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The Murder at the Canoblas

THE following report of the trial of this remarkable and horrible case, at the Bathurst Circuit Court, is from the Bathurst Times of Wednesday last. The trial took place on the 31st instant, before his Honor, Mr. Justice Milford.
James Neill was charged with having on the 21st of February, 1860, at Canoblas, feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, killed and murdered one Mary Moore.
Plea - Not Guilty.
His Honor assigned Mr. Stephen, barrister, with Mr. G. Colquhoun, solicitor, to defend the prisoner.
Sir William Manning opened the case by reciting the principal incidents, and shewing how they pointed to the prisoner as the perpetrator of the crime. The first witness called was -
Phillip Moore, who deposed as follows : I reside at the Canoblas, near Orange; my nearest neighbour is a person named Gough. [The witness was here requested to leave the box for a few moments while Mr. Finnerty, chief-constable of Orange, occupied it.]
Thomas Finnerty, chief constable of Orange, sworn, certified to the correctness of a plan of the locality in which the murder was committed ; he stepped the distance from the place where Moore had seen the prisoner on horse, back to the spot where the remains of the body were afterwards found ; and also that from the spot on which Bosen stood when he saw a man on horseback the evening before the discovery of the body ; the body was found in a gully near the ridge, described in the plan ; he saw also some pools of blood, on the ridge ; the body had evidently been dragged from the ridge to the gully.
By Mr. Stephen : The distance from the body to prisoner's house is about a mile and a half.
Phillip Moore, re-called : My house is about a quarter, of a mile from prisoner's ; Neill's house is about three-quarters of mile from the place where the body was found ; Neill was on bad terms with me and my wife ; he had threatened me and my wife, Mr. Keenan, and Jemmy, the tinker ; on a certain occasion he said that we all wanted shooting, for we were a dirty mob, and the first chance he could get at my wife and me he would shoot us; this was betwixt Neill's house and mine ; my wife was at home ; I offered to give him satisfaction if be would go over to Mr Keenan's that I had not been talking about how he was carrying on ; he then began accusing me and my wife of being informers, and keeping Keenan and constables at my house to watch him ; a bullock of Keenan's had been found in his yard ; nothing more, passed at that time ; I went to a magistrate, but did not take any proceedings against the prisoner then ; on a Tuesday morning in February my wife came into the bedroom, put on her hood; and asked me if I was not going to get up; I replied yes, and heard the door shut ; this was before breakfast ; she had set, the breakfast things ; I got up and opened the door two or three minutes after, and asked her if she wouldn't take breakfast before she went after the bullocks ; she held up her hand, and said she would only go and turn the bullocks ; she then went past Mr. Gough's paddock, and out of sight ; I heard the bullock bells ; I went down the paddock a few minutes after, the same way my wife went, and heard the bells of the bullocks, and thought they were coming towards me ; I saw Mrs. Gough going towards her own house ; the bullocks were coming along as if being driven ; I. thought at the time that Mrs. Gough was my wife ; I drove the bullocks into my paddock, and expected to have found my wife at home, but she was not ; I went out again in the same direction as before; I went much farther than where the bullocks were, cooeying, but to no effect ; I went round the neighbourhood, about two miles, and made inquiries, but could not gain any intelligence of her, and then went home ; and after taking some refreshment, went out with a man (Bosen) and searched till evening ; I thought I would then go to Mr.. Burke's, where I heard my wife say she would call for something ; on my way, I saw the prisoner coming in the direction from where the body was found next morning ; I turned round to make sure who it was ; it was James Neill, and he was riding a poor big bay horse ; I pointed out the spot to Finnerty next day ; the prisoner was going towards his own home ; in going from the body to his own house, he would have to cross some creeks ; he was off the road, and appeared to be coming round from where the deceased lay ; it was then about sundown ; be went straight along, the horse walking ; I went on to Mr. Burke's, which was about two miles further, but obtained no intelligence of my wife ; on the next morning Bosen got up and went after the bullocks ; after he was gone some time, be came back to me; he called me towards the fence ; I went with him to the place where the body was burning ; the trunk was consumed up to. the neck ; her poor arms and head were not consumed (Witness here became much affected, and sobbed audibly). The head was scorched, and there were great cuts on it ; the hair was burned off; I could not recognise the features; the feet and legs were not burnt ; I identified the boots on the feet, having made them myself and used particular nails to prevent slipping on the ground ; my wife wore those boots the morning she went out ; I quenched the fire with two buckets of water ; there were some small sticks, and plenty of wood to have consumed the body ; but it appeared as if the fire had been purposely kept from blazing up to avoid exposure ; Bosen went for the police; Mr. Finnerty picked up, near one of the pools of blood, a comb which belonged to my wife ; it seemed as if some one had been kneeling down by the spot ; there were marks as if the body had been dragged along the ground from the place where my wife appeared to have received the first blow ; I dare say I had been within 200 yards of the body on the day before, when looking for my wife ; there were some heavy bludgeon-like slicks near, with hair and marks of blood upon them ; it was a very secluded place; I have never seen my wife since; my wife was a big strong woman ; the remains were those of such a person; I have since seen the horse Neill was riding, at the Police office, Orange.
Cross-examined : Neill's is about a quarter of a mile from my house ; there are about thirty acres of bush ground between ; the prisoner has been living there for some time ; I have had no quarrel with the prisoner since my complaint was made to Mr. Lane, the magistrate ; it was between 6 and 7-o'clock my wife went out on the morning she was missed ; the reason she went out was because she was afraid if I went and Neill met me he might murder me ; I was in the habit of going about the neighbour-hood, here, there, and everywhere; I heard the tinkling of the bullock-bells as I was going along my own paddock ; the sounds proceeded from the direction of Mr. Gough's, whither I went ; I saw the bullocks coming along the ride ; I was then about a quarter of a mile from the spot where the body was found ; when I saw Mrs Gough she appeared to be going, towards her own house, which is about a quarter of a mile from, the place where the body was ; there is a creek between Gough's house and his paddock ; I was on the ridge side of the creek ; I went home past Gough's house ; the land between Gough's house and mine is scrubby ; I took the bullocks to the corner of my paddock. The learned counsel here experienced some difficulty in making the witness fix the time when he inquired about the deceased at Gough's house. He was questioning him very closely, when the witness turned round and hurriedly left the Court followed by the chief constable and others. Word was directly after brought, in that the witness was in a fit. Dr, Warren, who was present in Court, went to his assistance.
Another witness was called, and the case proceeded with -
William Bosen sworn : I lived with Philip Moore and his wife ; I never heard her Christian name; I bad been living there three weeks at the time of the murder ; on that morning, while I was out, I met her, and she asked me if I had seen the bullocks ; she went in the direction of Gough's ; I saw no more of her ; I then went into the house, when Moore jumped out of bed and called to his wife to come back ; she went on ; Moore, as soon as he had put his clothes on, went out after her ; in twenty minutes or half-an-hour afterwards, he came back with the bullocks ; he came to the cottage and asked if I had seen his wife ; he said she might have missed the bullocks ; I replied, I did not see how she could have missed them ; he then went out again for about half-an-hour ; he then had breakfast, after which we both went in search of Mrs. Moore, in different directions ; we were out the whole day, but could not find her ; I saw two men in the bush, fencing, and inquired of other persons at their houses ; as I was coming home in the evening I saw a man on a poor bay horse ; he was dressed in a blue shirt, moleskin trouser, and cabbage-tree hat ; that was about 200 yards from where I found the body the next morning ; he was coming towards me, straight for the spot where the body lay; I could not recognise his features; it was about sundown ; he came within twenty or thirty yards of me, and slewed off his horse as hard as be could gallop when he saw me ; I have seen the horse since at the court-house, at Orange ; the prisoner was similarly dressed when I saw him in the court-house, at Orange ; it appeared to me that the man pulled the horse sharp up when he rode away from me ; I went home ; Mr. Moore was there, and he went out again before I reached the door; the man I saw on horseback rode off in the direction of Molong ; be appeared to me to be about the same size as the prisoner ; the next morning, I went out in the same direction as I had done the evening before; I found the bullocks, and saw some smoke ; I went up to the spot it was rising from and discovered the remains of Mrs. Moore which I identified by the boots ; I went immediately to Gough's house, and reported what I had seen ; when Mr. Finnerty came, the ground was closely examined ; I saw a back-comb which Mr. Finnerty picked up, and tracks on the ground as if the body bad been dragged along about twenty or thirty yards ; there was no wood burning, only the body ; Mrs. Moore was a fat person; there were only two little sticks by the fire : the body was nearly consumed ; the back bone was not burnt through; the head, legs, and arms, were unburnt ; Mr. Moore is subject to fits ; has been in fits two-hours at a time ; on the day of the funeral he had fits, lasting nearly all night.
Cross examined : I never knew, the bullocks ran in the same direction they were in on the morning of the murder ; Mrs. Moore was usually absent about half an hour when she went for the bullocks ; when I came home in the evening I found Mr. Moore waiting for me, to know whether I had heard of his wife ; I told him I had seen nothing of her ; he then went out again in search of her ; when I went out after breakfast I cooeyed about ; I passed about thirty yards from the spot where the body was burnt, the evening previous to finding it ; there was no smoke there then, or I must have seen it ; on the Wednesday morning, I went out for the bullocks and found one of them close to the body ; I never knew the bullocks to be in that direction before ; the man I saw on horseback had no coat on.
Henry Warren, surgeon, practising at Orange : On Wednesday, 22nd February, I went to Canoblas to examine the remains of a body which was lying on the ground, a great portion of it was burnt ; part of the upper portion of the legs wore burnt ; the clothes wore consumed ; the upper part of the body was entirely consumed ; the clothes had apparently been dragged up over the remains of the body ; there were marks of violence – wounds over the head ; the bones of the nose were smashed in ; there was a lacerated wound on the right side of the face, from the eye to the upper lip, and a tooth out corresponding with the wound ; I examined the head, and found one extensive fracture of the skull ; the wounds were quite sufficient to have caused death ; the congestion of the brain was a sufficient indication that the wounds were inflicted before death, and must have caused death ; about twenty yards from the body, there wore pools of blood, and marks as if the body had been dragged along ; I saw also several pieces of wood near the body marked with blood, one of them bad human hair upon it - long, like a woman's hair ; Isaw the prisoner's clothes on the following day; there were small spots of blood on the shirt and trousers ; there is a difference in the size and form of a globule of human blood, and that of a bullock ; I am aware that there is a difference in the size of globules of blood of different animals.
Thomas Finnerty, C. C., of Orange : When I went to the Canoblas, I saw the remains of the body, which I believe to be that of Mrs. Moore; before I got to the place, where the body was found, I discovered some blood, which I tracked for twenty-seven yards ; there was every appearance of a great scuffle and of a body having been dragged ; I also found a small stick, of which the root had apparently been pared off with a knife, leaving a small knob at the end ; I produce the stick which had blood upon it, and hair attached to the knob ; I found it within twelve yards of the body ; the blood and tracks appeared to be quite fresh ; this hair was upon the stick ; at the end of the twenty-seven yards the body appeared to have been dragged in a different fashion ; I also found a broken stick, which I roduce, apparently stained with blood, about six yards from the body ; I also picked up, in the same neighbourhood, the back-comb produced ; when I found the body, it was all consumed except a portion of the skull, the arms, and the legs ; there were but a very few ashes ; Moore and Bosen told me they bad seen a man on the evening before, and Moore pointed out the spot ; I stepped it, and found it was 320 yards from the body ; and from the body to the spot where Moore, saw him, it was 200 yard s ; I followed the tracks of a horse from the road to within ten yards of the first pool of blood I saw ; the tracks were from the direction of the body to the road ; I followed the track upon the road towards Neill's house ; where I first saw the horse tracks, it was about 100 yards from the spot where Moore first saw the man on horseback ; I went with Mears to Neill's house ; Neill was at home, and I told him I arrested him on a charge of murdering Mary Moore ; Angus and Murray and other witnesses saw the horse ; I did not compare the horse's hoofs with the tracks I saw ; Dr. Warren saw the shirt and trousers ; I caused part of the shirt and trousers to be sealed up in a bottle and given to one of the Gold Guard to take to the Inspector General of Police to be analysed.
Cross-examined : I did not cut out the only parts that were stained with blood ; there were other parts stained ; the bay horse was sixteen bands high quite ; I don't know how long the prisoner was in the neighbourhood ; I believe he has cattle and horses ; Burkes's place is at the Heifer Station Creek ; the distance of Murray's to Neill's is about three miles ; from Neill's to Burkes's would be about a mile further ; I arrested prisoner at his own house ; there was meat in a cask there recently killed ; prisoner said he bad killed it five or six days : it appeared to me to have been killed two days ; the prisoner was taken to the spot where the body was found and made to sit down, by the order of Mr. Templar.
John Mears, a constable, deposed : I went to apprehend the prisoner at his own place ; I saw prisoner engaged with his son, putting up a fence ; he asked if I had any good news for him ; I said no ; he repeated the question several times ; I did not tell him what I came for ; there was a horse in the stack-yard, he drove the horse away into the bush, the horse answered the description of one I bad received ; I asked prisoner if it was his, and he said yes ; I asked if he had plenty to do at home now without gallanting about in the bush, he said yes, he had not been out since Sunday, Mr. Finnerty came up shortly after, and ordered him to take off his shirt and trousers ; prisoner asked if it was on account of the blood on them ; prisoner went out into the kitchen after taking off his shirt ; I followed him and heard him say to his wife, "Well, never mind, perhaps it's a good job I'm taken, and it may be a good job for mother Moore that she is murdered" ; the horse was then brought back by Mr. Finnerty's order ; prisoner said be had not ridden the horse since the Sunday before ; prisoner was put on his own horse, and while going into Orange, asked what direction in the bush the body was; I said somewhere about ; I watched prisoner closely when passing : near the body ; the prisoner fixed his eye on the spot where the body lay, whilst passing for nearly half a-mile in view of it ; he seemed much altered in appearance; the blood on the prisoner's clothes appeared not to be very old.
Henry Snow : I am in the Gold Escort ; I received a parcel from Mr. Finnerty on the 28th February ; I delivered it at the Inspector-General's office ; it was returned to me two minutes after, and I took it to Mr. Watt, the chemist.
Charles Watt : The parcel was addressed to Messrs. Norrie and Watt ; it was given into my hands by Mr. Norrie ; it was brought with a letter from the Inspector General ; I opened it ; I am an analytical and microscopical, chemist ; I have proper instruments for the practice of my profession ; it is part of my profession to have a knowledge of the nature of the blood of different animals ; the blood spots were cut out from the pieces of calico produced and placed in a weak solution of glycerins in a watch-glass ; the specific gravity of the solution was made to represent the same as that of the serum of the blood ; we also prepared a solution of albumen, the white of egg, for another experiment ; the blood is divided into serum and clot, which can be separated ; the object of placing the blood spots in serum was to bring out the corpuscles to their original size ; this experiment would take about 12 hours ; I afterwards examined the calico under a microscope in order to ascertain the nature, size, and shape of the corpuscles, and to learn their relative proportions to each other ; I found that the corpuscles corresponded in size with those of the human subject, comparing them with corpuscles of my own blood, which I keep dried for such purposes ; Ialso compared them with the blood of an ox which I have had by me for some time ; the blood, that was on the rag corresponded more with my own blood than with any of the other sorts I experimented with ; the difference in size in the globules is very minute ; and it is necessary in testing to take the average measurement of the spots ; the microscope I use would shew clearly an object no larger than the 30,000th part of an inch ; there was one spot like the blood of an ox on the trousers ; a globule of fresh blood is more spherical than an old one ; I prefer the light of a lamp with the microscope to the solar rays ; the general character of the globules from the shirt was like that of human blood ; it is not unusual in this colony to find fat in the globules of human subjects ; particularly from persons diseased by drink ; I found such in the spots on the shirt ; I never found fat in the globules of the lower animals; there are two sorts of globules in human blood - white and red - the white corpuscles bore the same numerical proportion in the globules sent to me to test that they did in the case of my own blood ; Mr. Norrie prepared the albumen test, whilst I prepared the glycerine ; we examined each other's tests and found a perfect correspondence ; the result of my examination of the spots is that they are blood and in my opinion they are human blood, with the exception of one which I believe to be that of a bullock.
Cross-examined : It is decidedly much more difficult to distinguish human blood from that of animals ; the object of the glycerine, is to bring back the corpuscles to its original size and form ; I know when that is achieved by the appearance of the corpuscle, and the free and perfect manner in which it floats ; I received the objects for testing about the beginning of March. (Mr. Stephen here questioned the witness upon the authority of Dr. Taylor on tests for the discovery of human blood, and read a passage from Taylor's Medical Jurisprudence, wherein Dr. Taylor is represented to have stated in evidence, in a case of murder, that he believed it to be impossible, to distinguish between human blood and that of domestic poultry when dried on clothing).
Donald Murray : I live near the Canoblas, about 1 ½ miles from Mr. Moore's house ; I heard of the murder on the 21st, and on the Wednesday morning (22nd), the remains were found ; on that day, the prisoner rode by my house on a small bay horse, which was not in very great condition ; I saw the prisoner afterwards at Orange ; he was then dressed as he is now ; it was the day Mrs. Moore was missed that I saw the prisoner at my house ; he was in the habit of coming to my house.
Cross-examined : I did not observe any blood on his clothes, nor anything unusual in his manner ; he came to me for some bags to put wheat in.
Hector Angus, of Meadow Creek, near Mr. Murray's : I heard of the murder on the 21st February ; I saw the prisoner that day about sundown ; I have been acquainted with him ; he came to my house to ask about Neddy Stephens, who had been hurt by a dray ; prisoner came on a bay horse ; nothing particular passed between us ; be was, as near as I can recollect, dressed in moleskin trousers, blue striped shirt, and a cabbage-tree hat ; I do not remember if he had a coat and waist-coat ; he told me he had been getting bags to put wheat in ; be appeared to have some wheat bags on the horse.
George Caldwell : I heard of the murder on the 23nd February ; I saw the prisoner the night previous at my fence, about ten minutes before sundown ; he was on a bay horse ; I do not know what direction he went in after he crossed the ridge; when I saw the prisoner, it was half a mile from where the body was found.
James Keenan : I have known Neill about 20 years I summoned him once, with his daughter, before the Bench of Molong, about some cattle ; the prisoner blamed Moore and his wife for informing me about him ; he said be knew the informers, and would burn them to a bloody cinder ; this occurred about the 9th or 10th of January ; Moore and his wife did give me information about the prisoner and I placed Moore on his guard against the prisoner.
Cross examined : I did bear ill-feeling towards the prisoner about my cattle, but bear him no ill-will in this case.
James Hall deposed : I know prisoner ; I saw him at Iver's public house some months ago, and remember hearing him say Mrs. Moore deserved roasting, or a hit with a two-handed waddy ; he also expressed enmity towards me.
John Mears recalled : About five weeks before I went to apprehend prisoner I had occasion to go to his house ; Mrs. Moore (the deceased) was there ; I heard Mrs. Neill say "there's the witch, that's the bloody informer of this district ;" Neill said, "she wants murdering" (or burning).
Moore recalled : After seeing Mrs. Gough I took my bullocks to the corner of my paddock, and then went up my paddock ; after which I went out and cooeyed through the bushes ; passing Mr. Gough's house, I there asked if they had seen my wife ; I went out twice before I had my breakfast ; there was a little smoke rising from the fire when I first saw the remains of my wife. This closed the case for the Crown.

Mr, Stephen then addressed the jury for the defence. He fervently hoped they would dismiss from their consideration altogether the evidence of the analytical chemist, as being too dangerous to rest the life of a human being upon, and commented most minutely on the various discrepancies which had presented themselves during the trial, and which tended to throw a reasonable and material doubt upon the guilt of the prisoner. The learned Counsel, without attempting to cast any imputation upon the husband of the deceased, contended that had he changed places in that Court with the prisoner, the same circumstances which had been construed so disadvantageously against his client, might never been used with equal probability of truth against him, and after a long and very eloquent address, called the following witnesses to prove that until midday on the morning on which the murder was committed, the prisoner had never quitted his house.
Christina Rogers, a German, living at the Canoblas, about a mile from the prisoner's house, where she was at half past 5 a.m., on the morning of the murder, to find Michael Neill, the prisoner's son, to assist her in drawing some timber. The door was shut, and she called out to them that the horses were eating their wheat. The prisoner was in his bedroom, and she went outside the house until he was dressed. The witness breakfasted with the prisoner and his family, and afterwards he asked her to help him to cut up some meat. He could not have been absent from the house half-an-hour all the morning.
This witness was subjected to a severe cross-examination, which, however, failed immediately to shake her evidence.
Alexander Brown, a ploughman, living at Orange heard of the murder of Mrs. Moore when he returned home the day after it occurred, having been at the prisoner's house on the morning of the 21st February, where he saw him and his family, and also the last witness, who came in during the morning.
Cross-examined : Witness came to the house about 6 o'clock ; Mrs. Rogers was not there then, she came in an hour afterwards. This witness contradicted the evidence, given by the former witness in many essential particulars ; William Johnson having been questioned by his Honor as to his knowledge of the nature of an oath, was called by the Attorney General, and said that he was at Mrs, Rogers' on the day of Mrs. Moore's funeral, and had some conversation with her on the subject of that murder, when she stated that Neill was innocent of it, as she was at his house on that morning.
The Attorney General then replied, combating the argument that any ill-will existed against the prisoner on tho port of the deceased's husband or neighbours, though he had imbibed a strong feeling of hatred against Moore and his wife in consequence of their cognisance of his cattle-stealing propensities. Although he had no wish to lay any undue stress on any feature in the evidence, yet he was not disposed to treat as without weight the fact that the clothes of the prisoner had been subjected to a long and tedious analysis, and that human blood had been discovered. on them. Sir William Manning then stated his opinion that the evidence for the defence had considerably strengthened that of the Crown, and entered upon a resume of the contradictory evidence given by the witnesses Rogers and Brown, in order to prove an alibi for the prisoner.
His Honor then summed up, quoting Tayor on the Law of Evidence with reference to circumstantial proof, and also to the value to be attached to the evidence of policemen and professional witnesses, and proceeded to go through the evidence given during the trial, commenting seriatim on the various points which bad presented themselves, and concluding by exhorting the jury, if any doubt existed in their minds as to the guilt of the prisoner, to give him the benefit of that doubt.
The jury, after an absence of nearly two hour returned into Court at a quarter to 10 p.m. with a verdict of guilty.
The prisoner, who received the announcement without any perceptible emotion, on being asked whether he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced upon him, merely avowed his innocence.
His Honor then, in the usual impressive formula, passed sentence of death upon the prisoner, at the same time holding out no hope of mercy.
The prisoner was then removed, still maintaining the same impassive demeanour. 1


Supplementary Summary
In the case of James Neill, who, at the last Bathurst assizes, was convicted of the murder of Mary Moore, and sentenced to suffer death, the sentence has been commuted to fifteen years hard labour on the roads. This commutation has arisen out of a doubt respecting an important part of the evidence, viz., the chemical analysis of certain spots of blood on the prisoner's clothes. 2

Source References

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