ON THIS DAY…… 11th August 1873
A shocking outrage was committed by the American black named James Wallace, at Mount Beckwith, on Friday last. Mrs Mary Cook, the wife of a contractor and farmer well known throughout the Talbot district, was at home with her three children on the morning of the 4th instant. Her husband was away on business, and there were no male or female servants about the house, which is situated some distance from any other farm or dwelling-place. Shortly after ten o’clock a man entered, and “stuck up'” the premises. He was disguised by a bran bag wrapped about his head, and a sack over his body, but his accent and his hands betrayed him to be a negro. He asked Mrs Cook for money, but she told him there was none in the house. He then took a double-barrelled gun from over the mantel piece, and having driven the children into an adjoining room and locked them in, the brutal ruffian returned with a butcher’s knife in his hand. With this murderous weapon at the throat of Mrs Cook he pushed the poor woman into her bedroom, thrust her upon the bed, and committed a capital offence. He then made off, and although information was given to the police, he made good his escape from the Talbot district— calling at Kangaroo Flat, and obtaining from Edwards’ store a supply of heavy shot, a flask of powder, and some caps. He was tracked towards Lexton, where his clue was lost.
The police all round the country were on the alert, and on Monday information was received that the “nigger” had been seen on the Ararat road, and that he had stuck up and robbed several men, taking £6 17s from one of his victims. He also fired at, with intent to kill, a Mr. Prentice, near the cutting at the Big Hill beyond Beaufort. Hearing of this, Senior- constable Woods, now stationed at Beaufort, but recently of the Ballarat force, disguised himself as a digger and went out in search of his man. About eight o’clock in the evening his errand proved successful, for he saw Wallace making some purchases in a store. Before the negro had time to use the butcher’s knife—which he still carried with him—Woods was upon him, and after a struggle, the negro was secured and held till another constable arrived, and the desperado was lodged in the Beaufort lock-up. He had planted the gun in the bush before he entered the store, but there is no doubt that the weapon will be found. It seems that the prisoner was only released from Pentridge on the 24th of June, where he had suffered two years imprisonment for larceny from a dwelling. The man he shot at (Mr. Prentice) and Mr. Kelly, landlord of the Telegraph Junction Hotel, were the principal witnesses against him at that time, when he swore that he would have Kelly’s life as soon as he came out. Since his arrest he says he was on his way to Kelly’s to carry his threat into execution, and he would have shot Prentice too if his aim had been sure. He said he would have stuck up the Pleasant, Creek coach on Monday, only he thought there was a trooper on the box.
The wretch seems perfectly indifferent to his fate, for, when rolling up his blankets in the lock-up yesterday morning, he jocosely said, “I feel very stiff, but I suppose it don’t matter; I’ll be stiffer very soon” —no doubt making a truthful prophecy of his approaching end by the hangman.