Sacked man takes tomahawk to boss

Ilfracombe cemetery. Image: Sharyn Moodie

Ilfracombe’s Railway Hotel licencee Bernard Muldoon sacked his yardman William Sheehan. The next day, Sheehan killed him.

How did it come to this? Muldoon was only 44, Sheehan “older than 60”, although his exact age is unknown.

Why Muldoon sacked him is lost to history, but details of an altercation the two had in the street, and the horrific aftermath, were well documented by newspapers across the state.

Muldoon managed the hotel and the adjoining butcher’s shop. The fight may have started because Sheehan was bad-mouthing the shop after losing his job.

Muldoon had knocked Sheehan down as they fought in the street in front of a crowd. Muldoon was pulled off Sheehan, who returned to his boarding room in a nearby hotel, the Wellshot, and got his tomahawk. It was either seven or eight o clock in the evening, depending on which witness account is being read.

Sheehan found Muldoon leaning over the counter of his butcher’s shop, serving a customer and hit him twice over the back of the head. Yet some reports say Muldoon was lying on the footpath when he dropped. Did he stagger outside or was the shop partially outside?

Muldoon, wherever he lay, had, “dropped like a felled ox,’ according to the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin.

newspaper report of Muldoon’s murder

Blood gushed onto the footpath from wounds in his head. He never regained consciousness before dying in hospital early the next morning.

Sheehan fled town, after first returning to the Wellshot and as he passed through the dining room, declaring to witnesses that he had hurt Muldoon.

“Now, I have settled him. If you don’t like to believe me, go and see.”

He was arrested two days later in a ram paddock 15 miles away, and claimed he was on his way to Longreach to give himself up. But he had clipped his long grey beard close, and initally gave a false name to the arresting policeman Dillon.

The tomahawk was never found.

A large crowd gathered in Longreach when Sheehan appeared for his preliminary hearing on September 17. He later appeared in the Supreme Court in Rockhampton.

 He told the court:

“He was sideways on to me, and I intended to hit him here (placing his hand on the back of his neck low down).

 I meant to hurt him and hurt him very much.

William Sheehan, on his murder of Bernard Muldoon

“I meant to hit him with the back or the flat of the axe, but I must have hit him with the edge.

Muldoon had recently been involved in a long legal dispute with his brother-in-law Hubert O’Kane over the management of the Railway Hotel and the butcher’s shop, following his sister Helen’s death in 1989. She had left one-third of the property to Muldoon and the other two-thirds to her children when they came of age. O’Kane had been assigned the position of butchery manager, but had to hand over all moneys to Muldoon. This arrangement apparently worked well until Muldoon married and brought a wife into the picture.

That civil case was finalised in the Supreme Court in Rockhampton in 1904 – the same court which two years later presided over the sentencing of his murderer.

Sheehan was to face death, but that sentence was soon commuted to “imprisonment with hard labour for the term of his natural life”.

Muldoon left a wife and two children.

Below is an image of the Railway Hotel, with the O’Kane family name still on the sign, taken in 1922.

Railway Hotel at Ilfracombe, Queensland, 1922 / Michael Terryby Terry, Michael, 1899-1981

accessed through National Library of Australia.

The Wellshot Hotel where Sheehan had been staying is now the town’s only hotel.

Ilfracombe, Qld.


Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser  Saturday 15 December 1906 p 13

 The Telegraph, Thursday 22 November 1906 – Page 4

The Age, Friday 14 December 1906 – Page 8

The Morning Bulletin, Saturday, September 15, 1906, p 7, Tuesday 25 September 1906 – Page 5, Tuesday 20 December 1904 – Page 6

 The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts Sunday 23 September 1906 – Page 1

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

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