The 1861 Fox family bible first revealed a link to one of the world’s greatest aviation pioneers, and now to a gruesome murder and the haunting effect of a gravedigger. Today the bible can be found at the St Paul’s Anglican Church in Ipswich. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.
The original owner of the bible was George Fox. He was born in Gloucestershire, England, in 1835. He brought his family to Ipswich in about 1862 and became the sexton at St Paul’s. A sexton is person who looks after a church and churchyard, often acting as bellringer and gravedigger.
On the 16th of October 1864, George witnessed the marriage at the church of William Henry Scott and Ann Ramsden.
The bride Ann was around twenty-three years old and quite tall for back then, about five feet six inches. She was a servant for the family of the Congregational church minister in Ipswich.
The ceremony was performed by the minster of St Paul’s, The Reverend Lacy Rumsey. He’d been the minister there for six years, during which time he had officially opened the church and overseen the installation of the first organ in Queensland.
The groom was William Scott. He was a small man, not much taller than five feet, and around twenty-five years old. He worked with a number of other men for William Coleman the Ipswich butcher.
Also working at Coleman’s was Maurice Bowers who later became the mayor of Ipswich. There was also John Ralph who went swimming in the Bremer River just north of Basin Pocket, but suddenly disappeared and was never seen alive again. Coleman himself was fined for driving fifteen head of cattle through town to be slaughtered at his shop. These were strange times.
George Fox the sexton frequently saw Scott at Coleman’s butcher shop, and so when Scott and Ann Ramsden were getting married at St Paul’s, George was called upon to be a witness.
After the wedding, rumours began to circulate. It was commonly believed that Scott had married Ann for her money, because she had accumulated a considerable sum. The couple moved to Sydney and that’s the last anyone in Ipswich heard of the butcher and his bride for a couple of years – until George Fox was again called upon to be a witness.
It was in 1866 and this time it was at a trial in Sydney in which Scott was charged with murdering his bride in a particularly gruesome way.
It was found that Scott had chopped-up Ann and put her butchered remains in a box and carried it along Sussex Street in Sydney. Her severed head was found in a rubbish heap off Sussex Street by an eleven-year-old boy, and other parts were discovered in an outhouse.
At the time, people were comfortable that Scott was seen covered head-to-toe in blood because he was a butcher, and so they suspected nothing.
By the time that Scott was arrested, it seems that he’d married a second wife in Melbourne and was complaining to her that they were short of money. This suggested he was getting ready to butcher anther wife.
The magistrate on the case said that this was the most lengthy, tedious, intricate, and unprecedented trial in the annals of Australian crime up to that time.
There were thirty-three witnesses, and the key witness and only one who could actually link Scott to the victim was Ipswich’s George Fox.
Scott was convicted and sentenced to death. He was hung in one of the yards of Darlinghurst Gaol on the 18th of March 1867, protesting his innocence to the very end. When the trapdoor opened, Scott died instantly.
Within two-and-a-half years of that wedding at St Paul’s Church – witnessed by George Fox the owner of the family bible – both the bride and groom were dead.
George had no warning that his role as gravedigger may affect the marriage that he witnessed in this way.
George’s memory and his bible is preserved in the historical archives of St Paul’s today.
Thanks to listener and reader Jennifer whose bible allowed this story to be discovered.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD LIVE ON RADIO.
St Paul’s Church of England, Ipswich c1917 – State Library of Queensland.
1861 Fox family bible, 2022 – Jennifer Chenery.
St. Paul’s Church of England, Ipswich, c1872 – State Library of Queensland.
Murderer William Henry Scott – Sydney Sportsman, NSW, 26th July 1905, page 3.
Entrance to Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney – NSW State Archives.