Cooee - Murder in Benalla

By Simon Ruppert

1867 was a busy year for murderous doings in Benalla.

In June, the night-time peace of Benalla was disturbed by frantic yelling of a man named Loader.

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When police arrived, they discovered a drunken Loader screaming: "I’m shot; I’m killed.”

Loader had caused such an uproar at a family home in Benalla that the householder had come to the front door with a gun.

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He had pointed it at Loader demanding that he leave. No shot was fired.

The next day, the court cautioned Loader against bothering other homes at night.

Something far more serious had happened the previous month.

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Richard Smith returned to his home at Broken Creek, from Benalla, on Saturday night.

He had supper with his sister. Then he went to bed in a detached bedroom.

Around 11pm his sister heard a gun go off. She ran in and there she saw Richard Davis standing in the bedroom.

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He admitted that he had shot her brother — by accident.

At a hearing in Benalla Magistrates' Court, Davis’s story was not straightforward.

Margaret Whitty, a Benalla publican’s daughter, gave evidence that Smith had said that Davis wanted to attack him on the way home that night.

She advised him to take a different route. Shortly afterward, Davis arrived at the hotel wanting to know where Smith was.

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She told him that Smith had gone home. Davis left.

At home Davis had loaded his shotgun with heavy shot and then went to Smith’s.

Two people staying at Smith’s that evening stated that a sober Davis had arrived and demanded Smith come out with his wallet. Davis wanted its contents.

If he did not oblige, Davis would blow Smith’s brains out.

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Davis’s shotgun had been fired at Smith’s head from almost point blank range, causing instantaneous death.

A workman sleeping in the same bedroom as Davis was so terrified that he fell unconscious and remained so for some time.

A dispute between Smith and Davis had arisen in relation to the school at which Smith taught.

Previously Smith and Davis had been close.

Then a letter from the Board of Education had arrived addressed to Davis as the local correspondent for the school. Smith had opened the letter.

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After the murder, Davis behaved oddly. Witnesses took the shotgun from him.

He then stood in the yard, apparently lost in thought for 15 minutes.

When he returned to his own home, he told his wife: "I have had bad luck since I shot Smith.”

He claimed that Smith and two others had held him up at Stockyard Creek.

Davis was committed for trial for murder in Beechworth District Court.

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Astonishingly, after an hour’s deliberation, he was found guilty only of manslaughter.

He was sentenced to three years in Beechworth Prison. He thought it a harsh sentence.

Perhaps it was. A year later, Ah Chang entered the house of Lock Quye at Daylesford and killed him. For that he was sentenced to just three months' imprisonment.