It was 1883. The Wilsons lived in a weatherboard shack by the railway line between Epping station and Campbell Town in mid north-eastern Tasmania.
WIlson, a line repairer, was in bed with his wife on the night of April 9. He was about to lose his life as a drama said to be inspired by the Kelly gang unfolded.
And just like the demise of the Kelly gang just three years earlier, things were not going to go well for the perpetrators of this murder.
They were James (also known as Robert) Ogden, about 22 and James Sutherland (born Saunders, aka Maloney), 18.
William Wilson’s wife, Theresa, told the court that on that Monday night, the 9th, she and her husband were in bed before 9pm. Also in the house were an overnight boarder, Mary Boram and the four Wilson children, three boys and a girl.
After a while they heard a noise like gravel being thrown on the roof.
Wilson said it was probably rats in the palings, but when a second stone was thrown on the roof, Wilson got up to see where the dogs were. They were outside, but had not barked.
After a third stone came, Wilson went outside. Theresa heard a word spoken, then heard a shot.
She went to the door, and Wilson reeled by, saying to his wife “I’m shot.
She heard the perpetrators threaten that if she didn’t come out they would set fire to the home.
The voice outside said “Come on, Kelly, we’ll get sticks and set fire to the place, and burn them out.’
Flames consuming the weatherboard home soon compelled the household members to run outside.
As the boarder Mrs Boram came out, dragging a box full of clothes, she also was shot.
Sutherland, realising Wilson’s daughter recognised Ogden, grabbed her and started to take her towards nearby forest. A desperate Mrs Wilson followed, until Sutherland put the gun against her breast, threatening to shoot her if she didn’t go back.
Mrs Wilson headed for their neighbour Barker’s property, about a quarter of a mile away, for help, but the three men there would not go outside – but Mr Barker did contact the police the next morning. After daylight Mrs Wilson headed out and found all four of her children unharmed. She had not seen her husband since he was shot the night before. The next time she saw him, it was to identify his body with the coroner.
Mrs Boram, meanwhile, had pleaded with Sutherland to not shoot her again and given him four half crowns. Weak and bleeding, she had crawled away to safety.
Within two days, Ogden and Sutherland were in custody. But it was not soon enough. They had already struck again.
Cordial delivery cart driver Alfred Holman, 40ish, had been found dead two miles from Epping.
He had been dragged off the main road and hidden behind a log.
His head had been “smashed about terribly, while a large portion of the scalp had been torn from the skull, and was banging loose about it
The face and upper portion of the body were covered with blood, and life was all but extinct. He died about 2 o clock that day.
This murder was exacerbated by the crime of robbery, as they had taken the cart, various items from it and Holman’s watch was removed from his dead body.
It was said that they coolly sat in the woods and played cards after the murder.
A search party followed the tracks of the cart, and the pair were soon found with it. After a short chase, they were caught.
From the time of their arrest, there was intense interest in the case.
As the newly arrested pair arrived under police watch at Epping, an angry crowd gathered trying to get a glimpse of the prisoners.
“Yells, shouts of detestation, and cries of “Lynch them” resounded upon all sides, and if those present had been allowed their way, the desperadoes would both, within the space of a few moments, have been hanging from the topmost branches of the nearest tree.”
“Ogden could be seen huddled up in a corner of the coach with his hat drawn over his eyes, and a sullen look upon his face, His mate, Mahoney, alias Sutherland, acted with a great amount of bravado, and stared at the crowd with a sneer on his face all the time the vehicle remained at Epping,
“Both seemed mere youths, Ogden being a fair-haired lad, while Sutherland was a dark complexioned young fellow of the “bush larrikin” type. Ogden was only four foot six.
The special reporter of the Hobart Mercury, writing from Campbell Town on Friday, said: – ‘The callous indifference and braggadocio of the prisoners has slightly changed since Thursday, Sutherland is not so noisy; he whistles and sings less, but his manner is much the same, Ogden, who appears the more reflective of the two, has become more stolid in his bearing, but has not yet made any signs of fear or remorse.
Two inquests and a trial later, the pair were still being reported as defiant, even as they were sentenced to death. The duo joked and laughed with the other prisoners on their removal from the dock.
Both had pleaded not guilty. The prisoners’ counsel pleaded that the crime was motiveless, evidencing insanity and an uncontrollable desire to emulate the notoriety of the Kelly gang. Ogdens’s mother claimed the reading of the Kelly’s history had incited the lads to commit the crime.
The day of their execution June 15, saw a more sombre pair.
Each prisoner stayed awake the night before, accompanied by a minister. They wished to see as much of the world as possible before they left it, said the newspapers.
“Sutherland requested his minister to ask the wives of the murdered men to forgive them.
“He complained bitterly of the treatment he had received from the world, which had not been a pleasant place to live in, as he had no parents to look after him, but had been kicked about by those who got all the work they could out of him without caring the least about him.”
Both walked calmly to the scaffold. Sutherland’s step was firm, but Ogden, who carried a bunch of flowers, trembled violently.
When the hangman placed the noose round Sutherland’s neck, he pulled him self together, not even flinching ; Ogden also keeping firm. Not a muscle moved as the caps were drawn over their heads.
On the bolt being drawn death was instantaneous.
The Burrowa News Friday 15 June 1883 p 2
Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954) Saturday 21 April 1883 p 4
The Tasmanian Saturday 9 June 1883, 21 April 1883, p 10
Devon Herald Wednesday 6 June 1883
Launceston Examiner Saturday 14 April 1883
Advocate Saturday 19 May 1883 p 20 .