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“A brutal and a hideous double murder, as fiendish a business
as has ever horrified and disgraced any part of Australia …”

The West Australian 9th July 1885.

View of Roebourne in April 1886 with the Harding River in the foreground. [51] Used with permission “Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria”

View of Roebourne in April 1886 with the Harding River in the foreground. [51]
Used with permission “Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria”

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, on the 13th January 1885, Thomas Anketell, manager of the Union Bank Roebourne, Western Australia and his clerk Henry Burrup were brutally murdered, whilst asleep, on the bank premises. The murder weapons were probably a pick axe and tomahawk and it was believed that there was more than one assailant.

The murders sent shock waves through the colony. The ensuing investigation was mishandled from the beginning and hindered by class conventions of the day. The fact that Roebourne was a very isolated community meant that the expertise of experienced officers in such crimes were not at hand. Though it could be argued that it should have been easier to track down a murderer or murderers precisely because the town was so isolated.

Eventually three men would stand trial. Charles Warburton, Frederick Bevan and San Qui. However, they were indicted only for the murder of Thomas Anketell.

During the trial, Mr Stevens and Mr Harper, counsels for the accused, objected to any evidence connected with Henry Burrup’s murder being presented, as their clients were only being charged with the murder of Thomas Anketell. However, the judge ruled against those objections on the grounds that the two crimes could not be disassociated from each other. [50]

If the two crimes could not be disassociated with each other, how is it that the accused men were not also indicted for the murder of Henry Burrup? The “how” may be a mystery but not the “why”. The prosecution were hedging their bets. They knew their case was flimsy. If a not guilty verdict was returned for Thomas Anketell’s murder, they hoped for a “second bite at the cherry” at a future date. Should new or more conclusive evidence come to light in the future against any or all of the accused men, there could be a new trial; this time for the murder of Henry Burrup.

After a six day trial, Warburton, Bevan and San Qui were found not guilty. The verdict was not surprising. A disappointed editorial in The West Australian newspaper summed it up well, “… the evidence was not placed in the hands of the Crown Solicitor in the manner we had a right to expect. Scarcely any point was, so to speak presented in the finished state. The evidence was not driven home or clinched. The evidence really consisted of a number of clues, none of which were followed up.” [21]

It must be remembered too that this was an age before even basic forensics. Any physical pieces of evidence gathered could not be tested. For example, it is interesting to note that at this time a differentiation could not be made between human and mammalian blood. Also, some witness accounts (including those of a principal witness) would have doubt cast upon them; those witnesses themselves having aspersions cast upon their character.

Whatever the prosecution may have been hoping for, there was no “second bite at the cherry” and nobody was brought to trial for the murder of Henry Burrup. The law had failed; the murderer/murderers remained at large, and as a result, much gossip and rumour mongering prevailed for decades. The events of the Roebourne Bank murders would remain shrouded in controversy and mystery.

For the first time that I am aware of, all the details, not only of the murders but also background information, will be together in the one place. By placing my research in the form of a website I hope to quickly reach a larger audience. There may be members of the public who can help; maybe they are descendants of the people involved in the case or have family stories about the murders.

I can state that from the beginning of researching the murders I have never had preconceived ideas. As a consequence, I have made observations and shared my thoughts and questions as information has come to hand without fear or prejudice. These can be found under the section “Motive and Musings” on the left hand menu. No doubt there may be revisions of these as I delve further into documentation.

It is my intention to publish all my research and findings in the more permanent form of a book and this is also being drafted under the same title as this website; “The Roebourne Bank Murders”.

This website is still very much a “work in progress” and I still have many documents to transcribe. It is my belief that if I were to wait until all information was gathered the website may never go up. So please check back as I will be updating regularly.