Thursday, November 8, 2012

We were robbed

Good news. Trove at NLA has scanned all of the early Geelong newspapers up to August 1856 (local historian, Susie, has written a blog with the exact details). This is good news because so many of Victoria's early residents lived in or passed through Geelong, and those years also cover the early period of the goldrush.

So I thought I'd do a quick search to check it out. My keyword was 'John Brown'! Can you believe it? John and Mary Ann Brown lived in Geelong in the early 1850s and John was a bootmaker. I wasn't expecting a result but I struck gold of a different sort. There were three separate reports:
19 Feb 1853 Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer
POLICE OFFICE. Friday, 18th February. Before his Worship the Mayor and the Police Magistrate. ROBBING A TENT. Giles Fuller and George Sirridge were placed before the bench, under the following circumstances: Constable O'Connell deposed--That in consequence of information he received on Thursday last, he apprehended the prisoner Fuller for robbing a tent situated near the Breakwater, and upon receiving further information he proceeded to the Retreat Inn, South Geelong, and there took possession of a pair of boots and a sword-stick, now produced, which were alleged to have been stolen from a Mrs Brown by the prisoner Fuller and sold on behalf of Serridge. James Hale, residing at South Geelong, deposed -- That he purchased a pair of boots from the prisoner Fuller; cannot swear to the boots, but the boots now produced greatly resembled them. This witness giving his evidence in a very careless manner, was severely admonished by the Bench, who were about to commit him for contempt of court. Owing to the owner of the property, Brown, being absent, the prisoners were remanded until Tuesday next.

23 Feb 1853 Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, p1

POLICE OFFICE. Tuesday, 22nd February. Before His Worship the Mayor, and Alexander Thomson, Esq.
ROBBING A TENT. The two men, George Surridge and Giles Fuller, who stood remanded from last week for robbing the tent of a person named Brown, situated near the Breakwater, were brought up for further examination. John Brown stated that about six weeks ago he left his tent at the Breakwater and started for the Diggings. On his return last week he found that various articles, consisting of boots, axes, sword sticks, &c., had been abstracted from the tent during his absence. His wife and a servant girl were in charge of the tent and its contents during his absence. The sword stick now produced is one that has been stolen from him, and valued at 15s. The boots produced are, to the best of his belief, his property. Cannot swear to their identity, but swears positively to the sword stick by a particular mark upon the cane. Mrs Mary Ann Brown, wife of the last witness, deposed that her husband left town for the Diggings about six weeks ago, and returned after being three weeks absent. His boots being worn out on his return, he desired witness to bring him a pair of new ones that were supposed to be in the tent. On searching the tent, the boots were not to be found, and she subsequently discovered that various other articles had been taken away. On one occasion during her husband's absence, the wife of the prisoner Fuller came to her tent to purchase some articles. The property that was afterwards missing was at that time safe in a large chest which stood outside the tent. Her servant girl left her service about a week after Mrs Fuller called. The chest was not locked, but guarded by two fierce dogs which never permitted strangers to go near without giving an alarm. Mr Francis Balfour, landlord of the Retreat Inn, South Geelong., deposed that he bought the sword stick, now produced, from the prisoner, Fuller, about a fortnight ago, for which he paid 15s. Fuller offered, also, a pair of boots for sale but witness declined purchasing. Fuller did not say from whom he procured the sword stick. Loveridge was not present when this occurred. Both prisoners were working for witness in painting his premises, &c. Cross-examined by Mr Combe - Swears positively by a certain mark now observable upon the cane of the sword stick that the one now produced is the same he bought from Fuller. Contracted with George Surridge for the painting of his premises, and Fuller was employed under Surridge. Constable McConnell deposed that from information ho received last week he proceeded to the Retreat Inn, South Geelong, when Mrs Balfour, wife of the last witness, handed him the sword- stick now produced, and put a particular mark upon it, to enable her to identify the property again; obtained the pair of boots from a person of the name of Hale, who was working under Surridge, who obtained them from the prisoner Fuller in consideration of 20s which was owing to him by Surridge and Fuller. James Hale being sworn, corroborated the evidence of this witness, and further added that Fuller had been engaged some time in disposing boots to the extent of several pairs to his knowledge; he always obtained 20s per pair, and on one occasion was seen with a gunny bag stacked full of the same kind of boots ; Surridge was not present. Cross-examined by Mr Combe - Saw Mr Balfour pay Fuller 15s for a stick at the same time that witness bought the boots; the boots were taken out of a bag, and paid for by Mrs Balfour on account of money that was due to witness on the part of Surridge; Surridge and Fuller were understood by witness to be partners in business. Mary Fuller, wife of one of the prisoners, deposed, that the prisoner Surridge had lived together with her and her husband. Examined by the Prosecutor - Has heard Surridge say that the goods stolen from the tent had all been sold, and the money divided ; Surridge also informed her that the boots which he and her husband sold were stolen from Brown's tent - this was about three weeks ago; the conversation took place between Brown's tent and the New Jail. The case was again remanded until this day week, for further evidence.

29 Apr 1853 Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, p1, p3

Thursday, 28th April. Before His Honor Mr. Justice Barry. CRIMINAL SITTINGS. The following Jury were impannelled:-J. Cumming, R. Betts, James Black, B. Martin, S. Ball, J. Bond, J. Bray, E. Baxton, J. Bristowe, B. Bragshawe, T. Benmore, J. Buck.
ROBBING A TENT. George Fuller, was indicted for robbing the Tent of John Brown, pitched near the Breakwater, on the 1st February. Brown deposed, that he was a shoe-maker by trade, that in January last he left his wife, family, and property in a tent over the Breakwater, and proceeded to the Daisy Hill Diggings. On his return, at the beginning of February, he desired his wife to hand him a new pair of boots, out of a quantity which he had deposited in the tent, in a large chest with other property. Upon proceeding to take the boots from this chest, it was found that the whole of them were missing, and also some sword sticks, and other property. This witness entered into a long explanation, with a view of establishing the innocence of the prisoner, Fuller, whom he assured the Court had been the victim of the dishonest practice of a man named Surridge. Mrs Brown, wife of the last witness, stated that the boots and sword sticks, now produced, were safe in the chest a few days prior to her husband's arrival from the Diggings. About a week before he returned, witness sold a pair of these boots to the prisoner at the bar, for which he paid cash. Mr. F. Balfour deposed, that in January last he bought a sword stick, the one now produced, from the prisoner at the bar, for which he paid 15s. He also offered witness some boots for sale. Witness did not purchase any of the boots, but a person present bought one pair out of four which the prisoner had, for which he paid 10s. The Jury enquired of Brown, what was the fair value of the boots, and was informed 20s. per pair. The prisoner, when called upon for his defence, observed, that he had been led into the affair by the villainy of a man named Surridge, who had a criminal correspondence with his wife, and who had given him directions where to obtain the property, and to hand him over the proceeds. By the Jury to Brown.-Paid the sum of £5, to Sergeant McConnell, of the Police Force, for apprehending the prisoner. Did not himself put the notification in the newspaper offering the reward. Believes that Surridge caused the advertisement to appear in print, offering a reward of £5 for the apprehension of Fuller. His Honor said the case was one of common larceny, the jury would decide themselves whether the statement of the prisoner, was entitled to credit. They would take into consideration the facts which occasionally occur of designing men concocting robberies, and making an innocent person a victim to their evil designs. On the other hand, the jury would remember that, when the prisoner entered the Inn, for the disposal of the property, he did not explain where he got it, or whose property it was, or on whose behalf he was disposing of it, also the circumstance that the boots sold were sold for less than half their value. If any reasonable doubt, however, remained upon the minds of the jury, they would give the prisoner the benefit. The jury acquitted the prisoner, who was ordered to be detained as a witness.
ROBBERY IN A TENT. John Surridge was indicted for robbing the tent of John Brown, situated near the breakwater, on the 1st February. John Brown deposed that he left certain property, consisting of boots, sword sticks, &c., in charge of his wife, in January last, and proceeded to the diggings; upon his return, he found that a considerable portion of this property had been stolen during his absence. Mary Ann Brown stated that when her husband returned from the diggings, in February last, six pair of boots, three sword sticks, and a quantity of shot were found to have been taken out of the tent occupied by her, near the breakwater; did not remember seeing the prisoner at the bar in her tent. George Fuller being sworn, stated that in January last he was in the employment of the prisoner Surridge as a painter and glazier; that about that time the prisoner requested him to sell certain boots and sword sticks, which he said belonged to him; witness obtained this property from a box kept in an outhouse of the Retreat Inn; the proceeds of these goods was handed over by the prisoner, in the presence of his (Fuller's) wife. Mary Ann Fuller corroborated this latter part of the evidence; also, that she bought a pair of the boots, on account of her husband, from Mrs. Brown, for which she paid 23s. Mr. Francis Balfour deposed that he bought the sword stick now produced, from the witness, Fuller. The prisoner at the bar was at this time engaged in painting witness's house; Fuller did not state whose property he was selling, or on whose behalf. The prisoner entered into a very lengthened explanation of his conduct, but which, appearing to have neither beginning nor end, could not have operated with the court either in favor or against his interest. His Honor summed up, observing that the prisoner had put forward a long statement, imputing the basest motives to the witness, Fuller. This man had been tried as an accomplice in the robbery, and had been acquitted by the jury; his testimony was therefore entitled to belief; one part of it had been supported by the evidence of his wife, who distinctly stated that she saw her husband, on a certain occasion, pay over a sum of money to the prisoner, as the proceeds of the property he had disposed of, on his account. The jury found the prisoner guilty and he was sentenced to twenty calendar months hard labour on the roads of the colony.
It appears that John and Mary Ann were robbed and there was a court case, the details of which were published in the newspaper. It has provided me with information that I didn't have before (see below)and opens up more research possibilities.

      * They were living in a tent at Breakwater near South Geelong.
      * John went to look for gold at Daisy Hill, south of Maryborough.
      * He kept a sword-stick! I wonder why.
      * They employed a servant girl.
      * They kept two fierce dogs to guard their property.
      * He kept a supply of boots to sell, worth 20s a pair.

John BROWN, son of John BROWN and Jane PORTER was born in 1815 in Tyrone, Ireland. He was a shoemaker. He died on 29 Dec 1875 in Scotts Creek, Corriejong, Victoria, Australia. He married Mary Ann HOWE, daughter of Francis HOWE and Ann WEAR on 14 Mar 1850 (St Peters, Melb, Victoria, Australia). She was born in 1834 in Dublin?, Ireland. After John's death she married John LEE. She died on 13 Jan 1907 in South Ecklin, Victoria, Australia.

This is what a sword-stick looks like - a walking stick that contains a sword. They are now illegal.


  1. George "Surridge" was actually my GGG Grandfather George Smith (1811-1873) who had been sent as an Exile to Port Philip in 1846 on board the Maitland. He used his mother's maiden name as an alias and it seems the authorities didn't realise he had been a convict. He had what might be described as an "interesting" life..

    More details at

    1. How interesting. It appears that there was a lot of subterfuge going on and it must have been very hard for the authorities to do 'background checks'. Newspaper articles like these help to add pieces to the jigsaw.


I love to read your comments. Thankyou for your interest.



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