Christmas eve horror

Shockingly violent felonious events took place on a bullocky’s trail the day before Christmas in 1863. Everyone present is remembered in this historic tale. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

Warning: The following story contains violence that some readers may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised. 

It was the day before Christmas, on the 24th of December 1863, at Pine Mountain on the northside of Ipswich in colonial Queensland, that Morris Williams was driving his bullocks.

Edward Higgings his mate was unhappy with the speed at which they were going. So he grabbed the whip off Williams, saying that he would make him drive the bullocks faster.

Higgins tripped Williams over, thrust his knees on his chest, and bit his finger.

Williams got away, but Higgings struck him on the back of the neck with a stick.

Williams was able to release the bullocks, but as he did so Higgings shouted that he intended to murder him.

Higgings again ran up to Williams, this time with a knife in hand. Higgings stabbed Willliams over the left eye, at the back of the head, and sliced him on the neck.

Williams grappled the knife away from Higgings and then ran and locked himself in a hut that was about two hundred yards away.

Queensland’s first chief justice James Cockle presided in the Supreme Court trial at Ipswich that followed this crazed unprovoked attack.

Chief justice James Cockle

Higgings was indicted for feloniously wounding with intent to do bodily harm. This happened one hundred and fifty-nine years ago, only four years after Queensland had achieved separation from New South Wales, and so some aspects of the colonies were still bordering on the lawless.

Constable Thomas Raleigh from Ipswich was the arresting officer. Three months earlier, Constable Raleigh had himself been locked-up and charged with insubordination and drunkenness while on duty. He was exonerated because his commanding officer was wrong, and the constable wasn’t actually on duty at the time.

William Wilce saw the whole bullocky attack and was the chief witness. Just six weeks later, Wilce drowned when he was trying to cross the Brisbane River about six miles from Ipswich.

Doctor Henry Challinor testified that if the cut over Williams’ eye was little deeper, it would have killed him.

Dr Henry Challinor

Doctor Challinor was a member of Queensland’s first parliament and was superintendent of what at the time was called the lunatic asylum.

As for the defendant Edward Higgings – he was a free settler who in 1851 was licensed to cut timber “beyond the settled districts” on the Darling Downs. That year gold was discovered in Victoria and so we went south.

In Victoria he was charged with horse stealing and assault and robbery, and while working as a bullock driver on the goldfields, he was living with a married woman. The husband turned-up and slit her throat and then tried to do the same to himself.

Anyway, back in Ipswich, Higgings was found guilty of stabbing, cutting and wounding Morris Williams, but surprisingly not with intent. The fact that he was roaringly drunk may have been seen as mitigating circumstances by the jury. His Honour James Cockle sentenced Higgings to twenty-one months imprisonment with hard labour.

Having served his time., and just five months after being released, Higgings was again in court. This time he was convicted of willfully destroying property including a tumbler, three panes of glass, and a chamber pot at the Golden Fleece Hotel in Leyburn south-west of Toowoomba. Back into prison he went.

Meanwhile, the victim of the Christmas eve horror Morris Williams, although free he wasn’t faring much better. Twenty years later he may have suffered a very lonely death when whoever registered his details didn’t even know the name of his parents.

Perhaps the most notable event in his life was when it appears he was christened with the name William Morris Williams. His real name was William Williams – what was his mother thinking?

So one hundred and fifty-nine years after these horrific Christmas eve events, all parents are reminded to please be careful what you give your children – including their name. It’s not always good to be repetitive.


Photo credits:
Bullock Driver postcard mid-1800s – The Keeper of Stories website, 2019.
James Cockle c1870 – unknown artist, National Library of Australia.
Dr Henry Challinor 1814–1882 – University of Queensland Library.


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