Bitter rivals

Down on Bremer Street near a brothel in Ipswich, Queensland, body parts went flying in a bitter rivalry that resulted in one of the town’s high profile legal cases of the 1860s. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

The case was prosecuted by none other than the Queensland attorney general Ratcliffe Pring and the colony’s first chief justice James Cockle, because that’s how important it was to the government that they got a conviction.

And I should warn you that parts of this story may be disturbing.

Sir James Cockle

In 1866, Irishman Patrick Ryan was brought up at the Ipswich Police Court and charged with having assaulted and beaten David Thompson with intent to do him actual bodily harm.

The trouble started at the Sawyers’ Arms Hotel on Bremer Street opposite where the remains of the old Australian Steam Navigation Company wharf is today. It was over a gentleman’s game of Bagatelle. That’s a game similar to billiards but the balls are hit into numbered holes and there are poles in the way.

Ryan and Thompson started scuffling in the hotel and were turfed out by the licensee Bill McDonald. The disagreement continued out on Bremer Street and the two men began wrestling and rolling around on the ground. They attracted quite a crowd.

When Ryan was on top, he took Thompson’s right ear in his mouth, bit it off, and spat it out in the gutter. With Thomson’s nose and ear bleeding profusely, Ryan stood up and said that he’d had enough, he walked over, picked up the ear and threw it away again.

There were loads of witness including Patrick Moran, a labourer from Toowoomba, and they all confirmed this same version of the story.

The arresting policeman was the Ipswich constable Michael McCarthy. Just one year earlier, he was the young constable who successfully went undercover and gathered evidence of prostitution at the brothel nearby.

McCarthy’s evidence from the brawl gave a clue as to the cause. His statement quoted that of the accused Ryan and was quite graphic.

McCarthy said that when he charged Ryan with assault, the prisoner replied that he would kill him or any other b—–y English b—–r, and would be satisfied to be hanged afterwards; the b—–y English wretch wanted to trample on him, and he would not allow any b—–y English to beat him.

Constable Michael McCarthy’s statement

And so, it appears that the cause of the altercation was an Irish-English sporting rivalry over the Bagatelle table.

The outcome of the trial was that the jury found Ryan guilty, but with a strong recommendation for mercy on account of provocation received.

As it turns out, the now one-eared David Thompson probably shouldn’t have been in the hotel anyway. That’s because he was on the management committee of the Pine Mountain Congregational Church and should have known better. Things didn’t improve for him because later that same year, a tree that he was chopping down fell on top of him. He suffered compound fractures and he had a number of leg bones sticking out.

The hotel witness Patrick Moran a couple of years later lost half his tongue when a sheep jumped on him at Dalby.

And the convicted ear-biter Patrick Ryan, he ended up doing very well after this by getting two hundred acres of land out at Mount Whitestone.

Ipswich was a wild place back in the 1860s and even the attorney general and the chief justice couldn’t always get the outcomes they wanted. Especially over international sporting rivalries.


Photo credits:
A game of bagatelle in progress – Nikki Tysoe, London UK
Sir James Cockle 1819-1895 – Hearsay
McCarthy’s statement – Queenslander, Saturday 10th February 1866, page 6

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