbray River, 1925, 1930, 1936; died in Qld on 19 June 1982.

4. William WOOD, born at Yaven Yaven Creek, near Gundagai, 3 December 1869 (father a Farmer); enrolled at Port Douglas Primary School, in the 1st Class, on 3 March 1884, aged 14 years and 2 months (of Mossman, father a farmer), and leaving in August 1884, returning March 1885, and leaving April 1885; "driven away" by his step-father, but remained in North Queensland; returned "home" to the Mossman River 5 weeks after his step-father's death, and about a week before his mother made her visit to Townsville just prior to her arrest; referred to by his mother in her statement to the court, after her conviction, as "...working on the roads as a bullock driver" and had "...drawn all his money from the Savings Bank - £10 - to help her get off"; his mother in her letter from the condemned cell at Boggo Road Gaol, stated that her late husband Billy had said, on the evening of his death, that she should "...get Billy back from the roads and I will make him master of the chinamen," and to which Ellen replied "...the chinamen will use the boy too much - they ran the boy out of the paddock with a hoe..."
William died at Walla Street, Bundaberg, Queensland, on 6 November 1929 (Reg'n # C3896), and both parents were named in full in the index (father described as a Station Manager); he was recorded as a Miner, aged 60, the death informed by his widow, Charlotte Ann WOOD (formerly HAMPSON); his remains were buried at the General Cemetery, Bundaberg, on 18 November.
William was twice married - firstly in Brisbane, in 1902 #B1625, to Mary KELLY; and secondly, in Tamworth, N.S.W., in 1915 #12238, to Charlotte A. HAMPSON (born Qld, 1866 #C461, daughter of James HAMPSON and Charlotte CHAMP, she married secondly, in Qld, 1931 #C35, Alfred Arnold EASTMAN, and died at Bundaberg, 1971 #C5979).
There is no evidence of any children by either marriage.

5. Jane WOOD, born at Gurrunda, County Argyle, 21 January 1872 (father a Stone Mason, deceased; mother resident Adelong); probably later known as Jenny; "abused" by her step-father, about 1880-81, when Mr James POWER, Clerk of the Port Douglas Court, "...took her for charity"; apparently married in Qld, as Maria Jane WOOD, on 2 February 1892 [#C1594], Alfred Thomas PARNELL (his sister Edith Louise PARNELL was mother, by Thomas ELLIOTT, of Arthur Eric ELLIOT, who married Florence WOOD); he was a Cyanider, near Lady Florence Mill, near Charters Towers, 1903 to 1908, a Selector at Ellerslie, Carmilla, St Lawrence Sub-division, 1913 to 1925, and a Cane Farmer at Orkabie, 1943; she died at her residence, "Mt Parnell," Orkabie, Qld, 25 July 1948 [#C3347], and both parents were named in full in the index; she apparently had no issue, although her death notice in the Courier Mail, 26 July, recorded her as the mother of Mrs A.E. ELLIOTT, who may instead have been her niece Florence WOOD.

William WOOD may have been included in a list of "Persons Mentioned ... permitted to purchase the portions of improved land specified," as "...William WOOD, 2 acres, near Adelong" [The Empire (Sydney), Saturday 31 August 1867, page 8].
Although details of this purchase are not yet found in Lands Office records in Sydney, there is a suggestion that he may have made a Conditional Purchase (records for these were decentralised in the 1990's, and may now be in Wagga Wagga), and was still being recorded as "owner" in 1875, 4 years after his alleged death, as indicated in this report:
"Lot A, 40 acres, county of Wynyard, parish of Ellerslie, on the right bank of Yaven Yaven Creek, about 1/2 mile below W. WOOD's conditional purchase of 60 acres, No. 9, on the opposite bank. Exclusively of a road 1 chain wide."
[The Goulburn Herald and Chronicle, Saturday 24 April 1875, page 2.]

If William did purchase the block, it was worth less than £100, as had not qualified for enrolment for the Electoral Division of The Tumut in 1870.


William WOOD, late of Yaven Yaven Creek, near Adelong, died in Gundagai on 20 May 1871.
His N.S.W. descendants believed that he died as the result of an accident, but this cannot yet be confirmed, as his death was either not registered, or if it was, the registration has become lost.
Family lore recorded that Ellen also died as the result of an accident, but clearly not the same "accident"!
The date and place of his death were recorded in an affidavit sworn by his widow Ellen, contained in his Probate File, Supreme Court Probate Registry of N.S.W.
This file also cited the existence of a will, dated 15 May 1871, which was copied into the file, and in which he appointed Ellen as sole executrix. She was bequeathed his whole estate, with a rider that "...I do hope in case she marries again she will see that the property thus bequeathed is settled on the children she now has."

[Notice in the Gundagai Times, Saturday 3 June 1871, page 3, column 3.
The only public manifestation I have yet found of William's death, and the last public mention of his widow Ellen WOODS
The date"1st of May" is probably a type-setter's error for either 31st of May or 1st of June.
Image courtesy of The State Library of N.S.W., microfilm RAV/FM4/377.]

And given that William "signed" his will 5 days before his death, the "accident" which killed him clearly did not result in his instant death - it would appear that he "had time" to put his affairs in order.
A further affidavit on the Probate Registry file was signed by Richard Wickstead PERKINS, of Gundagai, Solicitor, and Elizabeth RANKIN, also of Gundagai, in which they deposed that they were both present with William WOOD when they signed as witnesses the paper annexed as William's Last Will and testament, testifying that they saw him "affixing his signature thereto" - although William could not sign his name, his "X" mark would have stood as the legal equivalent.

Ellen was granted probate on 19 July 1871, goods sworn at £100. This is probably her last unpublished mention in N.S.W. records prior to her heading north.


Ellen took at least three of her surviving four children north, although I expect the youngest child was given a chance to grow a little at Gurrunda, where she was born, and presumably where Ellen's relations were still living.

Ellen travelled about as far north as it was possible to go without leaving the Australian mainland, and ended up in Cooktown, probably following the allure of quick riches in gold.
Alluvial gold was first discovered at the Palmer River on 29 June 1873, although a rough track to it from Cooktown was not completed until 14 Nov, same year. The Palmer River rises at the confluence of Prospect and Campbell Creeks, about 70 km west of Cape Tribulation and about 80 south-west of Cooktown; it flows westerly towards the Gulf of Carpentaria, until it joins the Mitchell River near "Healey's Yard"; it is not clear from current maps exactly where the goldfields on it were located.

[Cooktown, nearest "town" to the Palmer River diggings, in 1878. Image courtesy of Qld Pics on]

And there, "...immediately after the opening of the Palmer goldfield," she became acquainted with Mr J.W. KNIGHT, who later had his letter to the Editor of the Brisbane Courier published on Wed 6 June 1887, in which he said that Ellen:
"...administered to many sick miners and others whom fever had prostrated, and not infrequently death came to, all gratuitously; and at a time when that woman maintained herself and her children by wash-tub toil. Years later, when she married the man for whom she is to hang, her position in life was improved, and she went to reside at Port Douglas. At that place, she took no small part in pioneering that section of the colony. Innumerable are wayfarers who have had the good fortune to pull up at Mrs THOMPSON's; not only were their appetites set at rest, but the ration bags were not forgotten, all without charge."

The field only prospered briefly - alluvial mining began to wane after 1875, and by the early 1880's, the end of the Palmer era was at hand, brought about by financial difficulties and more easily tapped discoveries elsewhere. Many Chinese miners became established there, and some early racial conflicts arose between them and European prospectors.
Ellen was there, in KNIGHT's words, " a time when white women were easily counted on one's hands without duplication."
One of the fields which competed for miners interest after the Palmer River field began to wane was on the Hodgkinson River - and in 1877, a port with easier access to it than could be had from Cairns was established at a place that became known as Port Douglas.


The exact time that Ellen "retired" to Port Douglas is unclear. She was almost certainly there by the time her illegitimate daughter Ellen was conceived, about February 1879; and quite possibly a year or so earlier, if another child, whose existence was implied when she acknowledged 6 children as still living (in her statement to the court after her conviction), was the William WOOD born in Qld, 18 January 1878 #4958, father un-named, mother Ellen WOOD. If this was our Ellen, it would have made him the fifth born of her six children still living at the time of her sentencing. However, the birth appears to have taken place in Brisbane, which suggests it was not Ellen's; so perhaps, under the stress of her circumstances, Ellen may have inadvertently included her deceased first born daughter among that number.

However, a number of references were made to another son named Bob, and a Robert W. WOOD was enrolled at Port Douglas State School, 31 July 1883, aged 7 years and 3 months, res Mossman, parent a Farmer, C. of E., 1st Class, leaving May 1884.
This may have been Robert WOOD, who was married firstly in Qld, 1 November 1901 [#C2411], to Fanny DEIGAN or DUGAN; she died in Qld, 30 March 1902 [#C464], parents John DUGAN and Sarah MOODY, and without issue.
Robert Martin WOOD married secondly, as a Widower (aged 27, born Cooktown, son of William WOOD and Ellen LYNCH), at Mackay, Qld, on 30 August 1902 [# C1485], to Hannah Alice Maud PETERSEN; she had two children, although the second may have been by a father other than Robert:
i. Florence WOOD, born 9 December 1902; she may have been "adopted" by her aunt Mrs Maria Jane PARNELL; she was probably married in Qld, on 14 April 1925 [#C1489], Arthur Eric ELLIOTT (his mother, Edith Louise PARNELL, was a sister of Alfred Thomas PARNELL, who married Florence's aunt Marie Jane WOOD); Arthur was a Station Hand at Escombe Downs, Corfield via Winton, 1925, 1936, and a Mail Contractor at Corfield, 1943, 1958.
ii. Arthur James WOODS, born 13 January 1906; apparently raised by Mrs Annie RILEY, who may have been the midwife at his birth; as Arthur James RILEY, he was a Fisherman, at Auckland St, Gladstone, 1930 and 1936, and at 18 Armstrong Terrace, Paddington, Brisbane, 1937; he was killed in a fishing boat which struck a mine, just north of Townsville, in November 1946; he was married with at least three daughters.
Robert WOOD was probably enrolled in Kennedy Division, 1903 and 1905, residing at McDonald St, Charters Towers, Labourer, with Maud WOOD, Domestic Duties; he was still enrolled there, on his own, in 1908 (perhaps a residual enrolment that hadn't been updated).
It appears that Robert and his wife separated, either some time during her second pregnancy, or perhaps before that pregnancy altogether; the following item suggests either that Robert had died, or that there had been a divorce; as Alice Maud WOODS, she appears to have re-married in that same year, on 3 December 1906 [#C1767], to Peter Wilhelm PETERSON (a German immigrant, probably related to her father, Carl Wilhelm PETERSEN), by whom she had a son Peter William PETERSON Junior (born 1907; died 1965); when Peter Wilhelm died in 1936, Hannah Alice Maude took a third husband, George Henry WILSON, in 1937; she was residing at Netherdale, Mirani, 1937, at the Retreat Hotel, Nebo, 1943, at Goonal, Eton Range, 1949 and 1954, and; at Nebo Road, Nebo, 1958 and 1963; she died in Qld on 6 July 1967 [#C4199].
There is no further identifiable trail in Qld records after 1906 for Robert WOOD; he may have gone interstate.
There is a remote possibility that this may have been Robert GARDINER, born Qld on 1 March 1876 #C676, son of Robert GARDINER and Ellen LYNCH; and perhaps sib to Rubina GARDINER, born Qld on 8 February 1878 #C732, daughter of Martin GARDINER and Ellen LYNCH, but who appears to have died 5 days later, as Reubena GARDINER, on 13 February 1878 #C378, daughter of Robert GARDINER and Ellen MURPHY!

Ellen's acknowledged illegitimate daughter Helen alias Ellen was born at Mossman River on 9 November 1879. The father was not identified in the registration, and Ellen informed her own name as Ellen formerly LYNCH, aged 34 years, born Mallow, County Cork, certifying it in writing with her "X" mark. The birth was not registered in Cooktown until 30 January 1880, but the information had been received within the prescribed time by the Assistant Registrar in Port Douglas.
The man Ellen was shortly to marry, William THOMSON, believed he was the father (and Helen was named as his issue on his death registration), but it appears that that honour may instead have been that of a local and married J.P., Richard Owen JONES, who may have "facilitated" the THOMSON marriage in order to secure a home for his daughter and her mother; Ellen did make a statement to that effect in a letter from her condemned cell at Boggo Road Gaol (JONES, born in Wales, was Billy THOMSON's sole surviving executor - he first arrived in Port Douglas in 1877 when he was prominent in business; and he brought his new wife back from Brisbane after their marriage there in 1880 and settled on the Mossman as a Cane Farmer; he died in 1914).
Indeed, in October 1887, the Sir Charles LILLEY, Chief Justice of the Qld Supreme Court, ruled that "...Ellen WOOD, infant illegitimate daughter of the woman Ellen THOMPSON who was executed in Brisbane Gaol..." should be given "...into the custody of Father FOUHY, and the order would be that she should be given into the charge of Father BRADY on Father FOUHY's behalf at Port Douglas" [Brisbane Courier, Saturday 22 October 1887, page 8].
Ellen THOMPSON was enrolled at Port Douglas Primary School, 2 August 1886, aged 6 years 0 months (father a Farmer, R.C.); she left in June 1887.
She was said to have been sent to a convent in Rockhampton after Ellen's execution, but returned later to live with her half-sister Evie ROBBINS (formerly WOOD) at the Mowbray River; there, in 1895, she first met her future husband, recently arrived from Brisbane to work on tram and train line construction between Port Douglas and the Mowbray and Mossman Rivers.
As Helen Mary THOMSON, she married, at the ROBBINS's house there, on 21 May 1900, William Thomas BURDETT; he was a Farmer, at Mowbray River, 1903-1930; they both lived to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary [Cairns Post, 21 May 1950].

[Mrs Helen Mary BURDETT. Image courtesy of Wendy MADDOCKS of Gordonvale.]

They had issue:
a. Evelina May BURDETT, born  20 May 1901; married 1921, Herbert Charles (Bert) HARDWICK.
b. Beatrice Louise BURDETT, born 21 September 1903; married St Andrew's Church of England, Port Douglas, 1927, Hugh FRAZER.
c. William John BURDETT, born 2 May 1906; died 1979; married 1934, Dorothy Royes HOLLAWBY .
d. Ella Eileen BURDETT, born 22 May 1908; married Jack MINDENHALL.
e. Wilma Ann BURDETT, born 14 October 1910; married 1931, Henry Edward (Harry) FOX.


That marriage, Ellen's second, took place at Mossman River on 3 November 1880, and was performed by Albert Cornelius MOSLEY, according to the rites of the Church of England - the second time the Irish Catholic Ellen had been married outside her birth religion. Her parents were identified as Thomas LYNCH, Farmer, and Mary MURPHY, her age 36, and her birthplace Mallow, County Cork.
Her second husband was William (Billy) THOMSON (most later reports spelt this in error as the English THOMPSON), a Farmer and a Bachelor, aged 57, born Wilson Town, Lanarkshire, son of Richard THOMSON, Farmer, and Rabena DEAN (Richard THOMSON married Robina DEANS at Barony, Lanarkshire, 28 August 1814, but their son William's baptism is not recorded in the I.G.I.).
The following Marriage notice appeared in the Australian Town and Country Journal, Saturday 11 December 1880:
"THOMPSON-WOOD. - At Mossman River, Port Douglas, by the Rev A.C. MOSLEY, William THOMPSON, second son of Richard THOMPSON, of Wilson Town, Scotland, to Ellen WOOD, widow of the late William WOOD, of Castle Hill, Parramatta, and second daughter of Thomas LYNCH, County Mallow, Ireland."

Billy THOMSON had made the first application for a Selection on the south bank of the Mossman River, right at it's mouth, in 1877. As a late marrying bachelor aged 57, it is perhaps understandable that he was apparently ill-at-ease with his "instant" family of Ellen's WOOD children, and according to Ellen, by the time of his death this "...wretched old man had driven all her children from her, one by one, and had abused them and called them names."
By that time, it was apparent that the marriage was, or had become, one of convenience only, as Ellen had made arrangements that involved them living in separate buildings on the selection.
When John HARRISON, a young British Naval Rating, a deserter from H.M.'s ship Myrmidon, and with a wife he had acquired in Townsville and shortly after left there, arrived on the scene, his developing "relationship-of-ease" with Ellen became an increasing source of aggravation to Billy.

On 7 July 1884, the Queensland Governor (Sir Anthony MUSGRAVE) accompanied by the Premier (Mr GRIFFITH), made a brief official visit to Port Douglas. Disembarking onto a decorated wharf, they were met by the Police Magistrate, Major FANNING, several senior Police Officers, and Mr J.W. KNIGHT (who had known Ellen on the Palmer River earlier, and whom Ellen would later appoint as co-guardian of her children). The official party drove 3 miles along the beach, on the hard sand, before turning into the scrub and returning by the road. Horses were provided for those citizens who wished to follow them - Ellen took up the offer, and recalled the event in her later letter to the Governor seeking mercy.

There is evidence to suggest that Ellen also had a son named Robert. The Port Douglas Primary School  register (Qld Archives) records Robert W. WOOD, enrolled 31 July 1883, aged 7 years 0 mos.
And Ellen did mention her son Bob, whom she sent " his grandmother to get some schooling."
And I wonder, if this was Ellen's mother, whether it might suggest she was somewhere handy in Qld?


While the exact particulars will perhaps never be fully known, the situation came to a head on 22 October 1886, when Billy was "found" with a bullet hole to the head, and died shortly afterwards, around 10.00 p.m. A Magisterial Inquiry was held at Port Douglas 6 days later, and Major M.P.B. FANNING, P.M., found that Billy had died by his own hand, on the evidence of Ellen and John HARRISON, supported by the report of the examining doctor (William Lane MARLEY, Gov't Medical Officer, Port Douglas) that there had been only one shot, causing two wounds, an entry and exit wound, sufficient to cause death.

[Image of Billy's grave, as it appears on the Port Douglas Courthouse Museum web-site.]

But after the burial, Ellen asked HARRISON to move into her house, and the gossip mill began to rumble. Several Chinese gardeners, near neighbours, both asserted that they had heard two shots on the night of the death.
This new "evidence" - together with very strong pressure from Billy's brother, who was certain that Billy's having made "business" appointments in Port Douglas for the day after he died meant that could not have killed himself - and a general feeling among the citizens of Port Douglas that he was not the suicidal type - convinced the Police that it was not a case of suicide; and consequently Ellen and HARRISON were arrested, 6 January 1887, on the Steamer Glanworth, on a voyage back to Port Douglas from Townsville, after a return rail journey to Charters Towers, to "...see a lawyer."
It is highly likely that Ellen was seeking legal advice concerning the changes to Billy's will; her going to Charters Towers to do that reflects the lack of trust she was now feeling towards her earlier advisers closer to home, in particular Richard JONES. It is now known that her sister Mary may well having been living there as well.

[The S.S. Glanworth, on which Ellen THOMSON and John HARRISON were arrested, 6 January 1887.]

Billy's body was then exhumed, on 10 January 1887, and a second medical examination, conducted by the same doctor, found a bullet (or a large part of one) still lodged in the brain, which it was then concluded had probably been fired into the hole left by the earlier bullet.
Ellen and HARRISON were formally charged with murder, and in further committal proceedings held in the Port Douglas Courthouse, FANNING committed them to stand trial in Townsville in April.

[Port Douglas Courthouse after it was relocated back to its original site.]

They were brought under escort to Townsville, 6 February 1887, probably on the Steamer "Rockton."
On the voyage, Ellen made a lengthy statement explaining the circumstances of her husband's death, as she saw them, which she maintained was by suicide. Her statement was taken down in writing by another passenger, who read it back to her, after which Ellen "took possession" of the transcript.


John HARRISON was born in England, about 1859-60; he was, apparently, a Marine in the Royal Navy (his Naval record has not yet been sighted); the trial transcript published in the Brisbane Courier on 13 May 1887 named him John Oxley HARRISON, but it appears this was in error, and his middle name was instead George.

 [Image of John HARRISON, as it appears on the Port Douglas Courthouse Museum web-site.]

John G. HARRISON was enumerated in the 1881 Census, Naval Ships, H.M.S. Alexandra, aged 20, Able Seaman, born Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham. The location of the ship is not revealed, but it may already have arrived at it's station in Malta, or was on the way.

John George HARRISON was born at West Rainton, County Durham, 3 July 1859 (Reg'd Houghton-le-Spring, September quarter 1859, Volume 10a, page 344), son of Thomas HARRISON and perhaps Mary Ann JOHNSON; Thomas was enumerated at Hewarth, Durham, 1871, with John G. (recorded O. in the index) aged 11, a Scholar, and four younger children, Frances, Thomas, Frederick and William - except that his wife was Margaret!
In his 1885 marriage registration, John recorded his parents as Thomas Frazer HARRISON, Veterinary Surgeon, and Margaret TENNANT - she may instead have been his step-mother.
The 1861 Census returns do not offer an enumeration exactly consistent with all the foregoing details, but there was another John HARRISON, aged 2 (born Tow Law, County Durham), who was enumerated at West Rounton, Yorkshire, with his mother Margaret HARRISON (aged 23) and her parents William and Mary SNARY (aged 58 and 60); his mother Margaret SNARY had married a John HARRISON at Northallerton, September quarter 1857; John (Junior) was further enumerated in 1871 at Wolsingham, Durham, aged 12 (born Tow Law), a Domestic Servant in the house of a George ELLIOTT and his family.

The H.M.S. Alexandra served as flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, and was present at the bombardment of Alexandria, 1882, during which campaign the Marines serving on her went ashore and saw action at Kassassin and Tel-el-Kebir.

By 1885, HARRISON was serving on the R.N. Survey vessel H.M.S. Myrmidon, and sailed with her to Australian waters, perhaps joining her company in Malta for the remainder of her voyage (which had originated in Sheerness via Gibraltar) through the Suez to Colombo, Singapore, Batavia and Port Darwin, joining the Australian Station on 5 March 1885. She spent some time near Timor.

She conducted surveys of Darwin Harbour for 5 weeks, and was docked in harbour at Port Darwin, August and September 1885. HARRISON played for the Myrmidon XI at Palmerston Oval when it was thrashed by a local team, August 1885, scoring 10 of their 30 runs, and taking 2 wickets for 50, from 70 balls, in the Palmerston innings of 184. He also raced at an Athletics Sports at the Palmerston Oval on 5 September 1885, being beaten in two separate 100 yards sprints, but coming back to win, with another Myrmidon sailor named SPICER, the Siamese race.

In a report dated 22 September 1885, at Cooktown, the Myrmidon was at or near "Somerset," a homestead just a few kilometres south-east of the tip of Cape York, just above Newcastle Bay. The Myrmidon arrived in Townsville, on a voyage from Thursday Island, on 27 September.

The Brisbane Courier of 25 September 1885 reported that she was due to complete the survey of the Barrier Reef in three weeks time, whence she would proceed to Sydney, and thence to Bass's Strait to finish surveying in those waters.
The ship returned to the Barrier Reef in 1886, and; her work is commemorated by the naming of Myrmidon Reef, about 125 km north-east of Townsville and due east of Cardwell, at the outer end of Magnetic Passage.

However, this further survey work was conducted without John HARRISON's assistance. On 28 September 1885, the day after her first arrival in Townsville, John G. HARRISON deserted the ship and his Naval post. A notice was published in the Queensland Police Gazette of Saturday 24 October (Volume 22, page 260), describing John George HARRISON as 5 feet 8 inches high, ruddy complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and notifying a reward of £3 for his arrest. A further notice, published on 9 December (page 363), added these additional details - a native of Houghton, aged 25 years, 5 feet 6.5 inches in height, an athlete and runner of considerable ability and will probably be found where athletic sports are being held, and has relatives in Townsville.

On 9 December 1885, at the Wesleyan Parsonage in Townsville, John George HARRISON married Selina JOHNSTON, a widow and a Boarding House keeper, aged 34.

HARRISON eventually went north to the Daintree, and by 1 September 1886, had arrived at Port Douglas, and was recorded in the trial, on the evidence of Patrick MORAN, as having been "snagging" on the Mossman River up to a week before the murder, and it appears that two weeks before, HARRISON had made a statement to MORAN about Ellen telling him "...that if THOMSON were gone, the property would belong to her."


The trial took place in Townsville Circuit Court, 3 May 1887. The presiding judge was Mr Justice Pope Alexander COOPER, of the North Queensland Circuit; Virgil POWER, Crown Prosecutor, led the prosecution case; and Jacob LEU, a Swiss Lawyer who had completed his articles in Brisbane, was accredited to the Supreme Court in 1882, and was partner of a Law Firm in Townsville, led the case for the defence.

[Townsville Court House, 1877. Image courtesy of Queensland Archives.]



Ellen and HARRISON were among 15 prisoners from the north, sent from Townsville to Brisbane on the steamer S.S. Birksgate, 12 May 1887.

 [The S.S. BIRKSGATE, - probably a later ship of the same name as the one on which Ellen and HARRISON were transferred to Brisbane, 12 May 1887.]

[The Gallows in Boggo Road Gaol, 1903. Photo courtesy of the State Library of Queensland.]


Ellen was the mother-in-law of my great-aunt, Effie Giles WOOD alias PIGOTT, who did not arrive in Australia until 1890, & so never knew her husband's mother.


Anonymous said...

FYI, William Wood and Ellen Lynch possibly had another daughter "Mary Ann Agnes Wood" who married Jeremiah William O'Neill 1884 near Gurrunda.
Her d.c 1913 states her parents were William Wood(s) and Mary Ann Lynch born Gurrunda circa 1865

Anonymous said...

Interesting story. It is possible that the Dr spoken of in the article was William Lane Marley, not William Saul Marley.