Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Murder at St Hilda’s, Stella Catherine Reynolds

St Hilda's in the 1940s
photo: Blue Mountains City Library

St Hilda’s Church of England was designed by prominent 20th century architect John Burcham Clamp, a partner of Walter Burley Griffin, and built by a Mr. Johnson of Leura. It replaces the first Anglican church built in 1885. This was known as the School Church of St Hilda and was built through the activity of the Rev. Simons, the incumbent at Blackheath. The first clergyman was the Rev. Power. The present building was dedicated by J C Wright, Archbishop of Sydney, on 16th September 1914.  

At about 4.00 pm on Sunday 10th May 1959, John (Jock) Reynolds, a 36 year old cook from the Gearin Hotel, accompanied by his baby son, entered the grounds of St Hilda’s Church.  Over 300 people had gathered in the church hall at the rear, part of the estimated one million Australians who heard a direct radio and landline broadcast of the Billy Graham crusade attended by 150,000 people at the Sydney Showground that afternoon.  Jock Reynolds confronted his wife Stella, who was preparing tea in the church hall at the rear, and started making accusations against her, then in his own words, “blew up” and attacked her with a large kitchen knife.

A woman’s screams were heard by the church warden Mr Robert Ashall, 56, who went to investigate. He was met by a woman staggering outside in the laneway, bleeding from stab wounds to the  abdomen. Inside lying on the floor was Stella Reynolds bleeding profusely from a deep stab wound to the chest, she would be pronounced dead on arrival at Katoomba Hospital a short time later. 
The lane way at St. Hilda's where Patricia Holcroft was found bleeding
from stab wounds and the hall at the rear where Stella Reynolds died.
photo: John Merriman

The woman in the lane was her friend, Mrs. Patricia Holcroft 29, of Railway Pde, Leura, who was injured attempting to protect Stella; she would recover after a four hour emergency operation at Katoomba Hospital. A third woman, Mrs. Helen Gifford, 47 of Canowindra, Stella’s sister, received deep cuts to the arms and hands while trying to protect her sister. The dead woman’s eighteen month old son was found unhurt in the hall. Captain Dixon of the Salvation Army later recovered a blood stained boning knife from the church garden.  
The headstone in Katoomba cemetery
In response to earlier complaints about his behaviour from his wife, Reynolds had told Police, “She is hanging about with a dago at Blackheath and I will continue to persecute her,” and later said in a statement to police, “I had to kill her, I placed her on a pedestal but she killed my love. I was taught to kill in five seconds in the war. I’d do it again. I feel 15 years younger. I’ve got no more worries. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”  

John Reynolds was committed for trial at Central Criminal Court on 11 November 1959 and was found not guilty of murder on the grounds of insanity. Mr Justice Moffitt then directed that he be kept in strict custody during the Governor’s pleasure, he served time in Long Bay gaol and was later deported to Ireland.
John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
2014 Blue Mountains City Library 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Murder in the Megalong Valley, Patrick McAveney

Patrick McAveney's grave in Hartley Cemetery, centre
photo: John Merriman

Inscription reads :
Patrick McAveney
Died 28th February 1873
Age 69 Years

Patrick was murdered by his wife Ann, as described below. The deposition was indeed taken by Edmund Barton, the man who would become our first Prime Minister, who at this time, as a lowly circuit judge, was just starting out in his legal career.


Patrick and Ann McAveney migrated to Australia on the ‘Forth’ in 1841. Sailing from Plymouth on 23rd May and arriving in Sydney on 28th August, having touched no ports on the journey. The ‘Forth’, of 528 tons carried 262 passengers on arrival, four having died on the voyage. There was a school on board which had an attendance of about 30, presumably both children and adults. 

Patrick was born in Dromanay, County Fermanagh, Ireland, son of Owen McAveney and his wife Mary, and was 35 on his arrival in Sydney. His occupation was listed as ‘farm labourer’ and his religion Roman Catholic. He could both read and write and his ‘bodily health and strength’ were noted as very good. 

Ann, daughter of Hugh and Mary Flanagan, aged 33, also a Roman Catholic could read but not write. Her occupation is listed as ‘farm servant - dairy maid’. They brought with them their three sons, Thomas aged 14 (who could read), John 12 and Michael 10. Patrick, on 1st October 1851, purchased 50 acres of land on Pulpit Hill Swamp for £50. 

It is likely that the McAveneys settled in Megalong before buying this land and were probably the only residents in the northern part of the valley. They ran cattle, and if tradition is correct, Patrick was a teamster at some time. Although well liked by his neighbours, he had the reputation of being tight-fisted, and was reputed to have insisted on payment in gold coin which he then carefully stashed out of the reach of his wife Ann. Two such caches have been unearthed, one by Donald Boyd whilst setting a rabbit trap in a hollow log, reputedly 25 sovereigns - and another of 100 sovereigns in a treacle tin hidden in a stump which was discovered by a man from Katoomba, visiting friends who were camped there rabbiting during the depression. 


"I, Ann McAveney voluntarily of my own free will and without promise or threat make the following statement. 
8th March. 1873 
I got disgusted with my husband for the cool way in which he treated me. I thought I would show him the way in which he ought to treat a wife. He used always to treat me coolly. I commenced to arrange matters with him on last Friday night week the 28th February. I killed Patrick McAveney with a tomahawk. I struck him with a tomahawk across the head in bed whilst he was sleeping. I struck him two blows whilst in bed. The blankets were round his head. After striking him with the tomahawk I went out of the house. 

When I returned I found him sitting in a chair by the fire. I struck him again and again, five or six blows. I put all the cuts on his head with the tomahawk. I struck him with a stick on the head. After killing my husband I sat by the fire until I was sure he was dead. I then went to the little room and sat on the sofa. I came out again and looked at him and found he was dead. I got a blanket and some calico and covered him over. I went round the table and laid my hand on his foot. I then knew he was dead. I washed the tomahawk with which I killed him and threw it down in the weeds. 

I was very cautious that the blood should not spurt on to me. I have got no cloths (sic) with the blood on them. My brown dress and apron I had on me when I killed my husband. I took no money from him. I then began to think what could I do to make it appear that robbers had been at the house. Then I concocted the story which I reported to the police that two men with blackened faces robbed and murdered my husband. 
I went to the box and threw the clothes about the house, also the matches and lollies. 
The reason that I killed my husband was on account of his general unkindness and ill treatment of me whilst in a sickly state of health and never treating me as a wife. I told him about three weeks before the murder that I would not treat a dog as he treated me. 

Fourth day of March, 1873. 
Anne X  her (McAveney) mark 
Ann McAveney further states that there was a bank deposit receipt for £50, fifty pounds, which my husband had lodged in the bank, but I cannot say which bank, which receipt I since burnt in fear that should lead to conviction of having committed the murder. 
Tenth day of March, 1873. 

Deposition witnessed at Hartley by Edmund Barton JP "

Ann was tried at the Bathurst Circuit Court on 25th April 1873, found guilty of willful murder and sentenced to death. This sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and she died on 28th September 1883, of natural causes, in the infirmary of Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney.

Ref. Historic Megalong Valley, Mary Shaw 2008 

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
2014 Blue Mountains City Library

The Plucky Rescuer – the story of Hindman Street, Katoomba

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