Monday, 18 June 2012

Convicts, Absconders & "Wild White Men" of Moreton Bay - Part III

James Duramboi Davis in his later years

Jumping off from our Part II article, whereby James Duramboi Davis found himself back in Brisbane Town & became involved in a number of amazing historic events with amazing historic figures, we finally follow into Part III of the story & our conclusion...

By the early 1850's, Davis had sold his blacksmith's shop at Kangaroo point, & had relocated to a new location in George Street in what is now Brisbane's CBD.  For the first decade, he again worked as a farrier (blacksmith), however by the 1860's had undergone a marked change in trade - to a china & glassware merchant!  Throughout this time, he was also employed by the Crown as an interpreter during court cases involving indigenous men...&, as a result, was involved in a number of sensational cases that rocked early Brisbane Town...although, at times his aid as interpreter was more of a demand than a paid occupation.  In 1851, Jemmy Parsons, alias Paddy, alias Mickaloi, an aboriginal man from the Wide Bay Region, was brought before the Courts for playing a part in the the murder of Mr Gregor & Mrs Shannon on the Pine River.  On asking to see Duramboi in his defence, whom he had known in the Wide Bay area, Davis was sought from his Blacksmith's shop to attend the case.  On arriving at the Court, when Mickaloi recognised Duramboi & began to converse with him, the Magistrate demanded that Davis provide interpreted evidence...Davis, in turn, demanded "expenses for attendance" - when this was not forthcoming from the Magistrate, Davis refused to interpret, for which he earned "twenty-four hours imprisonment, for contempt of Court."  Ultimately, Jemmy Parsons would get his reprieve & subsequent release, & James Duramboi Davis would go on to interpret again...this case was more the exception than the rule...

In June 1874, Davis was called to interpret during the case of aborigine "Johnny Brisbane," who was accused of murdering fellow aborigine "Captain King" at Yandina.  Over the course of the trial, Davis would withdraw his aid as interpreter, as "Johnny Brisbane" proved to be proficient in English. In 1879, Davis was called to interpret for aborigine "Captain Piper," for the murder of William Stevens at Mooloolah 13 years previously...the evidence put forward in the case was damning, however, the verdict was reserved from the public.  Davis stood in on a number of other major cases, however likely the most harrowing & disgusting was that of "The Fraser Island Girls" in 1859.  During that year, rumours spread through Brisbane Town that after the shipwreck of the Sea Belle off Fraser Island in 1857, a white woman had been spied living with an aboriginal tribe on the Island...furthermore, it was rumoured that she had mothered two fair-skinned girls whilst there.  The New South Wales Government immediately put up a reward of £100 to anyone who could find the girls, & £300 to anyone how could return them to Sydney.  A search party was immediately put together, commanded by a Captain Sawyer, & two young girls were snatched from the local tribe & returned to Sydney.  Duramboi Davis was immediately requested to travel to Sydney, for which he was paid £20, to give a report on their status...it was discovered that the two kidnapped children were both wholly aboriginal & had nothing to do with the wreck of the Sea Belle...yet, no record exists of either child having been repatriated to their family on Fraser Island - they literally vanished into Sydney obscurity, & the whole affair was literally "swept under the carpet."

James Davis fronting his China & Glassware Store, c. 1872 (John Oxley Library) 

Sadly, by April 1889, it was quietly clear that James Duramboi Davis was suffering from terminal heart & lung disease.  Throughout the month, Dr Grant Furley had been attending to Davis at his cottage in Burnett Lane...Davis had been reduced to a weak, thin & feeble man confined to his bed.  Davis' condition remained somewhat stable until the 30th of April, when events spiralled further out of control.  At 5am, Potter Batson, who collected rents for Davis, called into the address at Burnett Lane to discuss matters - Davis was laying in bed, and, "appeared to be greatly agitated - he had had a bad night, and [Bridget, his wife] had been continually worrying him.  She was continually upbraiding him with not having given her more money."  Later in the day, Batson would again visit the house...however, this time around it would be for different reasons - on hearing some boys shouting up Burnett Lane, he ran to the Davis's cottage, where he saw James Davis laying on the floor beneath his wife.  Bridget Davis, quite drunk, had her husband's head in her hands, & was driving it repeatedly into the floorboards...in his feeble state, Davis was shouting, "For God's sake leave me alone; you will kill me."  Batson immediately dragged the intoxicated Bridget off her husband, amidst cries that, "he had no business to interfere between man & wife."  On being rescued, James asked Batson to, "carry me out, or get someone to carry me out, as I am afraid of my life."  Batson laid Davis in his bed & ran for further help, locating Henry Ogelthie nearby - the two returned to Davis' cottage to remove him to a safer location, only to find Bridget in the bedroom punching her husband repeatedly in the face.

All the while, whilst Davis was being removed, Bridget was protesting, "I want him to stay in his own house to die."  In consequence, he was hurriedly carried next door to the residence of tailor Gustav Faultz. The next day, on the 1st of May 1889, Constable Bailey visited Davis at Faultz's residence to take a statement...Davis was in a very weakened state, & had great difficulty in speaking, however managed to provide a statement.  Bruising was visible on Davis' arms & abdomen, & he had been coughing up fresh blood which had stained the bed sheets.  Dr Furley continued to visit daily, & recorded that Davis' injuries were due to direct violence...he continued to attend Davis as his condition deteriorated over the next seven days, until James Duramboi Davis finally slipped away on the 7th of May...having slipped into a comatose state during the night, the great man had perished early in the morning before his ever attentive Doctor had been able to visit.  The subsequent autopsy, conducted by Dr Furley, with the assistance of Dr Binden & in the presence of Constable Bailey, found that James Duramboi Davis suffered from extensive heart, lung, liver & kidney disease...however, the injuries Davis had received at the hands of his wife on the 30th of April, had strongly aided in the acceleration of his death.  As a result, Bridget Davis was brought to trial, on the charge of manslaughter....however, the trial would see its fair share of drama...

On the first day of the trial on the 6th of June 1889, after some evidence was given, Bridget Davis, "appeared to be in a very weak state and Mr. Pinnock [the Police Magistrate] said he did not care to go on with the case while she was in that state.  When spoken to she waved her hands about and muttered incoherently, and generally appeared to be in a half-conscious state."  As a result, the case was adjourned until Bridget was medically examined.  When it again proceeded on the 21st of June, further damning evidence was submitted, closing the case for the prosecution -  in light of the evidence put forth, Bridget claimed, "I am as innocent of that crime as you are."  Committed for trial before the Supreme Court, Bridget again appeared on the 26th of August...the evidence against her was again gone through, to which Bridget's defence chose not to call witnesses.  Instead, a statement was made directly to the jury that the evidence that had been put forward was insufficient to convict on the grounds of manslaughter - despite the repeated assaults witnessed by Batson & Ogelthie, & the damning testimony put forward by Dr Furley, Bridget's defence was of the opinion that Davis was nearing the end of his life anyway, & it was somewhat of a mute point to suggest that his wife had accelerated the process.   After an almost three hour deliberation, the jury returned with the stunning verdict of "not guilty!"

As the record stands, James Duramboi Davis was laid to rest on the 8th of May 1889, alongside his first wife Ann who had predeceased him 6 years previously almost to the day...both rest not far behind what is known as "The Grove" alongside 12th Avenue at Toowong Cemetery.  So, if ever you find yourself walking through Toowong, especially down 12th Avenue, think not of the ridiculously hair-brained stories of the "Angel of Death" or the "13th Avenue Vampire" peddled by Brisbane's "Muppet of the Macabre - Jack Sim"...ponder a while about the life & times of James Duramboi Davis, who played active witness to both the best & worst that Brisbane Town had to offer from 1828 to 1889...and single-handedly aided in created the amazing city in which we now live!



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