Headstone symbol reveals convict past

Convict 51158 lies buried in Australia’s southern-most cemetery, with an indication of his crime etched on his headstone. The 1882 grave of Richard Mott is the earliest in the remote Cockle Creek cemetery, 150km south of Hobart.

Richard Mott’s grave (which includes a footstone) is in Cockle Creek cemetery, now part of Southwest National Park in Tasmania. His daughter Ellen’s grave sits beside his.

Convicted of breaking into a warehouse and committing larceny in 1844, he was sentenced to 10 years transportation. Richard had previous convictions for stealing three fletches of bacon and breaking a machine for which he had served twelve months.

On his headstone, there is a machinery cog and an emblem of the French Royal Family (the fleur-de-lis). The cog could have something to do with the broken machinery. The headstone was paid for by his French son-in-law which could be the reason behind the fleur-de-lis.

A machinery cog and the fleur-de-lis are symbols on Richard Mott’s headstone.

Richard was sent to Australia to serve his 10 year sentence on board the Maria Somes. The 1844 sea journey to Hobart took almost three months! There were 263 other convicts on board.

Convict records give a detailed description of Richard:

  • “Height [without shoes]: 5’8
  • Complexion: Ruddy
  • Head: Long
  • Hair: Light brown
  • Whiskers: none
  • Eyebrows: brown
  • Eyes: hazel
  • Nose: long
  • Mouth: medium
  • Chin: medium double
  • Protestant
  • Can read a little
  • Farm labourer who can plough
  • Stout made
  • scars on 3rd and 4th fingers of left hand.

Upon arrival he spent the first eighteen months on Maria Island on Tasmania’s east coast. According to government records he committed numerous minor offences, including being “drunk” on October 15, 1852, fine 5/-.

He had been married when he left England’s shores, leaving behind a wife and six children. Even though his sentence was ten years, convicts weren’t given return passage so they were stuck in Australia after they’d served their time. Some might call that a life sentence.

 The practice of remarrying was common among convicts who were unlikely ever to return to the United Kingdom, even though they were still married to another wife.  He was “certified free” on January 6, 1854, having previously made application to marry Rosanna Murphy, which was approved the year prior.  They married in St Joseph’s Church, Macquarie Street, Hobart on June 28, 1855 and had five children.

They were among the first settlers in the Cockle Creek area where Richard worked as a timber worker (a sawyer).

Mott Murder?

On 15 May 1882 Richard was found dead under mysterious circumstances. He was 74.

The following appeared in The Mercury on May 19, 1882:
“SUSPECTED MURDER.- A man named Mott died suddenly a few days ago at Recherche Bay. At first foul play was suspected, and the police went to the length of arresting a man on suspicion of murder; but by a telegram received yesterday, we learn that now  Superintendent Lambert is of opinion that death was caused by heart disease or apoplexy.
An inquest will, of course, be held.

The man arrested and then released was in fact his son-in-law.

Richard was one of the earliest burials in the Cockle Creek cemetery.  Wife Rosanna is also buried there as are two of their children – Ellen who died at age 19 years in a house fire, and Richard Jr. who lived in Catamaran with his wife Alice Doherty, and worked in a local mill.

It was about 8 degrees and dreary in the middle of the day when I visited Richard Mott’s grave. Imagine living and raising a large family in such a cold, remote place?!

Other cemetery residents

Bridget Strong and her husband William and their nine children. She was in her 50s when she died in the 1920s. Her grave at Cockle Creek is surrounded by an iron fence but there is no headstone.
Glimpses of Cockle Creek itself behind two unmarked graves in the Cockle Creek cemetery.
Thomas and Alice Field had four children but only William is also buried alongside Alice, but his grave is not marked. He was cutting timber for the coal mine and was killed when tree fell on him.
The Cockle Creek cemetery contains 12 marked graves and at least 10 others which are no longer marked. The earliest burials date from the early 1880s and the latest from the 1930s. Imagine raising children in such a remote, cold location?

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$8 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Lisa Herbert is the author of The Bottom Drawer Book.

A taxi driver’s murder, executions and the missing graves: Darwin’s fascinating Fannie Bay gaol

It was a crime that angered locals. A popular taxi driver has been murdered, his body left in scrub on the outskirts of Darwin. 500 people attended his funeral.

42-year-old George Grantham had been working late and he rang his wife to tell her he’d be home for supper. He’d had a few wins on the Tennant Creek races earlier in the week so it’s estimated he was carrying between £500 and £600 the night of 17 April 1952.

IMG20181229172531
George Grantham’s grave is in Darwin’s Gardens Cemetery.

His murderers, young Czech immigrants Jerry Koci (20yo) and John Novotny (19yo), shot their victim in the head with a rifle they’d wrapped in a pair of jeans. Once they dragged his out of the green taxi they shot him again twice to make sure he was dead. Their plan was to go back to Europe to play music so they needed money and a car to get to Melbourne.

Police described the murder as “the most brutal in Territory history“.

Koci and Novotny were picked up police in Queensland and eventually made full confessions.  They were tried and sentenced death. Their execution date was kept secret because of the constant threat of locals lynching the pair.

The execution

The gallows were specifically constructed for the two men’s hanging in the gaol’s infirmary. Justice was delivered quickly back then. Construction of the gallows was underway just two months after their crime.

The pit was more than 4 m long, 2 m wide and nearly 4 m deep and required extensive excavation. The work was made more difficult because of the age of the infirmary building (built in 1887).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The work of digging their graves was given to some Malay Pearl divers who had been imprisoned for, among other things, willfully damaging the Paspaley lugger (Pearling boat). The digging proved a difficult task because of the solid rock.

At 8 on the morning of 7th August 1952, less than four months after the murder of George Grantham, Jerry Koci and John Novotny were executed together at Fannie Bay Gaol, side by side. They’d been given 24 hours notice of their fate. Anecdotal evidence suggest that their bodies were buried away from the marked sites at the end of the infirmary building. Incredibly their final resting place within the gaol grounds isn’t known.

IMG20181229130039
The initials of the killers are displayed on the outside of the infirmary, just metres from the gallows inside, but the location of their graves is a mystery.

VISITING THE GAOL: If you’re in Darwin the Fannie Bay Goal is a great way to spend an hour or so. The Police Museum and Historical Society with the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory have done a great job documenting the gaol’s history.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$9 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a funeral planning guide.