CLAIMS INNOCENCE OF ONE MURDER.

CLAIMS INNOCENCE OF ONE MURDER

CLAIMS INNOCENCE OF ONE MURDER, guilty of another.
This is the unusual, bizarre story of 2 cattle rustlers, a lunatic murdering police officer and a courtroom shooting with no gun.

CRIMINAL 1

The first of the two central men involved in this story is John Gofton. Unfortunately, finding information about Gofton was difficult before he turned up in South Australia. The only available information on this man was that he boarded a ship named Wave, bound for Sydney.
This was in Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania, in 1832.
The next time he pops up is as a cattle rustler in the area named Black Forest
Black Forest is still the name of this suburb, even today.
I will continue Gofton’s story a bit later.

CRIMINAL 2

The other main person involved in this story, is Joseph Stagg, Born in 1800 in Bristol.
In January 1821, they found Joseph guilty of animal stealing offences.
Then, in March, once again arrested for animal theft for stealing a sheep.
The beast belonged to a man named William baker.
They caught Stagg butchering the sheep and arrested him.
Because it was his second charge, they tried him at Somerset in March 1821 and sentenced him to 7 years in Australia.
On 22 April 1821, Stagg and 265 other convicts loaded aboard the ship, Lord Hungerford.
They set sail for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) under the command of. J Napier O’Brien. The ship arrived in Tasmania, on 26 December 1821.

RECEIVED A WHIPPING

On arrival, Joseph received an assignment to a new settler, Thomas Triffit.
This occurred in a southern Tasmanian area named New Norfolk.
Joseph repeatedly absconded over the next few years.
He received a whipping every time he was captured and returned.
Eventually, he was involved in the murder of the local flagellator.
Some stories claimed Joseph and four other men burnt the flagellator to death in his bunk.
This cannot be confirmed.
Joseph again went on the run and somehow managed to make it to South Australia.
Eventually hooking up with John Gofton and his rustling team.

WOODSIDE

In 1832, Settler Charles Newman, who was a farmer in the Adelaide hills in an area, now known as Woodside, Had a knock at his farmhouse door.

On opening the door, Newman met two men who introduced themselves as John Gofton and Joseph Stag.

The men claimed they were horsemen who had lost their rides on a trip from Mount Crawford to Adelaide.

It was not unusual for isolated properties to put up travellers for a night or two, in these early days.

RUSTLING GANG


These two men asked for overnight accommodation and food.
Newman obliged and fed the two men and allowed them to sleep in his makeshift barn overnight.
The following day, the men were gone.
Newman later discovered these two men were two cattle rustlers who were currently sought after by the police.
It seems that they would visit these remote farms. Stay the night and make off with any unguarded animals they could get their hands on.

LOCATE THE GANG

For a long time, the police had been trying to locate the headquarters of Gofton’s rustling gang. Eventually, Constable Henry Alford received information.
CLAIMS INNOCENCE OF ONE MURDER
The information was that the crew was working in a thick bush area, still known as the Black Forest.
This area is halfway between Adelaide and the beachside suburb of Glenelg.

SNUCK IN AT NIGHT TIME

Alford and a junior officer snuck into the area at night time on foot, leading the horses by their bridles; They headed in thru the thick scrub.
Here they observed the glow of fires and black shadows moving around. Then, eventually, at the edge of the clearing, having penetrated the scrub much further than they had intended. Alford and his junior stood there for some time, watching the gang at work.
From a vantage spot, they could see where Gofton’s gang slaughtered stolen sheep and cattle.

PLAN THE RAID

Sergeant Major Alford was forming a plan in his head to raid the lair with a large police force the following night.
Suddenly, Alford’s horse whinnied and received a reply whinny by one of the gang’s horses.
Alford went into panic mode.
CLAIMS INNOCENCE OF ONE MURDER
He told the junior to gallop his horse among the trees.
He went into the stockyard with his pistol drawn and shouted.
“Surround the prisoners and shoot any who attempt to escape!”.
Most of the gang escaped into the thick scrub.
Alford caught a cart driver standing near a cart full of salting barrels, and the junior caught another.

THE GANG ESCAPED

Eventually, the rest of the gang escaped.
On the way out of the forest, Alford had captured information about where they would find Gofton.
He was hiding in a sly-grog shop on South terrace.
CLAIMS INNOCENCE OF ONE MURDER
The police went straight to this grog shop, finding Gofton lying on a sofa, apparently in a drunken sleep. Gofton pretended drunkenness, claiming that he had been there all night.
“I see,” said Alford.
“That will explain the fresh blood on your moleskins and shirt.”
So the police took Gofton to the then wooden Adelaide gaol.

ESCAPE THE OLD GAOL

Back then, the new Gaol was under construction as the old Gaol was known as a joke. It consisted of a SLAB building with a picket fence around it. Anybody could walk out at any time.
This “GAOL” SOMETIMES held upwards of 70 prisoners at a time

THE GETAWAY

The day after Gofton got locked up in the Gaol, Stagg rode up on a horse, tied the horse to the prison fence and walked away. A couple of minutes later, Gofton walked out of the Gaol, jumped on the horse and rode away.

HIDING IN MANGROVES

CLAIMS INNOCENCE OF ONE MURDER
A few days later, Inspector Tolmer tracked Gofton to Port Adelaide.
It seemed Gofton was hiding somewhere among the mangroves of the Port River.
Rumours were that Stagg had been bringing him food.

FOUND HIS CORPSE

With the aid of indigenous trackers, Tolmer began to hunt for Gofton among the mangroves. It wasn’t long before they found him. But, unfortunately, not the Gofton they were looking for, but his corpse. Some one had discarded his body in a backwash at the mouth of the Para River. He had a single gunshot wound to the head.
Suspicions soon fell upon Stagg, so a trooper named John Benedict Lomas tracked him down and arrested him.
The inquest into Gofton’s death drew vast crowds of onlookers.

CROWDED COURTROOM

The courtroom was very crowded during the trial until there was an audible gunshot-like sound.
Someone yelled, “He’s shot at”.
The head of police, Mr Tolmer, drew his sword.
The governor of the gaol locked Stagg’s left arm within his.
CLAIMS INNOCENCE OF ONE MURDER
With the other hand, he held a pistol to Staggs’s head.
When the excitement subsided, the discovery was that the sound was floor support beam snapping due to room overcrowding.
When The broken floor joist were rendered safe, by using extra support props, and the trial reconvened.
Eventually, after four days of evidence, the Jury found Stagg guilty, resulting in him receiving the death penalty.

THE EXECUTION

On 18 November 1840, around 700 people, including several mounted police and quite a few foot police, came to watch the execution.

This took place at the construction site of Adelaide’s new Gaol.
Newly constructed gallows stood where the crowd gathered to witness Staggs’ execution.
However, Stagg still claimed his innocence in the murder of Gofton.

CLAIMS INNOCENCE OF ONE MURDER

Stagg also declared that he still deserved to be hung, Claiming he took part in the roasting to death of a man in Tasmania two years previously.
Stagg climbed the steps to the gallows by himself and put up no resistance. He read a couple of verses from his bible, handed the bible to Rev. C B Howard, and stepped forward for his hands to be rebound and the noose to be placed around his neck.
Within 2 minutes, Stagg was dead. They cut down his body and buried him on the grounds of the new gaol.

Pt 2 The story of John Benedict Lomas

Lomas was the police officer who arrested Stagg for Goftons murder.

In 1850, Lomas was informed of his parents dying, so he believed he would inherit the family wealth, immediately travelling back to England, abandoning his family of a wife and four children. He claimed he would send for them once his inheritance paid out his claim. He returned to Yorkshire to claim his new found wealth as the family’s eldest son. His brothers had successfully squashed Lomas’s claim and they took the money for themselves, leaving Lomas penniless. Lomas mentally broke down and set fire to a haystack in a fit of rage. They committed him to a mental asylum and then sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment for arson. After a couple of years of no word from him, His wife, still back in Australia, presumed him dead and remarried.

EXECUTED MAN INNOCENT

In 1852, Adelaide’s Judge, Mr Justice Cooper received a letter from England. This letter regarded Lomas, claiming that Stagg had been innocent of the killing of Gofton and that he, Lomas, had committed the crime.

The Judge did not believe this story and marked it as ramblings of a lunatic. It wasn’t long before once again, Lomas was transported to Australia, this time to the West. By the time he arrived in Western Australia, on a convict ship, in 1857, he was a broken man.

In 1861, they convicted Lomas for ten years for horse stealing.

They then released him in 1866 and re-convicted him to six months of hard labour in Fremantle Prison.

Lomas had only just begun his second sentence when he suffered a complete mental breakdown. As a result, the authorities deemed him ‘unfit to work’.

FREMANTLE PRISON

The Authorities were sympathetic and kept Lomas at Fremantle Prison. Eventually, they considered him sufficiently recovered and granted a free pardon.
All efforts to find Lumas suitable employment upon his release in 1870 failed.
He was removed as an Imperial Pauper to Rottnest Island.
The authorities built a cottage for him and provided food and clothing. This included a daily ration of rum as a stimulant’.
Lomas gave up his secure position on Rottnest Island to visit his family in South Australia. While he was in South Australia, He once again claimed that he had killed Gofton. Also, while in South Australia, his family told him he was no longer welcome. So, once again, he returned to Western Australia, where he spent his final years in and out of various institutions.
On 27 December 1888, John Lomas died at Fremantle Prison Hospital whilst serving a sentence for vagrancy.

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