A horrible tragedy occurred at the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum on this day in 1888, which resulted in the death of a warder named Archibald Hunter, who was in charge of one of the cottages for idiots. Hunter it appears called into his bedroom one of the patients named Howard, a man about 40 years of age, who was in the habit of assisting to make the beds, and the door was locked after them. Howard left the room subsequently and locked the door after him, and as nothing was seen of Hunter it was ascertained through the window that he was lying in a pool of blood on the floor. The door was forced open, and the fact disclosed that there was a fearful gash on his head and six stabs about the body, of which two were fatal, one being caused by the passage of a knife through the lungs and another through the liver. All the wounds were of a desperate character, and would hardly have been caused by any one other than a madman. Hunter lived for about an hour and a half, but did not regain consciousness. An examination of the room showed that a potato masher, with which the wound on the head had been inflicted, and a large carving knife, covered with blood, had been thrown under the bed. Suspicion immediately fell on Howard, who is said to have had previous disagreements with Hunter, and an examination of his clothes disclosed the fact that they were covered with spots of blood. Howard is a quiet sleek man, and was classed as an idiot, but had a previous history, as he was a convict, having perpetrated a robbery, and was brought to the asylum for attempting to commit suicide. He is about medium size and not a powerful man, and the deed must have been done when Hunter was not looking. The deceased was a married man without a family, and had been in the asylum five years. He was an old soldier, and received a pension of a shilling a day. The authorities at the asylum are very reticent as to the facts pending the inquest.

ON THIS DAY – December 29, 1888

Joseph Howard, the lunatic charged with murdering Archibald Hunter, a warder at the Yarra Bend Asylum, on the 29th December, was placed in the dock at the Melbourne Criminal Court, before the Chief Justice. The jury found him to be insane, and His Honour ordered him to be remanded. Howard begged that he might not be sent back to the Yarra Bend, for the attendants had threatened to kill him within a month. He would go to Pentridge for life, or to any other asylum, but he would rather die than go back there, for they made him mad at Yarra Bend by starving him and putting him with the maddest lunatics. He had been starved and cruelly treated in the institution, and preferred to be in gaol amongst rational beings. The fact of his having been thrust among madmen had caused him to lose his mental balance at times, and if he were sent back it would be a living death to him. He would sooner suffer for his crime than return to the asylum. His Honour said his order had the effect of directing the prisoner to he kept in custody pending Her Majesty’s pleasure, and he could make no other. He had no doubt, however, that the officials would take note of what Howard had said.


ON THIS DAY – December 28, 1915

Francis Elliott (34) was, at the Criminal Court, convicted on a charge of attempting to murder Arthur Henry Mace, driver, at Box Hill on the 28th of December. It was alleged that the accused, on the evening of December 28, called at Mace’s house and a disturbance took place. He left after threatening to shoot Mace and Mrs. Mace. Mace and his wife went to bed and were aroused about midnight by the report of a gunshot. The walls of the house were marked with gunshot pellets. The accused was remanded for sentence. Elliott received 5 years hard labour.

ON THIS DAY…… 28th December 1905

James Williams was charged at the Geelong Court with obtaining money by false pretences. Evidence was given that on December 28, he went to the Prince of Wales Hotel, and tendered a cheque for three pounds, signed by J. Clarke. He endorsed the cheque with the name of James O’Malley, and the licensee then cashed it. He also cashed a cheque for £2 15s at the Brewers’ Arms Hotel. Both cheques wore valueless. The accused, in defence, said that two spielers got hold of him. One showed him a cheques for £7O, and said that they had a share in a horse running at Colac races. The men persuaded accused to cash the cheques, and he handed all the money to them. The accused said his real name was Frederick Clarke. The prisoner was sentenced to three months’ detention in Geelong gaol.

ON THIS DAY…… 28th December 1903

Samuel Steere, charged on remand with the attempted murder of William Graham at Cobden, was on this day in 1903, released on bail from the Geelong Gaol, on an order issued by Mr. Justice Hood in chambers.

ON THIS DAY – December 28, 1949

John Bryan Kerr (25), former radio announcer, faced three trial on a charge of having murdered Elizabeth Maureen Williams (20), whose body was found on Albert Park beach on December 28. Two witnesses said they had seen a strange man furtively leaving Albert Park beach about 2.30 a.m. on the 28th of December, 21 hours before the body of Miss Williams was found. Kerr was not the man they had seen.

Another defence witness was Kerr’s father, Donald Wallace Kerr, a Navy Department clerk. He said he saw his son in bed at 2.45 a.m. on the 28th of December. Cross-examined by the Crown Prosecutor (Mr. F. R.Nelson) John Kerr said that some extracts from his alleged confession. However when Mr. Nelson read extracts in which Kerr was alleged to have admitted that he killed Miss Williams, Kerr replied. ‘That’s a lot of rubbish.’ Kerr said he had told a psychiatrist. Dr. H. J. Stephens, of five incidents or emotional outbursts. He could remember details or only two of them. They was an argument he had with his mother one, and a fight in which he was Involved at Tocumwal (KS.W.) Railway Station.

Kerr was found guilty of murder, but the death sentence on Kerr was commuted to life imprisonment.

ON THIS DAY – December 28, 1905

William Carey, a native of Mauritius, and a resident of Edward street, Brunswick, was found unconscious on the roadside at Alphington on December 27th 1905, suffering from a fracture of the base of the skull. Carey died in the Melbourne Hospital on the following day. Deceased was a half-caste and a married man.

An inquest on the body was opened at the Morgue. Dr. Mollison, who made a post-mortem examination of the body, deposed that death was due to extravasation of blood on the brain due to violence. The detectives are making the fullest enquiries into the outrage, and a young man named Rouse is already in custody on a charge of murdering Carey. It appears that Carey was returning home to Brunswick. He had dispatched his wife by the coach, in which, however, there was no room for him, so he obtained permission to travel on the back step of a drag containing a picnic party.

The dray pulled up at the Darebin Bridge Hotel, Alphington, and it appears that Carey got into an altercation with some one in the hotel, which resulted in a quarrel. Enquiries made by Detective Sergeant O’Donnell have disclosed the fact that the hotel on the night in question was occupied by a larrikin mob known about Northcote and Clifton as the “fiddle breaker” push. The gang was armed with pickets torn from fences, and hurled volleys of potatoes and other missiles. Before the drag containing the picnic party, which gave Carey a lift on the road arrived, the larrikin gang had been particularly rowdy and offensive, and several of them tried to pick a quarrel with the picnickers, who were respectable, peaceably inclined people. Sergeant O’Donnell now has a quantity of direct evidence inculpating thirteen members of the “push,” who will be proceeded against on serious charges.


On this day …….. 28th of December 1937

While chasing an emu on horseback at Gol Gol, John Dempsey (54), of Buronga, near Mildura fell on his head and was killed instantly. His neck was broken by the fall. Dempsey was fencing when he saw the emu and he gave chase immediately. It is believed that he was thrown from the saddle when the horse stumbled.

ON THIS DAY – December 28, 1984

A Melbourne Supreme Court jury found a former soldier guilty of the murder of a young Victorian couple whose decomposing bodies were found in the back of a utility in Sydney’s Kings Cross 12 months earlier. Robert Scott Pickford, formerly of Bass Road, Ingleburn, NSW, was found guilty of the murders of Ondine Leith and David Jones on December 28, 1984, and was given a life sentence in Victoria for murder. Mr Pickford was also found guilty of one count of armed robbery at St Kilda on or about the 28th of December,1984 and not guilty on a second count of armed robbery the day after. Justice Southwell had already ordered the jury of six men and six women to return a verdict of not guilty to the two murder charges against Mr Pickford’s girlfriend, Ms Michelle Ann Archer, 28, formerly of the same address. Pickford was sentenced to Pentridge.


On this day …….. 28th of December 1923

A men named Snaddoiu, a draper from Nottingham, UK, left his home on the 28th of December 1922, promising to return in a few hours. From that moment he disappeared completely, and all efforts to trace him were fruitless. On the 20th of September a Manchester, UK paper published a photograph of a man found in Melbourne, Australia who was reported to be suffering from loss of memory. By chance the newspaper came into the hands of the mans brother, who immediately recognised the portrait as his brother ‘s. Prior to his disappearance he suffered from shell shock, and lived happily with his wife, and two small children.

On this day …….. 28th of December 1989

On this day in 1989, thirteen people were killed as Newcastle, New South Wales, is hit by an earthquake. Significant earthquakes in Australia are rare; however, on the 28th of December 1989, an exception to the norm occurred. Australia’s sixth-largest city, Newcastle, situated on the mid New South Wales coast, was hit at 10:27am by an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale. Effects of the quake were felt throughout central-eastern New South Wales. There were reports of damage to buildings in Scone, Gladstone and Sydney, the latter some 800km away. The shaking was even felt in tall buildings, in places over 5000km away. Thirteen people were killed, and 35,000 homes, 147 schools and 3,000 other structures in the region collapsed. Most damage, and the highest death toll, occurred at the Newcastle Workers Club when walls and multiple floors collapsed, dropping 300 tonnes of concrete onto the ground-floor car park. Nine people were killed in this one location alone. A US report on the earthquake suggested that the disaster was caused by stress resulting from 200 years of underground coal mining. Australian geoscientists disagree, claiming that the Hunter Valley has been prone to minor earthquakes for years. Other evidence suggests that the hypocentre of the earthquake lay too deep underground – 12 kilometres – for it to have been caused by mining.

On this day …….. 28th of December 1853

On the 28th of December, 1853, what appeared to be the body of a man was noticed floating near an overseas boat, the Royal Shepherdess, at Port Adelaide. Most of those who saw it thought that some unfortunate man had met death by drowning.

However, on being removed from the water the body proved to be a dummy. A jury of ‘highly respectable men’ was assembled with alacrity beyond all precedent and, the foreman having expressed to the coroner a desire for a post mortem examination, the aid of a surgeon was obtained with equal promptitude. The examination went to show, very convincingly, ‘that the deceased met his death from natural causes, and not otherwise.’ A large quantity of mud was said to have been found in the stomach, also, that on removing the scalp the cranium was found to be empty.

The effigy was then paraded through the streets of Port Adelaide, attended by 22 ‘priests in full canonicals’ and followed by several hundred towns people. After this, with all the solemnity of a funeral, the body was removed by boat to one of the ships and hung to the fore yardarm for some time. It was then cut adrift and allowed to float with the tide until, with a cleverly assumed sympathy for the memory of the deceased, several of the mourners brought it ashore and placed it in a coffin. Bearers carried It to where a shallow grave had been prepared. A burial service was read and, with much well-simulated grief, the remains were duly interred. Then all the chips in the port dipped their ensigns, and the ‘sorrowing’ crowd dispersed.

The idea of the strange performance originated in the strong feeling of resentment excited by the Collector of Customs who, when speaking in the Legislative Council, had designated Port Adelaide ‘a mud hole.’