1860: George Waines, forensically boned

Add comment July 16th, 2019 Headsman

From the Melbourne Argus of 14 July 1860:


The case of the convict [George] Waines appears to excite considerable interest in the public mind, especially since it has become known through our columns that he made a confession which had not previously been made public. We are now in a position to place before our readers the confession of the wretched man, and also the fact that his death-warrant has reached the sheriff, to be carried into execution on Monday next. [Monday, July 16, 1860 -ed.]

Upon a careful perusal of the confession, it will be found that the prisoner’s version of the whole circumstances connected with the crime would, if true, very materially alter the character of the offence for which he is condemned to die. It will be remembered that the hypothesis presented to the jury was that the prisoner went to the house of the Hunts, and in cold blood murdered them in order to escape a pecuniary liability. [Waines owed them 50 quid. -ed.]

His confession now made, under sentence of death, would show a state of things so entirely different, that had he revealed the facts in the first instance, the probabilities are, although in strictness of law the act might have amounted to legal murder, a jury would have been inclined to find a verdict of the lesser crime of manslaughter, or, at all events, that the Executive would mitigate the punishment to that of the minor offence. It is remarkable also that, although Waines admitted to several persons the fact of his having murdered the Hunts, the circumstances attending the commission of the crime were never clearly elicited until his present confession; and, indeed, as, far as they were elicited, a reference to the evidence would go to show that the deed was perpetrated under the smart of an imputation cast upon his wife.

The second point on which the confession, if true, would affect his case, is as to the identity of the bones of Mary Hunt. According to his statement, it would appear that every vestige of the remains of that unfortunate woman was destroyed before he exhumed the body of her husband, thereby showing that the medical testimony was wholly at fault in convicting him of the murder of Mary Hunt. With regard to this last point the convict is most anxious that the fact should, before — or even after — his execution be investigated; and certainly with regard to the science of medical jurisprudence, it is most desirable that such a course should be adopted, even with a view of proving whether or no the conviction is not a wrongful one. In the administration of criminal justice the slightest irregularity has frequently been held sufficient to warrant a commutation of punishment. A remarkable instance of this is on record where a learned judge, in sentencing a man to death, omitted to direct that he should be buried within the precincts of the gaol, the consequence of which omission was that the prisoner was set at large.

The convict, by his confession, offers to state what “he did with the bones of Mary Hunt,” on receiving an assurance that the bones which were deposed to as being hers should be subjected either before or after his death to surgical examination.

At the interview with which Waines was favoured the wretched man made the following extraordinary and startling statement. He confessed to having murdered both the man and wife in the manner detailed in his written statement, and that he buried them as therein mentioned. After a lapse of eight months, finding that inquiries were being made about the Hunts, he, understanding that he could not be found guilty if the remains were not identified, proceeded to disinter the bodies, with the intention of burning them to ashes. The night which he chose for this purpose happened to be bright moonlight, and his description of the dreadful scene is horrific in the extreme. His mind had been for a considerable period in a dreadful state, and at midnight he proceeded to his revolting task. He first disinterred the body of Mary Hunt, which he describes as being in a state of decomposition, with the rotten clothes clinging to the bones. On that lovely night he lighted a fire, and putting the ghastly remains on it, burned every vestige to ashes.

After having done so he found one piece of bone, a few inches in length, which, in his desire to destroy every trace of the unfortunate woman, he took up and pulverised with his hands.

The prisoner states that, having so destroyed every trace of the wife, he next proceeded to exhume the body of the husband, with the intention of destroying it in like manner. He so far succeeded in his horrid purpose as to disinter the body, when he became on that lovely moonlight night so perfectly horror-stricken, that he says he was wholly unable to proceed with his terrible work. He states that then, finding himself so perfectly unnerved, he hurriedly gathered the bones together, put them in a sack, and, rushing to the banks of the river, threw them into a waterhole. At this time the moon shone out brightly, and the wretched man states that, standing on the banks for a few minutes, he saw the sack with its ghastly contents rise to the surface. Horror-stricken as he was, he pulled it ashore, and filling the sack with earth and stones, finally sunk it. He admits that when in prison he made the confession to Brown, the detective, which led to his conviction; but it certainly is now a serious question whether, if this confession be true, a conviction of this kind ought to be confirmed, seeing the frightful consequences that might ensue from persons being found guilty of murder without clear proof of the corpus delicti.

In this case Waines was, on the surgical evidence that the bones were those of a white woman, convicted of the murder of Mary Hunt. If his confession be true — and under the circumstances there can scarcely be any reason for doubting it — the bones were those of a man, and although he confesses to the crime, it is not difficult to perceive how easily an innocent man might be convicted on similar testimony.

The following is the confession, as stated in the letter of Waines to his counsel:

Melbourne Gaol, July 8.

As a poor unfortunate prisoner now under sentence of death, which sentence I believe to be irrevocably fixed, I hope you will pardon me for taking the liberty of writing to you. I wish to inform you that, before I die, I have got what I think a duty to perform, likewise a request to make; and to show you that it is what I think as much a duty as a favour, I confess at once that I am guilty of the murder of Mary Hunt but not wilfully, as Brown stated in court. At the same time, I do not feel justified in doing it; but I hope, by a deep repentance and sorrow for my past conduct, and by faith in Jesus Christ, who died to save sinners, of whom I am chief, that the Lord will pardon my sins. It was not done for the money; I had no call to do it for that; it was done for Mrs. Hunt calling my wife a b—- w—-. After I had paid Hunt all that was due to him, he asked me if I would let them have the hut to live in for a fortnight. I told him I could not, as I had got a married couple coming the next day, and they would want to live in it. With that Mrs. Hunt spoke up, and said, “That’s the doings of that b—- w—- at the Wannon. She knows that I want to stop in the hut until you come from Portland.” When she said that, I was just going to the wood-heap with the axe in my hand, and I struck her over the head, and she fell. Hunt was at the wood-heap at the same time, and took up a lump of wood, and ran at me to strike me, and I struck him instead; and that is the way they carne by their death, which I was very sorry for; but I could not call back what was done. I thought once of confessing it; but I afterwards turned afraid of it, thinking I might be blamed and executed for it, as though I had done it wilfully. I afterwards buried them in separate places, for eight months. I then took the body of Hunt, and put it in the river. I never cut it up. The bones came separate when I took them out from where I buried them. As for Mary Hunt’s body, I can call God to be my witness that there never was a bone of Mary Hunt’s in the river, nor yet before the coroner’s jury. And I can say with truth, that had the witnesses sworn nothing but the truth, although I was guilty, neither judge nor jury would have found me so. I do not say this to screen myself; if I did, I should not plead guilty. The doctors not being so clever as they profess to be, and knowing they must pronounce it to be one of the two, they pronounced it to be that of a female, which I can call God to be my witness that there is not one female bone among them. I will make a full confession to the public, with the hope that it may be a warning to some one who may not have sufficient guard over his temper as was the case with myself. I think it my duty, and my request is, to beg of the Government to have the bones brought to Melbourne, which, if they would, I know they have got the means of proving what they are, and I am as certain as I am of my death that there is not one female bone among them. If the Government will do that, I will then tell them where Mary Hunt’s body is. My conscience tells me that it is quite as equal a duty of the Government to have the bones tested as what it is of me to make a confession. The expense would be very little, and time very short; and although I be guilty, it might be the means of saving some one that was innocent at some future time, by being a caution to Government how careful they ought to be, in a case of life and death, in taking a doctor’s evidence, by giving a random guess at a thing I am certain they do not understand. I have no doubt but they will try to keep the Government from doing it on account of their own credit. If the Government will not do it on account of delaying my execution — if they will only promise me to do it after I am dead, and bring the same to the eyes of the public, I will then tell them before I die what I did with Mary Hunt’s bones. I am convicted of my own confession [Waines was entrapped by a detective who posed as a fellow-prisoner and elicited his admission -ed.], and I think it ought to be proved, which it might have been if they had taken my words for it. When they pronounced it to be a female, at the first I told them it was not, and the evidence of Chaffe will show it. He swears that I told him it was that of a man — and that I can swear, and swear the truth, till the last moment I have to live. What I said with reference to Hunt’s going away, it was quite natural I should say to clear myself if I could. But what I say now the Government, if they wish, can prove to be the truth; and if they will, I think they might still have mercy on me, and save my life, when they prove the truth of my statement and the doctor’s error. Even if they do not save my life, it will be some satisfaction for them to know that the doctors were wrong. If I were not certain that they are, I would not say so. I know the doctors in Melbourne can prove it; and, therefore, I should only be keeping myself longer in suspense, which would be worse than death. As to other charges which have appeared in the papers, I can only say, with a clear conscience to my last moment, they are all lies, raised by my enemies with the hope, in my opinion, of poisoning the mind of the Government, from fear that I should have a chance of escape by the point of law which was reserved. I was never charged with anything in my life before of which I need fear anyone knowing. I hope the Government, after convicting me by my own statement, will feel it their duty to prove my statement thoroughly correct, when they have got the means of doing it so easily; and if they do, I call God to be my witness, they will find what I have stated to be the truth.

GEORGE WAINES.


Sir, I am quite satisfied that you have done all you possibly could in defending my cause and trying to save my life, although you were unable to do so. For what you have done, may the Lord bless you!

I think, sir, if you would be so kind as to ether see or petition His Excellency the Governor, he might grant my request, and have the remains of the body brought to Melbourne. If he would, I call God to be my witness that they will find them to be as I have stated. If you will do so, I am quite certain that whatever extra charge you make for your trouble, either Mr. Scott or my poor wife will pay you, whether you save my life or not. I admit the sentence is just as regards my guilt, but I think, as regards the law, my life ought to be spared. I think it quite unreasonable to execute a prisoner for the murder of a woman on the evidence of the body of a man, which man I was not tried for. Had they tried me for the murder of the man instead of the woman, I should never have written this.

Sir, – will you please to let me have an answer to this,

Your obedient servant,

GEORGE WAINES.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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