The Fremantle Herald
OCTOBER 31 1885
Many months ago there came news from the Nor’west of a murder so strange and hideous that every one who heard of it was struck with horror. Two inoffensive gentlemen – one the manager of a local bank and the other his assistant – were found brutally hacked to pieces as they lay asleep in their beds. Such was the purport of the intelligence first received. The community in which the terrible deed took place was small even for an infant settlement, a mere handful of people in a desert, and the next news which was expected was that of the arrest of the murders.
It was naturally supposed that the murder had arisen out of a robbery, and that the police, who must be able to discover the motives of every one on the day proceeding the crime, would immediately detect and secure the offenders. But it subsequently turned out, no robbery was committed or attempted as far as could be ascertained. Although blood had flowed freely, there were no marks of bloody fingers on the safe, nor was there a valuable of any kind abstracted. The keys of the one murdered man were untouched and unsought in his waistcoat pocket the keys of the other were laid on his breast, in haughty silent repudiation of any crime less than murder.
But the local police, either unable to conceive that any crime could be committed except for the purpose of theft, pounced upon two quarrymen and a wretched coolie while the magistrate, on a string of evidence which deserved only to be scouted, sent the accused to trial. The men were acquitted and the truth stood out clearly and boldly. What had been taken for the accompaniment of a robbery could no longer be mistaken for anything but a murder pure and simple – an act committed, not for the sake of spoil, but from jealousy, hate or fear.
Again, the public waited for the authorities to take the necessary and obvious steps to hunt down the perpetrators of the hideous crime. This time at least, it was thought, the Government would awake from its apathy and would spare neither expense nor pains to vindicate the law and cleanse a rising district from the stain of having in its midst the actors in so foul a deed.
But while the country has been waiting, afraid to utter a word lest it should interfere with the secret operations of the trackers of crime, what has been done? Absolutely nothing, Yes, it turns out the Government conceives it has fulfilled its duty by taking up and trying three men of whom it may be said that not only was the evidence against them entirely worthless, but it was as utterly out of the question that they should be implicated in such a crime as in a conspiracy against the Emperor of China. Why is this ? Is it because the Government hesitates to spend money in the detection of crime, however grave ? Is it that it can find no suitable detective either here or in the sister colonies ? Or is it that it dare not take any effectual steps to track up a murder for fear of offending the sensibilities and encroaching on the privileges of the settlers of the district. We know the attitude taken up by the Nor West.
By a singular fatuity that rude outlying settlement, instead of joining in the effort to hunt down the criminals and to cast out the unclean thing which is making it a bye word among the colonies, has no sooner come to perceive that the circumstances connected with the crime preclude the assumption that it could only have been conducted by one of the criminal class for the sake of plunder than they assume an attitude of resentment and menace ?
Can it be that the Government thinks it expedient to let the matter “drop” rather than expose itself to the hostility of these people and their sympathisers? We hope that for the honor of the British Crown it is not so. But to one of the three reasons we have mentioned, its inaction must be attributed, for if the Government were not afraid of spending the necessary money, or unable to obtain the necessary assistance, or not fearful of giving offence, it could never let it be said – as will be said – throughout the Australian Colonies that it has allowed as foul a crime to be committed without making an effort worthy of name to show that it knows how to vindicate the law and protect the lives of British subjects. To one of those charges it cannot help being open.
Its inaction may be the result of cowardice, parsimony, or incapacity, but to one of the three it must be due. It is exceedingly to be regretted. Australia will ring with it and it will be said that the most serious crimes are under certain circumstances allowed to be hushed up.