Shoot, you bastard, shoot.
These were the last words Charles Corse said to his murderer. He had just put his head between his legs – assumedly to present his rear – as he made ‘a disgusting noise with his mouth.”
There is more to the story of his death at the hands of mine manager Richard Spencer than his lonely gravestone intimates.
It is one of a handful of stones at the little fenced cemetery on New Church Hill, at Ophir, the site of gold’s discovery in New South Wales.
Murderer Richard Spencer, in newspaper reports of the death was …
A mine blacksmith, Corse was reported as a
It was all over a saddle found on a lost horse, and Corse’s subsequent harassment over the saddle. Corse claimed he had bought the saddle from the owner.
Spencer was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and described himself as a cripple. Corse was a powerful man, with a medal for his achievements in Cornish wrestling.
So how did Spencer come to shoot Corse through the back of the head, in Spencer’s kitchen, about 6pm on Saturday, August 3, 1872.
An inquiry in Orange found Spencer guilty of the wilful murder of Charles Corse and he was committed to trial on the capital charge at the Bathurst Circuit Court in October.
Before Sir Alfred Stephen, Chief Justice, and a jury of twelve, Richard Spencer pleaded not guilty.
Between his statements and that of various witnesses, the story unfolded.
The following details are from contemporary newspaper reports of the case.
Spencer told the local sergeant Bush:
“This fellow Corse has been in the habit of annoying me for the last six weeks about a saddle; he came to my house this afternoon about 4 o’clock, and commenced to abuse me.
Spencer said he told Corse to take his concerns to the court in Orange.
“I was walking up and down in the verandah in front of the house, and be called me a — rotten-legged old—; he called me a son of a — (or ——), and challenged me out to fight; I said to him
“Corse, you must be a cowardly dog to ask me to fight; you know I have not been able to lift my hands to my head for the last twelve months — why don’t you go and get someone that’s able to fight; if you don’t leave my place I’ll shoot you.”
Corse left, but while he was away, Spencer had ‘sent a boy for a gun’ from his neighbour Harris. He claimed later that roo shooting was his intention in borrowing the gun.
The gun was not loaded when the boy gave it to Spencer, but by the time Corse returned about 6 o’clock, it was.
The pair was not alone. Spencer’s housekeeper Martha Wright had made Corse a cup of tea and her husband Cornelius Wright was in the kitchen when the deadly confrontation took place. Other workers were nearby.
Wright claimed to have tried to take hold of the the gun as Spencer pointed it at Corse. However, he didn’t see the actual shot fired.
Spencer said when he saw Corse again in his kitchen and Corse had started to abuse him once more, he had repeated his warning – “Corse, if you don’t leave my place, I’ll shoot you;”
“Corse then put his head between his legs, made a disgusting noise with his mouth, and said Shoot, you b-—, shoot
” I fired, and shot him; this man has been in the habit of annoying me, and worked me up to such a pitch of excitement that I scarcely knew what I did,” he said.
Spencer fled to his friend Dr Warren at Orange, who had already heard the news from Wright by the time Spencer arrived.
Spencer gave himself up, and the local Sergeant Bush soon arrived. Dr Warren headed to inspect Corse’s body, while Bush immediately arrested Spencer for murder, not realising Corse was still alive.
On the way to the lock-up, Bush asked Spencer if he had been drinking; he said, ” Dear me, no, I never drink,” and he also stated that Corse was not drunk. However, other witnesses said Corse was drunk.
Having sat through the court proceedings, the jury returned in two or three minutes with a verdict of guilty. The judge directed that the sentence of death be recorded – but not passed. Spencer was committed to three years in jail, but only served 18 months.
For another murder story, click here
Northern Argus (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1865 – 1874) Monday 11 November 1872 p 2
The Goulburn Herald and Chronicle (NSW : 1864 – 1881) Saturday 24 August 1872 p 5
Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907) Saturday 2 November 1872 p 5