Murder at the Parramatta toll gate, 28 May, 1814


This post is about the shocking murder of two innocent men during the botched robbery of the local toll-gate at Parramatta in 1814. In addition to the two deaths another two men were almost executed for a crime they did not commit.

On the fateful evening of Saturday 28 May 1814, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported that two travellers, William Jenkins, a Sydney dealer (accompanied by a young boy), and Rowland Edwards (a Hawkesbury settler), made the mistake of stopping for the night at the local toll-house also known as the Parramatta Turnpike.  Later that night, around 10 or 11 pm, two men armed with muskets, “one of them much taller than the other and both wearing handkerchiefs over their faces”, attempted to rob the toll-keeper Edward Mayne who, in the ensuring scuffle, was heard to cry out “Oh save me, save me!”

Unfortunately the robbery went horribly wrong and resulted in the death of the two guests who went to the aid of the toll-keeper. As it turned out Mayne survived the encounter but Jenkins died instantly and Edwards died four hours later after suffering severe gun-shot wounds.

William Jenkins (c1776 – 1814) was 38 years old and was survived by his widow Sarah (nee Chivers), 3 daughters, one of whom was not born at the time of his death, and a brother James. He and James were former convicts who had arrived in Australia per Coromandel 1 in 1802. Their crime was stealing seven sheep valued at £19 from Edward Smith at the parish of Chippendale, North Wiltshire. After serving a seven year sentence the Jenkins brothers went into business farming, boat building and even property development. His remains were taken back to Sydney by his family and interred.

Rowland Edwards (c1763-1814) was a Third Fleet convict. On 8 August 1789 aged twenty-six, he was charged at Shrewsbury for stealing a black gelding and was sentenced to seven years transportation. He left on the “Admiral Barrington” from Portsmouth, on 27 March 1791 as part of the Third Fleet to New Holland and arrived Australia 16 October 1791. He was survived by his wife Jane (nee Fletcher) and children.

The police investigation was led by Reverend Samuel Marsden and Chief Constable Oakes. As a result of Mayne’s testimony Michael Hoollaghan (also known as Woollaghan) and Alexander Suitar were arrested. Both were labourers working on the Liverpool road and were staying in convict huts two and a half miles from Parramatta.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported on all aspects of the story from the initial attack, through to the arrest, trial and the final verdict. On Saturday 25 June 1814, Hoollaghan and Suitar were tried for murder in the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction and were found guilty and sentence to death.

However, this was not the end of the story for in a strange twist of events two other men confessed to the toll-gate murders two weeks after the sentencing.  Dennis Donovan who was about to be executed for another crime confessed to being an accessory and John White, a servant to Mrs Sarah Burns, of Georges River, also came forward and confessed. As a result Hoollaghan and Suitar were found innocent. Donovan was executed for his earlier crime on Tuesday 12 July 1814 while White, in a second trial on Wednesday 20 July 1814 was found guilty and sentenced to death. Both their bodies were given to the Surgeons for dissection.  

So where was the Parramatta Toll Gate/ Turnpike?

To find this out we looked first at the history of Sydney roads and tolls. From around 1805 heavy rain  fall had caused the Sydney-Parramatta road to deteriorate and it was in such poor condition that the new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, made fixing the road one of his priorities. The new public road was to be ‘paid out of the Colonial Police Fund’ from a 3 shilling per gallon levy on spirits. But even this was not enough to cover the costs and Macquarie was forced to put “Toll gates come into operation on the newly completed turnpike road from Sydney to Parramatta” with a scale of fees (toll-tax) prescribed which road users had to pay in order to pass through the toll-gates.

The George Street Toll Bar, erected in 1819 by Governor Macquarie from a design by Greenway, was the most ornate toll bar that Australia ever possessed. It stood in George Street, close to the site of the tram waiting-room opposite Quay Street and the entrance to the Central Railway Station and opposite Marcus Clark’s premises.
The George Street Toll Bar in 1829

This new road opened on 10 April 1811 with two toll-bars; one in George Street, Haymarket where the Central Railway Square stands; the other ‘on a hill at the northern end of Sydney Road’ (the present Church Street), Parramatta (at the junction near Boundary Street, Raymond Street and A’Becketts Creek bridge).

Richard Rouse, a well known Parramatta figure was Overseer of Works and built the toll-gate and gate-keepers house for £200. The collection of tolls was leased to individuals and regularly changed hands to the highest bidder.

The first gatekeeper was Thomas Quinn of the 73 Regiment. Later in 1829, the toll-bar was moved to the junction of Dog Trap Road and Parramatta Road where Surgeon John Harris undertook to erect a new toll-house on land owned by Sir John Jamison. This became known as the “Old Toll Gate” and operated until it was removed in 1877 when James McCulloch became the last toll keeper.

The Parramatta toll gate murder appears to have happened at the initial toll-house, near A’Beckett’s Bridge.

Anne Tsang, Research Assistant, Parramatta City Council, 2014.
To see this article and all references go to http://arc.parracity.nsw.gov.au/blog/2015/02/04/28-may-1814-murder-at-the-parramatta-toll-gate/

To learn more about the Toll Houses in the 19th Century visit our museum on Saturday, 1st April at 2:00 pm to hear a talk by Dr. Pam Loftus.  (See “Coming Events” for more details.)

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