Why would a barman shoot two policemen dead and wound a third in Bourke in 1877?
No-one really knows, but newspapers of the day blamed either the delirium tremors, or a temporary madness on the part of one Samuel Getting.
“ He must, it is thought, have been suddenly afflicted with homicidal mania, or madness, in order to commit the dreadful crimes”Northern Star
Getting, aged about 33, was a barman at the Royal Hotel.
While newspaper reports don’t say where the actual attack took place on September 11, they told how Getting made a “desperate and unexpected attack on the police”.
He shot the first policeman, Constable Costigan, dead on the spot. The second, Constable Armitage, attempted to arrest the assassin, but fell wounded by a revolver ball. He did not die until five hours later.
The infuriated gunman ran towards the river, loading as he ran, and threatening anyone who tried to stop him “but the people were aroused’’ and pursued him, with another policeman, Inspector Keegan, at the lead.
At a short distance from the town the “murderous wretch halted and parleyed with Keegan,” who had outrun the other pursuers.
He stated that no one should take him alive but Doctor Browne, and so a messenger was sent for the doctor.
In the meantime, Inspector Keegan approached nearer and nearer to the fugitive, all the while reasoning with the murderer, who stood on the defensive with his gun loaded, and his finger on the trigger.
The Inspector promised that if Getting would give himself up, he would not be harmed.
Getting asked “Will you swear that on the cross of Christ,’ at the same time crossing himself on the forehead, breast, and shoulders.
He seemed to have calmed down, and Keegan, now about 12 metres away, took his chance and rushed him.
But, having grasped hold of Getting, he slipped. Getting, released, stepped back a few paces and fired deliberately but hurriedly at the officer on the ground.
The shot tore up Keegan’s clothes and wounded him in the chest, but not seriously.
Keegan sprang up and again approached Getting, receiving blows over the head from the butt end of the gun.
“The murderer again succeeded in getting free, and dashed away up the river bank, with Keegan, bleeding from his wounds, on his trail.
“Suddenly Getting turned, and plunged into a deep part of the river, where he deliberately drowned himself”.
When Getting’s drowned body was recovered, the people of Bourke refused to allow it to be buried in the cemetery. A grave dug during the night for his burial was filled up. Getting was consequently buried near the hospital.
Sources: The Wallaroo Times and Mining Journal (Port Wallaroo, SA : 1865 – 1881) Wednesday 19 September 1877 p 2 Article
Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954) Saturday 29 September 1877 p 2 Article
Avoca Mail (Vic. : 1863 – 1900; 1915 – 1918) Friday 14 September 1877 p 2 Article
Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929) Tuesday 18 September 1877 p 3 Article