Murder of Henry Hurst by Burke the Bushranger

Chapter 19

Published Mar, 2008

Capture of Burke, the Bushranger. The Melbourne Post 22 November 1866. Shire of Eltham Pioneers Photo Collection

…Robert Hurst exchanged greetings with Burke in the paddock near the house and saw him go into the house. He said to his son Henry, ‘There’s a strange man gone into the house – go in and see what he wants’…

At about 8 o’clock in the morning of Thursday 4 October 1866, a stranger with a poncho on his arm was seen walking towards the house at Hurst’s station on the Diamond Creek. He was the bushranger Robert Burke who on the previous Tuesday evening had ‘stuck up’ the house of William Horner at Scoresby. ‘All the time that he was there he had a couple of pistols either in his hands or by his side’. The incident was reported to the police who carried out an unsuccessful search for Burke, under the direction of Superintendent Smith, from Greensborough.

On Wednesday evening Burke arrived at Kangaroo Ground, ‘and going to a boardinghouse kept by a person named Weller, stated that he was bushed and wished to remain there for the night. He took tea with a number of other persons, and it was noticed by several that he appeared to be very uneasy and fidgety, and disinclined to look anyone in the face’ … In the morning he had left his sleeping-room ‘before any of the inmates had risen’.

Robert Hurst exchanged greetings with Burke in the paddock near the house and saw him go into the house. He said to his son Henry ‘There’s a strange man gone into the house – go in and see what he wants.’

At the back door, Burke asked for breakfast which was supplied to him by Henry’s sister Ellen. The shepherd boy William Hammett was also in the room having his breakfast. Ellen ‘got some cold meat and warmed the potatoes again’. Henry entered the house carrying a pair of shears. He called Ellen into the adjacent bedroom, to ask what the man wanted. Henry said ‘I don’t like the look of him.’ Henry then went with Ellen into the kitchen to see what the man looked like. As Burke lent over the table to get some bread, Henry ‘saw the end of a revolver sticking out under his coat’.

Henry and Ellen then went into the sitting room where Henry loaded his double-barreled gun. Henry told Ellen that ‘he thought the man was no good’. Ellen went into the bedroom to hide some jewellery and then went into the kitchen followed by Henry. Burke probably heard Henry load the gun as the rooms were ‘only separated by slabs with calico lining’.

Henry stood his gun in the corner near the fireplace. Standing about a foot from the gun he said to the stranger, ‘Good morning, mate. Where are you from? He answered ‘Cape Shanck’. Henry then said, ‘And where are you going’. He replied, ‘To Kilmore’. Henry said ‘The deuce you are; you are going a roundabout way to it.’ Burke felt he had been insulted and after a further exchange of words, he said ‘Do you know who I am? I’m a bushranger’. Burke drew his pistol and cocked it. He jumped towards Henry with the revolver in his hand. Henry stooped to get his gun. Fearing that Burke was going to fire, Henry fired at him. Burke’s revolver was said to have ‘snapped’ and missed fire. Henry dropped his gun. He caught Burke around the arms and they fell to the ground. As they rolled on the ground Burke fired two or three shots from his revolver in quick succession. The last shot fired penetrated Hurst’s abdomen before lodging in the lower portion of Burke’s left thigh.

The pair then struggled on their feet for about five minutes ‘both having hold of one pistol’. Burke had hold of the butt and Hurst the muzzle. Joseph Abbott arrived from the stockyard, where he had been milking, and seized Burke by the cravat. He knocked the pistol out of his hand and threw him down on the grass outside the back door. Holding his knee on Burke’s throat, Abbott tied his hands together in front of his body before tying up his arms and legs. A second revolver was removed from the holster on Burke’s waist belt.

Word of the shooting quickly passed around. Police from Queenstown, Eltham, Whittlesea and Heidelberg arrived on the scene, ‘and also a large concourse of people, mounted and on foot, armed with all sorts of weapons’. Constable Hall of Queenstown was a short distance from Eltham when he met a person on the road who told him a bushranger had shot Henry Hurst. He returned to Eltham Police Station and in company with Mounted Constable Mills went to Hurst’s station. When asked by Constable Hall what he came to the station for, Burke replied that ‘he meant to ‘stick up’ the station for a horse’.

When Dr Ronald J.P. arrived from Yan Yean at about eleven, Henry was lying on his bed in the front bedroom. He found Henry to be  in what he ‘considered to be a dying state’. As a justice of the peace he took a deposition from Henry in the presence of Burke. Henry died of his wounds at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon.

Burke was removed to Greensborough for the night. ‘The night was dark and rainy, but every precaution was taken, as it was generally believed that the prisoner was one of a gang whose object was to stick up the escort, and that Bourke’s (sic) visit to Hurst’s station was more for the purpose of procuring horses for his mates than for any other purpose’. Next morning he was taken to Heidelberg, where he was charged and remanded, before being removed to the Melbourne Gaol in the custody of Detective Nicholson and a trooper.

The coroner’s inquiry was delayed by flooding at Diamond Creek. The initial hearing before the district coroner, Dr. Candler, was held at Hurst’s station on 7 October, with a subsequent hearing at the Diamond Reef Hotel, Diamond Creek on the 15 October.

The trial before Justice Redmond Barry in the Supreme Court concluded on Saturday 17 November. The jury found Burke guilty of wilful murder’, with a recommendation to mercy, on account of Hurst having fired the first shot. Robert Burke was sentenced to death for the murder of Henry Facey Hurst.

A public meeting was held at the Melbourne Mechanics Institute on the evening of Monday 26 November to adopt a petition with over 2,000 signatures, for submission to the Executive Council, asking for the death sentence to be commuted to imprisonment for life. Some ten days after the trial the sentence was carried out. Robert Burke the bushranger, aged 24 years, was hanged at the Melbourne Gaol on Thursday 29 November 1866.

Henry was buried near the homestead. A memorial tablet was erected at the grave site ‘by a grateful public as a memorial to his heroic self-sacrifice.’ The memorial reads, ‘Sacred to the memory of Henry Facey Hurst (formerly of Hanford Dorset) who while defending his home fell near this spot by a ball fired by the bushranger Burke on October 4 1866 aged 34 years’.

Source : Based on contemporary reports published in The Age and The Argus newspapers.

Capture of Burke, the bushranger, by Robert Bruce, 1839-1918, (engraver) and S.T. Gill, 1818-1880, (artist). Published September 27, 1866, Illustrated Melbourne Post
Weller's Hotel, Kangaroo Ground, built prior to 1872. "Burke arrived at Kangaroo Ground, and going to a boarding house kept by a person named Weller, stated that he was bushed and wished to remain there for the night."
The Melbourne Athenaeum, Melbourne's first Mechanics Institute, in 1855. (State Library of NSW: artist S.T. Gill, 1818-1880)
Henry Facey Hurst's monument erected over the grave. Photo credit Neville Brabet

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