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The Trial of Bentley

After much popular indignation, the trial of the three men who beat and killed Scottish digger, James Scobie, was held in Victoria. The three men were found unquestionably guilty of his murder.

18 November 1854
Published Source
Australian National Dictionary Centre, The Gold Rushes and Australian English: a resource for researchers, teachers and students, Australian National University, 2005, http://www.anu.edu.au/andc/res/aus_words/gold/index.php. Details
This material is provided by the Australian National Dictionary Centre, a joint project of the Australian National University and Oxford University Press Australia.


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THE DEATH of James Scobie has at length been brought home to Bentley and his accomplices. The trial took place on Saturday, and, after a searching investigation, the jury acquitted Mrs. Bentley, and returned a verdict of manslaughter against the prisoners Bentley, Farrell, and Hance. Before sentence was pronounced they each made indirect confession of their participation in the deed, so that all doubt on that score is entirely removed. From the evidence adduced on the trial it would appear that the current version of this lamentable affair is substantially correct. Scobie and Martin had been spending the evening in merriment at a neighbor’s tent, and were returning after midnight to their own dwelling, when, on passing the Eureka Hotel, and observing it lighted, they proposed to call and have "another glass,"—that "other glass" which has so often led to the most disastrous results, and which, in this instance, cost one of the unfortunate men his life! Scobie knocked at the door and made known his object, but was told to go away. A pane of glass was broken, it does not appear by whom; but it was stated by one witness that the pane was already cracked, and it seems quite probable that it may have fallen out with the shaking of the door. It was sworn by one witness, that Scobie used improper language to Mrs. Bentley, who told him to make off. The order was complied with, and the two men proceeded homewards. Shortly after, Bentley and his wife, along with Farrell, Hance, Duncan, and Mooney, who were all connected with the establishment, went out after the two men who had annoyed them. In passing Mrs. Walsh’s tent, Bentley snatched up a spade. Mooney, according to his own confession, threw Martin down; but he immediately got up and ran off. Scobie was now surrounded, and was charged by Mrs. Bentley with breaking her windows. This he denied. The charge was reiterated, accompanied with a blow from Farrell, which knocked him down. In this position, the unfortunate man appears to have been kicked to death by Farrell and Hance. Bentley stood beside the body with the spade in his hand; but there was no evidence that he inflicted a blow with it. On returning, one of them was heard saying, "That is the way to serve those sweeps." The evidence of the witnesses for the Crown was very strong against the prisoners, particularly that of Mrs. Walsh and Mooney. Its tendency was to shew that the object of the attack upon the unfortunate digger was to revenge the insult offered to Mrs. Bentley, and the injury done to the premises; and that, though there was no apparent intention of murdering him, they held his life cheap, and were utterly reckless in their proceedings. The length to which they were prepared to go was evinced by having a murderous weapon with them at all; the blows inflicted were so heavy as to be heard in several tents at some distance from the spot; the fatal character of the result must have been evident to its perpetrators, when the grating of the man’s teeth suggested the idea of murder to a witness who had been aroused by the blows; and yet they returned to the hotel exulting over their atrocity, as if the life of the unfortunate digger had been of no more value than that of a dog. We say that such was the impression of the case which the evidence was calculated to produce. When asking Mooney to keep quiet on the subject, Bentley spoke as if he were fully satisfied that the authorities would be indifferent about the matter. Participating habitually in the same conviction, and carrying it with them in their pursuit of the "two drunken diggers," the prisoners had lost all sense of the sacredness of life, and never dreamt of being called to account for any consequences to which their violence might lead. Taking this view of the case, it seemed at one time during the trial as if "murder" were the only verdict which would satisfy the ends of justice. The evidence of the medical gentleman who examined the body of the deceased was the only material qualification of this result. According to his statement, no wound had been inflicted by the spade; nor were any of the wounds apparently of a serious nature. Indeed, he seemed to treat the cause of death as a very light affair, and was disposed to think that it might have resulted from a fall, or from some trifling blow. It does not lie within our province to criticise the professional accuracy of this gentleman’s evidence; but we feel it our duty to animadvert upon the singular manner in which it was given. He was placed in the witness-box to report upon certain facts, not to enlighten the Court with his theory of the transaction. The counsel for the prisoners improved upon Dr. Carr’s statements, and endeavored to shew that the fact of a blow being inflicted before or after a meal made the difference between murder and manslaughter,—a view of the subject which met with the unqualified reprobation of the judge. The tenor of Dr. Carr’s evidence was such as to render additional medical testimony exceedingly desirable; but, strange to say, though the surgeon who assisted Dr. Carr in his examination of the body was called, not a single question was put to him. This is an unusual course in any case, and looked singularly so in a case which hinged so completely upon the medical evidence. We do not know how to account for the neglect; for it would be gratuitous injustice to the Attorney-General to attribute it to dereliction of duty on his part. The evidence, softened down as it thus was, would not have justified a verdict of murder; for on this shewing, the blows were not of that deadly nature that evinced a murderous intent on the part of the persons who inflicted them. On the whole, both the verdict and the sentence must be admitted to be satisfactory. Public justice has overtaken the guilty parties; and, in their conviction, the administration of the law has at length been vindicated. It now appears that the popular demonstration against Bentley was founded on truth, the charges made against the authorities at Ballaarat appear to have been equally well grounded. All this points a moral which does not require to be distinctly applied in order to be felt. Argus, 20 November 1854