Saturday, February 23, 2013

I have looked into the allegations made against John Thomas Mawbey that his behaviour towards Jimmy Governor provoked the murders of his wife and three of his children.
The only possible reason I could find was that Mr Mawbey was refusing to pay Jimmy and his workers any more money until the job was completed, to his satisfaction.
Until Mr Mawbey, who gave Governor the contract for a fencing job, discovered that the job was not being done properly, he appears to have been paying Jimmy a regular salary.
He claimed in court that Jimmy had been earning around 6/- a day.
This appears to have been a more than fair amount. 
A recent Who Do You Think You Are program about Australian Aboriginal Olympic gold medallist, Cathy Freeman, revealed that her grandfather was paid the same amount when he was a soldier in the army during World War I, some 15 years later.
And a former nurse recently told me that she was paid 15/- a fortnight in the 1930s (on top of accommodation and food), as was an apprentice milliner.
When Mr Mawbey and discovered that the fencing job was not being done properly, he could have sacked Jimmy Governor for failing to uphold his contract.
But it was very hard to get farm workers in those days.
The job seems to have carried a stigma because the first farm workers had been convicts, and a form of cheap labour.
So in order to attract and keep them, the employer would have had to have been prepared to pay good money.
Mr Mawbey may also have had a time limit imposed on him to have the fencing job done.
One of the conditions imposed on selectors by the government was that they had to improve the land they were leasing.
Banks may have imposed a similar condition on farming loans.
A good fence was an asset that improved the property; a poorly constructed one brought its value down.
Mr Mawbey has been criticised for taking the faulty fence posts away and giving Jimmy a crown for them.
But all they were good for was firewood.
They would not have been used for fencing anywhere else on the property.
Governor's friend, Jacky Underwood, said during his court hearing that the cessation of a regular salary as the reason why Jimmy had a grudge against Mr Mawbey.
A travelling hawker, Sam Ellis, claimed to have seen the Aboriginal men making traditional wooden clubs, weapons, at their camp after their fencing work had been rejected.
I think the truth of the matter is that they planned to murder all the Mawbey family and then take whatever money in the house that they believed was rightfully theirs.
I believe the allegations of discrimination against his wife and himself were all manufactured to create a smokescreen around the true, and much simpler, cause of the murders.
Jimmy appears to have been paying Jacky Underwood and the three other males to assist him with the fencing job.
Whether he had let Mr Mawbey know he was going to sub-contract part of the work when he was awarded the contract is not known.
However, Jimmy later made out that the others just 'turned up', out of the blue, when in fact it appears to me to have been pre-arranged.
This suggests he had not been 'up front' with his employer in the beginning.
Of the four men, only one, his younger brother, Joe Governor, could be described as 'able bodied'.
Jacky Underwood was blind in one eye and had an injured foot that caused him to limp.
Jacky Porter, was an old man, although judging by a subsequent report, fit and active.
And the 'boy', Peter Porter (aka Governor), was deformed.
It is not known if Mr Mawbey knew about or understood the kinship obligation Jimmy appears to have had to support the three men, even though they were apparently incapable of doing the job properly.


Friday, February 22, 2013


During my recent visit to NSW State Records I found a book Ships' Deserters 1852-1900 by Jim Melton.
Therein I discovered that a Charles Page, an able-bodied seaman, had jumped ship from the Harriet in Sydney.
The official notice was dated 1 September 1853.
If this was the same Charles Page who was Ethel Governor's father, he would have been aged 14 at the time.
The village he grew up in, Wrangle, was a shipping port, so it was highly likely that he would have gone to sea.
The Harriet, a three-masted sailing ship, had left London on its maiden voyage to Sydney in February 1853, arriving at its destination on 30 May that year.
The crew had been fractious and mutinous throughout the journey and five had jumped ship in Sydney.
Because one of the children on board had come down with measles, an infectious disease, the ship was placed in quarantine at the Sydney Quarantine Station on North Head.
Passengers and crew had to remain there until given the all clear on 11 June 1854.
They did not disembark at Farm Cove until 16 June.
A descendant of Charles Page has told me that his great grandfather is said to have jumped ship in New Zealand and lived with the Maoris for three years.
The story goes that he then returned to New South Wales, jumped ship again, and then lived with the Aborigines.
Having jumped ship, being a deserter, he would have been constantly on the run from the law.
This suggests that his trips to NZ and back to NSW were as an anonymous stowaway.
Maybe it was not a mistake that his name on his marriage certificate was spelt 'Paye' instead of 'Page'.
He did not marry until he was aged 42, in 1881.
This suggests he may have been previous relationships in NZ and NSW, and that these may have produced children.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Today at NSW State Records I also looked at the reports of prison guards keeping watch over Jimmy Governor at Darlinghurst Gaol.
I discovered that any previously published discussions I have seen of this subject have been far too cursory and general.
There were three warders doing rotating shifts: R Keirnan and H C McLean, both 3rd class warders, and John Dwyer, probationary warder.
In the first entry, made on 7 December 1900, Mr Keirnan says 'he seems to treat everything as a joke'.
The following day, Mr McLean says he was doing a lot of boasting, big-noting himself, for outwitting the police.
He also says he is half Irish and half black man and that this accounts for his smartness.
A week later he is saying he is afraid they are going to give him a life sentence.
[This may harken back to his trial when his barrister, Frank Boyce, was trying to get him charged with manslaughter, instead of murder, on the ground of provocation.]
The warder records that Jimmy Governor 'talks a lot about getting a light sentence and how he will go to America after doing his time'.
There is talk of his getting off [his death sentence].
Jimmy is also laughing at his own jokes.
He hates being in a cell and says he is a [caged] lion at the zoo.
On 16 December 1900, the warder on duty reports that Jimmy Governoris talking of hanging himself in his cell.
He wants to go into one of the yards during the day.
Said he would hang himself and the warder wasn't to stop him.
The warder would have his brains knocked out [if he tried].
The warder comments that Jimmy is cheerful at times, and very bad tempered at others.
On 17 December 1900, he is visited by the Comptroller General [of the prison], the Church of England chaplain [clergyman], and Miss [Retta] Dixon.
The warder writes that Jimmy has given up all boasting and laughing and pays great attention to his bible.
By 8 January 1901, Jimmy is praying on his knees.
He had already stated that he had 'made his peace with God' before Miss Dixon, a young Baptist missionary, arrived on the scene.
But her constant ministering to him appears to have had a major calming effect on him.
On 11 January 1901, Jimmy Governor weighed 162 lb.
He was hanged seven days later.
I felt very strong emotions while reading these Darlinghurst Gaol warders' reports.


Today at NSW State Records I found the notebook used by Justice Owen who presided over the Jimmy Governor Supreme Court case.
He took copious notes of the testimonies of witnesses, and the defendant, and highlighted matters of law he needed to explore further.
In particular, the 'double jeopardy' argument used by Jimmy's barrister, Frank Boyce, that his client had already been tried and convicted by being declared an outlaw, and therefore could not be tried for the same offences again.
Justice Owen's handwritten and difficult to read notes on this case fill 55 size A4 pages (pp.95-150).
His notes on Ethel's evidence say that she and Jimmy arrived at the Mawbey farm at Breelong in April 1900, around the time of their son, Sydney's first birthday.
And on John Thomas Mawbey's evidence,that  there were four males in the old inn on the night Jimmy Governor came a'calling before the murders were committed.
They were himself, two of his sons, Reginald, 18, and Sydney, 13, and his brother-in-law, Frederick Clarke.
Justice Owen observes that Ethel is 'short of stature' and that John Thomas is 'a small, pleasant-faced man'.