FIRST OF ITS KIND: The murderer of Charles Owen was the first person put to death in Toowoomba.
FIRST OF ITS KIND: The murderer of Charles Owen was the first person put to death in Toowoomba.

High profile city magistrate killed with bullet to his head

IT WAS said over 200 people attended the funeral of high profile Toowoomba man Charles Owen after he was murdered in the 1800s.

Not only was the murder an historical landmark because of the status of its victim, it was the first time a murderer was put to death at the old Toowoomba Gaol.

An article in the Darling Downs Gazette in 1864 publicised the murder and the trial of accused Andrew Ritchie.

 

 

"From the time that the last earthly sentence was pronounced, Mr Ritchie persistently denied his guilt and any admission conveying contrary important can be gathered, only from his theory in his cell, that any man under certain circumstances was justified in committing a similar act," the article read.

It was reported that Mr Owen was travelling to Yandilla after acting as a magistrate in Leyburn on April 29, 1864.

A man on horseback rode behind him and shot him in the head.

It was said Mr Owen was seen arguing with Mr Ritchie earlier in the day over money owed between the pair.

An inquest later found it was likely Mr Ritchie had killed Mr Owen and was committed to a trial before a jury.

It took just six minutes for the jury to find Mr Ritchie guilty.

Mr Ritchie "persistently denied" his guilt, according to the Gazette, and as he prepared to be hanged, maintained he was "guilty in the eyes of many but not guilty in the eyes of God."

Mr Ritchie's hanging marked the first execution in Toowoomba and set a precedent for further death sentences in the town.

 

 

He was sentenced to execution on August 1.

"Shortly after eight o'clock the melancholy procession moved from the condemned cell and filed into the yard in which the scaffold stood erected," the gazette article read.

"The prisoner's demeanour if not defiant was bold and determined and he marched to the gallows foot and ascended the scaffold without hesitation or assistance, preceded by

the executioner, whose head was enveloped in black crape."

Mr Ritchie was hanged and buried in the Toowoomba cemetery.


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