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Murder at Newcastle

1808

By the Halcyon colonial vessel, which came in from Hunter’s River on Sunday evening last we receive an account of a tragical event having taken place on the shore opposite to King’s Town, on the forenoon of the preceding Monday; which by subsequent accounts has been rendered still more afflicting.

John Spillers and John Bosh, two seamen belonging to the Halcyon, crossed the river in a small boat, in which they were accompanied by a little boy, about eleven years of age, to take a view of the remaining wreck of the Dundee; and on landing were joined by a native, who appeared very friendly, and to whom the child gave a biscuit out of his bosom. After travelling together to some distance along the shore, the native shipped his spear, and looked intently on the water, as if designing to strike at a fish that had approached the beach; when suddenly turning his point on Bosh, he passed the weapon through his left arm; and at the same instant assaulted the more unfortunate Spillers, who had an axe in his hand, and might have defended himself had he been aware of the attack; but the first intimation he received of which was a perhaps deadly stroke with a *nulla nulla on the crown of the head, as he walked leisurely onwards in supposed security.

Bosh was some moments extracting the spear from his arm; before he effected which, he had the mortification to see the only companion from whose efforts he could have hoped assistance extended on the sand beneath the brutal violence of the assailant, who had now possession of two dreadful weapons, while he himself was already wounded and had nothing to defend himself but the spear with which his wound had been inflicted, and in which he could place no possible reliance as he was unacquainted with the manner of using it. Almost petrified with horror and astonishment he plunged into the water and swam for the Settlement but was by a rapid tide carried upwards of two miles before he gained the shore.

As soon as the report was made to the Commandant a boat was sent over with an armed party when the dead body of the unfortunate man was found upon the beach in a horrible state of mutilation, occasioned by blows from the nulla nulla and several ghastly wounds from a barbered spear.

The child was no where to be seen – it was supposed that the murderer had obliged him to accompany him onward to Port Stephens, to which he himself belonged; Many persons were dispatched on foot in various directions to discover, if possible and pursue his traces; the Commandant in person headed one of the parties; but all, all was of no avail. A Coroner’s inquest was convened on the body of the ill-fated man; whose remains were interred with decency, and a solemnity suitable to the awful event.

On Saturday the 23rd the Halcyon came away, but previous to her departure no tidings of the little unfortunate absentee had been received: parties were still out, and hopes of his safety were not totally abandoned. On Thursday morning, however, an open boat arrived from Hunter’s River, with the melancholy tidings of the body of the early-devoted victim to barbarity being yesterday se’nnight found within a few paces of the spot where Spillers had been killed. His brains had been dashed out by the remorseless wretch, who, to conceal so foul a crime, had thrown the body into the sea, from whence the tide restored it. Now hope was at an end, the measure of horror was complete, and every abominable circumstance concurred to excite indignation and disgust.

The only consolation that remains is in the possibility that the perpetrator of these crimes may not very long escape the stroke of vengeance, which he has thus wantonly provoked; his person is well known at the Settlement, where he passes by the name of Port Stevens Robert; and his visage is recently rendered remarkable by a cut which he received from Bungary that has occasioned an indention nearly in the centre of his forehead
. - Sydney Gazette 6 November 1808

*This weapon is formed by affixing to the end of a club a circular piece of a very hard wood 8 or 10 inches in diameter, with a sharp edge and of a mushroom form. It is frequently carried as a weapon of defence.