Saturday, October 17, 2009

Murder and Coroner's Inquest

From Genie

26 July 1832 Thursday

"On Wednesday, an Inquest was convened at the "FRIGATE", Clarence-street, on view of the body of ELLEN BRIFFIT, who met her death early that morning at the hands of her husband, WILLIAM BRIFFIT, a Constable , in the Sydney Police. It appeared by the evidence of neighbours, that the night previous, deceased and BRIFFIT were both intoxicated; BRIFFIT found a bottle of rum in his house, which deceased had planted, who said that a MRS COLE had brought it in; they quarreled, a neighbour came in and pacified them, and left them on good terms. At four in the morning, BRIFFIT awoke a neighbour, and said that ELLEN, meaning his wife, was dead, the person spoke to went into the house, and saw the deceased lying on the bed naked, with the exception of her stockings, he observed a mark on her knee, and something on her face, but being frightened he ran away. DR. BLAND deposed that he had viewed the body, and found that death must have proceeded from severe blows inflicted on the back par!"

No NSW BDM entry found, but the Sydney Gazette for Thurs 26 Jul 1832 that reveals more:


G. T. Smeathman, Esq., the Coroner for Sydney, assembled a jury at twelve o'clock yesterday, at the 'Ship' public-house, Clarence-street, to enquire the means by which Ellen Breffit came by her death. The jury having been sworn in the usual manner, proceeded to view the body, which presented a most horrid spectacle. The head was covered with contusions and blood; there was a deep incised wound, apparently inflicted by some sharp instrument, on the left thigh ; beneath the knees were wounds of a similar description, but less severe ;- and various other parts of the body exbibited dreadful bruises.

Hannah Cole - I reside next door the deceased ; I heard the deceased and her husband quarrelling last night ; I think it was between twelve and one; I thought he was beating her at the time, but am not sure ; did not hear the deceased cry out ; I did not hear any blows inflicted ; I do not think there was anybody in the house at the time the dispute took place ; I did not see any body, male or female, go into the house during the evening ; the deceased had been washing all day ; I saw her last about four o'clock ; she made no complaint then, and appeared to be quite well; she might bave drank a glass or so when I saw her, but she was sober ; about four o'clock this morning Breffit knocked at my door ; he was answered by a young man who lodges in my house; I heard him beg him to come in, for Ellen was dead ; he went in with him, but I did not; a little before seven I saw Breffit walking down the garden, and immediately went to inform the Police; I did so because the young man who lodges with me had told me that she was covered with bruises, and appeared to be dead.

By the jury - Payne told me that she was dead, and covered with blood and bruises, when he came in from seeing her at four o'clock, but I did not make an alarm till seven, because I was in a state of alarm myself; they were both very quiet people ; I did not say this morning that I heard him beating her with a stick, nor that I heard her cry out, and all the neighbours heard her too ; when I saw the deceased in the afternoon every thing was in its place ; I never saw the deceased much intoxicated ; I do not know whether Breffit went on duty at 12 o'clock last night.

Patrick Conlan, sworn - I reside next door to the deceased, in Clarence-street ; about 7 o'clock lnst evening I saw Breffit in Brodie's public-house, at the corner; we drank together, and Breffit was intoxicated ; he is very passionate when in liquor ; we remained together about ten minutes, when I left him and returned home Mrs. Breffit was at the gate, and asked me come in and take out Mrs. Cole, who I perceived was beastly drunk in Mrs. B.'s room ; I went in and carried her into her own house ; Mrs. Breffit was also very drunk, and in carrying a light to shew the way, fell down ; I told hor to go in and wash her face, and rouse herself up before Breffit should come in and find her in this state ; when she fell it was from the effect of intoxication ; Mrs. Breffit went in to her own house again ; there was nothing the matter with her at that time ; there was no blood upon her; Mrs. Cole's front door being open, and the property exposed, I went for Breffit, who came down and locked her door, and put the key in his pocket ; he then went into his own house, told his wife to get his tea ready while he went to the watch-house, and went out again; about half an hour afterwards he came into my place, where he remained about a quarter of an hour, and then went home again ; about ten minutes elapsed when his wife came into my house and told me that he was drunk and abusive ; I accordingly went back with her to pacify bim ; Breffit then searched the place and found a little bottle of rum, which she said Mrs. Cole had left there ; I made matters up between them and then left ; this was about eight ; she was more drunk than he was ; they have been often at variance, but I never saw a mark of violence on her person before ; Breffit observed that "whenever he went from home the deceased always got drunk, and if she would but abstain from rim he would be the happiest man in Sydney" ; I have frequently seen her drunk when he was from home, and the cause of all their quarrels was her drunkenness; the last I saw of them was about a quarter before nine ; I came outside my door a little after nine and listened, but hearing no noise imagined they had become reconciled, and went to bed ; I heard no more of it till seven this morning, when Mrs. Cole told me that Breffit had killed his wife ; I did not see any men go into the house yesterday, but there might bave been some without my knowledge; I think there was some jealousy between them ; I never knew a better husband than Breffit was to the deceased.

By the jury - When I went to fetch Breffit from Brodie's he was drunk ; when the deceased fell in Mrs. Cole's house, she did not receive any injury ; Breffit was always a very quiet man ; and the deceased was a very clean hard-working woman, when sober ; Breffit made an attempt to strike her while I was there, but I prevented him ; never heard such quarrels between them as to induce me to suppose that Breffit would ever destroy his wife ; I rather think that he detected her in infidelity a little while back ; he has told me so himself several times.

Bryant Payne - I am a ticket-of-leave man and lodge with Mrs. COLE, next door to Breffit's ; about four o'clock this morning, Breffit knocked at the door and called Mrs. Cole ; I asked what he wanted, and he said Ellen was dead ; I went in with him and saw her laying on the bed quite naked; there was a cut on the thigh, and the head appeared bruised ; I was so frightened that I ran out directly without examining the body ; all he said was "Ellen is dead, what shall I do I" I was awake all night with the rheumatism, and must have heard if any disturbance had taken place; but I heard none.

By the jury - I made no alarm, being afraid ; Breffit gave me no account how his wife met her death ; no conversation took place between us.

James Tobin - I am police conductor of No. 5 District ; I called Breffit up at 12 o'clock ; he did not come out for a few minutes, I did not go in ; we were on duty together ; about 3 o'clock, at his wish, we went round that way, and he went in, and came out again, but said nothing ; we had no conversation about the deceased ; about half-past four he requested me to let him home as he had got a head-ache ; he had wanted to go before, but I could not spare him ; he seemed very cheerful, and was sober.

Dr. Bland having examined the body, delivered the following certificate:

"I hereby certify that I have carefully examined the body of Ellen Breffitt, deceased, and have discovered several severe contused wounds upon her person ; one in particular, a deep contused cut upon the left side of the face, another just below the right knee, and one near the right temple ; besides several similar minor injuries on other parts of the body, and an extensive contusion on the back of the head. There was no fracture of the skull, but in the cavity of the skull there were two effusions of blood; a smaller one beneath the right anterior lobe of the brain, and an effusion of about four ounces of blood chiefly in afluid state, beneath the cerebellum. I am of opinion that the above effusions were the effect of the injuries on the head, and that the death of the deceased was their immediate consequence. I found about half-an-ounce of serous fluid in the ventricles - the brain in other respects in a porfectly healthy state."

Daniel Ryan - I am a constable ; I heard some words between Breffit and the deceased between seven and eight last evening; he shoved her out, but I did not see him strike her ; I called him about half-past eleven, when I heard the deceased groan ; I did not go in when I heard the groans ; I am sure the groans came from the deceased's bed-room, for I stopped two or three minutes at the window listening. (The witness was severely reprimanded by the Coroner for not entering the house when he heard the groans.)

The jury, after about a quarter-of-an-hour's deliberation, delivered the following verdict :- "That the deceased, Ellen Breffit, came by her death in consequence of wounds inflicted by her husband, William Breffit, in a moment of great mental excitement from feelings of jealousy and intoxication."

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