You are listening to: The Evidence Locker.
Today’s episode is brought to you by Manscaped and Best Fiends.
Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Some parts are graphic in nature and listener discretion is advised. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones.
As the legend goes… Lucretia Dunkley walked to the gallows wearing a black silk dress. Martin Beech was right out in front of her, and he didn’t have much to say. She asked the hangman to be careful not to step on her trail, as she tried to gather herself for what would be her last moments alive.
Lucretia and her lover Martin were sentenced to death for the brutal murder of her husband, Henry. People from far and wide came to witness the couple’s execution, who never repented or asked for forgiveness.
The year was 1843, and Australia was a penal colony. Britain exiled their criminals to the other side of the world. People who committed minor offences accompanied hardened criminals to the land down under, never to return home again. Once in Australia, convicts were tasked with harsh manual labour, like building roads and bridges. As convicts outnumbered the guards, many were able to abscond and roam free in the Australian wilderness. These outlaws, known as bushrangers, pillaged towns and villages, invoking fear into just about everyone. Back then, if you didn’t know any better, you could easily have mistaken it for the American Wild West.
The New South Wales Southern Tablelands was an area more or less halfway between the growing cities of Sydney and Melbourne. In the early 1800s, sheep grazed on the sweeping grass plains. The Great South Road connected the rural towns to larger towns where farmers travelled to sell wool and wheat.
Attacks were frequent and violent crime was rife. But when a wife and her lover killed her sleeping husband, it captured the imagination of the entire country. Throughout the years, the story of Lucretia Dunkley and Martin Beech has become the stuff of legend. But the facts do not need any flavour – it is as gruesome a tale as any that ever came out of Australia.
Lucretia Davies was born in 1807 in Wales. Her mom died when she was only seven years old, and she had it pretty tough growing up. The primary industry in Wales at the time was coal mining. Miners were overworked and underpaid, and the general population lived in poverty. This led to protests, which came to a head in 1831, with the Merthyr Rising. The protesters demanded a drop in the price of bread and an increase in wages. It took more than 400 troops to control the riots, with 24 lives lost.
At the time of the riots, Lucretia was in her early twenties. She was a strong and beautiful woman who had learnt to fend for herself over the years and worked as a dairymaid. With the chaos of the riots as a distraction, Lucretia, together with Thomas Phillips and Mary Cornice, decided to break into a Swansea home owned by a wealthy widow, called Ann Roderick. The trio stole 14 pounds of silver but was caught red-handed. Mrs Roderick reported the break-in and identified them to police. The three thieves were caught shortly afterwards.
On the 9th of July 1831, Lucretia Davies was found guilty of burglary at Glamorgan, and sentenced to death. In the months following the Merthyr Rising, law enforcement came down hard on criminals, regardless of the crime. The court was adamant about enforcing its power and took a harsh stance against all criminals. After an appeal, Lucretia’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison – to be served outside of Britain.
That meant she was to be sent to the other side of the world, to Britain’s penal colony, of Australia. 26-year-old Lucretia Davies boarded the ship, Pyramus, on the 8th of October 1831 and 148 other female convicts. After five months at sea, they arrived in New South Wales on Australia’s east coast.
Along with her fellow inmates, Lucretia was processed and sent to the prison that would become her new home. By all accounts, the vibrant Welsh girl with the silky-brown hair settled well into her new environment. Her bond condition ruled that she could work for an employer, but within in a specified geographical area.
A year after her arrival, she met man, originally from England, called Henry Dunkley. Where they met is not a hundred percent clear, but a historical account in the Goulburn Gazette speculated that:
“In the 1930s there were few women to be found on the frontier, so Henry set off to Parramatta in search of a spouse. There, at a convict barracks called the female factory, ranks of prospective soul mates were paraded for his selection.”
Like Lucretia, Henry was sentenced to life after he was found guilty of larceny. He was transported to Australia, where he arrived aboard the Atlas on the 4th of March 1819. After serving ten years, in May of 1828, Henry was given a ‘ticket of leave’. This was a pass given to convicts who were released before they had completed their sentence. With a ticket of leave, a convict was free to start a new life in the colony, in a stipulated area. The newly freed convict would never be permitted to return to Great Britain, however.
Henry Dunkley was a carrier and mover of goods from Sydney Cove to the inland settlements, referred to as the ‘New Country’. It was a tough job, travelling with a bull and wagon across rough terrain, so Henry must have been a diligent and robust individual. Being a carrier was a dangerous job, with bushrangers lurking along the way. There is a record of Henry being attacked on one occasion, suffering many injuries. Fortunately, he managed to make his way to an inn where he reported the incident.
Henry and Lucretia decided to get married, but they needed permission from the Governor himself because they were still convicts under bond. Records show that Governor Bourke gave them the green light on the 2nd of December 1833. Six weeks later, on 15 January 1834, the couple tied the knot at the All Saints Church in Sutton Forest, New South Wales.
After many years of harsh punishment and incarceration, 27-year-old Lucretia and 35-year-old Henry started a new life together. Within the first year of their marriage, Henry was given a Conditional Pardon for his sentence. The reason for his pardon was ‘to take care of Robert Townson’s grazing run‘. This was a game-changer for the couple, because, as a pardoned convict, Henry was able to purchase land. So, four years after marrying Lucretia, he was granted ownership of a 640-acre farm, called Wagahrallah Estate near the town of Gunning. And, as a landowner, Henry instantly moved up a couple of notches on the social ladder.
Their homestead was a typical convict-built stone building. It was small and purposeful and not particularly grand. The overseer of the farm, Mr Clarke and his partner, Jane Williams, lived in a smaller home. Another labourer, James Farquhar (better known as Scotch Jemmy), also lived with Clarke and Jane. Bullock driver, an older man, called Tom Shepherd, slept in a room off the stables. All of the farm inhabitants arrived in Australia as convicts, like most of the inhabitants of the ‘New Country’.
Life on Wagahrallah Estate was good for the most part, but it was never without danger. Gunning was on the route connecting Sydney and Melbourne, and clashes with bushrangers were commonplace. With his new status as a landowner, Henry took on more social responsibilities. He often travelled to Berrima where he served as foreman of the jury at Berrima Assizes court. He occasionally served as a Justice of the Peace, and never missed a sitting.
The first cases to be heard at Berrima Court House commenced in 1841. If Henry were a regular attendee, he would have witnessed the case of Australia’s first serial killer, bushranger John Lynch on the 21st of March 1842. Lynch killed ten people in the Berrima area between 1835 and 1841. Lynch used a tomahawk to kill innocent labourers before stealing their cattle and other property. At the end of his trial at Berrima Court House, he was found guilty in less than an hour. He was executed by hanging at Berrima Gaol on April 22nd, 1842.
Henry had many interests, whereas Lucretia’s primary interest seemed to be drinking rum. She was known to keep a clean house and reports mention her talents as a seamstress. However, freedom, marriage and a stable income weren’t enough to save the Dunkley’s’ marriage. After nine years together, everyone knew that they were having trouble. Both of them drank excessively and were known to argue a lot. Of the two, Henry was better liked in the community and kept his private life. Lucretia, who loved rum, had a big mouth and was not afraid to offend anyone and everyone.
The Dunkley’s worked hard on their farm, drank heavily every night and disagreed most of the time. Henry withdrew somewhat and tried to focus on his work. He had some sheep and cattle and grew wheat, and often went into Gunning to sell wheat at the steam mill. With his wife becoming more of an advisory than a partner, Henry decided to hire a farmhand.
34-year-old Martin Beech was heaven-sent: he was much younger than Henry and could handle more physical labour. He started working at Wagahrallah Estate in mid-1842, in the Australian winter. Henry didn’t know that by employing the muscular Martin, he essentially signed his own death certificate.
Martin Beech, who sometimes went by the name of Brien or O’Brien, arrived in Australia in 1837 at 29. A native of King’s County Ireland, Martin was sentenced to seven years for malicious assault. He was transported to Australia on the Calcutta and was sent to Goulbourn to work as a labourer at the Pomeroy Estate. At the end of July 1941, Martin obtained his ticket-of-leave, permitting him to work where he wanted, provided it was in Goulbourn. Henry Dunkley’s farm was in Gunning, so technically, Martin breached his ticket-of-leave condition by working more than 30 miles away.
When Martin arrived, he stayed in the second cottage with Clarke, Jane and Scotch Jemmy. After a while, he moved into the stable with Tom Shepherd. But before long Martin settled in the skillion, a multipurpose room inside the Dunkley’s’ home. He became a part of the household and even had his meals with Henry and Lucretia. At the time, it was highly unusual for a servant to eat with his boss and others on the farm thought it was a bit odd.
Martin was a tall, burly, good looking man and people began to notice intimate moments between Martin and his employer’s feisty wife, Lucretia. But it wasn’t their place to say anything, so they turned a blind eye.
On Tuesday 13 September 1842, Henry, Lucretia, Martin and Jane Williams washed the wheat harvest to be taken to Bradley and Shelley’s mill in Goulbourn. It was a dusty and dirty job, and by the afternoon, they had not finished. Henry said that they could call it a day and finish up the following morning. When Henry left to go and smoke his pipe on the veranda, Lucretia told Jane that Henry would not be there the next day. He was heading to Berrima seeing as there was a court case where he was serving as legal counsel. Lucretia asked Jane not to tell Tom Shepherd about Henry’s plans but did not say why not.
After smoking his pipe around dusk, Henry made the rounds and discussed everyday business with his tenants and servants. He did not mention anything about going to Berrima. When he told Jane he’d see her in the morning to continue washing the wheat, Lucretia gestured behind his back that he was lying. Henry Dunkley went home for dinner and was never seen alive again.
Jane found Lucretia’s behaviour strange and told Clarke and Scotch Jemmy about Henry’s upcoming trip to Berrima. Both men shared Janes’ confusion: why would Henry leave a job half-done when he was planning on going away? And why wouldn’t he say anything?
When Jane woke up at 8am on a Wednesday, she was surprised to see that Henry and Lucretia’s front door was still closed. Henry was an early riser, and she wondered what was going on. She carried on with her morning tasks: milking the cow and taking the bails of milk into the dairy. She was startled when Lucretia came around the corner and excitedly told her that Henry had left for Berrima at the crack of dawn. Jane asked Lucretia if everything was okay, seeing as her clothing was covered in dirt and her shoes and socks were wet. Lucretia didn’t reply and was later seen having a hearty breakfast with Martin Beech inside the homestead.
Lucretia asked Jane for 12 pounds of butter, which she took to Coopers Store in Gunning to trade for two bottles of rum. She said that she’d pay Jane back, but the prospect of that ever happening did not look good. In the afternoon Lucretia sent Tom Shepherd to Gunning to buy another bottle of rum. She spent the afternoon indoors, drinking rum and making love to Martin Beech.
On his way back from Coopers Store, Tom Shepherd found Henry’s horse Nobby, near the farm gate. It had no saddle or reins, only a green rope, and Tom went to the homestead to tell Lucretia and Martin that he found Nobby, but that there was no sign of Henry. The lovers didn’t seem concerned in the least. Lucretia’s only question was:
“Where is the rum?”
Tom wanted to know why she wasn’t worried about her husband. Lucretia shrugged it off and said that Henry must have left Nobby somewhere, without tying it up and that the horse had made its way home. Lucretia assumed that Henry had caught a ride to Berrima on the mail carriage. Martin left with Tom to go and find Nobby and brought him back to the stables.
Over the next week, Lucretia and Martin spent a lot of time together indoors and drank copious amounts of rum. Lucretia also ‘borrowed’ butter from Mrs Knight, one of Henry’s tenants on the farm. Again, she traded the butter for rum.
Four days after Henry was last seen, Elizabeth Bond, arrived at the farm and was surprised that he wasn’t there. Elizabeth and her husband, Thomas, owned an inn at Huggins River, where Henry often stayed when he travelled. Through the years they had become good friends. According to Elizabeth, when she arrived at Wagahrallah Estate, Lucretia told her Henry had left for Berrima.
Elizabeth found it strange because Henry would usually stay at their inn, but she had not seen him. Lucretia thought he must have changed his usual routine and checked in at another place, and perhaps he slept in Mr Simons’ mail coach. Elizabeth knew this wasn’t the case, because Mr Simons had limited space in the coach and she saw another passenger in the coach on the day Lucretia claimed Henry travelled to Berrima.
Elizabeth left things at that and stayed the night on the Dunkley farm, sleeping in her carriage. The next morning she noticed that the bed in the Dunkley’s bedroom had not been slept in. And by catching a glimpse into Martin’s room, she saw that the bed was not made. She assumed that Lucretia had spent the night with the farmhand.
Elizabeth felt uneasy about the situation and wondered where Henry could be. She noticed that Martin Beech had dark stains on his clothing and asked him about it. He said he carried meat from the stockyard. There was nothing much Elizabeth could do; she suspected something had happened to Henry, but Lucretia stuck to her story that he had gone to Berrima.
Elizabeth Bond wasn’t the only one who found Henry’s sudden disappearance unsettling. Two weeks after his tenants and servants last saw him, a local newspaper, The Herald reported:
“Henry Dunkley, of Gunning, having been missing for ten days, suspicions are afloat that all is not right.”
Lucretia and Martin were still in their euphoric haze of rum and free love back on the farm. Jane and the others made no secret that they disapproved of their indiscretion, but the lovers didn’t seem to care. Nine days after Henry disappeared, they were all out in the bush behind the main house collecting eggs. Martin made a peculiar statement. He said that if a dead body were thrown into a waterhole, it would resurface on the ninth day. Everyone knew that Henry had been gone for nine days – what was the farmhand inferring?
The next day, Lucretia and Martin asked everyone for their help loading wheat onto the wagon. They were heading to Goulbourn to sell the wheat. For the first time, they expressed some concern about Henry and promised they would ask around the town to hear of anyone had seen him. They asked Clarke, Scotch Jemmy and Tom Shepherd to travel with them. Tom agreed, the others refused.
Soon after Lucretia, Martin and Tom set off to Goulburn with the bulls and wagon, Clarke and Scotch Jemmy also left, on horseback, chasing to make it to Goulburn before the others. Along the way, Tom suggested to Lucretia and Martin they camped overnight and carried on their way at dawn. As Tom was drifting into sleep when he heard Lucretia whisper to Matin:
“He’s asleep. Get up and do it.”
Tom jumped up and pretended to be sleepwalking, but he was sure Lucretia had wanted Martin to kill him. He was more convinced than ever that the couple had murdered Henry Dunkley.
The next morning, Clarke and Scotch Jemmy arrived in Goulburn before the others. They went straight to the police station and told them about Henry’s disappearance and that they suspected Lucretia and her lover had something to do with it.
When Lucretia, Martin and Tom arrived at Bradley and Shelly’s Mill, one of Henry’s acquaintances, mill manager Mr Turnbull found it odd that Henry’s wife and the farmhand were selling on his behalf. Henry always preferred to handle his business himself. Before Lucretia could explain, a constable arrived at the mill and asked if they knew where Henry was. Lucretia tried to sell the Berrima-story again, but no one was buying it.
The constable asked for Martin’s papers and realised that he had broken the conditions of his ticket-of-leave by working outside of the legal boundaries of Goulbourn. Because of this, he was able to arrest Martin and take him to the holding cells at Goulbourn Police Station. Another officer noticed the marks on Martin Beech’s clothing and asked him what it was. He said that he had carried meat from the slaughter yard into the home.
A constable took Martin to Lucretia. She said to him she didn’t know why he killed Henry. Martin said nothing, just shook his head. He later said that he only had one life to lose and didn’t care if he lost it that very minute.
Constable Boyers accompanied Lucretia and Tom Shephard back to the Dunkley farm in Gunning. Lucretia had her fair share of rum along the way and told the constable that she blamed Clarke for Henry’s disappearance. She had no reason or evidence, and it was clear she was simply trying to shift the blame.
They arrived back at Wagahrallah Estate in the evening, where Chief Constable Mallyon was waiting. Mallyon confronted Lucretia with some evidence found in the homestead, for instance, blood smears on the bed in the main bedroom. Lucretia said it was her blood. In 1842, there was no way of proving that it wasn’t. Realising that Lucretia was far too drunk to be questioned, the constables suggested everybody turned in for the night. Lucretia refused to sleep in her marital bed and went to Jane and Clarke’s house instead.
In the end, it was Jane Williams who convinced Lucretia that – if she knew what had happened to Henry – she should speak up and clear her conscience. The next morning, sober in broad daylight, Lucretia Dunkley told the shocking truth of what happened to her husband.
She claimed that she was asleep next to Henry in their bed when she saw Martin Beech entering the room. Without words, the farmhand walked straight over to her husband’s side of the bed and attacked the slumbering Henry with an axe. Henry was laying on his back when Martin struck him in the neck and chest. The vicious attack was committed with so much force that Henry’s backbone snapped. There was so much blood, and Lucretia jumped into action. She placed a chamber pot under the bed to prevent the blood from seeping onto the floor.
The diabolical couple then rolled Henry’s body in a rug and shoved him into a wheat sack. Lucretia sewed it up, and Martin carried the sack with Henry’s body over his shoulder out to a waterhole behind the house. According to Lucretia, Martin told her to stay at the house, and she watched him disappear into the darkness. When he returned, they cleaned all the blood from the bed, the walls and floor. They scraped the earthen floor and whitewashed the walls. In the morning they made a breakfast of ham, eggs, bread and tea. Jane Williams pointed out that the meat was a ham Henry had cured. He was saving it for Christmas.
Lucretia claimed that she went along with Martin’s instructions because she was afraid that he would kill her too. However, when police learnt about the affair between them, they wondered about her involvement in the murder. Jane Williams’ evidence was crucial. She told police that Lucretia mentioned Henry’s plans to go to Berrima the day before he vanished, which proved that she knew he would not be there the following day.
Like the constables, Jane also questioned Lucretia’s version of events and noted that the dirt on her dress the next morning was sand, consistent with the sand near the farm’s waterhole. The soil around the house was red clay, very different from the light-brown sand near the water. The bottom of Lucretia’s dress was wet too. When Jane saw them having breakfast, Martin had removed his shoes and rolled up his trousers; his wet shoes were drying in the sun.
The farmworkers said that the last slaughter-day on the farm was about three weeks before Henry’s disappearance. That meant five weeks before police asked Martin Beech about the fresh, dark stains on his clothing. Jane said she did not recall seeing the stains the day before Henry vanished, the day all of them worked together washing wheat.
Because of their debaucherous days of rum drinking and love-making in the days after Henry’s disappearance, the motive was crystal clear: Henry was in the way – they killed him so they could be together and live on his farm, and spend his money. Lucretia was arrested and taken to the nearby town of Yass, where she was held at the Police Station. Martin Beech, who was still in custody in Goulbourn, was informed of the pending murder charges against him and his mistress.
On the 26th of September, a search party consisting of John Cook, Sergeant of Mounted Police, Constable Deely, shopkeeper John Cooper and two to three others searched Wagahrallah Estate. They discovered Henry Dunkley’s body in a shallow grave next to the waterhole, about 300 yards from the main house. A log had been placed over the grave in a clumsy attempt to conceal it. The location was precisely where Lucretia had told police it was.
Authorities were notified, and both Martin Beech and Lucretia Dunkley were taken to the farm. Chief Constable Hunt took Martin to look at Henry’s body. Martin said that he didn’t recognise the deceased person and refused to move closer to him. The police officer described how Henry Dunkley was murdered and Martin ‘shuddered’, but he denied any involvement in the murder.
He was taken away, and Lucretia was allowed to view the body, and her reaction was quite different… She cried and called out ‘Dunkley, Dunkley, Dunkley!’ She fell to her knees and kissed his mutilated body and implored him to say something. All this with her lover standing close-by. The officer asked her if Martin Beech was the one who had killed her husband, and Lucretia looked him straight in the eye and sneered:
“Yes! You know you did, Martin.”
The officer warned her that, if this was a veiled confession, she could not expect mercy. She claimed that she would tell the truth, even if she ‘hung for it’.
According to Lucretia, she was asleep next to her husband and woke up when she heard the first blow to his head. Confused in the horror of the situation, she pleaded with Martin to stop, but he didn’t. She said she jumped under the bed to protect herself, but when it was all done, she realised he wasn’t going to harm her. Her only part was to help him conceal the murder. To this, Martin said nothing, he only shook his head in disagreement.
A Coronial Inquest was held at Wagahrallah Estate, and neither Lucretia nor Martin were allowed to attend. Surgeon, Dr Robert Cartwright and Coroner Robert Waugh examined the body – washed and prepared by Jane Williams. Dr Cartwright found multiple wounds, made by a powerful instrument like an axe. One of the incisions measured three inches wide and six inches deep. The attack on Henry was ferocious, and he would have had no chance of defending himself. The Coroner ruled that Martin Beech had brutally murdered Henry Dunkley on the evening of the 13th of September and that Lucretia Dunkley aided him.
The next day, both prisoners were taken back to Goulbourn, to be kept in remand until a court date could be determined. When they arrived at Goulbourn police station on Thursday night the 29th of September, a crowd had gathered. Many people knew Henry Dunkley, and they could not believe that his wife and servant had murdered him. Patrick Haggerty, who had made the journey to Australia from Ireland with Martin, was among them. He called out for Martin, and it was apparent he was intoxicated. Police seized the opportunity, arrested Haggerty for drunken behaviour and placed him in a holding cell next to Martin. The men talked through the wall, and Martin’s former shipmate told him he was a disgrace to his country. Martin Beech replied:
“That cannot be helped now.”
A news article from October 4th says that Dunkley’s disappearance…
“…has turned out to be one of those deep-laid preconcerted acts of human butchery, which occasionally take place to the disgrace of human nature.”
Both prisoners were sent to Berrima at the end of 1842 while awaiting their day in court. In February 1843, Martin Beech was caught in bed with Lucretia by the Matron of the prison, Mrs Foster. She reported that she found them in ‘unlimited and unrestrained liberty‘. Martin had climbed a wall to reach his lover, who resided in the female wing.
Their trial began on the 16th of September 1843, almost one year after Henry Dunkley’s murder. Both Lucretia Dunkley and Martin Beech pleaded NOT guilty. There were 17 witnesses in total, and no one had anything good to say about either of the accused. A report of the time described Lucretia’s attitude in court:
“During the whole of the trial, the conduct of the female prisoner was more extraordinary than was perhaps ever witnessed on a similar occasion, being compound of virulence, shrewdness, and levity. She accused almost every witness of perjury, and of having a desire to swear away her life, or that of her fellow-prisoner, and showed in her cross-examinations, which were frequent and long-continued, and distinguished by an acuteness not often exhibited by one of her sex in such an awful situation – a degree of attention to every syllable that was uttered, which astonished all present, and called forth a remark from His Honour the Judge. With all that her levity was so great and shameless, that she laughed and repeatedly when allusions were made by the witnesses to the particulars of her illicit connexion with her fellow-prisoner, the recollections this called up seeming to tickle her fancy more than the fear of God appalled her should, unusually great as that fear might be supposed to be in one in her situation. It may seem almost incredible, but is nevertheless true, that she laughed and chatted with those next to her while the Jury were considering their verdict, although the result of their deliberations must have been fully anticipated by her.”
Martin Beech was somewhat more stoic.
“The conduct of the male prisoner was more solid, but he too smiled distinctly several times in company with his fellow-prisoner, whom he excelled in the acuteness of cross-examination. When his irons were knocked off that might be taken into court to stand his trial, he declared he did not care whether he should be hanged or not.”
One reporter described 36-year-old Lucretia as ‘an elderly woman, of a most forbidding aspect‘ and Martin as a ‘tall, powerful-looking young fellow’.
Lucretia was demonised – in the eyes of the community, her actions were unforgivable. She didn’t stand a chance. From reports, it seemed that Martin, the strapping young man, was not necessarily the object of public scorn, even though he was the one who dealt the fatal blows that killed Henry.
The first day of the trial carried on into the night. Candles were brought in to illuminate the courtroom. Proceedings only concluded at 10pm, and the jury members were given a place to sleep at the courthouse overnight. By 10am the next morning court was in session once again, pushing through till 5:30pm.
Lucretia Dunkley and Martin Beech were found guilty of the murder of Henry Dunkley and sentenced to death, to be quote hanged by their necks until they be dead-end quote. The judge described the pair as ‘monsters of human depravity’ and said an adulterous murderer such as Dunkley would have been burnt alive in earlier times. The Chief Justice said:
“You Lucretia – a name ill-assorted with the adulteress and the murderer exhibited on your trial, a tone and manner accompanied by language which may well excite doubt of your kindred with human species, and lead to the conviction that the devil himself had, for a time assumed the female form. Your demeanour, even in this closing stage of the proceedings leaves no room to doubt that you are still possessed by the same diabolical spirit.”
Lucretia and Martin maintained their innocence and tried blaming Henry’s murder on other people living and working on the farm. They had no legal representation and felt that they did not have a fair trial. Lucretia was as much sentenced for adultery and for having a foul mouth as was Martin for killing her husband.
On the day of the public execution, it is said that Lucretia wore a black silk dress. The Morning Chronicle reported:
“Both prisoners exhibited the like apathy upon the scaffold, and died as they had lived, hardened and unrepentant.”
A crowd watched on, and even though it was a significant event, it was surprisingly under-covered in newspapers and journals of the time. One theory is that Lucretia aborted her unborn child as she died at the gallows, leaving everyone in shock and horror. Lucretia Dunkley was the only woman ever to be hanged at Berrima.
After their execution, their heads were removed and to be studied by local surgeon William Ramsay Esquire. At the time, psychology had a far way to go. It was believed that people who committed such atrocious crimes had some kind of physical defect of the brain. Phrenology is a study conducted using measurements of bumps on the cranium believed to be evidence of specific character traits.
More than a decade later, Dr Ramsay donated the skulls to The Australian Museum in Sydney. Interestingly, the skull of an infant was also sent to the museum. It is believed to have been Lucretia’s unborn child. Who the father was or whether she knew she was pregnant when she was executed is not clear. Because Martin was found in her bed in prison, it is fair to assume that the child was conceived within prison walls.
Former politician, Keith L Brown, spent his retirement researching the case and wrote the book ‘The Day Dunkley Died‘, an invaluable resource in researching this episode. At Berrima Gaol, Brown had a closer look at the large sandstone blocks that make up the prison wall. He discovered a couple of small crosses, engraved into the large blocks. Each cross represents a prisoner who was hanged at the jail. On one stone, set apart from the others, there are two crosses next to each other: a larger one and a smaller one. This is most likely the memorial of Lucretia – the only woman ever to be hanged at the gaol – and her unborn child.
According to legend, Lucretia’s and Martin’s headless bodies were buried standing up, to prevent them from resting in peace. It’s not clear where they were buried, however. Because of the crosses on the walls, the term ‘within prison walls’ is believed by some to be a literal description: the pair were buried, upright and cemented into the sandstone walls. Others believe that their bodies were interred somewhere on the grounds of the prison yard.
Henry Dunkley was buried on a hillside in the Gunning Police Paddock. His brother, David Dunkley ordered the inscription, and did not mince his words:
“Sacred to the Memory of Henry Dunkley, who was cruelly and barbarously murdered by his wife and manservant on 13 September 1842, aged 40 years, in the prime of life he was cut down by a treacherous woman’s hand. Our hearts the mournful tribute pay, which pity must demand.”
Sadly, the location of Dunkley’s resting place is today a sewage plant. His is the only grave at the site, and local council agreed to leave his remains in place.
The story of the malicious Lucretia Dunkley has become that of legend and later myth. Over the years, the facts changed to make the story more intriguing. Lucretia Dunkley’s story was told from one generation to the next, making her into something more colourful than a farmer’s wife who had killed her husband to be with her strapping lover. According to the story, Lucretia worked as a barmaid, serving rum to locals and travellers at the well-known Inn called Three Legs o Man Creek.
Sheep farmers travelled from rural NSW to Sydney to sell wool and Berrima was a good spot to overnight on their way home. According to this version of the story, Lucretia saw an opportunity and kept their tumblers filled to the brim. When they were sufficiently drunk or passed out, she would steal the gold sovereigns from their pockets. On one such an occasion, a man had 500 Sovereigns in his pocket, and Lucretia cracked open a bottle of her most potent rum. With her victim sufficiently incapacitated, she slit his throat with a razor. Lucretia posed the body to make it appear like a suicide.
However, if one looks at the facts of the case, you can imagine how the tale got legs as it was told from one generation to the next.
It is said that Lucretia’s headless ghost haunts the pine trees outside the courthouse. A local shopkeeper told the tragic story of his teenage daughter who went insane after spotting Lucretia’s headless ghost. The girl allegedly walked passed the jail on a sultry summer’s night. The doctor who examined her said that she was sane the one day and insane the next.
Two students camping at Berrima also claimed to have spotted Lucretia’s ghost in 1961. It sparked new interest in the case. They said they saw her wandering the ruins at the Three Legs O Man Inn, sobbing and breathing heavily. However, this goes along with the urban legend of Lucretia being the barmaid, for which there is no factual evidence.
Today the Berrima Court House is a museum, and they have life-sized wax dolls in the courtroom in an eerie re-enactment of the case. The quaint historic, Australian country town of Berrima is the very picture of peace and quiet. But at night time, locals would prefer to steer clear of the imposing pine trees, casting a shadow over the Court House, and the memory of the heartless killers who were executed there…
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