Friday, April 29, 2011


The Melbourne Argus, Saturday 21 July 1934
The Breelong Murders
YESTERDAY was the 34th anniversary, of the most ghastly crime in the history of Australia - the Breelong murders.
Breelong is a settlement several miles from Gilgandra, New South Wales, about 350 miles from Sydney.
The Mawbey family were the chief settlers there.
On their property camped the Governors, a widely known aboriginal tribe [family], who worked for various landowners.
At the time they were working for the Mawbeys.
About 10 p.m. on Friday, July 20, 1900, Mr. Mawbey was camping with his elder sons a few miles from the homestead [at an inn, their former home].
In the natives' camp were Jimmy and Joe Governor, Jackie Underwood, Mrs. Governor, a baby boy, and an aged blackfellow [and what appeared to an adolescent Aboriginal boy].
Jimmy and Joe Governor and Jackie Underwood first ascertained that the Mawbey menfolk were absent.
Then they went to the Mawbey homestead.
Immediately the door opened they began killing.
Tomahawks were used, and the skulls of the victims were cleaved open.
In the home were Mrs. Mawbey, two daughters, a niece [younger sister], a governess, and three [five] boys, the oldest aged 14.
The oldest boy, the governess, and one of the daughters were killed at once. The other three women were mutilated shockingly.
The only one to recover was the niece.
The two youngest boys [were left unharmed asleep in the kitchen while two older boys] escaped.
One hid under the bed and the other contrived to carry the news to the father.
The blacks fled.
Help was obtained from Gilgandra, and soon on the scene were the doctor, Sergeant Lewis, Mrs. Lewis, and my father, the late Mr. A. F. Garling, then distict coroner.
My mother's aid was sought, and, assisted by Mrs. Lewis, the terrible home of death was put in order, the bodies were laid out, and help was given to the living victims.
It is a great tribute to the courage of these women.
The night was bitterly cold, everyone was panic stricken, and the drive to Breelong was through several miles of rough country in a horse and sulky at midnight.
This night marked the beginning of a manhunt famous in Australian history.
Everyone able to do so assisted in the search for the fleeing blacks, as well as the police, who never left the chase until the capture, three months later, of the criminals.
The blacks committed a series of murders and robberies during the time that the chase took the pursuers over desolate country and rugged mountains for hundreds of miles.
The Governors and Underwood [he was no longer with them] murdered [the wife of] Michael O'Brien and his child in the Liverpool ranges, near Wollar; Alex McKay and his wife, and Kevin [Kyrien] Fitzpatrick.
Jackie Underwood, being older and less agile, was soon captured.
The natives of this tribe would sooner risk capture than separate, except in extreme urgency, and Jimmy and Joe Governor kept together until the end.
Landowners were in terror throughout the State.
The ruses adopted by the natives to trick the pursuers made their tracks extremely difficult to follow.
They would climb trees and slide on to adjoining trees, progressing like this for miles.
They would wrap their feet in bark or rags, leaving no footprints.
Skilled Queensland black trackers and bloodhounds were employed, and a reward of £1,000 for the capture, dead or alive, of these aborigines was offered.
It was not until October 21 that Jimmy and Joe separated.
Jimmy was captured and Joe attempted to go home.
On October 30 John Wilkinson found Joe asleep on his property, and shot him.
He, with the other murderers, had been outlawed.
Jimmy Governor and Jackie Underwood were hanged.
Mrs. Governor was a white woman, good-looking and intelligent [both of these attributes were contradicted by other commentators at the time].
It was said that she had been stolen as a baby and brought up with the blacks [completely false].
The Governors were grotesque, having full aboriginal features, but vivid red hair.
The most widely held opinion of the cause of the murders was that the Mawbeys taunted Mrs. Governor for having married an aborigine.
Other theories were that there were disagreements over the inferior work done by the blacks, and that they ran amok.
The old Breelong homestead is standing today, with the bloodstains still apparent.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Jimmy Governor was under a lot of pressure from his own family, both immediate and extended, before he snapped and murdered five women and children at Breelong.
Firstly, he had four extra mouths to feed that had not been included in his original fencing contract with John Mawbey.
By inviting these additional Aboriginal men to stay with him, he had brought this difficulty onto himself.
Two of them, an old man and a young boy, would not have been able to contribute much to the job at hand.
They were probably offloaded onto Jimmy by his relatives who thought he was making money so he could support them.
As an Aboriginal man, he was obliged to do so.
Then there was Jacky Underwood with one eye missing and a limp who would not have been much good on the job either.
The only able-bodied male among the four was Jimmy's younger brother, Joe.
When Jimmy realised he could not feed the extra four mouths, he tried to push Mrs Mawbey into requesting government rations for the two full-bloods, Porter and Underwood.
They were entitled to these, but only if they were living on Aboriginal reserves.
Jimmy must have become angry with Mrs Mawbey when she refused because after this incident she told her husband she did not want the Aboriginal man coming to the house any more.
In hindsight, she had been warned of what was to come.
The biggest stumbling block for Jimmy was that he could not accept responsibility for his own actions.
It was his fault the four extra males were there, and that he could not support them, not the Mawbey's.
He had invited them to come.
It must have been lonely, living with his wife and small child in a lean-to beside a creek in the middle of nowhere.
He probably wanted some male company, and there may have been kinship obligations.
He either did not consider the consequences in terms of his fencing contract, or thought he could force the Mawbeys to accommodate his changed circumstances.
Secondly, there was Ethel, his wife, constantly complaining to him about being put down by the women at the house.
And about there not being enough food, not even the basics like flour and sugar.
If he had not invited the four men to stay with them, there would have been enough food.
He already knew that he and Ethel had been ridiculed by other people in both Gulgong and Dubbo because of their socially unacceptable inter-racial marriage.
And that the negative comments being made about it by the women at the house was nothing new.
He had been so mad about comments made about him and his white wife at the Gulgong show, he had complained to the police about it.
The female offender was made to have a retraction published in the local newspaper.
Thirdly, there was the criticism and rejection of some of his work by his employer.
All employers want the job done properly because they're paying for it.
Mr Mawbey would have been no different.
Ten percent of the 1,000 fence posts had not been cut to the right size.
Jimmy was digging the holes for the posts, so this must have been the fault of his fellow workers.
But his loyalty to them and his pride in his own workmanship made him defensive.
After bad experiences with previous employers, Jimmy was a ticking timebomb just waiting to explode.
What happened with his wife on the night of the murders - her badgering him about being a man or a mouse in his dealings with his employer - pulled the pin.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Sarah Mawbey (44) and three of her nine children,
Grace (16), Percival (Percy) (14) and
Hilda May (11), brutally murdered at their home
at Breelong by Jimmy and Joe Governor and
Jacky Underwood at 10.30pm on Friday 20 July 1900.
Buried in Church of England section at Gilgandra.

Helena (Ellen) Kerz (21), brutally murdered by
Jimmy Governor at Breelong on 20 July1900.
Buried in Roman Catholic section at Girilambone.

Kyrien Fitzpatrick, brutally murdered by Jimmy
and Joe Governor on 26 July 1900 at his home.
Buried at Wollar.

Alexander (Sandy) McKay who was brutally
murdered by the blacks on 23 July 1900
aged 70 years. Buried at Gulgong.

ELIZABETH O'BRIEN, her 15-month-old son
James and her unborn child, murdered by Jimmy
and Joe Governor in July 1900 at their home at
Merriwa. I have been told by a descendant that
they were refused burial in Catholic consecrated
ground at the local cemetery because the child
had not been baptised. But Moore and Williams
say they did have a Christian funeral service.
Buried Roman Catholic section at Merriwa.

[Source of photos: Australian Cemeteries Index]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


In a matter of days after Jimmy began his killing rampage on the night of Friday 20 July 1900, there were 10 murder victims.
This figure includes the about-to-be-born baby of Elizabeth O'Brien.
Then there were those who were physically and psychologically wounded by the Governors but managed to survive.
ELSIE CLARKE, 18, the younger sister of murdered Sarah Mawbey,
CATHERINE BENNETT (nee LALOR), the midwife,
ISABELLA BURLEY, the 15 year old girl who was raped by Jimmy in the bush at gunpoint.
That's three more people, all women, who would never forget Jimmy Governor.
His indelible black mark had been embedded permanently in their psyches.
But there were also the others who were psychologically 'soul murdered' by Jimmy.
Those so traumatised at what had been done to their loved ones that they never recovered.
Like the two husbands and fathers, JOHN MAWBEY and MICK O'BRIEN, who lived the rest of their mortal lives as zombies, in a state of suspended animation.
In the old Phantom comics, a zombie was described as 'the ghost who walks'.
These two men might as well have been dead.

Also traumatised were all the wives and children and parents of the murder victims:
* The six surviving Mawbey children - John Jr, Garnet, Reginald (George), Sydney, Albert, and Cecil.
* Their Clarke uncle Fred Clarke and aunt Emily Clarke (living with her big sister Sarah as her adopted child) who were also at the murder scene.
* Their cousin, George Mawbey, son of their father's younger brother, who was at the murder scene.
* Mary McKay and her niece, Louise who lost their husband and uncle.
* Mr and Mrs Kerz, Martin and Margaret, the parents of the murdered school teacher, and her brothers and sisters, neices and nephews.
* Bernard, the nephew of Keiran (correct spelling: Kyrien, possibly derived from Catholic Latin Mass prayer, Kyrie, 'Lord have mercy') Fitzpatrick who witnessed his uncle's murder.
* The parents of the underage girl who was raped by Jimmy.

The number of people who suffered direct psychological 'collateral damage' as a result of the brutality of Jimmy Governor and his partners in crime was at least 50.
However, a 'ripple effect' meant that meant many other people were traumatised in varying degrees.
* those who were confronted with the battered bodies of the murder victims like doctors, chaplains and undertakers.
* those living in outlying areas who were too afraid to stay in their homes and moved into the town for safety, leaving their stock and crops unattended.
* those who encountered the Governor brothers during their rampage and who lived to tell the hair-raising stories.