Bridget Larkin/Hurford

John Hurford arrived in 1830 and was granted 400acres of land at Augusta. He purchased an additional 100acres at Wonnerup and by the age of 65 he had amassed a fortune of 2,000 pounds ($4,000) which was a large sum in those days. In comparison the Post Master/Tide Waiter received 35 pounds per year and the Police Constable 15 pounds.

John married Bridget Larkin, a widow with 6 children, in 1851 but it was not a happy marriage. Bridget was violent and frequently attacked John. She once tried to kill him by stuffing socks in his mouth and on another occassion knocked out some of his teeth in a violent altercation. She was also unfaithful. The following is the account from the front page of the Sunday Times of Sun 19 Sep 1909.

Bridget HurfordBridget Hurford

John Hurford, described as a yeoman, arrived in Western Australia shortly after the colony was founded, and settled first in Augusta, but subsequently became a landowner at the Vasse. He was a hard-working but eccentric man, and employed the most abandoned characters in the district; his house was the centre of vagabondage of the country. When he was an old man, he married Bridget Larkin, the widow of a soldier in the 21st regiment. The woman was very much younger than Hurford, and from the first they quarrelled violently. Hurford died suddenly on April 8, 1855 four years after his marriage - but this was not considered surprising, as he was very old. But when his widow produced a will in her favor, made a few hours before his death, suspicions were aroused, and the magistrates were informed.

Hurford left property valued at about £2,000. It was shown that there were marks upon his throat, but the explanations tendered were considered satisfactory, the body was buried, and probate of the will was granted to the widow.

In consequence of information subsequently received the authorities appointed Colonel Bruce and Dr. Galbraith to proceed to the Vasse to make further inquiries. They did so had the body exhumed, and caused the widow and two ticket- of-leave men, named Dodd and Dixon, to be arrested on a charge of wilful murder. The three of them were tried on 3 October 1855. Dixon turned Queen's evidence. The initial hearing was held in Busselton before Capt. John Molloy but due to the serious nature of the charge the trial was held in Fremantle.

Resident Magistrate Col. John Molloy compressedCapt John Molloy, Image Credit: State Library of Western Australia 025863PD

The evidence was that Hurford and his wife quarrelled so much and she so ill-treated her husband that he had to sleep away from home. The Thursday before the murder Hurford rode into the Vasse, and on his return he complained of stiffness, but said he was recovering. Next day the wife went to the Vasse, and said that Hurford was in a bad state, and made inquiries as to how she would stand if Hurford died without a will. On Sunday, the day of the murder, she returned home and found Hurford apparently better. That evening she sent to a man named Jones, who slept in the same room as her husband, saying that he need not come that night. There was a general change of sleeping places, and Hurford was left alone in the room. Mrs. Hurford and Dodd were last up, and were found by those who rose first next morning. On the very first night that Hurford was left alone and unprotected he died.

 Phillip Dixon, the ticket-of-leave man, gave the following evidence:-

"I am Mrs. Hurford's servant. Remember Hurford's death on the 9th April. Left Hurford's about half an hour before sunset. In the subsequent July I saw Dodd and Mrs. Hurford at the Vasse. Dodd got drunk, and had a row with Mrs. Hurford, who went away, and then he said to me that he would make her come up to the scratch in the morning. He then said to me, 'Phil., I murdered the old man; she got me to do it.' I said no more to him as he was very tipsy. Next morning I asked him if he remembered what he had said. He said 'Yes,' and further said he knew that I would say no more about it, as he knew I had made out and forged a will as a will of the deceased. He said, on the Sunday Hurford died he and Mrs. Hurford decided what to do with the old man. She gave him (Dodd) drink, and promised him £10 and the old man's horse, Turk, if he would murder Hurford. When night fell, and the others were all asleep, he and Mrs. Hurford went towards Hurford's room. He went to the door, but began to tremble, and turned back to Mrs. Hurford and told her he could not do it. She said, 'You have not the spirit of a louse,' and brought him more drink, which he drank, and then he went back to Hurford's room.

"He caught hold of Hurford, who called out 'Bogajut,' (his aboriginal boy) as soon as Dodd touched him. Dodd throttled Hurford, who gave two kicks, and then stretched himself out. Dodd then went out of the room and met Mrs. Hurford, who said to him that she had been making a noise with a bucket as she heard Hurford call out, and she thought the others would hear. She also said to Dodd, 'Have you done it?' Dodd said, 'Yes.' She said, 'Be sure, lest he gets up, and has us both taken.' Dodd said, 'He is dead.'

LimboStreetimage7 OldPerthGaolonthecornerofBeaufortandFrancisStreetsPerth

Old Perth Gaol - Image courtesy of Museum of Perth

They then both went into the room and ransacked his bed and clothes, but only found 2s., some papers, and a title deed. Dixon subsequently told Mrs. Hurford that Dodd had told him about his murdering the old man. She did not deny it, but said, 'Dodd was a foolish man.

Medical and circumstantial evidence corroborated the evidence of Dixon, and Mrs. Hurford and Dodd were found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged in the new gaol the next Monday. Prior to this trial Dixon had been charged with forging the will, had been found guilty, and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. Three condemned persons were executed on Monday, October 15, 1855, at the new gaol, Perth. The woman, Mrs. Hurford, was hanged first and alone. Dodd and a man named George Williams, who had attempted to kill Warder M'Evoy with a shovel, were afterwards hanged together. The woman confessed, corroborating the evidence given at the trial. To the last she thought that her life would be spared, though every effort was made to disabuse her of the idea. There were many spectators present at the hanging, and as usual there was a not inconsiderable number of women and children.

Phillip Dixon re-appears in the columns of the "Inquirer" several times subsequently. On January 30, 1856, it says:- "Phillip Dixon, who was the accomplice in forging Hurford's will, and was the principal witness against the murderers, and was sentenced to imprisonment for life for forging the will, was sent to Rottnest, but his sentence was remitted, and he was liberated. It is asserted that he was subsequently employed by the police in Perth, and afterwards appeared as a police employee in Rockingham. It is proved that he had been employed by the Government, that he rode a Government horse, and had authority to get relays of horses, and did so. He misconducted himself near Rockingham on the premises of a man named Herbert, who laid an information against him, but the authorities took no notice of it, and Herbert was not called upon to appear against Dixon."


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