Monday, June 3, 2013

Special Collections Fossickings 22: True Crime 1. The Con Creek Murders

Driving north from Townsville along the Bruce Highway one soon becomes familiar with the names of the numerous creeks which the road crosses. Have you noticed how somebody always decorates the sign at Christmas Creek in December? Do you wonder what makes the water of Bluewater Creek live up to its name? North of the Cardwell Range, the name Conn Creek probably arouses little curiosity, whereas it was once the site of a double murder with a macabre follow-up.
Conn’s Crossing where William and Elizabeth settled before moving north towards Cardwell. Photo date unknown, possibly 1880s to early 1900s. NQ Photographic Collection ID 22901, Henry Stone Albums
Originally William's Brook, the creek was named for the small farm established by William and Elizabeth Conn in 1873. The Conns had arrived in the district a decade earlier, establishing Conn’s Crossing (across the Herbert River) before moving north as the bridle track between the Herbert River and Cardwell was being established. Known as “The Hermitage” the Conn’s farm produced sweet potatoes, maize and fruit while their slab cottage provided lodgings for travelers passing along the coastal track. Bianka Balanzategui’s “Herbert River Story" reports that the Conns also received Government money to keep the track open. Despite police warnings William maintained that he had excellent relations with local Aborigines with whom he bartered tobacco and other goods for fish.

Tragically in 1875 William’s body was found in front of his cottage, and the location of Elizabeth’s was later revealed to police by three Aboriginal women. According to local historian, Dorothy Jones, who tells the tale graphically in her 1961 “Cardwell Shire Story”, reprisals were ordered by police Sub-Inspector Johnstone – although these seem to have been motivated more by revenge than justice. Some 7 or 8 years after the event explorer and ethnographer Carl Lumholtz heard of it and, with a variation in the name from Conn to O’Connor, recounted it in his book “Among Cannibals”. Local Aborigines told Lumholtz that it was mainly women and children who were slaughtered, while most of the younger men, no doubt including the perpetrators, escaped. Interestingly Jones locates the murder site further south at Conn’s Crossing but “The Queenslander’s” contemporary account suggests Balanzategui’s more northerly location is correct and this is endorsed by John Alm’s 1930s account contained in “Early History of the Herbert River District”.
The first English edition of Norwegian explorer, Carl Lumholtz's book "Among Cannibals" is held in the North Queensland Collection at JCU Library Special Collections.
And the macabre? A coffin ordered for Elizabeth’s funeral was delivered too late to be of use, her body, according to one report, being so decomposed it required immediate burial. Instead the coffin was converted into a makeshift bed and used by those travellers who, undeterred or simply unaware of events, continued to take shelter in the abandoned cottage.

1 comment:

CJMoss said...

Interestingly, William Conn is famous for being the first White man to discover the Conn Waterhole (found at -22.298963, 142.478354) west of Winton in faraway Central West Queensland.