Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society
Hasluck, Alexandra 1967, 'Murder on the Old Coast Road', Early Days, vol. 6, part 6: 7-20.
Not so very long ago, before the Main Roads Department ‘improved’ it, the old coast road from Mandurah to Bunbury was a delightful stretch to drive along. For some distance out of Mandurah the track, for it was hardly more than that, lay close to the shores of Peel Inlet, sometimes no more than a fringe of reeds separating it from the water. Gnarled old paperbark trees leaned confidently towards it, and peppermints drooped their shade over it. Sometimes the track would be nothing more than deep soft grey sand, heavily rutted and quite unnerving to take a small car over; sometimes a narrow white limestone surface would appear, bearing signs of having been properly laid.
It was an old road, convict-built in the 1850s on an even older track. Captain Molloy and the Turners from Augusta would have made their way along it towards Fremantle; Thomas Peel would have crossed the ferry at Mandurah and ridden down it to visit Marshall Waller Clifton at Australind. Captain Henderson, Comptroller-General of convicts traversed it to observe the convict roadmaking. Until quite recently, some of the wells put in by the convict roadworkers every ten miles or so could still be seen. There were occasional old houses, most of them now gone, such as Morphett’s place, Mount John and Fouracre’s.
The ruins of the Fouracre place are still there, about 500 yards north of the signpost marking the turn-off to Waroona, their thick limestone walls almost hidden by undergrowth and suckers from old fallen fig trees. Dense shade from Cape Lilac, mulberry and orange trees helps to conceal them from the passer-by. Periwinkle and other garden plants have run wild; poison-green Apples of Sodom grow among the broken walls of the rooms, four of which are still visible. A large square pile of rubble at the rear may denote a vanished kitchen chimney. Dust from the new road lies like a pall over everything.
Ruins are always interesting, even if they do not show much of the building they once had been. Their fragments and position evoke the past and call up to the imagination a once living scene. I had known of these ruins for thirty years or so, but no one seemed to know much about them, save that a murder had once taken place there, and connected with this was a vague story of a sinister Oriental, and stolen jewellery and money never recovered. Things like this in Western Australian history ferment slowly in my mind till the point comes when I must know more about them. Quite recently this point was reached, and I began to look into the history of Fouracre’s, delving into the past to find it. And was surprised to learn that at the time when I first became interested in the ruins, they were only about twenty-five years old. Yet they looked as if centuries had passed over them, and few people remembered the story of the tragedy that had taken place there, although in one aspect it was a rather unusual one.
The building known to me only as 'Fouracre’s’ had been erected shortly after 1856, by John Fouracre, ‘a decent, well-conducted free immigrant’, as Archdeacon Wollaston describes him in his Albany Journals. The venerable Archdeacon, returning to Albany from his fifth archidiaconal tour, which took him very far afield, had ridden southwards by way of Mandurah to Australind. On 24 February, 1856, he had been advised on leaving Mandurah, to stay the night at Fouracre’s place, which he did, but mentions that Mr. Fouracre was only just building his house. Wollaston spent a wretched night, plagued by mosquitoes, and after continuing next day, describes the dreadful road—hot, heavy and sandy. <1> The house, afterwards called ‘Peppermint Grove Farm’, was about 15 miles west of what is now Waroona.
John Fouracre’s place, when finished, became a wayside inn, frequented by many travellers riding or driving up the coast road from Bunbury. Relays of horses were kept there for the Bunbury Mail coach. The building was large and square, and had eight rooms, four of which were bedrooms. There were a parlour and a living-room, and two storerooms. <2> The kitchen was probably a separate building at the rear, as in many old colonial houses. The pile of rubble still there, which might have been a large chimney, would seem to indicate this. A stockyard and barns surrounded by panel fences were on the other side of the road from the house, where the coaches could lurn into them easily.
The inn was well-kept. A good meal of roast or salt beef or mutton, with swamp-grown potatoes and pumpkin, could be put on, with a splendid mulberry, apricot or rhubarb tart according to the season, topped by clotted cream from the cows. And it had another attraction. A very old lady, Mrs. Venables, nee Piggott, who had lived not far away, described it to me as having ‘a beautiful well of clear
water’, and the tone of voice in which she said this revealed how much a drink of good cold water could mean to the hot dusty traveller of those times. <3>
The inn prospered and was said to be a favourite place of Governor Weld's to stay at when he went kangaroo hunting. By 1899, John Fouracre, who had raised a good-sized family and whose wife had died, married again and went to live at Drakesbrook, nearer Waroona. Four of his daughters and his son Robert continued to live at Peppermint Grove Farm, and in course of time, two of the daughters married, and Robert took up a property of his own. His sister Martha went to housekeep for him, and the only person left living at the old home was Leah Fouracre. <4>
At the time when our interest begins, which is the year 1907, Leah Fouracre was aged 44, but evidently looked younger for one of the people often in touch with her took her to be about 35. He described her as of medium height and slim build, with chestnut hair cut short like a man’s and parted in the middle. She always wore a man’s hat. For the times, this was unconventional, even unusual. <5>
Leah Fouracre continued to run the place, not as an inn but as a farm, raising poultry, butter and eggs and a few cattle. It was profitable enough. Sales of produce were made for her by her brother Robert. She very rarely left the property unless to go somewhere close at hand. There was a neighbour about 4 miles down the road, named Hickerson, and a few others further afield. ‘She was an expert shot, an accomplished horsewoman, and could do all the work on the place from the rounding-up of cattle to the killing of a pig,’ it was said of her later. ‘She knew bushcraft thoroughly and could follow tracks in the bush as well as the best bushmen in the country . . .’ <6> She was not, however, so keen on the garden. Plants had begun to run wild, and lemon and orange trees, elderberry and mulberry planted by her father many years before now looked neglected. The place was increasingly isolated, as fewer and fewer bona fide travellers passed, drawn off by the railway some fifteen miles to the east. There was always, however, a small but usual passage of runaway sailors from the port of Bunbury, and of quite accepted Afghan or Indian hawkers. These latter had entered the country at the end of the last century, at the time of the gold rushes. Most of them were respectable and worthy, if shrewd traders.
Leah Fouracre was happy enough, although her life might have been thought lonely. "We didn’t think about being lonely," said her neighbour, old Mrs. Venables, when questioned: "We were used to it.” A remark that speaks worlds for the people of the early days.
Twelve fine well-fed cats and a dog kept Leah company, together with a flight of pigeons. She was fond of reading and subscribed to
several magazines. From time to time her brother Robert, or her brother-in-law, Michael Lyons, dropped in, or the manager of her father’s farm brought provisions for her. Occasional passers-by would stop for a drink of water. She was not unduly lonely. And she was popular with her neighbours when she saw them. ‘She was of a kind, generous nature, and lent a helping hand whenever it was needed/ said the report in the paper after her death. “She was a real white woman, was Leah", said one of her neighbours later. <7>
On Sunday, 18 August, 1907, George Sutton, a young farmer of Mandurah, was riding across country from Hampden towards Peppermint Grove Farm. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon. As he neared the place, he pulled up and gave a ringing ‘coo-ee' in case Leah was working outside somewhere. He rather fancied a cup of tea. There was no answering call, so he coo-eed again. Emerging from the thick grove of peppermint trees into the cleared paddock by the house, he was shocked to a standstill. Fire had attacked the farmhouse. The long, low limestone building was blackened and still smoking. The shingled roof had gone, though some of the charred beams could be seen amid the debris fallen in to some of the rooms. He shouted Leah’s name, and her collie dog came running from the direction of the kitchen garden and well. This was about 150 yards from the house on the further side of a paddock of clover. A narrow path led there. Sutton dismounted and went down the path but could not find anyone, though he saw a hat on the ground, a bundle of grass and a bit of rope. He rushed back to the house and tried to examine the smouldering ruins, but decided he must go to Waroona to report the fire and get help.
Just at that moment a man named Robert Pahl came by along the road and stopped to look at the damage. Sutton hailed him and together they managed to lever some of the beams out of the way and get into the house. In Leah Fouracre’s bedroom they saw the remains of a charred body, the ghastly head resting on a small tin. <8> Horror-stricken, they thought Leah Fouracre must have lost her life while trying to rescue some of her possessions after the fire had started. <9>
They set off for Waroona but on the way they met Police Constable Mann and Richard Pavey heading towards Peppermint Grove Farm. It appeared that the fire had been discovered some hours earlier by Michael Lyons and reported by him. By the time that Constable Mann reached the place it was late afternoon, nearly dark and a small rain falling. He cast a brief glance at the dank ruins of the house, but his attention was attracted by a large dog which pestered him till he followed it down the path over the paddock to where he found a man’s hat, a bag of barley, some loose green barley and a light rope. A spade and shovel were nearby. The dog settled down by the hat again. He rounded up the horses in the
paddock and found that a filly was missing which he knew Miss Fouracre to possess. Then he went back to the house, located and gathered up the remains of the deceased from among the still smouldering ruins and put them in a sack to take to Waroona. He could not help but notice that steel corset ribs were adhering to the body. There were no legs: they had been consumed in the flames.
The following day, 19 August, Constable Mann returned to the farm accompanied by two other men. The collie dog was still on guard by the hat in the kitchen garden, and several hungry cats were prowling about. The party searched the ruins and found large quantities of discharged cartridges and several empty powder horns the explosion of which, they thought, would account in a large measure for the destruction of the body. <10> They found no rifle, however. Miss Fouracre was known to sleep with a loaded rifle by her side. <11> Nor was any money found, although by Robert Fouracre’s account it should have been. No jewellery was discovered. Strangely enough, they found an axe-head in Miss Fouracre’s bedroom, an unusual appurtenance for such a place.
Although this axe-head seems to have had nothing to do with the tragedy, from later evidence, it at least fulfilled one function: it raised some doubts in the pedantic mind of the constable. He went back to the spot where he had found the hat, and where the dog was still on guard. Turning over the bundle of greenstuff, P.C. Mann found he had blood on his hands. Further search revealed blood on the grass nearby. <12> Dimly he began to perceive that Leah Fouracre had not died in the burning building. The dog knew this, if he did not.
The pathetic remains had been conveyed to Pinjarra, and an inquest was formally opened on 19th August before Dr. Lovegrove, the Resident Magistrate, and a jury. A preliminary post mortem indicated that the deceased might have been shot, and the inquest was adjourned till the examination was completed. At five the next morning the Coroner and jury went to Peppermint Grove Farm to view the scene of the tragedy. The police, after talking to Robert Fouracre, Michael Lyons, George Sutton and others, began to make inquiries for a man named Berchman, who had been seen at the farm during the previous week. This man had said he was in the detective force, was searching for a certain person and was at the same time keeping a watchful eye open for ‘the fellows with the turbans on', as he called them, or in other words, the Indian hawkers who traversed the countryside.
The whole affair reached the pages of the morning paper, The West Australian, on 20 August, under the restrained headlines: A WAROONA SENSATION: WOMAN’S MYSTERIOUS DEATH: MURDER AND ARSON SUSPECTED.
Meanwhile in Bunbury, on 19 August,' a licensed pawnbroker Jacob Robin, had bought a lady’s silver watch and chain, and a revolver from a man who said he was a police officer. After paying out 10/- for the articles, Robin became suspicious and contacted the police, and as a result, that afternoon the Bunbury police arrested a man named Augustin de Kitchilan alias Berchman, on a charge of having represented himself as a member of the W.A. Police Force. A rifle, a brown leather handbag, two table covers, seven boxes of cartridges, and a sheathed knife with blood on it were recovered from him at the Bunbury gaol. There he remained for three weeks when he was remanded to Pinjarra.
The first reports of him described Augustin de Kitchilan as about twenty-one years of age, thickset, 5 feet 6 inches high, with straight black hair and a copper-coloured moustache. At that period, the early 1900s, it will be recalled, moustaches were worn flowing and were a prominent feature of the face. De Kitchilan was said to be from St. Helena, but the reporter evidently did not hear correctly: he was a Cingalese, born at Kandi. When he was taken from the railway carriage at Pinjarra a large and curious crowd was waiting to get a glimpse of him, for Leah Fouracre’s death had aroused much feeling. He appeared quite unconcerned and called out: “Make way for the wild man!” Next day the inquest on Leah Fouracre was resumed. <13> It was now 12 September.
Evidence given at the inquest showed that in the three weeks since the discovery of the tragedy the police had not been idle. The movements of de Kitchilan had been traced and witnesses to them secured. The last days of Miss Fouracre’s life, when de Kitchilan had been seen at Peppermint Grove Farm, were described and a picture emerged.
A Cingalese, named Joseph Fisher, who worked for Mr. Venn near Dardanup, said he had known Augustin de Kitchilan for a few years. He used to come and stay at Fisher’s hut at times. He had been there last in July and had left at the beginning of August. From there, it appeared, he went to Harvey. The wife of the licensee of the Korrijicup Hotel at Harvey remembered seeing him in early August, because he had been involved in an argument at the hotel with an Afghan hawker. They had ‘had words’, was the way she put it, but she did not know what about. Both appeared excited. There had not been any European hawkers at the hotel. <14>
De Kitchilan continued to hang about Harvey for a few days. He was seen there by Joseph Piggott on 5 August, and on 11 August a man named William Pye met him at Hampden over on the coast road. They chatted and de Kitchilan said he was heading for Miss Fouracre's place. He asked Mr. Pye in what the latter called ‘a rather persuasive way' whether Miss Fouracre was well-off.
This inquisitiveness annoyed Mr. Pye who told him to be off. He had not seen the man before, but had heard of him. <15>
De Kitchilan reached Peppermint Grove Farm by 12 August and found Miss Fouracre giving a cup of tea to a neighbour, Joseph Hickerson, who had called in. Towards nightfall, George Sutton of Mandurah arrived and asked for a bed for the night. Presumably de Kitchilan also bedded down somewhere, for he was still there the next day when Richard Pavey, manager of the farm of Fouracre and Wass called in with some provisions for Miss Fouracre. De Kitchilan told Pavey that he was a detective waiting to catch Indian hawkers. As he talked he restlessly fiddled with things on the table, and at length pulled a revolver out of his pocket which he said he needed for his work. Pavey was slightly surprised at the friendly terms de Kitchilan seemed to be on with Miss Fouracre. In a somewhat familiar way he asked her for pen, ink and paper to write a letter. She refused jokingly three or four times, and de Kitchilan said to her, “Don’t you get my temper up, my lady, or you might be sorry for it.” When she at length got the things for him and he began to write, she teased him about his handwriting, whereupon he said, also apparently in jest: “I’ll take that smile off your face, my lady, by writing to The Sunday Times about you.” Pavey stayed the night and left the next morning. <16>
Signs of this uneasy jocularity had been observed by George Sutton also, when he had stayed the night there. A remark was passed by Leah Fouracre to the effect: “Somebody is going to get his neck broken tomorrow,” and when asked who, she replied: “The lackey is going to ride Prince." There was badinage about who the lackey was, but it was apparent she meant de Kitchilan. <17> Naturally enough, he resented the word ‘lackey’, which the dictionary gives as meaning ‘a footman’ or ‘a servile person’. It seems to have been more in common use at the time than it is now, but still meant a menial, and since de Kitchilan had announced himself to be an accomplished horse-breaker, it reflected on his ability too. It may be commented on here that anyone of Australian birth would have known how to take this sort of bucolic teasing; but those of another race could not be expected to perceive that it meant nothing and was used only to provoke a retort and keep the party going. George Sutton had also, on this occasion, been a bit startled to see de Kitchilan produce a revolver, and was told that it had been a very necessary adjunct in South Africa where de Kitchilan had been. While they chatted there by the kitchen door of the farmhouse, Leah Fouracre passed by carrying a bucket. De Kitchilan had asked why she had not got him to carry it for her, and she replied: “There’s not much fear of you hurting yourself.” No smile appeared on de Kitchilan’s face at this, and Sutton was not quite happy about the situation. When he had to leave for Hampden and
Harvey he asked Leah what de Kitchilan was doing there. Leah replied that she did not know, but that she would find out before he arrived on his return journey 'what the blackfellow was after’; <18> which term would seem to denote that she regarded him as dark, but the word was probably used still partly in jest. From evidence later, when de Kitchilan alluded to himself as 'an Asiatic’, and from his upbringing, it was obvious that he was not very dark in colour and was probably a mixture of races. The trouble is that when this sort of banter occurs, friction may arise from a misunderstanding of the humour of different peoples. But it may not have been because of such a trivial thing as lack of humour that ensuing events took place.
A few days later, on 17 August, George Sutton was returning from his trip to Harvey. About eighteen miles out of Harvey he met de Kitchilan riding a bay filly which Sutton knew to be the property of Leah Fouracre. Attached to the saddle of the horse was a small bundle and a rifle, which he thought looked like Leah's rifle. De Kitchilan was leading another horse which was a bit lame and also looked like one of Leah’s. He remarked he was taking it to the vet. Sutton said he did not know if he himself would get to Peppermint Grove farm that night or not. De Kitchilan said: “Well, if you see Leah, tell her I won’t be back till the middle of the week.” Sutton was considerably surprised by the familiar way of speaking, and said: "Tell who?” De Kitchilan replied: “Miss Fouracre.” Sutton asked him when he ought to be back, and de Kitchilan said, "Tomorrow afternoon.” He then rode off in the direction of Harvey while Sutton went on to Hampden. It was the next day that Sutton continued to Peppermint Grove farm and discovered the tragic scene there. <19>
As de Kitchilan entered Harvey he was seen by Joseph Piggott again. Piggott observed that he was riding a mare and leading a lame horse. De Kitchilan went to the Korrijicup Hotel and had dinner there, Mrs. Robinson, wife of the licensee, recognising him from his previous appearance a fortnight earlier. He paid for his meal with sixpences and threepenny pieces. Perhaps she expressed some surprise at this, for he asked her if she needed change, and gave her a pound’s worth of small coins in return for a sovereign. The waitress, Sarah Coutts, then came in for his attention. He gave her a brooch made of three gilded farthings, an imitation pearl necklace and half a bottle of perfume. She could see other bottles of scent in the leather bag he opened, and wanted to buy one but he said he needed it for other girls. He let her buy for 2/- another brooch made of three gilded sixpences. After he had departed, it was found that he had left the lame horse behind. By Sunday afternoon he had reached Benger, where he gave an aboriginal woman and some of her daughters a brooch with a horseshoe on it,
a pearl scarf-pin and a card of pearl buttons. That night he appeared at his Cingalese friend Fisher’s place and asked if he could stay the night. Next day he rode off towards Dardanup. He had borrowed a pair of trousers from Fisher and left his own behind. They had blood on them. <20> Later that day he was arrested at Bunbury.
The chain of circumstantial evidence painstakingly built up by the police was now complete. Michael Lyons stated that Leah Fouracre was fond of jewellery and, as he said, 'had a fair amount for a girl in the bush.’ She was also fond of perfumes and had shown him bottles of scent similar to the one in the leather bag removed from de Kitchilan when arrested. He thought she only kept small change in the house. On the other hand, her brother Robert said he always paid her in gold for the produce he sold for her and he thought she must have had about £100. Robert identified the jewellery including the silver watch and chain, and said the scarf-pin had been carved in pearl-shell to his own order in Pinjarra. His sister Martha recognised a cameo brooch as her mother's. She alluded to Leah’s habit of keeping small change in a tin in her bedroom, and also thought she must have had a fair sum of money but did not know where she kept that. <21> The blood-stained trousers were produced. Doctor Tymms of the Perth Public Hospital gave evidence that the deceased had been shot through the heart from behind while in the act of turning round. A discharged cartridge of the same size as those for the Martini-Henri rifle Miss Fouracre owned was found near the hat and the bundle of bloody grass by the well. The inquest closed at Pinjarra on 14th September with a verdict of murder, and de Kitchilan was committed for trial and sent to Fremantle gaol.
At this point we might stop to consider the character of de Kitchilan. He was evidently fairly well educated. The letter he had insisted on writing at Leah Fouracre’s place was produced at Bunbury Police Court after his arrest. Dated 12 August, it was addressed to Mr. T. Holmes, a police inspector at Bunbury. It read:
“Dear Sir, I most humbly beg to inform you that I, Augustin de Kitchilan, am now on my way to see if I can get you information to show how these Indian hawkers are doing their trade on the old Fremantle road. They are, Sir, indeed doing a rattling good trade, and are playing the Lawak (sic. Lark?) too, so I think if that be your wish I will catch them red-handed and get their names there and then, and will bring you the information, or else I can take it over the way to Pinjarra station and put the police there on their track. At any rate I shall await your reply here. I conclude, dear Sir, with high regards. I remain, dear Sir, yours very respectfully* Augustin de Kitchilan." <22>
One may see in this letter, not only its well-phrased sentences
revealing his educational ability, but also a desire to get back at the Indian hawker with whom he had had the argument at Harvey, and who is probably the lark-playing Indian alluded to in it. The reason for this will never be known, but it is obvious that it obsessed de Kitchilan to such a point that he had to pretend to be a member of the police force in order to spite this Indian. It may also have been the touchpoint of his desire to do violence, or to get money.
Inspector Holmes of Bunbury testified that he had never employed or even seen de Kitchilan prior to the latter’s arrest. When he had got the letter addressed to him, he had visited de Kitchilan in gaol and asked him why he wrote it, saying, “I never employed you to work for the police." de Kitchilan replied: “I know you didn’t.”
De Kitchilan wrote another letter after he had been in Bunbury gaol for a week. It was dated 27 August and addressed to Miss Leah Fouracre. "Dear Madam,” it read, “I most humbly beg to inform you of my extreme sorrow for having thus made ill promise to you; the reason is easy got, and it is as follows:—After I left you I went to the Mornington (Mills) to get, as you know, the veterinary surgeon, and before I came within a mile off I met a fellow who informed me that it would cost me four or five pounds to get the veterinary surgeon down to the coast, whereupon I returned, staying on the Perth road that night ... I went to Bunbury on Monday to see if Mr. Allrodt had any more horses for me to break in, and also to get Prince shod. But to my utter despair I have got myself arrested for representing myself as a police officer and I have been remanded twice. I know not why, they don’t tell me, and have done with it; but of course, I am like clay in the potter’s hand. They can do as they please with a poor fellow. So now, Madam, I beg, nay entreat, you to forgive me, and do so in your earliest convenience. Let me know your scheme for getting Prince back to the lake again. I have not forgot what you told me about not letting Bob have her, for I told the police she belonged to you and not to Fouracre and Wass, and also I beg of you to aid me by sending the balance you owe me, for I am short of money. Now hoping for success, I conclude with regards. I remain, dear Madam, yours very respectfully, Augustin de Kitchilan."
At this time, Leah Fouracre was two weeks in her grave. The statements in the letter do not tally with de Kichilan’s proved movements, and it bears all the marks of a rather feeble attempt to show that he had not been at Peppermint Grove Farm when Leah died; and that he knew nothing about her death.
This letter presents another aspect of de Kitchilan’s powers of self-delusion if he thought it would convince anyone of his unawareness of the crime. He did not appear to realise the situation he was in, and during his period in Bunbury gaol he entertainedß
his custodians with stories of Cingalese life and folklore, and frequently amused himself by singing commonplace music-hall songs. What sort of a man was he, therefore? One thing is obvious: he had to be the centre of attention.
The same thing was evident in his behaviour at the inquest, when he quibbled over words in order to show his cleverness, and asked witnesses many trifling questions designed less to show that he was innocent of a crime than that he had been a notable participant in an unusual event. It was also evident at his trial, which began in Perth before Mr. Justice McMillan, on 1 October, 1907.
Augustin de Kitchilan was accused of having wilfully murdered Leah Fouracre on or about 16 August. The trial lasted four days, and little different was brought out in evidence than had emerged at the inquest. De Kitchilan’s lawyer, Mr. C. Penny, tried hard to make one salient point: he said he was by no means satisfied that Leah Fouracre was dead: that the remains found might be those of an aboriginal women. But the jury remembered the steel corset ribs still adhering to the charred trunk when found, and was not convinced by Mr. Penny. An hour and a half after retiring, it returned a verdict of guilty. <23>
The prisoner was apparently unmoved: he glanced casually around the court. When asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed, to everyone's surprise he made an impassioned address to the judge, becoming more and more wound up. Dramatically and wordily he stated that he was innocent of Leah Fouracre's death. Two years before, she had given him shelter when he needed it, and though he had gone away he had promised to return and he did so. "She was as good as a mother to me," he said, “and I have loved her as a son loves a mother, or a brother a sister." Then he shouted that it was because he was coloured that he had been blamed for the crime.
"Because an Asiatic was in the neighbourhood it must have been him who committed the crime," he ranted. "It is very easy for the jury to walk into this court and bring in a fellow guilty. But is there any man here who saw me do the deed?" And so on.
Dispassionately, the Judge told de Kitchilan that he had been treated just as a white man would have been treated. "You have had a fair trial, and have been found guilty of a premeditated and cold-blooded murder - guilty of having murdered a woman who, you yourself have said, showed you nothing but kindness." The death sentence was passed, and the prisoner returned to Fremantle Gaol. <24 >
De Kitchilan’s outcry that his trial had been prejudiced because of his colour was commented on the next day in a very moderate leading article of The West Australian. It remarked that
in murder cases the evidence was usually circumstantial, and in this case, circumstantial evidence had been very strongly against the accused. The crime was one of such deliberation and for such petty motives as to deprive the prisoner of any public sympathy. The accused man had also alienated public opinion by his decided tendency towards dramatic display. There was some ingenuity in his suggestion that because he was an Asiatic he had not received full justice in an Australian court, and perhaps he could not be blamed in his situation for making such a claim; but nevertheless the whole proceedings were an answer to his calumnious statement. "It is not in every country," said the newspaper, “that a counsel is appointed to defend an accused man who is unable himself to retain an advocate. The question of de Kitchilan's race or colour never obtruded itself in any prejudicial way during the hearing. His counsel made what was judged by all present, including the judge, a very competent defence." <25>
It is interesting to ponder whether this was one of the earliest attempts to force an accusation of colour prejudice on Australia. In the later years of the 20th century many Japanese and Malays entered Western Australia for employment in the pearling industry in the North. And in the 1890s, Afghan camel-drivers and Chinese labourers arrived, when the inland goldfields called for them. In 1891 there was 1,000 Chinese in W.A. and 1,500 ten years later. In 1897 the Natal Dictation Test of 50 words in English had been imposed as a restriction to illiterate immigrants, and in 1901, the Federal Immigration Restriction Act was passed. <26> The Afghan and Indian camel-drivers had entered the country before the restriction of the dictation test was imposed. Some of them had turned to other pursuits such as that of hawker. After the 1897 restriction, very few Indians entered.
It would interesting to know by what means de Kitchilan entered Western Australia—whether legally or illegally. By his own account in 1907, he had been in the State for three years or so. Obviously, from his letters, he could easily have passed the dictation test. In a letter to his lawyer before his trial, he said, that as a child he had been taken from Ceylon ‘home to England’, (his own words), where he became a Christian. He claimed a Captain Lane-Fox, of 81 Cadogan Gardens, London, as his ‘godfather’. <27> Probably he went to school in England. In 1903, when he apparently arrived in the State, statistics show that 17 Indians and 2 Cingalese entered the country. (28) Was de Kitchilan one of these, and his friend Fisher at Dardanup the other? Or was he, perhaps, a runaway sailor?
On 16 October the Executive Council considered the de Kitchilan case in the light of several new pieces of information. An anonymous letter had accused a certain man in the general vicinity of the
crime of having been spending a lot of suddenly acquired money. The man was proved to have withdrawn it from his bank. Further investigation of de Kitchilan showed that he had served a term of three months' imprisonment for having attacked a man in Bunbury with an axe, and had also shot at a person who called him a name. The Executive Council decided that the law should take its course and that de Kitchilan should be hanged at Fremantle Gaol at 8 a.m. on Wednesday 23 October. <29>
The day before, a last-minute discovery was made by The West Australian that a letter had reached the Governor-General and had been sent on from Victoria to the Crown Law Department, Perth. The letter stated that the writer left W.A. two days after the murder, that de Kitchilan was innocent and the writer hoped he would not be hanged. The signature was illegible; so was the address. But when the Attorney-General, Mr. Keenan was interviewed, he said that there was nothing in the communication which would warrant the reversal of the jury's verdict; none of the evidence was refuted by it. The Council had decided that the law must take its course. <30>
Also on the day before the execution,—on 22 October—by one of those coincidences of which life is full, died old John Fouracre, who had arrived in Wesem Australia in 1852, a decent, well-conducted young man of twenty-one, who had lived to see his daughter murdered, and the house he had built so strongly with his own hands reduced to a useless ruin. <31>
On 23 October 1907, Augustin John Berchman de Kitchilan came to his end. It was not the colour of his skin, but his black heart, that brought him to the gallows. He had broken the written and unwritten laws of the country: he had violated the law of hospitality, he had broken the law against killing. These are universal, not only Australian, laws.
(1) J. R. Wollaston, Albany Journals, p. 232
(2) The West Australian, 21/8/1907
(3) Mrs. Venables, interviewed at the Home of Peace, January, 1966
(4) The West Australian, 21/8/1907
(5) Ibid, 12/9/07
(6) Ibid, 20/8/07
(7) Mrs. Armstrong, daughter of Mrs. Venables, interviewed at Hampden, 18/1/1966
(8) The West Australian, 12/9/07
(9) Ibid, 20/8/07
(10) Ibid, 21/8/07
(11) Ibid, 20/8/07
(12) Ibid, 12/9/07
(13) Ibid, 12/9/07
(14) Ibid, 14/9/07
(15) Ibid, 12/9/07
(17) Ibid, 13/9/07
(18) Ibid, 12/9/07
(20) Ibid, 14/9/07
(22) Ibid, 12/9/07
(23) Ibid, 7/10/07
(24) Ibid, 7/10/07
(26) Crowley, F. K., Australia’s Western Third, p. 119
(27) The West Australian, 24/10, and 17/10/07.
(28) W.A. Year Book, 1902-04, p. 297
(29) The West Australian, 17/10/07
(30) Ibid, 23/10/07.
(31) Ibid, 24/10/07
Garry Gillard | New: 30 September, 2020 | Now: 30 September, 2020