The convict murder on our money

In 1847, the Queensland town of Ipswich was thrown into a state of excitement by a murder involving two ticket-of-leave convicts. The murder is commemorated today on Australia’s currency. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

Henry Caldicott was transported for life from Berkshire in England to New South Wales in 1836. Ten years later he was a labourer with the Border Police in the Moreton Bay District and having shown good conduct, that’s where he was given his ticket-of-leave.

Twelve months down the track he was working as a butcher on the Logan River. In November 1847 when the boiling-down season was over – that’s when they boil down the animal bones to make tallow for candles and so on – he went to Ipswich for a holiday.

It was Wednesday the 10th of November 1847 and Caldicott was walking along Union Street in Ipswich. That’s when he spoke with another ticket-of-leave man, an Irishman named Mat Hourigan.

Hourigan had been convicted of murder at Tipperary in Ireland and was sentenced to hang. But his death sentence was commuted and he was transported for life to New South Wales instead.

Hourigan asked Caldicott if he would drink with him. Caldicott said no, and added, “Nor with any man of your b—y country.”

Hourigan felt aggrieved and immediately started pelting Caldicott with bricks, rocks and animal bones from a nearby butcher shop of another former convict. One of the bigger bones hit Caldicott on the side of the head and killed him.

Hourigan fled the scene but was quickly apprehended. He was sent to Sydney to be charged with murder. His only defence was that he didn’t know anything about it.

The jury found Hourigan guilty of manslaughter and recommended mercy because of his good character. This didn’t make sense because this was the second man that Hourigan had killed, so how could he be of good character. It’s more likely that the jury felt that Hourigan was severely provoked by Caldicott’s anti-Irish slur and refusing to drink with him.

In any case, Hourigan was spared from the hangman’s noose for a second time. Instead, he was sentenced to be work in the road-gangs for five years, the first three years in irons.

What’s interesting is that Hourigan was convicted almost entirely on the evidence of just one young Ipswich boy. His name was William Slack. He was a lad of twelve-years-of-age and was the only person who actually saw Hourigan throw the fatal the bone.

William was one of seven bothers the majority being butchers and shearers, known the length and breadth of Queensland. William’s nephew was Michael Slack the Australasian sculling champion. Slacks Creek in Brisbane was named after the Slack family.

Michael Slack sculling champion

It’s also interesting that this murder has been commemorated on Australian currency.

That’s because in 1839 the murderer Mat Hourigan arrived in Australia aboard the ship Waverley (top picture), and it’s the Waverley that was included with the greatest social reformer of her time Caroline Chisholm on Australia’s first $5 note.

Australia’s first $5 note

So next time you’re holding one of the old $5 notes, just remember the Ipswich murder by a convict who had killed two people but got off lightly because of good character, and the twelve-year-old boy who put him away.


Photo credits:
Waverley ship – 1870-1873 watercolour by Frederic Garling, State Library of New South Wales FL3174374
M.J. Slack champion sculler – Sportsman, Melbourne, 27th May 1896, page 5
Australia’s first $5 note – Noteworthy Collectibles

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