"A correspondent of the Sydney News writing on November 5 from Back Creek, Barrington River, New South Wales, where the new goldfield has been discovered,says:
" A sad affair happened here on the night of October 31,occasioning the death of Mr. John Bourke, under suspicious circumstances. The deceased gentleman, who was a native of Victoria, was an old resident of Kilmore, and his father was formerly a member of the Victorian Parliament for that constituency. The deceased, who was about 32 years of age, was found dead in his bed on the morning of the first inst.An inquiry was commenced, but now stands adjourned until November 13, when it will be resumed at Scone. Telegrams have been sent to a friend of the deceased residing in Carlton near Melbourne. It is hoped some friend of the deceased will be present at the adjourned inquiry.Everyone on this field who knew Bourke, excepting perhaps a few of the rowdiest, had a great liking for him. He was of a remarkably peaceful disposition; he was a very powerful, healthy looking man. The body was interred on the 3rd inst.The doctor stated at the inquest that the deceased had received two very severe blows, either sufficient to cause death."
- The Argus, Saturday, November 10, 1877.
" THE BARRINGTON TRAGEDY.
At the Stroud Police Court, on Tuesday, 13th instant, the two men, Harris and Aitkin, alleged to have been concerned in the death of John Burke, at the Barrington, or Back Creek, Diggings, were brought before Messrs. Philip Snape, P.M; T. Nicholls, J.P; A. Laurie, J.P; T.H.M Hill, J.P; and Thomas Loman, J.P; charged, under warrant, with manslaughter. Several witnesses were examined, the evidence all going to show that the man's death resulted from a drunken row. The connection of the prisoners with the affair was established by a witness named John Aspinall, whose evidence was as follows:-
John Aspinall, miner, residing at Back Creek, deposed:
Know prisoners; knew Burke, now deceased; On the 31st October last was at the accommodation-house at Back Creek kept by John Ashburn; Prisoners and Burke were there;this was about one o'clock; I saw no row then; heard a noise, but never went to see what it was about.
Next saw them about 4 o'clock at the same place; heard Burke say to Harris that he was a native, but his parents were Irish, still he would stick up for an Irishman if he saw he was imposed upon. Harris then said "I never thought, Burke, you were a _____ fenian:" Bourke said "I am not a Fenian- I do not want to quarrel, I would sooner get up and go away."
He then got up and said quarrelling always brought on fighting; did not hear any more for two hours.Burke got dancing; John Short called Burke into the kitchen to have a drink; Harris and Connelly were at this time in the dining room, and they got up and went into the kitchen. Harris said to Burke " I am the best ____ man on the Creek"; Burke made answer, and said "I could fetch ten or twenty men on the Creek- any one of them could wallop you."
Harris then said " I suppose you are one of them?" Burke then said "I never put myself up for a fighting man and, what is more, I don't want to fight." Burke said "I have no science to fight, but I would never be put upon, I will try and take my own part." Harris then said "If you want any more about it, come outside and pull your coat off."
Burke then jumped up, and while Harris was pulling off his jacket Burke struck him under the eye, and knocked him into the fire. Before Harris got out of the fire, Aitkin ran out of the bedroom and struck Burke with his fist on the cheek; he made a second blow at him; I can't say whether he struck him or not; the deceased fell immediately after the second blow was struck.
Burke then got up without help, and sat down on a stool in the kitchen. He bent over, put his head on the stool and appeared to be choking. One of the men present lifted his head up, and sat him upright; Aitkin was still in the room, but did not speak to him.
Harris came up to Burke and said "Oh, you ____ Fenian, I never thought you were such a ______ coward"; he came up and shook his fist in his face, and swore he would knock his ____ forehead in; Burke again leaned over the stool and seemed to be choking; Harris at that time did not strike him, nor at any time during the evening did I see Harris strike the deceased; when Burke leaned over the second time two men picked him off the seat and carried him into the ballroom; I never heard Burke speak after he sat down on the stool; Harris was not being restrained by anybody while Burke was on the stool; Aitken staggered back after making the blow, and I caught hold of him and held him; Aitkin was struggling, and I had a job to hold him; someone in the crowd said "Don't hit him, Aitkin, any more"; I let go of him then, and he and Harris then went out.
I believe it was on the left cheek that Aitkin struck Burke; Burke was carried out into the bedroom, and was put on a bed; Aitkin was in the bedroom about fifteen minutes after; Mrs. Harmer remarked, in Aitkin's presence,"I don't think he will live till the morning."
Aitkin then took hold of Burke's arm and said there was nothing the matter with him, it was only the grog; Aitkin remained with him about five minutes; this must have been before 12 o'clock; Harris came to the door and tried to get in, but Mrs. Harmer told me to shut the door, which I did; Harris at this time appeared the worse for liquor, and was quite excited; saw Harris and Aitkin in bed; saw Burke before going to bed; he was groaning heavily; about half an hour after I was in bed, heard Burke retching very much; after he was done retching he called Mr. Gill, but he got no answer; Burke then began to curse and swear greatly, and said "Oh, good God, what have I done to them!" I then went off to sleep; there were three or more besides myself sleeping in the room with Burke- Avery, Ireland and another man whose name I do not know; I saw Burke the next morning, about six o'clock; he was then dead. Burke was a powerfully built man; he appeared in good health on the previous evening; the blow and attempted blow followed each other in succession.I believe that the first blow Aitkin struck was a heavy one.
By Mr. Wallace: I was perfectly sober that afternoon and night; Harris was not stooping when Burke struck him, but he was pulling off his jacket; Burke had just struck Harris, and Harris was falling from the effects of the blow, when Aitkin struck him; should have thought that the other people in the room had as good an opportunity of seeing what took place as myself; some were standing in front of Aitkin and had a better opportunity; there were ten or twelve persons in the kitchen when Aitkin struck the blow; Gill, Connelly, Wandless, and others whose names are unknown to me, were close to Burke; they were between the door where Aitkin came in and Burke; can swear Burke was not pushed by anyone before Aitkin's second blow could have reached him; there was a rough table in the kitchen; Burke's back came against the leg of the table; will not swear his head did not touch the table; the table was about three feet high; Burke was a quiet man; don't know whether Harris's clothes caught fire.
Dr. John Ashley, who examined the body of the deceased, deposed:
The left side of the face and neck were much bruised and disfigured, and a large quantity of extravasated blood over the whole part; the left eye was very much bruised and achymosed; all these parts were very black; some blood-a small quantity- had issued from the left nostril; from these appearances- and from the evidence I have heard- I am of the opinion that Burke died in a state of coma, and I am of the opinion that coma was produced by an effusion of blood; I believe the effusion of blood to the head was caused by a violent blow or blows; the vomiting was caused by the shock to the system; I cannot swear that he did not die from apoplexy, but he did not appear to be an apoplectic subject; I cannot swear that he did not die of heart disease, but I do not think he did; the marks on the body could not have been occasioned by a fall against a table or any other hard substance; from the appearance of the face and neck, I believe at least two blows or more were given; they must have been heavy blows; a heavy blow on the neck would be likely to cause a shock, and to injure the pneumo-gastric nerve; I found no other marks on the body than those described which would in any way account for death; blows from a man's fist would cause the injuries I found on the body.
By Mr. Wallace(who appeared for the prisoners): The symptoms arising from intoxication are similar to those described by me; as a general rule, a man excited by passion and drink would require less violence to be applied to cause effusion of blood to the brain.
The Bench retired, and, after a long consultation, came into court, and the Police Magistrate said that the Bench had come to the conclusion that a prima facie case had been made out, and the prisoners were then fully committed to take their trial at the next Circuit Court, bail being allowed to each; self in one hundred pounds, and two sureties in fifty pounds each.
Bail was at once forthcoming, and the prisoners were released.-Abridged from the Newcastle Herald."
-Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, 21 November, 1877.
" Harris and Aitkins, the two men charged with having caused the death of John Bourke, at the Barrington or Back Creek diggings, have been committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter."
- Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, 24 November, 1877.
" William James Harris and W.H. Anderson Aitkin were tried at the Maitland Circuit today for the Barrington goldfields manslaughter case, and were acquitted."
-Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, April 17, 1878.
At the age of only thirty years, Sarah Victoria Fryer Bourke, John's wife, was left widowed with two young sons. Lawrence was only five and his brother John was three. Sarah never remarried, and died fifteen years after her husband. On December 10, 1892, aged 45, Sarah Bourke died in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne of intestinal Obstruction, gall stones and collapse of some weeks duration. Her death was registered by her brother-in-law John Glennon of Young Street, Moonee Ponds, who gave the information that Sarah's children were Lawrence, aged 20, and John aged 18.
Sarah was buried in the St. Kilda Cemetery on December 12, 1892.It is not known where her husband John Bourke was buried after his death on the NSW goldfields in 1877.
Of the two Bourke sons very little is known. The electoral rolls allowed us to follow the movements of John Peter Henry Bourke, who must be the son of John and Sarah as his name is so specific.He moved to NSW where he was quite nomadic in his wanderings:
1930: John Peter Henry Bourke, Hillston, slaughterman
1933:John Pater Henry Bourke, Hillston, labourer
1936: John Peter Henry Bourke, The Common, Darlington Point, butcher.
1937: John Peter Henry Bourke, Darlington Point, butcher
1943: John Peter Henry Bourke, River Bank, Tocumwal, butcher.
John Peter Henry Bourke died at Tocumwal in 1947, the son of John and Sarah Bourke as stated in the NSW Death index. I can't find a marriage record for him-in fact, with residential addresses such as "the Common" and "River Bank", it sounds as though John Bourke was a reclusive type of a character.
Of his elder brother Lawrence, I have no definite sighting.The Western Australian electoral rolls has two entries for a Lawrence Edmund Bourke at Subiaco, Perth, in 1910 and 1916...Lawrence Edmund Bourke, 70 Churchill Avenue, civil servant. Also listed was Elizabeth Ellen Bourke at the same address. The W.A marriage index shows that Lawrence E. Bourke married Elizabeth E. Denby in Perth in 1907.I can find no other references to this couple in W.A records.