Trial – The West Australian – Editorial


The Trial as Reported by The West Australian Newspaper




After a lengthy and most patient trial of six days the jury impanelled to try Charles Warburton, Frederick Bevan, and San Qui, for the murder of Mr. Anketell and Mr. Burrup at Roebourne, in January last, returned a verdict on Tuesday of not guilty.

Throughout the prisoners received a conspicuously fair trial. Full justice indeed perhaps more than justice, was done the accused. The prosecution was conducted with equity and candour. The ease for the defence was managed with the utmost ability. The Chief Justice, who clearly entertained the strongest views on the insufficiency of the evidence, was careful to point out the reply to each argument urged by the Crown, and to supplement anything he thought wanting in the statements of counsel for the defence.

After the second day’s evidence had begun to unfold itself, most of those who had successfully followed the trial gave up hopes of a conviction. Many believed there would be a disagreement. But while the jury were deliberating in their chamber, the belief gained ground, that the result would be the discharge of the prisoners in the dock.

Save that the accused received the benefit of the full and impartial trial provided for them by British law, it is impossible to regard the issue of the case with anything like a feeling of satisfaction. A brutal and a hideous double murder, as fiendish a business as has ever bonified and disgraced any part of Australia, remains unpunished. The discomfiture of the desire, felt we fear by many, that someone should suffer as an atonement for the crime that hurried Mr. Anketell and Mr. Burrup into eternity, is of course not to be regretted, but the consequences may be serious enough to justify a very deep feeling of regret at the result.

Not only has the law failed to vindicate itself, but to the disgrace with which this outrage has stained the fair name or our colony must be added the discredit which will inevitably attach itself to our inefficiency in criminal detection. Moreover a sense of insecurity will unavoidably make itself felt for a time in some of our outlying townships. In our climate, where sleeping in the open air is so usual, and where closing and barring of doors and windows at night in summer time is almost impossible, this sense of mysterious peril, possibly hovering close at hand, becomes a matter of grave moment.

In short only one issue to this trial could be conceived more deplorable, and that would be the conviction of possibly, innocent men. The important question now is, to what are we to attribute this miscarriage of justice? There can be little doubt that all Roebourne believed in the guilt of two at least of the three men who were discharged on Tuesday. We are not by any means sure indeed that Tuesday’s verdict will at all disturb their persuasion in this respect. For it must be remembered that the verdict does not, and we may add in view of the facts which the prosecution adduced, could not, amount to a warrant of the innocence of the accused. It must be taken merely to testify to the opinion of the jury, that the evidence was insufficient to justify them in sending the prisoners to the gallows. This decision of the jury we have no hesitation in fully endorsing, so far as our judgment is concerned. In the face of the testimony brought forward, the jury had really no option but to acquit. And yet we venture to say the late prisoners would regret extremely to take their place again in dock, and once more confront the same witnesses, if the preparation of the evidence be recommenced anew. For painful as it must sound, we feel compelled to observe that this defeat of the ends of justice must be chiefly laid to the door of those, on whom it devolved to take the preliminary steps for the prosecution at Roebourne.

Whatever may be the causes for it and there may have been many, the evidence was certainly 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 a 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. Apparently the police having morally satisfied themselves of the guilt of the men whom they arrested, were content to believe that the evidence would necessarily prove itself, and secure conviction. They got undoubtedly good evidence, but by no means the best evidence. Take for instance the all important question of the whereabouts of Bevan and Warburton on the night and morning of the murder. Not an hour should have been left in uncertainty, not a link that was needed but should have been supplied. And yet there were many hours unaccounted for, and many links left missing.

The case in short, as it was presented to the jury, was one of suspicion, we may even grant of overwhelming suspicion, but it never passed into that state of reasonable conviction, which is required of a British criminal jury before it can permit itself to return a verdict of guilty.

It is a small consolation that we have not necessarily heard the last of this massacre. The prisoners have been indicted for the murder of Mr. Anketell. Should further evidence be discovered to implicate them, or should a more conclusive case be established, they can again be put upon their trial for the death of Mr Burrup. But whether this dreadful affair be ever heard of again in a court of justice or not, will probably depend altogether on the efforts and intelligence of the detectives and police as displayed in the course of the next three months.



At the conclusion of the Roebourne murder trial, an incident occurred which  many may think a fair revelation of the white prisoners’ characters. One of them warmly, and with the utmost feeling, thanked the counsel for the defence for the efforts which had saved him from the hangman’s rope. His companion evidently thought the moment for sentiment had passed, and that the time had come to do a stroke of business. Treating the trial and his connection with it as matters that might now be safely  dropped into obscurity, he without preface hinted that his learned advocate might oblige him with the price of a night’s lodging. We must add, however that the thanks came the next day.