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He Just Wouldn’t Die

Whenever you think that you are having a bad day, spare a thought for young Charles Joel Grantham. In 1874 he hadn’t had much luck at the Walhala goldfields so he was making his way to the new Haunted Gully diggings in Berwick. As he neared the area where Pakenham Secondary College is today, he met a man walking in the other direction. They discussed this and that and the fellow told him he was on his way to Walhala. Charlie told him about the bad state of affairs up there before they bid each other good bye.

Charlie made his way to Bourke’s Hotel (corner of Toomuc Valley Road) where he stopped for an ale. As he waited for his second drink, the man entered the pub and said that he had decided not to go on to Walhala. They each had a drink and then left, both traveling towards Berwick and the Haunted Gully diggings.

As they neared the area where Starling Road is today, the fellow said that he knew a shortcut and they left the Gippsland Road (Princes Highway) together. A little way down the track the fellow pulled out a revolver and shot poor Charlie in the head. The shot went between Charlie’s right ear and eye and between his jawbones. He was knocked down and when he came to, he found the fellow hitting him about the head with the butt end of the revolver. They struggled and the fellow tried to strangle Charlie with one hand while aiming the revolver at Charlie’s chest. Again Charlie fought back and the man grabbed a stout stick and twice hit Charlie over the head. And yet again Charlie struggled to his feet (he would have made a wonderful boxer). This time Charlie struggled towards the main road.

Obviously things were not going to plan for our bushranger so he asked Charlie to shake hands and make up. He also asked Charlie to tell people that they were mates and had had a little fight.  Somehow Charlie made it back to the Princes Highway and managed to flag down a passing horse and dray. He was taken to Dr. Helm’s surgery in Berwick and then to the Alfred Hospital where he spent 12 days.

Charlie was able to give the police a very good description of the man who attacked him. He was about 20 years of age, 5 ft 8 inches tall, dark hair, smooth face, swarthy complexion, a mark or scar on one cheek and had one leg shorter than the other. In the days following the attack, police arrested a man named Patrick O’Connell. O’Connell fitted the description of the bushranger and was in the vicinity during the attack. He owned a revolver and had blood on his clothes which he explained was from killing a diamond snake. The police determined that his story checked out and released him, stating that they were after a second man who was well known to the police.

Within a few weeks a man named Henry Williams was arrested. It was generally known that he was a “Card Sharper” (illegal card player and gambler ) He also fitted the description of the bushranger and it appeared that he was in the vicinity during the attempted murder. Numerous people identified him as the suspect including Catherine Bourke from the Highway Hotel, and George Craik from Berwick.

But many people also gave him alibis. It was on the basis of these alibis that  the police were unable to secure a guilty verdict and Henry Williams was released. When the judge made the announcement he also added “Williams had three times been convicted of felony, but owing to the nature of our law, the fact could not be communicated to the jury, or probably it might have affected their verdict.”

In the course of investigating this story I have come upon another very curious crime. In 1869, Charlie’s brother, Henry Joseph was found dead at his farm in Gordens near Ballan in Victoria. Henry had an argument with his wife Charlotte and struck her. She left and went to her sister’s house. When she returned a day or so later she went looking for her husband, whom she couldn’t find. She went to bed and in the morning went to the well to draw water. The well was covered with a stone and so she removed it. While drawing water up, she noticed a hat floating in the water. She went and told her brother-in-law, (our own little Charlie) that either his or his brother’s hat was floating in the well. Charlie got a ladder and went down to investigate and found his brother’s body.

The crime was investigated and the verdict returned “The deceased was drowned in a well on his own farm, but how, or by what means, there was no evidence before the jury to prove.”

Charlie went on to marry Margaret Lamplough in 1877. In 1892 he divorced Margaret and in 1893 married Jane Elizabeth Basher.  They moved to Western Australia where Charlie was a miner in the rough and tumble town of Norseman,