On February 1, 1838, a gruesome murder took place in High Street when a butcher was killed by his convict-assigned servant. The killer was seen shortly after licking the blood off the knife that was the murder weapon, telling all those around him how good it tasted. For his punishment, it was decided he would be hanged in High Street. Research by PETER BOGAN.
While High Street, Maitland, is well known for its historical buildings it has long been forgotten that it was once the place of a public execution.
Convicted murderer William Moore was hanged on the site where he murdered his master John Hoskins.
Moore was a convict-assigned servant to Hoskins, a butcher of West Maitland, and around 7 o’clock on the morning of February 1, 1838, he murdered his master.
An inquest was told that “on the night previous to the murder, the prisoner William Moore was absent from his master’s premises; that he (witness) and deceased went to the constable to report the prisoner; that on their return home the prisoner was there; that some words took place between deceased and prisoner about his bed”.
Moore had been drinking since 6 o’clock that morning and the dispute led to the murder.
The Sydney press took a great interest in the gruesome details of the murder and one newspaper reported: “Meeting his unfortunate master in a few minutes afterwards, he assailed him with a knife, stabbed him in several parts of the body and then deliberately cut the throat of his victim.
“One of the parties who approached to seize the murderer when he rushed into the street, exclaiming ‘I have settled him’, stated that he then drew the knife, reeking with blood, through his mouth, saying ‘this is flash Hoskins’ heart’s blood and thank God I have a good appetite to eat it’.”
Another paper declared: “BARBAROUS MURDER – Maitland was at an early hour on Thursday morning thrown into an indescribable state of alarm, by the report of a most barbarous murder having been perpetrated on the person of Mr Hoskins, a butcher, residing in that township, by his assigned servant, William Moore.
“On proceeding to the spot, was to be seen a man in the garb of a butcher standing in the middle of the road, his clothes and body saturated with blood, and nourishing a knife such as is usually used by butchers, and defying the constables to disarm him.
“Fortunately however, through the intrepidity of Mr Williams, he was speedily captured.
“The first thing, which met the eye on entering, was a stream of gore flowing over the shop, and proceeding backwards by the track of blood visible on the floor, the body of the unfortunate Hoskins was discovered
perfectly lifeless, his throat cut through to the bone, the vertebral column broken and a frightful gash on the chin; independent of these wounds, which were enough to have destroyed him, there was a second in the pit of the stomach, a third in the region of the heart, a fourth in the right side, a fifth above the hip, from which the intestines protruded in a frightful manner, a sixth across the arm, and a seventh, by which his left thumb was nearly severed from his body, that had evidently been inflicted when the unfortunate man was struggling with his murderer.”
On a coroner’s inquest report, held the same day at Mr Cummins’ Commercial Tavern, it appeared in evidence that 12 months earlier “the prisoner had contemplated the murder of his master, but the cause which ultimately led to the atrocious act was the simple fact of his having been found drinking at the tap of the Commercial Tavern, from whence his master forced him home, threatening at the same time to punish him for neglect.”
At the inquest, Dr Mallon gave evidence that “he attended the deceased in the morning and found him lying on his face with his head nearly severed from his body; he found six deep wounds in different parts of the stomach, all of which would have proved mortal – he had no doubt they were inflicted with the knife now produced, which must have been buried up to the hilt in the body, as the top of it had actually struck a bone and taken a piece off the edge.”
The coroner’s jury delivered a verdict of wilful murder against Moore and he was committed to Sydney for trial.
The trial was held on February 15 before Mr Justice Burton and a military jury and found guilty.
The authorities ordered that the prisoner’s execution should take place – not, as is usually the case, on the scaffold erected in Sydney gaol, but on the spot where the crime was perpetrated.
Moore was sent from Sydney to Maitland on Thursday, February 22 for his execution.
The media reported that: “Yesterday evening about 6 o’clock, William Moore, convicted of the wilful murder
of the late John Hoskins of Maitland, butcher, was removed from the gaol of Sydney, to the Tamar steampacket,under a strong escort, to proceed by that vessel to where he is to suffer death, near the scene of his crime. Mr Rogers, the late under sheriff, accompanied the criminal, and the frame of a scaffold was forwarded in the vessel.
“The culprit was removed from the gaol in his irons, and sat on his coffin, also the executioner sitting on the coffin alongside him.
“The countenance of the culprit was pale, but he exhibited no trepidation as he looked around on the crowd that accompanied the procession. When he arrived at the wharf, hisses and groans arose from a part of the crowd.”
Justice was swift in the early days of the colony and on February 26, 25 five days after his crime, Moore paid the extreme penalty.
One Sydney paper reported that: “On Monday morning, at 10 o’clock, William Moore, the murderer of Hoskins, was executed alongside his late master’s house at Maitland. The frame of a scaffold, prepared in Sydney, was erected for the purpose.”
The delay in the execution of Moore arose from the circumstance of permission from the late Acting Governor to let the execution stand over, should Mr Stack, the Minister of West Maitland, not be present.
This gentleman had attended the prisoner shortly after he was apprehended, and to him the prisoner said he wished to make certain disclosures. When Moore arrived at Maitland, Mr Stack was absent up the country.
A despatch was forwarded to him and he arrived in the course of Sunday, and with the Reverend Mr Wilton remained in attendance with the prisoner. We are not aware if any disclosure took place.
On Monday morning Moore was brought from the lock-up house where he had been confined. He was attended by two ministers of religion and exhibited none of the bravado he displayed at his trial.
Before the cap was drawn over Moore’s face he uttered a few words to the spectators, desiring them to take warning by his fate and not to fall into the same excesses.
Some years later the Maitland Mercury reported an old Maitland resident stated that: “William Moore, for murdering his master, Hoskins, was hung opposite where Mr Rourke’s saddlery establishment is now.”
Rourke’s building still stands just east of Bulwer Street and the scaffold would have stood opposite.
A large part of the 11-hour inquest was taken up in trying to ascertainwhat had happened to the victim’s property soon after the murder, as was reported in a Sydney paper. “The greatest praise is due to the worthy coroner and jury, especially to the foreman, Mr P J Cohen, who, from a mass of the most contradictory evidence; contrived by a shrewd cross-questioning to elicit the fact that, within an hour of Mr Hoskins’ death, property to the amount of between £300 and £400 had been sent away in bills, in notes and cash; all of which were sent for, and impounded for the benefit of the deceased’s creditors.
The funeral took place this day (February 2), attended by upwards of 200 of the inhabitants.”
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.