Robert Massey Hay and Ann McRae

Much of the following history of Robert Hay was initially researched by Pat Ballard, a Hay family descendant in the USA. It has been expanded with the recent development of digital newspapers providing additional information. Robert Massey Hay was the ninth child and fourth son of James Hay and Ann Barclay. He was born on 16 August 1836 in the Launceston district of Van Diemen's Land. Robert was christened along with his brother James on 6 August 1838, also in the Launceston district.1 Robert was the only male descendant of James and Ann Hay to have children.

There is some misleading information that needs to be addressed first. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) Ancestral File (AF) records the family of James Hay and Annie Barclay, with their child Robert listed as Robert Massey Hay, born 22 August 1834 at Aberdeen, Scotland.2 As James Hay and Ann Barkley had arrived in Van Diemen's Land the previous year and their son James was born on 11 January 1834 at Launceston, Tasmania, it is highly unlikely they travelled back to Aberdeen, Scotland for the birth of Robert. Nor is there an equivalent birth registration available from the General Registry Office of Scotland, that is, there is no Robert Hay born to James and Ann Hay anywhere in Scotland from the beginning of 1833 to the end of 1835. The issue is complicated however, as Robert's marriage registration has his birth place as Aberdeen, as do some other later registrations, but his death registration states he was born in Tasmania. There is no doubt Robert volunteered the information that he was from Aberdeen so it must have suited his purposes for some reason.

The use of the middle name Massey also deserves further investigation, as it usually indicated the surname of an ancestor, in this case either James Hay or Ann Barclay's. Additionally, a Robert Massie (24), Engineer, from Aberdeen, Scotland arrived aboard the Forth with the Hay family, and there was also a John Barclay (25), blacksmith, from Aberdeen as well, the latter possibly Ann Barclay's brother, although his stated age does not match John Barclay's known birth date.3

We can confirm much about Robert's life however. In 1845 James and Robert Hay were admitted as students to the VDL Company School at Circular Head. They were recorded as admitted on 12 May 1845 and in the June 1848 return of the school James was aged 13 3/4 and Robert was aged 11 3/4.4 There is more detail to add from the VDL records.

Robert decided to emigrate from Tasmania and we next find him in Maryborough, Victoria where he married Ann McRae on 25 March 1863. His profession was recorded as coach driver, while Ann was a domestic servant. Robert was 25 and Ann was 30, both living in Maryborough. Robert's parents were James Hay, cabinet maker, and Ann Barclay. Ann's parents were Donald McRae, farmer and Mary McLennan. Sarah Ellis and Charles Gasgoine were witnesses. Jacob John Halley performed the ceremony.5 Ann was born on 2 August 1829 in Dinwall, Scotland.6

Maryborough, Victoria
Google Maps

Their first child, Annie Barclay Hay, was born on 7 November 1863 in Victoria.7 Another daughter followed, Mary McClennen Hay, born on 23 December 1865 in Maryborough, Victoria. Her father registered the event, a coachman, 29 years old, of Aberdeen, Scotland. He was married in Marborough on 23 March 1863 to Annie McRae of Inverness, Scotland.8

Their third and another girl, Sarah Barbara Hay was born 22 June 1867 but the birth does not appear to have been registered.9 The same is true for the birth of James Robert Hay, Robert and Ann's first and only son, on 29 May 1869 in Maryborough, Victoria.10 After James' birth in 1869 and before 1882, Robert, Ann and their children Annie, Mary, Sarah and James emigrated from Victoria to New Zealand. The actual date and the name of the vessel are unknown at this time.

Unfortunately Robert Massey Hay didn't get to see his family prosper as he died on 15 March 1882 in Timaru Hospital, Timaru, New Zealand. He was recorded as age 47 years and died from Malignant Scarlet Fever as certified by C. G. Hastell on the same day. His parents were James Hay, a cabinet maker, and Annie Barclay. He was born in Tasmania and had been in New Zealand for six years. He was married in Australia at the age of 28 to Ann McRae and had issue 1 male and 3 females. He was buried on 17 March 1882 in Timaru, New Zealand.11

Death Registration for Robert Hay

Death Registration for Robert Hay
New Zealand Births Death and Marriages

HAY. On the 15th March, at the Hospital, Timaru, Robert Hay. Deeply regretted.12

After Robert's death his wife and children emigrated to Salt Lake City in Utah, USA, following their conversion to the Mormon faith. According to Ann's later death announcement they joined the Church 11 August 1890 in New Zealand and they arrived in Utah 25 October 1890.13 No doubt as part of the migration they sought the security of a wider Mormon community in a time of religious intolerance. By the late 1890's the children were marrying partners and having children of their own.

James Robert Hay married Agnes "Aggie" Sharp on 9 September 1896 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah.14 Aggie was born on 14 April 1876 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah to James and Lizzie Sharp.15

Sarah Barbara Hay married Charles William Rogers on 18 October 1897 in Salt Lake City, Utah.16 Charles was born 18 January 1868 in England, the son of Fredrick Rogers and Emma Elizabeth Sheperd.17

Annie Barclay Hay married George A. Whitaker on 7 September 1899 in Salt Lake City, Utah.18 Nothing more is known of George Whitaker at this time.

In an unexpected development, James Robert Hay died on 16 December 1901 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah and he was buried in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah.19 James was murdered in what became an infamous criminal case. The following summary of the event is from Celebrated Criminal Cases in America by Thomas S. Duke, Captain of the San Francisco Police and published in 1910. It is now out of copyright and available from the Internet Archive:


(Utah Reports and Salt Lake Police Records.)

Peter Mortensen was a prominent contractor and builder in Salt Lake City, Utah, and purchased considerable material from the Pacific Lumber Company, of which James R. Hay was secretary and treasurer.

As Mortensen owed this company $3,907 and had been requested to immediately liquidate the indebtedness, he called at the office of the company on December 16, 1901, about 6 p. m., for the purpose of arranging for a settlement.

He there met Secretary Hay and Manager Romney, and gave them an order on another person for $107, and stated that he had the balance, $3,800, at his home at Forest Dale, a suburb of the city, and added that if Mr. Hay, who resided in the same neighborhood, would call upon him that night with a receipted bill, the balance would be paid.

It was nearly 8 p. m. when the three men left the office; Mr. Hay and Mortensen proceeded homeward on the Calders Park car. Hay having the receipted bill in his possession. He arrived at his home at 8:45 p. m., and after supper informed his wife and children that he was going over to Mortensen's house to collect some money, and that he would soon return.

At 10:20 p. m. Mrs. Hay and her children retired, but at 1 a. m. she awoke and became alarmed at the long absence of her husband. Mrs. Hay remained awake and at 3 a. m. she went to Mortensen's home, and after arousing him, inquired for her husband. Mortensen appeared extremely nervous and stated that Mr. Hay had left his house hours before and had gone to Mr. Romney's house; adding that he had probably missed the last car home. The next morning Mrs. Hay telephoned to Mr. Romney, who informed her that he had not seen her husband since 8 o'clock the preceding evening. Romney then communicated with Mortensen, who stated that on the preceding evening he had paid $3,800 to Hay in twenty-dollar gold pieces, which he had concealed in glass jars in his cellar, and that Hay then started to his (Romney's) office.

Mr. James Sharp, the father of Mrs. Hay, upon being informed of the disappearance of his son-in-law, went with the police to Mortensen's home. The latter produced the receipt, which he stated Hay gave him for the money, and explained that he and the missing man sat on a small settee while counting the money. The following conversation then took place between the aged Mormon, Sharp, and Mortensen :

Sharp — Where did you last see my son-in-law?

Mortensen — Here (indicating a spot on the walk about ten feet from the house).

Sharp — If that is the last place you saw him, that where you killed him.

Mortensen — How do you know he is dead?

Sharp — I have had a vision and the proof to you will that within twenty-four hours and within one mile of the place where you are standing, his dead body will be dug up from the field.

Mortensen appeared dumfounded but made no reply. At this time the ground was covered with snow.

On the next morning, December 18, Frank Torgersen was looking for horses in a field near Mortensen's house and near a fence which ran parallel with the Park City railroad track, he discovered considerable blood. This caused him to make a close inspection of the neighborhood, with the result that he found a snow-covered mound about the size of a grave. Torgersen then proceeded to Mortensen's house, where he asked for a shovel. Mortensen loaned him a shovel, stating it was the only one he possessed, although another shovel was subsequently found which had the appearance of being recently cleaned. Torgersen then returned to the mound and after digging for a few moments, unearthed the body of Hay. A bullet wound was found in the back of his head.

The news of this discovery spread like wildfire and a number of people repaired to the scene, among them being Royal B. Young.

Mr. Romney observed Hay as he put the receipt for Mortensen in his inside coat pocket on the evening of the 16th, and when the body was examined this pocket was found turned inside out, but a watch and other jewelry were left undisturbed.

The body was then placed in a wagon and brought to town, Mortensen accompanying the remains. In front of Hendry's store the wagon was stopped and the father-in-law, Sharp, appeared. Standing beside Mortensen and looking at his dead son-in-law he said : "He murdered you for a receipt that was on your body and he never gave you a dollar." Mortensen made no reply but hung his head.

To men named Penrose, Hilton and Sheets he made conflicting statements as to what kind and number of receptacles were used to store the $3,800 alleged to have been paid to Hay, and also as to where they were concealed. To one he said a sack was used; to another he said two glass fruit jars were necessary, and to the third he stated that three jars were needed. To two of the witnesses he claimed that the money was concealed on a wall in the basement, and to another he stated that a portion of it was hid in the pantry.

Upon indicating the place on the wall where the jars were alleged to have been concealed, an examination was immediately made and it was found that the dust was undisturbed. There were four openings for windows in this basement, thus making it very light, but there were no windows and the basement was accessible to strangers. If the glass jars had been placed in the position indicated, the jars and contents could have been easily seen, and it was furthermore demonstrated that one jar of the size described by Mortensen would have been sufficient to hold this money.

Charles F. Watkins, the brother-in-law of Mortensen, stated that he asked Peter if he could show that he had paid Hay the money and he replied : "I can, but as my books are in bad shape it will be necessary for me to represent that you have loaned me $1,500." Watkins replied that his own bank account would not permit such misrepresentations.

It was shown that the settee upon which Mortensen claimed he and Hay sat while counting the money was too small for two men to sit on.

The moon was shining brightly on the night of this homicide, and John Allen, a motorman, stated that his car passed the spot where the body was found about 10:20 p. m., and he saw a man with a shovel on his shoulder cross the track. With the aid of the moon and the headlight he recognized this man as Mortensen.

On December 18 Mortensen was arrested. During the trial, James Sharp, the father-in-law of the murdered man, testified and on cross-examination counsel for the defendant elicited from the witness the statement that he had received a revelation from God, who told him that Peter Mortensen had murdered his son-in-law for a receipt and buried the body in a nearby field.

As four of the jurors were members of the Mormon church and believed in the doctrine of revelation, this statement was regarded as most damaging to Mortensen's case.

His business transactions and financial condition were also the subject of much investigation, and evidence was produced tending to show the impossibility of the defendant possessing $3,800 on the night of the tragedy.

Mortensen testified as to his movements on this night, and described in detail the manner in which he claimed he handed one hundred and ninety twenty-dollar pieces to Hay as they sat on the settee, and also described the manner in which he claimed Hay left the house shortly afterward.

Mrs. Mortensen corroborated several of her husbands statements.

The jury then visited the home of Mortensen in charge Royal B. Young, who was at the grave when the body Hay was exhumed, and who accompanied the authorities in their investigation at Mortensen's home. Mortensen declined to accompany the jury on this tour of inspection.

The defendant was found guilty of murder but the case was appealed to the Supreme Court because of the misconduct of the jury and Young at the premises.

Alma H. Rock, a juror, averred that Young informed the jurors that the premises had been changed since the day of the murder and that he (Young) indicated a spot near a fence where he found a depression in the snow which was caused, according to his opinion, by the body being thrown over the fence, the head striking the snow. Young admitted that Rock's affidavit was true and a new trial was granted, which resulted in another conviction.

The case was again appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds of newly discovered evidence, but another trial was denied.

On October 6, 1903, Judge Morse sentenced Mortensen to be executed on November 20, but as the law permitted the condemned man to decide whether he desired to be hanged or shot, the Judge asked :

"What mode of execution do you elect?"

Mortensen stood erect and in a firm voice replied: "I elect to be shot."

On November 14, the State Board of Pardons refused to commute the sentence.

On the night before the execution Governor Wells spent a greater part of the night with Mortensen, who presented a most ingenious defense, but the Governor declined to interfere.

On November 20 Mortensen was led into the prison yard at 10 :30 a. m., and maintaining his courage to the last, he said :

"I did not kill Jimmy Hay. Neither here nor in the hereafter will I forgive those who are responsible for my death."

He refused to see a minister of any denomination and also refused stimulants, explaining that he needed neither.

After bidding the guards good-by he was bound in the chair provided for the execution. A physician pinned a piece of white pasteboard over Mortensen's heart, while the executing squad, consisting of five men, were concealed behind a curtain hung in the door of the blacksmith shop about twelve yards distant. These men were handed loaded rifles, but one of the rifles contained a blank cartridge, thus making it impossible for any one of the squad to be positive whether he fired a bullet or a harmless blank cartridge.

At the command "fire" four bullets pierced the cardboard and passed through Mortensen's heart. His head dropped on his breast, his hands quivered a moment and then all was still.20

The whole period from James' death in 1901 to Mortenson's execution must have been an awful time for the family, dealing with their grief and the huge public interest in the case. While it was all underway Mary McClennen Hay married Alfred William Harper on 10 June 1903 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah.21 They had one daughter before Mary McClennen Harper (nee Hay) died on 18 October 1904 in Lindon, Utah. Mary was buried on 21 October 1904 in Pleasant Grove, Utah.22 The following information has been posted on the Find A Grave website:

Written by Sarah Holmes, daughter

Mary McClennen Hay, daughter of Robert H. and Ann McRae, was born Dec 22., 1865 in Marybourough, Victoria, Australia. She was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Aug 11, 1880. I don't know too much about my mother. She passed away when I was three days old. My sister, Annie, who raised me, said Mother had a sweet disposition and was loved by everyone who knew her. She was married June 10, 1903 in the Salt Lake temple to Alfred William Harper. Father met the Hay family when he was on his mission in New Zealand. They later came to Utah. Mother was the oldest of four children. Her brother was James R. Hay; her sisters were Annie who married George A. Whitaker, and Sarah, who married Charles W. Rogers. Her father was of Scotch Royalty, and was an officer in the Scoth army. He was sent by the King to Australia, where his family was born. They later moved to New Zealand where they joined the Church. Robert Hay, her father passed away there, and grandmother brought the children to Salt Lake City, Utah.23

It is certainly not the intention of this article to challenge the oral history of a family, and due to the ambiguous nature of Robert's birth, there is every possibility that there is more to the story of Robert and Ann Hay. Ann Hay (nee McRae) died on 13 January 1915 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, having been tended by a physician since the 2nd. The cause of death was Acute Catarrhal Jaundice, or liver failure. Anne's birth date was stated as 2 August 1829, and her parents names matched the earlier marriage registration, Donald McRae and Mary McLennan.24

Death of Mrs. Ann Hay in Eighty-Sixth Year

The death of Mrs. Ann McRae Hay occurred at 4:45 am today at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. George A. Whitaker of Twelfth East street. She was born at Dinwall, Scotland, Aug 1 XX and came to Utah Oct 25, 1890, having joined the Church, Aug 11, 1890, in Timaru, New Zealand. She is survived by two daughters, Mrs. Whitaker and Mrs. C. W. Rogers of this city, also by eight grand-children and by numerous other relatives in Scotland and New Zealand. She was the mother of the late James R. Hay, who was killed by Peter Mortensen, a number of years ago. She was a faithful member of the Church, and though retiring in her disposition was widely known and much beloved. Funeral arrangements have not yet been completed.25

Ann Hay (nee McRae) was buried on 15 January 1915 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah.26

Agnes "Aggie" Hay, nee Sharp, the wife of James Robert Hay, died on 25 April 1917 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah.27

Sarah Barbara Rogers (nee Hay) died on 16 September 1934 in Los Angelas, Los Angelas County, USA.28

Fate of Annie Barclay Whitaker (nee Hay)?


John Horton
John Horton's picture
The Hay-Mortenson Murder Case

You can read the original reports of the case at the Historical American Newspapers site using the appropriate search terms. The following information is from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Title The Hay-Mortensen murder case of 1901
Stmnt.Resp. by Craig L. Foster
Authors Foster, Craig L. (Craig Lowell), 1959- (Main Author)
Subjects Hay, James Robert, 1869-1901 (Subject)
Mortensen, Peter, 1865-1903 (Subject)
Sharp, James, 1843-1904 (Subject)
Notes To view a digital version of this item click here.
Includes information on the families of Hay, Sharp, Mortensen and Watkins.
James Robert Hay (1869-1901) was born in Australia to Scottish emigrant parents. Later, he, his mother and sisters joined the LDS Church and immigrated to Utah. In 1896 Jimmy married Aggie Sharp (1876-1917), daughter of James Sharp (1843-1903) prominent businessman and community leader. Jimmy and Aggie became the parents of three children. On 16 December 1901 Jimmy Hay disappeared and word spread that he had absconded money and left town. However, two days later his body was discovered buried in a field near-by where he had been murdered. His friend and neighbor, Peter Mortensen (1865-1903), was arrested for the murder. After a sensational trial, Mortensen was found guilty and executed in 1903. Mortensen's former wife, Ruth Watkins (1866-1943) reverted to her former surname and his children all used the surname of Watkins rather than Mortensen. They all eventually left Utah for California. Aggie and her three children moved to Idaho. Known descendants presently live in Utah.
Format Books/Monographs (With Film)
Language English
Publication Layton, Utah : C.L. Foster, c1994
Physical ii, 60 leaves : geneal. tables.