ON THIS DAY – January 5, 1902

At 11pm on the evening of 5th of January, 1902, Albert McNamara left his home and shop to deliver a letter. By the time he returned at 11.45pm, his home was on fire and his 4 1⁄2 year old son would be burnt and pronounced dead. Catherine McNamara and their 6 year old daughter, Gladys, would escape the flames. The family had arrived in Australia in November 1901 from London. McNamara opened his ham, beef and light refreshments shop on Christmas Eve 1901 at 161 Nicholson Street. But McNamara was not doing well financially, and he had insured both his own and Catherine’s life for £300. When investigations took place after the fire, it was found that all manner of clothing and materials had been soaked in kerosene and placed in the rafters above the shop and residence. It was believed that McNamara had set these alight when he left to post the letter so he could claim the money for insurance for his wife’s death. It was not the first time that Albert McNamara had been involved with fire. A house he owned in Johanesberg had been burned when a lamp was smashed for which he collected £250 from the insurance money. McNamara was charged with arson causing loss of life and sent to trial at the Criminal Court. The jury couldn’t reach an agreement and so McNamara went to a second trial where he was convicted and sentenced to death. McNamara attempted to commit suicide in the hours before his execution, by running head first into the iron bars. He was unsuccessful and went to the gallows on the 14th April, 1902 at the Melbourne Gaol. Because of the head injury, however, blood spurted from the wound as McNamara fell to his death, creating a gory spectacle for those present. His executioner was Robert Gibbon.