Darling Downs Bar – The White Bull and the Queens Arms Hotel!
The Queen v Redford – The Roma Jury
On 11 February 1872, all eyes were on the Roma District Court for the trial of Henry Redford. The Crown case was that Mr Redford stole 1000 head of cattle from the Bowen Downs, a loss he thought wouldn’t be noticed. He drove the cattle well over 1000 kilometres to South Australia across a track that saw Burke and Wills perish about a decade earlier.
The White Bull was, one way or another, important to Mr Redford because it was rumoured to have led the herd where it was later exchanged for rations. Another legend has it that Mr Redford was desperate to rid himself of such an identifiable piece of evidence but couldn’t cut it from the herd. It was crucial to the Crown case because when the stockmen noticed that they were about 1000 short on the headcount, they and aboriginal trackers followed the tracks, where they later came across the White Bull in the possession of the man who exchanged rations for the beast.
The stage was set. The old Roma Court packed. The public gallery overflowed to the street. Half of the public wanted to know if Mr Redford stole from them. The other half wanted to know where he went wrong.
His Honour Judge Blackeney presided. Out of a panel of 48 jurors, only seven were empanelled on the first round. After submissions by the defence, and against strenuous objections, the judge was persuaded to return the names of the jurors to the ballot -box whom the Crown “set aside.” Jurors eight to 12, who were previously stood-by on the behest of the Crown, were empanelled. Whilst the Colonial Act didn’t provide for this course it was remarked to be the custom of the English Courts.
Many testified, and the White Bull itself was produced as an exhibit. When the Crown witnesses were “sharply cross-examined” and suggested that they were mistaken in identifying the White Bull, they emphatically declared that such a mistake would be impossible as the “animal was a remarkable beast” which could be identified amongst 1000 other beasts. In fact, during the investigation, it was correctly identified from a lineup of 20 other white bulls.
The cross-examination of James M’Pherson, who turned Queen’s evidence, drew amusement. Under cross-examination, he swore that he wasn’t a “cattle-stealer” but later conceded that he might have “stolen some cattle … but not to my knowledge.” He was reminded that he was charged with stealing the same cattle as Mr Redford, but he was discharged by the Crown on the grounds of insanity and “sent to Brisbane as a lunatic” where he later escaped. When arrested for escaping custody he agreed to testify against Mr Redford “under a promise of a free pardon if he gave fair evidence.”
The trial started at 9am and the jury deliberated by 9pm. At 10pm they returned. His Honour asked, “what is your verdict?” “We find the prisoner ‘not guilty.’” “What?” his Honour asked. “Not guilty” the foreman replied. “I thank God, gentlemen, that the verdict is yours, not mine” was his Honour’s response.
After this and other acquittals for cattle stealing, his Honour Judge Blackeney wrote a letter to the Attorney-General explaining that “I fail to see the possibility of obtaining a conviction for cattle stealing in any case before a Roma jury.”
Following Regina v Hughes, another cattle stealing case heard in Roma, The Queenslander published “The Roma Juries Controversy” on 19 July 1873 in which it published a letter from a juror addressing the criticism levelled at the town for returning another acquittal. This specific acquittal appeared to have been the catalyst for the Attorney-General’s suspension of the criminal jurisdiction of the Roma District Court for a period of two years.
What followed wasn’t the expected defiance towards the government. Instead, it proved that the jury returned a verdict consistent with their oaths and the evidence. Alfred Skinner, a “perfectly disinterested and unbiased member of that jury” explained that there was “insufficient proof of actual theft, and in accordance with the dictates of my conscience, over which Judge Blackeney does not preside” he and his fellow jurors acquitted. Whether it was Mr Skinner’s letter or for other reasons, the two-year suspension was reduced to one.
The History of our Profession
The history of our profession across the Darling Downs is worthy of being told and should be passed from old to new. Toowoomba, our Garden City, is the second most populous inland city after Canberra and acts as the gateway for many regional centres.
At present, nine local barristers practise from Toowoomba and serve the Downs. Seven are of Queen’s Arms Chambers. Two are King’s Counsel, and Jessica Goldie is the first female to practise from Toowoomba.
Collectively, the bar appears in nine circuit courts across the Supreme and District Court calendars and covers a geographical area of more than 77,000 square kilometres. On average 36 weeks are gazetted for the Supreme and District Courts at Toowoomba, with the other circuit centres commanding an additional 32 weeks. The local bar appears in the Superior Courts for most of those 68 weeks. In addition to practising on the Downs, the local barristers appear throughout Queensland, and some appear interstate.
The Darling Downs Magistracy is a devoted and busy bench complemented by six magistrates based in Toowoomba, Dalby, Warwick and Charleville. Our local firms regularly appear, and provide a high quality of service across a distance that most would only contemplate when retired and towing a caravan.
The following were, at one stage or another, local barristers in town, the Honourable Justice Michael Brett of the Tasmanian Supreme Court, the Honourable Justice Peter William Tree of the Family Court, retired District Court Judge Michael Forde, Magistrate Robbie Davies, David Rapoport, Damien Gordon, Tony Cooper, Peter Richards, Francis Martin and Scott Lynch.
For the most recent history, the stewards of the Darling Downs bar were Martin and Magistrate Davies. Whilst both were dedicated in their service, the number of local barristers, whilst periodically fluctuating, settled at two. Our proximity to Brisbane was both a gift and a curse. The gift was that Brisbane counsel easily travelled to the Darling Downs, resulting in many strong and loyal friendships. The curse was why gamble on a regional bar when the capital, with its strong and respected bar, is fortified momentarily to the east.
The “Old” Toowoomba Courthouse
Toowoomba once had a Courthouse to rival the beauty and grandeur of the old Supreme Court of Queensland at Rockhampton. Unfortunately, the government sold it at the time because it became increasingly run down after being decommissioned. It is now privately owned and stands as one of the best-preserved buildings of its age in our State. When one knows our history, it is of little surprise that no expense was spared in the construction of “the old” courthouse. Whilst much debate often focuses on whether we should have our own, western judge, we have actually had a number of acting judges of the District Court appointed to the Darling Downs. The first, it is believed, was Sir Littleton Ernest Groom KC who acted as a judge of the District Court in July and November 1900.
To account for the growing population and the government’s early intent, in July 1864, a reporter wrote “Toowoomba being the assize town in which all the criminals committed by the various Benches throughout the whole of the immense southern and western districts are brought to trial, it must be patent to everyone that some secure place should exist in which during that period at all events, the prisoners may be safely confined … delays [in construction] are dangerous and particularly in this case as they might result in a hoard of murderers and other ruffians enlarging themselves to the detriment of the public.” This article appeared to gain traction, and the construction of the gaol increased with speed.
The hangman’s first victim was Andrew Ritchie. Following the July Assizes in July 1864, Mr Ritchie was convicted of “robbery under arms” of the Anglican Minister at Leyburn and the murder of his driver. The Gazette reported “[t]he hour appointed for the execution of the prisoner was 8 o’clock. Before that time the prisoner’s irons were struck off, the warrant read, and the pinioning performed. Shortly after 8 o’clock the melancholy procession moved from the condemned cell, and filed into the yard in which the scaffold stood erected. The prisoner’s demeanour if not defiant was bold and determined and he marched to the gallows foot and ascended without hesitation or assistance preceded by the executioner whose head was enveloped in a black hood.”
History, in parts, appears to repeat itself. The poor conditions in custody were also topical. A public complaint was made about the Toowoomba Gaol in 1871 when Mr Holmes was held on remand by order of the Dalby Bench because of his inability to post bail. He was not actually remanded for any crime, rather, he couldn’t pay the wages of his fencing contractors. He was housed in a 15-square-foot cell with 16 others. They slept on the floor and as far away from the buckets as possible. Sleep was impossible because “the language and conduct of some of my companions, blasphemous and abominable beyond anything I had heretofore experienced or conceived although I am a native, and have been amongst all sorts for many years.” To wash, he described “seventeen to one towel which lively with animated nature … the only soap allowed being on Friday to wash our shirts.” In other articles, the stealing of horses and youth crime seemed to generate plenty of emotion.
Queen’s Arms Chambers
Returning to the present and realising that we couldn’t occupy the old courthouse, a hotel was the next dearest establishment to a regional bar. Part of one of the first established Hotels came up for sale. The renovations were completed in 2019, and the Chambers adopted one of the first names of the Hotel, the Queen’s Arms.
The unearthing of old articles relating to the building, such as a note in a paper on 7 May 1862 offering the assurance of “first-hand stabling, with sober and steady Groom always in attendance. Well watered and fertile Paddocks” created a sense of belonging and permanency that a new structure could never live up to.
The area of our chambers is vast, and the room placement is amusing. For example, in the east wing, Martin and Wesley Seewald occupy the servants’ quarters and the laundry. Steve Kissick and Douglas Wilson occupy the kitchen and servery. Goldie, Jens Streit and I have the guest rooms on the western wing. The conference room with its preserved tin-pressed ceiling was the grand formal dining room with stained glass windows. Tacky renovations over the decades acted like a time capsule with treasures only discovered after the removal of layers of plaster. For example, a builder’s written complaint graffitied in pencil on a wall concerning the loss of a five-pound note when filling a window with bricks or the barefoot marks leading from the servants’ quarters, through the manhole and across the ceiling to a cubby house above the formal dining room which was used to spy on the diners.
The structure would count for little if it weren’t for the barristers who occupy the rooms. In our chambers there are over 120 years of bar experience, which accounts for well over 1000 jury trials. There is little doubt that the local bar continues on its upward trajectory because we are all moving in the same direction. We are interested in educating the local school students and hope to inspire them. We often assist the local university students and mentor them. In return for our labour and interest, we simply ask them to consider practising law on the Downs.
A Country Special
A topic of great pride to the local profession is “A Country Special.” Set in the majestic Goomburra Valleys, the event is earning a reputation as one of the best criminal law continuing professional development programs in Australia. The inaugural program attracted approximately 30 practitioners and over time it has grown to the point where the numbers float around 100. To date, eight Supreme Court Judges, three District Court Judges, several King’s Counsel, barristers, solicitors and various other professionals have presented.
The event is also well known for the Country versus City games. It’s an event that Country easily wins despite City’s best efforts. To the locals, it is a little embarrassing. We see our City counterparts trying their little hearts out, only to be beaten time and time again. Their little legs run fast, and their excitement levels peak to that of primary school students at a swimming carnival, only to come crashing down when the independent judge of high office returns their scorecard. Whilst the country expects to win, it sometimes feels like shooting Bambi, and our victory is often drenched with their tears. They need to remember that there is hope, for it nearly went in their favour once. Horneman-Wren SC DCJ hails from Rockhampton but sits on a city bench. When his Honour heard I was scouting for the country team, I asked if he could crack a whip. Whip cracking was the first event of the games. For historical accuracy and transparency, I produce his response:
“28 August 2018
Dear Mr Jones,
My associate, Mr Larkin, has passed on your enquiry. I know that you are pedantic about the facts, a quality which I, perhaps more so than anyone else, appreciates and admires in you. However, I am somewhat aghast that you would find it necessary to double check a fact the only source of which was me.
But seeing you felt compelled to ask: yes, I can crack the whip. Out front or overhead, it really doesn’t matter. I have, as the young folk say, all the moves.
It was one of two invaluable skills I learned at boarding school. The other was how to use nun chukkas. I am, in fact, better on those than the whip. There are more moves, you see. And as I think I may have already mentioned; I have them all. I am a veritable Bruce Lee. Sadly, demonstration of those skills almost inevitably leads, these days, to arrest for possession of a prohibited weapon.
So, if you have any sense, you would bracket me in with the Darling Downs team. I would also suggest that you take a few spot bets because I am fairly confident that it is a skill which most of the conference delegates would be likely to associate with me. If only we could have a nun chukka competition – then we could really clean up.
His Honour Judge Alexander Horneman-Wren SC”
Based on this, His Honour was recruited, and I took a few “spot bets.” What publicly followed was a man who couldn’t even crack a twig. A loss in our backyard would be akin to the Maroons losing the decider at Suncorp Stadium and this hyped performance nearly cost us a victory. We are fortunate that the regional profession is resilient and the event survived.
The White Bull story is a tale the locals continue to tell. The trial also formed one of Ralph Boldrewood’s tales in Robbery Under Arms which was based on Mr Redford’s fictional counterpart, Captain Starlight, who was tried in “Nomah.” There are many stories, too many to tell in one article. With a bunch like us at the bar, the next “White Bull and Captain Starlight” story cannot be far away.
Postscript. Thanks to “History of Toowoomba. A series of articles” compiled by Mr. R. Dansie, Trove for their newspaper articles from 1873, Toowoomba Historical Society, my local historian Peter Eldridge together with his mate Patrick Nunan for sharing some old stories and Lynch for helping me track down the previous members of the Darling Downs bar.